A Journey into Scotland : Epilogue and Bibliography
To all intents and purposes my journey ended in Malton. I did ride from there to Huddersfield but have few memories and no pictures. I was very keen to complete the journey and was unimaginative in my choice of route. Bypassing York and skirting Leeds to the south gave me several hours of uninterrupted traffic through the less impressive parts of two great cities. From Leeds to Huddersfield I passed through the various stages of the West Riding Woollen Industry: tailoring, heavy woollens, shoddy and mungo, fine worsteds.
Journey’s end was an anti-climax. I’d cycled from Barrow where I was born to Huddersfield, where I finished school and started work, via the north of Scotland where my formal education commenced. Round about 1500 miles via many curves and detours. When I got there, my father and brother looked up briefly from watching football. “Oh, hello Sime. Put the kettle on could you?”The obvious train journey from Huddersfield to Exeter was to change at Staylybridge and Stockport (now officially a ghost line) but I couldn’t take a bicycle on this route. So, after a night in the old family home, I got up early to pedal to Halifax to catch a train to Preston. It was supposed to be a short hop of a bike ride but actually contained the two nearest misses of the entire journey. I was lucky to get to Halifax at all.
Back home in Exeter I completed a score for a stage version of Don Quixote, performed in some clubs which were the predecessors of open mic nights and rehearsed a show for the arts centre. I was making money from all of the creative activities I was engaged in; singing, acting, writing. Not enough to be a responsible parent but maybe that would come. This is what I would have to give up if I went into teaching. What was it to be? Feeding my creativity or feeding my family? I applied for a single teaching job and got it. I left the profession from time to time to pursue various creative ventures, and when they offered me enough money to pay all of my bills and have a little left over, I retired.
In all of that time I have only been back to Scotland once, on a day trip to Berwick and up the River Tweed. I want to return. Writing these chapters has turned photographs and memories into a decent set of notes. All the time I have been writing I have been reading about Scotland and thought I’d complete the story with a round-up of the books I’ve read. I had, at one stage intended to repeat the journey and write a serious book about Scotland. But there are already many very good books about the country and the best of them are written by Scots.
I met a male nurse in a pub on the banks of Loch Lomond. We got talking about Scottish writers and Scottish history. Like me he’d divided his education between English and Scottish schools and bemoaned the absence of Scotland from the English curriculum. He was right in 1987 and he’d be just as right now. We have one of the great European cultures just over our northern border and we ignore it. The average English person knows more about America and Australia than they do about Scotland. Part of my intention in writing this has been to put this right for myself and I feel enormously enriched in so doing. Scotland had given the world great literature, great scientists, geologists and economists. About the only Scottish culture we get in England is a series of broadcasts from the Edinburgh Festival (a hugely English decampment to the Scottish capital every August) and an OMG! Yay!!! hogmanay celebration again from Edinburgh, again featuring thousands of English tourists.
My Scottish bookcase was a battered edition of Robert Burns, an un-read copy of Whisky Galore and a couple of books of story-telling history by John Prebble (a Canadian). In the past year, I’m pleased to say that I’ve now read a shelfful of Scottish novels, immersed myself in Scottish poetry and song and found the time to read some books of history and travel in this great nation. I’ve ordered and studiously watched box sets of documentaries. I’ve also seen the Scottish show us how to make politics real. The referendum process gave Britain its first vibrant political debate since James Callaghan left power. To see it cause fury, then admiration and finally relief in the English press was engaging and entertaining. To see how the same press and English politicians turn their fear and admiration into scorn and derision has said a great deal more about England than Scotland.
Bibliography Part One The Lake District
I bagan and ended in the north of England. The first morning of my ride took me right by (and into) the cottage where I was born. The early stages were all in the Furness fells and the Lake District. I’m reasonably well-read in the famous lakeland poets so I took the opportunity to find out more about some lesser known Cumbrian writers. I read my first Melvyn Bragg novel, completed a Hunter Davies I’d begun years earlier, re-read an anthology of Irvine Hunt poems and set about a bit of serious reading of the life and works of Norman Nicholson.
The Whispering Poet by Kathleen Jones
A fine and inspiring biography. One that left me wanting to fill in the gaps of my reading of the Millom poet. The biographer never intrudes, uses her source material sensitively and has a poet’s understanding of her subject and the landscapes and industries (and illness) that inspired it.
Portrait of the Lakes by Norman Nicholson
It seems a pity that so many people read Alfred Wainwright when so few read Norman Nicholson. One is a true writer, a true lakeland man who knows how to express his thoughts on the whole of lakeland. The other is an outsider who points out the obvious to those who need the obvious pointing out to them. If you come from Cumberland, Westmoreland or Furness you will much prefer this. Written by one of our own and written with the pen of a true poet. We should cherish him.
Selected Poems : Norman Nicholson
Many of the twentieth century poets I like the best are reflected in the work of Norman Nicholson. He had his influences but I’ll fight a round with anyone who would deny his influence on others. You’ll find the musical cadences and rhythms to match Dylan Thomas and an understanding of man married to the landscape that characterises the poems of RS Thomas. You’ll catch the morning hare or trout of Ted Hughes and, perhaps above the rest, (and he came after) the linking of the people’s lives with landscape, social and economic history and politics and geology of Seamus Heaney. He also gives a remarkable sense of the glory of being alive that perhaps is best expressed by one who very nearly didn’t make it. (And who ever afterwards had to count his every breath). Here is a poet who captures the pastoral in it’s truth; not necessarily beautiful, but permanent and ever-changing. But also the industrial man-made glories of pit shaft and smelting shed. My favourite poems are of the southern lakeland fells and passes and, particularly his poems of Millom.
We think of Lulworth Cove or Granchester or Upper Lambourne or Rydal Water when we think of English poetry. We should think more often of the Duddon and the little industrial town almost overlooked even by those of us who were brought up across the estuary.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
One of the best children’s writers of the last hundred years and a man who knew and loved the Lake District. The setting around the Coniston fells and on the waters of the lake is as much a part of the book (s) as the Walker family or their adventures. I spent many hours and days in similar parts of the region and no matter what I was doing, be it sailing sticks down a stream, riding the Windemere steamers, acting out episodes of The Last of the Mohicans, they were worth doing because of where I was doing them. Ransome brings the landscape as well as lakeland people to life. The charcoal burners who tend to Roger’s ankle and show the children a pet adder may easily have been the gamekeeper who showed me a buzzard’s nest and taught me how to sneak up close to grouse. Ransome sets some of his books in East Anglia and these are every bit as good as the lakeland ones. For lovers of the lake district though, let me highly recommend; Swallowdale, Winter Holiday and Pigeon Post. The Picts and the Martyrs is also set in lakeland but I haven’t read it (yet).
Badger on a Barge by Janni Howker
Another book that captures what it was like to be brought up and spend your childhood in the southern lakes. There are some excellent stories in the much under-rated book. Seriously admired by writers; largely ignored by teachers. I taught it to several classes who all loved the books and who all produced much excellent writing in response. I didn’t read it especially for this journey but did enjoy dipping back in and finding that the title story still got tears welling-up.
The Comedy World Of Stan Laurel by John McCabe
Have only dipped into this as yet. A full project on Stan and Ollie is a potential future venture. I’m slowly filling the shelves in preparation for that.
To be Continued…