I've been reading a book this week, Walking the Great North Line by Robert Twigger. Now, I've known Robert for a number of years. I think the first time we met was in Cairo, and he took me out into the desert with his very unreliable Toyota Land Cruiser. We've stayed in contact and been friends ever since. I think probably one of the reasons for this is that our brains think in the same sorts of ways characterised, by irrepressible curiosity, compulsive irreverence, and unabashed awkwardness. Robert’s brain though usually has the safety catch off.
Walking the Great North Line is a great book. Rob noticed that the Stonehenge and Lindisfarne and dozens of other ancient sites lie almost perfectly on a North tracing line, more or less along the East West watershed of England. Whether this line is an accident of geography or the confluence of arcane spiritual intent over millennia is not really the point. The idea of a such thing offers Rob a chance to riff away at some wild and intriguing ideas. This is what I love about his writing. It's an endless provocation of ideas, thoughts, asides and practical ideas. ( e.g. One large long pole is better for crossing a river than two shorter walking sticks). We live in the days of some really intriguing travel writers (such an inadequate term) like Rob McFarlane and Tristan Gooley. If they formed a rock band Twigger would have to be on lead guitar.
It is his unaffected, uninhibited inquisitivness that is the heart of his genius, his openness to the world and the hidden gems that lie waiting to be discovered. He stopped en route at Thor's Cave, which is very close to where I live. This is a high cavern up in the Derbyshire Hills. People have slept in it for millennia. And now it seems Rob has himself, alone with the odd noises of the night and thoughts about child rearing, shamans and leadership!
The trip was a true rain-filled wild camp adventure, finding places to stop each night on or near the route, which in England is still legally dubious. Now, Rob is a tough dude. Perhaps the toughest dude I've met. His CV includes chasing the world's longest snake, canoeing across Canada, studying Aikido with the Tokyo police. But he can also take feeling sorry for himself to high art, describing his poor wet feet as pink and wrinkled like a baby too long in the bath. This makes him a great vicarious traveling companion.
It's a wonderful book. It's up there on Amazon and all the usual places. Reading it reinforced my own sense that rambling is at the heart of much good art, whether that's a book, a painting or a song. A chap called Frederic Gros, whose book, A Philosophy of Walking, complains, "Books by authors grafted to their chairs are heavy and indigestible like fattened geese." But walking upright, exposed to wide spaces, like a flower to the sun, opens you to a stream of unfettered unbidden thoughts.