You don't have to be Doctor Who to try time travel - just pull on your walking boots.


Blackleaf
#1
Feeling glad that he lives in a country that positively oozes history, Charlie Connelly decided to write a travel book with a difference.

He journeyed throughout our islands to discover 2000 years of British history, from King Ethelred the Unready to Dick Turpin, from the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 to the Great Plague of 1665.

He also looks at some of the glorious ancient buildings which Britain has a treasure trove of (the Anglophile American authour Bill Bryson, who lives in Britain, once remarked how his little village in Yorkshire has more ancient buildings than the whole of the continent of North America).

This article details his 115-mile walk from Norwich in Norfolk (near to the site of Boudicca's Revolt of the year 60AD), to London.


You don't have to be Doctor Who to try time travel - just pull on your walking boots and you can stroll straight into Britain's glorious history. Charlie Connelly shows you how...

10th January 2009
By Charlie Connelly
Daily Mail


The prospect of staying at the Norwich Travelodge is not usually one to set the heart a-flutter. There are more exotic destinations in the world.

But as my train pulled out of Liverpool Street station and the sunlit back gardens of the East London suburbs flitted by in a rapid silent slideshow of terraced domesticity - a child's tipped-over plastic tricycle, a mildew-darkened greenhouse with a smashed roof pane, a chained collie bucking and barking soundlessly - I caught sight of my reflection in the sun-flashes that illuminated the window.


Charlie Connelly: Walking through 2,000 years of British history

I was smiling, and I was heading for a Travelodge. Something strange was afoot.

As the houses and steel-fenced, prefabricated industrial units began to thin out in favour of more and more greenery, I looked up at the rucksack strap swinging from the overhead storage shelf where I'd wedged it after an inelegant sprint across the concourse for the train and tried to think about what lay ahead.

I thought about how, when I got to Norwich, I would be saddling up shanks's pony and walking back - that's walking back - with my rucksack strapped to me like a snazzier version of Dick Whittington's hanky-on-a-stick, a sturdy pair of boots on my feet and, hopefully, a song in my heart.

I wasn't walking from Norwich to London (a distance of 115 miles) just for the sake of it. No, from Norwich Travelodge I would be retracing a trail of righteous destruction instigated by a woman grievously scorned nearly 2,000 years ago who has since passed into mythology, leaving only shadowy half-truth and romantic fable.

This journey - retracing the steps of Boudicca's revolt of AD60-61 - would be the first in a sequence of such walks, following in the footsteps of some of the most famous and not-so-famous figures in the history of these islands for my new book, And Did Those Feet.

The inspiration for the project was simple. We're surrounded by history. We can barely walk down the street without tripping over it. We're so spoiled by the abundance of the past in our midst that it's easy to take it for granted.


Enlarge
A church looks over cultivated fields, East Anglia.

Not only that, with our still-too common perception of history as an area for dusty, musty old academics poring over dusty, musty old books, we've lost a sense of its vibrancy. The past has everything: wars, battles, power struggles, love stories, mysteries, murders, miscarriages of justice, heroism, cowardice, tragedies and the inexplicable popularity of the codpiece.

It's not confined to earnest, learned books and stuffy museums with ancient, clanking central heating systems and attendants who all look like Deryck Guyler. It's everywhere, it's around us and it's alive: we can actually reach out and touch it.

And, by jiminy, I love it.

When I was at university, I shared a house for a while with a philosophy student. She was a bit bonkers at the best of times, and would twirl her hair while Rosie, her pet rat, sat on top of her head.

She'd say things like: 'I think the reason I love philosophy so much is because, you know, it's just in . . . everything,' while I was trying to watch Sports Night.



Happisburgh Lighthouse is the oldest working light in East Anglia and the only independently run lighthouse in Great Britain.

I'd gone to university to study Russian. Actually, no, I'd gone to university to meet girls and get drunk, but officially I was there to do Russian.

After a year or two of failed exams and missed classes, the university let it be known that they didn't want me to study Russian any more and I'd have to do something else if I wanted to retain my right to meet girls and get drunk.

Eventually, the history department took me under its wing and, my goodness, am I ever grateful that it did. Because, contrary to what my housemate thought, it's history that's, you know, just in . . . everything. Within weeks of starting the new course, I had remembered just how passionately I loved the subject. To me, history is alive, current and constant.

Walk down your local High Street, for example. Look beyond the homogeneous chain stores and you'll see, I don't know, the butcher's shop that's been there for generations run by the same family.


The rolling fields of East Anglia is a far cry from inner city London

Two men on ladders are replacing a sign over a shop front, temporarily revealing an old, beautifully hand-painted one dating back more than a century.

A plaque on one building commemorates the birth of a famous poet. The clock chimes on the tower built to commemorate victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Women sit chatting on benches either side of the obelisk that remembers the local fallen in both world wars. An old horse trough built to water the mail-coach horses is now filled with flowers.

The past is all around us, in the buildings, in the landscape, in the ground we walk on. It's not in lists of monarchs or dates of battles that it truly comes alive; it's in people and places. Everyone and everywhere has a story.

I've been to some places that, on the face of it, promise nothing of the remotest interest and found myself riveted by the story of something that happened there.


Norwich Cathedral, built by Bishop Herbert de Losinga in 1145, is one of the landmarks of the area

I grew up near Blackheath in south London; to the casual observer, just a great big expanse of grass sliced by a couple of roads.

Yet it was a plague pit: during the Great Plague of 1665-6, hundreds of bodies were thrown into pits, scattered with lime and buried.

In the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, it was a major rallying point for the rebels - Wat Tyler's Mound in the middle of the heath is supposed to be where the peasant leader addressed his followers.

In Viking times, Ethelred the Unready's fleet moored at Greenwich and his men camped on Blackheath for almost three years while pillaging in the area.

It was the site of suffragette rallies - Emily Wilding Davison was born nearby - and apparently also the place where golf was played in England for the first time. Dick Turpin used to ride across it.



The Cathedral of St John the Baptist, stands proud in Norwich

Beneath Blackheath are tunnels left by ancient chalk mines (part of the A2 collapsed into them in 2002, leaving a crater 20ft across).

And when a shaft was sunk in 1939 to see if the tunnels might be usable as a bomb shelter, the remains of an early Victorian masked ball were found scattered on the ground, as if everyone had left in a desperate hurry and the place had been sealed up ever since.

For a bare patch of grass, that's not a bad record.

It's this passion for the past and my firm belief that history is alive and everywhere that resulted in my boarding the train to East Anglia.

It also struck me that much of our history has been created and influenced by travel.

There are the epic journeys of discovery by the likes of Columbus, or the expansion of empires and the centuries of emigration and forced transportation.

But closer to home the countryside has, over the millennia, been crisscrossed by journeys of people from all strata of society, from monarchs to minstrels, pilgrims to protesters, navvies to noblemen.


Blackheath in London hides many history gems of which you may never know from just driving through


Those journeys were conceived out of trade, rebellion, love, fear, necessity, greed, adventure, desperation, recreation and just plain old wanderlust. They are all soaked into the landscape; many were shaped by it; yet more have altered it - ancient trackways becoming major thoroughfares, towns and cities springing up from stopping-off points on trade routes.

I wanted to travel those routes, too. And there can surely be no better way to ease your way to a healthier mind and body than by walking. It's leisurely, it's good for you, it's easy.

You don't need any special equipment; you don't need any particular skills or training. Walking is a scandalously underrated and illappreciated human trait.

Ever since our ancestors first stood on their hind legs, started moving about, quite liked the sensation and the higher view, and turned to their friends and said whatever the Mid-Pleistocene was for 'Hey fellas, look at me! Woo hoo! We've scored over other mammals.'


London's Greenwich is full of history with its Viking past

These days, however, like most people in Britain, my life is almost entirely sedentary. I work from home. My days usually involve getting up, making tea, showering and then parking my rear end on a chair for the rest of the day. I don't even walk to a bus stop or railway station.

Thanks to modern technology, I can work, listen to music, watch the news, chat to friends, write to people, book tickets for a gig and even order lunch without ever getting off my backside.

OK, I'd have to get out of the chair and answer the door to get my lunch, but one day I'm sure even that hardship will be taken care of somehow.

Nearly every technological 'advance' seems to be designed to make us move around less. It started with the car, progressed to the television remote control and now involves just about everything. Every gadget might as well run a marketing campaign that says: 'Sloth, isn't it terrific?'

When the idea came for my walk into history, I was well into my mid-30s. I was getting undeniably podgy. I could go for days without leaving the house. If I ran out of milk, I'd often drink black tea or coffee rather than walk to the corner shop 150 yards away. I wasn't so much a couch potato as a whole sack of Maris Pipers.

The more I thought about it, the more I could see that there were no drawbacks to walking. All that fresh air and thinking time - it had to be a good thing.

After all, many great writers and thinkers have praised the intellectual stimulation of a good stroll.

Aristotle is said to have taught and thought only while pacing up and down. Which is something we all do: think of times when you've had to think quickly and intensely. Rather than sitting there pondering and wishing you had a beard to stroke, you're out of your seat and you're walking up and down, right?

Other devotees included John Stuart Mill, John Keats, Thomas Hobbes (who even had an inkwell built into the top of his walking stick for when mobile inspiration struck) and William Wordsworth, who made almost an entire career out of walking and is estimated to have travelled between 185,000 and 190,000 miles on foot.

So what better way for me to explore history than by walking some of the journeys that shaped the history of our lands and their people?

I set to work immediately, to identify some likely routes. I spent day after day in the British Library, planning my itinerary.

Back at home, many an evening was spent with a road atlas and a large Jameson's. A gaggle of great journeys was researched, traced and either discarded reluctantly or added to the shortlist.

Finally, after many weeks of poring over books and websites, not to mention actually leaving the flat and walking about, I settled on a selection I thought provided a good range of geography, chronology and rattlingly good stories, packed my gear into my new rucksack and headed out of the door for London's Liverpool Street.

dailymail.co.uk
Last edited by Blackleaf; Jan 11th, 2009 at 01:39 PM..
 
gopher
#2
Been there - done that. I'm heading off to my TARDIS for further adventure ...



 

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