Ian Hamilton, 59, a father-of-three, is a former content editor of the Blackpool Gazette. He is about to retire from his current role at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in Manchester after which he plans to do more walking. Here, Ian writes about the inspiration behind his new book of literary-themed walks.
It was a family walk much like any other. That’s to say the rumblings of discontent began after about half a mile: “How much further is it?” and “Do we have to climb that hill?”
And that, as you will have guessed, was just the grown-ups.
The children were fine from the moment someone mentioned the fact that JRR Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings books, had written part of the famous trilogy after walking these very paths.
This was at a time when Peter Jackson’s films were at the height of their popularity and what started as a gentle post-lunch stroll in the Ribble Valley became, for the children at least, an adventure of hobbits and orcs and other fantastical creatures.
There are good reasons why many people believe that Tolkien’s Middle Earth was conceived while the writer stayed at nearby Stonyhurst College in the 1940s.
Names like Shire Lane in Hurst Green have a familiar ring; the old ferry crossing over the Ribble (still working in Tolkien’s day) foreshadowed the fictional Bucklebury Ferry; and there are those who insist that this area is as near as makes no difference to the geographical centre of Great Britain.
But all this meant nothing to the young children hiding behind trees, jumping across streams and generally bringing the pages of Tolkien’s trilogy to life. For them the place simply felt right – the winding river, the sun-dappled woods and, accompanying us throughout our walk, the looming bulk of Pendle Hill.
The idea for our book of literary walks – Walking the Literary Landscape – was born that Sunday afternoon and over the next three years research into the connections between writers and the places that inspired them became a labour of love.
Did you know that the poet William Wordsworth was estimated to have walked 175,000 miles in his lifetime, often revising lines of poetry on the move?
Or that Charles Dickens created his timeless descriptions of London after tramping the city’s streets by night?
Or that, on a walking expedition in Cumberland in 1857, Dickens had to help fellow novelist Wilkie Collins off Carrock Fell after the pair got badly lost in the mist and rain?
We discovered that some things had changed since our 20 writers were around: roads have appeared here and there; coastal paths have crumbled; and Bram Stoker now attracts hundreds of Goths to an annual festival in the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby.
Even walking is different. Today’s walker, equipped with breathable waterproofs, Gore Tex boots and GPS, would present a ridiculous figure to your average Romantic poet or Victorian novelist.
But an awful lot has stayed the same, not least because our 20 Northern walks take in five National Parks and a large amount of land owned by the National Trust.
Nor should we forget that the countryside celebrated by our greatest writers is often preserved by the efforts of ordinary people who care deeply for their local landscapes. Thanks to them, I’m pretty sure that pretend hobbits and would-be orcs will be chasing through the paths around Hurst Green for a few years yet.
- Walking the Literary Landscape written by Ian Hamilton and Diane Roberts is published by Vertebrate Publishing http://www.v-publishing.co.uk/books/categories/walking/walking-the-literary-landscape.html
It features 20 walks in the North of England, each of which has a connection to a particular writer or book.