One of the grand things about planning an adventure such as I am is the fairly legitimate excuse to spend hours and hours with maps. To buy new maps to plan with. To contemplate major questions: from Hadrian’s Wall, shall I go down the eastern side of England, or the western? Where do I want to cross over to France?
One small difficulty is that I’m not totally sure of my timeline, since it in large part depends on imponderables. I can calculate to a certain degree how long I’ll be able to go with the money I’ll have saved up, but then — if I manage, as I hope, to start selling my writing, that may give me the opportunity for extra time. Whether that ‘extra time’ amounts to an extra hour in a coffee shop or the ability to take ferries around the Aegean islands, I do not know. (Just to be safe, I’m planning on the second cup of tea, but leaving the mental space open for the Aegean.)
The other imponderable is — when will I want to stop? Will I come to a there, wherever it is, and decide it is time to come back again? Will I decide England is sufficient and not want to walk across France as well? I doubt this. But it is possible. But every time I look on a map I find somewhere else I want to go, some marvellously named town or region or farm — depending on the size of the map scale in question — who wouldn’t want to walk past the gate of Meanygate Farm, just to see? To go to Ruyton of the Eleven Towns? To see Mont-St-Michel — any of them?
I have some deep desires: Lindisfarne. The White Horse of White Horse Vale, near Uffington. The Mont-St-Michel in Brittany. The Loire Valley. To cross the Alps along the pass Hannibal took with his elephants, or possibly the Great St Bernard pass — I haven’t done too much research into where the main roads go now. Urbino in the Italian Marche. But I’m focussing on England at the moment, as the first stage of my adventure.
Over the last ten days I have spent many a happy hour with the British Ordnance Survey’s Getamap online function. (Note: the website loads slowly.) This is an absolutely marvellous tool for anyone merely curious about England. It’s free to sign up (there’s an advanced paid feature as well, but I haven’t bought it), and then you have access to the whole of the UK’s OS maps, at both Landranger and Explorer scales — that is, at both the 1:50,000 and the 1:25,000 scales. (It is due to the latter that I know there is a farm called Meanygate in Lancashire.) I have two larger-scale paper maps of England as well, the Michelin regional maps of Northern England and Wales/Southwest England, at scales of 1:400,000 (so, 1cm=4km — still a fairly detailed map), and I have been plotting walking routes.
The OS maps show everything — waymarked trails, rights of way, points of interest, tumuli and farms, footbridges and fords, contour lines and the names of standing stones. Gardens, lanes, Roman roads, conurbations, shorelines, camping sites, pubs. Towpaths, great halls, aqueducts, marshes, springs. Precisely how many kilometres your plotted route takes.
This, combined with the Long Distance Walkers’ Association website — which shows the long-distance trails and intersecting ones for the UK — and the Helpx website (for the farms and so on I would like to volunteer on), plus some helpful tourism information sites, is one of the most delightful rabbit holes of the internet.
I’ve also been looking at equipment, but the maps — oh, the possibilities of the maps — has been winning out. I’m still in the plotting stage. I have about 2/3 of my equipment, and clothing will wait until closer to the time of leaving. Now is the time for imagining possibilities and weighing the merits of Yorkshire and Lancashire as walking destinations . . . (My dad’s from Yorkshire. Obviously it wins in other respects.)