A riverside walk
“To say Yorkshire is a big county would be akin to describing an elephant as a large animal. Sure, as descriptions go it’s accuracy can’t be questioned, but it wouldn’t prepare you for coming face to face with one. I say face to face, given their relative size that’s a difficult task, but you get my point, or you don’t get my point, because you simply don’t understand the enormity of elephants. Similarly, if I began to explain that Yorkshire was nearly 100 miles North to South and an even greater distance East to West. you’d neither appreciate just how big that is nor have any concept of what it would be like to be plonked at any point in God’s own county. Even I, one of those fortunate to have lived in Yorkshire most of my life, was time and again surprised by the sheer vastness of the land I loved so dearly. 5 am on a Saturday morning in Spring was one such time.
I looked at Tom and was pleased he was focussed on the road ahead. He looked peculiar with his glasses on. In the same way spec-wearers look strange without them, Tom, an advocate for contact lenses, looked odd with them on. The overall look compounded my feeling of how tired he must have been. Tom would never grumble though, and when I’d realised I needed to set off before 3 in the morning, Tom was the first person I had asked. I felt awful he would be making the return journey alone, but when he had heard the plans for my walk he had been keen, if not desperate to play a part. Meanwhile, Max’s snores from the back of the car reminded me of his presence. Not knowing how comfortably we’d sleep again over the coming days, I had told him to get some now, but the truth was that rest from Maxwell’s enthusiasm was always a welcome break. This did, however, leave me with the moral obligation to keep Tom company. I always feel guilty sleeping in a car sat next to a tired driver, but we drove on in silence and I am sure Tom did not mind one bit if I were awake or not.
The beams of Tom’s Fiat illuminated the road west ahead. We’d been travelling north all morning and had turned off onto the infamous and winding A66, skirting the top of the Yorkshire Dales. All of Yorkshire lay to our left and the more barren hills of County Durham to our right. We were heading to the farthest corner of the county, the most North-Westerly point in all of Yorkshire. I looked down at the map upon my lap. I couldn’t make out the details in the darkness of the car, but I had spent several months planning the journey, waiting for the good weather of Spring. I knew the details like the back of my currently gloved hands. In the top left corner was marked “START”, at one end of The CJ-Line. Though I assure you my journey was purely original to the best of my knowledge, I admit, wholeheartedly, the idea of such a line was entirely inspired by Bill Bryson, in his book “Notes from Little Dribbling”. In that book, Bryson observes that Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath is the longest distance in Britain one can travel in a straight line without crossing over any part of the sea. Bryson uses this line as a guide for a journey across the country, though sticks to it much like a drunk trying to walk a straight line at the request of a sceptical policeman. By lucky coincidence, the source of the River Ure lay just a mile from one end of the Yorkshire equivalent of such a line. It turns out the longest straight line you can draw within the boundaries of modern Yorkshire runs from a layby on the B6270 just outside Kirkby Stephen, to Kilnsea at the far end of the Humber Estuary. The CJ-Line is 115 miles end to end, though I would need to cover 200 miles on foot before my journey’s end. Kilnsea would be the last place I would pitch my tent before wandering out to Spurn Point on the last day of my adventure. I would follow the rivers Ure, Ouse and Humber, meandering this way and that with the contours of the land, but roughly I would be following the CJ-Line. This idea wouldn’t be the first thing I had ever taken from Bryson. In 2005, I had taken the rolled up parchment that symbolises my degree literally out his hands. For several years he had served in the role as Chancellor of the University of Durham. Apparently, he got the job based on a quote in one of his early works urging people to go to Durham at once, they could even borrow his car. If this is indeed true, I would like it known that I think Durham is twice as lovely as he described, and not only can you take my car, but I will drive you. I can’t remember a word of the wonderful speech he gave that day, but I liked to think he would approve of my impulsive decision to pack in my job and go for a walk. I must remember to ask him if our paths do cross again.
As dawn broke, we pulled into a layby marked by a sign at one end declaring, thanks to a missing letter L, “We come to Cumbria”. We hadn’t come to Cumbria, we had driven to the far edge of Yorkshire, to the end of the civilisation I longed to learn more about. Getting out of the car and warily stepping over the border, I was pleased to see the “County of North Yorkshire” sign proudly sporting all of its letters. I stepped back into my county, satisfied and unharmed by the brief exposure to western air. While Tom went through the routine that every driver goes through before leaving the car, putting the handful of change out of view and fiddling with the sun visors, Max and I took photos of ourselves either side of the sign. It was great to have such a definitive starting point to the journey. We were kitted out, we knew the route and we were full of energy; our journey had begun and nothing could stop us…”
And thus began my journey in 2016 to become the first man to walk the Ure/Ouse/Humber river system in one continuous journey. You can see a collection of my photographs from that journey below.