on 21 June 2004
This book seemed to offer a chance for me to read about some of the things I miss since I left the UK; details of the beautiful British countryside, and told by a well-respected writer and TV personality. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
Janet's account reads like a primary school pupil's account of what she got up to during the 'hols'. It wouldn't surprise me to find that at least one third of the sentences start with the word 'I':
I then took the path leading....
I came to a stile...
I arrived at the meeting place an hour late...
I expect better of a professional writer-yes, that was intentional.
Exclamation marks abound, mostly for no good reason that I could see, and the writing seems so predictable. So many chapters or paragraphs are seemingly stamped out with what my American friends would call a cookie-cutter:
I left the inn/house/pub the next morning. The footpath was supposed to start at the back/left/right of the building, but after half-an-hour/45 minutes/an hour I still couldn't find it so had to walk along the road till I came to a farm/bridle path/track. Here the corn/nettles/barley was high/treated with chemicals, and scratched/blistered my legs.
On practically the first page there is a glaring error, although I'm sure this is not Ms Street-Porter's fault. The first of the two maps is labelled 'West to East; Dungeness to Weston-Super-Mare'. Well, things have changed significantly since I left England in the 80s, but I trust Weston hasn't migrated to continental Europe.
Finally, although again I'm sure this is not Ms Street-Porter's fault, I found the typeface very difficult to read, exacerbated by the small size of the punctuation-perhaps that's why she chose to use so many exclamation marks-and the tiny space between sentences. This reader often found himself running into the next sentence a couple of words before he realised he'd overshot the mark.
on 8 July 2004
When I wrote the above review, I had just finished the first part of the book-the so-called "West to East" section.
Janet's description of the second part-the route through Wales-reads much better and easier than the first; hence the upgrade to three stars.
If you can pick this up at a very reduced price, and if you skip the first section, it might make a worthwhile read. At the original £18+ asking price, I should say it's well overpriced.
on 24 September 2013
I was so delighted with this book and I managed to buy it for a fantastic price too! I had really loved the BBC series and had been disappointed to find that it wasn't available to buy on DVD. Reading the book, however, brought it all back to me! Absolutely delighted with this book!
This book is based on Janet Street-Porter’s TV series, in which she walked from Dungeness on the Kent coast across southern England to Weston-Super-Mare on the Bristol Channel; and from Cardiff on the south coast of Wales to Conwy on the north. On the way she bumps into Vic Reeves, Hale & Pace, Reg Presley, Bill Bailey, Chris Smith, and Terry Jones. A short two-age introduction gives a brief background to the walks, before we then plunge into Janet’s day-by-day account. I read the book one day at a time; otherwise, the chronicle would have become a blur.
“Day One and I was lost within three hours!” In fact Janet seemed to get lost most days. She writes, “… the alternative was carrying a lot of large-scale maps, and that would simple be too much paper.” Later in the walks she seems to have learned to carry maps! There’s also plenty of cheating, with drives here and there to reach various hotels. And what are we to make of the discrepancy between days twenty-six and twenty-seven: on the former she skirted Table Mountain on the way down to Crickhowell where she says she had a hotel for the night; on the latter, she tells us “I could see Table Mountain that I’d come down the previous day” as she travels on the train from London?
As one would expect, Janet tells it as she finds it, whether it’s the décor of her hotel room or “the horror of the communal breakfast”: she notes, “I had already decided to write the ‘bad hotel guide’ and the ‘bad pub guide’ as companion books to this walk.” On Pen-y-Fan she meets the “most aggressive sheep you’ll ever meet,” but she gives praise too, such as describing Llanidloes as “a most beautiful Victorian and early Georgian town.” By day forty-four she’s admitting to “turning into a nice person” by rescuing slugs from the perils of walkers.
Of course, this is Janet’s walk, so do not expect sublime literary descriptions of the landscape. Moreover, she is no expert on medieval churches or on chalkland flora and fauna, but she does have opinions on many things, from mountain-bikers to unfriendly farmers to contemporary architecture. Her geography is a bit dodgy: she would not have been able to see the hills of Devon from the Mendips, for example. And her history too: there is touching naivety in her description of the Beaker People as “so-called because they arrived in Britain with the knowledge of metal and drank out of cups.”
But all my criticism is balanced by a certain amount of respect for Janet too, especially when the going got tough. One mountainous section in wales was “the toughest walk of my life – worse than the Himalayas,” Janet rightfully feeling proud to have done ten miles in seven hours in atrocious weather. As she herself says, “it’s nothing to do with altitude, or climbing or dropping; it’s to do with endurance and how you hold your mind together until you’re walking without any tracks at all, just over rough terrain; how you keep going when the moist comes down and you can’t see where you are; how you keep going when you’ve walked 6 miles and you’ve got another 5 to go and it’s pouring with rain, and your boots are full of water and you’ve just put a clean pair of socks on, and they’re wet through.”
So there is a dogged amount of self-criticism along the way. She writes, “I reflected on how the walk like the one I was doing was a chance to reassess one’s life and rearrange one’s parts. I felt that by walking cross England and Wales I would be able to draw strands of my life together and try to make sense of where to go next. Perhaps being 50 has something to do with it.” I concluded that Janet would be good company on my walks but I would nevertheless turn her down should she ask – given the experiences described in this book, it would be bound to rain and she would get us lost.