5 Questions | Robert Twigger

8 April 2020

Robert Twigger is the author of a number of works of adventure and travel. Previous subjects include Egypt, Japan and Canada. But his new book, published this month, sticks closer to home.

Live online event with Robert Twigger
22 April 7pm
More info | Sign up
Buy the book

1. What is your new book about?

Walking the Great North Line is about fulfilling a dream I have long had of walking up England by some devious and never before attempted route. Not for me the old hat of the Pennine Way or the Cotswold Way or any other old way (and there are more each year) – I sought to do it My Way.

I was waiting for years, it felt, for some kind of message or communication or simple sign from the Universe that would indicate what route I should take when one day I opened the Ordnance Survey grand map of British Ancient Sites. It’s a big map, living room floor sized and during an episode of Masterchef the Professionals, feeling a tad bored, I hastened my sofa seated family’s feet up and out of the way as I needed to spread out.

I had known (as all antiquaries have since at least the 17th century) that a direct due north line runs from Old Sarum to Avebury via Stonehenge. On the purest whim I continued the line north using a long piece of wood I found in the garage. A long straight piece of wood which ended right on Lindisfarne island- a truly ancient and mysterious spot (paleolithic remains found there predate of course the monastery). But more remarkably I was able to spot 42 ancient sites on ‘the line’.

Thinking it mere coincidence (but a good one all the same), I ruled similarly long lines every ten miles either side of the first. None turned up anything like as many sites. And none so many stone circles. I had to find out more. And I did. Walking a straight line across moors and fields and also some big towns and even the city of Birmingham I gained a unique insight into England, which acts a counterpoint to all the ancient sites I pass by and uncover en route.

2. Why did you choose to write Walking the Great North Line

I am a writer and writers write about what they can. In my case, I had long wanted to write a walk book as much as do the walk since there are peculiar technical difficulties in writing walk books that few authors manage to convincingly solve. (Have I? You tell me!). A secondary but none the less important consideration was that to go away for seven or more weeks I needed a good excuse for my wife such as “this is work”. In fact, I feel that this book is the best I’ve ever written in terms of pure travel writing…

3. What was the strangest thing you discovered on the walk?

The strangest thing was an instance of pure telepathy in a pub in County Durham. I randomly thought of something very very obscure (relating to a Stanley Holloway monologue) while I was writing in my journal and nursing a half of ale, and five minutes later the Landlord – seated right across the room- said this very same thing. Now this may sound rather tame but if you read the book you’ll discover that this was an actual real and bona fide case of telepathy.

The second strangest thing was meeting a man with a completely blind dog (he proved this to me by shadow boxing in front of its nose and it never flinched) whose favourite food was carrot (also demonstrated) and whose name was….Homer. Actually there were lots of strange things on this walk…

4. What were the a) lowest, b) funniest and c) best things that happened on your walk?

a) Lowest point: depressed in Bourton on the Water owing to excess of tourists who created queues at every single eatery when I absolutely needed a bacon sandwich. This coincided with a feeling of depression due to me showing a lack of gratitude in a general sense for far too long. So the tourist thing was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

b) The funniest thing was telling someone how to safely cross a brisk quite deep stream and then in full view…falling in. Funny for them I mean.

c) The best things were sleeping in Thor’s Cave - which has been inhabited on and off for 30,000 years, visiting Arbor Low stone circle, the trees of Northumberland, walking along empty tracks in the twilight and feeling the immense presence of the unseen…

5. What makes you keep coming back to Wigtown?

Sheer habit. And all the wonderful people who live there and run the festival, to my mind the best in Britain!

Walking the Great North Line is published by W&N on 23 April.