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Fancy Some Diagonal Walking?

We all like walking, but have you ever tried walking diagonally? iFootpath Guest Walk author Nick Corble did just that, and not just for a few minutes. Over the long, hot summer of 2018 he managed to walk diagonally across England, and he’s written a book describing what he discovered: about himself, and about the state of the nation as he saw it. Furthermore, he is offering a special deal to fellow iFootpath devotees on the book (see end of this blog).

route captionNick has contributed 26 iFootpath walking guides of varying difficulty, drawing upon his experience of writing five books of circular walks for traditional publishers. Along with his wife, he has also walked a number of the country’s long distance trails, including Hadrian’s Wall, The Ridgeway and the Thames Path. Towards the end of 2017, he was looking for a fresh challenge. Something different, something no one had done before.

While the need for a fresh personal challenge was a strong motivator, there was more to it than that. Nearly twenty years before, he travelled down the length of England on a battered old narrowboat. Part of the motivation for that trip had been a desire to ‘take the temperature’ of the country on the eve of the millennium. He was curious to see what sort of country his children, still quite young at the time, were going to grow up in. The trip, and his conclusions, were covered in a book, which he called ‘Walking on Water’: a reference to the 4 mph speed limit on the canals.

Fast forward to 2017, and his children had grown up and fled the nest. There was also the faint possibility of grandchildren in the air. The country had changed though. The assessment formed nearly two decades previously no longer held. Then there was the B-word. The referendum result had revealed deep divisions in the country which, like pretty much everyone else, Nick was struggling to comprehend.

As he saw it, there were two choices: to get enraged, or to get engaged. Nick chose the latter, and selected a long distance walk as the best way to get to meet people and experience what was going on in the country at ground level. His approach was to identity the dead centre of the country (as defined by the Ordnance Survey) and draw a line at 45 degrees through it, north-west to south-east: hence diagonal walking.

nick centre captionThis revealed a starting point at Formby, north of Liverpool, through the middle of the country, across the north-east edge of London, over the Thames and down to the south Kent coast. But it also revealed much more than that. Unexpectedly, the line also passed through a number of places which Nick had some sort of connection to: his old university, places he’d lived and places he’d worked. It was almost as if the walk was demanding to be done.

And that could have been that. An individual crusade, conducted for personal reasons. Instead, Nick decided to broaden the lens of the operation, to involve as many people as possible. He wanted to invite people to join him for sections of the walk, but understood that that wouldn’t always be practical. One of the greatest changes in the decades since his canal trip had been how the internet had woven itself into all our lives. He therefore harnessed the power of the web to invite people to follow the trek virtually, using not only the usual suspects in terms of social media, but also podcasts, blogs and even a YouTube channel, all linked through a website: He even involved local students to kickstart the videos and podcasts and to create a logo for the enterprise.

As if that wasn’t enough, Nick also decided to add another dimension to what he began to refer to as ‘the Diagonal Walking project’. Seeing as he intended to write another book on both the walk and what he discovered, why not wrap into the various media a commentary on all the ups and downs, trails and tribulations, of getting a book written, and then getting it published? ‘The project’ began to take over his life, but there could be no turning back. Just an ordinary man on a mission, not a professional commentator, Nick saw an opportunity to help clear some of the confusion most people seemed to be feeling.

final point captionAs he set out, on a bright Spring morning outside Formby, what Nick couldn’t have envisaged was that he was about to experience extremes of both weather and politics unseen for at least a generation. Getting to this point had involved a lot of planning, emails, meetings and learning of new skills. How do you actually create and publish a podcast? How easy is it to create a YouTube channel? Plus there was the added uncertainty of knowing whether the project was even possible.

So it was that in April last year, Nick began his marathon walk, following only footpaths and public rights of way, and sticking to within two miles either side of his self-imposed line. It was to be quite an adventure. Along the way, he came across clever sheep, angry cows and the kindness of strangers. There were times when he was in genuine fear of his life, and times of unexpected delights: occasions when he just needed to sit down and soak things in. There were also countless times when his shirt did the soaking, as he walked in temperatures so hot that the Met Office’s official advice was not to go outdoors.

The walk started on the pristine sands at Formby, taking in the iron men of Crosby on the first day, and ended on the pebbles of Littlestone outside New Romney. It took five stages over 39 days, involving just short of a million steps. Now, just after a year of planning, sweat and near-tears, the book of the walk has just become available.

Called ‘Diagonal Walking’ and subtitled ‘Slicing Through The Heart of England’, Nick is making the book available to members of the iFootpath community at a special price of only £9.99 (RRP £12.99), including p&p inside the UK. All you have to do is click on this link. The book is also available as an ebook through the usual channels. Nick is also re-living the experience one year on through his Instagram and Twitter accounts, so you can follow those too if you want to learn more.

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