Having slept in a bed, and not on the cold, hard, wet stone floor of a half built workhouse like the Jarrow Marchers did, there’s a spring in my step as I leave Market Harborough on the Brampton Valley Path to Northampton. That spring is dissipated a little when I get hopelessly lost on the outskirts of town. Eventually by circling and retracing – and let’s be honest, asking – I am soon put right and on backtracking I see literally the error of my ways. Here’s where I went wrong and I think you’ll agree that, as we are in mid October, this sign is not really gong to be much use for another couple of months
The Brampton Valley Path is described as a ‘linear park’. It follows the track of the disused Market Harborough – Northampton railway line and runs just along the side of the A road that the marchers would have taken. Of course, if they’d wanted to cheat a little they could have taken the 11.19 to Northampton via which would have been running then before the coming of Dr Beeching and his axe. On Twitter the previous night I’d asked whether if I did just a stretch of this path before getting on the main road again, which should it be. Everyone said the first stretch out of Market H was the best and several mentioned ‘spooky tunnels’. I can now tell you that they weren’t joking..
These tunnels aren’t (as I originally thought) the ones used in the brilliant Lawrence Gordon Clarke TV version of Charles Dickens ghost story the Signalman. That’s the Bewdley Tunnel on the Severn Valley Railway. But if you’re a fan of that supremely creepy and wonderful adaptation, you’ll know why I approached them with anticipation laced with a little apprehension.
They are dark and damp and of course you stand a good chance of being knocked down by a blithely speeding cyclist, although this wasn’t the case in the first tunnel, the shorter but far more rutted and potholed of the two, as I had it completely to myself. This made for a real fun quarter of an hour when my headtorch battery ran out (Yes, I did use my Iphone ‘flashlight’ and would frankly have been better off reflecting the faint and distant glow of Proxima Centauri in a 5p piece)
At Maidmead, a funny unreal village with a hint of Prince Charles’ Poundbury about it, I rejoin the main road, loosen the pack and sit on a bench for a while watching the world go by. This includes Jake and Kevin, two passing window fitters who give me the lowdown on Northampton. Though I know two fine Northamptonians, Andrew Collins and the Rev Richard Coles, I am unfamiliar with the town beyond knowing that they make lifts and Doc Martens shoes here. “Everyone knocks it” says Kevin “but it’s alright…nice old Saxon church and St Crispin’s fair’s on”
Indeed it is. The British fair is, when all is said and done, a bit crap. But there is something irresistible in its low rent mix of tawdry glamour, menace and implied criminality. Who has not yearned to be the man with the sideburns who remains unphased by the motion of the Waltzer as he gives you your change from that massive leather purse thing. Or for a a snog behind the reeking generator. Or to win a giant inflatable prawn by hooking a duck? Can such a dessicated soul exist? Similarly there may be weary travelers who can remain unseduced by the smell of frying options from an alfresco van but I am not that man.
Wiping the last of the ketchup from my chin I enter Waterstones. This is my wont in most towns I pass though making sure they have my books on sale, and moving them to places of prominence the better to obscure the works of Russell Brand and Jeremy Clarkson. I overhear a conversation about Edgar Allen Poe being conducted at the counter between the lively assistant and a grey bearded man dressed in black. I linger by the large pile of the newly released latest novel Jerusalem by Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, V For Vendetta and arguably the greatest ‘comic book’ writer ever (He baulks at the hi-falutin term ‘graphic novel’. From what I can earwig, its quite an intesting and erudite chat. But it ends quite abruptly when the assistant announces “Okay, well, shall I set you up over here and bring over the books and you can get cracking”
By what must be the happiest coincidence of my whole trip – and there have been a few – I have wandered into the shop, at dusk on an autumn Monday at just the moment that Alan Moore himself popped in to sign some stock. I introduce myself and grab a few words and Alex this assistant takes this pic in which I am not as terrified as its been suggested I look.
We had a nice chat, and you can read that in the finished book. For now, let me leave you with one thing Alan said. When I mentioned that, maybe the long shadow of the civil war, but I sensed a certain darkness in these shires of England, he said with a roguish chuckle “We’re the navel of England….all the bad blood drains here….”
Alan Moore knows the score, as a great band once sang…