I came in the other day to find a message on the answer phone. The BBC. Clare Balding wanted to talk to me. Well, not Clare actually. She’s one of Britain’s favourite broadcasters and a bit busy I dare say. Her research assistant Lucy finally got hold of me, and asked me if I’d be able to lead Clare and team on a walk from Ripon to Ripley for ‘Ramblings’, a popular programme on BBC R4 about walking.
Why me? Because I’m Hon. Sec. of Ripon Ramblers, our local walking group, and our details are out there, if you care to look. Yes, but why ME? Lucy thought, after our chat, that I’d be OK on the radio.
OK then, why Ripon? Because, it turns out that in October 1936 the Jarrow Marchers walked from Jarrow, through Ripon to Ripley and beyond, all 280 miles to London. In October, ‘Ramblings’ plans to broadcast a programme to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
Perhaps you don’t know much about the Jarrow March. Neither did I. Not till I met Clare and Lucy, cultural historian Robert Colls, and Helen Antrobus, who’s a real Ellen Wilkinson enthusiast from the People’s Museum in Manchester. The five us walked and talked our way along our eight mile route from Ripon to Ripley, and we barely noticed the rain which threatened constantly, but only delivered occasional short sharp showers.
This is a blog in two parts. The first is our country walk, the second about the Jarrow March. But Friday wasn’t in two parts. Every step we took, we remembered those marchers. Robert and Helen told us the story. Together, we drew comparisons between their march and our own hike.
I’d already dutifully planned and walked a route. The marchers went entirely on main roads, but if you’ve ever driven on the A61, you’ll know this is no longer a good idea. Country paths were the way to go.
As we set out together from Ripon, we got our instructions. Lucy had her furry-muff-on-a-stick. You’ll have seen those, as reporters rove round town centres talking to likely passers-by about some event that’s happened locally. When recording, Clare’s always on the right of the person she’s talking to, and Lucy’s there on the left with her recording gear. It was slightly odd to walk alongside Clare as she formally introduced to the programme, telling listeners where she was, why she was there, and who we all were. But soon we forgot about that muff. We all chatted together easily, about that March, about walking, about each other. Sometimes we had to repeat what we’d said, in a spontaneous ‘I’ve just thought of this’ kind of way, because some passing noise – RAF jets overhead for instance – had ruined the recording.
In many ways our walk was a scam. The A61 passes through rolling hillsides, productive farmland, cows in the pasture, and pretty villages. It’s all bucolic England at its best. Our route presented a more hidden countryside. Isolated farmhouses with dilapidated barn roofs, ancient pastures, secret dark, damp woodlands, and tiny rather remote hamlets.
At first though, we were on a road. Badly maintained, rather narrow and with tall hedges it’s a bridle path these days, but it is still tarmacced, and perhaps the kind of highway those marchers would have recognised. Later, on grass-trodden pathways, we passed Markenfield Hall, a 14th century moated country house.
Those marchers didn’t. We went through the village of Markington. Apparently the marchers were welcomed here too, though we couldn’t imagine why. It’s more than a mile or so from the main road and history doesn’t record why exactly they made a detour. We strode along the edges of barley fields, on woodland paths and across gorsey heath, all without meeting a soul. Not what the marchers experienced.
And we talked. That’s what I’ll remember most. The sheer pleasure of walking and talking with a group of people thrust together for the day who quickly found themselves to be friends – just for a day. Thanks you Clare, Lucy, Robert and Helen for a very special occasion. It was a real privilege.
And the Jarrow March? More about that in my next post.