by Andy Bull
Just saying the name conjures up the golden age of motoring: a time when the open road spelled freedom and adventure, and when driving was fun.
Once, The Great North Road was spoken of as the UK’s own version of America’s Route 66: the Mother Road, threading its way across this green and pleasant land, linking the capitals of London and Edinburgh, taking in the great cities of York and Newcastle, numerous market towns and villages whose old coaching inns now catered for a new, romantic breed: the motorist. But all of that has long gone. Hasn’t it?
Isn’t the Great North Road now dead: buried by the A1, with its motorway-grade stretches and ubiquitous town by-passes?
Not a bit of it. Because the A1 is not the Great North Road. Realignment, renumbering, re-routing and extensive upgrading have meant that it bears little relation to the original highway. No more than a quarter of the modern A1 follows the route of the true Great North Road.
So, has that evocatively-named highway been wiped off the map? Actually, no.
These days it is hidden, renumbered as, among others, the B197, the A602, and the B656, but often still known locally as The Great North Road. All it has lost is the traffic that grew and grew until it clogged this great national artery.
That old, original route can still be driven the 400 miles from capital to capital, on a journey that does indeed have much in common with cruising America’s Route 66.
Driving the Real Great North Road is travel writer Andy Bull’s account of doing just that.
It’s also about re-living a time when the road, in the words of JB Priestley, cut through towns like a knife through cheese; when it guided stars from Sting to Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler to Eric Burdon, to fame and fortune; when Dorothy L Sayers found a road “that winds away like a long, flat, steel-grey ribbon – a surface like a race-track, without traps, without hedges, without side-roads, and without traffic.”
All you need to do is find the old road first. Let Andy show you how.
By Tom Kitching
Tom Kitching is one of England’s leading traditional fiddle players.
He has worked as a solo performer, band member, dance caller, violin teacher, and street busker. That last element – the busking – was an afterthought, something to be phased out as he built a career in music.
But the busking bug wouldn’t go away. Beyond the music and the collecting hat, perhaps fiddling through the streets of England could be a key to finding out who the English really are, how they view themselves and how they deal with change. Is there anything that ties together people across England’s many cultural divides, from neat Cotswold villages hugging village greens to former mining villages huddled beside abandoned pits, from multicultural city to Anglo-Saxon market town?
Armed with a violin, a Northern sensibility and a love of life in all its troubling richness, Tom took an 18-month journey through England to find out.
This isn’t really a book about busking, though. It’s about people, place, and that elusive beast – Englishness. On Tom’s street-level odyssey, the lines between friend and stranger blur, informality reigns, and chance encounters make a mockery of careful planning.
As the seasons change and the tally of busking towns grows, the complex mosaic called England confronts its fly-on-the-wall observer with the challenge – define me if you dare.
Rugby League, Rock’n’Roll, The Road and Me
by Steve Mascord
Steve Mascord – born Andrew John Langley – was obsessed with rugby league and rock’n’roll. Long after almost everyone he knew, he clung to these things like twin teddybears, turning at least one of them into a career and making a bit of money out of the other.
At the age of 47 he owned precisely nothing aside from hundreds of records and CDs and almost every edition of Rugby League Week ever printed. He was unmarried, had no car or property and was the proud owner of $50,000 of credit card debt. Then one day he discovered the truth about himself.
He always knew he was adopted but it turned out he was part of a bohemian family, his mother forced to give him up after suffering a mental breakdown. She searched for him until her dying day. Steve met uncles and cousins and aunties he never knew existed and for the first time in his life he felt whole. And he looked around that storage room full of CDs and football magazines and felt sad; a sense of loss. He appeared in newspapers and on radio and television and people thought he was successful but had he really created a life for himself? Or was he living in a childhood fantasy, compensating for what had been missing, ready to fall down on top of him as traditional media imploded?
Steve thought ‘enough of being Steve Mascord, who is not a real person. Time to finally be Andrew John Langley’. Having figuratively thrown all his toys out of the cot, he decided to conduct an audit. Which ones to pick up off the floor and keep in his new life, and which to leave laying there forever.
In the Footsteps of Laurie Lee
By Dave Hadfield
It was the Booker Prize-winning author of Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally, who described Dave Hadfield as ‘The Poet of Rugby League’. True enough, though the man who has also been called Bolton’s answer to Bill Bryson has equally revelled in other subjects, like music and travel.
Lost in Spain is the result of the dying wish of his oldest friend’s wife, Barb, to have her ashes scattered along the route traced by Laurie Lee when he walked from Gloucestershire to the Mediterranean in the 1930s.
That original journey provided the material for As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, the book upon which, as well as Cider with Rosie, Lee’s glittering reputation rests.
Lost in Spain is a story of friendship and late-flowering love that is by turns informative, poignant, elegiac and laugh-out-loud funny.
These days freed from the constraints of daily journalism, Hadfield has no plans to stop writing. Of his ten books so far, five have been written since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008.
By Dave Hadfield
With a foreword by Sky Sports presenter Dave Clark
Early on the morning of his 63rd birthday, DAVE HADFIELD walked out of his front door and caught a bus…
It was the first stage in an epic journey that would take him around the furthest flung corners of his native England, showing it to him from a completely new angle.
Already acclaimed for his books on sport and music, Hadfield has broadened his canvas for what might well be his finest work yet.
Heading south along the Welsh Borders, west to Land’s End, along the South Coast to Dover, through London and up the eastern side of the country to Newcastle, through the Pennines and the Lakes and back home to Lancashire; he chronicles what he sees and hears on an itinerary that involves over 100 local buses.
Better still, he does it all for nothing – on a bus pass for which he was qualified by Parkinson’s Disease. Undeterred by that disability, he explores the country he loves with a keen eye and ear for the absurd.
By turns thoughtful and hilarious, Route 63 will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Hadfield’s writing for the Independent newspaper, as well as his highly popular previous outings. Those new to his unique style, can prepare to discover why he has been called Bolton’s very own answer to Bill Bryson.