As a child, I used to make up stories on the walk to school from my house in North East Derbyshire. The landscape where I grew up was the kind of place Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts might have described as ‘Edgelands’: half rural, half ex-industrial. It was Dennis Skinner’s constituency, just along from Arkwright – the mining village that was moved across the road in the 1990s. I’d imagine Arkwright town marching across the road in night rather than being shifted and rebuilt gradually. I was fascinated by things that seemed dormant – landfill sites and disused wells, almost disappointed if there turned out to be nothing mysterious in them.
I’ve been climbing and running since I was a teenager and I’ve often written in my head rather than on paper – turning lines over and over until they become fixed – so for me, a walk is a kind of living, active notebook. I also find that I encounter landscapes and walks through the words of others – I can’t go to Scotland without hearing poems by Norman MacCaig, for instance. I can’t climb a Munro without muttering lines from ‘Climbing Suilven’: ‘my lungs say no / but down and down this treadmill hill must go.’ I can always remember the places where particular poems of my own started life: running around Cambridge city centre writing a half-ballad about beauty, or walking by Grasmere lake composing a surreal poem about ‘Items Carried Up Ben Nevis’. A walk with other people is a chance to let them have a look at my notebooks, the invisible ones I carry with me whenever I walk.
On Sunday 11 June, Helen Mort leads a poetry walk for the 2017 Ted Hughes Poetry Festival, from Denaby Ings to Sprotbrough Flash; click here for further details and to book (limited places available).