Hiking with My Old Man




by Bruce Northam

My dad and I were inspired to walk across Wales by our previous 225-mile, coast-to-coast stroll across Northern England from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Meandering twenty miles a day along towering shoreline cliffs, through dense forests, and over forbidding mountain ranges shaped our greatest father and son moments; and one benefit of undertaking an exhausting itinerary is that it left us no energy to recycle any debates about my tenth-grade car-crashing spree.

Hiking across the beautiful and changing landscape, we acquainted ourselves with villages forgotten by modern highways and high-speed trains, environments where heaven and earth appear to have been reversed. Our cicerone was the late Alfred Wainwright’s map and guidebook. Wainwright, known for his eccentric and solitary nature, became celebrated for linking the local footpaths, neighborhood shortcuts, and rural trails to fashion splendid, extended hikes.

A father and son roaming across rural England can be an inspiration for other lads and their dads. At seventy, my dad had endured a broken neck and two heart angioplasties. Despite the risks, we were off. As we rode our last train to the launch point, we sat across from each other. I watched him sleep; he looked lean and tired. What if he had a heart attack on a mountaintop? I was going to have to father him. Perhaps the kin tide of foresight and caring has now permanently shifted.

One of the keys to enjoying a coast-to-coast traverse is realizing that getting lost is half the fun. Occasionally we’d hike separately, one ahead of the other or on different routes. You understand a town when you walk in and out of it. Our feet held out without incident, hiking boots broken in before departure. I am told my English-born great-grandfather and his son walked the south coast of England together. Great-Granpa had some trouble with his feet and poured a bit of whiskey into his boot “to make the leather more supple.” Dad continues to scare the English with questions about wildflowers and the whereabouts of some carbonated Bass Ale.

The traverse complete, we dipped our toes into the North Sea, victorious. We then returned to the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. In the end, Dad slept less and ate more than I did and seemed to have more energy. He also noticed every birdsong, flower, shrub, and tree. Walking across rural England is a media sabbatical, a recess from a world seized by materialistic superstition.

Walking across a country is a more intense bonding experience than you’ll find on any golf course.

The journey allowed me to rediscover the best friend I have. As we looked out over the North Sea, the conquered trail at our backs, my dad sighed, “Thanks Bruce, this has been a great victory in my life.”


From Globetrotter Dogma. Copyright © 2002 by Bruce Northam. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $14.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-97-BOOKS ext 52 or click here.