Hyperlocal travel writing: the path alongside the A10

One of my great comforts this past year has been travel writing: reading it, and visiting in my imagination all the places that I can’t visit in the flesh. But it’s also made me appreciate where I am. And that made me remember that in fact I live in a city that’s a popular tourist spot in ordinary times.

Actually, I don’t believe that’s necessary. No matter where we live, we can approach our streets, gardens, kitchen tables, with a travel writer’s eye (and perhaps an attitude of self-parody, if need be). Take a look at this: Travel and Food Diary: Quarantine Edition.

So, if you’d like to jump in and share your hyperlocal travel writing, please do. (#HyperlocalTravelWriting ought to do it.) We can visit each other virtually, travel the world, see the sights, taste the food, smell the scents, from our computers.

At the same time, it felt a bit like cheating to go straight in with the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell and all the rest of the attractions on my doorstep. They’ll come later, I’m sure. But I thought I’d start with something more ordinary: the path I walk most days.

Pale blue morning sky with moody purple, pink and apricot clouds over twentieth century detached houses, bare winter trees, a shining tarmac path, and dull grass

Start at the north end. Immediately, there’s a choice. Left or right? Left, the path is narrower and the trees are closer. Right, the wider path is split down the middle: red for cycles, grey for pedestrians. They clasp between them a broad green space. There’s probably a dog or two bounding across it: a black labrador, maybe.

Left or right? It doesn’t matter. This wasn’t so much a fork as a spoon, and you started at the very tip of the bowl. If you didn’t dip down to the subway under the main road, drawn by the allure of a takeaway (not, in these times, a film or a swim) at the leisure park, or follow one of the little paths off to the left to find yourself somewhere at the end of a cul-de-sac, you’ll be where the bowl meets the handle. Now the two paths join, split the difference, become a sinuous strip of tarmac self-consciously meandering between the houses on the left and the trees on the right. The cycle track ends, but the cyclists continue: a lad on a paper round, sporty-looking people on mountain bikes, small children wobbling on stabilisers or whizzing off on balance bikes. Scooters, too. Dirt tracks, made by children or dogs, lead off into the trees and emerge again a little further on, for the pleasure of going nowhere in particular.

Beyond the trees, the A10 roars on. Somebody’s going somewhere, even if it isn’t you. South, towards Cambridge and London. North, towards the sea. The birds keep singing regardless. Thrushes, sparrows, pigeons. You might even hear a cockerel.

Now the path dips, loses a couple of metres in height. You notice it, out here in the Fens. The path broadens a little, becomes concrete, passes a small water processing plant, is barred by a gate (easy to walk round, and a particularly good blackberry spot in the autumn), meets the road. Not the main road, but the one that takes the traffic into the city from the north west. The cars (it mostly is cars) coming from the south whose drivers wish to do this veer into the middle lane, slow rapidly, and wait for the southbound lane to be clear. From the north, it’s easier. Meanwhile, the main flow of traffic – cars, white vans, grimy lorries, huge tractors in primary colours, hauling gleaming-bladed implements behind them – keeps on going.

Cross the road, and pause on the other side. Look up the hill. There’s the cathedral, effortlessly imposing. You’d have to climb a bit to get to it, more than you’d think from looking at it from here. You’ll have to climb anyway, following this path.

Again, the planted tree barrier has grown up on the right, recently enough that you can still see the plastic guards around the trunks, long enough ago that some of the trees have swelled enough to push them off. Hazel, silver birch, blackthorn, wild roses, brambles. Even in winter, the rosehips make the hedges bright. The houses are a little further away, but every so often a path branches off to take residents off into the maze that only they have really got their heads around.

Still it continues, an artificial path winding through artificial bumps and mounds, little bridges crossing little drains. Chunky plastic benches are provided at decent intervals. This is a path for people. Keep on climbing, and you come to a wide, open green. Look at the houses, spot which ones have been made to the same pattern as each other. Watch the dogs joyfully chasing balls. There might even be someone with a kite. Some new trees were planted this winter, filling in some more of the space between the path and the road: try to picture what it’ll look like when they’ve grown up. At the top end, there’s another little bridge, and then you’re back on this same climbing, tarmac path, tucked between the houses and the road, except now the road is quite a way beneath you.

At the top of the hill the path gives onto a square of houses with an impressive playground and a majestic horse chestnut tree, older than anything around it. Keep on past it.

If it’s been dry, or very cold, or if you’re not too worried about your shoes, you might as well leave the path and climb up to the top of the little mound which really is as high as you can get. Look down on the road, look west across the fen, look at the morning sky. Follow the hedge line or walk the ridge, sloping down southwards. Or you can keep on along the path, which has its own rewards: huge variegated ivy leaves; snowdrops and crocuses, or, later, cherry blossom; or later still, the orange balls of buddleia globosa, thick with bees; a bush full of opinionated sparrows; a copper beech hedge; a bright-beaked blackbird.

And then you’re at another road. Look left, and there’s the cathedral again; right, the roundabout to sort the Ely traffic from the northbound traffic from the southbound traffic from the westbound traffic and the traffic that wants the filling station or the Travelodge. And straight ahead, a tranquil field, ploughed or green, and another lone chestnut tree, its branches sweeping downwards, hazy in the morning light.

Three quick links

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Firstly, I’ve finally sorted myself out with a mailing list. This is solely for the purpose of letting people know when I’ve got new stories available – my between-times burblings will remain here on the blog. If you want to receive a very occasional email letting you know that I’ve got a new book out, or a piece in someone else’s podcast or anthology, and also to read subscriber-only short stories, sign up to my mailing list

Secondly, Ezvid Wiki think I’m generating a lot of buzz.

Thirdly, this is the last week in which Speak Its Name and A Spoke In The Wheel are free.

Fall In Love: autumn sale at I Heart Lesfic

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A heads up for fans of f/f fiction: I Heart Lesfic is hosting a very large sale over the next few days. There are over one hundred books up there, by more than sixty authors. Enjoy!

The eagle-eyed will notice that none of those authors is me. This is because Amazon refuses to recognise that I set Speak Its Name to free (in ebook form, at least) several weeks ago. Lulu, Kobo, the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble have all caught on, though, so help yourself. (And if you’re dithering, here’s a recent review to help you make up your mind.)

Blog tour – final stage – excerpt at Books, Teacup and Reviews

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We’re nearly there! The very last stop on the blog tour takes A Spoke in the Wheel to Books, Teacup and Reviews, where you can read an excerpt. Yesha will be reviewing the book later in the summer, as well.

Thank you to all the bloggers who have welcomed me – and thank you for joining me on the ride. It’s been fun!

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Blog tour, stages 13 and 14: guest post at Anne Bonny Book Reviews, and review at Odd Socks and Lollipops

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It’s the penultimate day of the blog tour! Today I’ve taken A Spoke in the Wheel to Anne Bonny Book Reviews, where I’ve got a guest post on the subject of writing about disability.

And there’s a review at Odd Socks and Lollipops, where Jenni says,

Polly really made the novel for me, and the way in which she is written is so perfect. As a person who suffers with a chronic illness I could so relate to Polly and her experiences. It was so wonderful to see a disabled character written in the story and not have their narrative be there as a prop or so that they could be miraculously fixed. Instead Kathleen has created a wonderfully well developed character who highlighted both to Ben and the reader then challenge that every day life is for some.

You can read the whole review here.

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Blog tour, stage 10 and 11: a night in with Linda, and review from A Cornish Geek

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There are two stages on the blog tour today. First of all, take a look at Linda’s Book Bag and stay in with us – we’ve got cake!

Staying in with Kathleen Jowitt

And then head on down to Cornwall, where Emma has reviewed A Spoke in the Wheel at A Cornish Geek. She says,

When I received the PR for this book I was intrigued and drawn to the idea of second chances and redemption. Once I got stuck into the book, however, it was a different theme which kept me hooked: that of having your whole life mapped out and having it all taken away.

Read the review here.

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Blog tour, stage 8: review at Reflections of a Reader

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Stage 8 of the blog tour for A Spoke in the Wheel, this time at Reflections of a Reader, where Leah says,

I don’t particularly have much interest in cycling but something about the blurb for this one drew me in and I am so glad that it did. I read this book in a couple of sittings, it was addictive and written excellently.

You can read the whole review here.

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Blog tour, stage 6: review and guest post at Short Book and Scribes

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Today the blog tour takes us to Short Book and Scribes, where you can find both a review of A Spoke in the Wheel and a guest post by me, talking about the difficulty of fitting particular books (particularly mine) into particular genres.

Nicola says,

… there isn’t that much actual cycling going on in this book, but it’s an excellent read about redemption and friendship.

I say,

I’ve never been able to pick a genre and stick with it. Sometimes I think the whole concept of genre is more trouble than it’s worth.

And you can read all of it here.

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