Dave Hadfield, the 63-year-old journalist, set off from his Bolton home last year for a month-long tour of England by bus. The resulting book, Route 63 (Scratching Shed Publishing, £13.99), subtitled Around England On A Free Bus Pass, is humorous, sometimes moving and full of knowledge, lightly worn.
Why did you make the trip?
Travel has always been one of my priorities. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll get abroad as often as I would like over the next few years. What I’ve realised, though, is that while I might have been to Papua New Guinea four times, I’ve hardly seen Dorset, for instance. So there was scope for a sort of internal journey, which would show me my own country from an angle I hadn’t really seen it from. Throw in the lure of the free bus pass and it started to look like a plan. The general idea was that I should stick as close to the coast and the Welsh and Scottish borders as I could.
What conclusions did you reach about the English?
Many and various. I got a series of little snapshots of people’s attitudes – ranging from the xenophobic to the hugely generous. It also reminded me that there is no quick and easy answer to the question of what it is to be English. Does it include Fijians in Colchester or Lithuanians in Lincoln, for example?
Are our towns and cities becoming increasingly homogenous?
A lot of people who live in remarkably distinctive places will tell you that they have lost their personalities. There must be some truth in this, but my experience is that there is still plenty left. I often got that rewarding feeling that a place was like nowhere else in England – or anywhere in the world. But the relentless growth of out-of-town shopping centres has robbed high streets of a lot of their vitality.
How difficult was it to undertake the trip while coping with Parkinson’s?
There were practical difficulties, like the number of pills I had to take, being slow to get started in the morning and getting very tired in the evening. But I wouldn’t want to dramatise it too much. People with no legs climb mountains – all I’ve done is go on a very long bus ride. I’ve also convinced myself that the vibration of a bus goes some way towards counteracting the tremor that is my main symptom.
Funding for bus services is being reduced. What will be the effect?
Anything that cuts down the mobility of people – especially in rural areas – is clearly a bad thing. In some parts of the country, communities will be left increasingly isolated if their bus service deteriorates. More than once, I found myself embarrassed by the amount local families were paying to get into the nearest town, say, while I was swanning around for nothing.