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Ancient Feet: 33 - Geographic Howlers

...'Have you been on holiday yet?'

'Yes, I've just had a few days in the Lake District.'

'Ooh lovely. That's where I want to go Scotland.'..

Alan Nolan recalls startling examples of geographic confusion as he plods along England's famous Coast-to-Coast way.

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The direct route to Kirkby Stephen is approximately twenty miles but Wainwright gave an alternative route through the village of Orton which must add a couple of miles to the journey. It is well worth taking the longer route as, otherwise, it is yet another long day with nowhere to stock up along the way. On the other hand, Orton has a wonderful tea shop as well as a Post Office cum store where walkers can purchase extra supplies (and people like Don can fill up their torpedoes).

By the time we set off, the mist was lifting and it was beginning to look as though we might be lucky with the weather again, after all. Leaving Shap, the path took us across the mainline west coast railway and passed through a number of fields before a footbridge took us over the busy M6. Crossing the M6, I could not help thinking that here we were walking a hundred and ninety miles from one coast of England to the other, mostly through open country, and yet there are people who can't even navigate to the end of their roads. Southport, where I was born and brought up, is about twenty miles north of Liverpool and, some years ago, a cousin of mine set out with her husband on the road journey from Southport to London to visit some of his relatives. Driving inland from Southport, the M6 is joined after about fifteen miles and it should then be an easy journey on the M6 and Ml to London. Unfortunately, they reached Carlisle before they realised they were travelling in the wrong direction. Not just in the wrong direction. About a hundred bloody miles in the wrong direction. I have never been able to work out how two adults could travel along a motorway for a hundred miles, passing regular signs for 'Carlisle and The North', without realising that 'Carlisle and The North' are not on the route to 'London and The South'.

My cousin is not the only dunce when it comes to geography. Some years ago, when I still had cause to visit the hairdresser's, the young girl assigned to cutting and styling (I think they called it that) chirped away happily in the way that hairdressers seem trained to do, asking questions as if from a clipboard questionnaire:

'Have you been on holiday yet?'

'Yes, I've just had a few days in the Lake District.'

'Ooh lovely. That's where I want to go Scotland.'

What do you say to that? Do you point out as politely as possible that the Lake District is not in Scotland and risk causing embarrassment, or do you say nothing and hope that she does not discover her error within the next few days and feel very foolish? Fortunately, this is not too much of a dilemma when the person involved is not someone you know well, but it becomes potentially very awkward when it involves a friend. When Suzanne told a friend we were going to Tuscany, she was taken aback by his response:

'Lucky devil. I wish I was going. I love France.'

She decided not to embarrass him and hoped that he would not watch any travel programmes over the following few weeks which might alert him to his faux pas. Unfortunately, he went straight home and told his wife.

'Alan and Suzanne are going to Tuscany. We should go. It's ages since we went to France.'

'Tuscany's in Italy, you divvy'

'Is it? Oh shit, I've just made myself look a complete dickhead.'

Luckily, he was big enough to admit his mistake and we had a good laugh about it.


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