Jack is a one-time protester, itinerant farm-worker, vagrant, poet and seer who has spent 30 years on the road, and of At Hawthorn Time’s four main characters he’s the one with the least conventional life. When the book opens he has just served half of a prison sentence, the latest in a long line of convictions for trespass; he skips bail to walk up Watling Street, now the A5, in search of work. Jack’s journey north out of London was, for me, uncharted territory.
Not that the busy, workaday suburb of Harpenden felt particularly like the unknown as I disembarked from a train with my backpack one April morning. I was well prepared for the next four days, or so I thought: better than Jack would have been, anyway. I had hiking boots on, and a walking jacket, an Ordnance Survey map and a mobile phone; and I’d booked overnight stays at two pubs and a B&B, wild camping being illegal in England. I had water and cash, and my notebook, and the weather was nice. How hard could walking up Watling Street be?