Martin Hesp: Excuse me for asking, but do you happen to be a poet?
Are you a famous poet?
I suppose, thinking about it, that is a question guaranteed to instil surprise, if not downright concern, in strangers roaming a lonesome moorland. But it was one I had to ask this week because I had, indeed, mislaid a well-known scribe.
I could now write a thesis – or indeed an existentialist poem – about the various reactions to my singular question.
Responses I received from innocent walkers between Minehead and Porlock on the South West Coast Path varied from the perfunctory, "No, not me mate" and the, "You must be joking" types – to the far more delighted, "I'm honoured you think I might look like a famous poet" style comments.
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None, alas, turned out to be Simon Armitage.
The award-winning Yorkshire bard has just started a big march from the start of the coast path at Minehead to "Land's End and beyond", performing poetry along the way at pre-arranged events "in return for bed, breakfast and a round of butties" – and I was supposed to be joining him on the first few scenic miles in order to write a big WMN article.
It didn't happen. August traffic – annual enemy to most of those of us who live west of Bristol – meant I was late arriving at the giant-hands-holding-a-map sculpture which marks the beginning of the world's longest and most beautiful coastal path. But only by ten minutes.
Crawling along in second gear I'd been hoping that, being a poet, Mr Armitage might have been lolling about penning a few stanzas – after all, what's ten minutes between lofty thoughts? But, I guess, if you are planning to walk hundreds of miles, you'd best put a move on.
Anyway, he wasn't there, so knowing this particular corner of the coast path well, I went belting off over massive North Hill looking for someone who... Well, someone who might look a bit laureate-like.
My dad was with me and he said: "Will you recognise Mr Armitage when you see him? If not, are you going for the ethereal Dante Gabriel Rossetti type, or a staggering whisky-swigging Dylan Thomas?"
I decided to widen the field – by which I mean I asked everyone I came across on the coast path, with one exception... He had the appearance of a professional explorer and was moving so rapidly, and equipped with so much hi-tech orienteering paraphernalia, that I could not bring myself to believe anyone who earns a living by musing in any way could be so entirely soldier-like and all-conquering.
This guy wasn't out to enjoy the coast path, he was there to give it a thrashing.
Later I approached the male half of a couple who were marching along the trail: "Excuse me, but you don't happen to be a famous poet, do you?"
After I'd repeated the question at their request and mentioned Mr Armitage's name, they fell about laughing.
She said: "Wait 'til I tell your mother. You. Of all people. A famous poet!" After more mirth, she added: "This is going in the family scrapbook!"
The last people I approached looked the most likely. I had to run a mile to reach them, but it seemed worth it because the young guy had long dreadlocks and exuded a general bohemian air. We were out at the end of North Hill on the high crags above Hurlstone Point where terra-firma gives way to a vast maritime void – a location that many would argue is the most panoramic in all of South West England.
By this time I had moderated my question by adding a little in the way of explanation: "Hi, I'm a journalist and I was meant to be meeting a famous poet – you're not him I suppose?"
The pleasant young fellow smiled and shook his much-adorned head, causing me to mutter: "Oh blimey, I've really messed up."
At which his beautiful blonde girlfriend said: "Never mind, I can't think of a more spectacular or dramatic place to mess up in."
And she was right. To hell with famous poets or journalistic assignments or anything else. When you are standing in paradise, the very best thing you can do is relax and enjoy it.
Having said that, if you come across a dreadlocked youth and his girlfriend walking the South West Coast Path, do please be nice to them – and if you meet Simon Armitage at one of his readings in the next few weeks, give him my best regards.