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This article is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

Mad John’s Walk John Gallas
ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE years ago, John Clare, residing at Matthew Allen’s High Beach Private Asylum in Epping Forest, decided to go home. ‘Felt very melancholy’, he wrote, two days before. ‘Fell in with some gypsies, one of whom offered to assist in my escape from the madhouse’. Two days later, he was off.

His route, via the Great North Road, was around eighty miles. I thought this doable. First I Googled walking directions from each place he had remembered to the next. Then I bought a pair of Skechers, with Memory Foam feet. I took a spare T-shirt, a spare pair of socks, a rollable raincoat, a hat, the Penguin Clare, a notebook and pen, and my iPod Fitness app, to measure each damned step along the way. John C had old boots, and nothing else. I also had a bank account.

His own account is unfailingly practical: the state of his feet and his boots, the direction he was going, the people he met, and the search for food and a place to sleep were all that concerned him. There is little creative in a desperate pedestrian. And so it proved. The place of his homes, Helpston and Northborough, I know and love. If madness was missing, I felt still that I held his hand all the way, but that we did not talk about Life. Sometimes, that is Poetry.

Day 1 by the app: 48,477 steps, 7 hours & 20 minutes, 26.88 miles. High Beach Asylum to the Baker Arms at Bayford. The wall of Matthew Allen’s Asylum, now a private home, has ...

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