In a stone bus shelter on the edge of Welwick, halfway along the B1445, a farm dog calls you out of your hiding, and you start to think that it’s the rests, the stops, that are taking it out of you. The pavement is at a standstill. There are faults in the kerb.
Weeton lies three miles and two hours east of the new year. The road passes through it, pitted and slow, where a drunk man pauses on the northbound lane. He offers his greetings. You offer your greetings. He swears at your back. There is no traffic.
Beyond Skeffling, the road climbs for a mile or so, curving then straightening for the approach to Easington. You are somewhere between the curves and the straights when you hear the vehicle slowing behind you. It pulls to the side. Stop. Stop.
I step down from the banked verge and take fourteen or fifteen paces towards the patrol car. The engine falls silent. It is nearly 3am and I have been walking for sixteen hours, with two short, unsuccessful breaks. The driver lowers his window and begins to speak. He wishes me a happy new year. He notes that there are not many people on the roads at this hour. He asks me where I am trying to get to. ‘Spurn Point’, I reply. ‘I’ve just walked from Hull.’ Why are you walking from Hull to Spurn Point, he asks. I haven’t prepared an answer. What will you do when you get there, he asks. ‘Walk back, I suppose.’ I am speaking with difficulty, the voice drying out, falling back into disuse. I manage to ask if there will be any buses later. He turns to his colleague in the passenger seat. After a few minutes, they turn back to me. There will not be any buses later. The engine makes its starting sound and the car fades into Easington.
Left of the village is the gas terminal; left of the gas terminal is the coast. The east road ends here. I move awkwardly through the village, wanting signage, black on white, the unnumbered road to Kilnsea, the whites and yellows of the lit terminal flaring and softening in my left eye, shrinking as the road turns from the sea. I am clear of the last outlying cottage before my stride gives way. Set back from the verge is a rough bench, two planks and two posts, and I buckle into it. My arms fold and my head sinks. For perhaps twenty minutes there is nothing, near to nothing; then, from the road south of Easington, a voice starts in, racketing and injured, closing down my half-sleep. As the voice approaches, as my head lifts, I realise that it is the drunk from Weeton: aiming at song, belting it sideways. I cannot make out one word that he throws down. The tune is straying into me and will finish there and I will be caught and made into his companion. The bench holds me. It is arresting me. I will be made into a companion. I haul myself out of the stupor, shoulders first, strapping the bags about me, measuring his pace, sluggish but steady, I have no pace. I try to push myself into a walk. I say that he will not stick to me. I push myself harder, right ankle resisting, something splitting on the left side, then the voice, off balance, off song, weakening its hold, wilting in the gap.
The gap moves southward. Sometime after 4am, the road runs into Kilnsea Clays, marked on the map as a low, grey buffer between Holderness and the Humber, neither land nor water. The distance between west bank and east coast has shrivelled to a half-mile, which the road now addresses with a sharp left, leaving me, some minutes later, at a crossroads. I stop and almost immediately lose my position. The few signs I find have been put there for custom: caravans, pubs, private lets. The south might be anywhere. I start back up the road, thinking of the farmer’s silo I’d passed ten minutes earlier, thinking of it now as a place, a place to spend the last hours before dawn. Halfway between the clays and the coast I hear vocals and know that it is the drunk. I turn back to the crossroads and lose my position again, this time at the caravans. The intervals between song are lengthening and I have no sense of the drunk’s direction. I go further into the caravans. A patrol car idles at the crossroads. It seems to be the patrol car from Easington. I do not see or hear it approach. The song dies down. The patrol car leaves. On coming forward from the caravans I see the sign for Spurn Point. I follow the road south, land narrowing and flattening on both sides, half-lit by an unclouded moon. I don’t want it. The idea is smaller and smaller with each step.
Here and there the old railway breaks into the road, the track slanting the concrete, surfacing from grass on the east embankment, tapering into sand on the westward tilt.
Every few hundred yards a passing place or a sketched-out car park. Every half hour a car, bound for the lifeboat station; then silence folds over the spit, its concrete, marram and sand.
Bits of Flamborough, forty miles north of here, hang somewhere to my left, silent, unshown, sent down as longshore drift; rounding the spithead, drawn into shelter, worked into silt.
On a slight rise, just short of the lifeboat buildings, the shell of a functional one-storey structure, square, stone, solitary. I walk into its one room, floor lost under layers of chipped wood, broken brick and MDF, and look to make myself comfortable. Wind pans from doorframe to windowframe. I have settled myself on the remains of a panel, knees brought to chest, waiting for the collapse: for sleep, portioned out in scraps. It doesn’t come and at 6.30am I abandon the room. I make a diagonal from the lifeboat buildings to the landward jetty, tracking the lights that count it into the water, still dark and sheer, no word of morning. The jetty is gated and locked. I step back from the spithead’s edge and blink back the movement in the lifeboat buildings, two persons, paused in office and kitchen, the start or the end of a shift. Between the pilot station and the parked cars is a bird hide, built of brick, listing slightly in a grass pitch. I walk to it and find a single mattress set into its middle, raised from the concrete floor by an uneven spread of debris. I fall upon it, fold my arms into a pillow and sleep.
Towards 8am I wake and leave the hide. It is full morning, blue above the estuary, wind hardly stirring the grass. There seem to be more vehicles in the car park and more arriving. My legs are not working properly. I tell myself that today will be easier, clear skies, a simple aim, a simple route. I haul myself up the peninsula and try to fill in the blanks from last night, the landscape’s span and detail halved by darkness and exhaustion. I look out at the estuary and see only more blanks. The road ahead is heavier than I remembered. The lighthouse. Blown dunes. Repeats of cars. After two hours and four miles I reach Kilnsea. There is a bench set close to a dry stone wall. I sit down, take in some water; a few minutes later, I am clean out.
North of Easington is where the imagery starts to break down. I have been standing at the edge of the B1445 for fifteen minutes with my thumb pointing skywards. This has no effect on the cars. I am unable to maintain the position and turn away, upper body stiff with chill, legs seizing, bending then seizing. The road stretches west and I move back into it. It is midday. Six miles to Patrington. Another sixteen miles to Hull. A familiar stress in the toes of my right foot. Cold chafing. Sapping fever.
Where the B1445 runs out east of Patrington, just short of Black Mill Farm, you find a slate plaque on a square stone plinth.
Zero longitude. Three markers lie north of here, west and north-west of Withernsea, the last of these lost to tidal erosion.
Then nothing, the meridian out of land, only water marking a line between here and the polar ice, grid north from true north.
A housing estate, Patrington, 3pm. I lower myself to a concrete bench. It slopes towards the road and I don’t know what to do with my legs. The stops are now more and more frequent. I no longer know what I am stopping for. Each stop leaves me with less and less to go on with. The map breaks down when I try to read it. I have little food and no appetite. I brace my hips against the bench and find that my lower body has locked. Hull train station is sixteen miles from here. My train leaves in five hours. Currently my walking pace is two miles per hour and falling. There are no buses. No taxis. My phone is lifeless. I try to measure this information and myself against it. I want the sleep knocked out of me but don’t know where to start. I think of unfreezing my body, joint by joint. The first joint loosens slightly and I begin to pull myself upright. This won’t hold out for long. I move towards the village and push myself towards the exit.
I am somewhere west of Keyingham when the afternoon light cuts out. The last three signs, widely spaced, have all given my position as nine miles from Hull. I look up only for this and for oncoming traffic. At Thorngumbald I cross the road to a bus shelter and slump against the perspex. I spend the next ten minutes caught between broken starts, eyes twitching, head lolling. I have to come out of this. I recross the road where I left off, slowing still, night settling around the village, the edges showing through. The plain, emptying towards the south-west, the city creeping into it; the road branching, widening, taking on weight.
I miss my turn at Hedon, its crossroads skewed and dim, and find myself two miles north of the dual carriageway. I take the first left, a thin country lane, out of place now, curving west to south, the fixed points of the city further off. I join the carriageway at the Saltend flyover and pick my way through the crossings until I reach the broad pavement, westbound against the eastbound traffic. Above me, every half mile, directional signs, intersections with four or five arms, traffic filing out to docks and estates. I try to imagine that I am part of this flow into the city. I stop to take my position from the signage. I cannot read the destinations. The lettering is not doubled. I can make out the shapes on the boards and match them to the system around me but I cannot read the destinations. The lettering is not blurred. I try again, stock still and squinting, and eventually make out some words in the upper left of the sign, the marina, the aquarium, and move on before it starts to hurt again.
In the city centre you ask for the train station. You ask three times.
You move south, north, west across the city, losing your place.
Then the carriage, emptying and emptying, stop after stop.
Eastings concludes the journey outlined by Brian Lewis in the closing sections of The Meridian (May 2013). The Marker, a sequence of short poems tracing the river path from Hull to the Sunk Island Meridian (the thread of which Eastings picks up), can be found here.