Blackadder star Tony Robinson on his cross-country walking documentary
There’s nothing mundane about a walk with Tony Robinson.
Over numerous TV series, the Blackadder star has been yomping across the countryside of Britain, enthusing about the views, wildlife, locals and historical significance of the landscape.
He’s fronted Channel 4’s Walking Through History and Britain’s Ancient Tracks, and has lately high-stepped it over to Channel 5 for his series Coast To Coast.
Tony laced up his boots last week to start his 200-mile journey from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire, taking in the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors, with each episode covering about 30 miles.
Tonight’s second leg of the journey takes him from Borrowdale to the remote Cumbrian village of Shap and Tony says this show differs from other hiking series.
“Most walking shows are almost devoid of people other than specialists that the walker happens to bump into on the way, like some professor from Oxford who knows about that area,” chortles Tony, 70.
“I didn’t want that. I wanted to do something where we celebrated the rugged, adroit people who in these straitened times were not doing just one job, but four jobs to stay afloat.”
This week, for example, Tony meets a hill farmer, Jonny Bland of Yew Tree Farm, who remains devoted to farming Herdwick sheep despite it barely making ends meet.
A more uplifting segment sees Tony meet Mark and Maria Whitehead who, when the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 emptied their café of customers, started up Hawkshead Relish.
The business now produces half a million jars of jams, chutneys and mustards a year, employing 25 people and exporting to 35 countries.
Tony’s jaunt also allows him to take in some of the most spectacular vistas in the country – of lakes, dales and green rolling hills – and view some of the most interesting wildlife.
“I’m constantly excited by animal life,” says Tony. “It’s a privilege to be sharing the planet with all these various forms of life. Maybe because I live in London and haven’t spent so much of my life among animals that I get so excited when I see a bunch of fledgling chiffchaffs.” (They’re birds, since you ask.)
All of Tony’s ambling about the countryside has turned him into something of a poster boy for keeping fit into later life.
“I’m very lucky in that I have this short frame and don’t carry too much weight,” explains Tony. “I can nip into the gym for a week and that makes me fit enough to go on walks without pulling muscles.
I’ll never be able to run fast and climb a steeple, but I have resilience. Of course, one day I’ll pull a muscle and be forced to slow down, but hopefully I have a good few years ahead of me.”
In fact, no sooner will he finish Coast To Coast than Tony will be back on the hiking trail for another series of Ancient Tracks. He’s also hoping to return to Greg Davies’ comedy Man Down, in which he plays the wonderfully unpleasant Daddy.
For now, he’s hitting the footpath and discovering bits of the countryside that even he, as one of the country’s most seasoned walkers, had never explored before.
“Even though I’ve covered so much of Britain, I didn’t really know how east to west was glued together,” muses Tony. “I’d never seen how the Lake District turns into the Eden Valley and so on. To experience that had a real sense of discovery about it.”
Tony Robinson: Coast To Coast, Friday, 8PM, Channel 5