TRAVEL / Memorable Journeys: Around the world in 216 trips: Michael Palin - From London to Southwold, Suffolk

HERE, for a change, is a Michael Palin journey we can all take. Normally he flits from Pole to Pole as nonchalantly as other people visit aunts in Hartlepool, whizzing through parts of the globe so remote the inhabitants have never seen a BBC cameraman. Yet the epic trek strongest in his mind is the 120-mile rail journey from his home in Gospel Oak, London NW5, to Southwold on the Suffolk coast, where his parents lived from 1966.

'I started making this journey regularly in 1967 and continued until 1985 - once a month for almost 20 years.' There and back, it works out at about 50,000 miles, six times round the equator, an impressive mileage even by Palin's current standards.

His connection with Southwold started as a teenager when his family spent holidays there. 'In 1959 I met on the beach the girl who became my wife.' East of Ipswich, a television play this meeting inspired, was filmed in the town. It was also the setting for some Monty Python sketches; John Cleese, as a kidnapped newsreader, was pushed off the harbour wall and Terry Jones tried to jump the Channel from nearby Covehithe.

'The journey could be made, from my front door to Darsham Station, entirely by public transport, so I didn't have to take my car and add to the pollution. It began on the North London Line from Gospel Oak Station, five minutes' walk away. It's a nice little station on Hampstead Heath - I was being transported from green fields to green fields - but I always associate it with the death of John Lennon because it was there I learnt that he had been shot.'

The North London Line is a strange hybrid - an above- ground line which, running from the south-west suburbs to the east of the City, has the sort of route you would expect of the London Underground. Until the development at Broadgate, it terminated at the old Broad Street Station, a semi-detached neighbour of Liverpool Street.

'The morning train, at about a quarter to nine, had an ill-assorted mixture of businessmen and schoolgirls. Broad Street used to be a handsome station, but, with the weeds growing through the tracks, you felt it had closed the day before.' At Liverpool Street, a short walk round the corner, there were usually two ticket desks in operation: 'As it is one of the stations for the boat trains to the Continent, there was generally somebody from Lower Saxony trying to negotiate a ticket via Rotterdam.'

On the 9.30 to Ipswich, Palin would take a seat in the restaurant car and settle down to work or read: 'A book I associate with that journey is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

'We would reach Ipswich at about 10.45am. It is a small, well-kept station, with no labyrinth of lines and platforms to get lost in, just two main platforms and a couple of side platforms for local trains. I joined the Railway Development Society at Ipswich Station. I'm sure my experience of this, the East Suffolk Line, made me militant about railways and appreciate their value.' He is now president of the environmental group Transport 2000.

His connecting train would always be waiting. 'The rolling stock is now much improved, but then it consisted of fairly decrepit 'multiple units' (two carriages only). They were diesel, but seemed to produce more steam than a steam train and there were no loos so you had to make sure you had 'been' on the express. After about 10 minutes they would rattle into motion.

'The track got worse and worse and the train used to swing around - yet it was a sign you were really into the outback, in a quietly forgotten corner of England.'

However lacking in Zen and the art of railway maintenance, the line was at least still open. That was more than could be said for the narrow-gauge branch line which until 1929 took passengers on the final leg of the journey right into Southwold. In its absence, Palin used to leave the train at Darsham Station, a few miles away on the A12. 'It is unmanned and there'd be no one on it apart from my mother.'

Mrs Palin Senior was wont to hog the crown of the road and to use only a selection of the gears. Fortunately it is not far down the main road before the turn to Southwold.

'There was the delicious feeling of turning off the A12 towards Southwold on a road that doesn't lead anywhere else. There is nowhere else I know of where there is this sense of branching off absolutely from the main stream. You knew that unlike anywhere else on the route, it would not have changed. It would still be comforting and unrushed.

'I'd arrive about a quarter to 12, three hours door-to-door. The journey was never complete for me until I'd walked down to the sea and lobbed a few pebbles into the waves. I had to taste the salt.

'Although a pretty town, it could never be called twee. It has a natural style and grace and harmony. You are able to encompass the whole of Southwold in a 45-minute walk and yet it never has the feeling that it is small. It has an enormous number of elements: the lighthouse, a fine church, the brewery, the Swan Hotel, a beach.

'Then there is the Common, and the even wilder area beyond in the marshes and creeks. You would walk along the Common in the full moon and feel something not entirely benevolent was around you. My father used to say it was 'Black Shuck', a huge ghostly dog.' It seems that there are some things which, even to a Python, are no laughing matter.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London