Sidelines - Andrew Martin is doomed to be a media sort

A dry stone waller, a sheep farmer, a signalman and what might have been

Last week, I went up to the Yorkshire Dales to walk the Three Peaks - Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough - with my friend the vicar and my friend the builder. Beautiful countryside always takes me in the same way, and halfway up Pen-y-ghent, I turned to my friends and said: "You know, I wish I was a dry-stone waller. I heard a man talking about it on the radio. He said it was the greatest job ever." The vicar nodded. "Real sense of achievement, too. You can see exactly what you've done every day."

"It's a bit tricky, though," said the builder. "You, in effect, build two parallel walls with linking stones, so you have to be able to think in three dimensions." Taking heart from the fact that he had not said that this was beyond me, I walked on, thoughtfully.

Later, our path took us through a pretty farmyard. "Be a great life to be a farmer, wouldn't it?" I said, as we edged past some geese. "But I suppose it's very difficult to get started." "Not if you go to Scotland," said the builder. "They're desperate for people to take on the crofts." "But what would I farm?" I wondered. "Sheep," said the vicar, promptly. "But there's no money in that," I said. "Specialist sheep," said the vicar, who then told me an encouraging story of a friend of his who'd done well with a breed called Jacob sheep, which are brownish.

Further on we came to the Ribblehead Viaduct, which is part of the anachronistic Settle-Carlisle Railway. There was a signal box close to the viaduct, with a signalman inside it, warming himself before a real fire, judging by the smoke rising from his chimney. "Now, that's the life," I said. "Yup," said the vicar. "Total tranquillity. And he's in charge of those beautiful old semaphore signals." "Your dad was on the railways, wasn't he?" said the builder. "You'd probably find you had an aptitude for it."

By evening, we were walking - or hobbling, really - through Giggleswick churchyard, where Russell Harty is buried. My friends the vicar and the builder suggested I be photographed next to the headstone. "Why?" I asked, rather defensively. "Well, you're a media sort like him," they chorused. Doomed to stay one, too, their tone strongly suggested.

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