“’Tis the middle of night by the castle clock / And the owls have awakened the crowing cock…” These lines of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, read here by novelist Denise Mina on the Glasgow Acropolis, are said to have sent the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley screaming from the room. We don’t think that will be the effect of this amble along the trails of two giants of Romantic poetry. Indeed, it’s closer to the territory of the meditative BBC series Winter Walks, but with lyric couplets for company, along with the curlews and skylarks. Comedian Frank Skinner joins Mina for another literary travelogue after their previous series on Boswell and Johnson. And he is clearly impassioned to return to the heady intoxication with poetry he experienced as an undergrad (legal highs only, here).
The writers and friends pick up the threads of their great forebears Coleridge and William Wordsworth, from Westminster Bridge and a Georgian mansion in Bristol, to idyllic Racedown Lodge in Dorset. This was where Coleridge walked forty miles across field and hill to meet William and his sister Dorothy. And finally, to Exmoor, where the poets got to work on Lyric Ballads “one of the great double acts in the history of poetry”, says Skinner. Our guides bring a shiny 4×4, courtesy of the sponsor (you could argue that this is going down in the world when the poets’ patrons laid on splendid country houses); suspiciously new hiking gear, and enough gorgeous volumes of poetry to make you wonder about the porterage – the Romantics carried this stuff in their heads, of course.
Alison Rowat in The Herald thinks “the programme sounds far less fun than it is. Mina and Skinner wear their literary knowledge and research lightly, casually dropping in canny observations. There is plenty of banter besides as the pair take turns at the wheel of the hire car… they could be the world’s coolest English teachers on holiday.” Ed Potton, in an extended feature well worth a read in The Times, finds all this “gorgeous”. Asking Skinner about welling up while reading from Wordsworth’s Michael, the comedian tells him, “Wordsworth seems to be able to put that level of emotion in a sealed capsule that you can open 200 years later, and it still works.”
First shown December 2021.