Travel books Archive

Win all seven books short-listed for the Stanford Dolman prize

“Writing that takes you away” is what Deskbound Traveller aims to provide, and there’s a richness of it among the seven books short-listed for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. Among them are two titles on the topical subject of borders and one on small islands off Britain, a portrait of Pakistan and one of Calcutta, a book driven by the wind and one brimming with stories of the sea. The judges meet next week to decide on the winner.

  The books are:
Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham (Granta, £20)
The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border by Garrett Carr (Faber, £13.99)
The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushanava Choudhury (Bloomsbury, £16.99)
RisingTideFallingStar by Philip Hoare (Fourth Estate, £16.99)
Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt (Nicholas Brealey, £16.99) 
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Granta, £14.99)
Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson (Eland, £19.95).

  Now, courtesy of the bookseller Stanfords, I am offering you the chance to win all seven.

  The £5,000 Stanford Dolman prize, formerly the Dolman prize — after the Rev William Dolman, a member of the Authors’ Club, who had been sponsoring it through the club since 2006 — was rebranded in 2015 and is now the centre-piece of a scheme run in association with the club by Stanfords and named after its founder: the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. That scheme — with sponsorship from the tour operator Hayes & Jarvis — includes an award for an outstanding contribution to travel writing, one for young travel writers and one for bloggers, one for fiction with a sense of place and others for books in various byways of travel (food, adventure, illustrated books and children’s travel books). The winners of all the awards will be announced on February 1 at the Stanford Travel Writers’ Festival, part of the Destinations show in London.

  To be in with a chance of winning the seven books on the Stanford Dolman short list, just retweet my tweet about the prize (“Win all 7 books…”) on Twitter from both @deskboundtravel and @kerraway.

Terms and conditions
Entrants must retweet the mention of the Stanford Dolman prize on Twitter from both @deskboundtravel and @kerraway by midnight on Friday, January 26, 1918. The winner, who must be resident in the United Kingdom, will receive one copy of each of the seven books short-listed for the prize. He or she will be selected at random and notified by Thursday, February 1. Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted. For more information about the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year, please see the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards site.

Talking places and writing at the Irish Literary Society

Dervla Murphy will be looking back on her life as a traveller and writer in an event organised by the London-based Irish Literary Society on March 26. The venue is the Bloomsbury Hotel, where the society has been holding its monthly meetings since 2013 (and where I interviewed Murphy in 2015, on the publication of Between Rivers and Sea: Encounters in Israel and Palestine.) Murphy will be talking to Dorothy Allen, deputy chair of the society.

On May 21, the society has another event at which Iain Sinclair (see previous post) will be discussing borderlands with Garrett Carr, whose The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border is on the short list for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

Seven books on short list for Stanford Dolman prize

The short list was announced this evening for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. The seven titles include two on the topical subject of borders and one on small islands off Britain, a portrait of Pakistan and one of Calcutta, a book driven by the wind and one brimming with stories of the sea. The books are:

Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham (Granta, £20)
Inspired by a DH Lawrence short story, Barkham travels through 11 outposts of the British Isles to find out what it means to be an islander.

The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border by Garrett Carr (Faber, £13.99)
In the run-up to the UK’s vote on membership of the European Union, Carr walked along a frontier with a troubled past and an uncertain future.

The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushanava Choudhury (Bloomsbury, £16.99)
Choudhury, born in the US into an Indian family, celebrates daily life and “the myriad enchantments” of a city that, he says, is too often represented as “a horror show”. 

RisingTideFallingStar by Philip Hoare (Fourth Estate, £16.99)
On coastal journeys, Hoare, who is something of a selkie (part human, part seal), tells stories of other artists, from Melville to Bowie, who have been drawn to the sea. 

Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt (Nicholas Brealey, £16.99) 
Having walked in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps to the Golden Horn, Hunt strides out on his own, to follow four of Europe’s winds across the Continent.

Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Granta, £14.99)
In the borderlands of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, Kassabova writes of fences both on the ground and in the head, and of the frontiers between the real and the imagined. 

Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson (Eland, £19.95)
Wilkinson, sent to Pakistan to report on “the war on terror”, is keener to seek out the essence of the country among its mystics, tribal chiefs and feudal lords.

Extracts from the books are online on the Telegraph Travel website and will be in print in the travel section on Saturday. The £5,000 Stanford Dolman prize, formerly the Dolman prize — after the Rev William Dolman, a member of the Authors’ Club, who had been sponsoring it through the club since 2006 — was rebranded in 2015 and is now the centre-piece of an awards scheme run by the bookseller Stanfords in association with the tour operator Hayes and Jarvis and named after Stanfords’ founder: the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. The winner will be announced on February 1.

For a chance to win all seven short-listed books, keep a close eye on Deskbound Traveller over the next couple of weeks.

Going wild at home with Brian Jackman

Over the past 40 years or so, in his wanderings across sub-Saharan Africa, Brian Jackman (right) reckons he has spent the best part of four years under canvas. He has become renowned for his writing on the African bush and its wildlife, and particularly for his chronicling (with the photographer Jonathan Scott) of the daily drama of life and death on the plains in The Marsh Lions and The Big Cat Diary. But he has also found inspiration closer to home. Close, indeed, to where I’m sitting as I write. I live in Stoneleigh, Surrey, and Jackman, now 82 and long resident in Dorset, lived as a boy a few streets away during the Second World War, over the road from my nearest sizeable patch of greenery, Nonsuch Park. In a new collection of his journalism, Wild About Britain (Bradt), he writes:

Nonsuch… had once been the site of a great palace built by Henry VIII and subsequently demolished to pay off the gambling debts of the Countess of Castlemaine, into whose hands it had passed the following century. But of course we knew nothing of this. Instead, enclosed by fleets of blowsy elms, its unshorn meadows were our prairies, its hawthorn hedges our African savannas. In one field a landmine had fallen, blowing a deep crater in the clay that quickly filled with rain; and nature, always swift to exploit a niche, soon transformed it into a wildlife haven…

Nonsuch was the perfect adventure playground, where I swung like Tarzan through the trees, made Robin Hood bows from young ash staves and built Apache dens among the cow parsley…

  But Nonsuch wasn’t the real countryside. He discovered the latter on annual holidays to Cornwall, made possible because his father was a railwayman. Then, when the Blitz was at its height, he was sent to live on a farm near Bude:

For two years I never went to school. Instead, I fed the pigs their daily slops, hunted for hens’ eggs in the nettle beds and learned to milk the cows by hand, leaning my forehead against their warm flanks while swallows twittered in the rafters and the pail foamed white between my knees… It was, I suppose, an unhappy time for an eight-year-old, alone and far from home, but its magic haunts me still… Hardship there was, heartache and cruelty, but beauty and wonder, too, and the awakening of a love of all things wild that has stayed with me to this day.

That love is evident in every piece in Wild About Britain — whether Jackman is in search of the spirit of Laurie Lee in the Cotswolds or watching an otter in Shetland; whether he is introducing us to his favourite corner of Dorset (“a rumpled, tumbling green-gold land of secret combes and sensuously rounded plum-pudding hills”), or striving to understand the single-mindedness of one of his angler mates in pursuit of roach (“A trio of mute swans float past like icebergs in the swirling current, and my mind drifts with them.”).

Many of the pieces appeared first in The Daily Telegraph, and some of them I read before they appeared in print. They never needed editing, just breathing on. My favourite piece in the book is one that embraces two of Jackman’s greatest passions: Cornwall and peregrine falcons. You can read it here on Deskbound Traveller. Then you really ought to buy the book.

‘In Siberia’ with Thubron on Radio 4

Colin Thubron will be questioned about In Siberia by James Naughtie and a group of readers in Radio 4’s Bookclub slot next Sunday.  The book, which he published in 1999, has one of the greatest opening paragraphs in travel writing:

‘The ice-fields are crossed for ever by a man in chains. In the farther distance, perhaps, a herd of reindeer drifts, or a hunter makes a shadow on the snow. But that is all. Siberia: it fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth, yet this is all it leaves for certain in the mind. A bleak beauty, and an indelible fear.”

  Over the next 280 pages, he fills in the blanks.

  The programme will be broadcast at 4pm on Sunday and should be available shortly afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

Travel books of 2017

The following are some of my favourite travel books of the year, plus coffee-table books that would make good Christmas presents for travellers. One of the objectives of Deskbound Traveller (see the “About” page) is to broaden notions of what constitutes travel writing, so you will find here a collection of poetry plus a work (Among the Summer Snows) that others might label “nature writing”. The books are in no particular order — though the first two mentioned are especially timely. I’ve already reviewed many of them on this site and/or in the pages of The Daily Telegraph.
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Granta, £14.99) 
The border of the title is the zone where Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey run into one another, which in Cold War days was “Europe’s southernmost Iron Curtain”. Twenty-five years after leaving Bulgaria, where she grew up under communism, Kassabova returns to see what has become of the villages and towns that were military strongholds, the rivers and forests that were off limits.
  Her account is about fences both on the ground and in the head; about the frontiers between the real and the imagined, between the scientifically proven and the remotely possible. There are happenings that might be from the pages of García Márquez and there’s a cast of characters that wouldn’t disgrace Dickens: border guards and people smugglers, refugees and ritual fire-walkers, spymasters who have retired and faith healers who are never out of work. Border is not just a topical book but an urgent one, for it spells out the human consequences of nationalism and totalitarianism; of a narrow focus on identity and ethnicity; of divisions and fences and walls designed to keep “them” from “us”.
The Rule of the Land by Garrett Carr (Faber & Faber, £13.99)
In the run-up to that referendum on EU membership, Carr, who is a mapmaker as well as a writer, walked and canoed the currently barely noticeable division between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It’s a border that, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, has lost watchtowers and bunkers and softened. Post Brexit, though, it will be not just an Irish frontier but a European one, and no one seems to know how that can be made to work. Carr suggests that Ireland is more divided than any of us suspected — not in two but in three: north, south and borderland. That third state, with its frontier-slipping people, springs to life in his pages.
Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt (Nicholas Brealey, £16.99)
All travelling, Nick Hunt argues, is an act of following something: coastline, trading route, border — or footprints, as he did for his debut, retracing the 1930s walk of Patrick Leigh Fermor from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. He decided to follow four named winds across Europe because their routes seemed to be the only ones that hadn’t been written-out. There are reasons for this, the obvious one being that it’s damned hard to describe the invisible. And what do you do if the wind doesn’t blow? Hunt, on his journey through landscape and legend, science and superstition, proves more than equal to the challenge. He dares, and he wins.
Among the Summer Snows by Christopher Nicholson (September Books, £14.99)
Christopher Nicholson admits that “Snow has no quantifiable value; if you hold a piece in your hands it soon tells you what it’s worth by turning to water and running away.” For him, though, its survival in the Highlands in summer, its rareness and improbability, has become a singular passion. He chronicles walks on which he seeks it out under cliffs and crags, in clefts and corries, and ponders its meaning. A glorious little book (just over 160 pages), beautifully produced by an independent publisher. 
Islander by Patrick Barkham (Granta,
Inspired by a DH Lawrence short story about a rich idealist seeking peace on successively smaller islands, Barkham travels through 11 outposts of the British Isles, moving from large to medium to tiny, in pursuit of “the essence of what it is to be an islander”. It’s an illuminating and instructive tour d’horizon, one that could be read with profit by MSPs currently considering a Bill designed to ensure a sustainable future for Scotland’s islands. Snappy, too: Scilly is memorably summed up as “a small archipelago mostly owned by the Duchy of Cornwall; struggling to make its way in the modern world, permanently obscured by forecasters’ bottoms on the weather map of Britain.”
The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life by André Naffis-Sahely (Penguin, £7.99)
Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, says that most of his work is voiced by a reclusive fellow who likes to look out the window: “I do quite a bit of travel, but I keep writing poems about the bird-feeder.” If André Naffis-Sahely is looking out a window, it’s likely to be on a train or a plane. He’s a travelling poet, a border-crossing bard. This impressive first collection, in which he takes us from his birthplace of Venice to Abu Dhabi, where he grew up, and then from London to North America, is both an admission of wanderlust and an acknowledgment of the insecurities it brings. 
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 27 (Natural History Museum, £25)
As Lewis Blackwell, chair of the judges, puts it, the pictures his team have selected, 100 from nearly 49,000 entries, constitute “a book of wonders…and sometimes horror”. The wonders  include a lobster larva, just half an inch across, perched like a jockey on a stinger jellyfish; two bear cubs, eyes on the salmon in their mother’s mouth, waiting for their share; and an image of the lower nine-tenths of an iceberg dwarfing a team of divers, made over three days and of 147 frames stitched together. Among the horrors are the winning image, of a black rhino — a species critically endangered — lying in a park in South Africa after being shot and having its horns hacked off.
Dronescapes: The New Aerial Photography from Dronestagram Edited by Ayperi Karabuda Ecer (Thames & Hudson, £24.95) 
Aerial photography is not exactly new: the photographer known as “Nadar” (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) went up in a balloon to document the rooflines of the French village of Petit-Bicêtre in 1858. But it has never been as  widespread or as cheap to practise as it is today, thanks to the development of the drone and the quadcopter. This book is a collection of the best images submitted to the website Dronestagram, set up in 2013 by another French pioneer, the entrepreneur Eric Dupin. Embracing locations from Antarctica to Vietnam, and subjects from wildlife to weddings, it is curated by the renowned picture editor Ayperi Karabuda Ecer, who doesn’t dodge the question of the threat posed by drones to privacy, safety and security.
Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 11 (AA Publishing, £25)
All winning and commended entries in the annual competition for the best photographs of the British landscape are included in this 224-page book, along with the photographers’ accounts of how their images were made. Among the customary reports of repeated visits, early-morning climbs and frozen fingers, there are references to “flying over the field” or “up to 100 metres”. A striking number of entries were taken using drones, revealing, for example, trees planted in such a way that they  form a giant “X” and fields that look like circuit boards.
Travel Photographer of the Year: Journey Nine (TPOTY, £9.95) 
One of the two portfolios that won Joel Santos, from Portugal, the title of Travel Photographer of the Year 2016 — depicting the landscapes of Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression — was the first TPOTY winner to be shot using a drone-mounted camera. The other, a series of portraits of a Ghanaian fisherman, was from ground — or, rather, water — level. Both are included here, with the best of the work submitted by professional and amateur photographers from more than 120 countries, ranging in subject from desert dunes in Egypt to a snow storm in New York; from a Cuban taxi driver to Sámi reindeer racers. 
Afghanistan by Steve McCurry (Taschen, £59.99) 
McCurry, whose portrait of the green-eyed refugee “Afghan Girl” is one of the best-known images of 20th-century photography, has been travelling regularly to Afghanistan since 1979, when he documented the fight of the mujahideen against a pro-Soviet government. This book gathers the best of his work over more than 40 years in a country at war and at uneasy peace: the boys toting Kalashnikovs and the girls juggling tennis balls; the bombed buildings and the roadside barbers. As William Dalrymple notes in an afterword, “it is a testament to McCurry’s longstanding love of Afghanistan, his solidarity with its people, and his commitment to recording their wondrous diversity. The book also stands as a peerless record of the Afghan landscape and its magnificent buildings.”
Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel (Dorling Kindersley, £25) 
This survey of mankind on the move, which starts with the ancient world and finishes with the age of flight, has already been overtaken by events. Its consideration of forced movements ends with the Second World War, but by the end of 2016 the number of people seeking safety across international borders as refugees had topped 22.5 million, the highest number seen since the UN High Commission for Refugees was founded in 1950. Otherwise, apart from a slightly tabloid tone (“Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca”), it’s a beautifully produced introduction, embracing everything from the trading voyages of the Minoans to the Hippie Trail, with digressions on topics from slave ships to souvenirs.
Chasing Light by Stefan Forster (te Neues, £29.95) 
At 18, Stefan Forster, who is Swiss, set off with his first camera, a tent, a sleeping bag and 13 days’ provisions to photograph the southern plateau of Iceland. In the 10 years or so since he has kayaked along the west coast of Greenland, camped in the forests of Alaska and Canada, and come close to being killed by a volcano in Indonesia.
  With this book, which includes landscape, wildlife and astounding images of the northern lights, he hopes to “demonstrate to all beholders the wonders of our planet, and to show what needs protecting.”
  As one of my aims on this site is to promote not just what’s topical but what’s timelessly good, let me remind you of one of my favourite books from 2013: Four Fields by Tim Dee (now in Vintage paperback); you can still read an extract on Deskbound Traveller
* A shorter version of this roundup appeared in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph 

Yellowstone after the wolf

Yellowstone Park is a much-changed place since the reintroduction of the wolf in 1995. Vegetation that had been over-grazed by elk is flourishing, as are populations of animals from beavers to badgers. But there are hunters fearful that the wolves will wipe out all the elk, and ranchers on the park’s fringes who argue that their stock is being terrorised. Nate Blakeslee tells the story in his new book American Wolf (Crown),  an extract from which you can read on Literary Hub. It’s a story in which he aims to follow, in novelistic detail, the life of one wolf — O-Six, nicknamed for the year in which she was born. In an interview with National Geographic, Blakeslee tells how O-Six herself fell prey to a hunter.

Stanford Dolman short list finalised

The judges of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year have arrived at a short list of seven, and the publishers of those books will be given the good news on Thursday (December 7). I can’t say yet what’s on the short list — it won’t be made public until January 10 — but it’s a strong one with some timely books. We shall pick the winner at a lunch on January 24, and he or she will be presented with the prize at a dinner on February 1, as part of the Stanford Travel Writers’ Festival, at the Destinations show in London. For more about the prize and this year’s judges, led by Sara Wheeler, see my earlier post.

Wartime Naples, as seen by Norman Lewis

The documentary based on Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44, which I mentioned on its release last year, was screened on BBC Four at the weekend. If, like me, you missed it, you can catch up on the BBC iPlayer.

Lopez on literature, life and death

In an interview in the latest issue of The Alpine Review, the writer Barry Lopez (whose books include Arctic Dreams) talks about his work and his life and the aggressive form of prostate cancer that is threatening to put an end to both. Among the questions he addresses is what it means to be a writer in the 21st century:

I said to a friend the other day — it’s one of those things where you say something quickly, it was that question of, What are we supposed to be doing? — and what I said was, “To comfort the wounded and undermine the strategies of the selfish.” There is a group of people that are fundamentally selfish, What’s in it for me, me, me, me, the whole me thing. More money for them is more heartbreak for Third World people. I want to undermine that. Not destroy it or burn people at the stake, just unhinge it. I know capitalism is such a whipping boy, but at the stage at which it is practiced in the modern world, it’s lethal.