Photography Archive

My travel books of the year for 2022

“Pink Lake Geometry”, as seen in Heroiske, in the Kherson region, from The Beauty of Ukraine by Yevhen Samuchenko and Lucia Bondar. Picture © Yevhen Samuchenko

Many a wandering spirit, forced to hit the pause button in 2020, got back on the road this year. Raynor Winn, bestselling author of The Salt Path, strapped her backpack on again in May 2021, when lockdown was still blanketing the country “in a sense of inertia”. The health of her husband, Moth, who has an incurable brain disease, was suddenly worsening, and she hoped that nature, which had worked its magic on their trek round the south-west coast, would do so again. In Landlines (Michael Joseph, £20), she tells how they set out to tackle the 200-plus miles of the Cape Wrath Trail in north-west Scotland — and ended up walking (with a little cycling) all the way back to their home in Cornwall, a journey of 1,000 miles. Along the way, they defied doctors, logic, midges, horseflies, rain and heat.

  Landlines is an inspirational story of love and endurance; of trails offering links to ancient times. But it’s clear-eyed, too, on the future we’re shaping: “all the miles of exposed blanket bog, the glens with no trees… it feels as if there’s no way back, we’re standing on the brink”.

  That message resounded through my reading this year. The call of the north also figured large. Sarah Thomas, one of those who answered it, tells her story in The Raven’s Nest (Atlantic, £17.99). She went to the Westfjords of Iceland for the screening of a film she had made and found herself falling first for a landscape, then for a man and his family. For a while she guided tourists from visiting ships. “You must write a book,” many told her. She said she would, while wondering whether she could find words to “trace my path as insider and outsider, criss-crossing, braiding”. That’s exactly what she’s done.

  “The sea is where I’ve always run to,” Doreen Cunningham writes in Soundings (Virago, £18.99). As a young journalist reporting on climate change, she spent time with an Iñupiaq family of whalers in Utqiagvik, the northernmost town of Alaska. When she finds herself a broke single parent, she heads for the water again. With her son, Max, she sets out to follow, by bus, train and ferry, grey whale mothers swimming with their calves on one of the longest of mammalian migrations, from the lagoons of Mexico to the glaciers of the Arctic. Soundings is a wonderful debut: a memoir that’s both frank and fearless, and a plea for the whales to be allowed to live, and die, in peace.

  One of the writers Cunningham cites is the anthropologist Hugh Brody, who spent a decade living and working among the Inuit in northern Canada. His latest book, Landscapes of Silence (Faber, £20), is a hymn to the Arctic, and to the ways of the hunter-gatherers who made him feel at home there. It’s haunting in its account of things that went unsaid, both in his Jewish family in Sheffield, after the Second World War, and among the Inuit in the Canadian far north, facing the worst side-effects of “development” and “progress”. It’s also beautifully written.

  The journalist and film-maker Matthew Teller, who grew up in a Jewish family in London (but now considers himself secular), has been visiting Jerusalem since he was 11. It’s a place, he has felt for a while, whose people are seen as less important than the stones that surround them. In Nine Quarters of Jerusalem (Profile Books, £16.99), a sprightly and scholarly “new biography of the old city”, he sets out to put that right. As his title suggests, Jerusalem has many more quarters than the four that appear on maps, and many more sides than the two featured regularly in news headlines. He wants to “amplify the unlistened-to” — to bring us the voices not just of Palestinians and Jews but of Armenians, Africans and Indians, Greek and Syriac communities, Dom Gypsies and Sufi mystics. As he heads on his myth-puncturing way round another corner, through another gate or door, you’ll be flicking to the maps on the inside covers, but you’ll be confident, too, that he’ll emerge with a great story.

  Teller’s book, including notes, is just short of 400 pages. The Saviour Fish, by Mark Weston (Earth Books, £11.99), is half that length, but in it Weston explains an environmental crisis behind failing fish stocks on Lake Victoria, and offers a vivid portrait of daily life over two years on Ukerewe Island, where both witch-doctors and Christian preachers still have a powerful hold.

  Shorter still — 139 pages — is an account by Markiyan Kamysh of another singular place, one that was dangerous long before Russian shells began falling in it earlier this year: the Exclusion Zone around the former nuclear plant of Chornobyl (as it’s spelt in Ukrainian). His father, a scientist, helped shut down the plant, so he knows better than most what the risks are. Yet, in Stalking the Atomic City (Pushkin Press, £12.99), he tells of his countless illegal visits to “this land of tranquillity and frozen time”. Hardly a guide to follow on the ground, but compelling on the page.

  Some of the best non-fiction of recent years has been on travels that were forced rather than longed-for: the journeys of refugees and migrants. In The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, Matthieu Aikins (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £12.99), a Canadian journalist, takes the smuggler’s road out of Afghanistan — not because he has to, but because his driver, translator and friend, Omar, is fleeing the country. Aikins wants to show us the refugee underground from the inside: “the cities of the world connected by a network of paths that measure not physical distance but danger: the risk of getting arrested, stuck in transit, scammed, kidnapped or killed”. It’s a brave book, and a brilliant one.

  And what must the smuggler’s road be like for a child? Imagine you’re a nine-year-old boy being raised by your grandparents and aunts in El Salvador. Your parents have fled a civil war and are living in the United States. Then they tell you on the phone that you’ll soon be taking “a trip” to join them. That trip, everybody reckons, will last two short weeks. Instead, it turns into a nine-week journey of 3,000 miles in the company of strangers. You freeze on a boat, fry in the desert, have guns pointed at you and see the adults who have been helping you get handcuffed. Imagine how that would feel…

  You don’t have to. In his memoir, Solito (Oneworld, £18.99), Javier Zamora, who made that journey in 1999, shows you exactly how it feels. It’s a gripping story, heart-breaking in some passages and heartening in others. Here and there, the prose and its rhythms remind you that you’re reading not the diary of the child but that of the writer he became. On page after page, though, there’s the authentic voice of a nine-year-old boy. The coyotes (traffickers), he says, have told him he’s got to act as if Patricia, a fellow migrant, is his mother: “…in public I call her ‘Mom’, and only to trick soldiers. I know who my real mom is. But it’s funny that they’re both super short, they both have big tempers, and they both like to keep things clean.” Solito (which I’ve written about elsewhere on Deskbound Traveller) is my travel book of the year.


Yevhen Samuchenko has won numerous international awards for his photography, but none of his projects has been quite like his new book. The Beauty of Ukraine, with text by Lucia Bondar (teNeues, £39.95), was envisaged as a tribute to the landscapes of his homeland. It has also become a testament to the determination of his publishing team in Kyiv, CP, who had to flee their office after the Russian invasion but, with the support of teNeues, continued working on the book.

  Here — seen mainly from the air — are pink salt lakes, their shapes and patterns reminiscent of the art of Kandinsky or O’Keeffe; the waterfalls and canyons of the Carpathian Mountains; and the beaches of the Black Sea. Many of the places featured have since been severely damaged by bombing and shelling. An image of a woman walking through a field of purple blossom, heavy clouds building above her, has a prescient title: “Before the Storm”.

  Travel features strongly in a superlative collection from the Sony World Photography Awards: 2022 (World Photography Organisation, £38.99) embracing everything from sport, via landscape, to still life. There’s a tribute, with an essay by the historian Simon Schama, to the Canadian Edward Burtynsky, who won an “outstanding contribution to photography” award. Through the terrible beauty of his images of waste and wreckage, Schama says, Burtynsky “calls on us to repair our only earthly home”. There are portfolios on migrants from Latin America, who had to scale fences to get into the US, and on football fans in Prague, who set stepladders against their club’s wall when Covid forced the team to play to an empty stadium.

  Perch that seem to be swimming in a soft turquoise sky rather than water — in pink clouds of an algal bloom that is probably caused by global warming; a giraffe hiding in a national park — from a train that will rattle overhead on a newly built railway: Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 32 (Natural History Museum, £25), the latest showcase for a competition that began in 1965, combines wonders with powerful warnings. The foreword, by the conservationist Chris Packham, is blunt. Most of the natural world, he argues, “is no longer beautiful. It’s very ugly. And we need to see that… we need to look at it — long and hard.”

  My favourite image in Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 15 (Ilex, £35) is a glorious one of Chrome Hill in the Peak District, including not only  a rainbow but raking light along the Dragon’s Back. The photographer, Demi Oral, couldn’t believe how things had fallen into place. Jon Brook tells how he had a similar break on a sunshine-and-showers day while trying to capture a steam train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. “I was lucky,” he says. “Sometimes, the more you plan, the luckier you get.”

  Portrait of Humanity Vol 4 (Hoxton Mini Press, £25) is the fruit of a competition designed “to celebrate that which unites us in a time of division”. Those brought together in its pages include a fur-clad young eagle huntress and her bird in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, and a suited teacher in New York’s Central Park, marking Latin papers while coaching an athletics team. Both look perfectly at home. Then there are the Syrian toddler and her baby sisters, twins born in a refugee camp in Iraq, and the two activists from the Waorani tribe in the Ecuadorian rainforest, who flew to Glasgow with their baby — their first time on a plane — to call for action on climate at Cop26.

  If you don’t live near an independent bookshop, and you order your books online, I’d recommend you do so where possible through, which supports local bookshops. Interest declared: if you buy through a link from Deskbound Traveller, I will earn a little commission.

Petal power: the image below of a street vendor in Hanoi won first place in the travel category of the Sony World Photography Awards 2022. Picture © Thanh Nguyen Phuc


My travel books of the year for 2021

A Steller’s sea eagle, the heaviest eagle in the world, chases off a fox that was trying to steal its fish. Picture © Marsel van Oosten, from ‘Mother: A Tribute to Mother Earth’

When you travel across pages, not even a new variant of Coronavirus, and the restrictions it brings, can hinder your movement. In the past year, I’ve wandered over the Pennines and deep into Wales. I’ve climbed to mist-shrouded Scottish summits, dived in Caribbean seas. I’ve splashed along the muddy roads of Madagascar, followed a river between Russia and China, and circled the Black Sea. Below (in no particular order) are the books that took me away.

If you can’t get to an independent bookshop, and you order online, I’d recommend you do so where possible through, which supports local bookshops. Interest declared: if you buy through a link from Deskbound Traveller, I will earn a little commission.

I compiled my roundup towards the end of November, so there are quite a few recently published titles that I didn’t have time to consider. They include The Gold Machine (Oneworld, £20), which has Iain Sinclair swapping his stamping ground of London for Peru; A Thing of Beauty (also Oneworld, £18.99), in which Peter Fiennes explores the sites of some of the most famous Greek myths; Iberia (Fox, Finch & Tepper, £18.99), the latest journey on two wheels from Julian Sayarer, who won the Stanford Dolman prize in 2017 for his book on America, Interstate; and Allegorizings (Faber £14.99), a final, posthumously published collection of pieces from Jan Morris.

Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village by Marit Kapla (Allen Lane, £20)
It’s not billed as “travel”, but it’s definitely transporting: 800 pages, laid out like a prose poem, on a village many Swedes would recently have struggled to find on a map. I read it in a couple of days. It’s particular, in its focus on one place — in the forests of northern Värmland, where logging’s been automated, school rolls and elk are declining and wolves increasing — and universal in its reminders that nothing stays the same. Kapla, who grew up in Osebol, interviewed most of its 40 remaining adults, ranging in age from 18 to 92 and in occupation from carpenter to carer. You feel as though you’re in among them.

The Travel Writing Tribe: Journeys in Search of a Genre by Tim Hannigan (Hurst, £20)
Travel writers, as well as travel readers, will find pleasure and profit in this. Hannigan journeys both deep into the archives and on to the home ground of some of the most illustrious members of the note-taking tribe. What drives these people, he asks, and how accurately and honestly do they show us the world? It’s a deft piece of genre-hopping, combining interviews — with writers including Dervla Murphy and Kapka Kassabova, Colin Thubron and Samanth Sumbramanian — with memoir, criticism… and travel writing.

The Long Field by Pamela Petro (Little Toller, £20)
Why, a reviewer once asked, is the American Pamela Petro so obsessed with Wales? Petro’s answer is both a memoir and and an exploration of hiraeth — a Welsh word for longing for all you can’t have. In it, she weaves together the essential hiraeth stories of Wales with aspects of her own life: as a gay woman, as the survivor of a train crash, as the daughter of a parent with dementia. It’s both an absorbing meditation on the meaning of home and place and a love letter to Wales.

Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea by Jens Mühling (Haus, £16.99)
One of Mühling’s ancestors, an admiral, fought for Catherine the Great, who in 1783 ordered Russia’s first annexation of Crimea. Muhling himself reported on the second, ordered by Vladimir Putin, in 2014. Here he explores nations ancient and nascent, meets everyone from marine scientists to cigarette smugglers, and digs into a history of neighbourly conflict. It’s a brisk and brilliant tour, a reminder that ethnically mixed communities shaped these shores for thousands of years, till they were torn apart by imperialists and nationalists.

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn
(William Collins, £16.99
Grey partridges wandered car parks near Cambridge; a cuckoo was seen in Osterley, west London, for the first time in 20 years: wildlife took advantage when humans were locked down. Flyn chronicles that phenomenon on a larger scale. Her compelling book — short-listed for both the Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction and the Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation — is about 12 abandoned places around the world — ghost towns and exclusion zones, no-man’s lands and post-industrial hinterlands – “and what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place”.

The Amur River by Colin Thubron (Chatto & Windus, £20)
At 79, having been writing about Russia and China for 40 years, Colin Thubron sets  off along the 3,000-mile river where they supposedly interconnect. Before he’s 15 pages in, he’s had two falls (x-rays months later show two fractured ribs and a broken ankle). On the ground, even cops treat him more gently than he expects, and his guides wonder whether he’s still up to it; on the page, readers need have no such doubts. The writer mightn’t be as sprightly as he was, but the writing is as lyrical as ever.

I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury, £16.99)
Anita Sethi, born and bred in Manchester, was taking a train from Liverpool to Newcastle when she became the victim of a race hate crime. Afterwards, despite panic attacks, she determined that she would continue travelling on her own and assert her right to exist. In I Belong Here she explores the Pennines, “the backbone” of England. It’s a journey in the head as well as on the ground, one that grows in power as she pushes on, demonstrating that she has backbone aplenty of her own.

The Gardens of Mars By John Gimlette (Apollo, £10.99)
Madagascar as documented by Gimlette is weirder and more wonderful than the version animated by DreamWorks. It’s off Africa, but its burnt-red Martian west was first settled by Asians, only 10,000 years ago. It’s a place where, today, you can access 4G technology and eat a chameleon that was killed with a spear. John Gimlette’s “walk-through history” is a tour de force, taking in slavery, Welsh missionaries, ancestor worship, French conquest, and forts whose ramparts are rendered in millions of egg whites. 


Mother: A Tribute to Mother Earth by Marsel van Oosten (te Neues, £50)
Mother is both a celebration of our natural world and an impassioned argument for its protection. Van Oosten, a Dutchman who has won the grand titles Wildlife Photographer of the Year, International Nature Photographer of the Year and Travel Photographer of the Year, collects his favourite images from the past 15 years, many being what he calls “animalscapes”, where he accepts whatever wildlife wanders into the frame. “This is our only planet,” he says, “and we are slowly killing it. “It’s not too late yet — we can be the positive change — together.”

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 31 (Natural History Museum, London, £25)
This year’s competition saw a record number of entries, 50,490, from 30 countries. The “big pictures” are here — among them one of a young white-tailed kite reaching towards its hovering father to grab a live mouse — but the naturalist Chris Packham, in his introduction, senses the impact of lockdowns: “A skating fly, craneflies entangled in ecstasy, a cuddled bat, newts in coitus — little treasures from the more private lives of humans and the tiny things they found when their lives shrank and their world wasn’t so wide any more.”

Two Worlds: Above and Below the Sea by David Doubilet (Phaidon, £39.95)
David Doubilet (born in 1946) reckons he has spent more than 27,000 hours photographing in water since he first put his Brownie Hawkeye camera in an anaesthetist’s rubber bag at the age of 12. It wasn’t until 1990, though, that he felt he’d achieved his first successful merging of two worlds, air and water, with a picture of a stingray gliding through sand, sea and — apparently — clouds. Here he gathers his most telling “half-and-half” pictures of two inextricably linked worlds, “to bear witness to the wonder, the beauty, the loss and, I hope, the resilience of our oceans”.

Night on Earth by Art Wolfe (Earth Aware, £35)
Wolfe’s book opens with Ruskin Hartley, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association, reminding us of the damage we’re doing with light pollution. It closes with images of blazing skyscrapers in Tokyo and Manhattan, of streaming headlights and tail-lights on the Champs-Elysées. In between, everywhere from Brazilian wetland to Indian market, it’s an invitation to move through a lower-wattage world, and enjoy the simple pleasure of watching it get dark.

Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 14 (Ilex, £30)
Fog and mist feature often this year in an ever-dependable showcase for the best images of Britain. So, too, do references in the photographers’ notes to first trips and walks after lockdown and to looking closer to home. The Nuba Survival, a sculpture in a field in Checkendon, South Oxfordshire, by the local artist John Buckley, shows two skeletons locked in an embrace. It’s a memorial of the civil war in Sudan, but to the photographer Alison Fairley it spoke of Covid-19 and of “those who are broken and those who are desperately seeking hugs”.

Portrait of Humanity: Volume 3 (Hoxton Mini Press, £22.95)
Portrait of Humanity is an international award designed to show that “there is more that unites us than sets us apart”. This year’s collection brings us a sweaty-faced anaesthetist from intensive care in London, friends hovering either side of a door in Switzerland, a woman worried by the latest news in Japan. But among the 200 images are many in which people are touching each other, communicating in a way that, as Otegha Uwagba puts it in her introduction, “transcends language barriers and… binds us together in its universal capacity to provide comfort”.

India by Harry Gruyaert (Thames & Hudson, £45)
“I don’t know anything about India — it’s too vast and too complex,” Harry Gruyaert says modestly. But he responds to it magnificently with a camera. Gruyaert (born in Antwerp in 1941 and a member of the Magnum agency since 1981) has been visiting India since the 1970s, but this is his first book of the images he has made there. Whether on roadside or riverside, of crowds or individuals, they’re sensuous in colour, striking in contrast; his way, he says, of “bearing witness to a mystery”.

‘The Nuba Survival’ sculpture by the Oxfordshire artist John Buckley is a memorial of the civil war in Sudan, but it put one photographer in mind of Covid-19 and of ‘those who are desperately seeking hugs’. Picture © Alison Fairley, from ‘Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 14’

My books of the year

For the travel section of The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, I picked my travel books of the year, and suggested some picture books that would make great Christmas presents. I’ll put them all on Deskbound Traveller a little later.

Kazakhstan from the rails

Just a few months before the travel restrictions prompted by Coronavirus, Mario Heller, a Berlin-based Swiss photographer, made a three-week railway journey through Kazakhstan. His wonderful picture essay was published on Friday by The Guardian, and you can find more of the images on his own website.

Spanish vet named Travel Photographer of the Year

‘I was attracted to the look and beauty of this young shepherd,’ says the photographer of this image made in Fada N’gourma, Burkina Faso. © KATY GÓMEZ CATALINA/TPOTY.COM

Katy Gómez Catalina, a veterinarian from Úbeda, in Spain, was last night named Travel Photographer of the Year for 2019 for a portfolio of eight black-and-white images ranging in subject from the Batwa people of Uganda to the esplanade of the Louvre in Paris. She is only the second woman to be overall winner in the 17-year history of the awards. 


  There was female success too in the Young Travel Photographer of the Year category. That was won by 11-year-old Indigo Larmour — who is Irish but was born in Abu Dhabi — with a portfolio depicting hands at work in India. Her caption to this image (right) says: “Chai is always part of any journey in India… So of course we had to have some on the streets of Kolkata.”

  Both winners, appropriately, were on the road making more images when the prizes were presented at a ceremony in London. Gómez, who is self-taught, says on her website that photography has become “an inseparable travel companion, to the point that my perception of the worlds I visit goes through the eye of the camera. It is then with those images that I can construct the story of my journey in the same way that a writer does it with his diary.”

  Chris Coe, who with his wife Karen founded the awards, said that Indigo was a photographer who showed real potential; she was already capable of very interesting compositions and had the ability to capture moments.

  Another category winner, of the TAPSA (Timothy Allen Scholarship Award) for Travel Documentaries, was “a very jet-lagged” Kiran Ridley, a Paris-based British photographer, who had flown in from Australia, where he had been covering the bushfires. He won for a portfolio of images of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, which began as a protest against proposed changes to extradition law and have morphed into broader demonstrations against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

  The award was started five years ago by Timothy Allen, who himself was Travel Photographer of the Year in 2013. Allen said Ridley’s photographs were “sensational”. The documentaries category had been included in the TPOTY competition, he said, because “a lot of us are starting to realise that travel photography isn’t what it used to be. It’s not shooting pictures of the Taj Mahal any more; it’s documentary photography. And I hope that more and more people are going to be entering this style of photography, because the lines between travel and documentary now are blurred beyond recognition. Kiran’s work is a classic example of that.”

  More than 20,000 images were submitted for the 2019 awards by professional and amateur photographers from 144 countries. The winners can be viewed on the Travel Photographer of the Year website and will go on display from April 7 to May 12 in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, a new location for TPOTY’s London exhibition.

Police arrest pro-democracy protestors during a march in Hong Kong. © KIRAN RIDLEY/TPOTY.COM

Travel books of 2019


Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, 2014 — from ‘Magnum Streetwise’ © DAVID ALAN HARVEY/MAGNUM PHOTOS

I’m pining a wee bit for the old days. Days when I was a raw reporter in his twenties in London and the only reading recommendations I felt I needed to note — apart from those from friends and colleagues — were in the books pages of The Observer and The Sunday Times. Days when I first started travelling for work, and found the best writing on wherever I happened to be on arrival there, in a bookshop. (I’m thinking, particularly, of Watermen by Randall S Peffer, a vivid and salty account of a year spent with the fishermen of the Chesapeake Bay on their graceful sailing boats, the skipjacks. Key “Watermen” and “Maryland” into a search engine, and Peffer’s book will pop up near the top of the results. I bought my copy on the spot, on the shore, in — if I remember rightly — the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St Michael’s.)

  These days, each time I go online I find a tweet or link that suggests I should be adding to an already tottering to-be-read pile. I can’t find time to read the pieces I’ve bookmarked in the virtual world, let alone the books they might take me to in the real one. (I’m mindful, though, that it was in cyberspace that I was directed to what turned out to be two of my favourite books of last year. One was Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. The other was Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift — which, as the title suggests, is concerned with the same territory as Peffer’s book, but in more dangerous times.)

  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, while I try to keep up with the best in new writing on travel and place, I don’t always manage it. This year there was a blizzard of promising books in the autumn. I have to give priority to books I’ve been commissioned and will be paid to review, even if they’re not always the ones I would choose to cover. Others go back on the TBR pile.

  In print at the weekend (and online tooThe Daily Telegraph published my choice of the best travel writing this year, plus picture books that I think would make good Christmas presents. I filed my roundup on November 12. By that stage, there were a lot of books I still hadn’t had a chance to read (and which I’ve since had time only to dip into). Among them were On The Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton) and Pravda Ha Ha by Rory MacLean (Bloomsbury).

  Among them, too, were new titles in translation by writers whose work I had hugely enjoyed in the past: Berezina: On Three Wheels from Moscow to Paris Chasing Napoleon’s Epic Fail by Sylvain Tesson, winner in 2014 of what was then the Dolman prize with Consolations of the ForestBlack Earth: A Journey Through Ukraine by Jens Mühling (Haus), whose A Journey into Russia was short-listed the following year for the rebranded Stanford Dolman prize; and So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between by Nicholas Bouvier (Eland).

  Then there were a few books I had to excuse myself from reviewing on the basis that I know the author. One was Sara Wheeler’s Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age (Jonathan Cape). I’m looking forward to that, especially after reading Julian Evans’s piece in The Daily Telegraph.

  Of the books I did manage to read, these are my favourites…

Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton, £20)
Over a series of books, Macfarlane has travelled from the peaks (Mountains of the Mind) to the depths, in a sustained and sensitive mapping of the relationship “between landscape and the human heart”. Underland sees him tunnelling into the world beneath our feet and what we’ve made of it, physically, with mines and tombs, and metaphorically, with myths and legends. It takes him from Bronze Age funeral chambers in Somerset, via the catacombs of Paris, to a nuclear bunker in Finland. It’s a book that expands our notions of what constitutes landscape. It’s one full of wonders — in Kulusuk, Greenland, he celebrates “the wildest land I have ever seen” — but also of warnings of the harm we are doing in this overheated age of the Anthropocene.

The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden (Granta, £20)
When the anthropologists arrive, so the saying goes, the gods depart. There are places, though, where myth and magic held out; where phantom islands on the horizon and fairies under the earth endured for longer. Among them are the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland, which Philip Marsden (who has a degree in anthropology) explores from the sea in this marvellous book. Like one of those doorways so popular in Irish myth, it’s a portal not just to other places but to other times. It’s a reminder, as he puts it, that “the imagination is the oddest of human faculties, and also perhaps the greatest”. Incidentally, The Summer Isles happens to be the best book I’ve read on a sailing trip since Jonathan Raban’s Coasting (1986).

The Last Whalers by Doug Bock Clark (John Murray, £20)
Clark, a 30-year-old American, lived for a year among the Lamalerans, a tribe of 1,500 on a backwater Indonesian island who have survived for half a millennium by hunting sperm whales with bamboo harpoons from hand-carved boats. In this wonderfully assured debut, he shows what modernisation looks like when it arrives with the speed of a tsunami, in the shape of motorboats, drift-netting, electricity and mobile phones. It’s a rich, novelistic account based on diligent reporting, in which the story of the tribe is told through the triumphs and trials of individuals — and the author, in the manner of the great Norman Lewis, renders himself a semi-invisible man.

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie (Sort Of Books, £12.99)
Kathleen Jamie is a writer who enjoys teasing out unlikely links. In her previous essay collection, the prize-winning Sightlines, she explored the liver as a landscape through a microscope in a hospital pathology lab. In this one, she joins archaeologists at sites in Alaska and Orkney in their “daily wrestle with the earth”, and mines her own memories — of family and of youthful travels — to see what surfaces and what connects us to our past. It’s a deep and rewarding dig. As with archaeological sites, it’s also layered. Having read it first in proof, I opened it again when a finished copy arrived. It repays re-reading.

Elsewhere by Rosita Boland (Doubleday Ireland/Penguin, £14.99)
Rosita Boland is a feature writer for The Irish Times and was journalist of the year in Ireland for 2018. Before she was a reporter, she was a wanderer, travelling the world between short-term jobs, and she still takes unpaid leave to respond to what the Germans call fernweh, an ache for distant places, which has taken her to Australia and Antarctica, Peru and Pakistan. She has an ache, too, to have a child, which has never been answered. In Elsewhere, she writes beautifully and movingly of three decades on the road, and the consolations she has found there.

Horizon by Barry Lopez (Bodley Head, £25)
“Travel/Natural History,” ventures the publisher’s classification. Well, those are part of it. Horizon encompasses both the conquistadors’ lust for gold and the mining of Big Data; its author’s searches on the ice shelf for meteorites and in the desert for hominid fossils. It’s an angry book about the “throttled Earth” and what we Earthlings have done to it (though there’s no acknowledgement of Lopez’s own carbon footprint). It’s life-affirming, too, in its depictions of the wonders that remain. It runs to 512 pages plus 60 of notes and index, which is a lot for our distractible times, but you’ll find it a lot smarter than your phone.

A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma by David Eimer (Bloomsbury, £20)
In the brochures, Burma (Myanmar) is a country of “temple-strewn landscapes” and “enduring tribal traditions”. But it is also one with more than 30 ethnic armies and militias, whose battles with the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, are, as Eimer puts it, “the longest-running civil wars in modern history”. He listens to people of as many factions as he can in a disunited nation, explaining wonderfully well why Burma today is both compelling and combustible. If George Orwell, who served as a police officer in Burma in the 1920s, could read it, he would surely be impressed by this choral-voiced account of a country where so many, for so long, have been silenced.

Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh (Bloomsbury, £20)
In the age of high-speed rail, with a wooomph! on the tracks and a blur through the windows, you might think there’s little to savour and less to say about long-distance train travel. You’d be wrong: as Monisha Rajesh triumphantly demonstrates, there’s life yet in both the trip and the telling. One of her best passages is on Hiroshima, a few of whose residents survived the immediate after-effects of the atomic bomb of 1945 by fleeing on trains. She finds trains life-enhancing as well as life-saving. In Thailand, on swapping food with a Dutch family, she’s told: “We have a word… gezellig, which means that there are no boundaries and that everyone is sharing and getting along… like we are a train family.” Gezellig resounds through Rajesh’s pages.



Wild asses in a wild land: a group of kiangs stride out after a snowfall in search of grass in the Kumukuli Desert on the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau — from ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ © SHANGZHEN FAN

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 29 (Natural History Museum, £25)
The Travel Photographer of the Year and Landscape Photographer of the Year competitions are both taking a break from publishing a book in 2019, but another dependable British-based showcase is open as usual. The 100 pictures between the covers, chosen from 48,130 entries from a record-breaking 100 countries, offer both the richness of the natural world and reminders (poisoned lions, logged forests) of its fragility. Rosamund Kidman Cox, chair of the judges, notes significant increases this year in entries from Tajikistan, Mongolia and China and in outstanding pictures of animal behaviour. The moment captured by the winner, Yongqing Bau, a Tibetan from the Chinese province of Qinghai, is as arresting for the viewer as it was for one of the subjects: a marmot realising that there’s no escape from a fox.

Water: A Journey Through The Element by Rudi Sebastian (te Neues, £29.95)
For the past few years the German photographer Rudi Sebastian has been travelling the world intent on capturing water in all its forms: solid, liquid and gas. It’s a journey that has taken him from Costa Rica to China; from seasonal lakes between sand dunes in Brazil — the Lençois Maranhenses — to the rapidly melting Arctic home of the polar bear; from the Bay of Cadiz, where gentle, non-intrusive cultivation has helped to increase biodiversity, to Xiapu, in China, where farming of fish and seafood is on an industrial scale. There’s a terrible beauty to his pictures of the last, and, elsewhere, images that recall the work of Monet and Turner. An artist very much in his element.

Magnum Streetwise edited by Stephen McLaren (Thames & Hudson, £28)
Street photography — “candid photography in the public realm”, as McLaren defines it in this glorious celebration — has been part of the repertoire of Magnum since its beginnings in 1947. Indeed, one of the agency’s founders, Henri Cartier-Bresson, had pioneered it from 1930, exploiting the possibilities offered by the newly available Leica and a standard lens on trips around Europe and Mexico. “Street” can embrace market and museum, beach as well as bus. Four cities have exerted a particular pull: Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. For each, McLaren looks into themes and favourite hunting grounds, and sees how the approach of photographers has changed as the city has evolved.

Portrait of Humanity (Hoxton Mini Press, £22.95)
What do two centenarians, cuddling on a plump sofa in their Los Angeles apartment, share with a a newborn refugee, 30 seconds old, howling in its mother’s arms in a refugee camp in Tanzania? That’s the question this book, with 200 images from more than 65 countries, asks you to ponder. It’s a follow-up to Portrait of Britain, and a collaboration between 1854 Media — publisher of The British Journal of Photography — and the picture agency Magnum. As Lucy Davies of The Telegraph arts desk puts it in her introduction, it’s “a crowd-sourcing of the climate, a map of global fears and wants, and as much a reflection of the things we have in common as the things that make us different”.

Northwest by Alex Nail (£36 plus p&p, via
The only bearable way to be on top of a peak for a 4.30am sunrise is to sleep on the mountain,” says Alex Nail. That’s how most of the images in his book were made. There’s no trace of the effort that went into them; of his endurance of blizzards in winter and midges in summer. But his love of the mountains and lochans of the Northwest Highlands is evident on every page. His approach might be considered old-fashioned, but that doesn’t bother him. His aim is to recreate, as far as he can, what he saw in front of him, rather than to reinterpret it: “photography can be more than art; reality is powerful. Photography can transport the viewer.” His pictures certainly do.

Through My Eyes: Journey of a Wildlife Veterinarian by Dr Michael D Kock (IWVS Africa, £75 plus p&p via
Michael Kock describes himself as “a large-landscape, no-fences, wilderness-focused wildlife veterinarian”. Through My Eyes is a remarkable photographic record of a working life that has taken him, over 40-plus years, to four continents and 13 African countries, including his native South Africa. There are as many images of people as of wilderness and wildlife, for his work goes far beyond darting an elephant, roping a giraffe or relocating a hippo. And the first step in conserving a wild landscape, he argues, is to give the humans who share it an interest in being good stewards. His book, running to 600 pages and 1,400 photographs, would have benefited from an edit, but it’s still a compelling account of a singular day job.

The art of ‘honouring the landscape’, by Charlie Waite

The photographer Charlie Waite, who was interviewed recently on Deskbound Traveller, was the opening speaker in December at a photography conference in Penrith, on the edge of the Lake District, where he delivered something of a master-class (minus the technicalities) in making landscapes. You can watch the whole hour-long session free through the website of the excellent magazine On Landscape

Travel books of 2018

The following are my favourite books on travel and place published this year, plus coffee-table books that would make good Christmas presents for travellers. A shorter version appears in print in today’s Sunday Telegraph and online.
  I compiled my roundup for Telegraph Travel towards the end of November, since when there have been some late but notable arrivals, including a couple I mentioned last week, from Horatio Clare and David Grann.
  I’ve reviewed most of the travel books for The Daily Telegraph (and you’ll find more about them here on Deskbound Traveller), but not the first two mentioned below. Coincidentally, they are from the same publisher, and from writers based in North America. While I was checking when Lands of Lost Borders would appear in Britain (it came out in October), I found a note on Chesapeake Requiem (not as yet published on this side of the pond but available, of course, online). 



Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris (Dey St/HarperCollins, £20)
Kate Harris, an academic high-flyer from Canada, had ambitions to be an astronaut, then decided there was exploring enough to be done on planet Earth. Her account of cycling the Silk Road has given me more pleasure than most travel books — no: make that most books — I’ve read this year. Lands of Lost Borders is about frontiers and breaking through them. On the road, Harris, who is in her mid-thirties, pedals with a childhood friend to places where authorities don’t want her to go, including Tibet. On the page, she flits easily across supposed boundaries between travelogue and memoir, science and poetry. The result is a marvellous debut by a wanderer and wonderer, an author with boundless curiosity and a zest for life that enthuses every page.

Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift (Dey St — US publication, various prices online)
This is a story of a small and singular place seeing changes that will soon affect the whole world. At the broadest point of the Chesapeake Bay, “at the mercy of nature’s wildest whims”, sits Tangier Island, whose inhabitants for generations have harvested crabs and oysters. The very water that sustains their community — one of 470 conservative and deeply religious people — is also slowly erasing it. Scientists say that the island, which has lost two thirds of its land since 1850, could become the first American town to fall victim to rising sea levels caused by climate change; the locals say the problem is erosion. Swift lived among the islanders, and his account, at once affectionate and inquiring, is a superb piece of reporting.

Skybound: A Journey in Flight by Rebecca Loncraine (Picador, £16.99)
Two years after being diagnosed (at 35) with breast cancer, Rebecca Loncraine passed a gliding club and found herself booking a lesson for the next day. “I needed something new, something big and intense,” she said. “I wanted to live boldly as it might not be for very long.” Gliding provided that something, and her “private love letters to the wind” were the origin of Skybound, which she had all but finished when — cancer having returned in her abdomen — she died in September 2016. It’s an extraordinary book, one in which the writer, for whom the world had closed down, feels it reopen, and carries the reader up on the thermals with her.

Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth (Particular Books, £16.99)
Adam Weymouth paddled an 18ft glass-fibre canoe down the Yukon, almost 2,000 miles through Canada and Alaska, to the Bering Sea. His account of that journey is so assured, so accomplished, that I found it hard to believe it was his first book. He hoped he could explain the decline in numbers of king salmon and show how the lives of those who depend on the fish are changing. If he is frustrated in his first objective, he succeeds fully in his second, in his tracing of the relationship between fish and people, and “of the imprint that one leaves on the other”. It’s a story about a sparsely populated place but one that’s rich in characters, and it’s beautifully written.

Ground Work: Writings on Places and People edited by Tim Dee (Jonathan Cape, £16.99)
The places celebrated here range from a railed-in London park, by way of Clifton Suspension Bridge, to the deep woods of eastern Finland. Dee’s contributors remind us of the harm we have done to everything from whales to house sparrows, but also of the good we could yet do through organisations such as Common Ground, which seeks “imaginative ways to engage people with their local environment” and which will benefit from the proceeds of this absorbing anthology. It’s a book that’s as much about the marks places leave on us as we leave on them. It offers succour rather than — in the editor’s own phrase — “sunset songs”.

God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright (Allen Lane, £20)
How could a prize-winning liberal writer possibly feel at home in the heart of Trumpland? In God Save Texas, Lawrence Wright tries to provide an answer to a question he is often asked by friends and colleagues. In the process, he offers a fascinating, multi-layered portrait of the Lone Star State. If it’s unlikely to persuade those friends and colleagues to follow his lead and relocate, it will certainly surprise them. Houston, for example, accepts more refugees than any city in the United States; and at the last count (2010) Texas had the largest number of Muslim adherents in the country.

The Crossway by Guy Stagg (Picador, £16.99)
Guy Stagg, who is an atheist and “not much of a walker”, quit his job in his mid-twenties (on The Daily Telegraph) and set out in 2013 to make a pilgrimage of more than 3,440 miles (5,500 km) from Canterbury to Jerusalem. His hope was that he could mend himself after mental illness. The Crossway was blistering to write, in more ways than one, but is beautiful to read. It’s proof that you can still cross a continent in the manner of a medieval pilgrim — even an unbelieving one — and throw yourself confidently on the charity of others. I finished it certain that the author, though he tortures himself about his own worth, is hugely talented, and hoping, too, that he has retained a measure of the peace he found on the road.

The Immeasurable World by William Atkins (Faber & Faber, £20)
In his follow-up to The Moor, Atkins turns his attention to the desert, which has, at various times and in various cultures, been seen as a realm of demonic temptation and a monkish retreat, a proving ground for explorers and pioneers, a prison for criminals and dissidents, a “wasteland” for the testing of nuclear weapons, and an ideal venue for what Atkins calls “the most excessive party on earth”: the annual Burning Man festival, where last year 70,000 people made a spectacle of themselves on a dry lakebed in Nevada. The desert, as this subtle and quietly powerful book demonstrates, can be whatever the mind makes of it.

The Debatable Land by Graham Robb (Picador, £20)
This history of a territory that once straddled borders, that was neither Scottish nor English, is both a scholarly work of revisionism and an entertaining read. Robb and his wife are keen cyclists, and his book was researched as much on the road as in the library. One of the pleasures of reading it is to watch the author, like a frontier-dodging reiver (or robber), slip so easily between past and present, between manuscript and moor, between battlefield site and the 127 bus (“a transnational village hall on wheels”).



Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures by Bonnie McCurry (Laurence King, £50)
Steve McCurry was a traveller before he was a photographer. Even as a child, his sister says, he was “hopping trains to forbidden places”, exhibiting the independent streak that would one day send him trekking with mujahideen fighters into the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan. His career is hardly undocumented (Untold, recounting the stories behind images such as “The Afghan Girl”, appeared as recently as 2013), but this volume, compiled and written by Bonnie McCurry, a retired teacher who manages his office, is revealing of the forces that shaped him early on. It’s frank as well as fond, and its 350-or-so images include about 100 that have never previously been published.

Born to Ice by Paul Nicklen (teNeues, £80)
Born to Ice, says the actor and environmental campaigner Leonardo DiCaprio in a foreword, “showcases the life’s work of an artist whose love of the landscape, and each animal in it, is so palpable that emotion echoes through every image.” The title is as true of the photographer as it is of the subjects he captures in glorious images from the polar regions. Nicklen grew up in Baffin Island, Canada. Having studied to be a wildlife biologist, he tired of encounters with animals that produced nothing but data sheets, and quit at 26 to see if he could make a go of photography. He packed 600lb of equipment, including two tents, and had a pilot drop him in the high Arctic for three months. “The view through my lens is now your view,” he says. “Their world is now our shared world… let’s work together to protect it.”

African Twilight by Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher (Rizzoli, £115)
No continent is urbanising faster than Africa. The rush to the towns is a theme for many photographers, but what interests Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher is what’s being lost in the process. Their African Ceremonies (1999), documenting traditional rites and rituals in 26 countries, won a UN Award for Excellence. African Twilight, another fascinating two-volume study that has been 12 years in the making, completes their journey. It includes ceremonies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — which they couldn’t enter earlier — and the coronation of the voodoo king in Ouidah, Benin, a once-in-a-generation happening. Forty per cent of what they document here, they say, has already vanished.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 28 (Natural History Museum, £25)
Among the 100 wonderful images in this book, chosen from some 45,000 entries from 95 countries, are many exploiting innovations in equipment. Pictures taken from drones feature for the first time (though the judges are mindful of the disturbance such devices can cause) and camera-trap shots show animals within the panorama of their environments. But professionalism, patience and a measure of luck are still more important than technology. Sue Forbes spent days scanning rough seas in the Indian Ocean before she got her reward: a single frame enclosing both a bird (a red-footed booby) and a fish in flight.

Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 12 (AA Publishing, £25)
When he dreamed up his competition more than 12 years ago, Charlie Waite says in his foreword, he had “the possibly high-flown notion” that the winning photography and resulting books would become a record of their times. This year’s certainly reflects the weather. Captions refer to Storms Brian and Ophelia and the “Beast from the East”; subjects include kayakers breaking ice on Loch Ba, on Rannoch Moor; snow-covered Surrey farmland, photographed with a drone and looking like a circuit board; and the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, with the sea seemingly as white as the cliffs. The annual book, incidentally, must be one of the few things that hasn’t risen in price in 12 years.  A bargain.

The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim by Pete McBride (Rizzoli, £40)
Some 5.9 million people a year visit the Grand Canyon, but fewer than a dozen have walked it from end to end, a journey-without-trails of some 750 miles. The photographer Pete McBride did so with his friend Kevin Fedarko, a writer and former river guide in Grand Canyon National Park. With the park’s centenary approaching, they share what they found in the canyon’s remote ribs, and report on the continuing struggle between conservation and exploitation (they logged 363 helicopter flights in the space of eight hours). As McBride puts it, “If we cannot protect this space, the seventh natural wonder of the world, what can we protect?”



The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones (Thames & Hudson, £29.95)
Oscar Wilde declared that “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.” Huw Lewis-Jones’s beautifully produced compendium takes in everything from Utopia, charted for Thomas More’s satire of 1516, to Westeros, a continent in that swords-and-sorcery series Game of Thrones. It shows how writers of the past created worlds that have inspired writers of the present, from Joanne Harris to Robert Macfarlane. It’s a reminder that a map is far more than a means of plotting a route. Like a book, it can transport you. It can work magic.

Charlie Waite on landscape, holy light and the lonely shed

At Waterloo station in London this week, opening the Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition, Charlie Waite declared that “the great goal of landscape photography is to have parity with the human experience” — for the photographer to capture not only geographical reality but at least a measure of what he or she felt, and in such a way that viewers will respond to it.

  It’s a demanding standard, but one to which Waite holds himself. He is one of the world’s leading landscape photographers; his images are held in private and corporate collections throughout the world and he has more than 30 books to his name. He’s a teacher as well as a practitioner, an impassioned advocate of photography and the benefits it can bring. In an interview with Deskbound Traveller, he talks about how he got started, the appeal of a lonely shed, and his lifelong pursuit of “a thing made holy by the light falling on it”.

Belgian journalist named travel photographer of the year

The winner of the British-based Travel Photographer of the Year competition, which attracts entries from professional and amateur photographers from around the world, was announced yesterday. He is Alain Schroeder, a Belgian photojournalist, who had entered a black-and-white portfolio of startling images of the rituals that follow a death in Toraja, Indonesia, where corpses are mummified and kept at home before a funeral; and a colour portfolio featuring wrestlers in Kushti, India. For a full list of the winning entries in all categories, see the TPOTY website. In the image below, two brothers, Micha from Jakarta and Misi from Makassar, embrace their father, Tumaang, and their mother, Rara. Picture © Alain Schroeder/TPOTY.COM.