Travel books Archive

Re-reading Leigh Fermor

In a piece just released from the archive of Slightly Foxed magazine, Tim Mackintosh-Smith tells how he was “lost, thrilled and intoxicated” on first reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Roumeli, a book in which, via “disjointed jaunts around the mainland interspersed with mini-cruises in the glittering archipelago of Leigh Fermor’s mind, we get to know a lot about Greece”. 

  You can still hear a Slightly Foxed podcast from last summer exploring the life and literary legacy of Leigh Fermor (1915-2011). It brings together his biographer, Artemis Cooper, and Nick Hunt, who, for his debut, Walking the Woods and the Water, retraced what Leigh Fermor called his “great trudge” of the 1930s from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul.

Hannigan on ‘Travel Writing World’ podcast

The latest interviewee on Jeremy Bassetti’s Travel Writing World podcast is Tim Hannigan, talking about The Granite Kingdom, a book in which he explores his homeland of Cornwall and how our view of the county has been shaped by writers, artists and other visitors.

Adventures from the past

A book by a surveyor who became a spy and one by the brother of the creator of James Bond will be published later this month by Eland, custodian of travel classics

  Lewen Weldon, a fluent Arabic speaker, was mapping the desert of Egypt when the First World War broke out. He was recruited by the British government to run a network of spies from a steam yacht on to the Syrian coast behind Turkish lines. Hard Lying, his “vivid tale of adventure”, Eland says, “becomes eyewitness history as we encounter Armenians escaping the massacres, passionate Arab nationalists, resolute Turkish soldiers and a heroic network of Jewish volunteers”.

  In Brazilian Adventure (first published in 1933), Peter Fleming, journalist, travel writer and brother of Ian, tells how he was prompted by an advertisement in the agony column of The Times to set off on the trail of Colonel Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who had vanished in Amazonia. The journey, which begins in a spirit of can-do frivolity, slowly darkens into something very personal and deeply testing, for which, Fleming says, “Rider Haggard might have written the the plot and Conrad designed the scenery”. (Fawcett was the subject recently of a brief but transporting little book by the neurologist A J Lees, Brazil That Never Was.)

  I’m not in the habit here of linking to the publications of oil companies, but there was a lovely tribute to Eland, and the part it has played in travel writing over the past 40 years, by Matthew Teller in the May/June issue of AramcoWorld.

Last book from Lopez out this week

Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, a last essay collection from Barry Lopez, who died in 2020, is out in the UK this week. You can read a brief extract on the website of the publisher, Notting Hill Editions.

McCarron on ‘Travel Writing World’

Leon McCarron, whose Wounded Tigris was published earlier this month, talks to Jeremy Bassetti in the latest Travel Writing World podcast. Reviewing the book in The Sunday Times on April 16, Justin Marozzi said it was “by turns hard-hitting, urgent, gently lyrical and self-deprecating, a bittersweet pleasure”.

Theroux on the rails

In the “Notes from an author” slot in this month’s National Geographic Traveller (UK), Paul Theroux looks back on his first travel book, written half a century ago: The Great Railway Bazaar. On his journey through Asia, he writes:

I was often inconvenienced, sometimes threatened, now and then harassed for bribes, occasionally laid up with food poisoning — all of this vivid detail for my narrative. Most of all I was homesick, not the right mood for a traveller or a fit subject for a travel book; so I never mentioned it. On the contrary, I wrote about my trip as a spirited jaunt, and converted its loneliness into something self-mocking and jolly.

  His follow-up, The Old Patagonian Express, for which he travelled the length of North and South America, has just been released in a new edition by the Folio Society. On its British publication in 1979, that book was serialised in The Sunday Telegraph, and reviewed in the same paper by Colin Thubron. He welcomed it with these words: “A new type of travel book has arrived. Its ancestors are not H V Morton or Lawrence Durrell, but Mark Twain and Alexander Kinglake, and its author, most typically, attempts less to immerse himself in a foreign culture than to submit to chance experiences and insights as he moves along his (usually harassed) way.” David Holloway, reviewing Theroux for The Daily Telegraph, argued that “it would be quite wrong to call The Old Patagonian Express a travel book. Even more than his earlier success, The Great Railway Bazaar, it is a travelling book.”

New books on travel and place

Tom Chesshyre is perhaps best known for his journeys on the rails (Slow Trains to Venice; Slow Trains Around Spain), but he’s a walker, too, and has followed the Thames From Source to Sea. In his latest book, Lost in the Lakes (Summersdale, £16.99, April 13), he’s on foot again, making a “big wobbly circle” through the Lake District, focusing on the 16 principal bodies of water rather than the “Wainwright” peaks. The idea “is to show a new way around the Lakes that suits the casual rambler”.

  A link in an email from Reaktion Books about titles coming in autumn has directed me to some books due a little earlier than that. In The Stopping Places, which was short-listed in 2019 for the Stanford Dolman prize, Damian Le Bas journeyed through Gypsy Britain as it is today. In Travellers Through Time (Reaktion Books, £20, April 24), Jeremy Harte, secretary of the Romany and Traveller Family History Society, offers “the first real history of the Romany people, from the inside”. He “portrays the hardships of the travelling life, the skills of woodland crafts, the colourful artistic traditions, the mysteries of a lost language and the flamboyant displays of weddings and funerals, which are all still present in this secretive culture”.

  In Astray (Reaktion Books, £16, May 1), Eluned Summers-Bremner, who has written books on insomnia and the novels of Ian McEwan, offers what the publisher says is “an enthralling look at wandering, belonging, alienation and hope throughout history”. Moving from ancient ancient Australian Aboriginal cosmology to the journeys of today’s refugees, she aims to show that “wandering is the means by which creativity and skills of adaptation are preserved”.

  In The Food Adventurers (Reaktion Books, July, £20), Daniel E Bender, a professor of food studies and history at the University of Toronto, tells the history of eating on round-the-world trips, looking at what tourists ate, as well as what they avoided, and what kinds of meals they described in diaries, photographs and postcards. 

  In the acclaimed Wanderers (2020), Kerri Andrews told the stories of 10 women who had found walking “essential to their sense of themselves as women, writers and people” — from Elizabeth Carter, a parson’s daughter of the 18th century, to Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. Wanderers was a bestseller, and Andrews is following it up with Way Makers (Reaktion Books, September 1, £15.99), which the publisher says is “the first anthology of women’s writing about walking”. Moving from the 18th century to the present day, and taking in poetry, letters, diaries and novels, it is “testament to the rich literary heritage created by generations of women walker-writers over the centuries”. Andrews, incidentally, will be at the inaugural Abingdon Walking Festival in Oxfordshire on April 22.

On the Tigris, with Leon McCarron

In his latest book, Wounded Tigris, due to be published by Corsair on April 6, Leon McCarron aims to show what humanity stands to lose if the great river — threatened by both climate change and geopolitics — is allowed to die. There’s an interview with the author in the April issue of National Geographic Traveller UK, which you can already read online. In it, he explains why his current base is Iraqi Kurdistan, where, with a Syrian Kurdish filmmaker, Lawin Mohammed, he has been working on a hiking trail through the Zagros Mountains.

Stanford prize goes to Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

The Edward Stanford Travel Book of the Year award went last night to Silvia Vasquez-Lavado for In the Shadow of the Mountain, a memoir in which she weaves together her ascent of Everest, her traumatic childhood in Peru, and the journey she made as an immigrant to the United States.

  Three other prizes were handed over in the slimmed-down Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the guidebook publisher Lonely Planet, was honoured for making “an outstanding contribution to travel writing” by “inspiring travellers on a shoestring”; Emma Willsteed was named Bradt New Travel Writer of the Year for a piece about Connemara, in the west of Ireland; and Hannah Gold picked up the Children’s Travel Book of the Year award for The Lost Whale.

Stanford travel prize winner to be named this week

The winner will be announced on Thursday (March 16) of the Edward Stanford Travel Book of the Year award. There are eight books short-listed:

The Last Overland by Alex Bescoby (Michael O’Mara)
High by Erika Fatland (Quercus)
The Po: An Elegy for Italy’s Longest River by Tobias Jones (Head of Zeus)
The Slow Road to Tehran by Rebecca Lowe (September Publishing)
Crossed Off the Map: Travels in Bolivia by Shafik Meghji (Latin America Bureau)
Walking with Nomads by Alice Morrison (Simon & Schuster)
My Family and Other Enemies by Mary Novakovich (Bradt)
In The Shadow of the Mountain by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (Octopus).