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Deskbound Traveller will be taking a break until early September while its editor escapes from his own desk to do some travelling.

Making a break

Deskbound Traveller is taking a break while its editor does some travelling himself. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

A weekend of wanderings

There was an excellent piece  in the Review section of The Guardian at the weekend by Robert Macfarlane on Laurie Lee and his wanderings through Spain. (I presume it’s from Macfarlane’s introduction to a new Penguin edition of one of Lee’s books, published to mark the centenary of the writer’s birth, but The Guardian doesn’t say.) “If the power of Cider with Rosie derives from its dream of dwelling,” he argues, “the power of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning derives from its dream of leaving. If only I could live forever in one place, and come to know it so well, you think, reading Lee’s first volume of memoir. If only I could step from my front door, walk away and just keep going, you think, reading his second.

I’ve read all of Lee’s Spanish books several times, but Macfarlane, as he often does, made me feel I’d been only half-attentive. Of this passage from As I Walked Out

[The] next day, getting back on to the London road, I forgot everything but the way ahead. I walked steadily, effortlessly, hour after hour in a kind of swinging, weightless realm. I was at that age which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels, so that it seems to glide in warm air, about a foot off the ground, smoothly obeying its intuitions. Even exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, and sleep was caressive and deep, like oil.

he says:

The writing here is “voluptuous” yet precise, and as such it is characteristic of Lee’s style, in which elaborate metaphors serve not as ornaments, but rather as the means of most closely evoking complex experience. Lee does not walk so much as levitate or hover, borne aloft by supernatural stamina, and, in mimicry of this sensation, his clauses, suspended by their commas, also bear the reader along “the way” and onwards into the unknown. 

The Telegraph Magazine had a piece from Mike Pflanz on another wanderer, David Coulson, who has driven the equivalent of three times round the earth to find and chronicle the ancient rock art of Africa. “Here’s a great news story out of Africa,” says Coulson: “the preservation of thousands of years of history and culture about which we would know nothing if not for this art. That’s what should motivate us all to preserve it.”

A hundred years ago last week, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, set off on a trip that would end with his assassination – the event that triggered the First Word War. In Telegraph Travel, Adrian Bridge followed the archduke’s footsteps. “It’s a journey well worth doing today,” he says, “not because [Franz Ferdinand] did it, but for the geographical, historical, cultural and scenic splendours along the way”. The piece isn’t online as I write, so I’ll post a link to it later.

Also in the Review section of The Guardian was an interview by Emma Brockes with Teju Cole, mentioned here recently, who was born into a Nigerian family in the United States and is constantly struck by the ease of life there compared with that in Nigeria. How, he asks of the latter, “can a place be so interesting, full of history and real human conflict, and at the same time as slow as molasses?”


Haunted home of the whalers

“The most haunted place I have ever been”: Adam Nicolson, for the Telegraph Review, reports on Leith Habour, in South Georgia, once home to hundreds of Scottish and Norwegian men pursuing the whales of the Southern Ocean. His documentary for BBC4, Britain’s Whale Hunters: The Untold Story, will be screened tomorrow and on June 16.

Travel writing in ‘Intelligent Life’

IntelligentLifecoverThat excellent magazine Intelligent Life (from the same stable as The Economist) often has some good travel writing, and its current issue is no exception.

Tom Whipple, who has visited the monastic fastness of Mount Athos in Greece four times, ponders what it is that keeps pulling him back; Sara Wheeler (who is writing a book about Russia) considers the role of the railway in Russian life and literature; and Philip Hoare recalls adventures in the Azores, “a place of safety for whales”.

On the rails in Wales and the Himalayas

Ffestiniog Travel, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is a tour operator with a difference: its profits go to the charitable trust of a heritage railway company. In an article for Telegraph Travel, Graham Coster meets Alan Heywood, who was in at the start and is still, at 73, getting his hands dirty helping to recouple carriage to loco. In a poem for Deskbound Traveller, also on a railway theme, Coster finds himself transported from the hills of north London to the Himalayas.

Where to find more writing by Matthew Power

Harper’s has helpfully added a page linking to pieces written for the magazine by Matthew Power, that chronicler of eccentric expeditions who died recently and whom I mentioned in an earlier post.

Deskbound Traveller is taking a break

Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

Nappies on – and into space

Some time this year, Sir Richard Branson promises, tourists will start taking off in Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo. Having paid either £125,000 (the early bookers) or £155,000, they can expect a two-hour trip that includes five minutes of weightlessness. What they can’t expect, according to a revealing piece by Jon Ronson in Guardian Weekend, is anything in the way of in-flight services or even access to a lavatory. “Every passenger will be required to wear a special astronaut nappy, or maximum-absorbency garment, under his or her flight suit, which hasn’t yet been designed.”

Freight adventures

Within the space of four months, two writers who had run away to sea have returned home to launch a book each about container ships and the lives of those on board them. First there was Rose George, whose Deep Sea and Foreign Going has already been reviewed on Deskbound Traveller and serialised in the Telegraph Magazine. Next week, Chatto & Windus is due to publish Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare. Both writers travelled with Maersk, the largest container-shipping company in the world, so each presumably heard what the other was up to, though they don’t seem to have met. Both were a cause of puzzlement among the crew. “The seafarers thought I was crazy,” Clare recalls in a piece for the Financial Times. “‘Why are you here?’ they asked. ‘To see what your lives are like,’ I said, reluctant to admit the other reason. Since boyhood I had dreamt of setting sail on a ship bound for far away.”