Latest Posts

See what's new

Stanford Dolman short list

The short list was announced today for the £2,500 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award, run by the bookseller Stanfords in association with the Authors’ Club. The five books on it are: Fifty Sounds by Polly  Barton (Fitzcarraldo Editions), Minarets in the Mountains by Tharik Hussain (Bradt), Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles (Canongate), The Amur River by Colin Thubron (Chatto & Windus) and Wars of the Interior by Joseph Zárate (Granta).

Imani Perry on ‘South to America’

The historian Imani Perry was a guest on the book review podcast of The New York Times at the weekend, talking about her new book, South To America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation (Ecco). Perry, who was born in Atlanta, but moved north as a child, says she was inspired by Albert Murray’s 1971 memoir-cum-travelogue South to a Very Old Place. Her book, she says, is “about encounters… with history but also with human beings” and an attempt to understand why a southern identity is so important to her “but also centrally important to the formation of this country”.

‘Islands of Abandonment’ on Radio 4

Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment, which you’ll have seen mentioned here a few times, is Book of the Week on Radio 4 from 09:45 this morning.

New for 2022: forthcoming books on travel and place

Journeys of explorers, exiles and refugees; portraits of Jerusalem, Berlin and the Shetland Islands:  these are some of the books on travel and place coming in 2022…

Time on Rock: A Climber’s Route into the Mountains by Anna Fleming (Canongate, January 6)
Anna Fleming charts two parallel journeys: learning the craft of traditional rock climbing, and developing through it a greater appreciation of the natural world. Through the story of her progress over a decade from terrified beginner to confident lead climber, “she shows us how placing hand and foot on rock becomes a profound new way into the landscape”. The poet Helen Mort says that Fleming’s debut “reminds me of Nan Shepherd, only the kind of Nan Shepherd I could go for a pint with.”

Michel the Giant: An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie (Penguin Classics, February 3)
A new edition of a remarkable story: how a black man from Togo made a journey over nearly a decade to the Arctic Circle. First published as An African in Greenland in 1981, Kpomassie’s book was awarded the Prix Littéraire Francophone International and shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. It reads, as the critic Al Alvarez put it, like a fairy tale, “in which the hero runs away… and ends up making his wildest dreams come true”.

Travel Your Way by Nathan James Thomas (Exisle Publishing, February 8)
Nathan James Thomas, a New Zealander who has worked as a travel writer and ghost-writer, founded the website Intrepid Times in 2014 “as a vehicle for sharing stories from the road and as an excuse to meet and interview his favourite writers”. His new book is one for our tricky times, “with barriers and restrictions coming and going at a dizzying rate”. His aim is to help you “gain more from the travel experiences that you have and connect in a deeper way with the places you go and the people you meet”.

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water: A Journey Through the Refugee Underground by Matthieu Aikins (Fitzcarraldo Editions, February 15)
Aikins, a journalist who grew up in Canada and has been reporting on the conflict in Afghanistan, joins his friend Omar, who was working as a driver and translator but has fled his country. To do so, he must leave his own passport and identity behind to go underground on the refugee trail. The pair’s odyssey across land and sea to Europe brings them face to face with the people at heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists, and the men, women and children fleeing war in search of a better life.

The Instant by Amy Liptrot (Canongate, March 3)
Liptrot leaves Orkney — where she recovered from addiction in her wonderful debut The Outrun — and books a one-way flight to Berlin. “Searching for new experiences, inspiration and love, she rents a loft-bed in a shared flat and looks for work. She explores the streets, nightclubs and parks and seeks out the city’s wildlife – goshawks, raccoons and hooded crows. She looks for love through the screen of her laptop.”

Explorer: The Quest for Adventure, Discovery and the Great Unknown by Benedict Allen (Canongate, March 3)
Benedict Allen first headed for the farthest reaches of our planet at a time when there were still valleys and ranges known only to the remote communities who inhabited them. Thirty years on, he continues exploring. His book, he says, is part memoir, part meditation. “To me personally, exploration isn’t about planting flags, conquering Nature, or going somewhere in order to make a mark – it’s about the opposite. It’s about opening yourself up, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and letting the place and people make their mark on you.”

The Undercurrents by Kirsty Bell (Fitzcarraldo Editions, March 9)
When her marriage breaks down, Kirsty Bell – a British-American art critic, in her mid-forties, adrift – becomes fixated on the history of her building and of her adoptive city of Berlin. Starting with the view from her apartment window, she turns to the lives of the house’s various inhabitants, to accounts penned by Walter Benjamin, Rosa Luxemburg and Gabriele Tergit, and to the female protagonists in the works of Theodor Fontane, Irmgard Keun and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The Undercurrents is “a hybrid literary portrait of a place that makes the case for radical close readings: of ourselves, our cities and our histories”.

The Best British Travel Writing of the 21st Century (Summersdale, March 10)
A collection of “the 30 best travel stories published in British magazines, newspapers and journals over the last two decades”, as chosen by the writers Jessica Vincent, Levison Wood, Monisha Rajesh  and Simon Willmore.

Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City by Matthew Teller (Profile Books, March 17)
The Old City has never had “four quarters”, as its maps proclaim; and beyond the principal religious sites, much of Jerusalem is  little known to visitors, its people ignored and their stories untold. Matthew Teller sets out to challenge prevailing narratives and paint a new, intimately personal picture of social and cultural diversity. He hears not only from Palestinians and Jews but from Africans and Indians, the Greek and Armenian and Syriac communities, downtrodden Dom-gypsy families and Sufi mystics.

Shadowlands: A Journey Through Lost Britain by Matthew Green (Faber, March 17)
The historian Matthew Green tells “the untold story of Britain’s lost cities, ghosts towns and vanished villages, the places that slipped through the fingers of history”, from an Orkney settlement buried in sand 5,000 years ago to a medieval city mouldering beneath the waves of the North Sea. His aim is not just to dig up physical remains but to evoke “a cluster of lost worlds, animating the people who lived, worked, dreamed and died there, and showing how their disappearances explain why Britain looks the way it does”.

Where My Feet Fall: Going for a Walk in Twenty Stories by Duncan Minshull (William Collins, March 31) 
In his latest anthology, the radio producer and “laureate of walking” (as he was called by Country Life magazine) has 20 writers “set out with old memories and new adventures”, in places from the Isle of Grain (in Kent) to Tasmania. Contributors include Tim Parks, Kamila Shamsie, Nicholas Shakespeare, Joanna Kavenna, Richard Ford, Sinead Gleeson, Pico Iyer and Jessica J. Lee.

Crossed off the Map: Travels in Bolivia by Shafik Meghji (Latin America Bureau/ Practical Action Publishing, March).
Meghji’s book emerged from a series of research trips for The Rough Guide to Bolivia over the past decade. Blending travel writing, history and reportage, it explores how a country rarely covered by the international media helped to shape the modern world — kickstarting globalisation, influencing the industrial revolution in Europe and dynastic collapse in China — and how it is now responding to challenges that will affect all of us in the years ahead, from the climate emergency to mass migration.

Riding Out: A Journey of Love, Loss and New Beginnings by Simon Parker (Summersdale, April 21)
In March 2020, as Britain entered its first lockdown, Simon Parker’s life fell apart: his work as a travel writer disappeared and shortly afterwards he heard that a close friend had died. When a long-suppressed anxiety disorder started to trouble him again, he got on his bike. From the northernmost point of Shetland, he cycled 3,427 miles around Britain (a journey recounted in the pages of Telegraph Travel). “I figured,” he writes, “there were 67 million other people out there, on Britain’s beaches, in its small towns, on its farms and fishing boats, all with their own unique worries and concerns. Each of these people, I hoped, might help me in their own little way.”

In Search of One Last Song by Patrick Galbraith (William Collins, April 28)
Our wild places and wildlife are disappearing at a terrifying rate. Patrick Galbraith, travelling across Britain from Orkney to West Wales, meets conservationists trying to save 10 threatened bird species. Through talking to musicians, writers and poets, whose work is inspired by the birds he manages to see, he creates a picture of the immense cultural void that would be left behind if the birds were lost.

Exiles: Three Island Journeys by William Atkins (Faber, May 5)
Atkins, who won the Stanford Dolman prize for The Immeasurable World, travels to the places where three people were banished at the height of European colonialism: Louise Michel, a French anarchist (New Caledonia in the South Pacific); Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, a Zulu prince (St Helena in the South Atlantic), and Lev Shternberg, a Ukrainian revolutionary (Sakhalin Island, off the coast of Siberia). “‘Exile,’ he says, “is a word that has haunted me all my adult life; this book is my attempt to grapple with its meanings, by following the journeys of three people I came to love and admire.”

The Green Traveller: Conscious adventure that doesn’t cost the earth by Richard Hammond (Pavilion, May 5)
Many of us are increasingly aware of the downsides of travel, and keen to do what we can to minimise our impact on the planet. We could just do with some guidance on how we go about it, while avoiding the greenwashing. That’s what Richard Hammond, founder of Green Traveller, aims to deliver, offering both a steer through environmental issues and practical ideas and itineraries.

Imagine A City by Mark Vanhoenacker (Chatto & Windus, May 12)
Since he was a child, the pilot and author of the bestselling Skyfaring has had the habit of dreaming about a city that doesn’t exist. In his new book, he “shows the reader how a city, real or imagined can be a childhood escape from uncomfortable realities, a kind of urban simulation game as an adult, a vast mental dance floor on which to play your favourite music, an effective aid to sleep, or a pre-filled form for articulating hopes for a slightly improved or heightened urbanity”.

The Ponies At The Edge Of The World by Catherine Munro (Rider, May 19)
Catherine Munro transforms her life when she moves to the tiny island of Whalsay as part of her PhD, studying the hardy ponies that inhabit the Shetland Islands. Over a year, she goes through the grief of a miscarriage, the uncertainty of life as an outsider and the harsh challenges of a wild land. Yet through it all, she finds comfort, connection and hope;  the people and animals of Shetland give her the feeling of home she has always been looking for.

Fire Island: Love, Loss and Liberation in an American Paradise by Jack Parlett (Granta, May)
This non-fiction debut from the British poet and essayist follows the lives of the poets, writers, artists and activists who found freedom on New York’s Fire Island — including including Frank O’Hara, Patricia Highsmith, James Baldwin and Edmund White — and “is a magisterial account of queer desire in the 20th century,” according to the synopsis.

The Responsible Traveller by Karen Edwards (Summersdale, July)
Edwards, an editor and writer from London (and author of The Planet-Friendly Kitchen), examines both the environmental and social impact of tourism, offering advice on how to be more aware when travelling.

The Edge of the Plain by James Crawford (Canongate, August)
In a blend of history, travel writing and reportage, Crawford, a historian and broadcaster, traces the evolution and cultural significance of land borders. According to The Bookseller, “It is a story told in four parts, each exploring a different aspect of the lifecycle and experience of borders all around the world and throughout history — how they are created, how they can change and evolve, how they are crossed or breached, and, finally, how they are overcome or broken.”

My Family and Other Enemies: Life and Travels in Croatia’s Hinterland by Mary Novakovich (Bradt, August 25).
In this travelogue/memoir, Novakovich explores the sparsely populated Croatian region of Lika, birthplace of her parents and a land that has endured centuries of strife. Over visits spanning more than 40 years, she uncovers her family’s tumultuous history as well as the stories of people who survived the country’s conflicts of the 20th century. Along the way, she celebrates Lika’s distinctive culture, food and indomitable spirit.

A History of Water by Edward Wilson-Lee (William Collins, August)
Wilson-Lee, author of Shakespeare in Swahililand and The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, was on holiday when I put out a request on Twitter asking for news of forthcoming books. His new one, he said in a brief message, is “about early modern travel and cultural encounter in India, China and elsewhere”. More on that later.

Following Miss Bell: Travels Around Turkey in the Footsteps of Gertrude Bell by Pat Yale (Trailblazer, October)
Gertrude Bell, explorer, archaeologist, writer and spy, travelled through Turkey before the First World War. Yale, who has been writing about the country for a quarter of a century, blends the story of that journey with her own retracing of Bell’s routes in 2015.

Cal Flyn on ‘Travel Writing World’

The latest guest on Jeremy Bassetti’s Travel Writing World podcast is Cal Flyn, whose Islands of Abandonment was one of Bassetti’s favourite books of 2021 (and one of mine, too.)

New travel/literature podcast

A new podcast that promises to combine travel and literature, The Wandering Book Collector, is due to be launched today by the writer and broadcaster Michelle Jana Chan (see my earlier post on her novel, Song). She is planning to have conversations with writers “around themes of movement, memory, borders, longing and belonging, and home”. Her first guest is the journalist and author Janine di Giovanni, best known for her reporting of war and the politics of conflict; the second, on December 29, will be Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize in 2019 for her novel Girl, Woman, Other and the first black woman and black British person to receive the award in its 50-year history.

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 uk.bookshop.org, 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. 

PICTURE BOOKS

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’

The year we stopped flying

I’m late getting round to mentioning it but The Guardian had an excellent piece on Saturday from Cal Flyn on the year we stopped flying, and what it meant for work, family life, scientific research — and the planet. (Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment, a life-affirming book about dead zones, was one of my books of this year.)

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.

Petro on ‘Travel Writing World’

Pamela Petro, currently on tour in Britain with The Long Field, is also the latest interviewee on Jeremy Bassetti’s Travel Writing World podcast.