Dervla Murphy: ‘Older travellers are now more intrepid than the young’

Dervla Murphy

This makes great reading for those of us who are growing old, or who wish to grow old, disgracefully! Perhaps it is actually gracefully?

by Dervla Murphy

First published in the Telegraph, 23 September 2015

In her late 30s, Jane Austen serenely prepared for imminent middle age and soon was dressing as a maiden aunt with no hope of losing her maidenhood. Yet many of her relatives and friends lived energetically into their 80s and 90s; so why, 200 years ago, was middle age allowed to take over at 40? Was the bible to blame?

Until recently, its general prognosis seemed realistic: three-score years and 10, if you were lucky. My own generation took this ration so much for granted that I now feel absurdly smug about being 13 years into overtime. True, these last few years have revealed several tiresome worn parts, but the underlying logic here – that all machines wear out – makes restricted physical activity seem tolerable. And this despite the fact that the wanderlust, unlike other lusts, does not diminish with age.

For this reason I always feel one should avoid, for as long as possible, casual visits to the doctor. He/she is too likely to take blood samples, diagnose problems you haven’t yet noticed, prescribe medicines that benefit only Big Pharma and advise you not to go where you want to go.

In 1992, when I decided to cycle from Nairobi to Cape Town, my family and friends made no comment; it was the sort of thing Dervla did. Only a few anxious acquaintances, and sceptical interviewing journalists, drew my attention to the fact that I was 61; it wasn’t yet trendy to witter on about “40 being 60” and “80 being 60”.
In fact, ever since the bicycle was invented, cyclists have kept pedalling into their old age. Quite often one hears of grannies and grandads cycling across the United States or Canada, or from Helsinki to Gibraltar, or from Mexico to Patagonia. That’s the convenient thing about non-competitive cycling (or walking): the more of it you do, on a daily basis, the longer you can keep doing it.

Before affluence hit Ireland, many GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) fans from my home town of Lismore thought nothing of cycling over the Knockmealdown mountains, on bicycles without gears, to an important hurling match in Thurles. They set out at sunrise and arrived home in the summer dusk having pedalled 120 miles. Now their grandchildren motor to fetch the milk from the corner.

Read the entire article here.



3 thoughts on “Dervla Murphy: ‘Older travellers are now more intrepid than the young’

  1. helenruston6376

    Thank you sooo much for introducing me to Dervla Murphy!!! I am pushing 80, and bristle at the unsolicited advice on how to live .. her mantra of “no casual visits to the doctor” are so right on. I will read her books, too. Thank you again. Love this blog!!!


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