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Nicolas Bouvier – So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between

So It Goes coverPerhaps I have not read widely enough amongst the travel writing genre, or exposed myself to a wide enough variety of travel authors, but for my money, Nicolas Bouvier is one of the top travel writers of the twentieth century. At his best he surpasses Paddy, for he brings a rare sense of humour to his writing, something that Paddy, for all his marvellously detailed prose, is not noted for.

Some of you may have come across Bouvier by reading his best known work, The Way of the World, or perhaps you might recall a few mentions on this site, including, Armenia, Nicolas Bouvier and Paddy. It’s been over twenty-five years since a new work by Switzerland’s master travel writer has been translated and published in English. It would appear that Rose Baring at that lovely publishing house, Eland, has made it her personal mission to get this collection of shorter travel stories published. I have enjoyed everything I have read so far, and I think you will too. Buy a copy for someone for Christmas. At 180 pages it is manageable for all. Don’t just take my word for it.

‘Nicolas Bouvier was a writer of rare grace and subtlety. Every essay here shimmers with imaginative insight and wry humour. He has long been known to cognoscenti. Now, perhaps, his stature will be more widely recognised: one of the most brilliant, penetrating and individual travel writers of his time.’ Colin Thubron

‘Bouvier writes with such verve and style and carries his erudition so lightly. This is the perfect literary travel companion for the Aran islands, Xian and point in between. The Japanese Chronicles are next on my list. Bravo Eland and Robyn Marsack for this brilliant translation.’ Natania Jansz, publisher of Sort of Books

‘Passionate curiosity, appropriate seriousness and a comic sense are kept in balance by a wide, tolerant and most unusual cast of mind. He has the intuitive gift of capturing landscapes, atmospheres and personalities in a flash, and he finds himself totally at home in the heart of heterodoxy and strangeness […] he catches scenes and atmospheres with a painter’s eye and a poet’s ear.’ Patrick Leigh Fermor in his introduction to the first English edition of L’Usage du Monde.

Rose Baring, in her publisher’s foreword to So It Goes, explains what drove her to get this lovely collection translated into English by Robyn Marsack, the final part of Eland’s homage to Bouvier:

Only twice have I read a travel book and immediately wanted to speak to the author. The first time it was Ogier de Busbecq’s Turkish Letters, and I was well aware that I would never get through to the sixteenth-century Habsburg ambassador to the court of Suleyman the Magnificent. The second time was when I finished The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier in 2006. It didn’t take long to discover that Bouvier had died in 1998, and I entered a period of mourning for this man I had never met.

Despite his brilliance, Bouvier had largely slipped back beneath the Anglophone waves. Tracking down and publishing the works which had been translated – The Way of the World, The Japanese Chronicles and The Scorpion-Fish – allowed me to spend time with his words if nothing else. I tried, and largely failed, to trace the field recordings he had made of music from Zagreb to Tokyo. I looked at the images he had collected from around the world, the photographs he began to take in Japan in the 1960s, the poetry he wrote. I watched, much more than once, the film made about him in 1993, Le hibou et la baleine, and other snippets on the internet. I still long to have met him, and feel quite envious of the translator of these stories, who did.

So It Goes is the final element of Eland’s homage to this exceptional chronicler of the world – a selection of his shorter pieces of travel writing, and an essay on the childhood which catapulted him into the world equipped with such fertile curiosity. It contains all the hallmarks of his particular genius: an acute, painterly eye for the details which escape many others, an ear attuned as much to the qualities of a wind or the soft exhalation of a carthorse as to the nuances of conversation, and a willingness to open himself totally to the experience of a place, even when it threatens to unhinge him.

The title, So It Goes, is a phrase which crops up like a mantra throughout the book. Bouvier borrowed it from Kurt Vonnegut, whose writing he hugely admired. In Slaughterhouse Five (1969), the phrase implies that even faced with the horrific destruction of war, no good will come of shirking the truth. Bouvier is as good as his word.

Rose Baring

Extract from So It Goes
Scotland: Travels in the Lowlands

‘I ate some mussels with French fries in the dimly lit saloon bar, back turned on a huge pool-table where three couples were playing, their laughter high-pitched and loud, as though the inn belonged to them. The women, absurdly made-up for such an out-of-the-way place, pocketed their balls, fags in their mouths. The owner and his wife, who seemed to know them well, greeted each win with smarmy compliments. After a bit they came to my table with a bottle and three goblets. They seemed more fragile than the glass. I said, ‘A nice place you have here,’ meaning, ‘The natural surroundings are enchanting.’ She leaned towards me and whispered in my ear, ‘They kill me – this whole damn business is killing, simply killing,’ and disappeared into the kitchen, dabbing her eyes with her white apron. He remained. He told me he’d been trying to put the place back on its feet for several months, without success, and that his wife couldn’t stand it any more. Then, I don’t know why, he talked about the death of the poet Robert Burns (that colossal genius whose eyes shone with drink) in the doll’s house that the Customs administration, by whom he was employed, had offered him in Dumfries as a mark of their esteem. As he spoke, big tears rolled down his cheeks. I know that Burns makes the whole of Scotland cry, but there was something more going on here. I instinctively touched the back of his hand with my fingertip; he clasped mine and held it between his enormous paws for the time it took to swallow back something rising in his throat. What was he struggling against? I remembered the unexpected scene from several hours earlier: those two lost and frantic girls, their hair crested with red, opposite the unsightly woman calmly making an effort to set them back on their feet. Precarious, flawed little lives beneath the sky, a glittering sky tonight: theirs, hers, mine too. All looking, with what help we could find, for an honourable way out. So it goes.’

You can purchase So It Goes from Eland here. Why not treat yourself and buy The Way of the World at the same time?

To celebrate the publication of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes Eland will be hosting a seasonal pop-up shop from 5pm on the 28th November, to be followed by the return of the Travellers’ Film Club at 7pm. They will be showing a film which they feel honours the spirit of Bouvier, The Lovers’ Wind by Albert Lamorisse, an extraordinary film, shot entirely from the air in Iran in 1970. Join them at The Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R.

Watch Bouvier talk about his favourite books in 1993.

Walking the Ridgeway

I’ve just been tidying my garden in preparation for the winter. It is a lovely English autumn day and I have sat down with a cup of tea after my labours. My body is still recovering from my 90 mile walk of the Ridgeway long distance national trail, and now it has stiffened further after the gardening! So I have time to share a few thoughts about the Ridgeway walk I have just completed.

Following a route used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers the 90 mile long Ridgeway passes through ancient landscapes through downland, secluded valleys and woodland. It is a trail of two contrasting halves, separated by the Thames. The western part of this National Trail largely follows the route of a prehistoric ridge track along the crest of the North Wessex Downs and passes many historic sites, including Barbury, Liddington, Uffington and Segsbury Castles (hill forts), Wayland’s Smithy (long barrow) and Uffington White Horse. Near the western end start of the route, that is at the Sanctuary, is the Avebury World Heritage Site (a joint Site with Stonehenge).

The eastern part at Streatley crosses and then follows the River Thames for five miles before heading east into the Chiltern Hills, mainly along the north-western escarpment. The walking on the eastern half is more varied, along tracks and paths, across open downland, and through farm and woodland, passing Nuffield, Watlington, Chinnor, Princes Risborough, Wendover and Tring, ending up at Ivinghoe Beacon.

Whilst generally fairly level, the walk can be deceptively hard, as on a couple of days one needs to walk around 30km to find accommodation that is on, or very close to the route. I did not want to travel 2-3 miles off the route to find bed and breakfast. This is particularly true of the western half between Avebury and Streatley.

I completed the walk in five and half days last week. I love walking in England in the autumn. There was some rain, but the worst part was the very soft going underfoot which made it quite tiring at points, particularly as I was carrying a large pack. If you do decide to walk the route and don’t wish to carry everything with you, there are bag carrying companies that will take your large bags to your next BnB enabling you to walk with just a day sack.

A few tips from me if you want to walk this lovely route across southern England:

Given the sparsity of on the route accommodation, it may be best to plan the route a little more than I did (I just set off with no forward planning!) and then to choose and book BnB places; at busy times of the year, finding somewhere may be hard to find.

Buy a copy of The Ridgeway Adventure Atlas by A-Z. It has the whole route in Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 mapping in one map sized book that is easy to slip into and out of your trouser pocket or waterproof jacket map pocket (I had plenty of practice). It is all you need map wise and is designed to last at least one walk of the route. Buy The Ridgeway Adventure Atlas

Avoid The Ridgeway: Trailblazer British Walking Guide. It has lots of information and may be useful for pre-planning, but it is useless on the route. I carried it for 90 miles and did not open it once.

Research the route on the National Trails site and the Long Distance Walking Association site.

My route and accommodation:

Start point was at Ivinghoe Beacon. I stayed at a hotel near Tring (direct train from London Euston) and took a taxi to the Beacon in the morning.
Night one I stayed at the Red Lion in Wendover.
Night two at England’s Rose pub in Postcome which is about two miles off the route, but if you call the landlady, Shelia, she will collect and return you to the route.
Night three was a stay at The Swan in Streatley which was very good.
Night four at Hill Barn BnB right on the route at Sparsholt Firs.
Night five at The Sanctuary in Ogbourne St George.
End point at the Sanctuary (Overton Hill near Avebury) and then walked to the Red Lion at Avebury for lunch. I was collected but there is a regular bus service direct to Swindon train station.

A few photos to review if you have nothing better to do on a Sunday evening!

Summer’s lease is over

Representation of the entrance to Khiva, Uzbekistan

The more attentive amongst you will have noticed that there has been a little pause in my blog activity over the summer. I do wish I could attribute this to some sort of long sojourn in a house somewhere in the Tuscan hills that had no internet connection (one can dream!), but that has not been the case. Life has been busy, and I suppose I needed a little break as well.

I did manage a little travel with quite a lot of variety. From the imposing mountains of Scotland (when the temperature was over 30 degrees!) to the deserts of Uzbekistan (where it was even hotter). I managed to achieve a lifetime goal to visit Samarkand and to follow in the footsteps of some of the players of the Great Game. In between, I managed a further trip to Albania, visits to London, and walks in southern England, including some spectacular vistas on the South West Coast Path between Weymouth and Poole. Sleeping out on Lulworth Cove beach was a highlight.

It’s back now, with a line-up of new stories, articles, photographs, and news for you all about Paddy, his friends, the house, and other matters that are directly, and sometimes quite indirectly, related to this great travel writer. Watch out for news about the 2020 World Nomad Games! It’s good to be back.

The Slightly Foxed Podcast Episode 8: Leaving that Place called Home

The lovely team at the unmissable Slightly Foxed, Hazel, Jennie and host Philippa, explore the art of travel writing with the acclaimed author and biographer Sara Wheeler and Barnaby Rogerson of the well-loved independent publisher Eland Books. Buckle-up and join them on an audio adventure that takes in a coach trip around England, an Arctic sojourn, a hairy incident involving a Victorian lady and her trusty tweed skirt, and a journey across Russia in the footprints of its literary greats, with nods to Bruce Chatwin, Isabella Bird, Norman Lewis, Martha Gellhorn and Patrick Leigh Fermor along the way. There’s also their usual round-up of news from back home in Hoxton Square and plenty of recommendations for reading off the beaten track.

Listen to the podcast here.

Link to Eland Books (lots of lovely reprints of classic – and often little known – travel books)

British Ambassador Kate Smith CMG visits the Peloponnese

HM Ambassador Kate Smith CMG at the Fermor house

A little snippet of news about HMG’s ambassador to Greece and her travels throughout the Peloponnese in April, meeting with local authorities, businesses and British nationals living in the region. She made a visit to Paddy’s house. They manage to describe Paddy as a ‘philologist”. An interesting if not confusing description and essentially wide of the mark. There must be a prize for the best suggestion as to who wrote this convoluted tripe!

HM Ambassador Kate Smith then visited the landmark Patrick Leigh Fermor House, once the home of philhellenes, British philologist Patrick and his wife, Joan Leigh Fermor, who donated their house to the Benaki Museum in 1996.

Read the full article here on Gov.UK site.

Beneath the surface: Tuscany’s ancient walking trails

The sunken vie cave paths were made by the Etruscans

Our friend Nick Hunt (author of Walking the Woods and the Water and Where the Wild Winds Are) has recently written an article for the Guardian about the Vie cave network of sunken paths. Dug by the Etruscans more than 2,000 years ago, they offer a fascinating way to explore a little-visited corner of southern Tuscany. Nick has also recently published a short book – The Parakeeting of London. Apparently the skies of London have been taken over by flocks of bright-green parakeets and nobody knows how they got there. Nick tracks the progress of the parakeets from park to cemetery to riverbank, meeting Londoners from all walks of life who share their thoughts, opinions and theories on these incongruous avian invaders. Did Jimi Hendrix release them in 1968? Did they escape from a set during the filming of The African Queen? Are they anything to do with climate change? And, most importantly, are they here to stay?

First published in The Guardian

“Here there are wild boars with four legs, and wild boars with two,” says Walk Italy tour leader Roberto Carpano. We are drinking volcanic wine in the tiny village of Sovana, and he is referring to the fact that people from this forested, hilly part of southern Tuscany (50 miles south of Siena and as close to Rome as Florence) are sometimes nicknamed cinghiali (wild boars) for their stubborn, bristly nature.

Not that there are many locals about – Sovana has fewer than 100 residents, and the piazza is deserted apart from a small, self-important dog. My partner and I are here, with four others, to join a two-day walking tour of the area’s mysterious vie cave (sunken roads).

We are not exactly off the beaten track, for these tracks have been beaten since the bronze age. The vie cave are a network of paths dug by the Etruscans, the civilisation that ruled this area until 100 BC, when the last of their cities were absorbed into the Roman Republic. The ancient thoroughfares were cut into the tufo – the volcanic rock common in south and central Italy – connecting settlements, religious sites and necropolises. Some are just sunken footpaths, but others are six-metre deep ravines broad enough to drive a chariot down. In places the walls are carved with sacred symbols to protect against the pagan spirits later populations believed might haunt the trails.

Our journey begins above Sorano, at Fortezza Orsini, the 15th-century castle of the Orsini family, perched atop a tufo bluff riddled with tunnels and caves. We tour the catacombs with Sean Lawson, a New Zealander who came here on holiday 18 years ago and stayed on. He leads us through the cramped passageways that honeycomb the rock – their walls coated in saltpetre, used for gunpowder that fuelled the Orsinis’ incessant wars – and into the wooded valley, where the vie cave begin.

The sunlight disappears as we burrow into the shaded valley – the marks of 2,000-year-old picks are still visible on the walls. But soon we emerge into an open landscape of vineyards and olive groves, roads more Roman than Etruscan. Our goal, eight miles to the east, is a place of even greater mystery: an ancient necropolis called the Città del Tufo, whose largest, most majestic tomb is the Ildebranda, carved from the living rock, surrounded by hundreds of smaller burial chambers. Sean shows us the Tomb of the Winged Demons and a statue of Vanth, angel of death, pausing to chat to some local women who are picking wild asparagus – it’s perfect in risotto, they say.

The next morning’s vie cave take us south from Sovana to a place that’s very much alive: the Sassotondo vineyard, owned by wine producing couple Carla Benini and Eduardo Ventimiglia. “He is the mind and I am the nose,” says Carla, after showing us round a cellar cut deep into tufo, like everything else, and pouring glasses of red, white and orange wine as an icy wind shakes the mimosa trees outside.

The wine cellars at Sassotondo vineyard are cut deep into tufo

After a lunch of unsalted Tuscan bread and sheep’s cheese sprinkled with oregano, we are back on the sunken roads heading for Pitigliano – an unreal vision of a town with steeples, towers and defensive walls on a rocky outcrop, its terracotta rooftops circled by rooks. We pass beneath the arches of a 16th-century aqueduct into a warren of vicoli, narrow twisting alleyways. Roberto shows us the synagogue of the ancient Jewish quarter, which thrived from the 15th century but didn’t survive the 20th – its members fled or were deported, with others reportedly finding refuge with Christian families during the second world war – and is now another monument to a vanished culture.

A full moon is rising as we settle into La Magica Torre, a guesthouse with views of the old town. Sleep is a long way off, though, for something special is about to happen in the main piazza. The Invernacciu is an effigy of canes and straw, which represents the departing spirit of winter. As darkness falls, a line of flames weaves towards us along the vie cave across the valley. A procession of young men in monks’ robes staggers up the hill, trailing sparks from huge bundles of burning canes on their shoulders. Their chants get louder as they come: “’Eppe, ’eppe, viva San Giuseppe!” This festival, the Torciata di San Giuseppe, is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, but the veneer of Christianity is unconvincing. Tonight is the spring equinox, and this is a pagan celebration of the end of winter.

The monks touch their torches to the pyre and the straw man goes up in flames. A fierce wind turns the piazza into a maelstrom of swarming sparks. Chunks of burning wood rain down on the crowd, and parents brush embers from their children’s hair as watching firemen chat and smoke cigarettes. As music blasts from powerful speakers, inebriated monks dance hand-in-hand around the inferno.

It is a glorious end to our walk. Winter is truly over. By midnight the streets are deserted. We return to the smouldering heap to gather a handful of still-warm ashes to take home on tomorrow’s train – good luck for the coming year.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane review – a dazzling journey into deep time

Limousis caves in Languedoc-Roussillon, France. Photograph: Alamy

Robert Macfarlane has done a lot to keep Paddy’s name and writing style alive and current. His new book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, is one that offers a new perspective on the human impact on our planet, is receiving rave reviews.

By William Dalrymple

First published in The Guardian.

Stories of human journeys into the Underworld are as old as literature itself. But few of them are happy tales. Old Babylonian cuneiform tablets recording the Epic of Gilgamesh were first incised around 1800BC. These tell of the Sumerian hero Enkidu who reappeared from a long imprisonment underground in the Netherworld, during which he had to sail through storms of hailstones that struck him like “hammers”, and surfed waves that attacked his boat like “butting turtles”. Gilgamesh questions him: “Did you see my little stillborn children who never knew existence?” “I saw them,” answers Enkidu.

Similar journeys end as darkly for Orpheus, Hercules and Aeneas as they do for their direct counterparts in Finnish, Inuit, Aztec, Mayan and Hindu mythology. In Greek mythology tales of haunting journeys down the rivers of the dead are sufficiently common that they have their own collective noun: katabasis. But for every Theseus who enters the labyrinthine darkness of the Underland to triumph against the Minotaur there are many more Eurydices who never return. Such fears, Robert Macfarlane points out, are embedded deep in our language where “height is celebrated but depth is despised. To be ‘uplifted’ is preferable to being ‘depressed’ or ‘pulled down’.”

There is throughout a transcendent beauty to Macfarlane’s prose, and occasional moments of epiphany and even ecstasy – such as when, somewhere below Trieste, he abseils “into an immense rotunda of stone, cut by a buried river and filled with dunes of black sand”. Nevertheless, his journeys deep into the earth “far from the human realm”, are usually melancholic and claustrophobic, and are occasionally properly frightening.

Some of this comes from the danger and difficulty inherent in underground journeys. In a cave system in the Mendips, a rope thrown down as an escape route becomes entangled behind the belay boulder; only the necessity to regain the surface forces Macfarlane to risk his life climbing up it. Under Paris, he nearly becomes stuck in a narrow vertical shaft as “the stone that encases me, the stone that is measuring me up like a coffin, starts to vibrate … The thought of continuing is atrocious. The thought of reversing is even worse. Then the top of my head bumps against something soft … ”

As in his first book, Mountains of the Mind, Macfarlane remains obsessed by the fear and fascination generated in the human heart by extreme landscapes, and he clearly savours the adrenaline rush – what Al Alvarez calls, in his classic essay on climbing and fear, “feeding the rat”. “I have rarely felt as far from the human realm,” Macfarlane writes, “as when only 10 metres below it, held in the shining jaws of a limestone bedding plane first formed on the floor of a warm Cretaceous sea.”

When not getting stuck himself, he regales us with tales of some of those who never returned: in the Mendips we hear “a story that some people in the Peak District do not like to discuss, sixty years on”, of the caver Neil Moss who became wedged in a limestone shaft and, despite a countrywide rescue effort, suffocated before he could be hauled out; he was later “sealed by cement in the fissure that had killed him”. In Italy we are told of “the fallen angel of French speleology”, Marcel Loubens, who winches himself into an abyss only to have his belt clip snap. His injuries, “a broken spine and a fractured skull”, are so severe that he dies in the dark, 36 hours later.

But as always with Macfarlane’s books, the tales of adventures are only a takeoff point for discussions of deeper concerns: the relationship between man and landscape, the instability of time and place, and perhaps above all, the fragility of all we are and all we create. These are concerns that run like dark seams of glittering ore throughout his writing, across several successive books. In his early masterwork The Wild Places he wrote how “the wild prefaced us, and it will outlive us. Human cultures will pass, given time, of which there is sufficiency. The ivy will snake and unrig our flats and terraces, as it scattered the Roman villas. The sand will drift into our business parks, as it drifted into the brochs of the Iron Age. Our roads will lapse into the land.”

This idea is developed at much greater length in Underland: A Deep Time Journey, as premonitions of our present apocalyptic Anthropocene close in around Macfarlane like the shades of Hades around the backward-looking Orpheus. For this book is also about man’s almost incidental place in the world when seen from the perspective of geological time. It is above all a journey into darkness, and the omens are not good. The climatic consequences of human actions are now, he believes, beyond our control. One hundred thousand years ago, three river systems ran across the Sahara. In around 5bn years “the Earth will fall dark when the sun exhausts its fuel”.

A 50m-deep sinkhole in the Nizhny Novgorod region of Russia. Photograph: Tass

A 50m-deep sinkhole in the Nizhny Novgorod region of Russia. Photograph: Tass

In between these two markers, the signs of our own self-destruction are becoming ever more evident. Philip Larkin thought that what will survive of us is love. Macfarlane is more pessimistic. What will really succeed us, he fears is “plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain”. “What does human behaviour matter,” he asks, “when Homo sapiens will have disappeared from Earth in the blink of a geological eye? Viewed from the perspective of deserts or oceans, morality looks absurd, crushed to irrelevance. A flat ontology entices: all life is equally insignificant in the face of our eventual ruin.”

Early in the book we visit a laboratory under the Whitby coast where scientists study the traces of dark matter formed at the birth of the universe. Later we ascend from the forests of the Carboniferous period to the wastelands of the Anthropocene. The final sections concern Macfarlane’s visit to what is to supposed to be the most secure place on Earth – beneath Olkiluoto Island on the Bothnian sea off Finland, where nuclear waste will be buried until it becomes safe at the end of its half-life, millions of years from now. Here we catch a glimpse of our “nuclear futures of an Anthropocene-to-come” where “the timescale of the hazard is such that those responsible for entombing this waste must now face the question of how to communicate its danger to the distant future. This is a risk that will outlast not only the life of its makers but perhaps the species of its makers.” After this last quest is completed, the final pages of Underland record the author’s return home, where he takes his young son in his arms and holds him close, as if to protect him from the gathering shades he has learned to converse with and which he cannot now un-see. It is a moving end to a most unsettling quest.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey is, as its title suggests, “a book about burial and unburial and deep time”, “the awful darkness inside the world”, “of descents made in search of knowledge”, to study the places where “we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save”. If fear is a constant companion on such journeys, for the reader at home there are many pleasures, most notably the armchair exploration of a far more benign landscape: the interior of Macfarlane’s magnificently well-furnished mind. For the darkly tangled path this book takes through the labyrinth of history and memory, literature and landscape, high-flown prose and underworldly observation are illuminated by Macfarlane’s inventive way with language. At its best, this has an epic, incantatory quality. There is a rare gift at work here: chiselled prose of such beauty that it can, on occasion, illuminate the darkness below ground as startlingly as a Verey light sent up into the vaults of one of Macfarlane’s subterranean stalactite cathedrals.

Like WG Sebald, another teacher of literature, Macfarlane brings the full weight of his erudition to the table. He quotes a dazzling range of poets and novelists and great galaxies of writers on geology, archaeology, mythology, morphology and glaciology, as well as on nuclear science, “dark matter” physics and art history. We swing from the thoughts of Rainer Maria Rilke on the Orpheus myth to the latest discoveries about “hyphae” – “the superfine threads fungi send out through the soil” – then move from learned opinions on Neanderthal rock art dating from around 65,000BC to Sir Thomas Browne (a particularly Sebaldian moment) to HG Wells, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino and Cormac McCarthy.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey is, unquestionably, his magnum opus, a work that has taken him nearly 10 years to complete. Though darker than his earlier books, it is as rich as anything he has ever written, blessed with the scholarship of Sebald, the stylistic felicity of Bruce Chatwin and the vocabulary and syntax of Patrick Leigh Fermor. It contains the summation of his most important ideas.

Nearly 40 years ago, the critic Paul Fussell wrote that with The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron had done for the travel book what James Joyce did for the novel with Ulysses. This is the flame that Macfarlane has now carried into a new century. With Underland he has written one of the most ambitious works of narrative non-fiction of our age, a new Road to Oxiana for the dwindling twilight of the Anthropocene.

Buy Underland: A Deep Time Journey here.