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Where the wild winds are

Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt

If some of you are wondering what is happening with Nick Hunt’s new book, I can offer you some very good news.

First, it exists! I have a copy in proof form with a delightful new cover (see picture). Second, launch events are planned for September; I will update you where I can. Finally, Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence, is available for pre-order from Amazon.

I am currently with Nick battling the only named English wind, the Helm, as he struggles to find shelter in a bothy on the Pennine Way. Wind walking could be the next big thing.

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Where Travel Writing is Now

A thought provoking piece for the Easter holidays from Barnaby Rogerson, founder of the wonderful Eland books. May I wish you all, wherever you are, a very happy and peaceful Easter (remember Paddy had arrived for the great Easter celebrations at Esztergom on the Danube).

By Barnaby Rogerson

First published in Errant Magazine 18 September 2015

I don’t just read all the new travel books I can get hold of, I collect whole library editions as well. Aside from their texts, they summon up a once devoted and attentive readership: Those lovely cloth-and-gilt-titled Everyman hardbacks are scented with craftsmanship and muscular Christian decency. The bashed-up magenta paperbacks produced by Penguin just before the war were part of a mission that made democratic socialism possible, while I imagine the blue-cloth hardbacks of Jonathan Cape’s traveller’s library, being read by the more thoughtful members of a colonial clubhouse in the 20s. From my own youth the massed volumes of the rival Picador, Penguin Travel Library and Century lists sit prolific on my shelves.

I acquire them to aid my work (which is to dig out lost classics of travel literature and add them to the Eland list) but there is also something more obsessive going on. The libraries allow me to watch how the ‘immortality’ of authorship ebbs away, how tastes evolve and how that which was so ‘needed and now’ to one generation, becomes so much recyclable garbage to the next. But like inspiring pin-pricks in the night sky, there are still travel books that keep shining, and have kept generation after generation of readers enthralled.

And, like it or lump it, we seem to be passing through a crunch point in travel writing at the moment, the long-term effects of which we do not understand. The revival of travel writing so brilliantly led by Bruce Chatwin in the 1980s, and aided and abetted by Redmond O’Hanlon, Colin Thubron, Bill Bryson, Eric Newby, Norman Lewis and Dervla Murphy, is coming to a close. The role of the professional travel writer will soon be at an end. You only have to look at how some of the most promising contemporary travel writers have adapted, to feel which way the wind blows. William Dalrymple, three books into a career as the darling of his generation, switched very successfully to history, just as the three very talented travel-writing Jasons of my acquaintance (J. Webster on Spain, J. Goodwin on Byzantium, and J. Elliot on Afghanistan/Iran) have all headed for fictional waters, as most recently, has Tim Mackintosh-Smith. There are still some stalwarts – Sarah Wheeler, Ian Thomson, Tim Parks, Philip Marsden, Hugh Thomson, Antony Sattin and Jeremy Seal – at the top of their game, delivering works that combine energy with a lifetime of experience. But in private conversation there is an acknowledgement that the advances from publishers are slipping away. It is a common joke that their agents dont reveal to them their sales figures because it would only discourage them from writing the next book. And as a corollary of this, as a basic rule of thumb, in the last decade the publishing advances have slipped from something near £50,000 for a top writer (an admirable sounding sum until you divide it by three years of travel and work) to a period when ‘fifteen is the new fifty’, which has now seeped down towards six. But travel writers are by nature adaptable, and are used to bolstering income by acting as tour guides, lecturers and jobbing journalists. Certainly the slow collapse in sales has not yet had any effect on the quality or the range of travel writing, though it is intriguing to reflect that the joint winners (Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie) of last year’s annual travel-writing prize, the Stanford-Dolman, are both fulltime academics, supported by a university salary.

Where have the readers gone? The easy answer is that they have gone travelling to see for themselves. There’s also been a gradual increase in translated fiction (a process entirely on the side of the angels) which has diminished the travel writers former role as cultural interpreter. And if they were alive today, it is not difficult to see that such prolific travel-writers of the past as Sacheverell Sitwell would surely be on television, conducting Michael-Pallin-style whirl-wind tours or architectural investigations à la Dan Cruikshank.

And there are other concerns. Over the last fifteen years, almost exactly mirroring the advance in the use of the internet, there has been an incremental collapse in the guide-book market by ten per cent, year on year. In their heyday, the big publishing outfits like Rough Guides, Dorling Kindersley, the AA and Lonely Planet (supplemented by smaller fry like Cadogan, Blue Guides, Hedonist, Footprint and Bradt) launched dozens of new books a year and a fleet of updated texts and foreign translations. Collectively they acted as a forcing house for talent, employing, training and feeding new writers, editors and travellers and producing a rich spin-off of travel magazines, maps, dictionaries, pocket histories, guides to world music, food and travel writing. Now this industry is virtually silent, like some old cotton mill in Bradford.

This experience is also reflected in the coverage of the broadsheet papers — The Sunday Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent — who even ten years ago were commissioning independent writers and photographers on a weekly basis, not to mention the half a dozen intelligent glossy magazines. Now their travel pages are dominated by churnalism (the re-writing of press releases), celebrity interviews, list-making and readers advice and ‘trip-advisor’ experience columns. The lyrical, investigative literary travel piece is not being published. On my last trip with Britain’s great post-war photographer, Don McCullin, we found ourselves stuck in southern Algeria. There I was able to have a long series of interviews with him which revealed just how important these papers had been to the careers of Bruce Chatwin, Eric Newby and Norman Lewis. He had worked with them all and watched their ideas incubate on the road.

So it looks like very slim pickings in the years ahead. But is this necessarily a bad thing? There has always been something determinedly quirky, if not down-right awkward, about a great travel writer. If I was given a vast lottery foundation by the Ministry of Books to fill this gap, could I be sure of nurturing a new generation of talent with the careful distribution of travel bursaries, salaries and decent advances? Go figure, or ask the Churchill Foundation how many of their grant-receivers have come good. I have also recently begun to notice how many of the travel writers were self-taught, if not actual autodidacts. Bruce Chatwin left university before they sacked him, Paddy Leigh Fermor learned most of his history in the bedroom and in the arms of his various lovers, Colin Thubron side-stepped university in order to try to make films. Dervla Murphy’s youth was locked in a caring relationship with her dependent, bedridden mother whilst Norman Lewis avoided college and spent his youth repairing crashed racing cars (picking them up cheap from grieving wealthy parents) and setting up a Leica-camera dealership.

I also like to tease myself about what sort of typescripts I would not like to be sent to read by an aspiring writer. I certainly wouldn’t be interested in reading a story about a couple of middle-aged men having a career break (so there goes Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush), nor about a middle-aged woman’s first bycyling trip abroad (there goes Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt) and I most certainly wouldn’t look forward to reading about two bored young Swiss youths escaping their bourgeois parents by setting off on a road trip (there goes Nicolas Bouvier’s The Way of the World).

So what’s the trick? There is no formula, though you need a lot of skills. You have to get people talking and remember the flow of words. You have to be able to live for the moment and yet remember the scent and the touch of it on paper. You have to wish to learn through travelling and through the truth of chance encounters rather than through interview appointments, library-life and web searches. You also have to possess that sliver of ice near the heart of any writer, that ruthless search for story coupled with brutal honesty and the ability to ditch the dull from your pages. You have to be good company yet also inspiring on the page. You have to ‘catch the moment on the wing.’

Barnaby Rogerson has written a Biography of the Prophet Muhammad; a History of North Africa; an account of the early Caliphate, The Heirs of the Prophet; and the story of the battle for the Mediterranean from 1415-1580, The Last Crusaders. He has most recently edited a collection of sacred numerological traditions of the world, Rogerson’s Book of Numbers; co-edited a collection of the contemporary travel writing Ox-Tales for the charity Oxfam; edited a collection of the travel literature of Marrakech the Red City; a collection of contemporary travel encounters with Islam, Meetings with Remarkable Muslims; a collection of English Orientalist verse, Desert Air; and a collection of the poetry of place of London. Previous to this, he had written half-a-dozen guidebooks to the historical monuments of the Maghreb and the Mediterranean, including Morocco, Tunisia, Istanbul and Cyprus and created the text for Don McCullins photographic study of Roman North Africa, Southern Frontiers. Barnaby is on the advisory board of Critical Muslim, the editorial board of Middle East in London and is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Geographical Society. He has been elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and an honorary member of The Travellers Club. He is also a book reviewer and journalist. Visit him at BarnabyRogerson.com.

His day job is running Eland, a publishing house that specializes in keeping classic travel books in print. To find out more about the over 100 classics in their catalogue, please visit http://www.travelbooks.co.uk.

Exo Mani hiking map 2017 revised edition available now

Our friends at the mapping and publishing company Anavasi have released a revised 2017 version of their 1:20,000 scale hiking map of the Exo Mani, which includes details of Paddy’s house at Kalamitsi. Just in time for your spring walking break or summer holiday planning.

Anavasi say this about the area:

Mani is the middle and southernmost peninsula of the Peloponnese and is split between Laconia and Messinia. Exo Mani is the name of the northwestern part, which belongs to the prefecture of Messinia. Exo Mani preserves a treasure trove of Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches and castles in breathtaking landscapes.The new map covers the entire Exo Mani, the are formerly covered by the three older maps “Verga-Kampos”, “Kardamyli-Stoupa” and “Agios Nikolaos-Trachila. ” The area has wonderful cobbled paths ideal for walking all year round.

Anavasi was created in 1997 by people with deep knowledge of the Greek countryside. They offer the traveler, the hiker and the researcher the best mapping material in terms of quality and reliability for Greece. The current catalogue numbers more than 100 titles in a variety of scales (from country scale maps, to maps of very small areas). The hiking maps are their flagship products and already cover most of the mountainous areas and many islands.

The company says “Our maps are cherished by hikers and “hip” travellers for the richness and accuracy of their data, but also for a variety of information provided in the form of comments or text for paths or sightseeing areas on the back side of the map.”

You can buy the Exo Mani map for 7 Euro here, and you may enjoy exploring the rest of their products from the homepage.

Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence

Our friend Nick Hunt has a publication date for his long-awaited new book Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence in which Nick sets off on an unlikely quest: to follow four of Europe’s winds across the continent.

His wind-walks begin on Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, as he chases the roaring Helm – the only named wind in Britain. In southern Europe he follows the Bora – a bitter northerly that blows from Trieste through Slovenia and down the Croatian coast. His hunt for the ‘snow-eating’ Foehn becomes a meandering journey of exhilaration and despair through the Alpine valleys of Switzerland, and his final walk traces an ancient pilgrims’ path in the south of France on the trail of the Mistral – the ‘wind of madness’ which animated and tormented Vincent Van Gogh.

These are journeys into wild wind, but also into wild landscapes and the people who inhabit them – a cast of meteorologists, storm chasers, mountain men, eccentric wind enthusiasts, sailors and shepherds. Soon Nick finds himself borne along by the very forces he is pursuing, through rain, blizzards, howling gales, and back through time itself. For, where the wild winds are, there are also myths and legends, history and hearsay, science and superstition – and occasionally remote mountain cabins packed with pickles, cured meats and homemade alcohol.

Where the Wild Winds Are is a beautiful, unconventional travelogue that makes the invisible visible. Due out on 7 September 2017, pre-order Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence here.

The Travellers’ Film Club season continues on the 5th April with Man of Aran

Eland books, who run The Travellers’ Film Club, have said that the season continues on the 5th April with Man of Aran, Robert J. Flaherty’s masterpiece of the drama of noble simplicity. It documents the heroic life of a traditional family from one of the Aran isles, the cliff-girt archipelago off the west coast of Ireland. 18 months in the making, and first screened in April 1934, it was acclaimed ‘as a film that will influence directors all over the world’. Eland hope to have the film historian, Mark Le Fanu in the audience to answer questions.

The Club meets in the basement Travel Bookshop of Waterstones (where there is a café) from 6pm. Screenings in the meeting room start around 6.30pm, prefaced by a brief introduction with the opportunity for questions afterwards. These events are free, but please email to reserve a place events.piccadilly@waterstones.com

A Happy New Year to you all

Teddy, Tom, and Patrick on the South Downs Way fundraising in December 2016

Teddy, Tom, and Patrick on the South Downs Way fundraising in December 2016

Thank you for reading the blog in 2016 and for engaging in lively debates via the comments section. The most controversial issue is the state and status of Paddy’s house, but we end the year with some hope that the Benaki will be able to make some progress as seen by their recent press release.

Please do keep sending me material. I probably say this every year, but I have a good backlog of items, many of which have been kindly donated by some of you. Forgive me if I don’t get round to publishing them immediately, or even quickly; it can often take me an hour or more for the more complex posts and time as you know is short and precious. My goal is to have everything up on the site one day. There is plenty of good material to come in 2017 and I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

The Like a Tramp 2016 Just Giving site will close in a few days. So far we have raised over £7,000 for homeless and mental health charirites. The most recent 2016 tramp has had donations of over £1,850. It would only take a few more donations to take us over the magic £2,000 mark. If you would like to donate in any currency, please follow this link.

Patrick Leigh Fermor addresses the Special Forces Club on its 40th anniversary

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

Opening paragraph Special Forces Club 40th anniversary dinner

My thanks to Gaz Wild who discovered this gem in the PLF archive of the National Library of Scotland last year. There are two versions, one a pdf of Paddy’s original with many handwritten corrections, and a tidied up draft made after his death. It would have been written in 1985 for the 40th Anniversary Dinner of the Special Forces Club, and is referred to in a letter of Paddy’s to Rudi Fischer dated 10 November 1985, which appears in Dashing for the Post page 393, para 2. Paddy remembers especially John Pendlebury, Mike Cumberlege, and Manoli Paterakis.

A special treat for the holiday period. I hope that you enjoy it.

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary

19850000-plf_address_sf_club_40th_anniversary-tidied