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Books for adventurous travellers and armchair travellers alike (part 21)



During the long hot days of summer I read quite a few travel books. Here are the best of them.


And if the nine books listed here aren't enough, click here to see plenty more reading lists.


Sixty degrees north - Malachy Tallack

The sixtieth parallel marks a borderland between the northern and southern worlds. Wrapping itself around the lower reaches of Finland, Sweden and Norway, it crosses the tip of Greenland and the southern coast of Alaska, and slices the great expanses of Russia and Canada in half. The parallel also passes through Shetland, where Malachy Tallack has spent most of his life.

In Sixty Degrees North, Tallack travels westward, exploring the landscapes of the parallel and the ways that people have interacted with those landscapes, highlighting themes of wildness and community, isolation and engagement, exile and memory.

Sixty Degrees North is an intimate book, one that begins with the author’s loss of his father and his own troubled relationship with Shetland, and concludes with an acceptance of loss and an embrace – ultimately a love – of the place he calls home.

Adventure Coordinators review: One of the best (travel) books I have read, at once deeply personal and engaging and full of insights, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny and sometimes both. Take this exerpt - as he walks through a forest accompanied by a dog who stops and sniffs his way around, “I realized how illiterate I was in that place. The forest is filled with signs, but I couldn’t read them. There was a language there (...) which I couldn’t hope to understand or translate. I was helpless: as stupid as a bear in a bookshop“. 9.5 out of 10.



Ireland - Frank Delaney

In the winter of 1951, a storyteller arrives at the home of nine-year-old Ronan O'Mara in the Irish countryside. The last practitioner of an honored, centuries-old tradition, the Seanchai enthralls his assembled audience for three evenings running with narratives of foolish kings and fabled saints, of enduring accomplishments and selfless acts -- until he is banished from the household for blasphemy and moves on. But these three incomparable nights have changed young Ronan forever, setting him on the course he will follow for years to come -- as he pursues the elusive, itinerant storyteller . . . and the magical tales that are no less than the glorious saga of his tenacious, troubled, and extraordinary isle

Adventure Coordinators review: engaging read. I especially enjoyed when the main character visits places I have been to. 7 out of 10



Where the wild winds are: Walking Europe's Winds from the Pennines to Provence - Nick Hunt

As a six-year-old child, Nick Hunt was almost carried away in a gust from the Great Storm of 1987. Almost thirty years later he set off in search of the legendary winds of Europe; from the Helm, to the Bora, the Foehn and the Mistral.

Where the Wild Winds Are is Nick Hunt's story of following the wind from the fells of Cumbria to the Alps, the Rhone to the Adriatic coast, to explore how these unseen powers affect the countries and cultures of Europe, and to map a new type of journey across the continent. From the author of the Dolman Prize-shortlisted Walking the Woods and the Water.

Adventure Coordinators review: an original concept, walking with the winds. I enjoyed the book and came across this gem of an observation: "Winds are like walkers. Walkers find themselves dranw through the world - not so much pushed from behind {as one would by a wind] but pulled by the mysterious voids of understanding that lie ahead - often without being aware of the pressures that compel them. They travel from one place to the next until those pressures balance out. Until they arrive on the darkened plain. Until they reach a stillness. 8 out of 10



The songlines - Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin-author of In Patagonia-ventures into the desolate land of Outback Australia to learn the meaning of the Aborginals' ancient "Dreaming-tracks." Along these timeless paths, amongst the fortune hunters and redneck Australians, racist policemen and mysterious Aboriginal holy men, he discovers a wondrous vision of man's place in the world.

Adventure Coordinators review: I enjoyed the travel narrative but admit to getting lost in a bewildering number of jottings from previous notebooks by the author, in which he asks and tries to answer these questions: Why is man the most restless, dissatisfied of animals? Why do wandering people conceive the world as perfect whereas sedentary ones always try to change it? Why have the great teachers—Christ or the Buddha—recommended the Road as the way. to salvation? Do we agree with Pascal that all man's troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room? 7 out of 10



Gironimo!: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy - Tim Moore

On the eve of the Giro d'Italia's 100th anniversary, Tim Moore sets out to cycle the route of the first race, all 3,162 km of it. On a 100-year-old bike. That he built himself.

The Giro is arguably the most brutal of the Grand Tours, and it began in style. At midnight on May 24, 1914 eighty-one starters were waved off by 10,000 spectators for this first circuit of Italy. Two weeks later, after enduring cataclysmic storms, roads strewn with nails, even the loss of an eye by one competitor, eight cyclists finished.

Tim hadn't done any significant cycling for twelve years, but taking on the 1914 Giro was a compelling challenge. To make it more authentic, he decided to do it on a 1914 bike, which, unburdened by relevant experience, he needed to assemble from a stack of rusty parts in a Breton farmer's barn.

Fuelled by Chianti, wearing period leather goggles and a woollen cycling shirt, and with the winner of the 1914 Giro's diary as his trusty companion, Tim sets off to tell the story of this historic race, as well as the travails of a middle-aged man cycling up a lot of mountains on a mainly wooden bicycle.

Adventure Coordinators review: vintage Tim Moore - funny (albeit sometimes scatalogical), engaging and sometimes moving, a good read for anyone who loves Italy and cycling. 8 out of 10



Travels with a Tangerine - Tim Mackintosh-Smith

In 1325, the great Arab traveler Ibn Battutah set out from his native Tangier in North Africa on pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time he returned nearly thirty years later, he had seen most of the known world, covering three times the distance allegedly traveled by the great Venetian explorer Marco Polo—some 75,000 miles in all.

Captivated by Ibn Battutah’s account of his journey, the Arabic scholar and award-winning travel writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith set out to follow in the peripatetic Moroccan’s footsteps. Traversing Egyptian deserts and remote islands in the Arabian Sea, visiting castles in Syria and innumerable souks in medieval Islam’s great cities, Mackintosh-Smith sought clues to Ibn Battutah’s life and times, encountering the ghost of “IB” in everything from place names (in Tangier alone, a hotel, street, airport, and ferry bear IB’s name), to dietary staples to an Arabic online dating service— and introducing us to a world of unimaginable wonders.

By necessity, Mackintosh-Smith’s journey may have cut some corners (“I only wish I had the odd thirty years to spare, and Ibn Battutah’s enviable knack of extracting large amounts of cash, robes and slaves from compliant rulers.”) But in this wry, evocative, and uniquely engaging travelogue, he spares no effort in giving readers an unforgettable glimpse into both the present-day and fourteenth-century Islamic worlds.

Adventure Coordinators review: engaging and funny, a real in-depth and unusual travel narrative. You got to keep with it though as the author sometimes moves between places and narratives without notice. 8.5 out of 10



The Caliph's House - Tahir Shah

In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems….

At age thirty-six Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca.

With its lush grounds, cool, secluded courtyards, and relaxed pace, life at Dar Khalifa seems sure to fulfill Tahir’s fantasy–until he discovers that in many ways he is farther from home than he imagined. For in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. The ardent belief in their presence greatly hampers sleep and renovation plans, but that is just the beginning...

Adventure Coordinators review: mostly engaging but I can only read so much about renovations... 6.5 out of 10



The magnetic north - Sara Wheeler

Wheeler journeys to the Arctic to create a definitive picture of life on the fringes. She travels through the territories belonging to Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, marking the transformations of what once seemed an unchangeable landscape.

Smashing through the Arctic Ocean with the crew of a Russian icebreaker, shadowing the endless Trans-Alaska Pipeline with a tough Idaho-born outdoorswoman, herding reindeer with the Lapps, and visiting the haunting, deceptively peaceful lands of the Gulag, Wheeler brings the Arctic's many contradictions to life.

The Magnetic North is an urgent, beautiful book, rich in dramatic description and vivid reporting. It is a singular, deeply personal portrait of a region growing daily in global importance.

Adventure Coordinators review: a must-read for anyone interested in Arctic travels. 8 out of 10



A short walk in the Hindu Kush - Eric Newby

It was 1956, and Eric Newby was earning an improbable living in the chaotic family business of London haute couture. Pining for adventure, Newby sent his friend Hugh Carless the now-famous cable – CAN YOU TRAVEL NURISTAN JUNE? – setting in motion a legendary journey from Mayfair to Afghanistan, and the mountains of the Hindu Kush, north-east of Kabul.

Inexperienced and ill-prepared, the amateurish rogues embark on a month of adventure and hardship in one of the most beautiful wildernesses on earth – a journey that adventurers with more experience and sense may never have undertaken. With good humour, sharp wit and keen observation, the charming narrative style of A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush would soon crystallise Newby's reputation as one of the greatest travel writers of all time.

Adventure Coordinators review: A laugh-out-loud funny travel epic. You wonder how they survived. 8.5 out of 10.

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