Newest Travel Reviews

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True North by Gavin Francis

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True North, while very much a travel book in the grand tradition of the best travel writing that combines the trip report with the so-called background information is classified by Amazon in Cultural History and it's not as much of a mis-classification as it could initially appear. Francis, a Scottish GP who divides his time between writing and doctoring, starts the body proper of True North with one of the best opening lines I have read recently: I began to dream of the North in a stinking African hospital ward. Full review...

Scotland the Best by Peter Irvine

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Peter Irvine's book advertises itself as The true Scot's insider's guide to the very best Scotland has to offer and has throughout its many years of existence became a bit of an institution. And no wonder. It is indeed a guide like no other and although it's unlikely to completely fulfil anybody's guidebook needs, it will offer a unique perspective and some top-notch inspiration. Full review...

In Search of Sundance, Nessie...and Paradise by Simon Bennett

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Books are personal. There are three things that signal good books to me: how I feel while reading them and in the enforced spaces between reading them, the degree to which I bore everyone around me for ages afterwards by quoting them and talking about them, and whether I remember how, when and where I first read them. That last criterion can only be judged later, but on the first two In Search of Sundance… definitely qualifies. Full review...

The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor

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Meet the Isles of Scilly. (I know they should be called that – the author provides a handy guide to the etiquette of their name, their nature and location, etc.) For our more distant readers, they're several chunks of granite rock out in the Atlantic, where Cornwall is pointing, with just 2,200 permanent residents. They're big on tourism, and big on growing flowers in the tropical climate the Gulf Stream bequeaths them – although the weather is bad enough to turn any car to a rust bucket within years. They're so wee, and so idyllic-seeming, especially at night, you can be mistaken for thinking there would be no need for a police presence. But there is – at least two working at any one time. And one of them in recent years has been Colin Taylor, who has done his official duty – alongside maintaining a well-known online existence, which has brought to life all the whimsical comedy of his work. Full review...

The Cruise of Naromis: August in the Baltic 1939 by G A Jones

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There's brave, and there is brave. I may well have been born in a coastal county but certainly would baulk at the idea of setting out to sea with four colleagues in a 37'-long boat. Boats to me are like planes – the bigger the better, and the safer I feel as a result. But luckily for the purpose of this book, George Jones was born with a much different pair of sea-legs to mine, and took to the waters of the English Channel, the North Sea and beyond in Naromis with brio. But – and this is where the further definition of bravery comes in – he did it in August 1939, knowing full well that he would be sailing full tilt into the teeth of war. Full review...

NY is for New York by Paul Thurlby

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Long gone are the days when children didn't travel, and picture books had to be about animals. And while your pre-schoolers might not be planning solo trips to the States any time soon, it's never too early to get them and older siblings interested in other places and other cultures. NY is for New York is a themed alphabet book, based around the city that never sleeps, and it's chock full of facts and figures about a city I love, teaching me many new things I didn't know about a place I'm familiar with from visits and TV shows and many, many Manhattan books. Full review...

Sketches of Spain by Duncan Gough

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I salute Duncan Gough for many things: for his spirit of adventure, his willingness to trail the backroads, his desire to document these and share them and encourage others to follow in his wheel-ruts. I love his willingness to engage with locals and fellow-travellers. Full review...

How to Read New York: A Crash Course in Big Apple Architecture by Will Jones

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New York is home to some of the most iconic and instantly-recognisable pieces of architecture in the world. The city is a mishmash of architectural styles, a place where Classical and Colonial meet Renaissance and Modernist. The result is a glorious fusion that works perfectly and upon closer inspection has a plethora of secrets just waiting to be revealed. Welcome to New York... Full review...

The World is Elsewhere by Chris McIvor

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As a Country Director, Chris McIvor has worked for a number of years at Save the Children. 'The World is Elsewhere' covers his time there and, his journeys across a number of countries. It is a beautiful mix of autobiography and travel. It also captures his philosophical thoughts on international aid. He reflects on both the good and the bad with a very easy, conversational writing style that makes the book truly captivating. I read from cover to cover in a single sitting, unusual for a reviewer. Such was the draw as he laid himself bare. Full review...

Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker

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I didn't grow up dreaming of flying planes, but I did grow up dreaming of flying in them on a regular basis, and I still love air travel. There's something a little magical about it, and no amount of delays, go arounds, aborted landings or missing luggage will change that. And yes, I've had all of those in the last six weeks. Mark Vanhoenacker had a childhood dream to become a pilot, and though he took a detour into academia, and then another into business, that dream never left. Now on his third career (at least) he flies for BA, writing in his spare time. This book brings those two worlds together, aviation and publishing, as he takes the reader on a journey from earth to sky and back again, with the bird's eye view only a pilot can muster. Full review...

Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis

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Before I start, there is nothing wrong with being an anally retentive trainspottery type. Having said that, do you see what on the front cover of this first edition marks this book out as being completely and utterly for the trainspottery type? It is the fact that the foreword is both credited, and dated. Yes, unless a major change was imminent and the Executive Chairman of BA was going to be someone else within weeks, this book gladly states that March 2016 was when he put finger to laptop and came up with his page-long contribution. Have you ever known such attention to detail? I guess it's to be expected, when the book concerns such a singular entity as the visual history of charts and maps as used by the airlines that became British Airways. Full review...

Letters to Poseidon by Cees Nooteboom and Laura Watkinson (Translator)

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A serviette, a glass of champagne taken outside a fish restaurant in the open-air Viktualienmarkt in Munich, all taken to celebrate the first day of spring, prompt Cees Nooteboom into Proustian reverie. Upon the paper napkin is written in blue capitals the word POSEIDON, the Greek god who has preoccupied Nooteboom's thoughts for several summers. The blue colour reminds him of the sea viewed from Mediterranean garden of his villa in Menorca. Taking this prompting as a moment of benign synchronicity, he later begins a correspondence with this sea-deity. He seeks to inquire how this somewhat unreliable ancient Greek Olympian sees aeons of time and sends him letters and legenda; meditations and stories to be read, both poetic and tragic, from the arts and the contemporary world. He is not expecting a reply. Full review...

Once Upon a Time in the West… Country by Tony Hawks

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I have often complained in a jokey voice to my partner about life in the sticks, and the way she moved me from an inner-city flat to slumming it in the suburbs with fewer busses, no takeaways within walking-and-keeping-food-hot distance, and no 'Polish' shops for a can of beer whenever you fancy one. Things are different with Tony Hawks, as here he has purposefully decided to up sticks from London to Somewhere, Devon – a tiny village where the people who built their own homes decades ago still live in them, where slugs are a lot more of a problem for the wannabe lettuce-grower than they are for the metropolitan commuter, and where village halls have the power to turn you into both a Pol Pot dictator if you get on their committee and into a quivering, bruise-inducing wreck if you're the wrong gender at a Zumba class… Full review...

Out There by Chris Townsend

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Chris Townsend has been Out There as a long distance walker for almost four decades. For most of that time he has been equally out there as a champion of the outdoors. He is the author of many books, many accounts of his treks, and his web site and blogs receive many thousands of visits. Here, for the first time, he gathers his thoughts and experience into a single volume, singing a hymn of praise for the Wild, and stirring defence against human predation. Full review...

Boundless: Adventures in the Northwest Passage by Kathleen Winter

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Luck has a lot to do with this world. It was probably luck that let Kathleen Winter fill the post of unofficial writer-in-residence on a ship coursing through the Northwest Passage. It was doubtless luck that someone had told her to be ready and packed to accept any invite life might give you, only days beforehand. Some fortune meant she had grown up in Newfoundland, and so knew the weather, conditions and liminal locations and wildlife she might encounter. It's bad luck that between when she travelled, in 2010, and filled her pages with talk of Sir John Franklin's lost boats and lost bones, and 2016, when I read this paperback version of the results, his prime ship has been found (if not what people allege will be revealed). It's vitally fortuitous, however, that someone with her writing nous was able to travel the waters before something else, much more permanent, changed – the heinous climate change problems that are certainly upsetting the world up there. Full review...

Unforgettable Walks by Julia Bradbury

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I've long been a fan of Julia Bradbury's walking programmes on television - I credit her with sparking my own interest in walking - so the news that there would shortly be another series of programmes and a book to accompany the series was music to my ears. This time she's looking at Britain's best walks with a view and she roams through Dorset, the Cotswolds, Anglesey, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lakes, Cumbria, the South Downs and the Peak District. Unless you're in Scotland there's something reasonably close to just about everyone, with a good spread around all points of the compass. Full review...

Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo by Michael Pronko

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Last year I was lucky enough to review Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life, Michael Pronko's first essay collection about his adopted city. I found that book to be full of insight and variety, so was delighted to be approached about reviewing his latest book, Motions and Moments, which is a third set of essays (after Tokyo's Mystery Deepens). Again the book is compiled from Pronko's Newsweek Japan articles, this time from 2011 onwards. All of the pieces have been reworked, but most of them remain short; 'Tokyo life is about spatial limitations,' Pronko wryly comments, and it's appropriate for his pieces to reflect that. Full review...

In America Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak

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If someone tells you they're going to write a book, and it will be based on someone else's book, and it's based on a trip they'll do, which that other person also did, you might be left confused about why exactly they would want to do that. Surely more fun to do your own thing, rather than re-trace the steps of someone who's been there, done that? In America Travels with John Steinbeck is this book, based on John Steinbeck's earlier adventure but taking place 50 years later. Full review...

In Search of Mary: The Mother of all Journeys by Bee Rowlatt

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As a university student at Glasgow, Bee Rowlatt first encountered the proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft through her epistolary travel narrative, Letters from Norway. This book is her homage to Wollstonecraft as well as an attempt to pinpoint why this particular work has meant so much to her over the years and helped her form her own ideas about feminism and motherhood. From Norway to Paris and then San Francisco, Rowlatt follows in Wollstonecraft's footsteps and asks everyone she meets how modern feminism and motherhood can coincide. By using a Dictaphone, she is able to recreate her dialogues exactly, making for lively, conversational prose. Full review...

Cathedrals and Abbeys (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

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What makes a cathedral? It's not automatically the principal church of anywhere that is made a city – St Davids is a village of 2,000 people, and wasn't always a city, but always had a cathedral, as did Chelmsford. It's not the seat of a bishop – Glasgow has the building but not the person, and hasn't had a bishop since 1690. It's not a minster – that's something completely different, and if you can understand the sign in the delightful Beverley Minster describing the difference, that I saw only the other month, you're a better man I, Gunga Din. Luckily this book doesn't touch on minsters much, and we can understand abbeys, so it's only the vast majority of this book that is saddled with the definition problem. It's clearly not a real problem, and those it does have are by-passable, for this successfully defines a cathedral as somewhere of major importance, fine trivia and greatly worthy of our attention. Full review...

The Shakespeare Trail by Zoe Bramley

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It has been 400 years since William Shakespeare, the man heralded as the greatest writer in the English language, and England's national poet, died. Shakespeare has made a profound mark on our culture and heritage, yet many aspects of his life remain in the shadows, and many places throughout England have forgotten their association with him. Here, Zoe Bramley takes the reader on a journey through hundreds of places associated with Shakespeare – many whose connections will come as a surprise to most. Filled with intriguing titbits of information about Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, and the places that she talks about, this is no mere travel guide. Full review...

London Underground (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

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From initial worries about smutty, enclosed air with a pungent smell to decades of human hair and engine grease causing escalator fires; from just a few lines connecting London termini to major jaunts out into Metro-land for the suburbia-bound commuters; and from a few religious-minded if financially dodgy pioneer investment managers to Crossrail; the history of the world's most extensive underground system (even when a majority is actually above ground) is fascinating to many. This book is a repository of much that is entirely trivial, but is also pretty much thoroughly interesting. Full review...