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The Great Horizon: 50 Tales of Exploration by Jo Woolf

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Travel

Jo Woolf has compiled a brilliant set of fifty short insights into the lives and achievements of some amazingly brave people. Their fearless journeys have helped us unlock many of the mysteries of the wildest parts of our world, and also given us an understanding of what it is like to be faced with the most terrible conditions and still have the determination and grit to carry on. This book could be viewed as a taster which encourages us to seek out and read more about some of the most iconic explorers. Their stories are pretty incredible and Woolf does them justice. Full Review

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Rooms with a View: The Secret Life of Great Hotels by Adrian Mourby

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Travel, History

Adrian Mourby has given us a flying visit to each of fifty grand hotels, from fourteen regions of the world, with the hotels in each section being arranged chronologically rather than by region, which helps to give something of an overall picture. So what makes a hotel 'grand'? The first hotel to call itself 'grand' was in covent Garden in 1774 and it ushered in the beginning of a period when a hotel would be a lifestyle choice rather than a refuge for those without friends and family conveniently nearby. The hotels we visit all began life in different circumstances and each faced a different set of challenges. We begin in the Americas, move to the United Kingdom, circumnavigate Europe, briefly visit Russia and Turkey then northern Africa, India and Asia. Australia, it seems, does not go for the grand. Full Review

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The Marches by Rory Stewart

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Travel, History

The Observer quote on the front of the paperback edition of Stewart's latest book observes This is travel writing at its finest. Perhaps, but to call it travel writing is to totally under-sell it. This is erudition at its finest. Stewart has the background to do this: he had an international upbringing and followed his father in both the Army and the Foreign Office, and then (to his father's, bemusement, shall we say) became an MP. Oh, and he walked 6,000 miles across Afghanistan in 2002. A walk along the Scottish borders should be a doddle by comparison. Full Review

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Mr Tambourine Man by Nicholson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Lifestyle, Travel

Back in 1965 we heard Mr Tambourine Man by the Byrds on the radio very regularly. Nicholson was thirteen and saw the 45rpm recording of the song in the window of the local music store and would have loved to be able to buy it but didn't have the money. Thirteen-year olds didn't in those days unless it was a birthday or Christmas and you couldn't get a part-time job until you were fifteen. There would be a few of those badly-paid jobs before he finished his A levels and went to New York for three months. It's this trip which Nicholson feels turned him from being a boy into a man and allowed him to see the bigger picture.

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China in Drag: Travels with a Cross-dresser by Michael Bristow

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Autobiography Politics and Society, Travel

Having worked for nine years in Bejing as a journalist for the BBC, author Michael Bristow decided to write about Chinese history. Having been learning the local language for several years, Bristow asked his language teacher for guidance - the language teacher, born in the early fifties, offered Bristow a compelling picture of life in Communist China - but added to that, Bristow was greatly surprised to find that his language teacher also enjoyed spending his spare time in ladies clothing. It soon becomes clear that the tale told here is immensely personal - yet also paints a fascinating portrait of one of the world's most intriguing nations. Full Review

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Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Reference, Art, Travel

In the mid twentieth century the railway was something which harked back to the Victorian age with trains being supplanted by cars and planes, but steam was being replaced by oil, even then and in the twenty-first century oil is giving way to electricity. It's cleaner, more environmentally friendly and the stations which we'd all rushed through as quickly as possible, keen to escape their grime, were restored and became places to be admired, possibly even lingered in. Simon Jenkins has chosen his hundred best railway stations. Full Review

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Berlin in the Cold War: 1959 to 1966 by Allan Hailstone

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Travel

Berlin in the Cold War: 1959-1966 contains almost 200 photographs taken by author / photographer Allan Hailstone in his visits to the city during this period. The images provide an insight into the changing nature of the divide between East and West Berlin and a glimpse into life in the city during the Cold War. Full Review

Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie

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I cancelled my Country Walking magazine subscription about a year ago and the only thing I miss is Stuart Maconie's column. His down-to-earth approach and sharp wit belie an equally sharp intellect and a soul more sensitive than he might be willing to admit. Let's be honest, though, I picked this one up because of someone else's review, in which I spotted names like Ferryhill and Newton Aycliffe. Places I grew up in. Like Maconie I have no connection (that I know of) to the Jarrow Crusade but when he talks about it being a whole matrix of events reducible to one word like Aberfan, Hillsborough, or Orgreave then somehow it does become part of my history too. Tangentially, at least. Full review...

On My Way: Norfolk Coastal Walks by John Hurst

5star.jpg Sport

It was pure serendipity: after a five-hour drive we were, annoyingly, left with an hour to fill in Blakeney before we could have the keys to our holiday cottage. There was an art exhibition in the church hall, so we went in - and found a display of the most gorgeous pictures. I'd cheerfully have bought every one and hung them on our walls, but thought that I would have to make do with a couple of greetings cards when I saw On My Way: Norfolk Coastal Walks and I couldn't resist buying it. Full review...

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In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII: The visitor's companion to the palaces, castles & houses associated with Henry VIII's iconic queens by S Morris and N Grueninger

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Travel, Biography

It was inevitable that each of the six wives of Henry VIII would have left their mark in some way on the places they lived and visited. This book straddles several categories; it is part history, part gazetteer or guide book, and also a collection of potted biographies. Full Review

Rooms of One's Own: 50 Places That Made Literary History by Adrian Mourby

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The debate is never-ending about how much of the author's life we can find in their pages, and what bearing every circumstance of their lot had on their output. Things perhaps are heightened when they do a Hemingway or a Greene and travel the world, but so often they have had a cause to stay in one place and write. Does that creative spirit survive in the walls and air of the room they worked in, and do those four walls, or the view, feature in the books? And does any of this really matter in admiring the great works of literature? Well, this volume itself kind of relies on that as being the case, but either way it's a real pleasure. Full review...

Tragic Shores: A Memoir Of Dark Travel by Thomas H Cook

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Thomas H Cook, an American author valued for the quality of writing and compelling intrigues of his numerous thrillers, has written a collection of nearly thirty accounts of visits to the tragic shores of the title. There is no noticeable rhyme or reason to the order of presentation, apart from the last, and the most personal tale which links the travel report to the author's personal loss of his wife and long-time travel companion, who features in many of the chapters, as does the couple's daughter, but they all the pertain to Cook's visits to what he describes as the saddest places on Earth. Full review...

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Along the Iron Curtain Trail by Tim Moore

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One of the results I find from travel documentaries, often on TV but also in book form, is the verdict 'rather him than me' (and it generally is a he). Yes, I'd like to go there and see what he's seen, but I'm damned if I would risk the danger, the potential consequences and/or the effort the whole experience required. This book is the epitome of that, for as much as I love most of the twenty countries it hits on – give me a chance, I've not quite been to them all – I wouldn't countenance making this exact and exacting trip. A couple of years ago, those in the know somewhere in an office deemed the route of the entire old Iron Curtain – the fringe of the Soviet Union, plus Romania, Bulgaria etc – to be a pan-continental biking route. With the news that he can dismiss other attempts and still have a claim to being the first person to clock the whole mammoth trip, our gutsy author undertakes it all, and thus surveys a scar across the entire continent to see if it's still visible, and what flesh it once upon a time divided. Oh and he did it on a Communist-era piddly little bike, lacking in both gears and good brakes, that was designed for nothing more strenuous than conveying you around a campsite, not for 6,000 miles… Full review...

Mistress and Commander: High Jinks, High Seas and Highlanders by Amelia Dalton

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Nowadays, Amelia Dalton runs a travel agency which, by the look of it, is a something of a modern version of how Thomas Cook began: excusive, tailor-made holidays, cruises and expeditions all around the world catering to those who can afford this kind of thing. Mistress and Commander' shows how she got there: from an upper-middle class wife whose life involved landed gentry, boarding schools and county hunts to scrubbing stinky goop from the cargo hold of what used to be a Danish Arctic trawler, running charters to St Kilda, dealing with doubtful mechanics, lecherous skippers, and getting her own Master's ticket, by the way of family tragedy, martial drama and what seemed like the steepest learning curve related to marine engines one could possibly imagine. Full review...

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Travels With My Sketchbook by Michael Foreman

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Art, Travel

I guess the best children's literature can do away with complete veracity, as long as it has something about it that is recognisable – a little of the spirit, heart and character of the real thing, whatever it may be. And if that's the case then it definitely applies to children's literature illustrations, such as those provided close on two hundred times by Michael Foreman. This prolific artist leapt at a scholarship in the US when he'd completed his official, formal studies, and it would appear – huge credits list regardless – that he's never stopped moving since, as this book takes us to all corners of the world, and back home again. Full Review

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Stephen Biesty's Trains by Ian Graham and Stephen Biesty

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Art, Travel, Children's Non-Fiction

Trains look imposing, but true fans (little boys, usually from about three years old and upwards) want to know what lies beneath the skin which you can see. They want to know how it works. Getting to grips with one in real life is quite a big ask, but the next best thing is Stephen Biesty's Trains which features trains from all over the world and spanning the early steam train (complete with cow catcher) right through to the trains of the future which can reach a speed of 430 kph and don't even run on rails. Once the train reaches a speed of 150 kph the wheels are raised and the train is held up by magnetic forces alone. Full Review

True North by Gavin Francis

5star.jpg Travel

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...