The Best British Travel Writing of the twenty first century – A Celebration of Outstanding Travel Story Telling from Around the World – Edited by Levison Wood and others – A guest Review from Peter

– Julie had this to review, and passed the job on to me.

Thirty outstanding travel stories from the last twenty years, collected during a time of Covid, inspired by Lockdown. Stories that don’t just want us to go somewhere, but make us want to know it. The stories were suggested by writers from around the world, and the final choice made by four writers “highly respected in the travel writing space” (page 11). I would have like a map and an index of countries. “The Night Train” takes us through Iraq in 2020, and “After the flood” is a picture of Armenia, a country where Mount Ararat (where Noah landed his ark) has a symbolic importance. We visit Bhutan for a coronation, and travel from Windsor to the Ganges. Charlie Walker hatched a plan to cross the Democratic Republic of the Congo by bike – at that point I wonder how you hatch such an idea – but every source said the River Lulua is unnavigable. In Kerala, chess has saved a village, sea kayaking in New Zealand sounds fun (but I can’t swim), and even flytipping in Leicestershire merits a story.

We follow snow leopards and spend a night in the jungle (lines like “having de-anted my bag and de-scorpioned Nick’s tent” page 84, don’t make me want to travel). Pantelleria, an island off the coast of Italy sounds more my taste, and I understand a little about a spiritual journey in Bhutan. An essay called “Bulls and Scars” makes uncomfortable reading – tradition is that the men whip the women, but who has the power? We find plants in Taiwan, ride the Reunification Express in Vietnam, and dive in Lake Huron. There is wisdom in Pakistan and gourmet food in New York – I felt much more alignment with the former than the latter, you can always gain more wisdom, but too much food is just gluttony (how many New Yorkers are starving?).

“Night in the African bush falls like a portcullis” writes Amelia Duggan (page 160), and I can imagine myself there. I am fascinated by pilgrimage, and Tharik Hussain’s essay on the Hajj will be worth further study. The monks in Laos rely on almsgiving, a motorcyclist tries to find gasoline in Bolivia, and climate change is affecting the city of Lagos. In Ethiopia we visit ancient churches carved out of rock, churches where even a baptism party has to climb the rock face to get to service. Lola Akinmade Akerstrom writes about her experience of travelling as a black woman, “a constant emotional minefield of wondering how not to let a singular negative experience derail the gift that travel is endowing me with in that moment” (page 217) – most of us could do with learning that. Stanley Stewart explores the wildness of Antarctica – now that is somewhere I would love to go – and Michelle Jana Chan reflects on what Covid will mean to the tourist trade of Africa. We debate current affairs on the English coast, smell the desert in Chad, and end walking the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The Abraham Path Initiative – “at this time of immense uncertainty and new global order, one can only hope that old barriers and misconceptions break down and that we open the way for new forms of travel. … We must move beyond closed borders and narrow minds to a more accepting global society” (page 261). Amen to that.   

Thanks Peter for this excellent Review!