Nobody is going anywhere at the moment. Making it the perfect time to read the best travel books to inspire wanderlust. I’ve always been a keen armchair traveller, here are some of the books that have inspired my travels past and (hopefully) future.
BEST TRAVEL BOOKS TO INSPIRE LEAVING HOME
Why would anybody want to leave Norfolk? It has the finest of cities in Norwich, huge skies, magnificent beaches and stunning churches. And yet I did. I return often and love my home county. So I will start with two books one that prompted me to explore more of the UK and the other which just made me love the vistas of my childhood even more.
The Blue Book Titles will take you to Waterstones, if you buy a book I will get a small amount of money.
A TOUR THROUGH THE WHOLE ISLAND OF GREAT BRITAIN by Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders undertook thirteen jouneys around Great Britain between 1724 – 26 and wrote about them. The result is a snapshot of Britain just before the Industrial Revolution got going. Norwich, my home city, was at the time the second largest city in England is described as being the centre of the English woolen industry a hive of manufacturing. Epsom, where I live now, is pleasant spa resort just outside London devoted to pleasure and packed with holiday makers in July. Whenever I travel to a new part of the UK I always look to see what Daniel had to say.
RINGS OF SATURN by W G Sebald
W G Sebald walks through the landscape of my childhood from Lowestoft to Bungay on the Norfolk Suffolk border. As he walks he ponders all manner things the ideas of Thomas Browne, fishing fleets, silk weavers. Sebald was a German who adopted Norfolk has his home, I love the way he sees that landscape with fresh eyes and lets his mind roam.
BOOKS THAT INSPIRED JOURNEYS
The book that set me off on wanting to explore the world beyond Norfolk and Yorkshire was the Cow Who Fell in the Canal which I have written about previously in Books to Read in the Netherlands. Here are a selection of others that have inspired journeys.
THE ROAD TO OXIANA by Robert Byron
Robert Byron caught a boat from Venice to Jerusalem and then travelled overland to Peshawar in the 1930s. His descriptions of minarets, of Persopolis and most of all of Isfahan made my friend Hilary and I determined to follow in his footsteps after our A levels. We met up during the Christmas holidays to plan our journey. Unfortunately Russia invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day turning our plans to dust. Instead we embarked on a cycling tour of the Netherlands.
GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR by Paul Theroux
I love trains. Even waiting for a suburban commuter train fills me with the excitement of possibility. Paul Theroux took that one step further and one day left home with the intention of leaving from Victoria catching each train that chugged up. Shortly after reading Railway Bazaar for the first time I stood at Victoria waiting for the boat train feeling impossibly grown up. This was before the Channel Tunnel when you had to get off the train at Dover to board a ferry. Paul Theroux finishes his exploration with the Trans-Express which became my BIG TRAVEL GOAL, a journey that I completed in 1994 and loved.
IN SIBERIA by Colin Thubron
At the same time as I travelled from St Petersburg to Hong Kong on the Trans-Siberian Express Colin Thubron was making his own journeys to write In Siberia. He paints a vivid picture of people coming to grips with the end of communism and the new realities. It perfectly captures the world in transition that we glimpsed as we travelled across Siberia.
SLOW BOATS TO CHINA by Gavin Young
After trains I find ferries the most romantic form of travel. Cross channel ferries, the chain ferry that takes you from one side of the Yare to the other at Reedham, any old old ferry will do. Gavin Young set off from Pireaus in Greece on the first of twenty three boats that would take him to Canton (or Guangzhou as it now known) in China, his journey took seven months. One day I dream of catching a train to Trieste and then ferries down to Greece.
Best Books that Travel in Time
We may walk the same streets as those that went before but sometimes time just changes the way we experience them totally. These books were not written even a century ago but the world they depict has changed forever.
REMOTE PEOPLE by Evelyn Waugh
1n 1930 Evelyn Waugh was sent by The Times to cover the coronation of Emperor Ras Tafari – Haile Salassie I, The King of Kings in Abyssinia. Nowadays you would fly in and fly out again, but then the journey took several months and Waugh expanded the route to take in Aden, Kenya, Zanzibar and what was then the Belgian Congo. On his travels Waugh meets local people and expatriates. He is a witty and observant travel companion and has chapters entitled the First, Second and Third Nightmares. We’ve all had journeys like that!
FABLED SHORE by Rose Macaulay
Rose Macaulay drove along the coast from Catalonia to Portugal just after the Spanish Civil War had ended. The Spain she saw was war torn not polished resorts that we know today. We discover the past glories of Spanish history and the fumbling toward the future. Most of all we discover what it was like to have a road trip when the roads were poor, cars more rickety and garages few and far between. It was here that I first read about the cloisters at Sant Cugat
A TIME OF GIFTS by Patrick Leigh Fermor
A Time of Gifts and Between Woods and Water are among my all time favourite books. Patrick Leigh Fermor sets off, aged 18, to walk from the mouth of the Rhine to the mouth of the Danube at exactly the time World War Two is brewing. The world that he walked through was to be divided by the Iron Curtain for the next fifty years or so. When I grow up I would like to travel from the mouth of the Rhine to the mouth Danube but by boat rather than by foot.
FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN by William Dalrymple
William Dalrymple writes great travel books. He travels with books in mind. On this journey he uses as his guide a book written in AD 587 an account of two monks travelling from Istanbul to Egypt. On his way he discovers the dying embers of Eastern Christianity. I can remember exploring the mountains of Northern Turkey and coming across ancient churches now used as mosques. Dalrymple tells of their destruction. Journeying through Syria would be impossible today, much of what he saw will be rubble.
THE LOST CONTINENT: TRAVELS IN SMALL TOWN AMERICA by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson eschews the glittering well known cities of the United States of America and chooses to look instead at Small Town America. He starts by saying “I come from Des Moines. somebody had to.” He left not only Des Moines but the USA and come to live in the UK. After 10 years he returned in search of the America of his youth. What he found was an alien land. Funny, pithy and heart breaking, most of all just a brilliant snap shot of small town America.
Which are your best travel books to inspire wanderlust?