At the age of 47 I found myself free
of commitments. I decided the time had at last come to do what I had
long wanted, namely, to see something of the wilder regions of the
world. I had already discovered the eminent suitability of a bicycle
for travel and exploration, and so, with little more ado, I set out
to see something of the Himalayas.
My first objective was Pakistan. I planned to ride from Karachi to Kathmandhu; going first along the line of the Indus River, and then weaving my way in and out of the Himalayan Valleys of India and Nepal. Five months and five thousand miles later I achieved my goal. Back home I set to work on the account of this journey. I called it RIDING THE MOUNTAINS DOWN, after a poem by e.e.cummings.
With the book published and selling well,with various foreign translations, I was commissioned to write another book.
This was a very different undertaking. I decided to make a journey from London to Jerusalem following the routes of the Medieval Crusaders and early Christian pilgrims. As physically challenging as the Himalayan journey, it was also one of the most enjoyable long distance rides I ever made, and not just for the many different countries and cultures I passed through, but particularly for the numerous and amazing sites of antiquity that I had long wanted to explore. RIDING TO JERUSALEM is the account.
My third long journey was a far more dangerous enterprise. I followed the course of the Nile from its Delta on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, through the length of Egypt and Sudan to the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda. It was a journey that presented great contrasts - the most stunning African landscapes and wonderful and diverse peoples on the one hand, and on the other the terrible problems of drought, poverty, desertification and the plight of refugees. And always there was the problem of my own survival; of staying alive in the deserts; of finding food and clean water; and of steering a way through the skirmishes of the Sudanese civil war and the aftermath of the Ugandan massacres. The account of this journey, published as 'RIDING THE DESERT TRAIL', is available in German as 'AH AGALA'
A second African journey centred on yet another of that continent's great rivers. This time I followed the strange course of the Niger, which bites deep into the Sahara Desert before turning back on itself, as Mungo Park first discovered,to flow through some of the poorest countries in West Africa. Through the remote desert lands of the Sahel, home to the last of Africa’s nomadic tribes, through Niger and Mali, I struggled with the sand and the climate to get to Timbuktu. Again beauty and hardship were the two poles of the experience. The terrible beauty of an inimical desert terrain permeated by the ghosts of the past, of black empires steeped in gold and the slave trade.`FRAIL DREAM OF TIMBUKTU' is also available in a German translation as `TIMBUKTU'
I have also written two books about my own country. RIDING NORTH ONE SUMMER was intended as a celebration of the English landscape seen through the web of its history. It was as good a summer bicycle jaunt as I ever took - three months of cycle/camping through the byways of England, discovering a green and pleasant land that still existed there, away from the motorways. Like all journeys, it produced its own surprises.
My other `home book’, 'THE FRAGILE ISLANDS', is about the Outer Hebrides - a string of small remote islands off the North West coast of Scotland. I find them as exotic as the remotest places I’ve travelled in, and even after spending a very wet summer there in a very small tent, my love for these Western Isles remains undimmed.
More recently I travelled in Eastern Turkey, going by way of the little explored and horrendously mountainous Black Sea Coast, before heading up into the even more mountainous lands of Kurdistan and Armenia, and on through the vast plains to Mount Ararat with its legends of Noah and the Flood. Beyond the crossing of the ancient Silk Route I rode on to the strange landlocked area of Lake Van - the central melting pot of Western history and seemingly older than time itself. `BEYOND ARARAT' is also available in German translation as `ARARAT'
A quite different journey was one I made to the north-western corner of Spain, exchanging wilder tracks for the well-beaten path of a thousand years of pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela. It proved to be a richly rewarding experience, and also surprising in the unexpected demands it made upon me, and in the insights it afforded into my own motives and feelings. It also gave me a tremendous sense of rubbing shoulders with other pilgrims past and present. PILGRIM’S ROAD is published in German as JACOBSWEG
My most recent travel book is also something of a departure in that it explores a political situation. Up till then I had managed to keep clear of politics. But `LIKE WATER IN A DRY LAND’ was, in a real sense, a debt of honour, something I felt I had to write. It is about present day Palestine. It begins in Cyprus and continues through Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to finish in Jerusalem, and my main motive was to discover what the peace moves in the Middle East at the time of the Oslo Agreement were really adding up to. I certainly did not find the predicted peace, and much of what I did see was deeply disturbing. Nonetheless, the journey was rewarding and proved as much of a surprise as all real journeys should. Reviewers have been kind enough to write that the book sheds light on a difficult and complicated scenario. LIKE WATER IN A DRY LAND is at present only available directly from ourselves at Mountain House Publications.
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My long distance bicycling days are now at an end. Nothing lasts forever, at least physical strength and stamina do not. But I consider myself very fortunate in having had two good decades of such satisfying travel and adventure.
Anyone who reads my books and is at all inspired by them, especially if they are moved to set out independently and explore the planet for themselves, I wish them well.
I must, even if sadly, tell you about my two tabby cats, Sappho and Dido, who long ago persuaded me to assist them in publishing their first book. They were cats with decided literary pretensions and, living as they did in a house with computers, they became computer literate and highly articulate. To find out more click on:-
Two Cats Walking