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A secret from my African childhood has become a deeper mystery

22 February 2014

About 55 years ago, when I was about ten, my younger brother Roger and I discovered a slave pit in Africa. Actually it probably wasn’t a slave pit and we… Read more

The Edith Maersk in the Suez Canal, October 2012

What seamen fear more than Somali pirates

1 February 2014
Down to the Sea in Ships Horatio Clare

Chatto, pp.278, £20, ISBN: 9780701183103

If a time traveller were to arrive in our world from, say, 1514 — a neat half-millennium away — what single feature would strike them most? What could they use… Read more

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Clarissa Tan's Notebook: Why I stopped drinking petrol

25 January 2014

Florence was in fog the day I arrived. Its buildings were bathed in white cloud, its people moved as though through steam. The Arno river was a dense strip of… Read more

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The Navigators

11 January 2014

Tehran does not welcome pedestrians. It is eight o’clock on a July evening and the sun has plunged out of the air with alarming speed; the sky is the colour… Read more

Woolley Grange

Tanya Gold: Child-friendly, sex-free, nut-heavy – just the hotel for my 40th birthday

11 January 2014

Woolley Grange is a child-friendly country house hotel that seems, at first, entirely monstrous — a grey Tudor house in Wiltshire, with gables like teeth and a pond outside, possibly… Read more

American beat poet Allen Ginsberg Photo: Getty

American Smoke, by Iain Sinclair - review

23 November 2013
American Smoke Iain Sinclair

Hamish Hamilton, pp.309, £20, ISBN: 9780241145272

If you have read Iain Sinclair’s books you will know that he is a stylist with a love of language. You will also know that he has opinions to express… Read more

W H Auden (Photo: H V Drees/Getty Images)

What would Auden have deemed evil in our time? European jingoism

9 November 2013
What Auden Can Do For You Alexander McCall Smith

Princeton, pp.137, £13.95, ISBN: 9780691144733

‘Goodbye to the Mezzogiorno’ was the first Auden poem that Alexander McCall Smith read in his youth. He discovered it in an anthology, and it puzzled him because he had… Read more

Wall-painting in San Isidoro of a shepherd

Christopher Howse takes the slow train in Spain — and writes a classic

2 November 2013
The Train in Spain Christopher Howse

Bloomsbury, pp.244, £16.99, ISBN: 9781441198051

This is probably not a book for those whose interest in Spain gravitates towards such contemporary phenomena as the films of Pedro Almodóvar, Barcelona Football Club or the fashion retailer… Read more

Ullswater towards Helvellyn, where Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud

England’s 100 best Views, by Simon Jenkins - review

5 October 2013
England’s 100 Best Views Simon Jenkins

Profile, pp.352, £25, ISBN: 9781781250952

I couldn’t decide on starting England’s 100 Best Views whether it was a batty idea for a book or a perfectly sensible one. Why write about something that begs to… Read more

Ruin near Kelso, Mojave Desert, California

Walking in Ruins, by Geoff Nicholson - review

5 October 2013

Geoff Nicholson is the Maharajah of Melancholy. The quality was there in his novels, it was there in his non-fiction book The Lost Art of Walking, and it’s there in… Read more

Move Along, Please, by Mark Mason - review

28 September 2013
Move Along, Please Mark Mason

Random House, pp.311, £12.99, ISBN: 9781847947109

Mrs Thatcher was widely believed to have said that ‘any man over the age of 26 who finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure in life’. In… Read more

Outdoor Umbrellas

Jeremy Clarke: The day I walked into a postcard

31 August 2013

This time last year the postman delivered a picture postcard depicting a village square in Provence. The photograph on the front of that postcard was contemporary, but the colours were… Read more

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Never seen the need for a class system? Take a long-haul flight

17 August 2013

Usually it is annoying when you have to board an aeroplane via a shuttle bus rather than an airbridge. The exception is when the plane is a 747. That’s because,… Read more

Island, by J. Edward Chamberlin - review

10 August 2013
Island: How Islands Transform the World J. Edward Chamberlin

Elliott & Thompson, pp.241, £14.99, ISBN: 9781909653382

‘Tom Island’ — that was the name I was given once by a girl I met on an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Of course, she broke my heart in… Read more

Unassuming: Port-en-Bessin today

Notes on…Normandy

20 July 2013

There are some, I know, who for whom Normandy means the three Cs — cider, cream and calvados. But if, like me, you’re more of a three B person —… Read more

The Last Train to Zona Verde, by Paul Theroux - review

1 June 2013
The Last Train to Zona Verde: Overland from Cape Town to Angola Paul Theroux

Hamish Hamilton, pp.353, £20, ISBN: 9780241143674

Paul Theroux has produced some of the best travel books of the past 50 years, and some of the lamest. His latest work shrieks swansong, from its title — The… Read more

Twigger

What it's like to escape from Colditz

27 April 2013

Colditz: Here I am, stuck in the same ventilation shaft that Pat Reid used to escape through just over 70 years ago. It’s a tiny letterbox-shaped hole, about three feet in… Read more

travel-panorama

Travel: Ireland’s wild west

23 March 2013

The problem with writing about the Burren is that there’s no consensus about where it is. Different people have different ideas. On my first trip there, I plaintively asked a… Read more

The Georgian brickwork around O’Connell Street was painstakingly restored during the boom

Travel: Dublin, comeback city

23 March 2013

The boom and bust have left their mark on Dublin. Cruising through the outskirts past the (industrial) estate of Sandyford — flimsy-looking buildings, each as nastily designed as the last… Read more

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Travel special – Scottish borders: On the edge

26 May 2012

It’s odd, but most of the English faces we see in our wee corner of the Scottish Borders are merely ‘stopping’ for a night or two on their way north.… Read more

Road to ruins

21 April 2012
The A303: Highway to the Sun Tom Fort

Simon & Schuster, pp.332, 14.99

This is a delightful book, nostalgic, slyly witty, perceptive and at times flirting — deliberately — with old fogeyism. Tom Fort, a BBC radio journalist, starts from the assumption that… Read more

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Inflated dreams

17 March 2012
The Ice Balloon: One Man’s Dramatic Attempt to Discover the North Pole by Balloon Alec Wilkinson

Fourth Estate, pp.245, 14.99

When almost every tale about the Arctic has been told, when the major explorers have been assessed and re-assessed, when even the most obscure bit-players have been drawn into the… Read more

Africa’s excesses

17 March 2012
Crazy River Richard Grant

Little Brown, pp.272, 13.99

There are an awful lot of prostitutes in Africa and most of them seem to pass through the pages of Richard Grant’s book at one time or another. All this… Read more

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A paralysed landscape

10 March 2012
Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World’s Most Mysterious Continent Gabrielle Walker

Bloomsbury, pp.388, 20

‘Very, very, very sexy’, a field-researcher scratches in his Antarctic notebook. He is describing a meteorite the size of a £1 coin that he has just picked up off the… Read more

Still roughing it

7 January 2012
The New Granta Book of Travel edited by Liz Jobey, with an introduction by Jonathan Raban

Granta, pp.429, 25

We are all tourists now, and there is no escape. The first thing we see as we jet round the world is a filth of our own making. Resort hotel… Read more