Hugh Thomson

Hugh Thomson travel writer, film maker and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Max Jeffery, David Shipley, Patrick Kidd, Cindy Yu, and Hugh Thomson

33 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud: Max Jeffery interviews Afghan resistance leader Ahmad Massoud (1:13); former prisoner David Shipley ponders the power of restorative justice (8:23); Patrick Kidd argues that the Church should do more to encourage volunteers (14:15); Cindy Yu asks if the tiger mother is an endangered species (21:06); and, Hugh Thomson reviews Mick

The recklessness of George Mallory

George Mallory bookended the 20th century history of Everest with his pioneering attempts in the 1920s to climb the mountain – and with the spectacular discovery, in 1999, of his body high up on the North Face, preserved by the ice for 75 years after he had failed to do so. His flip remark to

Living with the Xingu in deepest Amazonia

The Amazon is a notoriously difficult part of the world to write about – and I’ve tried. Travelling the river’s slow length, it can be hard to make sense of any changes beneath the forest canopy or to link its disparate communities. The Brazilian writer Eliane Brum succeeds triumphantly. Acclaimed for her previous ‘despatches from

Pico Iyer finds peace even in lost paradises

We all have our vision of a paradise travel destination. Mine was Tahiti, based on exotic remoteness and those pictures of glorious atolls with their cerulean blue lagoons – until I went there and discovered a severe underlying drugs problem among the island’s youth, and whispering discontent. Herman Melville once talked of how ‘the soul

Jonathan Raban changed travel writing forever

Jonathan Raban was largely responsible for changing the nature of travel writing. Back in the 1970s when he began, the genre still viewed the world from under the tilt of a Panama hat (‘I looked at the tops of the columns. Were they Doric or Ionic?’). It was considered ill bred for a writer to

Tales of the riverbank: the power of the Po

It may not be the grandest of the world’s waterways – the Nile and Amazon are ten times its length – but the Po has always exerted a fertile grip on the Italian imagination. Virgil called it ‘the king of rivers’; Dante died in its marsh estuary, having earlier described in Purgatorio how Jacopo del

The wonder of the wandering life

Anthony Sattin begins with a quotation from Bruce Chatwin, who famously tried all his life to produce a book about nomads but never quite succeeded (the nearest he got was Songlines). Hoping to persuade Tom Maschler at Cape of the virtues of the project, Chatwin described nomads as ‘a subject that appeals to irrational instincts’

New light on the building of Stonehenge

When it comes to Stonehenge, we are like children continually asking why and never getting a conclusive answer. There are plenty of theories as to its purpose, ranging from the ludicrous to the dull, but perhaps we would be better off concentrating, as in this excellent book, more on how our ancestors got the stones

How to explore Colombia’s majestic Pacific coast

The poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote of South American waterfalls that spill over the sides of mountaintops ‘in soft slow motion’, and I was reminded of her lines on the Colombian Pacific coast where seemingly every bay has a wonderful waterfall tumbling down into it. As there are no roads to speak of, the only way

Spend the weekend…on the Isle of Skye

When Samuel Johnson and James Boswell passed through Skye on their celebrated tour of the Hebrides in 1773, they were disconcerted by the lack of Highlands customs. Where were the fierce clans, the costumes and the Jacobite sympathies they had expected? Instead, in the person of the clan chief, Alexander Macdonald, they found a cultivated old Etonian

When will Stonehenge’s lockdown end?

Another year, another row about Stonehenge. A rather sad piece on the BBC News website describes how its lacklustre custodians, English Heritage, had to cancel a live feed of the sunrise on the day of the solstice due to unspecified ‘safety concerns’ when a few people were seen climbing over a low fence to access the

The curious cancellation of the Rex Whistler restaurant

We laugh at how the Victorians put plaster fig leaves on nude statues; but when the annals of the strange new puritanism that has been sweeping the British Isles come to be written, then the latest debacle over Rex Whistler’s mural at the Tate must surely comprise a central chapter. As Macaulay once wrote, ‘We know

The jab that saved countless lives 300 years ago

This timely book celebrates one of the most remarkable women of the 18th century. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was so impressed by the Turkish technique of ‘engraftment’ to prevent smallpox that in 1721, exactly 300 years ago, she arranged for the first such inoculation in England — and, even more controversially, had it carried out

How Neanderthal are you?

My brother recently decided to get a DNA test. He discovered that our family were all descended from a mix of the usual British suspects — a bit of Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Celt — and were predisposed to standard diseases and health risks. But there was one surprise. My siblings and I had double the

BBC Four and the dumbing down of British television

The announcement this week that BBC Four is to stop making new programmes and become a largely repeats-only channel – which they are cheekily calling ‘archive’ to make it sound better – is a depressing reminder to viewers of a very long-term trend. When BBC Four was launched amidst much fanfare in 2002, its slogan was

Has Britain learned from its failures in Afghanistan?

As the Americans prepare to leave Afghanistan, and in the UK we hold our own Defence Review, should we not be asking: have we really learned from the lessons of our failures there? I was in Afghanistan for a brief and intense time in 2007 when I was filming for Channel 4 Dispatches and CNN.

Peru’s beauty has been a real curse

As the planet gets more and more ravaged, the mind can begin to glaze over at the cumulative general statistics — so much rainforest lost, so many glaciers melted, so much less oil left. Joseph Zárate’s masterly new book reminds us that when it comes to fighting on the front line of the environmental wars,