The Best British Travel Writing of the 21st Century delivers what it promises and more. Like so many other recent publications it has its genesis in the Covid crisis. At a time when people suddenly found travel closed off to them, the editors sought nominations from around the world for essays that would make people ‘ feel something for the unknown world’ beyond their borders.
As someone who doesn’t need a pandemic to stay at home- income and habit see to that- this is a delight. Most of the essays avoid any traces of the worst traditions of the genre, such as white privileged men reporting on their idea of adventure in clunky prose, with profound cultural insensitivity.
There is an equal diversity of author and subject, and a welcome centring of religious faith and spiritual yearning as motivations for travel and stimulants for the experience of wonder. As is more often acknowledged by writers on the subject now there is an element of pilgrimage in many of our journeys. In this volume, we hear explicitly stories of faith, including of Hajj and the journey of a son to take his father’s ashes to be immersed in the Ganges. Oliver Smith opened my eyes to why Mount Ararat became such a powerful sacred location, which was as much about the elevation and the snows as the legends of a stranded ark, and Lilly Ryzebol made me imagine the mystical terror of under-ice swimming, without remotely tempting me to imitation.
Noo Saro-Wiwa is brilliant on the inequalities and vibrancy of Lagos, and I thoroughly enjoyed Tim Hannigan’s surprising walk around the outskirts of Leicester. And the book contains snow leopards!
Congratulations to Jessica Vincent, Levison Wood, Monisha Rajesh and Simon Willmore for putting together such a rewarding collection.
- The Best British Travel Writing of the 21st Century is published by Summersdale (£16.99). To order a copy go to summersdale.com
Ian Tattum is a priest in the Church of England who writes occasional pieces about the people who shaped the history of science and human and animal travel-real and fictional.