My Life In Travel: Dr Alice Roberts
'I nearly died of hypothermia in Siberia last year'
Saturday 22 August 2009
First holiday memory?
Camping with my parents when I was about five or six. We'd go to Cornwall, the beaches around St Davids in Pembrokeshire, and near Bridport in Dorset. My dad used to take me off on adventures, which were probably just small walks.
Two years ago, my husband and I did a trip around France in our camper van. It was such a lovely way to travel; I really enjoyed setting off without really knowing where we'd end up. If we passed interesting places along the way, we'd stop off. There wasn't a schedule, other than that we had to go home at the end of it. We went to places like Carcassonne and the enormous sand dune at Pyla near Bordeaux, which is so big that people parachute off it. We surfed on the west coast and went to the Ile de Ré, which has a beautiful bridge. What I loved about that trip was the freedom; the French have a much more relaxed attitude to wild camping than we do in the UK.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I tend to gravitate towards the coast and having worked on Coast for several years now I've seen some amazing bits of the UK, like Northumberland and County Antrim. However, I still go back to north Devon and north Cornwall, which I think are just spectacularly beautiful.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Having gone around the world meeting lots of different people when I was filming The Incredible Human Journey last year, it was very clear to me that we are all part of one big family. Also I found you can always have a laugh with children because they're less inhibited than adults.
Ideal travelling companion?
Obviously, I have to say my husband. We have a similar philosophy of exploring and finding new things by accident. We try and get out in our camper van whenever we can. I really like taking my sketchbook with me too.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I don't like lying on beaches but I do like being beside the sea. I like surfing and walking, but I don't like sitting still.
Greatest travel luxury?
When I was travelling last year, it was quite important to have a little bit of nice food. We often ended up in bizarre places with nothing but packet meals, which were quite disgusting. In Siberia, there was only reindeer to eat – and I'm vegetarian. However, I discovered cereal bars which were a bit of luxury. I ended up handing them around to the crew.
When I'm travelling for film work I mostly read what's relevant to the series. What is amazing is having access to the internet so that I can look up journals en route. When I was filming last year I was able to write a book on my laptop at the same time. When I'm on holiday I like novels and travel books. I've just discovered Roger Deakin, who was a founder member of Friends of the Earth. He wrote an amazing, poetic book called Waterlog, which is about a swimming journey across Britain – I'm going to make a programme about it.
Where has seduced you?
The Shetland Islands. They are bleak and windswept, but there's something incredibly beautiful and mysterious about them. You feel very close to your ancestors there because pre-history is so evident, with Neolithic tombs and prehistoric towers. The last time I went was on the ferry from Aberdeen, which was wonderful because I arrived in Lerwick in the early hours of the morning with the mist on the sea.
Better to travel or arrive?
I enjoy cycling because you really notice the ranges around you. I also love travelling by train; recently, I was on the train from the Lake District to Bristol on a beautiful summer's evening and there was a lovely sunset that threw long shadows over the fields. I hate air travel, apart from small planes: my dad's a pilot and he used to take me flying when I was little.
Worst travel experience?
I nearly died from hypothermia in Siberia last year. We totally underestimated the severity of the cold and decided to do a six-hour overnight trip on snowmobiles. It was –40C and we were very lucky to get to the camp in one piece. I'd be much more careful if I went back there.
I haven't had any really bad holidays apart from doing things on the cheap. When I was at university my husband and I went to London for a week and we stayed in the most God-awful B&Bs. At one point we were both sleeping in a sloping single bed.
I really like small hotels – there is one in Austin, Texas, called the Hotel San Jose that stands out. It was converted from a 1930s motel and is a really beautiful, urban hotel in a very calm, cloistered green environment. It was very simple, with polished concrete floors and lots of greenery, and the bottled water was rainwater. The other place I loved was the Primi Seacastle in Camps Bay, Cape Town. We got there at the end of a long day of travelling, and it was really beautiful and quirky, with whitewashed rooms and incredibly comfortable beds covered in rose petals.
I love going for walks around Blaise Castle in Bristol; it's slightly wild and beautiful, and there are lots of different environments with deciduous woodland and a lovely gorge. I also walked from Padstow to St Ives on one holiday, which was absolutely stunning; I love the way you can walk around a headland and be faced with a completely different view.
Best meal abroad?
A meal in Borneo when I was staying at a lodge in the Niah National Park. Dinner was cooked from what was locally available, so I had beautiful green vegetables which were basically fern tips. They were about two inches long and succulent and juicy – they tasted a bit like asparagus.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Try to find out where I am in relation to everything else.
My grandparents had a book about Tutankhamun that I have loved since I was a small child, so I'd love to go to Egypt. It's so rich in history and mythology.
Vancouver. You can be right in the middle of the city and still see the mountains, and it's also right on the coast. I thought everyone was very friendly. My grandfather had spent time there during the war and tried to entice my grandmother to live there. I felt strangely rather at home when I was there.
I'm at home for a bit but I've got a big trip planned for 2010, which is for another series following the footsteps of our ancestors.
'The Incredible Human Journey', by Alice Roberts, is published by Bloomsbury, £20
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