My Life In Travel: James Cracknell

'I paddled across the English Channel with my friend on a surfboard'


First holiday memory?

Being woken up by my parents very early in the morning to catch the ferry to France, where we used to go camping. Looking back, they were great holidays because there are so many different landscapes in France.

Best holiday?

My honeymoon in the States. My wife and I drove from Boston to Los Angeles in a campervan over a month or so. You can see why so few Americans have passports because it's like seeing lots of small countries packed into one.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The South-west, particularly north Devon and north Cornwall. I really like places like Croyde and Polzeath because they have good waves.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Planning. I've travelled a lot with my rowing when everything was done for me. When I suddenly had to organise things myself it was a bit of a shock to the system.

Ideal travelling companion?

Captain Bligh because I wouldn't get lost with him.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Adrenalin, then culture, then the beach if it's got waves, but not for sunbathing. I'll try to be a bit more adventurous with the places I go for family holidays once my son's a bit older, but it's a bit tricky at the moment.

Greatest travel luxury?

If I'm on a plane then it's leg room, because my knees always hit the seat in front.

Holiday reading?

I like reading when I'm abroad, particularly books with a factual basis. I have just finished Robert Harris's Imperium and I like Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis.

Where has seduced you?

South America. I travelled around Venezuela and Colombia after leaving school. It's such a different way of life and there is a huge range of landscapes from coastal cities to jungles and high-altitude mountains. It's amazing.

Better to travel or arrive?

To arrive, if I'm flying. I really like driving, but not when I'm being piloted and I can't stop when I want to.

Worst travel experience?

Apart from rowing across the Atlantic?! When we were on our honeymoon various things went wrong with the campervan, like the sewer hose breaking off. The heating stopped working during November, so we had to wear tracksuits. Those moments make it memorable though and I look back and laugh.

Worst holiday?

I went to Mauritius after the World Rowing Championships one year for two weeks and was ill for the whole time. I only had three weeks off that year too.

Worst hotel?

I did an altitude training camp in Bulgaria and the hotel we stayed in was like a scene from Rocky IV when he goes to Russia; it was grim. I had to spend three weeks there eating deep-fried cheese and meat that looked unfit to eat.

Best hotel?

I stayed at the Carlisle Bay Hotel in Antigua after rowing across the Atlantic with Ben Fogle, which was amazing. I'm not sure the other guests thought so when we turned up with beards and no clothes!

Best meal abroad?

A lobster barbecue on the beach in Cape Town.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Unpack, although according to my wife it's making a mess.

Dream trip?

I'd like to ride a motorbike from one end of South America to the other.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I drove down Highway One in California, which was great. I'd love to swim from Gibraltar to North Africa or across the Bering Strait. I have also paddled across the English Channel on a surfboard with my friend and we set the Guinness World Record: five hours and 26 minutes. I have no desire to do it again, though.

Favourite city?

I really like London because I miss it when I'm not here, but at the same time it can be incredibly frustrating. I really enjoyed Sydney because I have such great memories of winning the Olympic gold medal there.

Where next?

I'm doing the Pure Tasmania Challenge race: hiking, cycling, kayaking and trekking across the island over six days.

'The Crossing' by James Cracknell and Ben Fogle is published by Altantic Books (£18.99 hardback)

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