My Life In Travel: Nicholas Crane
'My favourite horse ride was in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan'
Saturday 16 February 2008
First holiday memory?
Floating off the beach at Tenby in South Wales on board an air-sea rescue life raft that my father had inflated by plugging it into the exhaust of his Morris Oxford car.
An uninhabited island that I won't name in the Outer Hebrides. I got dropped off there for a fortnight with my wife and children. It's only one kilometre across and there are no buildings or trees. We camped and built an oven that we used to bake potatoes in and there was a stream that we washed in and drank from.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
Apart from that island, my other favourite places are Norfolk, Cornwall and Northumberland; living in the middle of Britain's biggest city I gravitate to the emptier parts of the country during holiday time.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That everybody can be an explorer. When I was a child we had old Ordnance Survey maps at home and I used to take my bike and go out exploring in the evenings with my parents. When I was 19, I thought I'd be a bit more adventurous and cycled from my home in Norfolk to Greece, and the year after that I cycled to Africa. It took three weeks to get to Greece – it would have been quicker but we had no maps because they were too expensive! It was the greatest adventure I have had.
Ideal travelling companion?
One of the most intriguing characters for me is Gerald of Wales, who made a journey around Wales in 1188 escorting the Archbishop of Canterbury on a recruitment mission for the Third Crusade. He wrote a book about it called Journey through Wales, which reads rather like a medieval Bill Bryson; it's very funny and full of observation and description. He was the first great British travel writer and had a very clear eye for the joys of travel.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I don't do beaches unless I'm launching a boat from one. I'm a 60/40 split between culture and adrenalin, but really it's more geographical for me. I'm very interested in the way the changes on the planet's surface have been reflected in travel writing over the centuries.
Greatest travel luxury?
I could do without almost everything, but I do always make sure that I have a map and a compass with me.
The book I go back to is a dog-eared copy of Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. He was an Argentine writer and it's a collection of cosmic fairytales.
Where has seduced you?
The Peloponnese in Greece, which is where I rode my bike to. I'd read a book by Patrick Leigh Fermor called Mani, which is about a peninsula there and that's what made me jump on my bike and visit it. Fermor is a huge inspiration. He also walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, which inspired me to walk from Spain to Turkey. But the Mani peninsula has a particular place in my heart. It's a mythical place with ancient associations.
Better to travel or arrive?
No question – to travel. I love walking, train journeys, riding a bicycle, riding horses, sailing a boat, canoeing.... I fly for filming, but not recreation.
Worst travel experience?
Bad experiences all turn good in the end. However, I was once robbed in a country I loved. I couldn't escape the sense of betrayal.
The whole idea of a holiday is such a wonderful concept, so every one of them is a great adventure.
I've never stayed in a truly awful hotel because they've all had a roof on them. I've experienced truly nightmarish bivouacs, caught under electrical storms, with my skin frozen on snow-covered mountains. They can be quite desperate times.
I'd far rather sleep in the great outdoors. I have slept on high mountain ridges in the Pyrenees where you can go to sleep watching the sun set and wake up watching it rise just by rolling over – that's the best hotel for me. One of the best places I've bivouacked is on the edge of the Ordesa canyon in the Pyrenees with a warm mountain wind blowing over me and the mountains all around. Caves are good, too.
My favourite walk was across Europe. It was 10,000 kilometres long and took a year and a half. I followed the mountain chains from the Pyrenees in north-west Spain, down through the Balkans and up to Turkey.
My favourite swim would be off the beach at Clachtoll in Assynt in north-west Scotland; and my favourite horse ride was in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.
Best meal abroad?
Salt tea and tsampa (roasted flour) with a Tibetan nomad family on the Tibetan plateau when I was trying to cycle across it from the Bay of Bengal with my cousin Richard. We didn't have food with us and they took us into their tent. I was very moved by their generosity. Another amazing meal was on the top of Mont Blanc at Christmas with a Scotsman. He produced after-dinner mints, which he made by thinly slicing pieces of Mars bar and spreading them with toothpaste.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Open the map.
I'd like to walk across Tibet, sea canoe through the Outer Hebrides and visit Antarctica and the Scilly Isles. I'd love to revisit the Hindu Kush mountains, too, because it is absolutely beautiful there. If I had one wish it would be that peace would settle on Afghanistan, because I love that place.
London – it's home and I choose to live there because I love it. Outside London it would be Edinburgh.
To the Norfolk Broads. We're going to go sailing, canoeing and mudlarking.
Nicholas Crane is taking part in the Meet the Expert Theatre on 29 February at 2pm at The Destinations Show at Birmingham's NEC ( www.destinationsshow.com). Tickets cost £8 in advance or £10 on the door, including admission to Meet the Expert Theatres
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