'Transport of Delight' was the theme for this year's student travel- writing competition, which attracted more than 700 entries.

Mark Ellingham of the Rough Guides series, who was one of the judges, said that the entries exhibited a strange range of obsessions: 'Unlike last year, sex was out (the odd coupling on trains notwithstanding). Being sick was still very much a favourite - on buses most often, but also at high altitude on the Inca Trail, and on a multitude of ferries, planes, donkeys, camels and other beasts.'

Buses were most definitely in, Mark reported: 'We must have received letters from just about every Greyhound passenger of the past academic year, and a strong contingent from the alternative Green Tortoise, a California- based organisation, on whose coaches dope remains de rigueur highway fare.'

Rigours remained popular, too, especially Eastern European ones. 'Bucharest railway station doesn't sound a nice place to pass the night, as many

of our intrepid entrants contrived to

do, and the Polish-Czech frontier in

the Tatra mountains seemed a tad


'Reading through the entries, though, it was - after the worthy winner and runners-up - the weird-and- wonderful accounts that gave us judges most pleasure. Take these opening sentences, for example: 'I must congratulate London Transport for their highly developed and expedient methods of transporting thousands of passengers daily'; and: ' 'Don't get too many of those to the pound back home]' Dave exclaimed loudly, pointing to the thin cat pruning his testicles amid the packed platform.'

'Commendations to Janet Proctor- Braddon and S Flynn for making us all sit up straight with those tales. Commendations, too, to Peter Calvesbert for best sub-title (Redditch, Mother of All By-passes); to Susannah Killich for the only poem (Rickshaw Ride, 4am, Through Mandalay, with a memorable last line: 'Far away pagoda gongs call to the enlightened one'); to Christopher Biggs for apparently entering the wrong competition (with a piece called The Door Opened, about a child murderer called Gregory); and to Mark Suzman for the best traveller's tale (being asked by Israeli airport security to smuggle a gun in his sock to test out a trainee's grip on the drill).

'Weirdest of all, however, and the one that will remain longest on the Rough Guides notice-board, was Catriona Black, whose transport of delight was a 'one-woman poofy' (we think she means a pouffe - a mustard coloured leather one apparently) on which she was propelled by Nelly, her flatmate, down the landing and out of the door.'

The winners: As well as Mark Ellingham, the judges were Andrena Pullen of Trailfinders; Anne Spackman, Weekend editor of the Independent; and Frank Barrett, the Independent's travel editor. After careful deliberation, the judges chose James Wilson as the winner for his piece about a drive to France. He will receive a Trailfinders round-the-world ticket to the value of pounds 1,000, and a selection of 10 Rough Guides. The Independent will provide him with pounds 500 spending money.

James, 22, graduated last year from Sheffield University with a degree in French and Spanish. He is living in Sheffield 'doing odd bits of journalism' for a local environmental newspaper, the Globe. 'Having been runner- up in last year's student travel-writing competition, I didn't think I stood a chance this time. I was surprised and delighted to hear that I'd won,' he said.

As part of his prize, James has already received a commission from Rough Guides to work on the revision of the Rough Guide to Spain. 'I'm also trying to get a job in journalism - it's not easy at the moment.'

There are three runners-up: Heather Clark, Kate Kelland and Philip Leeke. They will each receive 10 Rough Guides of their choice and and a Eurotrain rail ticket to a European destination.

Heather Clark, 31, is doing a one- year journalism course in Sheffield. Despite being a victim of thalidomide, with no arms or legs, she has travelled extensively. 'In 1989 I spent four months in Burbank, California, with my boyfriend - and I've travelled around America on a Greyhound bus. America is more geared up to coping with people in wheelchairs. I also love Greece, Germany, France and Switzerland - in fact I've seen more of abroad than I have of this country . . .'

Kate Kelland, 22, is in her final year of a degree in German and Russian at Durham University. She has been offered a job by her home newspaper, the North Devon Journal, but is also applying for jobs as a graduate trainee with other papers. She said: 'My Aeroflot story is all true. Russia is an incredible place: you hate it while you are there but when you get home you want to go back.'

Philip Leeke, 29, last year completed a Masters degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Birmingham University. He is now working in the United Arab Emirates. 'I would very much like to write professionally - at the moment I write just for myself,' he said.