A Sense of Place: The Best of British Outdoor Writing (Michael Joseph, pounds 15.99, hardback) by Roly Smith (ed).

Many of the contributors to this collection of 18 previously unpublished essays are seasoned world travellers, used to storming up Mount Everest or battling with the Arctic. In A Sense of Place they talk about their favourite countryside places in the United Kingdom (not just Britain, as the dust jacket blurb declares).

Some writers have chosen particular walks and climbs, while others have plumped for particular districts or regions. Chris Bonington may enjoy the Himalayas but he declares the Lake District to be "the most beautiful place in the world". Peter Gillman takes us on some splendid treks and climbs in the Scottish Highlands, and Paddy Dillon introduces us to an "undiscovered Ireland". My personal favourite was Striding the Dales by Mike Harding, whose anecdotes ramble from his present home in the Dales to his past as a youth in the grimy streets of Manchester.

Apart from the occasional touch of overcooked dreamy-eyed melodrama and the odd I'm-a-hiker story, most of the authors were able to enthuse me with their surprisingly varied accounts.

Malaysia & Singapore Handbook (Footprint Handbooks, pounds 12.99, hardback) by Joshua Eliot & Jane Bickersteth.

Footprint's second edition is now out and challenging Lonely Planet (LP), the guide-book kings in this part of the world. Like so many travellers, I find comfort and solace in LP's familiar format, but its Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei was published in November 1996 and is now becoming dated. Is the Handbook series catching up?

By coincidence it happened to be Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where my own faith in LP was badly dented. I'd traipsed past the same pile of rubble and dust a dozen times before realising that this was actually the remains of the "cheery" hotel described in my guide book. It was only then that I realised that, just maybe, there was more to guidebooks than LP (incidentally, neither book points out that Kuala Lumpur's Colonial Hotel, where I ended up staying, is a seedy Chinese brothel to be avoided at all costs).

If you can manage to get your eyes around Footprint's microscopic print, you'll find they are really rather good books, loaded with practical information. Printed on what seems to be rice-paper, it is certainly a winner in terms of facts-per-pound. But if anything, at almost 800 pages, it may have too much detail for what is probably not the world's most riveting holiday destination. However, the avalanche of facts is, at least, prefaced by a section in which the authors highlight their favourite places, from the Cameron Highlands to Mount Kinabalu.

It remains to be seen who will win the battle for supremacy in the Malaysian peninsula, but my money is still on Lonely Planet. After all, travellers are quite conservative.

Comments