Hilary Bradt, who founded the eponymous guide book company nearly 40 years ago, is finally publishing a long overdue travel narrative, Connemara Mollie, which has been languishing, half forgotten, in her loft for 27 years. It’s an account of a journey through western Ireland made in 1984, fulfilling a childhood dream of a long-distance ride. It is also a portrait of rural Ireland before the “Celtic Tiger” era, built up from conversations with the local people. She travelled with no set route, extending her backpacking knowledge acquired in the Andes to horse packing, “seeing the obvious advantage of climbing mountains on someone else’s legs and using another’s back for the packing” although there were a few disadvantages. “I’ve never tried hitchhiking with a horse before”, comments Hilary. “It’s not easy.” The manuscript (handwritten in pencil) was lost for several months, and eventually located through the help of a dowser to be finally returned to Hilary as the result of a ‘no questions asked, no answers to be given’ note posted in the area. All very mysterious. However, despite the delay, this wonderful story will be published in July, a read worth waiting for!
Timed for the 40th anniversary of the founding of Bradt Travel Guides, is the 10th edition of the original ‘Little Yellow Book’, Backpacking along Ancient Ways in Bolivia and Peru, which Hilary wrote with her husband, George on a three month trek in the Andes in 1974. There wasn’t a guide book, so they wrote one! This edition, Backpacking and Trekking in Peru, is being updated, with the help of a co-author, although Hilary plans a trip to her old haunts next year. Undoubtedly easy access to information these days has made travel somewhat less adventurous and far more predictable, just how many places can you actually go to that have never been explored or recorded before? Hilary talked of heading off to a new country in the ‘60s and 70s, with just a general notion of what she might do, certainly no accommodation booked. I note that the Bradt site encourages readers to ‘take the road less travelled’, much as its founder did.
Back in the 1980s Bradt published a few narrative tales along with its fabulous guide books. (www.bradtguides.com) This year sees the re-print of two of these, with updates. Hilary recommends Phil Deutsche’s The Two Year Mountain, an extraordinary story of a young Californian’s experiences in Nepal with the Peace Corps and his steely determination to conquer the Himalayas. It is not a soppy, dewy-eyed read, rest assured. Then there is John Harrison’s Up the Creek, an Amazon Adventure, this is an exceptional account of a man bravely going where few men had gone before. And also Marsh Lions by Brian Jackman, Angie Scott and Jonathan Scott, first published in 1982 and now with an additional chapter. The book was the basis for a BBC series and is packed with photographs taken by the Scotts, who are both renowned for their wildlife shots.
Another extraordinary book Bradt is publishing this year and one Hilary is very touched by, is A Glimpse of Eternal Snows, A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas telling the story of a doctor, Jane Wilson-Howarth, who took her severely disabled son and family to live in Nepal, despite all the dire warnings of consultants in the UK. It is a deeply moving account of their life there, detailing her son’s development and blossoming, in a society intertwined with the natural world and their environment.
Just as Bradt are branching out a little this year with their narratives, Hilary has taken a new tack recently: exploring the UK, often with the help of her bus pass. The day that the concessionary bus passes became valid – on April 1, 2008 – she took the first bus out of Land’s End, reaching Lowestoft eight days later, thus completing a journey from the furthest west point of England to the furthest east. Most buses, it seems, stop by 6pm, starting after 9.30am, which necessitated hitch hiking into Lowestoft for the final night of the journey. Bus- Pass Britain is a marvellous collection of bus journeys, written by OAPs who travel a wide variety of routes across the UK. It’s certainly worth a read. Another of my favourites is Slow Devon & Exmoor, which Hilary has researched extensively in a gentle fashion, meandering about the county to bring readers the finest Devon has to offer. The Slow Series of county guides is growing, slowly of course and is joined by the Eccentric Series, which are marvels, one and all. Hilary really likes bus travel, journeying through little villages, talking to people, taking a quiet moment to enjoy.
I am careful to remind myself that despite the slow travel, Hilary Bradt was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the British Guild of Travel Writers in 2009 and was made MBE in 2008. She’s been travelling for over 50 years and shows little sign of stopping any time soon, in fact the publication of Connemara Mollie this year may well lead her off in yet another direction. Let’s wait and see.