I was delighted to be invited to review Cumin, Camels & Caravans: A Spice Odyssey, the new book by the eminent food historian and ecologist Gary Nabhan. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history, culture and food of the Middle East and Europe, and was published in the September 2014 of History Today, the history magazine which has been going strong since 1951.
On 1 May this year I was invited to address an audience at the RGS (Royal Geographical Society) in London on the theme ‘Discovering Jordan’, for potential travellers to that fascinating country. Founded in 1830, the RGS has funded some of Britain’s most intrepid explorers including Darwin, Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton and Hillary, so it was an honour to speak there, alongside Tony Howard who with his partner Di Taylor developed adventure tourism in Jordan. Here’s a photo of us both in action.
The audience at the RGS event ‘Discovering Jordan’ © n.o.m.a.d.s.
Having spent a few consecutive summers exploring Ireland in a campervan in the 1990s at a time before the Good Friday Agreement initiated the peace process in the north of the country, it was great to be back last summer for the Daily Telegraph.
So much had changed: in the 1990s the border between the province, which then was punctuated with checkpoints and watchtowers, is now completely open, and the only hint that we’d crossed between the North and the Republic was the miles turning to kilometres on the road signs.
Our campervan had changed too, but one thing remained the same – the soundtrack to our trip, never more apt than in his own country: the great Van Morrison.
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I’ve lived in Oxford over 25 years, and have loved it ever since I first visited it as a teenager from my parents’ home in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire. So it was a delight to be asked to write a comprehensive guide to the city for the Telegraph, which appeared in 2011 (see this earlier post). The Telegraph asked me to produce a compact version of this guide, which appears here. This was harder than you’d think, as there are so many lovely paces to choose from – and every Oxford resident has their own particular favourites (which might not be the same ones as mine). But as a travel journalist I had to write the guide for visitors rather than residents, which meant missing out a few of my personal favourites that are too far off the beaten track, or difficult to find. Despite this challenge, it was fun seeing my own city through the eyes of a first-time tourist!
In march I travelled to the UAE to write about the history of polo, a game which (probably) originated in the Central Asian Steppes or in Persia (modern-day Iran). From here it migrated to China, Japan and India, where it was adopted by the British and brought back to the UK. When British farmers bought estancias in Argentina the game took off in this already horse-mad country, and in recent years it’s come ‘home’ to the Gulf, where it’s popular amongst the equally horse-mad Emiratis. I was luck enough to attend the Polo Gold Cup in Dubai, which forms the opening of my story…
A polo game in 18C India (Bridgeman Art Library)
It was spring last year when I visited Gozo for a few day’s walking its empty coastal paths, exploring its ancient megaliths and ‘chillaxing‘ David-Cameron style at cafés in villages where life has remained pretty much unchanged for aeons. Finally, this weekend, my feature about it appeared in the Sunday Telegraph. Normally I avoid re-reading my published pieces but this time I did – and found myself reliving the trip all over again, longing to return to this beautiful, peaceful island.
Cat ‘chillaxing’ on Gozo © Gail Simmons
As one of TIME’s regular travel contributors I was asked to write a small piece on a well-kept travel secret. I suggested a few of the more exotic and remote places I’d been, including Wahiba Sands in Oman, Bardsey Island in North Wales and Ta Cenc in Gozo. But the idea they liked best was one closer to home: a quirky cricket ground on the lawns of a country house picturesquely set in the Howardian Hills in North Yorkshire. Scroll to the third one down in the article to read it.
Hovingham Hall, North Yorkshire, with a cricket match on the lawn