From cycling to walking to circumnavigating the globe, this year’s best travel books cover it all. For walkers and book buffs there is the excellent, beautifully mapped, exquisitely photographed Coast To Coast Walk by Martin Wainwright, which takes us 192 miles from St Bees in Cumbria due east to Robin Hood’s Bay. The equally practical Pennine Way by Damian Hall follows the spine of England north from Derbyshire’s Peaks through the Yorkshire Dales across Hadrian’s Wall to the Cheviot mounds.
Book buffs will find their boxes ticked in Scotland: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Garry MacKenzie, who crisscrosses cityscape and landscape, coast and island, seeking out writers in urban grit and pastoral byway, from Rowling to Rankin.
Among the more literary titles is The Timbuktu School For Nomads by Nicholas Jubber, an education for the reader in which the risk-taking Mr Jubber enters the desert-scape of North African jihadists, producing such sentences as: “He was dressed for celebration, but he was going to his death.”
Dare To Do, by Sarah Outen, takes risk to breaking point. In her attempt to circle the globe, cycling, kayaking and rowing single-handedly, she is wrecked by a tropical storm in mid-Pacific. This is the story of her indomitable pursuit of her objective to its conclusion, written with breathtaking matter of factness.
Least likely page-turner of the year, yet a revelation, is Apostle: Travels Among The Tombs Of The Twelve by Tom Bissell: a bizarre pursuit of the remains of Jesus’ apostles in Santiago de Compostela with enough material to provide Dan Brown with ideas for a lifetime.
Islands preoccupy several of this year’s travel top reads. Diligent, detailed recording provides the grist in Alastair McIntosh’s delightful Poacher’s Pilgrimage, as he makes his 12-day journey across Harris and Lewis. Most compelling of all, however, is Amy Liptrot’s memoir-cum-travelogue, The Outrun, unearthing Orkney whilst baring the author’s childhood years and her restless departure for London where she succumbs to drugs before coming “home” to the island fastness of her roots. Orkney rises from the page with a rare force and clarity.
Books of travel essays are often hit or miss. But there are travel writers who specialise quite brilliantly in the form. Pico Iyer comes to mind. Ditto Geof Dyer, whose White Sands touches on all our universal fears, excitements and longings as he progresses from French Polynesia (chasing Gauguin) to China’s Forbidden City and thence to the darkness and Arctic cold of a fickle Northern Lights experience.
Most gruelling road trip book of the year must be Ultimate Etaps by Peter Cossins (Aurum, £20), a beautifully photographed and well written guide to “the ultimate tour” in cycling. And the hottest coffee-table travel tome must surely be Lonely Planet’s completely revised The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country In The World, (£40). This is 448 wonderfully crafted pages that will tease your imagination, make your feet itch and set you rushing off to book a trip.