Travel may or may not broaden the mind, but good travel books are always essential reading matter. These latest offerings cover the longhaul and exotic, courtesy of a couple of volumes on Africa. They also offer a fresh take on the domestic, with an eccentric race around seaside piers and a look at that most English of phenomena, rainfall.
Read on for the IBTimes UK top five travel book round-up, all primed to make you start packing in a hurry.
A story of emigrating to a new life in Senegal and adjusting to a very different culture.
As he approached middle age, Simon Fenton moved to Senegal where he fathered a son with his girlfriend Khady. This part of west Africa offered a him tropical idyll of a distinctly unusual variety. It was magical − literally so. A relaxed rural lifestyle was to be expected but there were also local superstitions to deal with, not to mention the witch doctors. Life was often challenging, not least when Simon had a curse placed on him via a batch of eggs. And matters were not helped by his name meaning "vampire" in the local dialect. The book's title refers to breast-feeding women who squirt milk at chameleons in the belief it prevents their babies from growing up to resemble lizards. Fenton has surprises on every page.
A madcap quest to take in all of the seaside piers in the UK in one crazy fortnight.
There is a long tradition of travel books inspired by drunken dares, following on from the illustrious progenitor Round Ireland With A Fridge by Tony Hawks. This one is the journal of a pointless attempt to visit every pier in England and Wales inside a fortnight. But what magnificent edifices they are, monuments to the munificent hubris of Empire, now sadly so often fallen victim to rust, fires and stalls selling tourist tat. The writers managed to finance the trip through crowdfunding, with the two-week deadline imposed on them by their driver, Midge, because he had to return home to the Midlands sign on for his welfare benefits. Much beer is drunk en route, amid nostalgic and entertaining soul-searching about the decay of British seaside resorts.
For this writer Zambia offers the places that best chime with his inner search for paradise.
Barnes' premise for his book is that we are all looking for our own version of paradise – or the "combes" of his title (the word itself means a narrow valley or deep hollow). His special spot is Zambia's Luangwa river valley. He fell in love with the region after waking up and discovering elephants feasting off the thatched roof of his safari hut. Barnes has since returned many times and he uses evocative prose to describes the passing seasons and the wildlife, with an emphasis on five big mammals (African lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo). As a bonus, he discusses the writers who have inspired his spiritually-oriented approach to travel and natural history, notably CS Lewis and Gerald Durrell.
Middleton describes a bizarre world of flexible borders, obscure leaders and forgotten ethnic groups.
Middleton takes us on a tour around countries that lack diplomatic recognition or UN membership. This is a strange world of fluid borders, obscure leaders and forgotten ethnic groups. Middleton describes territories ranging from Forvik (also known as Forewick Holm), a Shetland island declared independent by an English yachtsman, through to Barotseland, currently part of Zambia but a long-standing kingdom aiming for recognition as Africa's newest country. The volume is lavishly illustrated with maps of each putative country. And you can visit them all, even though they exist as fully-fledged nation states only in the minds of some of their inhabitants.
A look at how rain has created the landscapes around us and helped mould the British psyche.
Walking in the rain in England may not appear to be the most exotic of travel subjects, but Harrison's insights will surely change the way you look at our native landscapes. She is a widely praised novelist and nature writer, and her prose is meditative and lyrical by turns as she hikes through downpours across all four seasons. She visits Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire (one of Britain's oldest nature reserves), the Darent Valley in the Kent Downs, the Shropshire countryside and a swathe of Dartmoor. Along the way she examines the transformative effects of precipitation on the terrain, as well as its subtle effects on our psyches, as she demonstrates how rain is integral to our national identity.