Should you wish to escape from the relentless 24/7 grip of the digital world then you need to turn off your phone and head outside. That will help in all sorts of ways, even if it is just for an hour or so. However, to really get away from it all you need to head to the wilder parts of the world, to walk the hills, climb the mountains and cross the deserts. It is in these places where the changes over deep time are almost imperceptible, and that are as wild as they are beautiful.
The last thing that you would expect or actually want to see when you are miles from civilisation though is evidence that humans have already been there. However, occasionally a bothy appearing on the horizon can be a welcome sight. Five Star accommodation it isn’t; however, these very simple huts or shelters can offer some respite from the relentless weather that you will often find in the wild.
He was fascinated as a child by the picture of his father and his team outside a small shed in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, where they had stayed and the pelvis of a polar bear that his father had brought back from the far north. Richards’ desire to head to these far out of the way places is genetic. As you’d know if you read his previous book about his great-great-aunt, Dorothy Pilley, who was one of the pioneering women climbers of her time. With this inspiration and background, he sets off on his journeys from Scotland to Washington, to a mountain in Japan and a retreat in Switzerland and from the heat of Mexico to the bleakness and cold of the Arctic hoping to walk in his father’s footsteps. He ends up in Denmark to see an artistic interpretation of a shed too, but he starts his journey in the land of ice and fire: Iceland.
All these landscapes have these tiny places of refuge in common and it is these places that have inspired all sorts of people to write and make art and to seek their peace with our planet. In this book, Richards’ has sought them out to gain his own insight in what appeals with these remote and beautiful places. He writes in a lyrical way that also has an impish humour too, I know that you shouldn’t really laugh at others misfortune, but Dan’s description of his hangover as he stepped off the train in Scotland is truly hilarious. As this is the second family inspired travel book that Dan has written, I am hoping that he has got some more relatives that we don’t know about yet for his next book. Cracking stuff and one for anyone who likes well-written travel writing.
Paul Cheney 4/4
Outpost by Dan Richards
Canongate Books 9781786891556 hbk Apr 2019