The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Over twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his home. The hilarious book he wrote about that journey, Notes from a Small Island, became one of the most loved books of recent decades, and was voted in a BBC poll as the book that best represents Britain. Now, for his first travel book in fifteen years, Bryson sets out again, on a long-awaited, brand-new journey around the UK. (Goodreads)

Years ago I read Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island about his trip around Britain in 1995, and since then I’ve also read A Walk in the Woods about his hike along the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world, both of which fascinated me. So I was keen to read The Road to Little Dribbling:More Notes from a Small Island, which was first published in 2015, 20 years after his first trip.

He decided to start at Bognor Regis in West Sussex on the south coast of England. He decided to try to follow the longest distance you can travel in a straight line, roughly from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath. But he realised it wouldn’t be practical to follow it precisely, so he just started and ended at its terminal points and then meandered from place to place as his fancy took him. Click on the photo below to enlarge.

The result is he mainly visited places in the south of England, with only a few pages covering the rest of Britain. It really could have done with an index and I toyed briefly with the idea of compiling one myself. It’s an amusing book, rather than laugh out loud funny, but I got tired of his grumpiness and of his descriptions of places that were run-down and depressing and not as he remembered them – cafes that had closed, and town centres that were empty where once they had been busy and thriving. Of course any travel book is a snapshot in time, in this book that is 2015, and over time everywhere changes for better or worse.

Bryson writes in a chatty style and goes off at various tangents, talking about the history of places and telling anecdotes, which I found very interesting. Whilst he was disappointed by some towns and cities he didn’t hold back on praising the landscape – beautiful countryside, and coastal locations. I don’t think it lives up to Notes from a Small Island but it certainly gives an insight into the best and worst about Britain in 2015.

And I never found out why it’s called The Road to Little Dribbling! Any ideas, anyone?

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Another Journey through Britain by Mark Probert

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

This week I’m featuring the latest book I’ve just started reading, Another Journey Through Britain by Mark Probert, which was free on Amazon UK, although it’s currently on offer for 99p.

In this book Mark Probert follows the route taken by John Hillaby in his 1960s book Journey through Britain, telling the story of his 1,100 mile walk from Land’s End in south-west England to the north-east coast of Scotland at John o’Groats. It had captured Probert’s imagination and when he entered semi-retirement in 2018 he decided to repeat Hillaby’s book, looking out for the things he wrote about in his original book and comparing how today’s Britain differed from that of fifty years earlier. He didn’t walk, though but he did it on a motor bike, a Royal Enfield Classic 500.

The Book Begins:

The visitor car park at Land’s End was almost empty and ghostly silent. It was just after 10 am on a chilly May morning.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 55-56:

Beside the National Parks there are thirty four Areas of Outstanding National Parks (AONB) in England and Wales, less than half of which were in existence in 1966. Being British, we have to make things complicated. In Scotland they have two National Parks, forty five National Nature Reserves, three UNESCO GeoParks and two UNESCO Biospheres. The original purpose of the Parks was to conserve and preserve, but also to open the areas up for people to enjoy. Nowadays, the National Parks cover approximately 10 percent of England, 20 percent of Wales and 7 percent of Scotland.

My Friday Post: Ice Bound by Jerri Nielsen

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

I’m reading Ice Bound: One Woman’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole by Jerri Nielsen.

It begins:

If this story is to begin anywhere, it should begin in the night. I have always been a night person. When the sun goes down, my spirits rise.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.
  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

I quickly learned to keep the head of my stethoscope in my bra to avoid giving my patients frostbite when I lifted their three to five layers of clothing. Fully undressing patients was impractical here.


About the book – from the back cover:

Dr Jerri Nielsen made international headlines worldwide when, as the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station she diagnosed herself with breast cancer. The world’s media anxiously followed the immense efforts she and her fellow ‘polies’ took to treat her, the frantic drops of essential supplies and the final high-risk mission to airlift her out.

[This] is not just a powerful account of her struggle for survival, but also a thrilling adventure story about how a small community copes in the most hostile environment on earth, and a moving personal voyage of self-discovery and courage. But at its core lies a romance that makes even these pale into insignificance – Jerri’s realization that, dangers and discomforts and even cancer notwithstanding, she would rather be in the terrible beauty of Antarctica than anywhere else on earth.

My Friday Post: Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My book today is Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell, one of the books I’m currently reading.

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

It begins:

Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will – whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures – and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection …

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56: Durrell is buying a house in the Greek village of Bellapaix and the owners have gathered their family in the village cafe to agree upon the price.

They sat on a semicircle of chairs, sipping coffee and arguing in low voices; a number of beards waggled, a number of heads nodded. They looked like a rugger scrum in an American film receiving last-minute instructions from their captain. Soon they would fall upon us like a ton of bricks and gouge us. I began to feel rather alarmed.


I’ve visited Cyprus several times, but not the area Durrell wrote about in this book – Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus. His description of it and Bellapaix makes me wish I could have seen it then in the 1950s.


Bitter Lemons of Cyprus is Lawrence Durrell’s unique account of his time in Cyprus, during the 1950s Enosis movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule. Winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, it is a document at once personal, poetic and subtly political – a masterly combination of travelogue, memoir and treatise.

‘He writes as an artist, as well as a poet; he remembers colour and landscape and the nuances of peasant conversation . . . Eschewing politics, it says more about them than all our leading articles . . . In describing a political tragedy it often has great poetic beauty.’ Kingsley Martin, New Statesman

‘Durrell possesses exceptional qualifications. He speaks Greek fluently; he has a wide knowledge of modern Greek history, politics and literature; he has lived in continental Greece and has spent many years in other Greek islands . . . His account of this calamity is revelatory, moving and restrained. It is written in the sensitive and muscular prose of which he is so consummate a master.’ Harold Nicolson, Observer


What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

The Man Who Climbs Trees by James Aldred

Publication date: 24 August 2017, Ebury Publishing

Source: e-book for review from the publishers

My rating: 5*

It was a delight to read The Man Who Climbs Trees by James Aldred. It is not only full of information but also beautifully written and absolutely fascinating. If you have ever wondered how wildlife/nature documentaries are filmed this book has the answers.

James Aldred, a professional tree climber, wildlife cameraman, and adventurer, explains how he discovered that trees are places of refuge as well as providing unique vantage points to view the world. Trees enthral him, right from the time he first climbed into the canopy of an oak tree in the New Forest. Climbing trees gives him peace within himself and with the world around him. Since he first began climbing trees he has travelled the world climbing many of the world’s tallest trees, filming for the BBC and National Geographic magazine.

It’s incredibly dangerous work. It’s not only the difficulties of climbing some of the world’s tallest trees, but also dealing with extreme weather, attacks from animals, birds and a variety of insects. Perhaps the most horrifying was a sinister rash that appeared all over his body when he was in the Congo. This rash developed into ninety red angry boils, several of them on his head. Then he was woken by something moving beneath the skin of his scalp, squirming and wriggling around; the pain was unbearable. Each boil was home to spine-covered maggots that bot-flies, large black flies with bulbous red eyes, had laid under his skin!  He ended up in hospital with cerebral malaria.

I have always loved trees but I’ll never look at them again with the same eyes after reading this book – such strange and wonderful stories of the nature and significance of trees.

The Man Who Climbs Trees is a wonderful book, full of James Aldred’s adventures and his views on life and spirituality. I loved it. His travels brought him into contact with dozens of different religions and philosophies all containing ‘profound elements of truth’ that he respects very much, concluding that ‘spirituality is where you find it’ and he finds it ‘most easily when up in the trees’.

Added on 6 September 2017

There are no photos in this book but there are some in this article and an amazing video James took of the incredible Korowai tribe in Papua building a tree house. It’s well worth watching.

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

I read A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor a few weeks ago and have been mulling it over ever since. It began so well and I thought it was one of those books I was going to love. And then there are later passages which are so tedious and hard work to read, so full of dry facts and arcane words that I began to wonder why I was reading any further. But I did and then the writing swept me away and I became engrossed in the book again.

My reaction, I think, is to the two sides of this book, in which Patrick Leigh Fermor describes his travels on foot in 1933 from the Hook of Holland through Germany, to Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, on his way to Constantinople. (He continued his journey in Between the Woods and the Water, which describes his experiences up to the Iron Gates border between Rumania and Bulgaria.) The two sides are because he wrote this book in later life so his direct experiences and reactions are intermingled with the results of his later research and with the benefit of hindsight. I prefer the immediacy of his earlier writings taken from the diaries he kept along the way, bringing the countryside to life and recounting his encounters with the local people.

There are passages like the one below where he linked his journey to painting:

When no buildings were in sight, I was back in the Dark Ages. But the moment a farmhouse, or a village impinged, I was in the world of Peter Brueghel. The white flakes falling beside the Waal – or the Rhine or the Neckar or the Danube – and the zigzag gables and the muffled roofs, were all his. The icicles, too, and the trampled snow, the logs piled on the sledges and the peasants stooped double under loads of faggots. … When the wintry light crept dimly from slits close to the horizon or an orange sun was setting through the branches of a frozen osier-bed, the identity was complete.

In the end I scan read page after page of detailed descriptions of churches, of sociological, political or historical people and places.  I was too impatient to read all those details and I was reading the book too quickly. It’s a book to take your time with, to read a section, put the book down and come back to it later – and I didn’t do that, I swallowed it down with the result that parts were indigestible.

In a way his journey was a gilded experience as he had introductions to people in different places – people who gave him a bed for the night, or longer stays. There were also people who didn’t know him who welcomed him into their homes as a guest – as the title says it was a time of gifts. It was the period when Hitler came to power in Germany:

Appalling things had happened since Hitler had come into power ten months earlier: but the range of horror was not yet fully unfolded. In the country the prevailing mood was a bewildered acquiescence. Occasionally it rose to fanaticism.

But whereas not everyone liked the English there were some who did:

I answered many earnest questions about England: how lucky and enviable I was, they said, to belong to that fortunate kingdom where all was so just and sensible. The allied occupation of the Rhineland had come to an end less than ten years before, and the British, she said, had left an excellent impression.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. There are many passages so vividly described that I can remember them now weeks later – the vision of this young man, nearly nineteen years old striding through the German countryside reciting Shakespeare, in a loud voice and accompanied with gestures, sword thrusts, a staggering gait and with his arms upflung, looking as though he was drunk, or a lunatic. Then there was the time in Vienna when the money he was expecting hadn’t arrived and Konrad, a Don Quixote type character, took him round to a block of flats and encouraged him to knock on doors asking if the occupants wanted to pay him for a sketch of themselves.

In fact even with the dull passages, I liked this book well enough to buy the second book by Fermor Leigh, Between the Woods and the Water and I see that a third book is to be published later this year – The Broken Road, completing the account of his journey to Constantinople.

Following his walk across Europe, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) lived and travelled in the Balkans and Greek Archipelago. He joined the Irish Guards and during the occupation of Crete led the party that captured the German commander. He was awarded the DSO and OBE.

Willow Man and the M5 Camels

This week we travelled to Somerset for a couple of days. Over the years we’ve spent many hours up and down the M5 and each time we pass what I call the Straw Man, skinny arms stretched out, a small head and muscular legs, the image of a man running south, I keep meaning to find out more about him. Well, now I have.

His real title is “Willow Man“, sculpted by Serena de la Hay. He stands next to the M5 near Bridgwater in Somerset. I don’t have a photo because I only ever see him when we’re driving on the motorway but Serena’s website has some excellent photos.On Wednesday when we passed he had a bird on his head and yesterday on our return trip I jokingly said I wonder if the bird is still on the Straw Man’s head – and there it was!  I much prefer the Willow Man to the Angel of the North, which you can see from the A1. Amazing to think that a model of the Angel was valued at £1m recently on the Antiques Roadshow!

Not far from the Willow Man you can see the M5 Camels also standing in a field beside the motorway. Humphrey has been there as long as I can remember travelling to Somerset, but he’s changed over the years and now has a smaller companion, Bernard. Not creatures you’d expect to see next to the motorway – but maybe they’re related to the Concrete Cows in Milton Keynes Shopping Centre!

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’™ve now finished the ‘œEat’ section of this book, or in other words the section in Elizabeth Gilbert’™s book about her stay in Italy. The book is growing on me, or maybe I’™m becoming accustomed to her style of writing. I’™ve already written about her comments on how Italians cheer themselves up after their football team has lost a match by eating cream puffs, but there a couple of other things caught my attention in this section.

The first is a reference to Dante ‘“ I’™ve written several posts on Dante’™s The Divine Comedy and Florence. Elizabeth goes to an Italian class to help her learn the language. She explains how for centuries there was no ‘œItalian’ language – Italians wrote and spoke in different local dialects ‘“ and it was only in the 16th century that a gathering of intellectuals decided that the official Italian language (in its written form at least) was the language used by Dante; the language in which he had published The Divine comedy in 1321; the language spoken by his fellow Florentines.

The other most interesting discovery I made in reading ‘œEat’ is about the Augusteum ‘“ a big round ruin near the Ara Pacis, the Altar to Peace. I didn’™t know its name before, nor its history. I first visited Rome in 1992. I had been doing an Open University course on Roman History and wanted to see various sites, including the Roman Forum, the Coliseum and the Ara Pacis. This large round ruin intrigued me; it’™s such a contrast to the Ara Pacis, which is an enormous, gleaming white marble altar, showing the Emperor Augustus’™ triumphal entry into Rome, consecrated in 9BC. The Museo dell’Ara Pacis website gives the history of the altar and details of its renovation.

The entrance to the ruin was gated and locked and all we could see were some wild cats ‘“ there are lots in Rome – and a lady who had come with some food for the cats. It looked a really mysterious and forbidding place and I wanted to know its history.

Elizabeth Gilbert explains that this is the Augusteum, which was originally a mausoleum built by the Emperor Augustus to house his remains and those of his family. It fell into ruins after the fall of the Roman Empire and his ashes were stolen. By the 12th century it had been turned into a fortress for the Colonna family, then later became a vineyard, a Renaissance garden, a bullring in the 18th century, a fireworks depository, then a concert hall. In the 1930s Mussolini restored it to its classical foundations and intended it to house his remains.

Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’™t mention the Ara Pacis, but says that the Augusteum ‘œis one of the quietest and loneliest place in Rome, buried deep in the ground. The city has grown up around it over centuries. (One inch a year is the general rule of thumb for the accumulation of time’™s debris.) Traffic above the monument spins in a hectic circle, and nobody ever goes down there ‘“ from what I can tell ‘“ except to use the place as a public bathroom. But the building still exists, holding its Roman ground with dignity, waiting for its next incarnation.’

Yes, it was lonely went we went there (and it did smell, too). Both the Augusteum and the Ara Pacis were very quiet and with very few people around. We went back to Rome in 2003 and again both sites were very quiet, we were the only people there ‘“ a treat in such a crowded, busy city.

Easter at England’s Eden

We spent the Easter holiday in Cornwall. Whilst many parts of Britain had snow over the Easter weekend it was sunny, but cold, at the Eden Project near St Austell. Actually we did see a very brief flurry of fine snow at one point on Saturday afternoon and it was very windy. We stayed with our son and his family at Carlyon Bay Hotel just outside St Austell overlooking the sea.

The Eden Project was first opened in 2001 and we’™ve been meaning to go there ever since then. Their website says, ‘œEden is all about man’s relationship with and dependence upon plants. Much of our food, our clothes, our shelter and our medicines come from the plant world. Without plants there would be no oxygen for us to breathe, no life on earth.’

It has been constructed in what was a clay pit and the view is most impressive as you approach the deep, steep-sided, flat-bottomed bowl containing the hugh domes. They are the biggest greenhouses in the world, called Biomes. From the entrance in the Visitor Centre we walked down towards the Biomes looking first at the Outdoor Biome following the winding path down the hillside passing areas planted with crops, and daffodils and spring bulbs. As it was Easter there was an Easter Egg hunt to follow with clues hidden throughout the site. We tried to follow the trail, but the clues were too hard for us adults, let alone the children, although we did solve a few. There is a giant bee, the magical land of Myth and Folklore, and a willow maze looking bare at this time of year.

As it is Eden I wasn’™t surprised to find Eve there, but she wasn’™t quite what I expected. She is a large reclining statue, her face made up of small mosaic mirrors and moss is just beginning to grow on her body. Eventually she will all be covered in moss ‘“ a green woman. I didn’™t see Adam.

There is a grotesque piece of artwork ‘“ the WEEE Man, a reminder that the Project is an educational charity aiming to show the need for environmental awareness and sustainability. WEEE Man is a three-tonne, seven-metre tall robotic figure, made up of old washing machines, computer mice, TVs and a vast array of other electrical goods. WEEE stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. The sculpture is made up of the amount the average UK citizen will throw away in their lifetime ‘“ really horrific.

The Rainforest Biome is my favourite. It covers an area of 15,590 square metres (1.55 hectares), is 55 metres high, 100 metres wide and 200 metres long and it’™s high enough to hold the Tower of London or eleven double-decker buses piled on top of one another. As we went in people were rapidly taking off coats and jumpers because of the heat. It is truly most impressive and it’™s steamy, hot and humid. You can see what it is like living in Malaysia,

West Africa and South America as you walk through and up the biome passing waterfalls and tropical plants. I saw the biggest, smelliest flower in the world, the Titum Arum, although it had gone beyond its best, as it had flowered. By the time I took this photo my camera had steamed up!

The Mediterranean Biome was much cooler, but surprised me as there were displays of plants and scenes from South Africa and California, not just the Med.

As it is spring and in England, the main displays were of spring bulbs, being mainly tulips ‘“ such beautiful colours. I thought the best part of this section was the display of the Rites of Dionysus.

Dionysus was the Greek God of wine and its intoxicating power. I think these statues illustrate nature in its wild, untamed state, clearly capturing the frenzy induced by the music and wine. I liked the stark contrast between the displays of flowers and these sculptures standing on the bare earth.

There was an Ice Skating Rink, a ‘œSimply Delicious Marquee’ where the children decorated cupcakes, and a storytelling tent where we were entertained by the “Spice Man”, with his tales of sailing the seas and the uses of spices in days gone by.

Then there is the ‘œCore‘ shaped like a sunflower, which houses exhibitions, paintings and an enormous nutcracker.

The children had goes at turning the wheel of this massive metal structure. As the handle is turned a big steel ball is raised up to the top of the machine, where it is tipped down a chute, spiralling down to a hammer at the bottom, which then strikes the nut. It was mesmerising to watch.

The centrepiece of the Core is a giant 70 tonne granite sculpture of a seed made of silver-grey Cornish granite estimated to be 300 million years old.

Called ‘œSeed’ it was carved out of a boulder extracted from the De Lank Quarry, in Cornwall. There are 1,800 nodes on its surface in Fibonacci spirals, representing the extraordinary growth pattern found in sunflowers, pinecones and daisies. The Seed is four metres in height and three metres wide at its widest point. I wasn’™t sure that I liked it ‘“ it’™s so strange seeing a seed so large and solid; somehow it looked too sterile, but the age of the granite is awesome!

The Eden Project is a remarkable experience, well worth a visit. If we lived nearer I would like to go more often, spending just a few hours each visit rather than a whole day, which was exhausting, but most enjoyable and educational. I can’t believe that I didn’t buy any books from the Visitor Centre – that must be a first. There are a number of books listed on the Eden Project website, so I’ll browse through these to see which ones I would like.

How to Cross the Road – Hanoi Style

Carla and I left work last year. Whilst I’™ve stayed at home she’™s been travelling the world’“ she’™s been to New York, Niagara, Chicago, Flagstaff, Yosemite, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Cook Island, New Zealand, Australia (Great Barrier Reef etc), Tasmania, Whitesunday Islands, Bangkok, Koh Tao ‘“ diving in the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia, to mention just a few places. I’™m sure I missed out loads. I’™ve been seeing the world through Carla’™s eyes and her blog.

At present she’™s in Hanoi and her latest entry is about the road crossings there. She says that the only reason you go for the crossings is that you stand out as less of a target ,,, the mantra to remember is “keep the same pace, never stop (it confuses the drivers) and always imagine a big white forcefield around you’¦ ‘œ

I’™m never going to complain again about the traffic here after seeing this.