Best travel books of 2015
The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
It’s 20 years since Bill Bryson published Notes From A Small Island, his observations collected during a tour of Britain that became one of the biggest-selling travel books ever. In this follow-up, Bryson, who arrived in the UK from America in 1973 and married an Englishwoman, is back on his old beat, casting his outsider’s eye over British idiosyncrasies with his trademark dry wit. He zigzags from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, grumbling — sometimes growling — about slow service in pubs, iffy hotels, litter-bugs, green-belt development, Heathrow expansion and HS2. He’s grouchy, but he doesn’t care.
Doubleday, 384pp; £20. To buy this book for £16.50, visitthetimes.co.uk/bookshop or call 0845 2712134
Deep South by Paul Theroux
In this offbeat travel book, Paul Theroux avoids the “obstacle course” of airports by driving from his home in New England to North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas to cover remote places where America’s “submerged 20 per cent” live. He’s interested in existence on the edge, so he goes to small, huddled towns with Baptist churches, cheap motels, gun shops and diners. His driving instinct is to report the unreported, rather than be “voyeuristically stimulated by travel”. Despite the many hardships he sees, local “kindness [and] generosity” shine through.
Hamish Hamilton, 441pp; £20. To buy this book for £16.00, visit thetimes.co.uk/bookshop or call 0845 2712134
Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka by John Gimlette
Intrigued by the large Sri Lankan community living in Tooting near his south London home, the travel writer John Gimlette takes three months off to explore the Indian Ocean nation. He is fascinated by politics in the aftermath of the Tamil Tigers’ 2009 defeat in the civil war, and by the British colonial past. The “elephant complex” of the title refers to ancient paths that the creatures have always followed on the island. Gimlette believes he must trace similar historical paths to get beneath the skin of Sri Lanka. He does so with wit and the occasional scrape with authorities.
Quercus, 478pp; £25. To buy this book for £22.50, visitthetimes.co.uk/bookshop or call 0845 2712134
Heat: Extreme Adventures at the Highest Temperatures on Earth by Ranulph Fiennes
Veteran explorer Ranulph Fiennes captured the imagination withCold, his book about his exploits in the polar regions. Now he’s back with tales of derring-do in some of the world’s hottest places, told in a memoir beginning with his early childhood in South Africa. With heat in his blood, he becomes a soldier in the Persian Gulf before travelling up the Nile (dodging “green-eyed crocodiles”) and visiting Timbuktu. His latest feat is to have become, aged 71, the oldest Briton to complete earlier this year the Marathon des Sables over 156 miles in the Saharadesert.
Simon & Schuster, 394pp; £20. To buy this book for £16.00, visit thetimes.co.uk/bookshop or call 0845 2712134
A Traveller’s Year: 365 Days of Travel Writing in Diaries, Journals and Letters compiled by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison
Concentrating on the “classic era of European exploration and diary-writing” of 1750-1950, although allowing some later entries, Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison have scoured the pages of travel literature to bring snippets of stories and descriptions to cover each day of the year. More than 200 writers include Graham Greene, Mary Shelley, Mungo Park, Jack Kerouac, Wilfred Thesiger, Dervla Murphy, Samuel Pepys, George Orwell, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens and George Eliot. The “natural beauties” of Biarritz are “transcendent”, says Eliot in an 1867 letter, with “spray on the horizon like a suddenly rising cloud”.