Synopsis: In 1868 Queen Victoria’s Government mounted an extraordinary bid to rescue a small clutch of European hostages in the Abyssinian highlands. They built a Red Sea port, then a railway across the coastal plain, brought in 44 Indian elephants and took on 26,000 local people to serve the soldiers and carry their heavy guns into the heart of Africa.
A hundred and fifty years later, John has been following their route, partly on foot with a donkey, and has been comparing Eritrea and Ethiopia then and now. He found today’s people spirited and charming, living in dramatic and extremely challenging lands. It was history and adventure combined!
Profile: John is a regular Wilderness Lecturer, and is firmly established as one of our most experienced adventurers and speakers. When the Karakoram Pass reopened to Western travellers in 1986, he was among the first to enter China by this historic route, and a few years later he was one of the first Westerners to explore the Central Asian republics when the Soviet Union broke up. More recently, he has mapped the source of the Mekong, and walked the 1,600-mile ‘Royal Road of the Incas’ through the Andes of Ecuador and Peru. In 2006 he joined a camel caravan carrying salt for 450 miles across the Sahara Desert from the mines of Taoudenni to Timbuktu. In 2009 he spent six months in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, countries he says “are in the news for all the wrong reasons”. In 2011, he crossed the Caspian Sea and Kyzylkum Desert in a hair-raising journey from Georgia to Afghanistan. In 2013 he followed up a longstanding interest in the Balkans by travelling from Trieste to Istanbul, the subject of his acclaimed talk ‘A Balkan Adventure’. In 2015 he crossed disputed borders in Ukraine, Russia and the breakaway states of the Caucasus, and gave us some surprising insights in ‘Russia and Europe: What Next?’
People are always at the centre his story-telling. His Radio 4 programmes have won him several appearances on ‘Pick of the Week’ and one on ‘Pick of the Year’. But it’s for his thought-provoking, beautifully illustrated talks that people know him best. He has spoken to over 1,000 audiences in six countries, and holds the Royal Geographical Society’s much-coveted Ness Award for popularising geography and the wider understanding of the world.