Armchair traveller: Books, TV and radio to keep wanderlust alive

Armchair traveller: Book in for a flight of fancy – gripping reads, plus TV and radio to keep wanderlust alive

  • Britain’s Most Scenic Journey takes you on a steam train ride through Scotland 
  • Follow late U.S chef Anthony Bourdain to Vietnam and beyond in Parts Unknown 
  • Seduced by Siberia by travel writer Sylvain Tesson is an apt lockdown read

Here we pick a selection of the best travel-related programmes, books and radio shows that will provide some isolation inspiration for the week ahead. 


Beautiful Balkans 

A masterpiece: The Church of St John at Kaneo, on Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia 

Follow Kapka Kassabova’s ancestral quest in To The Lake 

Brown bears and wolves prowl in the mountains surrounding the twin lakes of Ohrid and Prespa, in a remote corner of the Balkans where the borders of Albania, Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia meet. 

It is to this spot that Bulgarian-born writer Kapka Kassabova, who lives in Scotland, ventures to learn more of her own family ties and to shed light on a complicated history.

This region was crucial during Roman times, suffered terribly in the Balkan Wars of the early 20th century, saw much bloodshed during World War I, and hadtits fair share of recent troubles. 

Let Kassabova’s charming travelogue take you round the glistening shores, and into the past, too.

  • To The Lake by Kapka Kassabova (Granta, £14.99). 

 Seduced by Siberia 

French travel writer Sylvain Tesson rented a cabin in Siberia for six months over a winter and wrote Consolations Of The Forest

Albert Camus once said: ‘In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.’

It was with such thoughts percolating that French travel writer Sylvain Tesson rented a cabin in Siberia for six months over a winter and wrote Consolations Of The Forest: Alone In A Cabin In The Middle Taiga.

For those still coming to terms with the lockdown, it is an apt travel read.

Nearing the age of 40, Tesson decides to ‘invent a slowed-down life’ for himself: ‘On an overpopulated, overheated and noisy planet, a forest cabin is an Eldorado.’

Tesson’s amusing and quirky ‘journal of a hermit’s life’ fizzes along. He explains from the outset his desire to catch up on a bit of reading — Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Hemingway and Conrad (he takes 70 books) are stuffed in one of his travel crates.

Others contain candles, cigars, vodka and a six-month supply of ‘pasta, rice, Tabasco, canned fruit, red and black pepper, salt, coffee, honey and tea’.

Tesson works his way through his vodka, ventures onto frozen lakes, enjoys the rugged, snow-covered landscape, and manages to catch some fish. He is grateful for this, having become tired of ‘pasta al Tabasco’.

In his cabin, he has experienced ‘something close to the sheer happiness of being alive’. Positive thoughts for lockdown days.

  • Consolations Of The Forest, by Sylvain Tesson (Allen Lane ebook, Amazon, £3.99).

Fishing in Cornwall

Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash is set amid the close-knit community of Newlyn, near Penzance

Visit Cornwall has just released a video urging people to stay away: ‘Our plans are on hold, our dreams are paused, but good times and memories will be had again.’

So the publication of Dark, Salt, Clear, Lamorna Ash’s colourful story amid the close-knit community of Newlyn, near Penzance, is timely. Ash, 22 and conscious of being a ‘posh girl living in London’, moves to Cornwall in 2017 to devote her social anthropology thesis at University College London to life in a fishing village.

Despite being an outsider, she is soon making friends at the Swordfish Inn, aka the ‘Swordy’ and once ranked number two in TV’s The Toughest Pubs In Britain. This leads to the invite on board the Filadelfia trawler for an eight-day journey that forms the backbone of her book.

The story’s littered with literary quotations (a little jarringly), yet the picture that emerges is of ‘real Cornwall’ — off-limits for now.

  • Dark, Salt, Clear, by Lamorna Ash (Bloomsbury, £14.99).


Full steam ahead!

Britain’s Most Scenic Railway Journey takes you from the foothills of Ben Nevis (above) to Mallaig in Scotland

Enjoy a clickety-clack ride in a steam train along the tracks from the foothills of Ben Nevis to Mallaig in Scotland, passing lochs and crossing the magnificent Glenfinnan viaduct.

  • Britain’s Most Scenic Railway Journey (6pm, tomorrow, 1 hour 55 minutes, Channel 5).

Brecon beckons

Slip into life in the Brecon Beacons in Wales as wildlife expert Iolo Williams watches the magic of the seasons unfold; birds such as dotterel in the Black Mountains and peregrines nesting in an old quarry feature in this episode.

  • The Brecon Beacons with Iolo Williams (7pm, Monday, 1 hour, BBC2).

Foodie heaven

U.S. chef and author Anthony Bourdain explores lesser-known routes from Vietnam (above) to the Democratic Republic of Congo 

The brilliant late U.S. chef and author Anthony Bourdain was a natural behind the camera and a marvellous traveller who explored lesser-known routes from Vietnam to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Mississippi Delta.

  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Amazon Prime).


Three in Germany

Expect high jinks on bicycles in Germany in Jerome K. Jerome’s follow-up to Three Men in a Boat.

  • Three Men On The Bummel (9am, tomorrow, 30 minutes, BBC Radio 4 Extra).

U.S. adventure

Recall the gentle musings of the late Alistair Cooke’s Letters From America, broadcast on the BBC from 1946 to 2004.

  • Letter From America By Alistair Cooke ( uk/podcasts).

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