The backpacking tales of a nascent TV adventurer may seem like thin material for a book, but this isn’t just any TV face; this is a face that has some epically adventurous feet set some distance below it. In the short time since he’s graced our TV screens, British Army Officer Levison Wood has become synonymous with long-distance overland journeys — walking the Nile, traversing the Himalayas, travelling from Mexico to Colombia and, in his most recent Channel 4 series, trekking the ‘wild frontier’, from Russia to Iran.
The overland journey to begin them all, taken when Wood was 22-years-old between university and army training, followed a similar route to the recent TV show — spanning some 10,000 miles through challenging terrain. He traced the route once taken by East India Company officer Arthur Conolly, who coined the phrase ‘The Great Game’ (describing the 19th century’s protracted British/Russian tug of war over Afghanistan). This highfalutin format gave Wood’s itchy feet more erudite direction than the usual hippie trail as they made their way through Russia and the Silk Route to Afghanistan.
The time elapsed between penning his youthful travel diaries and writing this book makes for some awkward hindsight points, and the garrulous 22-year-old’s tone takes a bit of settling into. But once we’re in the moment with Wood, at this wide-eyed age, the lure of eastern horizons pulling at his heels, his voice is one that will chime with any traveller. Except most of us at that age wouldn’t have set off to hitchhike, often solo, into the fringes of war zones.
We travel with Wood as he meets Russian mafia, mujahideen fighters, and myriad colourful road and rail companions. Each dealing adds more fuel to a fire that pushes him onwards — always wanting to see more, to map more, to understand the world better. It’s the very reason why, now as a grown-up, this man makes for such genuinely compelling TV.
The natural reader
The Land Beyond
Leon McCarron’s account of his epic walk through the Middle East is hewn with the visceral language and spirit you’d expect from this adventurer.
RRP: £17.99 (I.B. Tauris)
The Immeasurable World
Over the course of eight journeys, William Atkins investigates deserts and the explorers they have confounded. RRP: £20 (Faber & Faber, May 2018)
The Man Who Climbed Trees
What does the world look like while tree climbing in the Congo? Attenborough cameraman, James Aldred, has the answer. RRP: £16.99 (WH Allen)
At sea: Rowing the Pacific
This is the hair-raising story of Royal Marine commando Mick Dawson’s 7,000-mile journey rowing across
the Pacific. RRP:
Horatio Clare explores Finland’s north on an icebreaker, attempting to understand what it is to be Finnish and the fragilities of frozen water. RRP: £14.99 (Chatto & Windus)
Lost And Found
Sir John Franklin’s deadly expedition through the Northwest Passage was, until recently, the most mysterious voyage
ever taken. RRP:
Published in the Adventure Travel guide, free with with the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)