Tom Allen cycled around the world with his two friends and wrote a fantastic and highly readable book about his experiences. This is an epic work of quality writing. Allen has a great eye for detail and magnificently describes the countries that he travels through. The book is also about relationships, with the friends he travels with, with the people he meets along the way and the woman that he falls in love with.
There are many books about people who do around the world bicycle journeys. They tend to cover similar themes and it can be difficult to pick out what is unique about each particular story. Janapar is unique for several reasons. First off, the quality of the writing is exceptional. Just a few pages into the book I came across this superb description of a road through the Sahara:
"I drag my bike and trailer back up the slope to where the new road still glistens absurdly, like a liquorice lace flopped across an orange tablecloth."
Allen's prose really captured my imagination and made it easy for me to imagine the places that his bicycle took him.
The book does not follow chronological order and goes forward and back in time at many points through the chapters. This might initially come across as muddled and confusing, but I found that it worked really well and it made the story more dramatic.
Janapar is not only about cycling it is also about people. It is an honest account of what happens to friendships on extreme journeys. The twist in this mission to cycle around the world is that Allen meets a woman that he falls in love with. This results in a complete change of plans including a period of time spent living with her in Armenia. Therefore, it is a book not just for cyclists and travellers, but for anybody interested in human drama and relationships. You get to know Tom Allen at a much deeper level than you might get from similar around the world cycling books.
I have reviewed a lot of around the world cycling books on my blog and this one has been my favourite so far. It is beautifully structured and written, dramatic and emotional.
You can buy Janapar by clicking on the Amazon link below:
The history, heritage and archaeology of Scotland's 'small isles'- Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck- is beautifully presented in this coffee table book. It is packed full of spectacular photography, particularly the aerial views of the islands, that provide the reader with hours of fascination. This is accompanied by a very detailed text that explains everything about the historic landscape of the islands. This book will certainly inspire you to visit these beautiful places.
Each island has its own chapter. This opens with a map of the island that pinpoints the locations of the points of interest that are covered in the chapter. This means that you could use this book to plan visits to the islands and seek out particular buildings or archaeological sites.
The text is very detailed and has clearly taken a lot of time to put together. In that sense it is not a traditional travel guide, but aimed at telling every aspect of the island's past through its human structures. I did not read every single page and tended to browse to the parts that interested me the most. It is the photography that makes this book such a pleasure to flick through. I loved the aerial photos that show how beautiful, lush and green the islands are.
This is a gorgeous book to have on your coffee table and inspire visits to these special islands.
You can buy a copy from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Kildonan Station, Scotland. Come here for peace, beauty and fantastic cycling or just sit for a while
If you need an escape from the Edinburgh Festival crowds or any crowds there is a place that is just the ticket. Kildonan is the 11th least used station in the UK and the least used station north of Inverness. This means that you are highly likely to be the only person to get off the train and there is nothing quite like the feeling of having a remote station all to yourself. Give it a try and you will experience a sense of calm mixed with adventure.
A long way from Edinburgh
It takes around 7 to 8 hours to travel from Edinburgh to Kildonan, but you will be on some of the most scenic rail lines in the country. Going north for a large amount of time will make you feel like an explorer and just think how many of your fellow passengers will be making as exciting a journey as you?
You have to ask for the train to stop at Kildonan
Kildonan is a request stop meaning that the train will only stop if a passenger tells the conductor that they wish to get off. Request stops are marked on timetables with an 'x' next to the departure time.
When the conductor comes around to check tickets they will look out for passengers travelling to request stops and take a note to stop the train.
A staggeringly beautiful arrival
The train follows the North Sea coast where there is a good chance of spotting seals on the beach. After Helmsdale the track heads inland and the final approach to Kildonan curves alongside the River Helmsdale with a backdrop of hills and forest.
Let me take you on a tour of the station. It will not take long because there is very little here. And this is precisely what the attraction is. There are no shops, cafes, and loudspeaker announcements. The only sounds are birdsong and the River Helmsdale passing beneath the nearby stone bridge.
The station opened in 1874 and you get the feeling that very little has changed between then and now. The river makes the same sound, it passes the same rocks and the same types of birds are tweeting. I have been to this station twice with a three year gap between visits, but the second time felt like I had just been there yesterday, not years ago. It is the first time in my life that I have used the word 'timeless' to describe a place.
There is no station building at this location. There is a modern glass shelter, somewhat like a bus shelter. There is a litter bin, timetables and cycle racks.
The disused platform has a wooden shelter on it and this has been left to ruin, which is a shame as it is the only piece of distinctive heritage architecture at Kildonan. The last time I peaked through the window of this shelter I was delighted to find a wood burning stove that looked in good condition.
Why come here?
Kildonan station provides access to miles of single-track roads that are superb for cycling. You can read my travel feature about cycling in this area to find out more.
You don't have to bring your bike here. You can simply take a seat and enjoy a few hours of peace and quiet until the next train comes. Whatever you do at Kildonan you will not regret your decision to come here.
Read more about Scotland's train stations
Sean Conway embarks on an incredible around the world cycle journey. He covers 16,000 miles and experiences South America, Australia, U.S.A, Europe and Asia. This is an exciting read with the power to inspire you to do something adventurous.
Sean Conway opens the book with a tale of an unfulfilling career, being dumped by his girlfriend and a feeling that he was wasting his life. He tried to work out what he should do to change this situation and remembered being inspired by Mark Beaumont who broke the record for cycling around the world in 2010. He decided that this was the answer and signed up to do the around the world cycle race.
As this is a race against the clock you get fleeting impressions of the countries, rather than an in-depth exploration of culture, people and landscapes. The book lacks the finer details because there is no time for the author to pause and take it in or visit attractions. Conway must focus on mileage and how to do that mileage and also how to get enough calories. You do get a brilliant sense of adventure from this book. One example of this is when Conway had to flee tornadoes in America. His writing perfectly captures the drama of this situation:
"Signs were blowing over, windscreens cracking, leaves were getting stripped off trees as if being shredded by a huge invisible blender in the sky, and a 100 mph wind was heading in the exact wrong direction. I realised that had I not got a puncture when I did, I wouldn't have stopped in that gas station and I would probably have landed up right in the middle of the storm... One 100 mph golf-ball-sized hailstone to the face would have been the end of me."
As you would expect, Conway meets many interesting people during his adventure. Many of these encounters are brief due to the nature of the cycle race so there is not a strong human story in the book. The focus is very much on the author and his endeavor to complete this challenge. Many of the people that Conway meets are incredibly kind to him. In particular, the American doctor and nurse who treated him after he was knocked over by a pickup truck. They took him into their home during his recovery. They even bought him a replacement bike because his was destroyed in the accident. It wasn't just any bike, but an exact replacement that they shipped over. Without this kindness Conway would not have been able to continue with the journey.
There are moments of laughter in this book, such as the author't decision to play a game with the stray dogs that chase him. He would would go just fast enough to keep them at bay but interested enough to keep them chasing so that he could lead them as far away as possible from their home as revenge for the owners doing nothing.
The book is also serious in places. Conway writes openly about the lows and feeling depressed, but on the whole he loved his adventure and that really comes across.
I felt that the book could have done with a route map so that you could follow the journey as sometimes it was difficult to picture exactly where the author was unless you are really good at geography.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it inspired me to explore further and further on my bicycle.
You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on this image:
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.