On Travel

Rory_and_bootsI recently came to the end of five weeks walking in Cumbria and the Borders. It was a thirty nine mile day, and twelve of those fourteen hours were spent in almost empty space. In a car I can be transported at a mile a minute from centre to centre – from one room with people, a timetable and a purpose, to another twenty miles away: from the George in Penrith to Appleby Grammar, from the munitions depot at Longtown to the Local Links centre in Wigton. But walking makes each yard of ground equal, draws you into the space between centres – which is now often unpeopled.

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walking makes it through when cars fail

When Monday’s blizzard drove a gritter into a ditch, blocking all vehicle traffic from Penrith to Alston, I was lucky to be on foot, as I managed to do the whole journey from Alston to Castle Carrock. It was extraordinary to come up onto Hartside and see the lights of the police car, shimmering in […]

Turn to Tolstoy

First published in The New York Times, March 13, 2007. Politicians have taken to publicizing “reading lists.” President Bush, we were told, last summer was to read a comic historical novel on the first Afghan war and Camus’s “The Stranger.” The Tory members of the British Parliament were issued weighty books on Middle Eastern politics. […]


First published in Granta on 28 June 2002. ‘Dervish are an abomination,’ said Navaid. ‘What do you mean by a Dervish?’ I asked. ‘Dervish? Don’t you know? It’s a very old concept. Fakir? Pir-Baba? Sufi? Silsilah Malang—that beggar doing magic tricks…?’ Navaid was staring at a man who was sitting cross-legged in the street with […]

Iranian Girls

First published in Prospect Magazine, 1 November, 2001. They are not free because their minds are not free,” said the headmistress, introducing me to my first class. “You are not here only to teach them English, you are here to open their minds.” Ten women were seated around a table in the over-heated room. All […]

West Papua/Indonesia

First published in the London Review of Books, July 2000. Caleb held a bundle of arrows in his left hand and a bow and single arrow in his right. His mother was holding her torn ears between her thumbs and forefingers. Her chin was on her bare chest. Her legs were coated with grey mud. […]