Journey through Britain
Shouldn’t everyone have two copies of their favourite book? Perhaps an e-copy as well as the physical one kept lovingly on the bookshelf, or one to be kept pristine and the other battered, well-travelled, thumbed copy? Of course they should.
Anyone who has read the opening page of Three Points of the Compass will know where I am coming from with my choice of John Hillaby’s Journey through Britain as a book for a library for those who hike in the shadow of giants.
Journey through Britain records John Hillaby’s spring walk the length of Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Journey through Europe was his account of his walk from the Hook of Holland to Nice via the Alps. These are the best accounts of his walks
His Journey through Britain book, published in 1968, appeared as A Walk through Britain in the U.S. for some reason. A similar re-titling occurred with Journey through Europe. John Hillaby, 1917-1996, wrote and edited a number of books but it his ‘Journey’ volumes that resonate with Three Points of the Compass most for a number of reasons. Not only have they pushed forward my own ambition to cross my country on foot, but they also revealed to a young man the necessity of being aware of my surroundings. The author encouraged my burgeoning interest in natural history and his books were probably what first made me aware of an ecology; the joined-up’ness and inter-dependence of the natural world. And not least, I enjoy his writing. I could identify with the author’s empathy for his subjects. He is, was, unafraid to reveal his shortcomings and mistakes and looked for answers, often finding it in cultural and social history, mixed up with a laudable appreciation and understanding of botany, entomology and natural history in general. Much of this obviously stemmed from his earlier career as a journalist, becoming zoological correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, later, European science writer for The New York Times and in 1953, biological correspondent for the New Scientist.
A Journey through Britain- the beginning
Journey to the Jade Sea– is an account of a thousand mile walk from Northern Kenya to the Jade Sea, accompanied by his retinue of camels and hired bearers.
Journey through Britain– was a ‘considered impulse’ walk the length of Britain attempting to experience the minimum of metalled roads between.
Journey through Europe– a trek through Europe elaborating on the people as much as the natural history
Journey through Love– is a difficult book, wonderful accounts of walks are included, but it is also the story of a man suffering inner turmoil and grief
Journey Home– across England from Ravenglass in Cumbria via the Lakes and Swaledale and indirectly to London
Journey to the Gods– his journey from Athens to Mount Olympus via the Pindus mountains
The ‘Journey’ series of books from John Hillaby can still be picked up in acceptable paperback form very cheaply
Anyone who has walked, alone, for many miles, for many days on a hike knows that any romantic image it can be cracked up to be is often far from the truth. It can be dirty, difficult and, frankly, unchanging for mile after mile. It is then that the ability to distance one self from boredom and doubt is most required. John Hillaby was estimated to have walked the equivalent distance of five times the circumference of the globe and his books, especially Journey through Britain, are each an instruction manual on how an inquisitive mind should be both encouraged and drawn upon. In his obituary in The Times on Monday 21 October 1996, a pearl from Hillaby is recorded-
“the naturalist is able to put a great deal between what he sees and that portion of his mind where boredom lurks”
We would do well to learn from this.
Two further volumes from John Hillaby, neither of which enjoyed large sales yet make good reading. within the streams was the author’s first published volume and is the story of a fisherman, people of the river and a bygone age. John Hillaby’s London was his publishers suggestion, that stymied the author’s ambitious wishes to return to far off lands or explore new ones, but instead gave us an excellently researched and personal guide to a London experienced by few
In the early 1970s, mourning the loss of his second wife Thelma (‘Tilly’), John Hillaby walked the northern section of the Appalachian Trail. Here, he is shown on his final day on the trail. This walk was recounted in his book Journey through Love
Book in featured image:
Journey through Britain, John Hillaby. Constable, 1968. ISBN 0 09 455780 2, Hardback
Journey through Britain, John Hillaby. Paladin Grafton Books, 1986. ISBN 0 586 08019 8, Softback