I have always hated the British tendency towards the celebrity travel writer. Some dim-witted soap ‘star’ or footballer who needs a ghost writer to churn out their autobiography for them, and who thinks that now they can afford to turn left when they get on a plane they are in some way a travel expert.
One exception is the UK motoring writer and presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson is the bête noire of environmentalists and liberals and one of the presenters of BBC’s Top Gear. [Top Gear is shown on BBC World, but there is a clip here showing a race between a car and a boat from London to Oslo]. In the same way that I would much rather sit in a pub having a political discussion with a right-wing conservative (they at least have arguments – liberals think that “because it’s so wrong” is reasoned debate) I enjoy reading Clarkson’s brand of humorous and opinionated writing. Think of a British PJ O’Rourke in corduroy jeans.
Clarkson often touches on travel themes, such as this piece on taking a private jet to Hungary, Nice jet, shame about abroad or a rant about Tony Blair’s choice of holiday destination in Let’s all stay with Lord Manilow. His musings on English as a foreign language should be illuminating for all Americans, including of course George W.
Even when not directly writing about travel issues, Clarkson’s ravings are so quintessentially English that they are pertinent for anyone who is considering visiting the British Isles. Think everyone over here loves the humble British pub? Checkout Bullseye! The pub is dying and you will see that Clarkson certainly doesn’t!
Sometimes Clarkson goes the whole hog, and trots out a fully fledged travel piece. In Clarkson’s Incredible Journey he writes about a visit to Botswana where he went Quad biking on the Magkadigkadi Salt Pan with the enigmatic Ralph.
Ralph owns Jack’s Camp and runs a travel company called Uncharted Africa. I was lucky enough to stay at Jacks and cross the pan to Kubu Island, when I was shooting a book on Unforgettable Islands for the BBC. Kubu is an ancient granite island in the Magkadigkadi Pan. On my journey I was accompanied by a couple of Bushman trackers. The Bushmen hold Kubu as sacred, and certainly it is a hauntingly beautiful place – one of the most spiritual and remote I have ever been to. For all of his cynicism, Clarkson realises this and has a moment of ephipany, saying that he “loved it more than any journey I’ve ever made”. He even says it is better than driving an Enzo Ferrari – praise indeed from an environment-hating petrolhead!
Words & images ©stevedavey.com 2007