Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Bearing up to travelling glories

Friday, June 24th, 2022

Back in the days when I was reviewing clothing and equipment for outdoors and travel magazines, I was sent a lot of products which would be used for the period of the review, and then might end up being stored away somewhere. Ultimately, I gave away piles of clothing items to the likes of Rohan’s “Gift your Gear,” or to homeless charities. There was a point when I wondered whether every homeless person in Norwich was wearing something I’d donated.

But my early 1990s Karrimor Alpiniste fleece jacket kept on going. It travelled extensively over the past 30 years or so, but has also seen vastly more use at home – what these days you might call my “Go To” fleece jacket. Why? It was a combination of the slimline cut in a lightweight Polartec fleece fabric, comfortable across a wide range of conditions, and the pocket layout. It had a very shallow scooped back – just enough to make some difference when in more active use, but not so much to look out of place when worn to the pub! It also had a detachable hood which snapped on to press studs around the collar, although I tended not to use that so much. I suppose I could have kept it going by having a new main zip fitted, along with new Lycra trim on the cuffs and bottom hem, but the fabric itself was wearing a little thin, so it was probably not worth refurbishing.

It’s also taken several years and one or two medical episodes including Covid to make me realise that I’m not going to be travelling up to six months a year the way I used to any more, but it would be nice for that favourite jacket not to end up simply in a recycling bin. So how to draw a line under a particular part of my life without forgetting it entirely? I’m something of an arctophile – whenever I travelled, I always had a small bear called Bill with me. Apart from being my devoted travelling companion, he was a great icebreaker in situations that might warrant a little levity, and on occasion he also conspired to get me into trouble! And so I asked talented bear artist Marcia Hastings of Clumsy Bears to transform my Karrimor Alpiniste fleece jacket into a keepsake bear, something that will sit in my lounge and remind me of extraordinary times past.

Apart from the Alpiniste fleece, my travelling clothes of choice tended to come from travel clothing company Rohan. I was great friends with the company’s founder Paul Howcroft, and pretty much every time I saw him he would thrust a pair of trousers or a jacket into my hands with “Tell me what you think of this.” Rohan’s lightweight, pack small, easy care clothes matched my style of travel perfectly, and there wouldn’t have been a single trip on which I wasn’t wearing something from Rohan. So to complete my keepsake bear, made from fleece which has travelled all over the world, his dungarees have been carefully crafted from a pair of Rohan Bags shorts which no longer fit. Here we have the only Rohan Bags dungarees in existence!

Marcia admits that some aspects of the project were rather more challenging than usual, not least because I wanted to retain a flavour of some of the features of the original garments, including zips and embroidered logos. And the fleece certainly had worn pretty thin – she had to add some subtle reinforcement here and there to ensure the bear kept his shape.

As you can see, the resulting bear is a truly handsome little chap, and a credit to Marcia’s artistic skills. The only thing left now is to come up with a name for him!

The A to Z Guide for Lightweight Travellers

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

It’s been a long time coming (22 years, to be precise), but my little travel book “The A to Z Guide for Lightweight Travellers” has finally seen the light of day as a Kindle download. The first edition, largely written in 1988 on aeroplanes and trains, was my first attempt at self-publishing. Back then, desktop publishing software was still a year or so in the future, although I was able to send text files off to a typesetter. By the time I produced a revised second edition in 1993, I was able to use Quark XPress to produce all the layouts.

Those first two editions would never have come about without the help and encouragement of my friend Paul Howcroft. He was the genius behind outdoors and adventure travel clothing company Rohan, and who could quite legitimately be described as having pioneered a revolution in lightweight travel clothing. Between us we set up a publishing company called Writer’s Block, the sole purpose of which was to publish my book! Not unexpectedly, the book was on sale through Rohan outlets and by mail order, along with many independent bookshops. It was the only book that Rohan sold throughout the life of the two print editions – for all I know, it still might be the only one. Sadly, Paul Howcroft lost his life in a tragic accident as edition number two was about to be published, but his influence remains.

You might ask why so long between the second and third editions? The truth is that I simply didn’t have the time. The 1990s saw me jetting about all over the world like a lunatic – there was one year when I spent a total of six months away from home, all on individual small trips, sometimes back-to-back. And from then it somehow never emerged from the background. But with the relative ease of publishing on Amazon Kindle, and the distinct advantage of not having to pay for or warehouse actual printed copies, the last few years have seen me slowly revitalising my back catalogue of books as Kindle downloads.

This latest incarnation has been updated and expanded. The print editions had a fair bit of cross-referencing, something which actually works a lot better in the Kindle format. Needless to say, the feel is still the same, enlivened by Bill Stott’s timeless and quirky cartoons.

I was a public health hazard (nearly)

Friday, October 10th, 2014

All the current concern about the spread of Ebola reminds me of the time I was nearly declared a public health hazard. It was 1996, and I’d just returned from Nepal, having led a Himalayan trek for British Everest legend Doug Scott CBE. Key to the story is that in the couple of days before setting off on the trek, I’d taken the group on a day visit from Kathmandhu to Bhaktapur, the ancient capital of Nepal.

Fast forward three weeks, and I’m back at home after a successful trek, which included a memorable visit to Ghunsa, where Doug Scott had built a school and health centre. I started feeling unwell, and decided to pay the doctor a visit. “You do seem a little febrile,” she informed me. It was a Friday, so she just told me to take things easy, drink lots of fluid, and keep her informed. Over the weekend my temperature rocketed to 104, I couldn’t move, and I felt so terrible I thought my number was up. By the Monday, I was sufficiently back in the land of the living to phone up the doctor with “Guess what…?”

Mindful that I’d just come back from Nepal, the doctor took samples of just about everything you can take samples of, anxious to exclude the possibility that I might have brought back a souvenir in the form of malaria or glandular fever, and she immediately started consulting with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

I was feeling pretty ropey, but at the end of the week I was due to set off on a 10-day roadshow giving talks on outdoors equipment in different locations around the country. “I’m not sure whether I can let you do that,” said the doctor. “You may be a public health hazard!” Ultimately I was cleared to mix with the population, and I did the tour, even though I didn’t really feel that brilliant.

All the tests came up negative, so the doctor said that I’d probably got some unidentifiable virus. “You’ll probably feel bad for the next couple of months.” And with that I was pretty much sent on my way. I did indeed feel bad for the next two to three months – so much so that I could only just maintain the bare minimum of work commitments. I even paid one or two return visits to the doctor, complaining of feeling completely drained, and was more or less told to pull myself together.

It was a couple of months later when I had a phone call out of the blue from the surgery. After discounting the more likely problems, they’d continued testing my blood samples to discover they contained the antibodies to something called Q Fever. It’s an animal spread disease, and in the “civilised” world, the most likely people to catch it are abbatoir workers and sheep shearers. The incubation period is two to three weeks, which matched perfectly with my visit to Bhaktapur. It had been a holiday the day we visited, with bits of butchered meat laid out around Durbar Square. All it would have taken was for me to inhale one tiny airborne droplet from an infected animal.

The subtext to all this is that with around 50 cases of Q Fever notified every year in the UK, had I entered the National Lottery on the same odds, I would now be a millionnaire! Subtext number two is that from the 1950s to the 1970s Q Fever was maintained by the US military as a biological weapon. So not only did I have the most incredible (bad) luck, I’ve survived biological warfare!

Having a Kindle Christmas

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

As sales of download books have this year for the first time outstripped those of the printed word, and with the all-new Kindle likely to find its way into many a Christmas stocking, I should perhaps add another little plug for the Kindle edition of my e-book “One of our Balloons is Missing”, advertised on my home page.

It’s a compilation of some of my more outlandish travel stories over three decades, starting off with one of the earliest, from a 300 mile backpack across the Scottish Highlands from Ardnamurchan Point to Buchan Ness, concentrating on the night I slept in a haunted bothy! But things become a little more adventurous with my 90mph ride in a four-man bobsleigh down the Olympic Bob Run in St Moritz, not to mention descending 100ft to the very muddy bottom of Windermere in the English Lake District in a high-tech submersible. Even at that depth, it’s pitch dark, and all the more exciting when the sub sank into the mud, becoming momentarily stuck when it tried to blow the tanks to surface!

The title story is all about my participation in the first ever hot air balloon meeting in Soviet Russia. Apart from the excitement of flying in a balloon in the kind of conditions which would have been deemed illegal anywhere else, I also had the fun of giving my KGB minder the slip. Maybe I should have been a spy!

Clive Tully’s “One of our Balloons is Missing” is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store priced £3.16 (North America and European stores priced separately).

Hit parade

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

One of our Balloons is Missing - 30 years of travel writing, by Clive TullyA couple of days ago, my ebook “One of our Balloons is Missing” hit #87 in the travelogue section of Amazon’s Kindle store. You only get listed if you appear in the top 100, and it stayed there for a couple of hours before slipping back to #97, then disappearing again. Of course, unlike traditional book and music best-seller lists which remain static for a week at a time, Amazon’s rankings are dynamic, affected every time someone makes a purchase.

Even so, it was rather gratifying to see myself climb into the hit parade, albeit just for a few hours. Hopefully next time it happens I might stay a little longer.

“One of our Balloons is Missing” is an anthology of some of my more colourful stories taken from 30 years of travel writing. Amongst the tales you can read how I became the first journalist to fly in a hot air balloon in Soviet Russia (which gave the book its title), how I rode at 90mph in a four-man bobsleigh down the Olympic Bob Run in St Moritz, and you’ll find out what it’s like to descend 100 feet to the bottom of Windermere in the English Lake District in a high-tech submersible. There’s even a ghost story thrown in for good measure!

“One of our Balloons is Missing” is available from the Amazon Kindle store, price £3.16

One of our Balloons is Missing

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Readers of my recent blog postings might be forgiven for thinking that all I do is powerboating, which couldn’t be further from the truth. True, I did many thousands of miles around the world and on a number of other trips some years ago on Spirit of Cardiff. True, I also have another circumnavigation record attempt coming up later this year. But most of my career as a journalist has been spent travelling the world engaging in all manner of activities in pursuit of a good story.

One of our Balloons is Missing

One of our Balloons is Missing

“One of our Balloons is Missing” is an anthology of some of my more colourful stories, published at the moment purely in an electronic edition. In it you can read how I became the first journalist to fly in a hot air balloon in Soviet Russia (which gave the book its title), how I rode at 90mph in a four-man bobsleigh down the Olympic Bob Run in St Moritz, and you’ll find out what it’s like to descend 100 feet to the bottom of Windermere in the English Lake District in a high-tech submersible.

My 14th book, nearly 30 years in the writing, but less than a week from conception to Amazon’s Kindle store. Now that’s progress!

“One of our Balloons is Missing” is available from the Amazon Kindle store, price £3.16

Airport security

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

I guess it was too good to be true. We’d just started getting used to relaxed security restrictions at airports, and then along comes this latest episode. One of the press reports described the Nigerian terrorist’s device as “quite sophisticated”, although I suppose we should be thankful “sophisticated” in this instance doesn’t also mean more reliable.

And doubtless it will also come out in the investigation, but why did he wait until the aircraft had started its descent before attempting to set off his device? At cruising altitude, a relatively minor pop inside is all that’s required to rupture an airliner’s fuselage, as shoe bomber Richard Reid tried and failed to do. But descending, the cabin pressure would be equalising with the outside air pressure, removing that advantage. You’d have thought someone who’d studied engineering might have been aware of something as basic as that. Then again, one also has to wonder how a well-educated young man from a privileged background managed to be got at and brainwashed in the first place.

I remember flying to Frankfurt from Stansted on 12th September 2001, and arriving at the airport to be told no hand luggage would be allowed at all. It was chaos as passengers grudgingly packed their expensive laptops and cameras into their checked-in luggage. By comparison, what will follow as a result of this latest incident probably won’t be as onerous. One of my trips last year had me taking part in the trial of a full body scanner. It seemed like a good idea, with no affront to dignity, but the process was a little slow. In the meantime, I suspect that the “pat-down” frisk is most likely to become standard fare once we’ve walked through the metal detector. Just smile, and remember they’re only doing their job!

Get Lost!

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I’ve always been a strong proponent of GPS (Global Positioning System) and satellite navigation. Based on a constellation of American satellites broadcasting accurate time signals, it means that anyone with a GPS receiver can plot their position on the planet with amazing accuracy.

Up until May 2000, the system was more in the realms of specialist interest, simply because the US military operated “Selective Availability”, the means to fudge the positioning signals for civilian receivers so they wouldn’t be as accurate as they could be. Then President Bill Clinton did the world a favour by ordering SA to be switched off. The rest, as they say, is history. The world-wide industry in GPS-related products is worth billions, and satellite navigation has become affordable for just about anyone that wants it.

GPS receivers ready for actionBack in the early 1990s, I was one of the first journalists to get to try out a number of what were then unbelievably expensive GPS receivers, and for a while I was very nearly a voice in the wilderness amongst outdoors journalists, most of whom didn’t recognise its potential.

That’s not to say I ever thought people should rely on it entirely. As far as outdoors use is concerned, getting your head around a map and compass has always been my recommended means of learning navigation. Of course, you need to know how to read a map to make sense of what the GPS receiver tells you – though having said that, the increasing number of satnavs which display your position on high quality topographical mapping removes yet another step from the traditional skills.

I’ve no doubt that there are people venturing out into the hills armed with satnavs, but no clue as to what they’d do if suddenly GPS could no longer be relied upon. But that is the stark prospect over the next two or three years.

The system uses 24 satellites to provide the full one metre accuracy service. Currently there are 31, which means they have a reasonable level of redundancy, but many of the satellites are approaching the end of their planned lives. And while the US Air Force, which runs GPS, is spending huge amounts to launch the next generation of GPS satellites and bring the system back into prime condition, previous underfunding and mismanagement will almost certainly ensure that doesn’t happen before parts of the system start to fail. According to the US Government Accountability Office, that could happen as early as next year. Meantime, Galileo, the European equivalent, isn’t going to be operational until 2013.

It’s not likely that GPS will fall over in an instant – more likely that there will just be times and places where the accuracy won’t be as good – but it does point up one essential fact. Now it’s more important than ever that newcomers to the hills, or indeed anyone who has previously only relied on their satnav, should learn how to navigate the traditional way. And that’s something compass manufacturers should start plugging now!

The Other Side

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

As the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I’m reminded of one of my early press trips. For my sins, I went on the very first ever officially organised British travel press trip to East Germany, and I was with such luminaries as the leader writer for The Guardian, and the man who filmed most of the Vietnam War for ITN.

For me, it was a hilarious introduction to being a decadent Westerner in a totalitarian state. We were looked after very well, although curiously the number of people taking photographs of the group was rather more than one might expect for your average press jaunt. But without doubt the highlight was the unscheduled detour to Colditz Castle. We’d noticed from our maps it wasn’t far off the motorway between Leipzig and Dresden, and our persistence with our hosts paid off, although it did entail making a 6am start.

The fact was, the East Germans were embarrassed to show us Colditz because it was in use as a hospital for mentally ill children. But we did discover in the process that the glider which the PoWs were building in the attic as one of many ingenious escape plans was still there 41 years later. We suggested to the East Germans that they were missing out on a trick, and ought to open up Colditz to tourists – turn it into a hotel, maybe. Ironically, when the idea gradually gathered pace months later, The Sun ran a story saying “how dare they desecrate the memory of Our Boys”, without realising a bunch of British hacks had actually hatched the plot in the first place!

So as a little tribute to the end of East Germany, I repeat below the story I wrote as a result of my visit in 1986.


Like many, I once thought that a grey sombreness pervaded the German Democratic Republic, and that visiting westerners would stick out like sore thumbs. I obviously didn’t. GTF, the firm who arranged my visit to GDR, took the “V” of my middle name to be “Von” rather than Vernon, with the result that Clive Von Tully was addressed in German rather more frequently than he would have preferred.

One long-standing illusion cracked as we arrived at “Checkpoint Charlie”, the main point of entry into East Berlin for foreign nationals and diplomats. Our visas were checked not by some sour-faced heavy, but by an attractive, smiling, young lady.

The most immediate contrast was the traffic. There’s a good deal less, and the cars are mainly East European bread bins powered by lawnmower engines. The city itself doesn’t have the crowded, cluttered feeling of West Berlin, nor does it have the litter. No neon signs or advertising hoardings either, just a few slogans on public buildings, declaring “Workers unite”.

They’ve done surprisingly well at restoring buildings damaged during the last war. The Pergamon Museum and Schauspielhaus are among those restored to their former splendour, and they’re rather pleased with the fact that they have the cream of the historic buildings, although the Brandenburg Gate, straddling the beautiful avenue Unter den Linden, isn’t so accessible. Just a few feet behind lies what the East Germans euphemistically refer to as the State Border, described more graphically on the other side as “the wall”.

In Potsdam, I visited Sanssouci Palace, the splendid Rococo home of the Prussian King Frederick the Great. But the bizarre decorations in some rooms confirm that our Fred wasn’t exactly straight-laced. Nearby Cecilienhof Palace was built in 1916 in the style of a Tudor country house. But the illusion founders when you study its precise, straight lines – no half-timbered Tudor mansion could look this perfect. Cecilienhof achieved its moment of glory in 1945 as the setting for the “Potsdam Conference”, where the occupying powers carved up Germany. It’s a tourist hotel now, with guided tours through the most important rooms of the conference.

Apart from its world famous china, actually manufactured in nearby Meissen, the name Dresden comes to mind mainly as a result of the somewhat tasteless architectural remodelling by the RAF in February 1945. But the city (twin towns Coventry and Leningrad) has risen again. The focal point is Theaterplatz, a square flanked by the Semper Opera House, Zwinger Picture Gallery and the Cathedral, presenting a grand air which contributed to Dresden’s 18th Century title as the “Florence of the North”.  The shells of other historic buildings have yet to be restored, but their turn will come eventually. Only the ruins of the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) will be left as a poignant reminder of the terrible destruction.

My night in Dresden coincided with the premiere of a totally incomprehensible production of Strauss’s “Elektra” in the recently restored Semper Opera House. But whilst the performance itself didn’t appeal to me, I was bowled over by the fabulous beauty of the building itself. There were no original plans for the restorers to work to – only old prints and photographs. The result of their labours is stunning.

Not far from the autobahn between Leipzig and Dresden is a place now part of British folklore – Colditz. Our hosts had initially expressed reluctance to take us there, not least because it now serves as a hospital for mentally ill children. Colditz itself lies on the River Mulde, with town and castle on the side of a hill. The towering walls, the cobbled passage up through the gatehouse, the grim courtyard inside – I found myself humming the television theme tune, and imagining scenes which spawned some of World War II’s most ingenious POW escapes.

But seeing the close proximity of surrounding houses, and the steepness of the hill, I wondered where the sole member of the Colditz gliding club, who assembled his craft in the attic of the castle, planned to make his landing. It looked a little dodgy to me, and probably just as well the inaugural flight was postponed by the end of the war.

The East Germans are trying hard to show that the GDR is as good a holiday destination as anywhere, but it seemed a pity they hadn’t exploited the potential tourist goldmine which Colditz represents. But all that may well change. What a splendid irony to get people paying willingly to stay in a place where not so long ago, they would have paid to get out!

Happy Bastille Day!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Yesterday I did an hour and a quarter in the studio at BBC Radio Norfolk, on Graham Barnard and Karen Buchanan’s morning show. The plan was to celebrate France and all things French as it was July 14th – Bastille Day – and as their guest travel journalist, I was there to give listeners a quick tour around some of the places I’ve visited. They’d already made a start when I arrived, but I was amazed when Karen said to me off-mike “Hopefully your bit will lift things. You’ve no idea how many emails and texts we’ve received.”

It seems that even in sleepy Norfolk there is an undercurrent of rabid xenophobia. The most common comment was “Why should you be doing a programme devoted to the French? Would they do something similar on St George’s Day?” And of course the truth is they probably wouldn’t.

But it is fair to say that we have a large stake in what brought about Bastille Day – the French Revolution. Thomas Paine, the man who inspired it, was born and brought up in Norfolk. And while Spain has snuck in to pole position over recent years, France has traditionally been Britain’s most popular holiday destination.

So yes, I was delighted to celebrate France on a day when they would be celebrating themselves, and helping to remind listeners why it is we like going there for our holidays.