Local by Alastair Humphreys

4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this, free of charge, in return for an honest review.

The travel adverts that fill our media after the excesses of Christmas are there to seduce us into travelling to these beautiful places, with the promise of making your life rich with experiences. There are those who would rather strike out on their own, venturing to places around the world that do not have a mass tourist industry, with the hope of finding something for the inner spirit.

Humphreys is one of those latter people. One of his first big adventures was to cycle all around the world (both books on his journey are great by the way) and he has walked around Spain in the footsteps of Laurie Lee whilst badly playing a violin. He is also a great advocate for micro adventures, short travels and adventures that take a day or a few hours and are there to enrich your life, without draining your wallet. This book is a follow-on from that.

The basic principle is that he wanted to stay local and discover all there is to find within a short distance from his home. He bought a map centred on his home from the OS that covered 20 km by 20 km and looked at the squares it was divided up into and decided to visit each one square kilometre on a day when he was free.

Like anyone who has lived in the same area for a reasonable period of time, you tend to think that you know your locale well. Well, as Humphreys found out, I bet that you don’t. This journey of very little distance would take him back in time, to relics from the war, he discovers something called a denehole and decides to see what is inside. He passes through housing estates, and graveyards and admires the ancient yews that add a certain gravitas to the place.

He comes across tiny cottages tucked away in woods he didn’t know existed, tries a spot of mudlarking and delights in the return of the swifts. Not every discovery is pleasant, there are burnt-out cars, fly-tipping and He is continually appalled by the litter scattered all over the place and ends up collecting bagfuls to dispose of properly. There is the odd surreal discovery too, a stuffed toy in the fork of a tree, is it there for a parent to rediscover, or as a symbol of some form? He also discovers in his 20Km by 20Km area that he can’t go everywhere, he finds lots of keep-out signs some of which he chooses to ignore..

Not only did I find this a really enjoyable read, but I think it highlights something that we probably all need to do more of, by acting locally and thinking globally and not consuming vast amounts of resources just because we can. As Humphreys shows in all of the chapters in this book there are countless things that can be discovered pretty much on your doorstep. And I would hazard a guess that like he found, there are things that you had no idea existed near you.

Humphreys writes with a self-depreciating humour and a sense of wonder in almost everything that he sees or looks at. But coupled with this is the fury that he has with the way that the planet in general and his local area, in particular, is being treated. It might not be something that some readers want to hear, but it does need to be said. If you want a very different sort of travel book and one that you can use as a springboard to find out what is in your local area then this is a really good place to start.

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  1. Penny

    This sounds good – a simple idea done well.
    I enjoyed his Laurie Lee travel book.

    • Paul

      It was. His Spain book was very funny. He has told me that he has retired from the violin now…

  2. Liz Dexter

    Excellent review. I really want to read all his other books now, esp the microadventures one, and I have bought the same kind of map! I loved this book of course.

    • Paul

      I have read his around the world ones, but not the micro adventures. It os a great concept for a travel book

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