Our author, Bruce Northam, wins two of VisitBritain’s Top Travel Journalism Awards
In February 2008 VisitBritain, the national tourist office for England, Scotland and Wales, announced the winners for the 12th annual Travel Journalism Awards in New York City. Bruce Northam skipped off with two of six awards: the grand prize and the best newspaper story prize for his touching, insightful article in Newsday. Entitled “Bonding in Britain”, it focuses on his fourth father-son walking holiday in Britain, this time along the Viking Way in the picturesque countryside of Lincolnshire, England.
Bruce comments, “For me, the best thing about winning a journalism award is to subtly inform the editors who initially shot down that story idea. Wait, I take that back – the satisfaction goes bone deep when such a story is about one of your parents. The recent awards, for the story about walking across England with my Dad last year when he was 79, are a perfect match to this Travel With a Challenge story.”
After circling the globe six times in the past 23 years, intrepid travel writer Bruce Northam has assembled a book of travel wisdom to encourage and inspire independent travel like his own. Bruce’s Globetrotter Dogma offers 100 enlightening canons reflecting his down-to-earth humor and candid personal insights.
Two active adventures separately shared with Bruce’s Mom in Ireland and his Dad in England are catalysts for Canons 37 and 71 of his smart, funny and challenging book. When you have read these slightly edited canons, you will surely want to go traveling with Bruce yourself!
My dad and I did a 225-mile, coast-to-coast stroll across Northern England from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Meandering 20 miles a day along towering shoreline cliffs, through dense forests, and over forbidding mountain ranges shaped our greatest father and son moments.
Hiking across the beautiful and changing landscape, we acquainted ourselves with villages forgotten by modern highways and high-speed trains, environments where heaven and earth appear to have been reversed. Our cicerone was the late Alfred Wainwright’s map and guidebook. Wainwright, known for his eccentric and solitary nature, became celebrated for linking the local footpaths, neighborhood shortcuts, and rural trails to fashion splendid, extended hikes. At seventy, my dad had endured a broken neck and two heart angioplasties. Despite the risks, we were off. As we rode our last train to the launch point, we sat across from each other. I watched him sleep; he looked lean and tired. What if he had a heart attack on a mountaintop? I was going to have to father him.
One of the keys to enjoying a coast-to-coast traverse is realizing that getting lost is half the fun. Occasionally we’d hike separately, one ahead of the other or on different routes. I am told my English-born great-grandfather and his son walked the south coast of England together. Great-Granpa had some trouble with his feet and poured a bit of whiskey into his boot to make the leather more supple.
The traverse complete, we dipped our toes into the North Sea, victorious. In the end, Dad slept less and ate more than I did and seemed to have more energy. He also noticed every birdsong, flower, shrub, and tree. Walking across rural England is a media sabbatical, a recess from a world seized by materialistic superstition.
Crossing a country together is a more intense bonding experience than you’ll find on any golf course. The journey allowed me to rediscover the best friend I have. As we looked out over the North Sea, the conquered trail at our backs, my dad sighed, “Thanks Bruce, this has been a great victory in my life.”
Nature will not be admired by proxy. Winston Churchill
In 1922, my grandfather, James O’Sullivan, a captain in the fight for Ireland’s independence, emigrated from Ireland to the United States via Canada one year after the partition of Ireland. He traveled west, laying Canadian rails. He cowboy ranched in Montana, then hitchhiked to Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he opened and ran for 35 years the popular O’Sullivan’s Chophouse in a neighborhood of Irish bars.
Shortly after establishing himself in New York, his wife-to-be also emigrated from Ireland. With that in mind, Mom and I visited Eire in tribute to her parents and to see if the Irish would reciprocate the hitchhiking hospitality James O’Sullivan enjoyed in 1925 America.
In a land of fiercely independent people who value their poets as highly as their warriors, our strategy was to be road-warrior day-trippers and elegant country inn evening guests – upscale vagabonds. At first, she waved at cars to request rides, but the drivers only waved back. We needed a hitching sign, so I crafted four cardboard appeals: Mom, Angel, Innocent, and Pub, which worked best at small town intersections. “So Mom, where should we venture today?”
“Never ruin a hike with a reason,” she winked.
At that moment a car piloted by an 85-year-old woman pulled over. We rode on narrow, stone-walled roads past thatched cottages, castles, fortresses, churches, and other noble dwellings. A prime-time radio talk show host mused about gardens and the comings and goings of birds in the yard. Then a lost pet alert followed and stolen bicycle appeal. Mom reports, “Dad won’t put out bird seed. He thinks it’s welfare.” The rain came again. Our driver acknowledges, “The rain is fond of Ireland.”
We were in for a shock as we were dropped off at a pub, even though we were picked up using the Angel sign. We eased into the social glue of pub life with a Guinness. Mom sat closer to the band playing music by the fireplace. Foot tapping gave way to knee slapping; soon she is dancing. Then it dawned on me the sign I forgot to make for her, representing what my mom stands for: Love.
Wherever they may in the distance roam, this country is never forgotten by its born.
Barman, watching my mother doing the Irish jig to live pub music
Bruce Northam is an adventure author, speaker and tourism adviser. His animated multimedia presentations capture the essence of circling the globe freestyle. His book, Globetrotter Dogma: 100 canons for escaping the rat race and exploring the world is published by New World Library, 169 pages, ISBN 1-57731-216-3 (available through Amazon or Bruce’s website, www.AmericanDetour.com ).
A contributing editor for Blue Magazine, he has written for National Geographic Traveler, Details, the New York Post, Fox News, New Choices, eOutdoors, TravelSport, Exxtreme and several student magazines.
Many families return to Ireland year after year and rent one of the many cottages Ireland has to offer.
Take the family away to warm and playful shores this year with a Benalmadena holiday which is found along Spain’s beautiful south coast.