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Silver Travel Book Club - Book of the Month - September 2019

Thanks for the hugely entertaining first ‘Overland’ stories this month, from @yorkshirecat @Sararose @Hrrcath @DRSask & @GypsyWanderer. The intrepid nature of Silver Travellers, whether in younger years or now, never ceases to be inspiring!

This month’s Silver Travel Book Club book of the month is First Overland: London-Singapore by Land Rover, and here’s how to win a copy of the book:

Tell us about your own overland journey, whether made independently or as part of an organised group. It needn’t be quite as extreme as the First Overland route, but what made your own experience so memorable?

Looking forward to loads more anecdotes about overland journeys from Silver Travellers through the years. And don’t forget, you can follow the progress of the Last Overland team, including book writer and First Overlander Tim Slessor, from Singapore to London – on Twitter here. They crossed the border into Myanmar yesterday!

Literary Editor

Sorry. something odd seems to have happened to my post. Just the large print please. The small print is a second copy?

Exeter. UK.

Sorry. something odd seems to have happened to my post. Just the large print please. The small print is a second copy?

Exeter. UK.

Wow. What an adventure. Difficult for anything to match that.

My first overland trip was 1969. I was 19 and travelling with my sister, from London to Malta.
Those were the days when no luggage had wheels and backpacks did not have frames. They were also the days of hitchhiking so that is what we did, backpacked and hitched.

A friend drove us to Dover for the Calais Hover Craft then we were on our own. Did we have a map? I don’t think so. Arriving mid morning meant we had plenty of time to make good distance and find a youth hostel. And so we started, thumbs out heading to Paris.

It was not long before our first lift, a farmer in a little old green car. I sat in the front next to the driver, a little old farmer. I spoke a little schoolgirl French so understood when he asked to hold my hand. We drove slowly along, my hand in his and my sister in the back, worrying and saying we would both sit in the back from now on. I know we were in no danger. All was well and we were on our way.

I don’t remember our hostel that evening but think we stayed somewhere in Paris. The next day we made Lyon and the youth hostel but it was full. We discovered there was accommodation at the Uni and yes, there was room and better than at the hostel, a twin room with ensuite and breakfast included for less than the hostel would have cost. We eat our full the next morning before hitting the road again.

Lorries and cars later and we were in Grenoble at the luxury hostel built for the winter Olympics 1998. Grenoble was so beautiful we decided on two nights there and headed up on the cable car to enjoy the wonderful views.

We left on a Sunday morning and were warned we would not get a lift but we did, up into the mountains. I don’t know which pass it was but up in the mountains was so beautiful we decided to stay the night. The hostel was full but no problem, a huge tent had been pitched and all the extras slept in there, men and women, cold at night but hot by day. After a day wandering we could have slept anywhere and the magical evening, sitting outside, and singing folk songs to another travelers guitar, put the cherry on the cake.

Next stop the autostrada just outside Milan. Two young men had given us a lift and wanted us to go on into the city with them. They would find us somewhere for the night. I’m sure we would have been safe but we laughingly declined so they dropped us at the tolls and the autostrada to Rome.

We had a long wait but were entertained by the toll officers chatting us up and showing how far they could pee! And then the best lift of the journey, a great looking, English speaking Italian, in a very smart car, going all the way to Rome.
We arrived at 10pm. and he dropped us at a railway station. We wanted to get to Santa Marienella where my cousin was staying. We had an address but no mobile phones then so could not make contact. There was no train going there but one going to Civitavecchia, further along the line and closer than Rome so we took it, and it did stop at Santa Marianella. The station was in total darkness and we stumbled out onto the tracks. This was not a scheduled stop and the station was closed. No moon that night so pitch black but somehow we found our way out of the station, but then what? We had no idea and stood looking lost, should we start walking but which way? Fortunately a young policeman on a motorbike saw us. Somehow we managed to indicate that we needed to get to that address and we understood he would take one of us at a time, riding pillion. Maria would go first and I was to stand in the doorway of a bar, out of sight.

I waited and waited. What had happened? Had we been fools to trust him? But no, he turned up for me while Maria waited for what seemed like ever and with the same worries I had had. He did not leave us until we had managed to use the intercom, wake Anna (it was 1am) and gained entry.

That was the last adventure. Two nights in Santa Marianella, then three nights in Rome, staying with Anna’s employers, and being shown the sights by her brother. The back street sights that is as he wanted to show us off to his friends.
“Look, I have two English girls in my car”! Then a surprisingly cheap last minute ticket for a flight to Malta. We had had a great adventure, laughs, fears, fun and had arrived safely with a story to tell.

Exeter. UK.

Sounds like an incredible book and story! I look forward to watching the progress as the trailer is intriguing.

Over the years I have had many overland adventures driving across Canada from coast to coast in various segments: from Ontario to Saskatchewan; from Saskatchewan to Quebec and back; from Saskatchewan to British Columbia and back; from Ontario to the Maritimes and back; and from Saskatchewan to Ontario twice. Once I flew back to Saskatchewan after driving to Ontario but the last time I stayed. When writing this I looked up the mileage and it’s well over 10,000 miles. The Trans-Canada Highway is 4,990 miles and I’ve done some stretches more than twice. All of the trips were eventful and interesting showcasing the different landscapes in this vast country from wide open prairies to forests to farmland to mountains to lakes and coasts. For those not familiar with the distances involved, the drive from Saskatchewan to southern Ontario took four days of between eight and ten hours driving a day. On one of these trips I remember my uncle from England standing on the shore of Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world, and insisting that it couldn’t be a lake. It was so huge the other side was nowhere in sight. We were stopped at Old Woman Bay in Lake Superior Provincial Park on the 142 mile stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Sault St. Marie and Wawa, Ontario one of the most scenic routes in the country. The day had started out very foggy and I was afraid my aunt and uncle would miss seeing the scenery but the fog lifted mid-day. It’s difficult to tell in the photo but we really could see nothing for miles.

A few years later when I made the trek on my own I stopped further west just outside Thunder Bay on a clear day and took a photo from the Terry Fox Memorial looking out over Lake Superior. The land in the water is an island and nowhere near the other side of the lake. That was a very memorable trip too. My just serviced vehicle broke down after three days on the road, on a Sunday… but that’s another story.

My first overland trip was to Spain and Portugal in 1996. We bought a very old camper van and took the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander. Unfortunately we left the lights on so by the time we reached Spain the battery was flat! The van had to be pushed off the ferry and my husband’s efforts to get it going were disastrous ! He managed to get the contacts the wrong way round and damaged/annihilated the battery. So our first day on shore was spent at a garage – the good news was that the garage owner pointed us in the direction of a lorry drivers’ restaurant and we had the first of many marvelous four course meals complete with wine!!

We eventually got underway and drove through northern Spain into Portugal taking time to visit many small towns en route. The holiday was pretty uneventful except for one trip into the mountains, A special restaurant had been recommended to us so one Monday morning we set off up winding and vertiginous mountain roads finally arriving at a small village. Rather than park on the outskirts we continued into the village along a road that became increasingly narrow , The chalet type houses and shops had overhanging balconies and there were no turning places, The locals were frantically waving at us and indicating that there was no way through! So we had to reverse all the way back which is not easy in a wide camper van. I was terrified and don’t think I was any help at all!
We eventually arrived back at the outskirts of the village only to find out that the restaurant did not open on a Monday!

I went on a school trip in the early 70’s from Manchester to a little skiing village in Austria. We went by coach to Harwich then overnight on the ferry to the Hook of Holland, this was on the 27th December so you can imagine what the weather was like! The following morning we piled back on the coach and went through Holland into Germany and stayed overnight in Heidelberg. Then another full day to Austria.
The winter scenery was spectacular and something I will never forget. So many happy memories .


What an inspiring, and entertaining, first comment on this month’s Silver Travel Book Club read – The First Overland – thanks @yorkshirecat ! Youth can endure all those miles and weather so much more easily than Silver Travellers, can’t it. Are you still teaching? And where’s that Norton Commando now, I wonder….

Looking forward to loads more anecdotes about overland journeys from Silver Travellers over the years. And don’t forget, you can follow the progress of the Last Overland team, including book writer and First Overlander Tim Slessor, from Singapore to London – on Twitter here.

My first overland adventure took place on the back of a motorbike (a Norton Commando) back in the 1970s. We rode from Essex to Scotland in torrential rain, pitched our borrowed tent, and woke up to find our airbeds floating on a couple of inches of water and our sleeping bags sodden. We found a camping shop and invested in a proper waterproof tent, posting the ‘play tent’ back to its owner.

Fortunately, the weather improved and we had a fantastic week touring Scotland’s West Coast visiting Fort William, climbing up Ben Nevis in 80 degrees F. heat, travelling on to the Isle of Mull, Kyle of Lochalsh and finally reaching John O’Groats before returning via the East Coast to Inverness and through the Cairngorms to Edinburgh.

By then the rain had set in again so we decided to head back down south to Cornwall in search of warmth and sunshine for our second week. Interestingly, on our journey back we were turned away by several campsites who refused to take motorcyclists as they “didn’t want any trouble”! As a pair of newly qualified teachers we felt quite insulted!

After a long ride, we pitched our tent on a windy cliff top campsite in Cornwall and hunkered down for the night as a terrifying storm hit. In the morning, our tent was the only one left standing. Caravans had blown over, large frame tents had taken flight and disappeared, and tragically, out at sea, many lives had been lost – it was 1979 – the year of the Fastnet Race tragedy.

This month the Silver Travel Book Club – proudly sponsored by Emerald Waterways – is rather excitingly about more than just reading a book.

Back in 1955, some Oxford & Cambridge undergraduates jumped into two new Land Rovers and completed the first overland journey from the English Channel to Singapore. Seven months, 12,000 miles, rivers, jungles, mountains and too few roads. A remarkable expedition and achievement, where many had previously failed.

Tim Slessor was in that 1955 team and his book First Overland: London-Singapore by Land Rover has recently been republished, with a foreword by Sir David Attenborough.

And now Tim has combined forces with Alex Bescoby (from Grammar Productions) and others to return one of those original Land Rovers from Singapore to London. Sponsors of this exciting expedition include our friends at the Singapore Tourist Board. The team departed on August 25th and watch this space for updates on their journey across a challenging landscape which has changed dramatically over the last 60 years.

Watch a trailer of the Last Overland expedition and read more about the route and the team – which includes Tim’s grandson Nat – here.

How to win a copy of the book

Tell us about your own overland journey, whether made independently or as part of an organised group. It needn’t be quite as extreme as the First Overland route, but what made your own experience so memorable?

Join this Forum thread or comment on Silver Travel’s Facebook page and the most interesting two entries from Silver Travellers will each win a copy of the First Overland book. And keep checking back on the Forum thread as we’ll be posting live updates about the Last Overland team’s progress.

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