John Pilkington

14th February 2011 John Pilkington

‘A Stroll through the Axis of Evil’ Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran are in the news for all the wrong reasons. John unravelled a picture quite different from the news stories. He found families and whole communities working together to survive the harsh climate and political strife. John Pilkington is “one of Britain’s greatest tellers of travellers’ tales”.

Sponsored by NORMAN & NEILL, (Optometrists), Clacton-on-Sea.

JOHN PILKINGTON has been called “one of Britain’s greatest tellers of travellers’ tales”. In 1983, after journeys in Africa and Latin America, he completed a 500-mile solo crossing of the western Nepal Himalaya and told the story in his first book, Into Thin Air. His interest in Asia grew further with the opening in 1986 of the border between Pakistan and China, making it possible – for the first time in forty years – to retrace virtually the whole of the Silk Road. John was one of the first modern travellers to do so, and he wrote about the journey in An Adventure on the Old Silk Road. This was followed in 1991 by An Englishman in Patagonia, recounting eight months in the enigmatic southern tip of South America.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union he became one of the first Western journalists to report from the new Central Asian republics. He also explored the hidden Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, and investigated the deaths in Bolivia of the US outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. More recently he has mapped the source of the Mekong and walked the 1,600-mile Royal Road of the Incas through the Andes of Ecuador and Peru, one of only five people in modern times to do so. In 2006 he turned his attention to the Sahara, and joined a camel caravan carrying salt for 450 miles from the mines of Taoudenni to Timbuktu. In 2009 he spent six months travelling through Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, countries he thinks “are in the news for all the wrong reasons”.

People are always at the centre of his story-telling. His BBC Radio 4 programmes have won him several appearances over the years on Pick of the Week and one on Pick of the Year. He also contributes to Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent and Excess Baggage, and writes occasionally for Geographical magazine. But it’s for his thought-provoking talks and spellbinding photos that people know him best. He has lectured to over 1,000 audiences in five countries, and in 2006 received the Royal Geographical Society’s Ness Award for his work in popularising geography and the wider understanding of the world.

Among other things, John is on the judging panel of the annual BBC/Royal Geographical Society Journey of a Lifetim Award, and is a patron of the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group, which works with and campaigns for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, especially those based in Hampshire. Since 2010 he has been president of the Globetrotters Club.

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