My last London day was a short one. We had a flight to catch that evening, but there was still time to shift the scope of my trip back to books.
Our first stop was Exmouth Market, and a late breakfast with Barnaby Rogerson, the publisher of Eland Books. I wanted to get his thoughts on travel literature. But that’s the focus of my next Adrift on the Continent column in Outpost, so you’ll have to wait for it to hit newsstands to read what he said.
I can, however, recommend the Caravan cafe for extremely good scrambled eggs on sourdough toast.
I also want to tell you about Eland Books. If you enjoy travel literature, then you must become acquainted with their incredible list.
Eland publishes the back catalog of legends of the genre like Dervla Murphy, Norman Lewis and Jonathan Raban, and others you may not have heard of but will want to read, like Nicholas Bouvier and Ralph Bagnold.
When it comes to travel literature, I like to think I’m reasonably well read, but the Eland catalog puts me to shame. It is filled with obscure volumes by long forgotten travelers, as well as books by writers I know and should have read.
Here’s what other travelers have to say:
“John Hatt founded the incomparable Eland thirty-five years ago. It remains, for me, the quintessential travel publisher.” — Michael Palin
“Quite simply, the most consistently fine publishing house in the English-speaking world, every title a cracker.” — Nicholas Shakespeare, author of an excellent biography of Bruce Chatwin, among other books
“No British publisher has a list so enticingly eclectic or so consistently rewarding. Eland has established itself as a National Treasure.” — Fergus Fleming, author of excellent books on the Alps, the Sahara, and the race to the North Pole.
Sure, I poached those quotes from the Eland catalog. But I wasn’t motivated by laziness.These are each writers whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired.
Anyway, yeah. Look up Eland if you don’t already know them, and order some books. These are stories that deserve to be read, and they’ll tell you more about the world than you’ll ever find in a textbook or history.
I could have happily sat there all afternoon talking books with Barnaby Rogerson. That’s a conversation I hope to continue.
But we still had a few precious London hours to spend, and so I did what any self-respecting traveler would do. I frittered them away on books and booze.
In consulting the London map in my head, I knew we were a short walk from Russel Square, and one of my favourite second hand haunts: Skoob Books.
Tucked away inside a cool cellar on the Marchmont Street side of The Brunswick, Skoob is excellent on history, biography, modern literature, psychology and orange paperback Penguin classics. But I rarely make it past the travel literature section that occupies two bookcases at the bottom of the stairs.
My wife is well acquainted with my sluggish browsing, so she usually takes a coffee somewhere as I strap on my spectacles and go over the wire. She’ll turn up half an hour later, maybe forty-five minutes, and there I’ll be, crouched on the floor next to the entrance steps.
“You’re still just there?”
But I never fail to find some obscure travel classics, a few I’d been searching for, but always some gems I’d never heard of and know that I need to read immediately.
Here’s what I picked up this time, and keep in mind I was under the cruel restraint of Ryanair’s weight limits:
I was dragged away from Skoob Books under protest, and I needed a boost to soothe the ache I‘d hoped to fill with just a few more classics. Thankfully, the neighbourhood held an abundance of highly qualified dispensaries able to treat such a malady.
We made our way down Southampton Row to Holburn, and a pub I’d long wanted to visit: The Princess Louise.
Built in 1872, this pub is so historic that the men’s toilets, with their massive marble urinals, are separately listed.
Hidden away from the bustle of the London streets, I sat surrounded by polished wood, etched glass and gleaming brass, a pint of the excellent house bitter in front of me, and a stack of new books to leaf through. We would soon be off to Berlin, but I was already planning my next visit to one of my favourite world cities.