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Return to Aldeburgh

February 20th, 2020 No comments

For those who have been wondering where I’ve been for a longer pause than usual, last year I turned my attention to poetry which has been a constant presence in my writing life, and have been assembling some collections which needed seclusion and concentration, including one of travel poems which for obvious reasons has been a constant thread.

As part of that process I returned to the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival which loyal readers with longer memories will remember I attended almost exactly 10 years ago and gave a reading and blogged about.

So very interesting to go back. A certain amount has changed, in that the poetry festival – now called ‘Poetry in Aldeburgh’ as part of its new incarnation after a substantial hiccup a few years ago when the original one went bust – has taken a few years to get up and running again. Read more…

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Sunday

November 7th, 2010 No comments

some time on Sunday night  

I’m both exhausted and exhilarated by the end of proceedings.  The final poets’ dinner on Sunday night ends at about two in the morning. 

If there has been a noticeable intensity at Aldeburgh compared to other poetry festivals,  it derives from one unusual component — no poet is ever invited back.  

This isn’t because in some ways they might have failed a quality threshold.  A strict policy is in place only to invite those who’ve never read there before.  This lends the proceedings an intensity they would not otherwise have.  Poets have one shot at getting an Aldeburgh Festival reading right. 

The same goes for the organisers.  Every year they have to start at the bottom of the mountain and select new participants. 

I’m reminded of those Buddhist monks who spend months laboriously making sand mandalas from small grains and then blow them to the wind.


Sunday 18.00  Don Paterson’s earlier lecture on Frost proves a terrific curtain raiser for the later reading by Marie Howe, as it is noticeable how many of her poems are framed as dialogues rather like Frost’s.  The elegy for her missing brother is just one of many fine poems. 


She makes a striking figure on stage with her Botticelli hair.  Indeed this year’s ‘best poetic hair’ prize is awarded equally between her and the long-locked Matthew Caley.  I’d love them to do a shampoo ad double-act together, swinging their impressive tresses as they duetted on a country and western song, or pastoral eclogue.  Who says that all poets are bald and need to wear berets? 

Bill Manhire is less hirsute but still very effective.  He concentrates on those works of his that lend themselves to public performance, with strong rhythm and rhyme.  You might think that most  poets would follow this obviously sensible line.  Or series of lines.  But they don’t. 

His elegy for Charles Causley is just the first of a string of emotionally intense poems,  hypnotically delivered.  His voice has an attractive incantatory quality, whether listing his possessions as a small boy on New Zealand’s South Island, or howling at the moon down a lift shaft in Copenhagen. 

The perfect choice to close the festival, internationalist, accomplished and passionate as it has been.


Sunday 14.00     I’ve had 2 cups of 152’s excellent cappuccino and so am ready for the highly caffeinated lecture on Robert Frost by Don Paterson.  We are still at warp speed and every word is worth unravelling and playing back at 33 rpm. 

The bulk of his lecture is on Frost’s poem ‘West-Running Brook’.  While some critics have decried the rhetorical staging of this as a dialogue between husband and wife  as clumsy, Don admires what he sees as the resulting subplot of ‘how people in love talk to one another’.  Perhaps naturally, given that he has just published his account of Shakespeare’s sonnets, he finds Shakespearean echoes in some lines – like ‘And even substance lapsing unsubstantial’, while also being drawn to Frost’s nihilism and ‘the aphoristic, demotic and plain-speaking nature of his verse which omits the extraneous, leaving itself nowhere to hide’. 

He sees Frost’s  poetry as ‘an intellectual and emotional provocation to which we are challenged to respond in kind’. The same could be said of Don’s rigorous criticism.  

Not quite sure about his pronunciation of ‘contraries’ though.  Surely to rhyme with ‘Compare-is’? Readers with New England accents are invited to write in……..


Sunday am    It’s nine o’clock in the morning and I’m trying to move at speed to the White Lion to give my own talk on poetry and travel writing, together with Harry Clifton.  Unfortunately the wind is so strong that for every two steps I take, I’m one step back, and there isn’t any music playing. 

‘Fresh fish – anything fresher is still swimming,’ reads the logo on the side of the shack that sells them on the beach.  I can’t quite say the same about myself, but at least I haven’t got a hangover, and Maggie at the Poets House has fed me plenty of black coffee and bacon sandwiches, so the brain has started to kick in.  


Have 250 people gathered to hear us?  Well not quite.  But for early Sunday morning it’s a brave turnout, as Harry says.  We talk about how when travelling some experiences seem to lend themselves either to prose or poetry;  of how Byron was in some ways an early travel writer, appealing to the stay-at-home British public ( who had to stay at home – it was the middle of the Napoleonic Wars) with his tales of Mediterranean pleasures;  of ‘The Odyssey’ as the first travel poem;  of the celebration and exhilaration of travel but also of its own concomitant hangover, jet lag:


Jet Lag Blues

Two o’clock in the morning, punched
inside out,  jet-lagged  from Los Angeles
via London, face pressed against

the pillow with unnatural gravity,
like a safe-breaker listening
for the combination to give,

I feel the ground much closer,
almost moving,
and want to twist the world’s tectonic

spine, the way a chiropractor snaps
a patient’s back, so I no longer lie
divided on my own fault line.


The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival blog is sponsored by Writers’ Centre Norwich,a literature development agency for the East of England running workshops, competitions, events and more.

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Saturday

November 6th, 2010 No comments

Saturday 23.30   The evening closes in the way all Saturday evenings should close – with a drink and a stand-up comedian, in this case the brilliant Elvis McGonagall, whose tales of love, loss, and David Cameron are just the ticket. The man is a lyrical genius, managing to find not just one but two different rhymes for Oompa-Lumpa.

Outside they are still sending up fireworks for bonfire night.  It’s been a long but satisfying day.

Saturday 18.00    By now I’m beginning to feel a bit like I’m travelling at warp-speed myself, bundling from talk to talk, with some blogging in between (Stardate 2011, Captain’s Diary… A strange poet with staring eyes has parked himself in orbit around me and is refusing to move….)

On to hear Marie Howe talk about one of her teachers and mentors, the late Stanley Kunitz.  It’s a much warranted appreciation as he is less well-known in the UK than some of his American contemporaries such as Bishop,  Lowell and Berryman.  He died in 2006, age 101.  He said of his later poems, “what is left to confront are the deep simplicities,’ and according to Marie he was working towards “an art so transparent you could look through it and see the world.”

She reads The Portrait, an extraordinary poem and very central to his work, which tells of the death by suicide of his father when Kunitz was very young,  and quotes something that he told her when she was his student, that poetry should exploit “the lyric tension of the fact that we are both living and dying at the same time”.

It’s a good reminder of the Aldeburgh support for American poetry over the years, as Neil Ashley of Bloodaxe points out to me when I chat to him after one of the earlier readings.  It was Aldeburgh who hosted Tony Hoagland a few years ago, who’s been emerging as one of the strongest American voices of recent years – certainly a favourite of mine  – and whose most recent work, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, Bloodaxe have just published.

This year as well as Marie, Dorianne Laux has come to Aldeburgh from the States and has not only given a much sought-after masterclass on ‘how to write an unforgettable poem’, but has read several of her own which are just that.  ‘Enough Music’, for instance, is a fabulous short poem.

Saturday 17.00  Some speed writing with Michael Laskey and Jeni Smith at the James Cable Room — the format feels a bit like bingo.  Everyone sits expectant at a table, eyes down to pen and paper.  Michael or Jeni reads a poem and sets a five-minute poetic task (like ‘Think of a sport.  Write out its keywords.  Make a poem’).

It’s fun and fast and goes down well with the participants.

Come back an hour or so later for a workshop that Don Paterson gives.  If the earlier class was like playing bingo, Don’s is more like playing Speed Go on the Internet:  extremely fast, extremely furious and demanding mental dexterity.  Don is packing the lecture he usually gives in two hours into a half-hour firework spectacular.

He boldly takes us into what he terms ‘deep trope’, at warp speed.  Some fascinating vistas flash by as we hang onto the spacecraft, metonyms and metaphors pinging off the side like meteorites.  The search is for autopoiesis, a sort of Gaia-style self –renewing poetical equilibrium where content and structure both balance and renew each other.

In Star Trek it would be found on those planets that have to teach Kirk and his men some simpler truths (and don’t you just know that Spock would be the one to have a problem with metaphor).

Don makes some good points about the process of composition being one in which you only find out what you think as you start to write, rather than simply printing a received opinion;  and that a poem has to intrigue enough on the first reading to bring you back for subsequent deeper ones.


Saturday 13.00

Some more fine readings this morning, this time from  Harry Clifton and Imtiaz Dharker.

Harry talks about the way that for his generation Ireland was almost ‘painted too green’ by nationalists, from its letterboxes to its literature,  in the decades after Independence and indeed for most of the 20th century.  He himself has always taken a more internationalist approach, with much time spent abroad in places like Paris or Italy, producing an impressive body of verse.  The Italian stay also gave rise to an excellent travel book, on the Abruzzi  Mountains.  We are giving a joint talk tomorrow morning on the connection between travel writing and poetry, but I’m not just being polite about his writing to ensure a smooth discourse:  the qualities of elegant concision that go into his poetry lend themselves well to travel writing, which can sometimes be prolix.

There is an emotional undercurrent to the following reading by Imtiaz Dharker, who is replacing Selima Hill at short notice after Selima was taken ill.  As the Festival announces,

We are hugely grateful to Imtiaz for stepping in at such short notice, and rather amazed at the extraordinary felicity of it all – given that Imtiaz herself had so sadly to withdraw from last year’s APF due to the untimely death of her husband Simon. We are all thrilled that she will, at last, get to enjoy the Aldeburgh experience.

Imtiaz gives a moving reading of “Honour Killing”, in which she takes off “the black coat of my country”, the veil, and the other garments that constrain the position of women in countries such as Pakistan.  It’s a fitting rebuke to those Western intellectuals who have recently flirted with the idea that somehow the burka and its variants are in any way empowering, and that we just fail to understand it because of cultural difference.  I made a film about the position of women in Afghanistan for Channel 4 a few years ago, so it’s a subject that I appreciate her strong feelings on.

And she makes the second good joke of the day: ‘ now that English is just one more Indian language….’


Saturday 10.30

from the programme:

Jubilee Hall 9.00 – 10.00am  :  DISCUSSION: THE POET’S TOOLKIT .

A meticulous eye for detail with an awareness of the bigger picture. Relevant experience. Excellent communication skills, verbal and written. Capacity to think outside the box. Passion, drive and ambition. Ability and willingness to work long and flexible hours unsupervised. Lars Gustafsson, Marie Howe, Bill Manhire and Don Paterson finesse the person specification.

9.00 in the morning?   what time is that to start a Poetry Festival.  One thing that rarely is part of a poet’s toolkit is the ability to get up early in the morning.  But Lars, Marie Howe, Bill and Don seem fresh as daisies.

Don kicks off by trailing the notion that poetry is a bit like dyslexia, a condition of the mind that favours certain abilities while hampering others: he points out that many of the male poets of his acquaintance can’t drive, swim or ride a bicycle safely, however impressive their scansion.  So “poetry is less of a calling and more like a diagnosis.”  As poets we have less dopamine receptors, so as more information is allowed to reach our cortex, we become over-wired (and, the hope is, inspired).

Bill reflects that poets should be obsessed with words themselves, building up what Maori poet Hone Tuwhare once described to him as a ‘word-store’;  Marie quotes Virginia Woolf’s essay on ‘The Angel In The House’, and suggests that women poets need to lose the notion of themselves as the constant ‘giver’ in a household,  to become instead more feral:  “there are dogs out at the gate — throw them some meat.”  And as Lars astutely notes, ‘it’s all very well to think out of the box, but first you must make your box.’

Best joke of the morning comes from Marie Howe, who quotes what someone said about Rilke as he left a party:  “does he have to be a poet all the time?”


The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival blog is sponsored by Writers’ Centre Norwich,a literature development agency for the East of England running workshops, competitions, events and more.

The Centre also runs the  Escalator Literature Writing Prize. Full details available at:


Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Friday

November 4th, 2010 No comments

Friday late:   It’s an attractive opening bill: the narrative directness of JO Morgan’s story about a wild boy on Skye;   Matthew Caley’s louche rock ‘n’ roll take on Illinois, breast-feeding and Yeats (and claim that Ezra Pound used to lie at languorous angles on chaise longues so that his semen could seep down to his brain and improve his poetry);  and then, to round it off, Don Paterson.

Writing one-line descriptions of poets for a programme is a bit like a wine critic’s job.  Sooner or later you run out of adjectives.  Once we’ve had thoughtful, acute, rigorous, playful, incisive and that old stand-by prize-winning,  you have to start reaching for the unexpected.

Not quite redolent of hay on a mid-summer evening (though I can think of a few poets who would fit that bill) , but something ambitious.

Hats off then for the description of the wonderful Don Paterson who according to the programme shoulders the responsibility to live and write the fully-examined life with wit, courage and exemplary formal skill.  That’s some day-job!

These days, Don hardly needs a strap-line under the billing, such is the impression that recent collections like Rain have made. He even has an ‘official website’.

If this were a rock gig it would be the Proclaimers, followed by the Dandy Warhols, followed by Tom Waits.  Not a bad line up.

Indeed the night showcases all that is best about the Poetry Festival: poets reading well and with engagement to an audience excited to hear them.  The Jubilee Hall as a space always has a sense of occasion.  It’s big enough to make the performers onstage seem both vulnerable and intense; small enough for a sudden and surprising intimacy with them when the poems start.

It’s also a good moment to step back and appreciate what a formidable achievement the Poetry Festival is.  Without now receiving a penny of Suffolk County Council money, it manages to keep an impressive wave of energy beating each year against Aldeburgh’s shingle shore.

But as Naomi Jaffa, the festival director, announces (“I’m going to do something very un-English:  I’m going to talk about money”), with the current cuts on the horizon, it will need all its  many supporters to rally round if it is to keep going.

All three poets read tremendously well.  Don Paterson has learnt his by heart, and his reading brings out both the underlying emotion and rhyme in equal, carefully weighted measure.  While apologising for the fact that he feels so much of his last collection dealt with ‘death and divorce’, he also reflects ruefully on the ageing process:  ‘ one no longer appears in one’s own poems – one’s presence is more of a heraldic affair.’  And he now takes siestas, although as a longterm hispanophile, we would have expected nothing less of him anyway…..

He reads several more recent, unpublished poems, including some from a sonnet sequence that he is beginning (he is at number eight or nine out of a planned 48),  He also reads ‘The Day’,  inspired by the DVD box set of Battlestar Galactica, no less, with a conversation between two aliens who have just got married:  it’s engaging, direct and funny, although the insistent little six-year-old boy inside me taps me on my shoulder at one point and asks, ‘ did that man just say the earth was a star?’


Friday 19.00  John Glenday gives a modest and intriguing Craft Talk, on the art of revising, for which he is well qualified,  running often to 30, 40, 50 drafts of his own poems.  It has taken him 15 years to fine-hone his most recent book, ‘filling the white grave of the page with words’.  Over the years he has come to recognise which early drafts will never respond to treatment, remaining ‘ghost poems’ and those which it is worth pursuing down the corridor.

It’s a fine-honed talk as well, with not a word wasted and some fine aphorisms (some quoted from other poets):  inspiration is an inclination to take notice;  poetry is a river that widens into silence; the poem as a balance between craftsmanship and intuition.

One question though.  Why is it always easier to sound modest if you have a Scottish or Celtic accent?  Something to do with the dying fall at the end of each inflected sentence, of which the great and under-rated Glaswegian comedian Arnold Brown is a master.


Friday 17.00   I enjoy giving a class on the crossover between poetry and travel writing, using Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Questions Of Travel’ as a central text, from her book of the same name.  Writers in both prose and poetry when they travel can constantly criss-cross the borderline between detachment and engagement, observing the strange phenomena of a new country and taking part in them if they so choose.  It’s a process we all do in our daily lives anyway, but somehow heightened in a foreign country, and fertile territory, with its own tensions and ambivalence:

Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?

 (Elizabeth Bishop ‘Questions Of Travel’)


Friday 11.30   my own turn to get locked away comes around.  The festival has the use of an old lookout tower on the beach, and poets are encouraged to go up there for some silent meditation or even (and the organisers phrase this delicately) “possible writing”.

Writers can be both fussy and stringent about the conditions for perfect writing – not least because it is the perfect displacement activity for actually doing any.  Finding it hard to face that blank sheet of paper?  It’s all the fault of background noise, or stains on the wallpaper, or those bills elsewhere on the desk that need attending to.  No wonder writers need their sheds.

I’d noticed this just earlier in the morning when I realised that my small back bedroom in the eaves of the Poets House was, while perfectly clean and adequate, impossible to write in — all bed and no table.  In short, the perfect excuse.

But the lookout tower offers no such escape.  There are nine biros beside a block of paper.  The view is magnificent.  The waves break with a soft insistency.  The bleached wood is restrained and tactful.  Even the temperature is ambient.

I’m reminded of the problems I experienced at a Buddhist retreat last winter:


      Bad Pupil 


When I went to the Buddhist Centre retreat I found myself being continually distracted

by the soft, smoky runs of the boiler igniting  its regular puffs of disbelief

and by the distant catcalls of children

playing in the garden, while we sat inside,

in postures of graduated discomfort and in complete silence.


The practice of mindfulness is not one that comes easily to me. 


There is a ticking clock in my head, counting down the days, the hours, the minutes


and never quite reaching the present tense.


But then the Zen Master explains that it is like being at a drinks party

and only talking to the one person, yourself, rather than being distracted

by others.  ‘Make eye contact with yourself,’ he suggests.  Or ‘I contact’,

as I understand him to say in a moment of rare connection

that blows away when someone else speaks.


Friday 08.30    Can’t quite believe I’m blogging before breakfast but clearly a stream of consciousness blog will demand a dedicated approach.  Let alone all that stuff about Trollope knocking off a few thousand words before even having a cup of tea, and then doing a full 9 to 5 as a postie.

Now ensconced in the Poets House on the seafront where poets were gathering last night for a bit of pre-match banter and limbering up (over several bottles of excellent Chilean red) – The first person I see when I walk off the street is  J O Morgan at the kitchen table talking enthusiastically about Ted Hughes.  But then the man’s been locked up in solitary confinement for a week in Thorpeness as part of his winnings for last year’s Aldeburgh First Collection Prize (‘a week of writing space’), which would make anyone want to hold forth a bit.  Wonder what they do to you if you lose?   (Joe is reading this evening with Matthew Caley and Don Paterson.)

Topics on the agenda over dinner are:  whatever happened to (‘For Lizzie and’) Harriet Lowell after all those poems about her;  was Lowell patrician and snobbish about his Irish servants;  what mobile signal works here?  And a brief foray on Iraq, but as everyone was in complete agreement, we moved on……. 


(c) Peter Everard Smith


Thursday 15.00     Just off to the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival  – sadly not in the Oldsmobile on the right, as suggested in the festival e-letter, but a more sedate beemer – so watch this space as the Festival begins on Friday for posts, musings and comments over what promises to be a long and intriguing weekend: as well as giving a talk and class on the  relationship between travel writing and poetry, I’m to be their official blogger….


The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival blog is sponsored by Writers’ Centre Norwich, a literature development agency for the East of England running workshops, competitions, events and more.

The Dig – A triumph

February 2nd, 2021 No comments

So archaeology can make for a great movie. Don’t be put off by the rather patronising review in the Guardian or some carping criticism about historical accuracy. The Dig, streaming from today as cinemas closed, is an excellent film and worth catching. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it gets a few BAFTA nominations and deserves to.

I did initially approach with suspicion as to whether it was the sort of quiet English period piece which would irritate me for being underscripted and too pleased with itself. Like too much Sunday afternoon television. But this tale of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon longship in a Suffolk field just before the war has a quite unexpected and moving performance by Ralph Fiennes – a career best – playing a deep East Anglian countryman with not just the accent, but the staggered delivery that makes the Suffolk voice so memorable. He apparently had a lot of training in ‘suffolkation’ from local expert Charlie Haylock, and it shows.

And he’s not the only reason to see it.  There is some unusually fine ensemble acting, helped by the fact that the Australian director Simon Stone comes out of experimental theatre where he has been much heralded; this is his first film and he manages to get some subtle performances all round, leaving in the silences, helped by a good script from the successful novel by John Preston. Read more…


January 19th, 2010 2 comments

NOTE: recent appearances obviously limited by the corona pandemic

June 2018, Maggie’s Centre, Oxford, Tuesday 5th June, 7.30pm

A talk given to support Maggie’s Charity:  Maggie’s provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends.

Hugh Thomson is an author, film maker and explorer, best known for his prize-winning work ‘The Green Road into the Trees’. Hugh joins us to talk about his latest book ‘One Man and a Mule’.

For centuries mules were used to transport goods across Britain. Strong, sturdy and able to carry a great deal of weight, they made ideal walking companions – as long as you didn’t ask them to do anything they didn’t want to do!

Now Wainwright‐Prize winner Hugh Thomson revives that ancient tradition, using his experience of hiking with pack mules across the Andes to have what he calls ‘a South American adventure in England’.

March 2018

York Waterstones, Wednesday 28th March 19:00 

a special evening with Hugh Thomson, winner of the inaugural Wainwright Prize for Best Nature and Travel writing, discussing his latest book, One Man and a Mule.


February 2018

Lahore Literary Festival, Pakistan – see website for  different talks by Hugh and screening of his film on Pakistan with Sona Datta

January 2018

Jaipur Literary Festival, India – see website for 5 different talks by Hugh

October 2017, Carlisle Literary Festival, 1.00 pmSaturday, 7th October 2017,

One Man and His Mule

Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey Hugh Thomson takes his stubborn,  cantankerous but trusty mule Jethro across England from the Yorkshire Moors to the Lake District, using old drovers’ roads and mule tracks. For centuries, mules were used to transport goods across Britain. Hugh revives that ancient tradition, using his personal experience of hiking with pack mules across the Andes. He  vividly and wittily recounts the stories of the characters he meets along the way and brings to life the ancient landscape of the north.


September 2016

Beyond by Steppes Travel, two-day travel festival taking place at the Royal Geographical Society on Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th September

“Hugh Thomson belongs to a rare species of explorer. He is a writer who explores and not an explorer who writes. And it is Thomson’s extreme humility in the face of both danger and extraordinary success that places him in the same tradition as Eric Newby” Geographical. Thomson is a writer and film-maker who believes strongly that the world is not as explored as we like to suppose.

 May 2016

Trinity Literary Festival, Sunday 22 May, 10:30am – 4:30pm, Kings Weston House, Bristol

Tickets cost £20 per person, including soup lunch and afternoon tea. Tickets are available to purchase online.

May 2016

TWO MEN AND A MULE: From Cloud Forest to Qoyllurit’i
A talk by Hugh Thomson and Benedict Allen, as presented on BBC Radio 4

Wednesday 25 May  18:45

how to: ACADEMY presents: Travel and Exploration 
The Tabernacle, London – in Notting Hill

£31.91 Standard Ticket | £74.47 Premium Ticket   Entry
Also featuring talks by 
John Gimlette, Amelia Richards, Christina Lamb and Jason Elliot


March 2016

TWO MEN AND A MULE: From Cloud Forest to Qoyllurit’i
A talk by Hugh Thomson and Benedict Allen, as presented on BBC Radio 4
7:00 pm, Thursday 24th March 2016
Peruvian Embassy, 52 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9SP
Advance Tickets: £10.00 members / £12.00 non-members / £8.00 students & over 65.
£5 surcharge for tickets at the door (except over 65s). A drinks reception will follow.

Well known writers Hugh Thomson and Benedict Allen made a successful series for Radio 4 in which they travelled through Peru with a mule from the so called ‘Last City of the Incas’ – Espíritu Pampa – to the festival of the snows, Qoyllurit’. During this lively evening they will describe their adventures, although for contractual and logistical reasons their mule, Washington, is unable to appear.

Two Men and a Mule: From Cloud Forest to Qoyllurit’i A talk by Hugh Thompson and Benedict Allen, as presented on BBC Radio 4 7:00 pm, Thursday 24th March 2016 Peruvian Embassy, 52 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9SP Drinks reception will follow Well known writers Hugh Thomson and Benedict Allen made a successful series for Radio 4 in which they travelled through Peru with a mule from the so called Last City of the Incas – Espíritu Pampa – to the festival of the snows, Qoyllurit’. During this lively evening they will describe their adventures, although for contractual and logistical reasons their mule, Washington, is unable to appear. Benedict Allen is the editor of the Faber book of Exploration. Best known for his arduous expeditions - famously achieved without GPS or any of the usual technological “backup” but by training alone with a remote indigenous community. He has published 10 books (best-sellers) and made six BBC TV series. Hugh Thomson has written about his remarkable investigations of Inca ruins near Machu Picchu in his acclaimed books, such as The White Rock and Cochineal Red: Travels through Ancient Peru. He wrote and presented the BBC Radio 4 documentary Who Found Machu Picchu? Pick of the Week described this as ‘a classic’ and ‘the kind of radio that really does provide the best pictures’. Advance Tickets: £10.00 members / £12.00 non-members / £8.00 students & over 65. £5 surcharge for tickets at the door (except over 65s). Payment Options: We offer a variety of options, however, we would be very grateful if wherever possible payments are made by bank transfer or online in order to help with our administration time & costs. Bank Transfer: The Anglo Peruvian Society - Lloyds Bank PLC, Sort Code 30-91-83 Account Number 00245794 Please quote your surname and “2Men” as reference and email confirmation of transfer with names of all attending to Credit Cards & PayPal: Please go to payment page on our website to pay with a credit card or a PayPal account. Please email confirmation of transfer, the event you are paying for, and the names of all attending to Cheque: Please reference ‘Humboldt’ and post to: The Anglo Peruvian Society, P.O. Box 66521. London W8 9DY. Please include names, membership category and a contact telephone number.

January 2016

Sri Lanka Literary Festival, Galle, speaking in Kandy and Galle

someone finally read the note at the bottom of this page!


September 2015, Sunday September 27th

Richmond Walking and Book Festival,  North Yorkshire.

Richmond Cricket Club 7.30 p m. Tickets £5 Bar and Bookstall


“Hugh was the inaugural winner of the Wainwright prize for nature and travel writing with his book “The Green Road Into The Trees” which is about a walk across England from Dorset to the Wash in which he explores the way the countryside was and is today.

He has written about Peru, Mexico and the Indian Himalayas so this is bound to be a varied and informative talk.”



May 2015  Fingals (Devon, near Dartmouth, Salcombe and Totnes)..

Sunday, tea time, 10 May – Friday 15 May, after lunch, 2015

‘Ways with Words’ Writing and Reading Course.  Tutors:  Hugh Thomson, Andrew Wilson and Kay Dunbar

‘Hugh Thomson will offer a series of whole group writing workshops. There are also 2 sessions over the course timetabled for individual seminars. At some times people follow private work that may have been suggested by the tutor or is self directed. Inspiration and developments, beginnings and endings, the bit in between: all will be explored.’

see their website for more details;  THE STUFF OF LIFE : Reading, Writing, Book Groups, Films, Discussion Groups


March 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 6.30 pm on the lower ground floor of Waterstones, Piccadilly.

The Travellers’ Film Club:   ‘War Stories’ with Andrew Graham-Yooll  (Director: Hugh Thomson)

 Hugh Thomson will show and discuss the film he made with Andrew Graham-Yooll about Argentina in which Andrew – the courageous editor of the Buenos Aires Herald who published the names of the disappeared on the front page of his paper – confronts some of the generals and explores Argentina’s disturbing recent history.

For ten hair-raising years during the ‘dictadura’, Andrew Graham-Yooll was the news editor of the Buenos Aires Herald. All around him friends and acquaintances were ‘disappearing’. Although the slightest mistake might have caused his own disappearance, he didn’t shrink from getting first-hand experience of this war of terror. He attended clandestine guerrilla conferences, helped relatives trace the missing, and took tea with a torturer who wasn’t ashamed to make the most chilling of confessions.

His resulting book, A State of Fear (Eland), remains one of the most vivid testimonies of that troubled time.
“I have never read any book that so conveys what it is like to live in a state of permanent fear.”   Graham Greene

 This film was specially made for the BBC and is not available on DVD, so it is a rare chance to see it.

No charge, no reservations, first come, first served; but please register by e-mail  ‘Film screening will commence promptly at 7pm and last 55 minutes, after which we will all have the opportunity to talk over a glass of wine.’


 July 2014:  Arvon Travel Writing   Tutors: Hugh Thomson and Sara Wheeler


Moniack Mhor, near Inverness

Any journey undertaken – even a brief rail journey to a favourite place – be a window into the world and yourself. Discover how to explore new places, and revisit somewhere familiar with new questions. We will help you describe the landscape, characters and memories of a place through natural, observant writing that sparkles with authenticity. It can be deeply personal.

Hugh Thomson is the author of a trilogy of travel books, starting with The White Rock. His most recent book is The Green Road into the Trees: An Exploration of England. 

Sara Wheeler is the author of eight books of non-fiction including the international bestseller Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica. Her book on the Arctic, The Magnetic North, was chosen as Book of the Year by Michael Palin.

Single room price: £700, Shared room price: £650,  grants are available to help with the course fee


May 2014, Devon, Fingals – Writing and Reading Course

Fingals hotel is situated in an idyllic valley close to the river Dart and within easy reach of Dartmouth, Salcombe and Totnes.A WRITING AND READING COURSE
Theme: Ideas and Inspiration
 (mainly Writing + some reading / book group discussions)
18 – 23 May 2014.  See full description of course.
Writing Tutor – HUGH THOMSON

March 2014:   Waterstones, Piccadilly, LONDON 

Thursday, March 27, 6.30 pm on the lower ground floor of Waterstones, Piccadilly.

The Travellers’ Film Club:

Hugh Thomson will show and discuss the award-winning film he made with William Dalrymple, Shiva’s Matted Locks, about a journey to the source of the sacred Ganges river in India, a favourite of the late John Peel:

‘This is as wonderful a film as I have watched since I started writing this column and I cannot imagine not being moved by it and by the devotion of the pilgrims, particularly of the man who, even as he justifies leaving his family for ever in the name of his God, wipes away his tears. The soundtrack is marvellous, too.’  John Peel

 ‘Among the most ravishingly photographed series ever to be broadcast.’  Scotsman

Winner of The Grierson Award for Best Documentary Series. 

‘long before the Alpine Club was formed, the Hindu Gods were coming up into the mountains….’

Made as the opening flagship programme for Indian Journeys, a three-part series for the  BBC Hugh directed with William Dalrymple, who journeyed across India looking at the country’s great spiritual past and troubled present.

The series is not available on DVD, so this is a very rare chance to see the film.

No charge, no reservations, first come, first served; but please register by e-mail

‘Film screening will commence promptly at 7pm and last 55 minutes, after which we will all have the opportunity to talk over a glass of wine.’


January 2014:  Stamford Arts Centre

Wednesday, January 29th, 8 pm

The Green Road into the Trees:  an illustrated talk.  ‘Author and explorer Hugh Thomson, best known for his books about South America, travels along the Icknield Way, from the south coast near  Dorset diagonally right across the country to Norfolk, arriving close to the coast by Kings Lynn.’


November 2013:  Tinkuy de Tejedores 2013: Gathering of Weavers in Cusco, Peru

A worldwide conference on Andean textiles

Keynote Speaker:  Hugh Thomson will talk about the long importance of textiles to the pre-Columbian world, as in his book Cochineal Red







October 2013:  Hay Walking Festival

Saturday October 12th, Hay-on-Wye, 19.30, tickets online

‘We are delighted to welcome Hugh Thomson, author and explorer who will be giving an illustrated talk on the Icknield Way, an ancient trackway in use from pre-historic times from the South Dorset coast to North Norfolk.’


September 2013:   Royal Geographical Society,  Fellows Lecture, Mon 30 Sept

Hugh Thomson, The Green Road across England

Best known for his books exploring South America, Hugh Thomson now traces the evocative 400 mile Icknield Way from Dorset to Norfolk, passing Maiden Castle, Stonehenge and Avebury to reach his destination at Seahenge.’


June 2013:  Kings Place Travel Festival, London, Sunday, 23 June 2013 – 3:30pm / St Pancras Room

‘Hugh Thomson takes us on the old English ways, the drover-paths and tracks, the paths and ditches half-covered by bramble and tunnelled by alder, beech and oak: the trails that can still be traced by those who know where to look.’


November 2012:  London History Festival 2012, Tuesday 27 November, 7pm

 Bestselling authors Tom Holland (In The Shadow of the Sword) and Hugh Thomson (The Green Road Into The Trees) discuss their latest books – and how religion has shaped history.

From Christianity and Islam, to Anglo-Saxon England and Peru, the authors will shed light on different cultures and eras. Question the authors and join in the debate.  All offensive weapons should be left at reception.


September 2012, Henley Festival,  Weds 26th September 1.00 pm

Hugh will talk about The Green Road into the Trees, together with Dan Kieran, author of  The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel. If they both manage to get there.

from the programme:   “Hugh is a leading travel writer and film maker who strongly holds the view that the world is not as explored as we like to suppose. His latest book, The Green Road Into The Trees: An Exploration of England,  is a journey from the very centre of England to the outermost edges following ancient trails and drover tracks. Be prepared to be inspired.”


July 2012:   King’s Lynn Festival, ‘King’s Lynn the hard way!’  Monday 23 July,  7.30pm


King’s Lynn the hard way! © Hugh Thomson“Author and explorer Hugh Thomson describes his 400 mile journey from Dorset to Norfolk along the prehistoric Icknield Way. He uncovers the landscapes of ancient England, passing prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge and Avebury along the Way, and arriving at Seahenge.”

Venue: King’s Lynn Arts Centre (as part of the King’s Lynn Festival), 27-29 King Street, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 1HA.

Tickets: telephone +44 (0)15 5376 4864




July 2012 :  Ledbury Poetry Festival, Friday July 6th and Sunday July 8th

Hugh is taking part in 2 sessions at the Ledbury Poetry Festival:

July 6:  Screening of The Skull Beneath the Skin

A verse-film by Damian Gorman, Hugh Thomson and Ben Taylor marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

We know the journalistic story of 9/11. We know all too well what happened on that day. But what we need to be reconnected with is the emotion. What happened to us all just in watching those horrific events unfold – to the way we think about the world, about good, about evil.
What the story needs is a poet.
watch the film:  under 20 minutes
see what Bloodaxe Books say:  ‘This is a remarkable film: do watch it….’


July 8th:  Poetry reading, together with Damian Gorman

Hugh’s poetry has been an important part of his output in the last few years – he appeared at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 2010 – and his work ranges from Ryan Giggs to the death of an Afghan poet, from the first yak in Britain to the structure of crystals;  there are found poems, love poems, poems about his children, about films, about science, about marriage, death and divorce, and about angels.


Jan 2012:   RGS Fellows Lecture, Mon 31 Jan  [and repeated March 27 2012 at Clothworkers’ Hall in the City]

Hugh Thomson, The Discovery of Machu Picchu 

The author of The White Rock and other books on Peru will talk about Hiram Bingham’s extraordinary achievements as both an explorer and  photographer.


Oct 2011:  The Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton, Somerset, Wednesday 5 October 

 Beyond Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham made his dramatic discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911, and popularised a view of ‘the lost city in the clouds’ as a religious hideaway for the Virgins of the Sun.  Almost a century later, Hugh Thomson discusses the real significance of Machu Picchu in the light of other recent discoveries in the Peruvian Andes.  Over the last twenty years, he has taken several expeditions to remote sites in this area and knows it well:  the Incas left many other ruins in mountain settings as equally spectacular and accessible as Machu Picchu, at heights of up to 12,000 feet.  The question is why?


 June 2011:  Canning House, London, Wednesday June 15, 6.30 pm

‘Hiram Bingham and his Legacy ’ by Hugh Thomson

A lecture to mark the centenary of his discovery of Machu Picchu.

Canning House, 2 Belgrave Square, London SW1  (Anglo-Peru Society)


April 2011:  Oxford Literary Festival, Saturday April 9, 10.00 am

Machu Picchu – Rediscovering a Lost Inca City

“Exactly 100 years ago in 1911, explorer Hiram Bingham was left breathless by his first sight of this untouched Inca city: one of the great, dramatic moments of archaeological legend. Then twenty-five years ago, noted South American explorer and travel writer Hugh Thomson set off into the cloud-forest to find a ruin that had been carelessly lost again after its initial discovery. In this fully-illustrated talk, Hugh discusses the real significance of Machu Picchu in the light of other remote Inca cities that have been discovered.”

Followed by, at 11.30:

A reading from Tequila Oil, as part of Highland Park Readings


February 2011:   Talk on Peru at Canning House on Thursday 10th February, 7.00 pm 

“a Peruvian celebration with author and film-maker Hugh Thomson”

 Journey Latin America has invited Hugh to give a talk on Inca and pre-Inca cultures. Following the talk, which will start at 7pm, guests will be invited to stay for wine and canapés. Journey Latin America travel consultants will also be on hand to answer any questions you may have on Peru or Latin America.

To register for a free place at this event, email

In addition to the talk, Hugh will lead a one-off group tour that will arrive at Machu Picchu on the actual anniversary date – 24 July 2011.  Find out more about Hugh’s two-week tour:   The Story of Peru.


November 2010:  Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, November 5-7

another double-hander:  Hugh will be talking about poetry and travel writing with Harry Clifton, and also giving a workshop at the Poetry Festival.  See the programme.  He will also be doing the official almost-live blog from the festival, described as:

‘The ultimate celebration of international contemporary poetry. Join the poetry party on the inspirational East Suffolk coast for 44 events (12 free) – readings, workshops, discussions, craft-talks and exhibitions. Download the full Festival programme at:     Box office: 01728 687110′


July 2010:   a double-hander at the Dartington Hall Way with Words Festival, nr Totnes, July 14-15

Hugh will give two lectures on subsequent days to mark both his recent books:  one on Tequila Oil;  the next on Machu Picchu which not surprisingly is one of his favourite 50 Wonders of the Worldsee brochure


July 2010: Online discusion with other travel writers about its art and craft  at The Times Online, to tie in with The Dolman Best Travel Book Award.  But subscribers only:  cheques should be made payable to R Murdoch Esq.


June 2010 :  Tŷ Newydd June 7-12, Monday to Saturday

Join Hugh for a travel writing course, with the wonderful Christopher Somerville and Bidisha,  in  a spectacularly beautiful part of Wales.  This follows previous courses Hugh has taught  for Arvon.


‘Any journey undertaken – even a brief rail journey to a favourite place – can be a window into the world.  Discover how not just to explore new places, but to revisit familiar places with new questions. This course will show you how to gather and exploit the source material to describe the landscape, characters and memories of a place through natural, observant writing that sparkles with authenticity.’


Tŷ Newydd is the National Writers’ Centre for Wales and since 1990 has attracted writers from all over the world both as tutors and course participants.

One of the loveliest and most historic houses around the Snowdonia National Park, Tŷ Newydd is set in exquisite, wooded surroundings, looking out over Cardigan Bay, between the shapely hills of Eifionydd and the sea, and with the mountains of Wales ranged round the horizon.’

Residential: £525 (single); £450 (shared)  More information and how to book


March 2010:    Wednesday 03 Mar, 11.15am – 12.15pm

Bath Literary Festival :

‘Hugh Thomson has gone looking for lost cities in the Inca heartlands, journeyed through the most inaccessible parts of the Himalayas, and climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. His latest book, Tequila Oil, is about his attempt to buy a car on the Texan border and then take it thousands of miles to sell on the black market in Central America. His adventures do not always go according to plan but he does know how to write about travel. Come and find out how.’

See event information and book tickets £6

February 2010:  Travel Bookshop London, Thursday February 25th, 7.00pm

To launch the paperback of Tequila Oil, Hugh will give a reading and punters can enjoy a glass of wine

‘The Travel Bookshop offers the literary traveller a complete reading experience of every country in the world.  In addition to stocking an enormous range of the latest guidebooks, they offer travelogues, literature, history and biography, all arranged country by country.  The shop was also the inspiration for the bookshop in the 1999 Richard Curtis and Hugh Grant movie, Notting Hill. ‘

The Travel Bookshop, 13-15 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill.  Tickets a mere snip at £3.


Past Apearances:

Hugh has previously lectured several times for the Royal Geographical Society in London.   He  has also given lectures at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford,  The Explorers Club in New York and for the YPO (Young Presidents Organisation) in Barcelona and Cusco.

He has taught courses on Creative Writing for The Arvon Foundation and was a Special Lecturer at Bristol University for a  year.  He was recently appointed to a Royal Literary Fellowship at Oxford Brookes.

Hugh has appeared on  BBC Radio 4’s The Today Programme, Midweek, A Good Read, Excess Baggage, Off The Page and many other broadcast programmes, including National Public Radio in the USA and the BBC World Service.

He presented a feature length programme on Machu Picchu for  Radio 4 in 2011.  Listen Again to the BBC Radio 4 documentary on Hiram Bingham which Hugh wrote and presented, Who Found Machu Picchu.  ‘A classic’, A.L. Kennedy, Pick of the Week.

He has been asked to speak at many Literary Festivals including Hay, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Bath and Oxford.  He would welcome invitations to speak at Cartagena, Jaipur or anywhere hot, particularly in winter……