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The 12 best travel books of 2020

From exploring the natural world right on our doorstep here in the UK to taking a trip into the fictional landscapes of South America and the Caribbean, we highlight the books that have given us a great escape this year.

Published 21 Dec 2020, 08:05 GMT
From Nancy Campbell's Fifty Words for Snow to Accidentally Wes Anderson by Wally Koval, we highlight the books ...

From Nancy Campbell's Fifty Words for Snow to Accidentally Wes Anderson by Wally Koval, we highlight the books that have given us a great escape this year.

Photograph by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Best for nature lovers


1. The Stubborn Light of Things, by Melissa Harrison

If you haven’t heard Harrison’s soul-soothing podcast then this eponymous nature diary, following her move from south London to the Suffolk countryside, should be a joyful reason to do so. It’s the perfect companion piece to this chronicle of her journey to uncover the nature on our doorsteps wherever we live and celebrate its way of signalling the seasons. Faber & Faber, £14.99.

2. Wanderland, by Jini Reddy

Follow the author on a journey to connect with the magic in the British landscape in this shortlisted entry for the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing. Her travels — which range from a coast-to-coast pilgrimage to a trip encountering a goddess worshipping group of women — seek to develop a more spiritual, intimate relationship with nature. Born to Indian parents in the UK and raised in Canada, Jini offers a wry, unique perspective on the beauty of our landscape. Bloomsbury, £16.99.

Read more: Six new books inspired by the natural world

Best for fans of fiction with a sense of place
 

3. Love After Love, by Ingrid Persaud

The follow up to The Sweet Sop, which won both the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2017 and the BBC National Short Story Award 2018, in Love After Love, Ingrid Persaud mines tender human truths from otherwise invisible, small town Caribbean lives. The everyday family houses, back gardens and streets of Trinidad are firmly in frame, brought sharply to life with colloquial, rhythmic Trini dialect. Faber, £14.99.

4. A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende’s latest novel is a thumping read, following the life of a young doctor from Barcelona, forcibly transplanted to Chile during the Spanish Civil War (aboard a ship chartered by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, no less). Raised in Chile and exiled to Venezuela, Allende understands the rippling effects of being uprooted herself, and this story focuses on the lasting impact of displacement. Bloomsbury, £16.99.

This scene from the Amer Fort in Rajasthan is one of the many real-life locations in Willy Koval’s exquisitely curated new book, Accidentally Wes Anderson

Photograph by @chrsschlkx

Best for photographers
 

5. Accidentally Wes Anderson, by Wally Koval

A visual journey through the cult @accidentallywesanderson Instagram account that conjures the celluloid universe of director Wes Anderson via photos from real life. Learn the stories behind each Technicolor-tinged location — from Prague’s pink Hotel Opera, a double for Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, to Roberts Cottages in California, a pastel-perfect parade of houses that could be straight out of any of his works. Plus, there’s a foreword from the director himself. Trapeze, £25.

Read more: Escape into the wonderful world of Wes Anderson with this new travel photography book

6. Along the Western Front, by Leah Hennel

This crackling debut collection of photography focuses on contemporary cowboy culture and modern ranching lifestyle in Alberta, with evocative shots taken by a Calgary city lass with a long-held passion for backcountry Canada. This fresh perspective on a long-mythologised North American way of life induces you to shake the prairie dust from your shoulders with shots that capture calves being ‘wrassled’ to the ground for branding, saddle-level scenes of rodeo riders, and intimate family portraits from a remote Hutterite colony. Rocky Mountain Books, £23.

Best for conservationists
 

7. Ice: Tales from a Disappearing World, Marco Tedesco

Glaciologist Marco Tedesco, working with Italian journalist Alberto Flores d'Arcais, does a gripping job of evoking both the magnificence and fragility of Greenland’s ice sheet, whose fluxing form plays an oversized role in the future of life on Earth. The vanishing world of ice in Greenland, one of the least-known and least-inhabited parts of the world, is told through 24 hours in the life of an arctic researcher. Headline, £14.99.

8. The Last Giants, Levison Wood

Television’s intrepid explorer examines ‘the rise and fall of the African elephant’ with stories from his time spent travelling with migrating pachyderms across the continent, which he also documented in the Channel 4 series Walking with Elephants. A passionate wake-up call to protect the endangered species (50 years ago, Africa was home to over 1.3 million elephants, a number that had halved by 1990), this book is one for conservationists, animal lovers and Afrophiles alike. Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99.

Read more: Levison Wood on walking with elephants in Botswana

Chobe National Park, Botswana, provides a migration corridor for elephants to protected areas in the north east.

Photograph by Getty Images

Best for discovering the UK
 

9. Dark, Salt, Clear: Life in a Cornish Fishing Town by Lamorna Ash

In the country’s most southwesterly corner, Dark, Salt, Clear: Life in a Cornish Fishing Town sees author Lamorna Ash return to the town of Newlyn, Britain’s largest working fishing port. Here, she explores the seascapes and beaches of her childhood summers, takes trips with trawlermen, learns how to gut fish and gets to grips with other aspects of a coastal lifestyle that’s under threat. Bloomsbury, £16.99.

10. The Accidental Countryside, by Stephen Moss

From prehistoric ruins to abandoned railway lines, skyscrapers and docklands, Moss seeks out the unexpected corners of Britain where wildlife survives against the odds. The natural history writer and television producer explores places of human habitation where nature has nonetheless managed to thrive. We meet nesting peregrine falcons at the Tate Modern and the buzzing ecosystem at Hackney’s Woodberry Wetlands, which have grown up around a Victorian reservoir. These pockets of ‘accidental countryside’ are, he writes, oases that offer fascinating insights into nature’s relationship with man-made environments. Faber & Faber, £16.99.

Read more: Spring reads: six ways to celebrate the outdoors while staying indoors

Best for linguaphiles 
 

11. Fifty Words for Snow, by Nancy Campbell

Award-winning author Nancy Campbell takes 50 words for snow from around the globe and uses them to reveal what snow means to different cultures. Snow isn’t silent and isn’t always white, she observes — and this is just a starting point for her exploration of the language that describes myriad snowscapes, from mountain peaks and glaciers to boreal cities and Baltic landscapes. Elliott & Thomson, £12.99.

12. The Lost Spells, by Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

A companion piece to the pair’s The Lost Words, this pocket-sized ‘spell book’ is an immersion in the vocabulary we use to name our flora and fauna, including the commonplace and often unsung — the likes of the barn owl, silver birch, jay and jackdaw. Its ‘spell-poems’ are lifegiving incantations to read out loud to remember the great wonder in small things. The words are paired with beautiful illustrations that add to its allure. Penguin Books, £14.00.

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