Wanderlust Europe: An Interview with Alex RoddieInspiration
‘On your own two feet, carrying the essentials on your back, is the best way to travel. Long-distance backpacking is quite a primitive form of engaging with the landscape – and it’s incredibly rewarding. This is how humans have always lived – we were nomadic until the invention of agriculture – and I think that’s why it feels so right.’ – Alex Roddie
Wanderlust Europe: The Great European Hike is the new book on Europe’s best big trails from gestalten, co-edited by long-distance walker, outdoor writer and editor Alex Roddie.
Writing a guidebook on the best long-distance walks in Europe seems like a dream job to an accomplished backpacker like yourself – but in the time since starting the book, the world changed. How do you think the role of the book has shifted?
Alex: Although concerns remain about the risk of bringing the virus to remote communities, potential impact on emergency services, and other factors such as the availability of huts, in general I think that long-distance, self-supported hiking in remote areas is one of the safest things you can do – assuming you can get to the start. A lot of people are now dreaming of these big routes. Confinement and restriction make us yearn for the mountains. And we all need to dream – particularly at times like these. There’s been an explosion of interest in the outdoors, even in my own decidedly non-mountainous part of the UK, and it’s great to see so many new people enjoying nature and the outdoors.
I think this book is something that symbolises hope and dreams for the adventure community – it’s filled with incredible adventures to look forward to when we get to the other side of all this.
How did you decide which routes to include?
Most of the routes we selected are not super hard, but they’re each excellent in their own way – and that was the most important aspect, that the routes are the very best, and emblematic of that particular region. We chose routes from all over Europe in its broadest sense, from the Canary Islands to Iceland to the Caucasus, and so there’s a wide geographical mix, including mountains, coastlines, deep wilderness and relatively populated rural areas. In addition to that, the book had to include different levels of hikes, from the expert, long, once-in-a-lifetime trips to the shorter weekend hikes in easier areas. It was an incredibly tricky task whittling down all of the great hikes of Europe to pick only the very best for one book.
What is it about walking – above all other styles of adventure – that is so ideal?
On your own two feet, carrying the essentials on your back, is the best way to travel. Long-distance backpacking is quite a primitive form of engaging with the landscape – and it’s incredibly rewarding. This is how humans have always lived – we were nomadic until the invention of agriculture. Life was about finding a safe route through the landscape, finding resources, and then a safe place to sleep. That’s basically what backpacking is, and that’s why it feels so right. It’s how we evolved to live, not the way most of us live in the modern world – and I think deep down we all know that.
The book offers a guide to all of these great walks, but it’s also a beautiful book filled with great photography and stories. What was the idea behind the layout?
Traditional guidebooks haven’t changed much in content and the way they’re laid out. But I think we’re starting to see hybrid guidebooks where there’s a bit of both inspiration and strictly informative content. Wanderlust Europe certainly falls into that class – it’s much too big to pack in your rucksack, but it offers something more than your standard coffee-table book, with as much storytelling as guidance on getting from A to B.
My favourite thing about this book is actually the photography. Although I supplied a lot myself from my own adventures, we also sourced many images from other photographers who know the areas well and can show them off best. We’ve included some great images, including some from my brother James Roddie based in Scotland. It was nice to be able to put forward some talented outdoor photographers and offer them work during a very challenging period – most of them lost at least some work during that time, and the entire industry is still struggling.
You wrote this book during a lockdown, which must have been strange to write about faraway adventures when we couldn’t have any ourselves. How did your perception of adventure shift?
The definition of adventure itself is quite fuzzy, and everyone has their own idea of what adventure means. My own definition has changed over the last few years – mine used to be almost exclusively about these big mountain routes with ultralight kit, really pushing my limits. Over lockdown, I looked at familiar things in a different way. My perception of adventure is shifting away from the physical edge to something more inclusive, just experiencing something new and being open to new experiences. I think many people will be going through that. And I hope that, if we do go into another national lockdown, people will enjoy this book – it’s filled with good things to look forward to, which is something we definitely need when we’re going through a tough period like this.
What do you think is the relationship between long-distance hiking and environmental awareness or sustainability?
In travelling, we can inadvertently damage the places we visit. But, on the other hand, people have to love these places in order to care about them and help to push back against the damage caused by human activity – especially industrial development. Without people to stand up for wild places and fight for their protection, they’d long since have been paved over or exploited by big business. Wild areas don’t stay wild for long in the modern world without protection. Nature is under threat like never before, and travel plays a crucial role in forging a personal connection between people and wild places.
At the same time, I’m conscious that a lot of the routes we featured can’t easily be accessed by any low-carbon forms of transport, and that’s not something I’m sure I have the answer to. I think we just have to keep trying to educate people and help them to make conscious decisions about how they travel. At every opportunity, I added details to the book about the rapidly changing nature of our mountain environments – especially the glacial retreat that is having a significant impact on many of the areas featured.
Which of these hikes are you dreaming of next?
It’s got to be the Nordkalottleden, Scandinavia’s Arctic Trail, which threads a very remote and highly challenging route through Swedish Lapland, Finland, and Norway. The Nordkalottleden has been on my list for many years, but researching it for the book, and helping to select the wonderful images provided by long-distance hiker Colin Ibbotson, have really sold it to me.
Wanderlust Europe: The Great European Hike is available now, with an exclusive discount* via the Sidetracked online shop.
Alex Roddie is an experienced long-distance backpacker and mountaineer. He writes regularly for many outdoor magazines and websites in the UK, and is Sidetracked’s editor.
*This offer is limited to UK and European orders only. Offer valid until November 1st 2020.
Photography copyright Gestalten and the respective photographers.