“It’s amazing to be standing here in this place where  such great explorers as Livingstone and Shackleton stood before.”  Benedict Allen, a quirky traveller if ever there was, opened this year’s  inspiring Travellers’ & Photographers’  Tales Festival last weekend at the Royal Geographical Society in London. He was so funny and self-deprecating about his time as an idealistic young  man sharing the inaugural Manhood ceremonies of the Amazon tribes and living with indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea, from whom he learnt so much.

What a brilliant line-up it was. Just a few of the people I saw …

  • Impish DERVLA MURPHY, now in her 80s and as feisty as ever, talking about her youth in Ireland and how it inspired her love of travel
  • Moving FERGAL KEANE sharing his stories as a BBC foreign correspondent and the impact on him of the horrific war in Rwanda
  • Hilarious CHRIS STEWART, author of ‘Driving Over Lemons’, keeping us amused with his tales of how he got into writing and his tales of life in rural Spain
  • Internationally renowned (tho rather long-winded!) photographer FRANS LANTING, sharing with us ‘The Life Project’ and his visualisation and musical realisation of the Cerne Hadron Collider project in Switzerland
  •  Thought-provoking NEEL MUKHERJEE, sharing the genesis of his award-winning Indian novel, ‘Past Continuous’
  • Creative world-renowned photographers CAROL BECKWITH & ANGELA FISHER, sharing with us their magical images of African tribal body painting 

The absolute highlight for me was seeing and hearing one of my absolute Travel Heroes, Jan Morris, reading from her latest book  of travel reminiscences, ‘Contact!’  As a young English teacher in the West Midlands, I hankered after foreign climes. I yearned to live in another culture and be not just as a tourist but to really experience what it was like to be a ‘foreigner’.  One day I heard Jan Morris speaking about her travels in Europe and I just knew I had to follow my dream …

… And so I told her as she signed my slightly battered copy of ‘Venice.’  “What shall I write?” she asked. “Can you put ‘In search of Letitia’ please,” I said. “I recently discovered she is my Venetian Gt Gt Gt Grandmother, and I am trying to find her. You inspired me to give up my teaching job and follow my heart …”  She smiled vaguely and wrote as requested.  No doubt for her I was just one more ‘star-struck fan’ but for me it meant a huge amount and I shall remember that moment forever …

I am Travel Editor for Wandering Educators. In this article you can read about Virginia Woolf’s birthplace, in the same road that Winston Churchill lived a died, just round the corner from the Festival venue.