Tag Archives: travel

Attention all dromomaniacs

Have you heard of the medical condition known as”mad travellers’ disease” or more officially as “dromomania”? What a lovely word! This condition describes people who are driven to wander long distances due to irresistible impulses. They have an exaggerated desire to wander or travel.

The word is derived from Ancient Greek dromosa running/race, and mania-insanity.

Wikipedia offers the following: Dromomania, also travelling fugue, is an uncontrollable psychological urge to wander. People with this condition spontaneously depart from their routine; they may travel long distances and take up different identities and occupations. Months may pass before they return to their former identities. In the common English vernacular this is often rendered simply as ‘wanderlust’ (directly from the German), although dromomania does imply a psychological compulsion, usually on one’s own and often without one’s conscious knowledge, rather than a more generalised desire to travel. The most famous case was that of Jean-Albert Dadas, a Bordeaux gas-fitter. Dadas would suddenly set out on foot and reach cities as far away as Prague, Vienna or Moscow with no memory of his travels. Jean-Martin Charcot presented a case he called automatisme ambulatoire, French for ‘ambulatory automatism’, or ‘walking around without being in control of one’s own actions.’ More generally, the term is sometimes used to describe people who have a strong emotional or even physical need to be constantly traveling and experiencing new places, often at the expense of their normal family, work, and social lives.”

Rachael Jones constructed her own fiction based on dromomania. How many of us feel driven to travel around our own countries or abroad as often as our finances can manage? Are you a dromomaniac? Am I a dromomaniac because I feel driven to walk the length of the Derwent River, while I hope more dollars will find their way into my bank account so I can travel overseas again?

A story of a walk in 19th century Tasmania

In the late 1980s, Hilary Webster compiled a book of short stories written by people who travelled around Tasmania by foot and by horse and carriage in the nineteenth century; The Tasmanian Traveller A Nineteenth Century Companion For Modern Travellers.   Thanks to blog follower Ma, I was alerted to this publication.

The Tasmanian Traveller

These stories helped me to understand the difficulty of travel in early colonial Tasmania when roads were not always developed. Some stories surprised me so that I feel inspired to visit Tasmania’s State Archives in order to discover more.

A standout was the story of a walk from ‘Trial Harbour to the Ouse” because the journey relates to some of the area over which I may walk later this year when I restart my walk along the Derwent River.

Trial Harbour is an isolated tiny community on the west coast north of Queenstown where, these days, the few shacks are built with the strangest chimneys to cope with the weight of the westerly winds which blow fiercely from across the Indian Ocean. The Ouse refers to a small town, then hamlet, somewhat south of the centre of Tasmania and situated most remotely from civilisation.  Back then, it took a day’s coach and train ride to reach Hobart. These areas and the land between is an exceptionally rugged environment today and I have difficulty imagining the situation in the 19th century when the walk in the story was taken.

The subtitle of the 1890s story was ’A Lady’s Walking Tour on the West Coast’. A woman (no name) walked with her husband and a dog through ‘untamed’ wilderness, along mining and forestry tracks and the occasional muddy rutted roads.  They climbed mountains, crossed button grass plains and walked through valleys.  She recorded “More than once we were asked our business, the notion of travelling on foot for pleasure in these regions appeared preposterous.” I would say such a walk is extraordinary in this day and age, and totally amazing 125 years ago.  Innovative means were taken to cross rivers. Overnight accommodation was found in out of the way tiny remote mining shops, shacks, huts and the occasional Inn. Telegraph wires were often their only guide for a way forward. Through the rugged wilderness, routinely they walked 17 or more miles (27+kilometres) each day and on one day they walked 33 miles (53 kilometres). I am staggered.  I know the challenging environment in which they walked.  The mountains are many and very steep with ravine and river gullies that are cut into the rock deeply.

Her pack of provisions weighed 7 pounds while her husband carried 21 pounds.  This makes me wonder if contemporary bushwalkers aren’t tough enough – or are we trying to be prepared for every eventuality. The good will of people they met and the willingness of others to share their meagre food supplies, and help with sleeping arrangements, was perhaps something that could be taken for granted in 19th century Tasmania. Generous hospitality as a given.  ‘We got some bread here, and at a house a mile further on the track, some milk, the first fresh milk we had tasted since Waratah.’  This comment indicates she was walking across Tasmania before Trial Harbour – the significant mining town of Waratah is quite a distance north east of Trial Harbour.  So I suspect there may be earlier stories of her walking across other parts of Tasmania – I look forward to conducting research to find records of these.

The first piece of travel writing?

Simon Armitage, in his book Walking Home (Faber & Faber 2012), put modern day walking projects into perspective when he looked back into history to find the earliest record of something similar.

He settled on an account written around 700-800 B.C., titled The Odyssey about Odysseus (Ulysses) the King of the island of Ithaca off the west coast of Greece, who took a decade to travel a comparatively short distance back home after fighting the Trojan war in Troy.  This was a sea voyage; not a walking trip. Nevertheless I can understand Armitage’s choice because Homer has been described as ‘the best story teller in the world’ (E.V.Rieu, 1980, Homer The Odyssey, Penguin Books.

Sculpture of Homer

(Above: a marble bust of Homer displayed in the collection of the British Museum. Apparently, this sculpture was carved in the first or second century A.D in Italy.)

Simon Armitage says ‘The Odyssey is one of the greatest works of western literature, and also one of the earliest, a sort of bedrock or foundation on which many subsequent stories are built. In what could also be described as one of the first pieces of travel writing, The Odyssey is presented as a poem, written by Homer, who may or may not have existed, and tells the tale of Odysseus’s exhausting and beleaguered return from battle.’

Through subsequent centuries, Homer’s work inspired others to write both fictional and documentary style travel stories. You can read a translation of his epic at http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html. If you want an entertaining crash course in the story, try viewing:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS4jk5kavy4

For a bit of fun for those who learn visually, you can interact with a map of Odysseus’s possible travels at: http://www.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/homer/index.php?page=odymap

Walking Home-the Pennine Way

During Tasmania’s current winter days I am using my time to read books with a travel theme, and mostly those involving a significant walk.  These books both inform and inspire me so that I eagerly look forward to the warmer spring weather when I will be able to continue walking to the source of the Derwent River.

I am thankful some local followers of my blog have alerted me to titles and, in some cases, loaned me their books. Thanks to Ma, my current read is Simon Armitage’s book Walking Home (Faber & Faber 2012).

Walking Home Simon Armitage

In this easy-to-read record, Armitage offers anecdotes and describes his reaction to the walk, the dramatic terrain, the endlessly misty, ferociously windy and inclement weather, the people who walked with him on occasion, the animals, and much more. Through his very entertaining writing style I have come to understand the 256 mile long Pennine Way in England via each step he took as he tramped from the northern to the southern end during 19 days of continuous walking.

The logistics of this walk were well-researched and involved pre-arranged poetry readings each night when he reached each day’s destination in villages, farm cottages, churches, people’s houses, hotels and all manner of other buildings. One of his dry unused walking socks was handed around at the end of each reading and the audience was asked to contribute funds. Simon set out to survive only on the income he could generate in this way. He was so well received that around the journey’s half way point, his wife and daughter came and relieved him of a heavy weight of coins: at the same time they took away a load of very wet and muddy clothes.

I live in a part of the world where rain is not so common, and impenetrable mist is rarely a feature. By contrast, when in summer Simon Armitage walked the higher hills and ridges of the Pennine Way, they were often shrouded in mist and, when the tracks sometimes petered out Simon, would lose his way for a while, become thoroughly drenched and, while trying not to become demoralised, persist in finding his way even if unnecessary miles were covered.  This was an arduous adventure taken one step at a time and I felt a real sense of joy coming from the author as he met each challenge, and as the miles passed. He became both physically and mentally stronger.

Whether or not, you enjoy walking, if you like to be carried along by a book and feel an immense sense of pleasure from reading something which is well written, then add Walking Home to your wish list for reading material. This book made me laugh and certainly lifted my spirits.

‘The Art of Travel’ by Alain de Botton

Follower Ch sent me a pdf of Chapter IX ‘On Habit’ from Alain de Botton’s book, The Art of Travel (2002, Hamish Hamilton an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd).

The art-of-travel Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton describes very well so many thoughts I have had while walking on ‘home’ territory along the Derwent River.  How I wish I could write so eloquently. But thank goodness Alain can and has on the topic which keeps me alive most of my waking hours.

The reading will take 15 or so minutes if you want to digest all the thoughts. But it is easy reading and I encourage you to read it.

If you Google there are options for free downloading of the book.  Alternatively, let me know if you want me to printscreen each of the 11 pages of the chapter and insert into a blog posting – obviously this will only be undertaken for educational reasons Mr Copyright controller.