Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Article excerpt

Hilary Bradt is the co-founder of Bradt, which now has about 200 travel guides in print, specialising in off-beat destinations. Forty years after her first book was published, she talks to Olivia Edward about the 1960s play that changed her life, her most frightening travel experience, and why she still hitchhikes in her 70s

I was born in Bournemouth and reared in Buckinghamshire. My mother was a physiotherapist, and my father liked to pretend he didn't have any children. So, in essence, I came from a one-parent family until we were teenagers and he began to take an interest.

My mother never said, 'Take care.' I really owe her for that. She had three children and was busy, so she would just open the back door and let us out. We were completely free to do whatever we wanted to do as long as we came back by dark. I learnt to be adventurous and take care of myself and find my way around.

I wanted to go to art school and be a sculptor but my mother wasn't sure I was good enough so she suggested I train as an occupational therapist instead. But in 1964, I had a life-changing experience. I saw a play about the conquest of the Incas called The Royal Hunt of the Sun and became fascinated by the Inca culture. They were the most perfect socialist regime that has ever been; everything was done for the good of the community rather than the individual.

I moved to the USA to earn enough money to travel to Peru and, when I married my husband George, I said we must go back to South America. We walked lots of trails, including the Inca Trail, which we were the first people to write about. Although the path existed, it was so little known at the time that the wrong routes were more worn than the right ones. Arriving at Machu Picchu was magical. There was only one other couple hiking at the time; now more than 2,000 people can visit in a day.

When we found another Inca route in Bolivia, we began to think that we should really share this information. We were initially going to write a booklet for the main outdoor equipment sellers in the USA, letting people know where they could go after they had bought their kit, but we sent what we had written to George's mother and she had 1,000 copies printed and sold them quite quickly.

We didn't mean to be real publishers. I'm a lousy businesswoman, but our enthusiasm carried us through the first five books. We just wanted to share the information--mostly hiking guides to begin with--and make the books better and better. We learnt on the hoof.

I decided to publish what I wanted to, rather than what I thought the world wanted. That was a wise decision. …

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