Interview: Alastair Humphreys

Published: 26th April 2017

Adventurer, author and film-maker Alastair Humphreys is a former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year

Alastair Humphreys

Alastair Humphreys has cycled round the world, rowed across the Atlantic, ran through the Sahara Desert, published nine books and won the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year accolade. 

You coined the term ‘microadventure’ – why would you want people to go on a microadventure, rather than a ‘big old traditional’ adventure?

I think a 'big old traditional adventure' is a brilliant thing to do, and I'd urge anyone to try to make one happen. But the reality of real life means that many people struggle with the time, money, expertise or fitness necessary for a big expedition. So rather than doing nothing at all, this is where the microadventure comes in. The idea is to look at what is possible rather than what is not possible.

You recently travelled around John Muir Trust properties for a film you’re planning to bring out soon. Did that make you think anything new or different?

It reinforced my love for Scotland's wild places and, in particular, the north west of the country. It taught me more about the work of the John Muir Trust and subsequently made me feel more impressed by the Trust's work. Our aim was to explore the variety of landscapes and the variety of adventurous activities that can be done in those places. Scotland certainly has plenty of wildness in which to seek adventure, and the John Muir Trust is doing a fine job protecting those landscapes.

You’re well known for your inspirational writing. Which writers inspire you and why?

Laurie Lee made me fall in love with the spirit and landscapes of Spain. He travelled slow, lived simply, slept on hilltops, relished spontaneity, and loved conversations with the different people he met along the hot and dusty road. His descriptive writing is beautiful.

John Steinbeck for his development of characters and his exploration of the human spirit. And Roger Deakin for his good-humoured exploration of the UK, demonstrating that you don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to find wildness, beauty, and adventure.

What’s the thing people underestimate about going on an adventure?

That it is such a good investment for your life. Sure, adventures cost money, they take time, they are hard, they are a hassle etc. etc. etc. But I love it when I meet old people and the way their eyes glint when they begin recalling the adventures of their youth. Adventures make you a better person, I'm sure of that.

You’ve supported the campaign to make London a National Park City. What would you say to convince those who argue that a National Park City is a contradiction in terms?

I'd say that anything that makes more people more aware of the wildness around them is a good thing. Also, anything that makes people discuss the role of 'normal' National Parks is a good thing too. Having a National Park City in no way demeans all the other parks.

I believe you’ve a few other strings to your bow, so to speak. Any plans to give up writing to become a full-time busker?

You've clearly never heard me play...!

Find out more about how Alastair busked his way across Spain 

Read more interviews on the Trust's website

This interview first appeared in the Trust's membership publication The Journal in Autumn 2016. Find out more about becoming a member of the John Muir Trust.