In Review

The Slow Road to Tehran: this is ‘modern travel writing at its best’

The British journalist describes her year-long, 11,000km trip on a bicycle she names ‘Maud’

“Ever since Dervla Murphy packed a pistol and pedalled from Ireland to India in 1963, recounting her adventures in Full Tilt, there has been a demand for two-wheeled adventure tales,” said Caroline Eden in the FT.

The Slow Road to Tehran is the latest addition to the genre: in it, British journalist Rebecca Lowe describes her year-long, 11,000km trip through the Middle East on a bicycle she names “Maud”. Lowe admits she was unprepared to the point of foolhardiness: she set out having had “zero hours of training”, and didn’t bother to map out her terrain in advance. “We think you’ll probably die,” her family told her.

She proves, however, a “thrillingly single-minded” adventurer, and is “so refreshingly self-deprecating that you cannot help but root for her”. Her book isn’t perfect – she crams too much into it – but her “travel for travel’s sake” ethos is refreshing, and most of her stories are “highly entertaining”.

Lowe had an inkling that, as a solo female traveller, her experiences would be enhanced by her vulnerability, said James Barr in The Times. This intuition proves largely correct, though it does expose her to much unpleasantness: in Lebanon, a man pulls down the window of his black Mercedes, and says simply, “Sex”; “in Egypt, she is relieved then horrified when a passing tuk-tuk driver who has just slapped her bottom is stopped and beaten up by the policemen who are shadowing her”.

She has a talent for getting people to talk to her, and these conversations form the basis of sharp “vignettes”, said Tom Chesshyre in The Critic. Carefully researched, and laced with wry humour, this is “modern travel writing at its best”. When Lowe finally arrives at Tehran’s airport – and checks in her “much-dented and repaired bicycle – I couldn’t help but whisper: bravo!”

September Publishing 416pp; £18.99

 Slow Road to Tehran book cover
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