8 mins

Hilary Bradt talks... return trips

The Bradt Travel Guides founder doesn’t believe in ‘ticking off’ new countries but reconnecting with old ones

A horseride across Ireland gave Hilary the chance to meet some old friends (shutterstock)

A couple of years ago I turned down an invitation to speak at the Century Club. ‘Collecting’ as many different countries as possible really isn’t my thing.

Although there are a few countries where, for one reason or another, a single visit is enough, most have me planning my return almost as soon as I’m on the plane home. There’s something so satisfying about gradually getting to know a country through accumulative visits. Even the smallest ones will have places you didn’t have time to see; revisiting favourite places is like meeting an old friend after a gap of many years. Memories jostle with anticipation.

I have a friend who makes a point of taking old photos with her when she revisits somewhere she went to long ago. “People stroke the pictures so lovingly as they identify friends and landmarks from their childhood,” she told me. That way she connects with both old friends and strangers.

I recently made a return trip to Ireland to revisit the places and people that featured in my thousand-mile ride on horseback nearly 30 years ago. The timing felt just right. I had a book to finish and needed to check on a few things; furthermore, this year Ireland is celebrating The Gathering, making 2013 (according to Tourism Ireland) ‘the perfect year to come back to Ireland, to explore old connections and discover new ones’.

A sign bearing a horse’s head and the name ‘Melody’ prompted me to ask in the village shop in Ballymacarbry if Pat Melody was “still around”. He used to run the pony-trekking centre and had advised me three decades earlier. “Sure but he is!” said the man. “He lives next door.”

Within a few minutes I was sitting at Pat’s kitchen table being plied with cake, and recalling in detail the route I took over the mountains all those years ago. “I never heard from you again!” said Pat reproachfully. “And now you breeze in without warning 30 years later!” He was smiling broadly.

Instead of photos, I showed him the relevant bit in my manuscript. “Hmm, are you sure I said that?” he asked, dubiously. “Oh, I know the farm where you got lost. You should have gone through the gate into the farmyard, you see.”

Exploring old connections also took me to a very grand house in Tipperary where I had been so generously welcomed all those years ago. This time they were expecting me and threw a dinner party for the neighbouring couple I’d met in 1984 and a few other “interesting people”. It was everything The Gathering should be: nostalgic, convivial, entertaining. “What did you say your name was?” a former Olympic rider sitting opposite me had asked. “I can’t keep calling you ‘ghastly’!” This perhaps surprising name stemmed from his response to various horsey celebrities who had come into the conversation.

Travel, as Wanderlust readers know, is so much more than simply ticking off the sights. We establish a relationship with the land and its people. So why wouldn’t we want to come back?

Which do YOU prefer? Landing somewhere new or taking a return trip to somewhere more familiar? Join in the discussion on the myWanderlust forum now.

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