While on expedition around the Arabian Peninsula, the TV explorer shares his stories of travel and formative YHA adventures.
You’re on an expedition now. Where are you and what’s your plan?
I’m currently on a journey to circumnavigate the Arabian Peninsula, from Mosul in Iraq right round to Beirut on the Mediterranean coast, through more than ten countries and across one of the most contested but also one of the most diverse parts of the world. I have already seen so many things that defy the stereotypes and that I wouldn’t have expected in the Middle East.
Was there one formative moment as a youngster that made you love the outdoors, or was it a gradual experience?
I suppose that it was a gradual experience, but as a youngster, doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award was a big part of discovering the outdoors for me. It enabled me to go and see the UK countryside – places like the Peak District, the Brecon Beacons and the Scottish Highlands.
What was your first experience with YHA?
For the various phases we had to complete for DofE, such as the skills and residential courses, I ended up staying in youth hostels in several amazing places. We stayed in a stunning one in YHA Ilam Hall in Derbyshire and in YHA Castleton Losehill Hall in the Peak District.
Where in England and Wales do you go for outdoor adventure in between expeditions?
If I want a dose of the great outdoors in the UK, I usually go down to Brecon Beacons and have a day’s walking up Pen y Fan.
What would you say to young people who want to become explorers?
I’d encourage anyone who wants to go and explore, to do it. Time spent outside or away travelling will teach you lots of new skills and with a bit of experience you can make your own journeys. You don’t need to be a full time adventurer – anyone can undertake mini expeditions or go on their own journey.
Why is it important to get young people into the outdoors?
It’s crucial, not just because it encourages us to reconnect with nature and the natural world, but also because it encourages people to be physically fit. And fundamentally it makes a change to normal routine, because it’s all too easy to while away a year staring at the computer screen.
What was the thing that surprised you most about your last expedition?
The surprising thing about Russia to Iran (a 2,600-mile trek that featured on Channel 4) was the amazing hospitality of the people in the Caucasus, even in places that we often see in the media as supposedly being far too dangerous to visit, such as Chechnya and Dagestan. Dagestan was also stunning and the views in the mountains were sublime.
What is the one thing you’d have told your younger self before setting off on your first long expedition?
When I was 18, I went on a gap year before I started university and it was a great formative travel experience but also a very steep learning curve. I’m glad that I took the risk to travel and go to the places that I’d always wanted to go and see. In terms of advice, to be honest I’d say be bold and take risks and meet as many people as possible.
Levison Wood’s latest book Eastern Horizons was published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available to buy in bookshops and on Amazon.