Nick Hunt has the kind of life many dream of, combining his love of travel and writing to explore far-flung parts of the world. His first book Walking the Woods and the Water (2014) followed in the footsteps of renowned travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor as he trekked from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul. His latest book, Where the Wild Winds Are, traces Europe’s winds from the Pennines to Provence.
Ahead of his book launch at Stanfords Bristol, Nick spoke to Bristol24/7 about how he stumbled upon such a quixotic subject matter.
Following winds as opposed a path or road seems an unusual subject for a travel book. How did you come up with the idea?
I’d been looking for a route to do for a long time, with increasing frustration. It seemed that every track or route or road had been extensively documented. Then I saw a map of Europe that was covered in these kinds of lines or arrows that went across the continent, that turned out to be the routes of named winds, like the Mistral and Tramontana and the Sirocco and Bora, and all of these mysterious evocative names.
They were so obviously routes with a starting point and end point. In fact, they are not that clear cut and simple, but they do travel along very well-defined passageways.
Which winds did you follow and why?
I went searching for four winds. The Helm, Britain’s only named wind that blows across Cross Fell, the highest peak in the Pennines, then the destructive but healthy Bora, which blows across Slovenia and Croatia and northern Italy. Next was the Foehn in the Swiss Alps, and finally I followed the Mistral along France’s Rhone Valley. It’s known as the ‘wind of madness’ and may well have contributed to Vincent van Gogh’s madness. A lot of them are linked to Greek gods, like the Bora was named after Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind.
What intrigued you most about these different winds?
I was largely intrigued by all the psychological effects and to what extent they were old wives’ tales and myths or actual documented things. With the Foehn for example, everyone I spoke to said it gave them insomnia, or nosebleeds, or anxiety, depression, irritability. Although hard to prove, it’s also been linked to spikes in suicide rates and violent crime. I went for three weeks documenting people’s accounts, never imagining that I would be affected by it. But when I eventually found it, it was a relentless white noise, very strong and warm, and quite uncomfortable.
One theory is that it produces positive ions, like computer screens and air conditioning, which are linked to serotonin fluctuations which can cause depression. After a few days of it, I woke up physically and mentally exhausted, and this anxiety grew and grew. I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me, then I realised… this was exactly how I was meant to feel.
Some of the winds took you a long time to find? Did you find the experience frustrating?
There was definitely real frustration, along with some despair and disillusionment. I definitely went through phases of wondering if it wouldn’t be possible, especially when I tried to find the Bora and the wrong wind – the Jugo – was blowing the whole time. But I was drawn to the quixotic nature of it. There’s something quite absurd and ridiculous about trying to follow something you can’t see and doesn’t exist in the same way a river or road does.
This book was a couple of years in the making. How do you support yourself being a travel writer?
A lot of the travelling was funded by the Society of Authors, a fantastic organisation; they gave me a bursary. My first book was crowdfunded, and I was also helped by the Globetrotters Club, a small group of wonderful eccentrics who give independent travel grants for people doing interesting things.
Nick Hunt will be at Stanfords on September 13 discussing his book Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, £16.99). For more information, visit: www.stanfords.co.uk/event-an-evening-with-nick-hunt-where-the-wild-winds-are
To hear more of Nick’s adventures, download the Bristol and Beyond podcast by Gwyneth Rees.
Read more author interviews: Eley Williams