The best books on travel with animals

Hilary Bradt Author Of A Connemara Journey: A Thousand Miles on Horseback Through Western Ireland
By Hilary Bradt

The Books I Picked & Why

Tschiffely's Ride: Ten Thousand Miles in the Saddle from Southern Cross to Pole Star

By Aimé Tschiffely

Book cover of Tschiffely's Ride: Ten Thousand Miles in the Saddle from Southern Cross to Pole Star

Why this book?

Also known as Southern Cross to Pole Star, this tale of an epic journey by horseback from Buenos Aires to Washington, published in 1933, has never been out of print. I first read the offshoot for young readers, The Tale of Two Horses, written from the point of view of his Creole horses, Mancha and Gato, when I was a pony-mad child and read the longer adult version later. The Swiss-Argentine writer, Aime Tschiffely, was a man of his time – arrogant, intolerant, but supremely courageous – and his ten thousand mile ride will never be equaled. The dangers he met are hair-raising and his love for his horses inspiring. The book planted a small seed of ambition in my childhood imagination.


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Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes: And Other Travel Writings

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Book cover of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes: And Other Travel Writings

Why this book?

Like Tschiffely’s Ride this is a travel narrative, given heightened interest and amusement by the addition of Modestine the donkey who carried Stevenson’s luggage. Modestine, like all donkeys, was a master at manipulating her inexperienced new owner, but the two forged an understanding that took them nearly 300km through some of France’s wildest landscapes. Written in 1879, this is a fascinating account of a vanished France, beset by religious conflict, where lodging might be found in the corner of a field as well as a flea-ridden inn. The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail is now a popular walking route through the Cevennes. I walked it earlier this year and enjoyed nightly readings from the book.


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Cloud Road: A Journey Through the Inca Heartland

By John Harrison

Book cover of Cloud Road: A Journey Through the Inca Heartland

Why this book?

Like the Stevenson book, this is also about travelling with a donkey, but what makes this narrative special is the author’s hatred of his pack animal. This will sound instantly off-putting but John’s descriptions of Dapple’s transgressions are very, very funny and his fury is never translated into violence towards the animal. There are lyrical descriptions of the landscape in northern Peru, but it is for the humour that I return to this book from time to time. I’m a sucker for any book about Peru, the subject of my early adventures and very first guidebook, and this is one of the most enjoyable


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Travels with Charley in Search of America

By John Steinbeck

Book cover of Travels with Charley in Search of America

Why this book?

John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature shortly after Travels with Charley was published, and this travel narrative is almost certainly part fiction but no less interesting or valuable as a portrait of America in the 1960s. Charley, the standard poodle, is incidental to the narrative but provides a convenient listener to some of Steinbeck’s musings. This was the first book that I read when I first came to live in Boston in 1964 and I loved it. John Steinbeck is incapable of writing mundane prose.


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Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris

By Michael Allin

Book cover of Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris

Why this book?

I discovered this fascinating and extraordinary story when I was researching tales about travelling with animals for Beastly Journeys. Unlike the other four books in my list, this one has the animal as the central character. And what an animal! Zarafa was captured as a calf in what is now Ethiopia in a plan to cement relationships between the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt and Charles V of France. The year was 1826 and a giraffe had never before been seen in France. Zarafa did the first part of her journey strapped to the back on a camel, and then – surely more comfortably – down the Nile and across the Mediterranean on a brigantine.

A hole was cut in the deck which allowed Zarafa to travel with her body in the hold, while her head and neck enjoyed the human company on deck. From Marseille she was walked, with her devoted carers, the 550 miles to Paris accompanied by huge crowds who had never seen the like before. Safely in Paris, she was housed in the Jardin des Plantes where she lived with her Arab keeper for the rest of her days, viewed by tens of thousands of awe-struck visitors. A wonderful story, meticulously researched.


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