This trip has been in my mind for more than 50 years. Fittingly then, it officially begins within a few miles of the freezing bedroom in which it was conceived by a restless teen obsessed with the doughty Victorian explorers and febrile poets, yet completely oblivious to the astonishing purpleness of their writing. Fittingly too, it is borne witness by my dear friend Pam, a partner in those teenage dreams, who herself has led a well-traveled life, but who, as a geographer, objects strongly to the notion that the Silk Road begins on a wind-swept beach in Northern England.
‘Away, for we are ready to a man!
Our camels sniff the evening and are glad.
Lead on, O Master of the Caravan,
Lead on the Merchant-Princes of Baghdad.
Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.
We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand’.