REVIEW: Damian Le Bas and Joanne Clement, The Traveller Road to Holy Island

Posted by

5 October 2019

Palace Green Library

Review by Gabriel Brown

This year marks the fifth time I have attended Durham Book Festival. Each time it has provided me with interesting and enjoyable events to see, whether it be an author giving more insight into their latest work, or someone speaking about a topic I had never given much thought to.

The festival always has something different, and this event was no exception. Firstly, there has to be some commendation given to the trio: poet, Joanne Clement; writer, Damian Le Bas; and illustrator John Hewitt; who undertook a walk of nearly 62 miles from Melrose in Scotland all the way down to a favourite North East spot of mine, Holy Island. It’s quite a distance, but something that sounds wonderful to do. Aside from the commission itself, something has to be said for the experience they had. Walking the whole way, and camping out too, Le Bas and Clement have written a collection of very intriguing poems about their experience.

All attendees of the event were given a free copy – a great touch, especially as it allowed them to follow along when certain poems were read out. I deliberately abstained from this, as I thought it would be more interesting to let myself experience the poems firsthand without even seeing them. I found it particularly interesting that the poems didn’t all focus on points along the trail – for example, Le Bas wrote one poem in relation to some roofers, one of whom fell off. As well as this being an unusual but quite welcome approach to the poem’s content, I liked how there were aspects of fiction melded in also, with the roofer who fell in the poem actually relating to Le Bas in real life.

As briefly mentioned, most Durham Book Festival events that I attend include topics that I know little about, or haven’t given much thought to. In this case, it was Romany/Gypsy communities. It’s impossible to believe that – as explained by Le Bas – you used to be able to buy people from the Gypsy community alongside cattle. One of the most significant and curious facts that I took away from this event is that the word Gypsy is commonly spelt without a capital letter, despite being a whole people. Le Bas explained how, although a small thing ostensibly, it can be very affecting.

For my first event back this year, this talk reminded me of the joy and the insight that there is to be found at Durham Book Festival, and I look forward to my next one.


This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.