Welcome from Jan

Hi there!
This blog is for those who love both books and travel. I'm starting by travelling back in time to the 1970s and the overland trail to India which I took as an 18 year old. Have a look at my daily diary entries and photos. Some of these places are impossible to visit at the moment, but I can give you a flavour of what they were like in the golden age of the hippy trail.

The experience has inspired my new mystery novel, THE VANISHING OF RUTH, which is out now as an ebook. Find details and extracts at The Vanishing of Ruth

To buy: The Vanishing of Ruth

Also take a look at Facebook Page Overlanders for more memorabilia.

Cheers, Jan.

Friday, 13 November 2009



"Good road to Kerman.  A lovely town with a big square - grass, trees, walks and seats in middle, archways with shops making up 4 sides.  Very interesting busy covered bazaar; lovely paisley patterned scarves, and carpets.  Chris, Nikki and I did the food shopping in this area ... good vegy and nut stalls.

Men here either wear turbans (big white ones) or woolly beige hats (pulled down into a helmet).

Several eating places and barber shop in square - Nikki tried to get Chris to have a shave in one!
Cay shops in Iran tend to be "men's clubs" - some places wont serve women.  Went with Bill & Shirley and other two to eating place in bazaar.  V limited choice in Iran - mostly serve chelo kebab or chicken and rice.  Women all ate in a balcony area upstairs (men with them too, so we went up there and had chelo kebab, onion and bread followed by cay.    Afterwards rushed to buy woolly hat from stall in square - they tried to get 600 rials for it - must have thought I was simple - got it down to 160 rials ...

                                                                                   Exhausted cooks take a nap (Chris and Nikki)
Next stop was Mahan. Saw round the most beautiful mosque - mausoleum of a poet Shah Nematollah Vali (Sect of the Dervishes).  Mosque approached through 2 cool, shady courtyards with tanks in the middle (one with a drake cruising in it!), lots of trees and arches, blue and white tiles and pretty minarets (2 at front and 2 at back).  Were given long veils to put on and took off our shoes. Lovely Persian carpets to pad on.  Nice and light because roof and arches white.  Wide passageway all round a central room.  4 lovely double wooden doors inlaid with ivory and different woods.  Central marble table with roses and crysanthemums and books on top.  Pictures of Mohammed on walls.  Off one door was a small room with big slab covered in coloured cloth (tomb?).  Small rooms off passageway with prayer mats, books, pictures, flowers, lamps.  Lovely peaceful place.  Fran and I found small entrance and followed it through to attractive back courtyard with people occupying rooms around it.  Lovely view of mosque through archway with mountains in background.

Wandered across to little shop - v friendly people - little girl with bright blue eyes ...

Prepared veg in bus - nearly cracked up de-stalking currents then dicing garlic - not a fulfilling role!  Bill came to my aid.  People said it was my punishment for the custard.  Made a great risotto!

Late session in bus - finished off cherry brandy."

Mausoleu del sufí Shah Nematollah Vali, Mahan (3)

Mausoleu del sufí Shah Nematollah Vali, Mahan (3)
Originally uploaded by Sebastià Giralt

The beautiful and tranquil resting place of the Sufi poet.

Thursday, 12 November 2009



"I made the porridge! 
Lovely orange sunrise.

Should have driven down middle of salt lake but rain had made it impossible.  So took the terrible track round the lake - riddled with channels (again!).  Had to get out about 7 times while bus negotiated them.  Rain had washed away bits of the road, so had to drive around them.

washed away road

At early bump there was a huge crunch, all piled out to find half-shaft broken.  Only one spare!
Had a walk in circle round bus with Diana and had a good chat.  Cup of coffee until bus ready. "

[I also filled in the time writing a letter home to say we had broken down in the desert.  I assume driver Geoff and helper Fred were sweating buckets to mend things while the rest of us strolled around and drank coffee, but it didn't seem to warrant a mention in the diary!]

"Fascinating route through little mud villages; houses half buried in the ground with doors the size of windows.  Some houses shaped like 'black houses' [Hebridean thatched cottages]; others were square with dome-shaped roofs.  Several houses had bedouin-type tents of dark skin outside.

Took one shot of carpet weaver in such a tent with lots of friendly locals quite willing to be photographed."                                              [These were probably Qashqa'i nomads, pastoral tribes from Central Iran who move with their herds of goats and sheep over long distances and are famous for weaving rugs known as gabbeh.  The women wear colourful dresses and do not cover their faces]

"In one place the road had eroded so had to reinforce sides with stones (over a deep channel) and put planks across.  It was touch and go - millimetres to spare!  After several starts the bus made it over.
Incredibly bumpy - had to make sandwiches on the move - nearly cracked ribs against table!

Picked up 2 silent Iranians and their carpet bags and gave them a lift to Sirjan.  Road improved just outside town.  Sunset over mountain ranges - layers of salt over ground and water in distance.  Got to Sirjan after dark - quite a metropolis after the desert!  Queued up for bread at the baker's (2 dishy bakers), but such a crowd of people, had to wait ages, trying to attract attention and thrust money at them.  (Found out had to pay first before getting bread).  Slapped dough into oven then threw them onto mat on floor.

Just leaving finally with bread when a taxi and car smashed into each other right in front of us.  All rushed onto bus before crowd came - no one hurt but looked like fight was about to break out.

Camped out of town - freezing wind - of course we were on cooking - incredibly and painfully cold.  Tried  making custard again!  This time it was like a thick lumpy jelly!  The comments were suitably sarcastic.  Fran was going to have seconds until she got a huge globule in her mouth!  Adrian liked it!

Diana moved in tonight (numbers down to two till then!)"

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


A new branch of Waterstones is coming to my home town, Morpeth in Northumberland - part of a major new shopping development called Sanderson Arcade (based on London's Burlington Arcade).

As bookgroupies scout, I was there for a preview before its opening by Joanna Lumley tomorrow.  And it is Ab Fab, darling.  Just hope they're stocking my novels ...!



"In the daylight we could see quite dramatic cliffs behind us and a little village close to tents.  The usual crowd of spectators gathered (some on bicycles) to watch the morning ritual.

First stop was at a fabulous swimming pool, made from a fresh spring - beautifully blue and clear with trees round it.  Six of us decided to brave the cold water - me, Nikki, Chris, Mark, Rob and Diane.  Cold at first, but stayed in quite a bit because so refreshing.  Then sat around in the sun.  Talked about Rose Street [in Edinburgh, famous for its pubs]  Diane had worked for 6 months at the Tankard Lounge (Paddie's Bar).

Next stop was in a little town - kids swarmed around bus - could hardly get away.  Mary [a very independent New Zealander] got left behind!  Apparently there's always hassle there.  Had sandwiches (butties) outside town.

Saw Qanats

-outer signs of underground irregation systems -
mounds of earth with deep shaft in the middle.

[Iranians have been digging these ingenious water tunnels for over 2000 years and this traditional method of water supply is still very important in these desert regions.  They also feature in my novel OVERLANDERS!]

Scenery becoming more and more barren and dry.  Tried to shop in Neyriz but couldn't even find any bread - must close down for siesta time.

Climbed up terrible mountain road, bit like Suardal [family home on Isle of Skye - see my memoir BEATLES & CHIEFS for tales of a 60s childhood] track in places  (except the hairpin bend variety!)
Great view over a lake; mountains spectacular too - sheer rock faces and jagged peaks.  On other side, road riddled with channels and some under pools of water.  Got stuck in one channel!  Back of bus wedged into bank - all got out and pushed.

Came across group of people sitting by side of the road - women swathed in black - obviously a bus stop!

Camped on rocky ground again - inside of tent like a series of mole hills - so many bushes under tent!"

Tuesday, 10 November 2009



" Quite a crowd of spectators when we got up, including girls.  Scenery of dusty plains and impressive cliff faces. 

Stopped and looked at Tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasagadae ... saw Tombs set in cliff face of Ataxerxes, Xerxes and Darius the Great ... on to Persepolis ...

Spent half an hour at beginning doing nothing while Rob tried to mend the cine camera [this was a bulky, heavy contraption loaned to me for the trip.  It never did work properly ...!]

Magnificent ruins ... amusing two headed beasts ... fantastic view over Persepolis and tent village and striped marquee in trees

[the tent city was the Shah's obscenely extravagant celebrations in the desert in 1971 to mark 2500th anniversary of Persian monarchy where food was flown in from Maxims in Paris and VIPs - 60 monarchs and heads of state - were put up in tents with marble bathrooms.  It was probably the pivotal event that led to the regime's downfall]

I tried to get in to see the Shah's tent but gate was closed and guard spoke no english ...

A family squatting nearby - photographed funny little figure

Got to SHIRAZ that afternoon - began to rain a little ... tomb of famous 14th century poet (Hafez) Had a look round mosque with Heidi and Di - lovely pink flowers and designs on tiles, as well as blue and yellow.  Courtyard rather overgrown, uneven and some flagstones were up. Lovely twisted columns supporting 'Winter' courtyard (covered over) with narrow tank in middle.  Some men were washing at little taps along side of tank and others were sitting chatting on mats under some scaffolding ...

Museum - small pentagonal building in nice garden with trees and walks, but all dusty and broken show cases all that left (except some new telephone receivers!) ... walked down bazaar - strong smell of spices, lots of carpets and drappers.  Had delicious banana milkshake - 2 whole bananas, really creamy.  Heidi had chilled pomegranate juice.

Snacks to buy in Iran are - mast (yoghurt), dates, great selection of nuts, lovely 'gaz' (nougat), cheese (goat's) kebabs in large slabs of flat bread, sometimes with tomatoes and daffodil leaves (or look like!), fruit is oranges, bananas or apples and a strange thing that looks like a peach but tastes acidic and leaves mouth dry!  Also dried figs.

Drove on and free camped by a salt lake on concrete (or at least it felt like it trying to get pegs in - used stones for pegs in the end!)"

Monday, 9 November 2009



"After a cold shower and sweeping out of dusty bus, went into Esfahan for couple of hours.  Went to bank in Bazaar again - no cay this time!  Wandered round a bit.  Took Jan up to little workshop of printers again and took photo - think they thought we were mad. 

Went and had banana milkshake in square again.  Walked down side street and bought biscuits and yoghurt.  Back to milk stall where lots had gathered and sat till bus came.

Scenery - plains with small scrub and mountains in background; rather like cowboy country.  Stopped at cay shop along wayside

- little boy demanded his photo be taken.

Lovely noise of goats bells as huge herd of black goats made their way along cliff path behind the cay shop.

Stopped for shopping after dark and were shown around by an Iranian on a bicycle.

Drove on quite late and camped by a bridge."

Sunday, 8 November 2009



"Went into Esfahan with Sally, Fran, Heidi and Di.  Stood in road trying to waylay taxi - eventually piled into one with a police officer - got to Maiden Shah.  Bought Xmas card [still have it somewhere]

Went round Lady Mosque - blue tiled frontage like Shah Mosque, but inside was enclosed.  Beautiful too (though not the charm of Shah Mosque).

Then Sally, Fran and me headed for bazaar - lovely stalls of printed cloth, metalwork, jewels, inlaid boxes, ivory miniatures and silver boxes.  Standing at one stall, a nice young Iranian came up to us and asked if we'd like to see some printing; so he led us out under an archway into a square and up some uneven steps to a little workshop where 3 blokes were sitting on the floor with bales spread in front of them.  They were using 400 year old wooden printing blocks, placing them on cloth very accurately, and bashed them down with bits of leather strapped to their wrists.

Bought lots of things in bazaar - two silver plated pill boxes with little pictures on, enamel earrings, enamel cigarette holder, mirror with shell picture on , two pieces of printed cloth.  Wandered round local part of bazaar - cloth stalls etc - one stall selling rough wooden trunks and tuck boxes covered in furry material in bright red and secured with sticky tape with pepsi cola written on - amazing sight!

Found entrance to to Islamic University - looked in through archway to gardens beyond - priests in long robes and turbans wandering in and out; not allowed in but took photo.

Eventually got out of bazaar (much nicer than Istanbul, nicer things and less hassleing).  Outside bazaar saw a real Biblical figure of old man with white beard, turban and flowing robe on a white horse riding into the bazaar - groped for camera but too late!

Went and bought pickles and a kebab and tomato in huge flap of bread and ate it on lawn of the Maiden - met up with Heidi, Di and Pam (big).  Little boys gathered and bicyclists stopped to watch us struggle with massive sandwiches.  Started throwing stones.  Jan turned up.  All went for a cold banana milkshake and ice-cream!

Di, Heidi, Pam, Fran and me having kebabs on Maiden Shah

Jan went to Lady's Mosque (Sheikh Lotfollah) while I headed for toilet of Shah Mosque.  Man directed me there and then asked if I'd like to see upstairs.  All very secretive - we lurked around post until no one there then he unbolted a little wooden door and went up dark stairs to the roof, then up further stairs to bottom of minarets - refused offer of going up further.  Great views over town and mosque.  He said not to tell because we weren't supposed to go up!

Met up with Jan - wandered down shops of square - bought salt and pepper holders on little silver-plated tray and little enamel cufflinks.  Not a rial left!  Met Chris and Nikki - gave up waiting for bus so hailed a taxi.  Dropped us in little back street - couldn't quite remember where campsite was so wandered a bit; lots of veiled women.

That evening went in again with Jan, Di, Heidi, Fran and Chris; all piled into taxi to Maiden Shah.  Others wanting a taxi stopped one and car went into the back of it - stood there arguing, oblivious to passengers!  Maiden Shah really beautiful at night - lamps all round square and domes of mosques floodlit and reflected in middle pool.  Square very quiet and deserted.  Walked up to Shah Mosque and saw illuminated front.  Then made our way to the main street and walked about - various workshops still in action and a few shops too, but most of town seemed to be dead. 
Passed Shah Abbas Hotel - incredibly posh reception rooms and entrance - outside styled in arches almost like a mosque.  (Others who went there were locked in for 2 hours refusing to pay extra for drinks!  Police in etc).

Taxi back was hair-raising; bloke rushed through red lights avoiding various vehicles; then weaved his way, at the rate of knots, in and out of different lines of traffic!  Bond style!  We kept telling him we'd get off at certain spots but he kept on till the turning to the campsite!"