To Eritrea and Ethiopia
Retracing a Victorian Expedition

John Pilkington - John made his name in the 1980s as a travel writer and photographer, and more recently has become known for his thought-provoking, richly illustrated talks and his adventure travel documentaries for BBC Radio 4.

In 1868 the British government mounted an extraordinary bid to rescue a clutch of European hostages in the Ethiopian highlands. They built a Red Sea port, then a railway across the coastal plain, and finally imported 44 Indian elephants and commissioned 26,000 local people to serve the soldiers and carry their heavy guns into the heart of Africa.

A hundred and fifty years later, John has been following their route, partly on foot with a donkey, and has been comparing Eritrea and Ethiopia then and now. He found today’s people spirited and charming, living in dramatic and extremely challenging lands.

It was history and adventure combined!

On his return he said, “The walking part of the trip was one of the most difficult I’ve ever done. In both countries, ox-ploughs and mud-and-thatch houses are the norm over wide areas, and these

would have been familiar to the soldiers who marched through the Abyssinian mountains all those years ago. But towns like Gonder and Lalibela are a joyous mix of ancient and new. If you haven’t been to this part of the Horn of Africa, you’re missing a treat.

“As always, I took lots of photographs, and have put the best of them into a new presentation - To Eritrea and Ethiopia: Retracing a Victorian Expedition, will generally last an hour, but I can make it longer or shorter as you wish. I’ll provide all the equipment, including a choice of big screens.”

If you’d like to make a booking with John, please get in touch with him direct at, and you can read more about this and other talks at

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