I was surprised when I heard, some ten years ago, that Tim Mackintosh-Smith planned to follow the trail of Ibn Battutah. The surprise was not at the subject. Mackintosh-Smith had just won the now-defunct Thomas Cook Travel Book Award with his first work, Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land, an account of his adopted homeland. That book was an attempt to challenge our perceptions of Arabia, so there was a logic to his moving on to Ibn Battutah, the great ‘traveller of Islam’. My surprise concerned the scale of the project, something that his subsequent book admitted. In the preface to Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah, the author wrote: ‘I only wish I had the odd thirty years to spare.’ The problem was length as well as time: Travels with a Tangerine only dealt with the first part of Ibn Battutah’s travels. ‘Another [volume] – perhaps other ones – will follow.’ The latest book, Landfalls, is the third and final volume of that journey.
To write a trilogy of travel books at any time is an act both of optimism and great determination. The example of Patrick Leigh Fermor springs to mind. Leigh Fermor walked across Europe when the Nazis were ascendant in Germany but before the Second World War. The first