Hilary Bradt: award-winning travel guide publisher speaks ahead of Sherborne Lit fest

AN AWARD-winning travel guide publisher speaks ahead of her appearance at the Sherborne Travel Writing festival.

Hilary Bradt, co-founder of Bradt Guides, started the company in 1974 and is committed to helping the more inquisitive explorer.

“We have tried to publish guides that are unique in their coverage of unusual or emerging destinations,” she said.

“Even now, nearly 70% of our titles have no competition.”

Early ‘firsts’ include Vietnam, Mauritius and post-apartheid South Africa, while they remain the only publisher to print guides covering West Sweden, Uzbekistan, USA by Rail, and 100 other destinations.

The festival takes place from April 5 to 7, with Hilary delivering two talks on April 6.

At 10.30am, she will discuss her new memoir Taking the Risk, which centres on the 50th anniversary of Bradt and her efforts to become an award-winning publisher.

Then, between 2pm and 3pm, she will join the Writing Britain panel, discussing the joys and challenges of domestic travel writing, alongside Tim Hannigan, Brian Jackman and Caroline Mills.

Sherborne Literary Festival takes place April 5 to 7 at the Powell Theatre.

Sherborne Literary Festival takes place April 5 to 7 at the Powell Theatre.

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A country particularly close to Hilary’s heart is Madagascar, which she has visited more than 30 times and covered in an award-winning guide.

“I was completely bowled over when I experienced it first hand,” she said. “I convinced the American company I was working for that I should add Madagascar to their brochure.

“I never get tired of the enchanting lemurs, the extraordinary reptiles, and the warm-hearted people.

“It is unique.”

Another distinctive feature of Bradt Guides is their unique approach to domestic tourism, through the Slow series, which allows writers to delve into much smaller geographical areas, showcasing features and landscapes previously overlooked by more general guides.

She has even written three handbooks for separate regions of Devon, the county she calls home.

“There was just too much interest to limit it to one volume,” she said.  “My aim was for even local people to say ‘I never knew that’.”

Despite the focus on Slow travel, it’s clear the 82-year-old’s sense of adventure is just as fierce as ever.

Hilary and the Old Crones.

Hilary and the Old Crones.

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She makes up one third of the Old Crones, a group of octogenarians who complete the parkrun 5k each week.

In 2022, they even tackled St Oswald’s Way, a 100-mile walk in Northumberland.

She said: “As we get older and creakier I’m not sure that any of us would have kept going without this encouragement.”

“Our final effort will be to run the 100 metre course in the ancient stadium in Nemea, Greece, barefoot and dressed in a Greek toga – all very authentic.

“The Nemean Games takes place in June every four years to coincide with the Olympic Games, but fortunately ability is unimportant.”

Throughout her 50-year career, the travel guide titan has adventured as much into publishing as she has around some of the more obscure parts of the world.

Stories from these two facets of her life have been logged in Taking the Risk, her new memoir.

“I’ve been minded to record some of my earlier travel experiences for some years so this 50-year anniversary was a good opportunity,” she added.

“I so much enjoyed writing it, relying on letters I sent to my parents from South America and Africa to recreate the experience of travelling in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“I look forward to talking about it at the Sherborne Festival.”

For tickets, visit You can pre-order Taking the Risk here

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