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In the Footsteps of Smugglers: My Life on a Basque Mountain

An enchanting travel-writing debut, In the Footsteps of Smugglers is a humorous memoir of an English single mother who exchanges suburban life for a tiny, isolated barn high in the Basque Pyrenees. The book blends the adventures of an outsider, behind-the-scenes vignettes of daily life and historical research to produce authentic insights on all things Basque, imbued with a rhapsody on the theme of identity.

Published:  17th Jul 2024
Number of pages:  304
Format AvailableQuantityPrice
Paperback
ISBN: 9781804692110
Out of stock£9.99

After eight years living in Copenhagen, an English journalist, driven by a passion for languages and mountains, finally rebels. With little more than an assortment of Earl Grey teabags, Danish candles and a map, Georgina Howard abandons her all-too-cosy, cinnamon-scented lifestyle and drives south.

The journey leads to wild and craggy landscapes in the Basque Pyrenees on the French/Spanish border, where place names are written in a bizarre, foreign tongue full of x’s and z’s. Losing her heart to this beautiful land and her pride to the inscrutability of the language, Howard moves into an isolated barn in a mountain hamlet. While pagan festivals reverberate through the valleys, her Basque neighbours – farmers, shepherds, a gravedigger and a champion female lumberjack – observe her, bemused.

Only when her daughter, Marion, is born – after an unsuccessful relationship with an eccentric Basque miller – do Howard’s neighbours drop their reserve and welcome her into their homes. Taking Marion’s upbringing upon themselves, they fatten her up on spicy Basque sausages and black bean stews, teach her Basque nursery rhymes and train her to milk sheep. Meanwhile, Howard converts a barn into the headquarters of an international business providing walking, culture and language tours. Resigned to the ineptitude of their new neighbour, with patience and amusement, the locals tow her car out of ditches and teach her how to stack wood, catch mice, unblock septic tanks and drink wine from a leather gourd.

In the Footsteps of Smugglers follows the adventures of an outsider: a single mother, linguist, cosmopolitan nomad and cultural chameleon who paradoxically makes her home amongst an indigenous people deeply rooted in their land, with a language and culture dating back to stone-age times. Unwittingly, she repays their hospitality by luring anti-terrorist squads, blackmailers and spies into their midst as the dramatic past of the Basque Country proves to have unexpected and far-reaching consequences. An inspiring, humorous travel memoir, Bradt’s In the Footsteps of Smugglers weaves behind-the-scenes vignettes of daily rural life and historical research to produce authentic insights on all things Basque, threaded with a rhapsody on the theme of identity.

About the Author

Originally from Birmingham, UK, Georgina Howard (pyreneanexperience.com) studied European languages before heading to Copenhagen where she worked as a writer and taught intercultural awareness skills to Danish statisticians. After eight years, she rebelled. With an unsatiated passion for maps, mountains and metaphors, she packed her bags with Earl Grey teabags and Danish candles, driving south to an isolated Basque hamlet in the Spanish Pyrenees. Few outsiders have lived in this remote setting, and even fewer for the 25 years that Howard already has enjoyed. As a single mother bringing up a half-Basque daughter with the help of the local shepherds, she has gained privileged insights into the local culture and Basque mountain life, including its former cross-border smuggling community. Here she set up a tour operator, Pyrenean Experience, which offers an eclectic mix of walking, culture and language holidays. In the Footsteps of Smugglers is her first book for Bradt.

Additional Information

Table of Contents

Prologue The house at the end of the road that doesn’t exist
Chapter 1 Heading north – the wheelchair in the snow
Chapter 2 Heading south – Alice in Wonderland
Chapter 3 Navarra and the Basques – heading into the beyond
Chapter 4 Marketing – telephones and witches
Chapter 5 The Baztan Valley – noble peasants, pilgrims and cider
Chapter 6 Finding the walks – chocolate croissants, maps and cold cups of tea
Chapter 7 The guests arrive – mutiny in the kitchen
Chapter 8 People – sheiks and silver robots
Chapter 9 A Basque fiesta – as good as it gets
Chapter 10 A new valley – the grandmother, the miller and the ostrich
Chapter 11 A house with a view – the turtle on the tap
Chapter 12 My Basque village – the Hello Kitty fountain
Chapter 13 A Basque baby – a fairy godmother with an axe
Chapter 14 My neighbours – the wellington boot in the snow
Chapter 15 Local history – tin cows and tadpoles
Chapter 16 The seasons – British unpunctuality
Chapter 17 Basque borders and the comet line – eggnog
Chapter 18 Mother and baby – snakes, toothpaste tubes and the moon
Chapter 19 Culture shock – maggots, dolls and fleas
Chapter 20 A family business – hangman and the unfortunate word
Chapter 21 The Basque language – strawberry ice creams and greedy pigs
Chapter 22 The village calendar – wheelbarrow races and grumpy coalmen
Chapter 23 Ituren church – stories from beyond the grave
Chapter 24 House and home – mushrooms and marshmallows
Chapter 25 Gilbert: an imposter in my home – mountain savages
Chapter 26 Après Gilbert – two trees and a headless woman
Epilogue 1 Heading north again
Epilogue 2 Heading home