In some of David Livingstone's Footsteps on 13th December, 2023
by James Bruce
This African journey had its origins in the premiere of Child 31, a film showcasing the extraordinary work of Argyll-based school-feeding charity Mary’s Meals, in Glasgow in November 2012. (Mark Beaumont incidentally has been a great supporter of this charity for a number of years.) I knew my destination was a particular community in Malawi where the first cohort of children received their meals in 2002, but I hadn’t taken the trouble to find out exactly where it was. I had in mind to make a start with an organised pilgrimage that would be trekking from Lanark to Lindisfarne in the week before Easter, 2013.
Listening to the radio in around mid-February, there was a programme about David Livingstone. I picked up that the 200th anniversary of his birth would be marked in the following month, around the time I expected to set off, with a focus on his birthplace: Blantyre, Lanarkshire. Googling ‘Blantyre’ however, all the top results referred to the one in Malawi – which turned out to be exactly where I was headed! On top of that, the one in Lanarkshire is just down the road from the county town. So the decision to follow a route from Blantyre, Scotland to Blantyre, Malawi, was out of my hands.
The Camino de Santiago was a significant element of the trip, raising the question of the interface between Islam and Christianity which recurred in Morocco and further south. Transatlantic slavery and its legacy was another important theme, not least in Senegal. That’s also however where I was nearly robbed of all my most valuable possessions, including my camera. From then on therefore, I hardly ever let it out of my hands but I have very few photos of me in West Africa. I left Guinea on, or almost on, the day when the first person fell victim to Ebola. Liberia was important to me because the founder of Mary’s Meals, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow OBE, had told me to go there, it's one of their project countries.
Having travelled across the earth’s surface from Scotland to Cote d’Ivoire (largely though not entirely on foot), I flew from Abidjan to Lusaka, Zambia and visited the statue near to where Livingstone got his first sighting of Mosi-oa-Tunya (‘the Smoke that Thunders’) in November 1855. He named it the Victoria Falls. It’s a measure of Livingstone’s status that in a recent interview, John Blashford-Snell described Stanley’s compass as “one of my dearest possessions”. The reputation of white explorers may be controversial here but it’s essential to bear in mind that Livingstone remains highly esteemed in Africa itself. ‘Livingstone’ is still the name of one of Zambia’s biggest cities, and Malawi also still has several places named after him. Above all, this is because he was instrumental in ending the Arab-controlled slave trade associated with Zanzibar. I was also able to visit his monument in north-eastern Zambia, where he died on 01 May 1873. I made it to Blantyre Malawi in time for Christmas, and had a chance to visit other places associated with Livingstone before heading home.
‘Walkergate’, is the name of a street near James Bruce’s home in Berwick-upon-Tweed and doubles up as a tabloid label for his trio of epic, largely footslogging peregrinations dating back to 2010. In January of that year he sailed from Portsmouth for a trek via France, Italy, the Balkans, Turkey and Syria to Jerusalem. The next year (inspired partly by 2009’s Lake Baikal Wilderness Lectu...Find Out More