We all love a hero! WomenUK talks to intrepid explorer, historian, writer, public speaker and photographer, Levison Wood about his one man expedition to be the first man to walk the whole length of the Nile…
Levison, you started your career as an Officer in the British Parachute Regiment, serving in Afghanistan, tell us how what was your drive to join the Army and how has it impacted on your life today?
I was always interested in the military as a young boy and new by my teens that I would join the army. I studied History at uni and then went to Sandhurst and joined as an Officer. At uni, I was in the Officer Training Corps which gave me a good understanding of how life in the Army would be.
I have always wanted to travel. Being in the Army was a way for me to travel and to realise my dreams. I organised many expeditions during my time in the Army from climbing in the Himalayas
to diving and much more. This allowed me to not only travel but to also fine tune my leadership skills.
During my school years, I was enthralled by the the great explorers of the 19th Century such as Stanley and Livingston.
We’ve recently seen you walk a whopping 4,250 mile expedition from the start of the Nile to where it meets the ocean. Tell us more about that, what inspired you and what was your driving force behind the expedition?
I’ve always travelled and explored. During my time in the Army, I served in Afghanistan fighting against Taliban insurgents in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul. Before that, I’ve reported from the streets on Baghdad to the mountains, deserts and jungles of Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, North and South Sudan, most of Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Nepal and South East Asia.
I wanted to have one defining adventure in life which would enable me to travel and to develop my writing further. What better than to walk the length of one of the greatest rivers in the world?
The walk started on 13th December 2013 and took 271 days to complete. A walk that took in the whole length of the Nile, a trek that started in East Africa and took me across six very different countries.
People ask me how to prepare for such a challenge. Physically, there is not a lot or preparation. The expedition was three years in the planning however this was more about getting the right visas and mentally preparing for the different politics and bureaucracy. We experienced many different challenges along our way including civil wars and political unrest. Our trek started in Rwanda and then took us through Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.
What were the greatest challenges that you faced?
Once again, this had to be the bureaucracy. Before starting the expedition, all the necessary paperwork, visas etc. were in place, however during the expedition, this was not always the case. There were other dangers along the way, including civil war. Terrain threw up challenges as the expedition took me through rain forests, across deserts and through war zones. We had a few encounters with the wild life however this wasn’t so much of a challenge but more part of the fun.
You’ve worked in over eighty countries and in 2011 you were made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. What is your favourite country to have visited?
With such a diverse range of places that I’ve visited, picking a favourite would be impossible. During my expedition along the Nile, there were many highlights but some that stood out in particular were the Murchison Falls – this is an area where the Nile explodes through a narrow gorge and cascades down to become a placid river. Here the banks are home to hippos, crocodiles, waterbucks and buffaloes and the surrounding wildlife includes lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees and many more species of birds and animals. Secondly would be Lake Victoria which is the world’s second largest fresh water lake. It’s shared between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya and is generally considered to be the source of the Nile.
During your career, you’ve interviewed some interesting people. Who and why was your most memorable interview?
That had to be with George Clooney. We were in South Sudan. George Clooney was staying in the same camp as us as he was there filming a documentary to raise awareness of the humanitarian aid work that he supports to stop genocide in South Sudan. I was given the opportunity to speak to George and find out more about his humanitarian work.
What would you say to someone who is looking to unleash the explorer in them?
You are never to old to realise your dreams. For those who are truly interested in adventure, the world is full of opportunities to explore our planet. The hardest part for many people is actually taking a few months off work. Travelling abroad to remote parts of the world does not have to be a dangerous expedition. There are lots of travel companies offering set tours. Secret Compass is one such company. Secret Compass leads pioneering and exploratory expeditions to the world’s last undiscovered places. We have a team of highly qualified and experienced guides. When embarking on any exploration, it’s important to research the climate and terrain. Our guides come with a grading based on experience and endurance. Before walking the Nile, I was heavily involved in leading different tours, these days I am focusing on the larger more challenging expeditions!
There are also lots of charity organisations that encourage normal people to step outside of their comfort zone; take time out and actually fulfil life long ambitions and dreams. My mother at the age of 56 was a prime example, when she took time out to work in Thailand.
Conservation Charity Trust – Northern White Rhinos
So what’s next?
I can’t say at the moment but I am working on a very exciting project that will be announced later this year and televised early 2016.
Read more about Walking The Nile or visit www.levisonwood.com