‘Touching the World’ by Cathy Birchall and Bernard Smith

This is the account of Bernard and Cathy’s world tour and the couple, journey and text are unique. Cathy is the first blind person to have undertaken such a journey and, as the main author, manages to vividly describe everything they experience. As she takes you on the journey you can visualise all that surrounds them and yet she cannot see. For the reader, the greatest insight is how a blind person ‘sees’ the world, interpreting that which Bernard relays – the people, roads, dangers, warts and all.

They set out to make the journey Bernard had always dreamt of undertaking, while simultaneously challenging societal prejudice. By demonstrating teamwork and their joint abilities through everyday interactions with people, they subtly ‘open the eyes’ of those they meet.

Photos and maps help share in the experiences the couple have along the way on a not ideally suited 1990 BMW R100T. It’s a bike Bernard knows though and I’m glad they chose ‘Bertha’ over a modern BMW GS ‘adventure’ bike. She too is a character on the trip; you find yourself urging her on, up mountain passes, over rough roads and through mechanical troubles.

There are of course great highs on the journey as there are times of great physical and psychological stress, but the crises of confidence are shared. Neither party are burdened by ego and the writing reflects this, with Bernard adding his input only now and again, he quietly gets on with riding, navigating, audio guiding and assisting Cathy 24 hours a day, every day – but Cathy makes sure we see this too. Humour is present throughout and they always recognise that they are fortunate to make the journey even at the lowest of times.

It’s an incredible undertaking, narrated with fantastic honesty, illustrating the emotional heights and depths overlanding can occasion. ‘Touching the World’ ticks all the boxes for those who dream of overland travel and is a joy for those who have previously embarked on a challenging trip. If you’ve read many overland books or none, you’ll be hooked by this one from the start. Remember, you don’t need eyes to see; you need vision.

Paperback, 344 pp, 29 colour photos and 8 maps

Panther Publishing ISBN 978-0-9564975-8-1.

RRP £12.99 available here

Review by Jenny Cook