I reckon my love of travel and exploration comes from my parents. Not that we ever left Britain while I was growing up, but that they never said “Take care”. Kate, my sister, says: “Mother just opened the back door in the morning to let us out, and then let us in again in the evening.” My first solo trip was taken at the age of three when I was lost on Bournemouth beach for three hours. This was also the first evidence that I have no sense of direction but great tenacity. I just kept walking. The wrong way.
I always knew what I wanted to do when I grew up: illustrate books. Art was the only thing Hilary Cross was any good at. In the end I trained as an occupational therapist, and started travelling to Greece in the holidays and then, on graduation in 1963, hitchhiked to the Middle East for three months. The trip cost £90.
I worked as an OT in Edinburgh and London before seeing The Royal Hunt of the Sun, a play about the Incas, and setting my sights on Peru. Working in the US was the first step in achieving this; it was half way there and the salaries for OTs were enormous. Five years later, after a spell in Boston and San Francisco, I made it to Machu Picchu and began my love affair with South America.
I married George Bradt in 1972 and spent 18 months backpacking from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego and then Argentina and Brazil, accidentally founding Bradt Travel Guides en route. This was followed by two years in Cape Town before heading overland to Cairo. It was during these long journeys that I developed my travel writing through letters home.
After running the publishing company for nearly 35 years I grandly announced my retirement in 2007 though I am still involved as a director. And after nearly 30 years as a tour leader I also let it be known that I was retiring from the sharp end of tourism, only to be lured back to Madagascar. I dare say I’ll continue to do occasional trips there; it’s become my second home.
My first home, however, is England, with its wonderful countryside, footpaths, little churches – and William Shakespeare. And perhaps I’m now grown up enough to become an artist and fulfil that childhood ambition. I’ve been doing sculpture for quite a few years but have never really had time to indulge myself. Now I can, along with writing, lecturing, and anything else that comes my way.
I should add a PS in 2013. I don’t seem to have managed the retirement bit. I still work most days on publishing-related stuff. Lack of self-discipline, that’s the problem, and old habits die hard.