Meet Dave Cornthwaite and Leon McCarron: Two British adventurers hiking through the Middle East

Evan Bartlett@ev_bartlett
Saturday 16 January 2016 11:50
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"We'd just left the West Bank and crossed into Jordan and were climbing up from the Jordan Valley... and it just gave way."

Judging by the most of the media coverage of the Middle East, one might expect the biggest danger to travellers to be a stray bullet or a kidnapping, but for Dave Cornthwaite and his fellow adventurer Leon McCarron, it was the attritional, routine process of hiking with heavy packs that has stemmed their journey.

After leaving Jerusalem in early December, making their way through the West Bank and crossing over into Jordan, the pair had to postpone their 1,000 mile walk through the Holy Land after Cornthwaite suffered a stress fracture in his foot just before Christmas.

"It’s just nicely tucked away in a very sexy little black boot, so it’s gently healing," Cornthwaite explains to i100.

The pair are following in the long tradition of intrepid British explorers in the Middle East - from Wilfred Thesiger to Gertrude Bell - who've fallen for the region's landscapes and cultures.

But tourism has really suffered in the past few years - with the wars raging in Syria and Iraq, terror attacks in Egypt and the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine pushing many holidaymakers elsewhere.

I’ve always found everywhere I go in the Middle East I’ve been welcomed incredibly well, sort of at times frustratingly well - you have to go through six cups of tea before you can walk out of town.

But now I was getting the impression that it’s even more heightened, and not in a kind of sycophantic way, but just in places where people have been used to seeing tourists they’re so glad to see that someone is still willing to come.

They’re very keen to start conversations... We rarely go more than a few hours without having some kind of lengthy conversation with a guy and a donkey somewhere.

  • Leon McCarron

That welcoming atmosphere is something both travellers were at pains to put across.

For McCarron, this is his third expedition in the Middle East - having recently finished a journey through Iran and before that one across the Empty Quarter desert in the southern Gulf - but for Cornthwaite, this is his first experience of the region - "outside of an airport" anyway.

Being on the ground is a very different story from the blips that we hear on the news. There’s obviously signs of conflict and a very different culture and, overwhelmingly, the response - especially in the West Bank as we walked north for the first two and a half weeks - was one of infinite kindness, hospitality and friendship.

  • Dave Cornthwaite

As well as documenting their journey on social media and their websites, the pair hope to deliver a lecture series and write a book after reaching Mount Sinai, in Egypt, around the end of March.

The initial section of the journey they took, and after which their "Walk the Masar" expedition is named - was along the Masar Ibrahim - or Path of Abraham - along shepherd’s trails, wadis (dry riverbeds) and little minor roads that are all linked to the figure revered in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

One of the benefits of travelling along this path on foot - "a beautifully slow process" - is finding little gems off the beaten track.

It was nice to walk through Jericho and the Monastery of Temptation and go to the place where Jesus was said to have laid his last footprint before he ascended to Heaven and all these strange little places that are kind of weird to end up in.

  • Leon McCarron

A big part of the journey for Cornthwaite and McCarron is encouraging other people to do the same, whether that's through their dispatches on Instagram, or through the schools project they've set up on YouTube.

This is really pretty simple. Especially on a journey like this, it can sound really complex because it’s in a complex part of the world and we’re walking on these different trails and there’s a lot of stuff going on. But in actual fact it’s incredibly simple. And all of the journeys that Dave and I do are simple.

  • Leon McCarron

The pair now hope to get back on the road at the end of January, once Cornthwaite's foot has healed up, and if their enthusiasm for the region rubs off they may not be the only ones trekking along the Masar. As McCarron says:

It’s important to both of us, I think, to re-affirm just how simple adventure can be.

It’s simply waking up in the morning and walking off down the road with your rucksack and seeing who you meet...

You can follow the pair's adventure on WalkTheMasar.com, follow Leon on Instagram here and Dave here

All images courtesy of Walk the Masar

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