Skip to main content

The Hejaz Trail

Not many people have heard of Charles Montagu Doughty, the great desert explorer and a contemporary of the equally famous Sir Richard Burton.

In 1876 the young Charles Doughty set out to cross the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. His goal was the "lost" Nabatean city of Madain Saleh the magnificent sister city to Petra in Jordan. Several years of his life were spent in what were later called his "wanderings": explorations of a terrain little known to Europeans, the discovery of the remains of the sought-for city and detailed accounts of what he discovered there, with particular attention paid to the local geology.

I've noticed that the BBC 2 documentary, 'The Frankincense Trail' with the embrassingly naive, Kate Humble, looks as if she is to visit this same spot in the northern desert of Saudi Arabia. I was once lucky to see this almost thirty years ago, while following the path of T.E Lawrence and the abandoned remains of the Hejaz railway; carrying a well-thumbed copy of the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'.

Thirty years ago Saudi Arabia was even more closed than it is today and while unlike Burton or Doughty, the risk of discovery didn't carry the automatic risk of execution, simply getting to the site, even with the permission of the Minister of the Interior, was a struggle, on account of many local Bedouin police being quite unable to read, the tense situation with Israel and the unnerving habit of checkpoint guards of wanting to confiscate the travel authorisation document.

The only means of travelling around at the time was in rough local disguise, camping out in the desert to avoid attention. Today, with the remains of the city now a world heritage site, it's a little easier if the Saudis will grant a visa and you don't have to grow a beard either!

There is a third Nabatean city along the spice route as well but this one is almost completely unexcavated and I forget its name. I stumbled across it mountain biking in Jordan about ten years ago.

What the BBC's Kate Humble will make of it all is anyone's guess and I would be surprised if she spots the old railway engines from the First World War, gathering dust in the remains of the Turkish garrison station.

Popular posts from this blog

A Christmas Tale

It’s pitch blackness in places along the sea wall this evening and I'm momentarily startled by a small dog with orange flashing yuletide antlers along the way. I’m the only person crazy enough to be running and I know the route well enough to negotiate it in the dark, part of my Christmas exercise regime and a good way of relieving stress.

Why stress you might ask. After all, it is Christmas Day.

True but I’ve just spent over two hours assembling the giant Playmobil ‘Pony Farm’ set when most other fathers should be asleep in front of the television.



I was warned that the Playmobil ‘Pirate Ship’ had driven some fathers to drink or suicide and now I understand why. If your eyesight isn’t perfect or if you’ve had a few drinks with your Christmas lunch then it’s a challenge best left until Boxing day but not an option if you happen to have a nine year old daughter who wants it ready to take horses by tea time.

Perhaps I should stick to technology but then, the instruc…

Merlins over Thanet

Marooned, temporarily at Manston this afternoon are the Merlins over Malta team on the way to the Mediterranean for a display to mark the historic Second World War defence of the island.


Charlie Brown

Unfortunately, the weather over Thanet is appalling this afternoon and the Spitfire and Hurricane can’t get airborne again until it clears, so the celebrity Battle of Britain aircraft pilots, Charlie Brown, Clive Denny and their team-mates are contemplating an evening among the fleshpots of Margate.


Clive Denny (Hurricane) & Charlie Brown (Spitfire) Pilots

I’m rather hoping the weather it will clear through though as they have to get to Jersey before dusk if possible and I have to take some photos of the Spitfire and Hurricane for Pilot Magazine and I’ve always wanted a chance to get in either aircraft!

An Interview with Charlie Brown

They just got off, squadron scramble or what? They were ready and gone in ten minutes towards the nearest patch of blue sky!

An interview with the legendary S…
Median Saleh

I mentioned in the last post, the 1981 expedition that took in Median Saleh, the ruined Nabatean city in Saudi Arabia


A temple carved from the rock from Petra's sister city.

By coincidence, one of the most important train stations on the Hejaz railway sat next to the ruins and when Lawrence of Arabia blew the line in 1917, the trains were trapped there and are still there today, gathering dust and with "Krupp" on the engine casings.


One of the trains, sitting where T.E. Lawrence left themwith Dr Paul Garnett as the passenger

Below, you can see one of the fortified train stations that Lawrence attacked along the Hejaz railway between Damascus and Medina.



More photos Medain Saleh can be found on THIS Site - Apparently you can catch a tourist bus these days, rather different from risking life and limb to cross an unfriendly Saudi Arabia twenty years ago!