Constance Watson spoke with actor Julian Sands, who can currently be seen in the films The Painted Bird and Yeh Ballet. Mr Sands has just completed work on Terence Davies’ film, Benediction: The Story of Siegfried Sassoon.
Where would you go?
I do a lot of long-distance walking to places of pilgrimage and I spend a lot of time in the mountains, so endurance in the wilderness has always been an aspect of my life. I welcome periods in isolation, putting one foot in front of the other. I have always wanted to follow one of the more remote Inca Trails to Machu Picchu in the Andes, so I hope that could be fitted into a pilgrimage. I have never been to Peru but that fusion of ancient Incan culture with the geophysical power of the terrain excites my imagination.
Would you make any special stops?
Although Machu Picchu is the most photographed and visited site in the Andes, there are many other archaeological sites I’d like to explore. I would detour and climb Alpamayo the most beautiful of mountains – and stop in Cuzco, a town with a wonderful mix of Spanish and Incan influences and full of fascinating architecture and collections.
Who would be your companions?
I am always happy travelling with all or any of my four brothers. We have been walking and scrambling like Swallows and Amazons for over 50 years! Beyond family, I have always enjoyed walking with my friends John Malkovich and David Hare. They are both fascinating, entertaining, ever-interesting and companionable.
You can transplant your favourite pub, bar or restaurant onto the route. What is it?
If I had to choose just one eatery it would be The Wolseley. It’s always such a comfortable, cosy and hospitable place. I would insist the owner, Jeremy King, was there. And hope that my regular dinner date Lady Antonia Fraser was too. She is magnificent. Liver and onions on the menu, accompanied by Vega Sicilia Unico (and Chablis with ice for Antonia!).
Camp under the stars, or find a church hall to sleep in?
Under the stars! I love it. Here in LA I recently walked the Backbone Trail. I’ve always felt the greatest cathedrals on the planet are the mountains, where I have never felt alone in the Santa Monica mountains. For each of the three nights, the sky offered unfathomable beauty and mystery.
Which books would you take?
Whenever I go to the mountains, I take an anthology of poetry. I still have my school copy of The Golden Treasury – an anthology of British poets throughout the past five centuries – so that would be an essential. What words would you ponder as you walked? Lines from Shelley written in the valley of Chamonix where he talks about contemplating Mont Blanc: “the still and solemn power of many sights / and many sounds and much of life and death”. What Shelley understood, along with Keats, is the essential and necessary power of Big Nature. I’ve always felt the greatest cathedrals on the planet are the mountains, where I have never felt alone. You stop in a church.
What’s your go-to prayer?
I have an ecumenical view of religion but having been brought up in the Church of England, my go-to prayer would be the Lord’s Prayer.
It’s your turn to cook. What’s your speciality?
I enjoy cooking simple, hearty and preferably wild food. So on the Inca Trail, if a young alpaca or even a lama were available, I would adapt my shepherd’s pie. There would probably be plenty of guinea pigs up there and they are delicious too.
What’s the singalong to keep everyone’s spirits up?
I’ve always thought Scottish ballads work very well around the campfire, songs like A Scottish Soldier or Over the Sea to Skye, even Flower of Scotland. But if it were to be just one song, it would have to be The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
You get very smelly hiking along these trails – which I’m perfectly comfortable with, but as an allowance to my fellow pilgrims, I would pack a bottle of citrus cologne. I could name a brand but I don’t want to give out free advertising!
What would you most miss about ordinary life?
If I can’t bring family members along, then the company of my wife – we recently had our 30th wedding anniversary – and my three children.
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