High Caucasus


On the 1 September 2004, at the Beslan siege in Russia when Chechen terrorists took more than 1,000 people captive at celebrations held to mark the first day of the school year. Lasting three days, the siege reached a bloody climax when two bombs exploded inside the school and Russian troops stormed the building, sparking a fire in the gymnasium where the captives were held. In the chaos, 334 hostages, more than half of them children, died. Never a war correspondent, Tom was emotionally pulverised, and his solution was to turn back to his lifelong love of walking, to a nature cure of sorts. Having long loved the Caucasus, he also wanted to understand why the mountain peoples there, people like the Chechens, were so angry at Russia. That was how Tom came to walk 1,000 miles across the North Caucasus.

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‘A thrilling, profound masterpiece’ Nicholas Crane, author of Clear Waters Rising

‘This is a travel book for our time, one that seeks fragments of hope among shards of war. Thoughtful, uplifting and hugely enjoyable’ Sara Wheeler, author of Terra Incognita

A breath-taking memoir of Tom Parfitt’s remarkable 1,000 mile walk through Russia’s Caucasus region in search of solace and understanding after witnessing the Beslan school siege.

On 1 September 2004, Chechen and Ingush militants took more than a thousand people captive at a school in the Caucasus region of southern Russia. Working as a correspondent, Tom Parfitt witnessed the bloody climax in which 314 hostages died, more than half of them children. The experience left Tom emotionally shredded, struggling to find a way to return to his life in Moscow and put to rest the ghosts of the Beslan siege.

Having long been fascinated by the mountainous North Caucasus, Tom turned to his love of walking as a source of both recuperation and discovery. In High Caucasus, he shares his remarkable thousand-mile quest in search of personal peace – and a greater understanding of the roots of violence in a region whose fate has tragic parallels with the Ukraine of today.

Starting his journey in Sochi on the Black Sea and walking the mountain ranges to Derbent, the ancient fortress city on the Caspian, Tom traverses the political, religious and ethnic fault-lines of seven Russian republics, including Chechnya and Dagestan. Through bear-haunted forests, across high altitude pastures and over the shoulders of Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain, he finds companionship and respite in the homes of proud, little-known peoples. Walking exerts a restorative power; it also provides a unique, ground-level view of a troubled yet exquisite corner of the world.

High Caucasus is a stunning memoir of confronting trauma through connection with history, people and place.