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Lily Appleby Newby - Lancashire's African trailblazer

PUBLISHED: 12:32 04 September 2014

Lily on the trail in Zimbabwe

Lily on the trail in Zimbabwe

Lily Appleby Newby

She might be a senior citizen but this globe-trotting farmer's wife has a wonderful zest for life. She spoke to Roger Borrell

On the beach in MozambiqueOn the beach in Mozambique

Lily Appleby Newby is a woman with sparkling eyes and an engaging smile but she shifts a little uneasily in her chair when you mention the term OAP.

Yes, the farmer’s wife is in her mid 60s but, when it comes to get up and go, she will outpace any spring chicken. This year alone she has travelled to Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique – not the sort of places you reach with a bus pass.

She’s paddled down the Zambezi in a canoe, come within touching distance of elephants while out hiking and attended morning worship with hundreds of devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians inside a 12th century church hewn from the rock.

This isn’t just about a woman with an outrageous dose of wanderlust – it’s Lily’s job. She is a senior travel consultant whose aim is to gain first hand knowledge of different countries so she can give the best advice to people wanting to visit some of the planet’s more out-of-the-way places.

Lily by an ancient church in EthiopiaLily by an ancient church in Ethiopia

During her career she has visited all seven continents and has lost count of the countries. At the last check it came to 66 but that was in 2008 and she has clocked up several more since then.

It’s a contrast to her home-life in Lancashire north of the sands. Not far from Ulverston is the 17th Century stone-flagged farmhouse she shares with her husband Jim, a retired sheep farmer and antiques dealer. It’s a real family farm – they sleep in the room where Jim was born.

From an early age, it was obvious that Lily was a free spirit. ‘The atlas was always my favourite book,’ she says. ‘When I was ten I knew the capital of every country in South America.’ Even today, her office has a shelf with five globes and the walls are covered with maps.

Lily left Ulverston Grammar and trained as a secretary before working in local hotels. However, by the time she was 20 she was in Liverpool boarding The Empress of Canada bound for North America .

‘I’d got a job as an au pair with a family of diplomats and headed for Canada and then Washington. Travel was just something in the blood and I suppose I was a little headstrong.

‘Dad was a farmer, he moved from Northumberland to take a farm on the Cavendish estate across here. He thought I should buy a scooter and settle down to a nice job at the Glaxo factory in Ulverston. That wasn’t going to happen.’

After several months she decided to quit her au pair job and see something of the country. Typically, her birthday present that year was a Greyhound bus pass which she used to visit places such as Tucson and Tombstone in Arizona. ‘I was a young woman travelling alone so there were scary moments. There was one occasion when I had to barricade myself in a motel room to avoid the unwanted attentions of a man.’

After a brief spell back home she went to Paris, again as an au pair, until she and a friend decided to hitchhike to southern Spain. She worked as a barmaid, before moving onto Sicily where the female boss in a pizza parlour handed Lily a flick knife to ward off the local cosa nostra among their customers.

Back home, she met an officer in the Merchant Navy and they married. Lily was not to be a stay-at-home wife and she travelled on board his ship, visiting the Caribbean, South America, Canada and Japan.

Dry land beckoned when she had her son, Thomas, who went on to study zoology and work in Africa. The marriage ended but she later found happiness with Jim, moving to his farmhouse in 1983.

Lily spent ten years working locally for Thomas Cook, part of the time travelling for training purposes and often giving talks about the company’s history. Then, a friend spotted an advertisement for a Norfolk-based company of tailor-made safari specialists called Real Africa.

She joined a small team and is now one of the foremost experts on African travel tourism, establishing great friendships with some of the continent’s famous guides as she visits potential destinations and checks facilities.

‘I want people to know what to expect and it’s true that Africa isn’t right for everyone. One of the sad things is that only bad news comes out of Africa while good things do happen every day. You can find trouble anywhere in the world but we don’t go to those places.’

So which is her favourite? It’s is obvious she has fallen in love with Ethiopia. ‘It’s a wonderful country, like stepping back in time and the people are so friendly and so handsome.’

The reality is that she adores most corners of Africa and she has seen some remarkable sights, such as hundreds of wildebeest making river crossings and a nervous encounter with an elephant. ‘It was about 15 feet from me and I just had to shut my eyes,’ she says. ‘When I opened them it was melting back into the undergrowth.’

Does travel have a positive impact on the Third World? ‘I think it does help the local economy but I get sad when people don’t have respect for the places and the people they see.

‘Some see everything through the lens of a camera. I’ve met people who haven’t even checked on the map where there are going.

‘But the people I deal with still have a sense of adventure. It’s true the world is getting a smaller place but I think there remains a romance about travelling. People have got to be interested in the places we visit.’

Lily is already looking forward to her next trip to Africa, possibly the new Bale Mountain Lodge in the south of Ethiopia.

Many of the trips she helps to organise involve being under canvas but guests could also find themselves staying in upmarket lodges.

‘Having said that, during one of my early trips I arrived at Dar es Salaam with several B&Q lavatory seats under my arm for one of our safari camps. One of the airport staff looked puzzled and said : “Mma, we have lavatory seats in Tanzania!’

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