Article: GK Chesterton and the Riddle of Travel

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The quote above regularly appears in lists of most inspirational travel quotes.  It is taken from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding, the last part of Four Quartets.

T_S_Eliot_Simon_FieldhouseMore than 30 years before Eliot wrote Little GIdding, English journalist and writer, GK Chesterton, wrote a short essay containing similar sentiments.  Chesterton’s output was prolific and, although during his career he had public and friendly disagreements with his contemporaries, George Bernard Shaw called him “a man of colossal genius.”


Although he wrote more than 4,000, travel does not seem to have been a regular subject for Chesterton.  Nevertheless, it was a subject he touched on in several of them.  

The essay in question is The Riddle and the Ivy.   The point of Chesterton’s essay is this 

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

At the risk of having to dodge a heavy Gladstone bag, it was obviously for good reason that Chesterton known as the ‘Prince of Paradox’.  

While we might enjoy foreign places, Chesterton argues, the point of travel is not to see those places but to see more clearly and with renewed perspective the place that we have left and are returning to.  We need to leave what is familiar because “a cloud of sleep and custom” prevent us from seeing it properly.  The only way to get clear the ‘cloud’ is to go elsewhere “and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays.”

Having asserted this, Chesterton then seems surprised when after a visit he returns to England to find what he has said is true and that he finds England at once “beautifully new and beautifully old.”  Having addressed, the Riddle, Chesterton then sets out his renewed perspective in contrast to that of the countries he has visited (the Ivy). 

The Riddle and the Ivy is published in Chesteron’s 1909 collection, Tremendous Trifles:   

It is also available at Gutenberg, the Internet Archive or at Amazon: