Geography is no longer something that is just learned from a “book and a map”, and field trips can help children understand the world around them, according to Michael Palin.

The veteran traveller said the “magic appeal” of the subject lies in exploring your surroundings and being able to “see and touch and feel” what the land is like.

In an interview with the Press Association, Palin said geography is a vital subject in the modern world, “broadening” minds and encouraging an understanding of different countries and cultures.

“The world is much more accessible, and I think it is hugely important that we understand the world and why countries are where they are, why live they how they do, what the climate is, what they produce,” he said.

“Geography is no longer just something which you learn from a book and a map and that’s it. It’s very much now a collaborative thing.

“The world is out there, you can go and see for yourself, very often now for very small amounts of money, what the world looks like, and I think that’s a great opportunity.

“I think it broadens the mind – that’s one obvious thing, but it also, I think it just helps us to understand how other countries are the way they are, and this is really very important in just helping us to realise that we all share the same planet and we should know more about what makes us different as well as what makes us similar.”

(PA Graphics)

Palin’s comments come as Press Association analysis shows that A-level and GCSE geography entries have risen in recent years.

In England alone, GCSE geography entries rose by more than a third (36%) between 2012 and 2017.

The increase is likely to have been fuelled by the introduction of the English Baccalaureate – a government measure which recognises teenagers who study English, maths, science, history or geography and a language at GCSE.

At A-level, the analysis shows that geography entries in England have risen by a fifth (21%) over the same five years.


Palin said field trips are “very important”, adding that this is what first got him interested in the subject.

“I looked at books, I looked at maps, I looked at atlases, I enjoyed that, but the thing that inspired me most of all was being taken from the school into the local area to look at nature, to look at the way the land looked, to understand the geography, to walk up little hills and streams and see how the ecological system worked, look at the environment.”

He added that he believes getting outdoors is “where the magic appeal of geography lies, it’s being out there, it’s being able to see and touch and feel what the land is like”.

The writer, broadcaster and Monty Python star suggested that the reason for the rise in the popularity of the subject may be partly down to modern technology which allows people to talk to others “in Argentina, or Sri Lanka, or Norway all in the same morning”.

“I think that helps, that stimulates the curiosity, which is a very important part of learning about the rest of the world.”

He added: “I think people are travelling more, and younger travellers, I think, are demanding something which I think is quite admirable, which is to go to more difficult places and very often to places where they can help in the local communities, which I think is a really important thing, because that’s the human side of geography which is very important.”