Levison Wood has dedicated his life to exploration. In 2014 he walked The Nile from its source to the sea. A 4,200 mile journey, taking him through 6 countries. 7 million steps and 9 months of solid walking later, we caught up with him to discuss the epic journey.

Hi Lev, where are you now and what are you up to?
I am currently in London just carrying on with all of the promo stuff for the book and the TV. It’s actually about to go out in the States in a couple of weeks so there’s all of that to sort out which is exciting!

Congratulations. You are the first man to have walked the Nile from its source to the sea. How does that feel?
Thank you. It’s something that I have been planning and preparing for, for the best part of 3 years. So it took a long time to get together. And until I had actually got to the end it was almost impossible to imagine that I was ever going to do it. It was an incredible feeling to actually make it.

How long has this been a goal of yours and why?
It is something that occurred to me originally about 5 years ago. I’ve always travelled quite a lot. My job has always revolved around travel. Whether that’s as a writer or a photographer, and in the army I did a lot of travelling then, and several (too many) gap years after university. For me, it was to try and create a life out of travel and exploration which has always been my dream and this was kind of the next step. I had already setup my own travel company guiding for other people and leading other people through expeditions.  And I just wanted to do my own big expedition that would really test and challenge me to the limits.

Is it strange to think that this time last year you were in South Sudan walking through a mine field!?
Well yeah it is a bit bizarre but it’s such a stark memory you know, all of it I remember very well bizarrely because I can barely remember what I did yesterday. But yeah for the journey itself because it was just so vivid and such a visual experience that I was immersed in completely both physically and mentally it leaves a very ???? mark on the brain so yeah its bizarre to try and think back, and to watch it on TV was such a surreal experience as well.

It must’ve been terrifying walking for miles, past fleeing refugees and burnt out vehicles, whilst the country was in the middle of a war! How did you keep yourself focused and carry on?
To be honest that wasn’t the hardest bit. I have been to plenty of war zones before. You know I was in the army and as a photographer I have been to lots of conflict zones so I have seen quite a lot of war before. And when you’ve got that experience you kind of know what the risk are and OK, it is certainly dangerous but you understand where the risks lie and you can figure out ways to get around it. The biggest challenge really was trying to mentally motivate yourself to kind of push through. I wasn’t necessarily scared of mines or people with guns, because I have dealt with all that before. It’s more just the unpredictability of knowing how long is this going to take, am I going to be able to physically get through these areas. It’s the unknowns that are really the more challenging things.

You were robbed whilst in Rwanda. I must say you handled it very well and it was a good job they didn’t realise you were filming! What was going through your mind at this point?
Yeah, I got robbed lots of times and you could only show it so many times on tele otherwise it gets a bit boring. But that was just one of several times that people robbed us or threatened us. So you just get used to it and accept its part of the experience. That one in particular was quite scary because it was a very remote road and we hadn’t seen anyone for days really, apart from this car that eventually stopped and all these blokes got out – around 5 guys and you don’t know what they want or what they wanna do. And that was genuinely scary because they could’ve left us for dead and nobody would’ve even found us, so that was very concerning. You just have to stay calm and try and figure out what they actually want and of course they wanted money. You don’t see that on the film but Boston who was my guide, was quick witted enough to say “do you honestly think if we had money we would be walking?” That sort of confused the robbers who said “yeah, that’s a fair point” so that’s why they just ended up stealing my belt, my bag and my hat.

You mentioned that there were lots of other rubbings’, can you think of any other significant scenarios that you were put in that weren’t caught on camera?
Yeah loads. There was plenty of times when there was road blocks from rebels, from government solders’ and police. And not everyone is in uniform, so you don’t know who the good guys are. They initially stop you and demand to see your papers and before you know it, you’re in the cell waiting to be asked “what’s going on?”. Plenty of people pulled the guns on us and said, “Who are you?” For people to encounter random strangers walking through their tribal area or their land is unusual. So people wanna know what’s going on. And they wanna piece of the pie. They wanna bit of money or they want to see some paperwork. A lot of the people can’t even read but unless you’ve got a piece of paper with a stamp on it they’re not going to let you through. On one occasion in South Sudan in Bor a guy came running up with his gun out pointing it at us saying he was going to kill us all because he thought we were U.N.

How did you get out of that scenario!?
Well the guy was drunk as well but luckily we had a body guard with us who was one of the local policeman who basically had to almost fight this guy and threaten to shoot him back, it was fairly tense!

There were some super lows, but also super highs, and you weren’t in Uganda long before you became a celebrity! How did that feel?
Hahaha yeah the incredible thing is the communications in Africa is quite sophisticated in the sense that because there is no landlines, everyone has got a mobile so you can go into the poorest most remote area, the villages and everyone’s got mobiles. So people spread the word and say that in 2 days these guys are going to arrive and before you know it you’ve got the local press who like the story and they put it in the papers. It was a bit weird when you got into these villages and there’s hundreds of people expecting you.

Whilst celebrities around the world were doing ice bucket challenges, you were in Uganda having ice cold milk poured over your head by a witch doctor. Are you a superstitious person?
Hahaha – No not really. Witch doctors and superstition is really rife across Africa. I wanted to try and understand a bit more about it and find out how is this woman making literally millions out of unsuspected people. There is more witch doctors than there are proper doctors in Uganda which is a crying shame but the mentality in a lot of places is still very superstitious and very orientated towards which tribe you belong to. There was this woman who was a complete charlatan basically ripping people off all other the place by doing these charms and spells and things. She even deals with the president.

The trip was full of meeting new people, forging strong friendships and saying goodbyes, but it must have been especially difficult to say goodbye to Boston after travelling together for so long (he could not get his Visa renewed). Have you stayed in touch with him?
Yeah we’ve stayed in touch! He was over in the UK actually a couple of weeks ago. I flew him over for the launch of the programme so he got to watch it over here which was great.

Getting back to Bor, which you entered and classed as a no-go zone (where there had been recent tortures and killings). On the programme you described Bor as a time bomb waiting to explode, and later that evening, there was a battle outside your hotel wasn’t there!? What was going through your mind whilst the battle was going on and you was on the roof?
Yeah that’s right. We didn’t really know what was going on because we had heard all different stories. Trying to get information in a war zone is very difficult because we weren’t in touch with the other side (the rebels), who were attacking all of these towns. But it turns out it wasn’t actually the rebels, it was basically a load of youth malicia/angry civilians really who had basically taken up arms and they were attacking the UN base. They ended up storming the UN base killing about 60 people which was basically just next door to the hotel we were staying in. I call it a hotel but it was more like just a compound. So we tried to escape by getting onto the roof and getting an idea of what was happening. But there was bullets flying all over the place.

Was that the scariest part of the expedition?
It was definitely up there! It was either that or getting robbed. When you’re surrounded, there’s no escape, literally. All of the roads are blocked. Everyone had guns. It’s not like you can blend in so you’ve really got to be careful. So that was scary!

Let’s talk a little bit about the Sahara Desert – You walked through the Sahara in mid-summer when temperatures can reach 50 degrees, and at one point you were dehydrated with no water left. Luckily you reached a well in time. Would there have ever come a point where you would’ve said enough is enough and stopped the expedition?
The thing is you can’t really stop it. You’re in the middle of the desert and if you stop you’re gonna die. There’s not a lot you can do. So we had to keep on going. There were certainly times when you think is it really worth it but for me I couldn’t really have faced going home facing the shame of not having got to the end one way or another. This is something that I’ve been working towards for a long time and to just quit would’ve made the whole thing pointless.

You walked a marathon a day for 10 days and your feet started to rot! Jack on Facebook wants to know what are the best type of shoes?
Those distance especially in that heat is incredibly hard especially when you’ve gotta carry your own gear and you can only carry so much water. By that stage though 7/8 months in, I had been walking that distance everyday and it was just a case of get on with it really. The best boots you can get are called Altberg boots. They are a very small British company based in Yorkshire actually and they supply a lot of the armies boots so they’re really good and actually I only ended up getting through 2 pairs of boots for the whole trip!

Kieran on Facebook would like to know: If you could go back to one part of the trip, what moment would you go back to and why?
That’s a really good question I like it! [pauses] Probably… [pauses again] this is so tough because there were so many amazing experiences. I think just reliving that last day because by then, mentally I was so focused on getting to the end that I was almost in a trance like state. I wasn’t even paying that much attention to what was going on around me. I just wanted to get there. So it would be nice to go back and really enjoy it. Because I don’t think I enjoyed the last day because I was surrounded by all of these journalists and soldiers and people and it was so distracting that I didn’t have time to think and take it in. Which is a shame.

What’s life like for you when you’re not exploring the world?
Usually preparing for the next one really [laughs]. I spend most of my time either travelling. In fact this is probably the longest time that I haven’t already moved on really. Writing books, doing photography. But it’s always to do with travel one way or another. I am to and from the US at the moment promoting my stuff other there. And at the same time planning for the next trip.

 Can you tell us about the next trip?
I’m afraid I can’t tell you what it is because I’m at negotiation stages with Channel 4 and the Americans as well so I can’t tell you what it is I’m afraid. But it’s going to be hopefully another epic journey, similar sort of concept. Not necessarily as long or as physically challenging but I think it will be just as interesting for the viewers and to write a book about as well.

Top tip for a student going on a gap year?
For a start just do one! A lot of people talk about it and change their mind at the last minute or decide that they haven’t got enough money. But you don’t need money, you really don’t. When I was 22 I had just finished uni and I wanted to take a gap year. I hitch hiked all the way to India from Nottingham where I was a student and it cost me £750. That included the flight home. I went through about 20 countries and it was the most incredible experience of my life. So it’s doable you’ve just got to trust yourself, trust others and ultimately take a risk. Get off the beaten track as well! By all means go to Australia and Thailand but if you get the chance go to some more of the beaten track places as well.

Where in the world is your favourite place?
The one place I do actually love that I’ve just mentioned is Thailand. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but as a traveller it was one of the first places I went as a young student and I know it’s changed over the past sort of 15 years, since I went for the first time but it’s just such a vibrant, buzzing place and it’s easy to travel around. Great food, super cheap and amazing beaches and friendly people and it’s a great place to meet other travellers.

Lev, I really appreciate your time. Thanks ever so much and I look forward to looking out for you in the future.