Solo traveller who shared ventures behind the Iron Curtain with The Journal in 1966 relives her experiences in new book

While many of her friends were getting married and securing jobs in the 1960s, Bridget Gubbins – then Ashton – was travelling the depths of dark Eastern Europe, at a time of great unrest.

The brave solo traveller was venturing through land which had recently experienced the Hungarian Revolution which killed thousands, and Czechoslovakia, which was on the cusp of mass protests during the Prague Spring reforms. But Bridget continued her journey behind the Iron Curtain on foot and with very little money – and even documented her travels in letters she sent to The Journal.

Published by the newspaper in 1966 and 1967, her letters detailed her encounters with people she met along the way, creating a snapshot of life behind the Iron Curtain – a political boundary dividing Europe in two from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991.

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Her writing, as a young woman exploring the world in her early 20s, was captured with such curiosity and interest for a land rarely explored at the time. But now, at the age of 78, Bridget has recreated a tale of her travels in her new book Cold War, Warm Hearts, published by The Book Guild.

Bridget said: “I got out a whole lot of diaries that had been in suitcase under my chest of drawers for decades and I realised that I have stories there which are now history and I’m old enough to remember those times so I decided that I would make it into a book.

Bridget and Husband Bill on their Wedding Day - 30 December 1967
Bridget and Husband Bill on their Wedding Day – 30 December 1967

“I was 22 at the time and I knew nothing. I went off into those countries having been a geography student, but I knew nothing about communism and only the vaguest idea of what was going on over there at the time, but I just went off without a care in the world.”

The book covers a number of her experiences travelling behind the Iron Curtain, including her stay with a Hungarian family whose son, Henry Gulyas, lived with Bridget’s family in Gosforth after the Hungarian Revolution. Bridget remains in touch with the Gulyas family today and has shared the book with a daughter in the family who was moved to tears by seeing her family brought to life in the book.

Cold War, Warm Hearts is the second in a trilogy about her life, following on from ‘Hay Before the Bookshops or the Beeman’s Family’ – a book about her childhood in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, which was published in 2022.

Bridget and her family moved form Hay to Northumberland in 1955 and she returned to the region after her travels, where she became a teacher, as well as an avid environmental campaigner against nuclear power stations. Bridget has released 12 books during her time living in Northumberland, including some which look back at the history of Morpeth.

Her latest memoir was launched on Friday, April 21, at Morpeth Library. During the launch event, Bridget was questioned by a man playing the part of a UK Security Service officer who has called Bridget in for questioning about her travels, the people she met, and the knowledge she gained during that time.

The full-length travel memoir includes a book plate of photographs from Bridget’s travels in the centre of the book and can be purchased for £10.99 from local book stores or online here.

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