Tom Allan

Writer and thatcher

United Kingdom

Hello, I am a UK-based writer. I also work as a thatcher (of traditional roofs) in Devon, where I live. Below is my selected portfolio.

I write about thatching, place and the environment for publications including the Financial Times and the Guardian. I am a regular contributor to the Guardian's Country Diary column.

If you want me to write for you, email tomxallan[at]


Travel & adventure

Financial Times
Black Sea breakers: exploring Turkey's ancient surf scene

On a rocky headland north of Istanbul a lighthouse blinks out a warning, as it has done for more than 160 years. The lighthouse has given its Turkish name - " fener " - to the little fishing village perched on this, the last headland on the European side before the Black Sea pours into the Bosphorus straits.

Financial Times
The plate outdoors: dining and hiking in the Black Forest

I came to the Black Forest in search of simple pleasures - to walk and to eat. And on a hillside overlooking the village of Baiersbronn, with a winding trail ahead of me and dinner round the corner, it seems I might have found them.

Financial Times
Postcard from . . . Odessa

As late afternoon light slants through the plane trees along Odessa's elegant Troitska Boulevard, a slight 20-year-old in an outsize overcoat is describing his dreams of becoming a professional boxer. Or rather, how they ended.


Financial Times
The last thatcher of the Western Isles

Today, like most days, Neil Nicholson is thinking about the wind. "The weather decides everything I do here," the thatcher tells me as we drive through the loch-riddled landscape of North Uist, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.

Financial Times
A West Country postcard: the thatcher's tale

Spring is a good time to be a thatcher in Devon. As the sun begins to dry the yellow hills of Dartmoor, the dank winter is behind us and the hedge banks along the lanes are filling with wild garlic and the droning of the first bumblebees.

the Guardian
Country diary: last of the winter reed

It's easy to lose your bearings among the vast horizons of Haddiscoe Island. This triangular grazing marsh on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk, enclosed by the rivers Waveney and Yare, feels far bigger than its 2,000 acres, and more remote than its position just off the A413 to Great Yarmouth should allow.


the Guardian
'Baby dragons' go on display for the first time in Slovenia

I visited Postojna Cave in another life. It was mid-March - the last days before Europe went into lockdown. I went to Slovenia's most famous cave system to witness something that might now, in the shadow of pandemic and imploding economies, seem frivolous: a sneak peek at what was to be the first public display of recently hatched olms: blind, worm-like amphibians that are one of nature's most remarkable underground creatures.

the Guardian
Country diary: the Cheviots are studded with ghostly patches

This shoulder of the Cheviot Hills has always been an edge-land. It marks the watershed between the Rule and the Liddel, and the frontier between Scotland and England. Leaving the road, I trudge uphill for two miles through sitka spruce and pine plantation before, with two steps, leaving the firm footing of the forestry track for the uncertain realm of sphagnum.

the Guardian
Country diary: the thrill of the shark's presence

The tide is ebbing at South Milton Sands, and soon the rock arch will stand naked over the reef. I'm snorkelling in the last few feet of glassy water, floating above glistening maroon tongues of dulse and the mossy puffs of sea flaxweed (Stypocaulon scoparium). It's getting shallow.

Papageien-Import nach Brandenburg: Ausgeflogen aus der Karibik

Papageien-Import nach Brandenburg Auf Dominica ist eine Papageienart vom Aussterben bedroht. Ein Verein bringt zwei Tiere nach Deutschland. Vogelschützer verlangen den Rückflug. DOMINICA taz | Die grünen Berge wachsen bis in die Wolken hinein. Zwischen den bewaldeten Gipfeln des Nationalparks Morne Trois Pitons im Süden der Insel Dominica leuchten Blumen, summen Hummeln, und ein Schwarm Papageien fliegt mit viel Radau über uns hinweg.

Earth Island Journal
Proposed Shipping Route Threatens one of Europe's Last Wild Rivers

Environmental activists and locals are organizing against the project, which would pass through 11 nature reserves Above the low banks of the Pripyat River in Belarus, purple storm clouds press down like bruised cheeks. Swarms of mosquitoes and plump, shiny flies rise from the undergrowth as a group of protesters - a coalition of environmental activists, fishermen, and locals - drag their canoes from the water.