Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Friday, 25 December 2009
Just a bit of snow and sunshine in Herefordshire today, but explorers and adventurers have found themselves in some outlandish places on Christmas Day, without the usual home comforts. Away at Christmas, a new book of contemporary diary extracts chronicles their experiences.
For example, in 1768, the British explorer Captain James Cook set sail from Portsmouth in the barque HMS Endeavour. He had been commissioned by King George III and the Royal Society to observe the transit of Venus from the island of Tahiti. On this his first voyage of discovery in the South Seas he was accompanied by the botanist Joseph Banks, who wrote on Christmas Day:
"All good Christians that is to say all good hands get abominably drunk so that at night there was scarce a sober man in the ship, wind thank God very moderate or the Lord knows what would have become of us."
Or, in 1835 Sir John Ross (1777-1856) a Scottish rear admiral and Arctic explorer whose description of Christmas - quite rightly - focused almost exclusively on his stomach.
"Christmas Day was made a holiday in all senses. In the cabin dinner, the only fact worth remarking was a round of beef which had been in the stores for eight yearsand which,with some veal and cooked vegetables, was as good as the day on which it was cooked.
I know not whether the preservation of this meat, thus secured, be interminable or not; but what we brought home is now, in 1835, as good as when it went out from the hands of the maker, of whatever be his designation, the Gastronome for eternity in short, in 1827. If it can be kept so long without the slightest alteration, without even the diminution of flavour in such things as hare soupand purée of carrots, why may it not endure for ever, supposing that the vessels themselves be perdurable?"
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Saturday morning saw the annual Midwinter Swim take place at Brixton's Brockwell Lido. Over a hundred hardy (foolhardy?) South Londoners took to the freezing water, but only after the ice had been broken. Some frolicked in their bikinis while others were covered head to toe in Neoprene. I opted for the two width swim which felt fine until about 10 metres from the end when everything seemed to go into slow motion. Still, the sun was shining and the showers were hot.
Of course this was but a mere dip. With all the current talk about global temperatures rising and polar ice beginning to melt, I was reminded of Lewis Gordon Pugh's iconic swim in the Arctic. In July 2007 the former lawyer became the first person to complete a long distance swim at the Geographic North Pole, spending nearly 18 minutes in the sub-zero temperature water of a large crack in the ice. Pugh undertook the challenge to highlight the devastating effects of climate change - it was only made possible because over the past few years there has been a dramatic reduction in the extent and thickness of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Watch a video of the swim here.
Back to Christmas 2009 and the British newspapers have already started reporting on the winter dips in silly hats events that take place up and down the country. Today, the FT features some picturesque places to get your kit off, and the rest of Fleet Street will follow over the next week or so.
Friday, 18 December 2009
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Friday, 11 December 2009
It was while climbing on The Napes crag's Eagle's Nest Ridge, another test piece of the day, that Botterill was involved in an accident that saw the lead climber, Thomas Rennison, fall to his death. Following this, Botterill gradually withdrew from the crags.
The Manchester Guardian reported the inquest into the accident and it makes fascinating reading to see just how unprotected climbers were in the early days of the sport. Much more about this in The Guardian Book of Mountains.
Manchester Guardian, September 28 1909:
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Prior to communism (1949), China was a popular destination for Western missionaries. This was something that became apparent as I started sifting through the Guardian/Observer archives for Those Who Dared. Books by missionaries recounting their attempts at converting the heathens of the world were regularly reviewed, at least in the early part of the 20th Century.
Forget about the modern misery memoir - these tales make seriously depressing reading. Take With the Tibetans in Tent and Temple (1902), the 'pathetic story' of Susie Carson Rijnhart and her missionary husband in Tibet. On the long road a journey to Llasa, their child died, transport beasts broke down, they were abandoned by guides and finally Mr Rijnhart was murdered by robbers. At least it resulted in a book that, as the reviewer put it, was 'above the average of missionary narratives'.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
However, all was forgiven with the final swim in Snowdonia's Llynn LLydaw, the coldest lake in Britain. Anyone who's tried a bit of open water swimming will know exactly how the Geordie actor felt as he staggered out of the water after covering a kilometre 'bareback' in the freezing water.
Next week's episode includes a swim across the Gulf of Corryvreckan with the assistance of SwimTrek's Simon Murie. In fact SwimTrek have just emailed to say that next year sees the bicentennial of Lord Byron's swim across the Hellespont (now called the Dardanelles), the fabled strait which connects the Aegean Sea in the north-east to the Propontis (Sea of Marmora), and divides Europe from Asia.
For me, degenerate modern wretch,
Though in the genial month of May,
My dripping limbs I faintly stretch,
And think I've done a feat to-day
There was little about the swim in the Observer (the Guardian started publishing in 1821), but 11 years later, it published a letter from Byron where he defended himself against the accusation that he swam the easiest route across the Hellespont. Apparently Leander, the lover from Greek mythology who swam the strait to meet his mistress Hero, did it both ways, with and against the tide. Some people are never satisfied.
Observer, April 30 1821:
Monday, 7 December 2009
Few landscape painters seem to be able to combine both the brooding menace and attraction of mountains on the same canvas. One who does is Ornulf Opdahl whose paintings of the Sunmore mountains and fjords of the western coast of Norway, despite being full of dark skies and barren landscapes, look very inviting. That said, even when he uses light, such as the sun illuminating the side of a mountain, it feels like a momentary break in bleak weather, while any evidence of human activity is dwarfed by the natural world around it.
One painting in particular that caught my eye was The Mountain Ramoen 2009. Interested to know more about the peak, also known as Jonshornet, I discovered that the first known ascent was made by the British climber Geoffrey Hastings in 1889 - although he did find a cairn on the summit. Hastings features in Norway: The Northern Playground (1904), by the alpinist Cecil Slingsby, one of the first guides to mountaineering in the country. And, thanks to the Internet Archive, it can be read here.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Monday, 30 November 2009
Friday, 27 November 2009
Moorhouse was to publish over 30 titles but one his bestsellers was The Fearful Void, the tale of his epic camel-back journey across the Sahara.
The 41-year old began the 3,600 mile trek in October 1972, the main reason being to examine the roots of his fear and to explore the extremes of human experience. He explained: ''It was because I was afraid that I had decided to attempt a crossing of the great Sahara desert, from west to east, by myself and by camel. No one had ever made such a journey before...'
Despite being tormented by lice, chronic dysentery and finding the food, when there was any, revolting, Moorhouse’s biggest problems stemmed from the local labour he hired to help him on his quest. Amongst other things, they stole food, disappeared into passing tents for affairs d'amour, spilled precious water through carelessness, and broke his sextant.
The journey ended in failure with Moorhouse ill and exhausted, giving up 1,500 miles from his final destination. However, the resulting book did provide a moving record of his struggle with fear and loneliness. There’s a fine Elspeth Huxley essay about it in Those Who Dared, while an interview about the journey can seen below (The Guardian, February 27 1974.)
It must be remembered though that the expedition wouldn’t have happened without the help – however unreliable Moorhouse considered them – of indigenous people (see Hidden Histories posting). In 1987 the British desert explorer Michael Asher and his Italian wife Mariantonietta Peru became the first people to complete the journey by camel across the Sahara Desert, east to west.