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Geographer Special Edition 2020

The newsletter of

the Royal Scottish Geographical Society

The Armchair Edition

Activities, Recommendations and Interviews • Interview with Mollie Hughes • Updates from Our Explorers-inResidence • Films, Books and Online Learning • Craft the RSGS Competition • Stargazing, Cloud Spotting, and Gardening Tips • Reflections from the Collections • Images of Iceland, from Sophie Carr • Quizzes and Prize Crossword

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop



the armchair edition


e hope you will find this extra magazine a welcome distraction during this anxious period of being largely house-bound. In addition to the various activities featured, we are also challenging our friends and members to ‘Craft the RSGS’, which we hope will give people a fun activity to pursue, and lead to a public exhibition later in 2020, in which we will display the funniest and best of the entries, once the dust finally settles and social distancing rules are relaxed. Despite the office shutting down, and the many challenges this current situation presents, we have managed to pull together this special edition in barely a month. I am grateful to everyone – contributors, staff, designer, printer and volunteers – who all helped to make this possible. I am especially grateful to photographer Sophie Carr, who provided the stunning images of Iceland and Costa Rica which have created such colour throughout this extra edition, which I hope will help remind you of the big beautiful world out there. This has not been an easy period for anyone, and there remains a huge amount of uncertainty as things unfold. On behalf of all the staff, we hope you are all coping and staying safe and healthy. We will continue to work to make a difference, so please keep an eye on the website or social media. Exactly how this period will affect charities like RSGS remains difficult to gauge, but it is already impacting income and membership renewals. We continue to rely on membership subscriptions and donations, so please do renew if you still can. We hope you will enjoy the articles – purposefully a little lighter-hearted perhaps than normal, but with a wide range of ideas of how to stay active and interested, and with some wonderful interviews and insights from many of our closest friends, especially our Writer-and Explorers-in-Residence. Please stay safe. We look forward to seeing you all again as things improve. Kind regards


Mike Robinson, Chief Executive RSGS, Lord John Murray House, 15-19 North Port, Perth, PH1 5LU tel: 01738 455050 email:

Follow us on social media Charity registered in Scotland no SC015599 The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those of the RSGS. Cover image: Red-eyed tree frog, Arenal. © Sophie Carr Photography Masthead image: Stokksnes morning. © Sophie Carr Photography

Craft the RSGS From Apollo 11 to Kon-Tiki, Sir Ernest Shackleton to Sir David Attenborough, and the Fair Maid’s House to the RSGS staff and volunteers, our small charity boasts some of the most engaging and entertaining stories of the past 135 years. And to celebrate the best of these, whilst helping to occupy time at home, we’ve come up with a creative competition to keep you amused. ‘Craft the RSGS’ is a lighthearted opportunity to unearth your knitting needles, pull out your colouring pencils, or The Fair Maid’s House cake, by Susan Christie. locate your Lego, all with the aim of producing a piece of ‘art’ relating to our work, our people, or our history. Once you’ve finished your masterpiece, please send us a picture of it (electronically if possible); the best of these items will be showcased at a special exhibition in our visitor centre in Perth once things settle down. Commenting on the idea, Chief Executive Mike Robinson said, “The main thing is to get people doing something positive that helps them weather this difficult time. And we don’t just want to exhibit the most beautiful pieces either – we’re really hoping for amusing, quirky, and charming works too!” This competition is open to everyone. Please submit images to by Friday 14th August. Winning entries will be announced and exhibited, we hope, in the autumn.

Geobakes The RSGS thrives on the support of its Members and volunteers – and, in our HQ in Perth, on a ready supply of buttery, sugary, chocolatey cake! Indeed, above Katrina’s desk in our front office is a card that reads, “Life without cake is possible… but pointless.” At these trying times, it has become clear to us, at least, that cake is now more important than ever before. So, if you’re in need of some baking inspiration, why not set your sights on some ‘geobakes’ in what is perhaps our most tangential ‘geographical’ news item to date? In Scotland, perhaps whip up some Scones, Dundee Cake, Kirriemuir Gingerbread, Selkirk Bannock or Ayrshire Shortbread? Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, head south of the border to try some Yorkshire Parkin, Eccles Cakes, Kendal Mint Cake, Cornish Wafers, Bakewell Tart, Chelsea Buns, Grasmere Gingerbread, or Shrewsbury Biscuits? The choice is yours – just remember to wash your hands once you’ve licked them clean!



Special Edition 2020

Gardening tips Christine Walkden, gardener and TV presenter

Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards Hello! Common blue damselfly. © Kevin Sawford

Space Man. © Roie Galitz

Surfing South Atlantic style. © Elmar Weiss

Laid-back chimp! © Tom Mangelsen

May • Apply a thick mulch of organic matter to borders and beds after rain. This will help conserve moisture during the summer. • When making up new containers with plants, do not throw the old compost away; spread it on your garden as a mulch. Only dispose of it if you find a soil-based pest or disease in it. • Set up a system which enables you to collect rainwater. Put guttering up on sheds and outbuildings. Try to collect all you can. • Sow lettuce, radish, spring onions, beetroot, cabbages and other brassicas to ensure a good harvest from July to September. June • Save all prunings from summer-pruned shrubs. Put them through a grinder and then allow to rot down for four to six months. The resulting material can be used as a mulch in the garden. • Collect up all the fallen fruit from your fruit trees after the June drop has occurred. Leaving it to rot on the ground can attract pests and diseases to your trees, and you and your family can be in danger of slipping. • Prepare your flower borders and plant out summer bedding plants. Make sure the plants are well watered until established. • Keep a watch out for cabbage white butterflies, which start laying their eggs this month. Check the back of brassica plants and remove the eggs by hand, or cover the plants with enviromesh. July • As runner beans start to flower, keeping the roots well supplied with moisture and using a thick mulch will help to ensure a good crop. • Use several sheets of newspaper between the rows to help conserve any water applied to the crop. • Prune early summer flowering plants such as Weigela, Physocarpus, Philadelphus, Deutzia and Forsythia. Retain all the prunings, grind these and then mix into the compostable material. • As ponds start to go green with algal growth and blanket weed, remove it by using a plastic-tined rake or net. Leave the removed material by the edge of the pond overnight to allow trapped amphibians to return to the water. • Once you have harvested mature vegetables, remove these and re-sow the empty ground with French and runner beans, carrots, Swiss chard, and more salad crops.

RSGS GeoSoundz From Holocene by Bon Iver and Landslide by Oh Wonder, to Peter Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness and Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave, it’s very easy to find geographical influences in any musical style. To this end, and to bring these diverse sounds together, we have produced a geo-inspired playlist on Spotify that anyone can listen to at home! Entitled RSGS GeoSoundz, it can be accessed publicly (, and anyone can add a suitable tune on the app. So get thinking, and we look forward to hearing your suggestions!

We are pleased to share with you some of the finalists of the 2019 competition. See for more information and more photos, including the overall winner!

Podcasts worth hearing From Our Own Correspondent – Insight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world. BBC Radio 4. More or Less – Tim Harford and the team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us. BBC Radio 4. No Such Thing As a Fish – A weekly podcast about interesting facts, from the makers of QI. RadioLab – Award-winning podcast that is devoted to investigating a strange world. The Infinite Monkey Cage – Comedy and popular science series hosted by physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince. BBC Radio 4. Mark Steel’s in Town – Comedian Mark Steel visits towns across the UK and creates a stand-up show for a local audience based on what he finds out about the area. BBC Radio 4. Tom Wrigglesworth’s Hang-Ups – Tom Wrigglesworth gives us a glimpse into his family background and the influences that have shaped his temperament, opinions and hang-ups. BBC Radio 4. World Book Club – The world’s great authors discuss their best-known novels. BBC World Service. Drilled – A podcast that investigates the propaganda campaign of the century: the creation of climate denial. Costing the Earth – Fresh ideas from the sharpest minds working toward a cleaner, greener planet. BBC Radio 4. Book of Leaves – A podcast about living sustainably. Deliciously Ella – Delving into the world of physical and mental health, wellbeing, the realities of building a business and a brand, and staying positive in a busy world. Sean Carroll’s Mindscape – Sean Carroll hosts conversations with the world’s most interesting thinkers: science, society, philosophy, culture, arts, and ideas.

2 Special Edition 2020

Films worth watching compiled by James Cave, RSGS Communications Officer

Films Human Nordfor Sola The Lives of Others Before the Flood Good Will Hunting Amadeus

Good Will Hunting This double Oscar award-winning film written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who also star in the movie alongside the late Robin Williams, follows a school janitor at MIT who has a remarkable gift for mathematics, but needs guidance from a psychologist to find purpose in his life. Hopeful and dramatic in equal measure, it has similarities to the story of James Croll, who developed understanding of global climate change in the 19th century whilst working as a janitor in Glasgow!

Free Solo Searching for Sugar Man Virunga A Beautiful Mind Blackfish Into the Wild Fargo Blood Diamond Gandhi

The King’s Speech Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, this biopic of King George VI scooped four Oscars at the 2011 Academy Awards. It details the Monarch’s impromptu ascension to the throne in 1936, his battle to overcome his stammer, and the intense pressure that he felt before addressing the nation on the eve of World War II. But, this was not his first public address; it was, in fact, in 1934 when the then Duke of York spoke to the RSGS at a Golden Jubilee Banquet in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall! See www.rsgs. org/blog/the-kings-speech.

The King’s Speech

The Barkley Marathons


In its first 25 years, only ten people have finished The Barkley Marathons. Based on a historic prison escape, this cult-like race tempts people from around the world to test their limits of physical and mental endurance. In a documentary that contemplates the value of pain, this quirky title, up on Netflix, is a must-watch for lovers of running or endurance adventures!

Persepolis Touching the Void The Pursuit of Happyness Hunt for the Wilderpeople


Icarus The Motorcycle Diaries The Barkley Marathons Frost / Nixon Man on Wire Meru The Big Blue The Cave of the Yellow Dog Philomena I Am Whale Rider Milk Cry Freedom Rabbit-Proof Fence Salvador

The Oscar-winning story of Free Solo (Alex Honnold’s climb of El Capitan) is Director Jimmy Chin’s best and most well-known title. But his 2015 feature, Meru, should not be overlooked; and it’s currently available on Netflix too. In this white-knuckle adventure to the Garhwal Himalayas, India, three elite climbers struggle to find their way through obsession and loss as they attempt to climb Mount Meru, one of the most coveted prizes in the highstakes game of big wall climbing.

Before the Flood Leonardo DiCaprio, a UN Climate Ambassador, has been involved in a raft of documentaries relating to geographical issues, including Virunga, Cowspiracy, And We Go Green, The 11th Hour, and Pollinators Under Pressure. Before the Flood, which features names such as Ban Ki-Moon and Michael Mann, is a look at how climate change affects our environment and what society can do to prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems and native communities across the planet.

The Story of the Weeping Camel

Kon-Tiki (2012)

The 11th Hour

This is the story of explorer Thor Heyerdal’s epic 4,300-mile crossing of the Pacific on a balsawood raft in 1947, in an effort to prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. Thor was awarded the RSGS Mungo Park Medal in 1950 for this perilous contribution to geographic knowledge.

Sour Grapes Erin Brockovich First Man The Man Who Knew Infinity Kon-Tiki (2012) 2040 Seven Years in Tibet Short films on YouTube

2040 Practical solutions to environmental concerns are addressed in this film by Damon Gameau. By 2040, his daughter will be 21 years old, but what future will she face?

Ice & Palms

The Run Home

Danny Daycare

Head onto YouTube to watch young hill-runner Louis MacMillan take the scenic route home from school in Argyll, in this superb video shot by his pal Alfie Smith. With music from Talisk, it’s a beautiful, innocent look at the joy of running in Scotland’s beautiful backcountry.

Mountain Bikes and Bothy Nights Dean Goes Surfing The Run Home



Special Edition 2020

Books worth reading compiled by Anne Daniel, RSGS Office and Events Assistant


n enforced period at home prompts many of us to turn to books – to learn, to escape, or to connect with other ways of life. RSGS staff and volunteers have been making suggestions of titles old and new to inspire you. Non-fiction Armchair travel is the way to go these days: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby (1958) or Another Fine Mess by Tim Moore (2019) are both suggested for humour, while The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (2008) and A Geography of Time by Robert Levine (2006) both make us think about how other cultures view the world. Women explorers are represented in A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird (1879), through Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy (1965), to Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh (2019). As a contrast, Ranulph Fiennes’ autobiography, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know was revised and reissued last year, and Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind (2003) is an investigation into why people are drawn to the dangers of climbing. This year’s Inspiring People talks programme has come to an end, and many of the speakers who visited us around the country had books on offer. We started the year with Alice Morrison talking about Morocco; My 1001 Nights (2019) is a collection of stories from her life there, and Morocco to Timbuktu: an Arabian adventure is the companion to her 2017 BBC2 series. Adam Weymouth won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and the Lonely Planet Adventure Travel Book of the Year for Kings of the Yukon (2018), describing his river journey by canoe; and travelling at a more frenetic pace, Sean Conway’s Big Mile Cycling (2019) tells of his obsession with endurance adventures. Bringing us back home, Nick Baker encourages focusing on the natural world immediately around us in ReWild: The Art of Returning to Nature (2017). Also connecting with nature: Sea Room: An Island Life by Adam Nicolson (2001) and The Frayed Atlantic Edge by David Gange (2019), a journey around the coast of Britain. Further out to sea, Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly (2005) is a witty journey round the Shipping Forecast. More serious suggestions include Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens (2011), and The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres (2020). And our final non-fiction book, Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie (2019), blends memoir, culture and travelogue to link the past with the present, and place with people.

Fiction Perhaps this is the time to revisit some of the classics of literature; or even knuckle down to some that we always meant to read some day. Suggestions from our team range widely from the Icelandic sagas of medieval times, through Henry Fielding (Tom Jones, 1749), Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair, 1848) to Robert Louis Stevenson. John Buchan’s novels were suggested by several readers, being steeped in the Scottish landscape, with John Macnab (1925) as a good starting point. The Return of John Macnab by Andrew Greig (2002) is a link to this contemporary Scottish writer and poet. A few ideas of books from other countries: The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez (2011), and also about Afghanistan, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003). From Sweden, Jonas Jonasson is a favourite with The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (2009) and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden (2013); and from France, Antoine Laurain’s The President’s Hat (2013) is a delightful and quirky tale. Crime and whodunnit novels are a form of escapism for many: from the historical Brother Cadfael novels of Ellis Peters set in the 12th century, and the Shardlake series by C J Sansom set in the 16th-century reign of Henry VIII; through the ‘golden age’ of detective fiction with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers; to the presentday books of Ian Rankin set in Edinburgh, or Ann Cleeves in Shetland, or Val McDermid’s The Skeleton Road (2014) with a geography professor as a main character. Coming more up to date, here are some novels I enjoyed last year. 4 3 2 1 (2017) is Paul Auster’s latest (and largest) offering, chronicling the alternative lives of a young man growing up in 50s and 60s USA; and Transcription (2018) by Kate Atkinson is a spy story set in WWII and the present. If you enjoy either of these, you will be well set, as both authors have many other excellent titles. Last year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction brought attention to Bernardine Evaristo: her winning book Girl, Woman, Other (2019) looks at the interconnected lives of 12 different characters and has been described as ‘a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood’. And finally, March saw the long-awaited publication of The Mirror and the Light (2020) by Hilary Mantel, the third instalment of her historical Wolf Hall trilogy based on the life of Thomas Cromwell. Every bit as impressive as the others!

Happy reading!

4 Special Edition 2020

Pilates for every body Dawn Gillies, Energy Tree Pilates and Yoga

Do you know which body movement system has links to the water, with seal, swan dive and swimming being just a few of the named exercises, but which are all carried out on dry land? Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates early in the 20th century, focusing on core strength and stability, breathing and control, and known as ‘Contrology’ until his death in 1967. The benefits of Pilates include improved posture, strength, balance, flexibility and relaxation. There are many different styles of Pilates classes; some utilise mats whilst others take place on apparatus. We may currently be more sedentary than usual, unable to carry out our usual activities, so I have created a gentle, short session suitable for home practice. It is important to prepare your body for the session, beginning with alignment and warm-up before moving on, finishing with gentle stretches and breath focus for relaxation. Listen to your body – avoid any movements causing pain or discomfort.

Mat-work • l ying on back - knees bent - feet hip-width apart - tilt pelvis gently forward/backward to find neutral position - palms turned up - arms moved away from sides - shoulders relaxed • bridge - move heels a little closer to buttocks - exhaling, tilt pelvis back as if imprinting spine into mat - pause and inhale - exhaling, begin to peel tailbone and lower back from mat - pause and inhale - roll back down, exhaling, and release pelvic tilt • r epeat, lifting further each time until ribcage is lifted away from mat - if any bone health conditions or neck problems, keep ribs on mat •b ring knees to chest, and keep head heavy on mat - hug round behind thighs, and gently rock side to side

• feet hip-width apart - knees soft - avoid locking

• l ying on front - feet hip-width apart - abdominals engaged reach arms along side of body - roll shoulders round so palms are flat against seams of trousers - breathe out and lengthen through spine and neck - reach hands gently towards feet - hold and breathe - slowly release

•p elvis gently tilted forward/backward - find mid-way point hold neutral position

• r epeat, lifting upper body just off mat, keeping gaze down to floor - hold and breathe - slowly release - turn over

• abdominals gently engaged - draw navel towards spine

•b ring knees to chest, and keep head heavy on mat - hug round behind thighs, and gently rock side to side - release one foot to floor and straighten leg out - hold - change legs and repeat

Alignment (practise often, even when seated)

• ribcage lifted away from pelvis - lift front and back evenly •s houlders melt down away from ears - palms face forwards arms open from shoulders, and shoulder blades flat on back of ribcage • l engthen through back of neck, as if helium balloons attached to each ear lifting you up •w eight evenly distributed through four corners of each foot Warm-up and standing work (alignment as above) • shoulder shrugs and shoulder rolls •h ug arms across body - open arms out at shoulder level to gently open chest • arm raises - shoulders relaxed away from ears • walk on spot - keep hips even - lift and lower alternate heels

“The benefits of Pilates include improved posture, strength, balance, flexibility and relaxation.”

© Irina L from Pixabay

• r elax on mat in a comfortable position - focus on inhaling and exhaling for a few breaths • r oll onto side with bent knees - return slowly to an upright position



Special Edition 2020

The joy of insects, or the zen of isolation Nick Baker

Just as there are millions of people suffering from a virus, the enforced isolation that has come with the measures to cope with its unexpected arrival has also seen a pandemic of another ailment – boredom. I’m lucky I’ve never been bored. It’s an affliction I simply can’t understand. For me, there is just too much to do and see, to learn and discover. I can only conclude that those folk who find themselves twiddling their thumbs, pacing the floor or watching day-time TV have yet to discover the joy of insects. A secret, barely glimpsed society, which is not only vital to the smooth running of our planet and all the life systems on which everything else (including us) depends, but is also intrinsically fascinating in itself.

“You’ll discover a small world that is big on diversity, beauty, inspiration and intrigue.”

Lean in a bit closer, and you’ll discover a small world that is big on diversity, beauty, inspiration and intrigue. With over a million named species of insect on Earth © Jamie Robinson (estimates range between two and ten million kinds in total), there are plenty to choose from. And that’s just the insects. If you are to include various other orders of life, such as the arachnids, crustaceans, annelids and molluscs, there are even more to slake your curiosity. For many, just the thought of anything with more than a pair of eyes, or multiple legs, sends them into a squirming fit of discomfort at best, or at worst putting the boot down. I feel sorry for these folk almost as much as I do for the invertebrate they just met. They’re missing out on nearly everything. Well, 80% of nearly everything, and in that, I do not exaggerate: 80% of all living species on Earth are insects. More often than not, that enemy of common sense, prejudice, is at work. It’s a lot easier to hate something than it is to get to know it and love it. Especially if that thing requires a bit of effort and, in some cases, imagination. Resist the temptation to write off the next ant, spider, slug or snail, and bother to get to know them. I mean, really get to know them: get down on your hands and knees, use a magnifying lens if you’ve got one, and get face to face, eyeball to compound eye (or ocelli or tentacle), and ask some questions of the beast in front of you. How does it perceive the world? What is it doing? What does it feed on? How does it survive? Mate? Lay eggs?

As I sit here writing this, I have no idea how I’m going to pay my bills after June, or indeed if I can afford my daughter’s education or the tax on the car or the mortgage in the future. These problems seem so big, the solution is unknown, the cause is more significant than any of us can understand right now; too much for one mind to fathom. So instead I just make the most of the time. As someone with an entomological leaning, my perfect day would be tootling around in my small garden, watching bumblebees looking for nests, searching out pseudoscorpions in the brick pile, or photographing pond skaters. But more often than not, despite my best plans, work or family demands put the kibosh on these fantasies.

Now, however, with the pressure of work off for the time being, I have the time. And I feel rich for it. I can spend as long as I like, poking, prodding, questioning and feeding my curiosity, while at the same time getting to know my own habitat better than ever before. This isn’t killing time; it’s connecting to the real. I spent two hours watching a spider spin a web yesterday, and it made me feel good. Satisfied and connected, calm, relaxed and enlightened. While I’m contemplating, like many of us, an uncertain future, I find looking to nature a kind of salve. If ever life gets a bit tricky, I put things into perspective and go and find some nature, something alive – for me, it’s insects. Still, it could just as quickly be a bird, plant, fish or mammal. There is something reassuring in the fact that whatever madness is going on in the world right now, it is really only affecting our own species (and controversial it may seem – we’ve kind of been asking for it!). That hairy-footed flower bee buzzing around my Pulmonaria is a constant. It’s spring, the sun’s out, the flowers are open, there will be a spring bee or two filling the airwaves with a distinctive high-pitched hum. Hearing and seeing them describes the time of year perfectly. This is nature’s calendar – I don’t need the one hanging on my wall.

In doing so, you’ll find yourself passing through the looking glass and tumbling into a microcosm; a world within our world, and one that is key to understanding everything else about the living world, while at the same time heaving with intricacy, beautiful form, colour and fascination.

I could apply the same thinking to the first seven-spot ladybirds, brimstone butterflies, the bee fly, bloody-nose beetles and oil beetles. The list is almost endless, and just their appearance in my garden anchors me to a reality that transcends our own ‘business’. It bursts the bubble of our modern lives, and the materialistic dreams we obsess over and convince ourselves are important.

One of the advantages of studying these little life forms is just that – they’re relatively tiny. Being small, they fit their lives into tiny spaces. Into the cracks and fissures of the physical world, whether out in the woods, up in the mountains, on the shore, in your garden or window box, or even sharing your home; insects and their kin are everywhere you might choose to look. This makes them very accessible and a perfect subject to study, especially when many of us find our movements restricted to our homes and gardens.

Right now it’s time to appreciate the simple things, the free things. It’s time to reconnect and re-engage with our surroundings and our nature. And what’s more, when this is all over, those things will still be there. We just have to remember to find the time to wonder and appreciate and value. Remember how these little marvels filled our days, and value all the things they do and represent, which includes most importantly how they are an antidote to that other common modern ailment – boredom.

6 Special Edition 2020

Reflections from Hardangervidda Hazel Robertson, RSGS Explorer-in-Residence

Inside the tent was darker than usual. Tapping my fingers lightly on the red nylon, I watched as dark shapes slid down the outside, hitting the ground with a hiss. Last night’s snowfall. A few more taps, and light flooded in as if opening curtains. Peering outside, my stomach knotted as I realised how much snow had fallen. But I quickly parked that thought. No point in worrying about conditions on this solo expedition; the weather was just one aspect out of my control. A sense of calm settling over me, I fired up the stove for breakfast, continuing with my morning tasks, ready for another day of sledge-hauling. Each day slicker and more efficient, my routine was already becoming second nature. In southwestern Norway lies the Hardangervidda (Hardanger Plateau), Europe’s largest high mountain plateau. Standing proudly above the treeline with an average elevation of just over a thousand metres, these vast, ancient, glacier-carved mountains extend for almost 7,000 square kilometres. With its subarctic climate and punishing winter conditions, Shackleton and Nansen, and many explorers since, have used this region as the perfect training ground for polar expeditions. In February this year I had the privilege of crossing Hardangervidda on skis, from Finse in the north to Haukeliseter in the south, a journey of over 130km. For company, I dragged a pulk holding everything I’d need to survive. Leaving the hamlet of Finse, my horizons were peppered with human structures for days: telephone masts silhouetted on peaks, shuttered cabins buried under a weight of snow, a busy road with huge banks at each side that I picked my way across like a fast-flowing river. Feeling relieved when these faded from view, I continued to climb higher and onto the Hardangervidda proper; remote, wild and raw. Layers of mountains stretched out to the horizon in every direction, and not a soul in sight. With steep climbs in deep snow often lasting for hours, remembering their temporary nature helped me to continue, even when progress felt unbearably slow. Focusing on taking ten more steps, then another ten, and another kept me present. However challenging the situation felt at the time, it was comforting to know that it would pass.

As my first long-distance solo expedition, each step felt very special. Being wholly responsible for decision making was freeing and empowering. Knowing I could survive on my own in strong winds that made me stumble sideways on each gust, navigating safely in the mountains as drifting snow made it hard to see much beyond the tips of my skis, staying warm and comfortable with a windchill of 24 below, was deeply satisfying. How often do we carve out time, free from all distraction, to just be with ourselves?

“The natural world can teach us so much, not only about ourselves, but how to overcome challenges in all aspects of life.”

I found myself increasingly tuning in to slight changes in the plateau, reading the landscape. The subtleties of snow under ski, the shifting patterns of light filtering through the grey clouds and illuminating distant hills, the feeling of steepening terrain in a whiteout, the changing wind direction, a bank of cloud building in the west. I felt senses becoming alert for tiny differences, snippets of information, instilling a deep curiosity and joy at the smallest and simplest of things. Emerging from the plateau, the world was changing beyond recognition. And now, adjusting to this new normal, I’m finding my experiences and mindset from expeditions, including Hardangervidda, are helping me navigate these uncertain times. The natural world can teach us so much, not only about ourselves, but how to overcome challenges in all aspects of life. So I’m focusing on what I can control – my attitude, taking care of myself, helping others – and letting go of what I can’t. Creating a new routine and structure to my days that helps me stay motivated. Staying curious and finding wonder in the smallest of things – new buds on the trees, lighter evenings, a stranger’s smile from afar. Making time that’s free of distractions to reflect. Being fully present in each moment. And remembering that this, too, is finite.



Special Edition 2020

The Polar Academy: road of resilience Craig Mathieson, RSGS Explorer-in-Residence

The Polar Academy has been affected as badly as many other organisations in the UK, with our expedition and further selection of schools postponed. However, as with so many things, it’s how we react when faced with such challenges which defines who we are.

“Instead of allowing any negativity to set in, every member of the team instead turned the situation into a positive.”

A few weeks ago I had to give the sad news to the team from Bell Baxter School that, despite a year of hard training, their expedition was going to be postponed until 2021. The decision was taken not only to protect the pupils and parents of this team, but also to stop any chance of this virus being brought into the local communities of East Greenland. You may expect that a group of teenagers hearing such news would react negatively, but not these kids. From the shy, invisible and broken children I started with last year, they not only have developed into a professional expedition team; they have matured and created a sense of resilience and comradeship which I have not seen since my days in the military. After a minute or so of silence on hearing the news, 15-yearold Eve piped up and asked what time did their tyre-hauling session start the following morning. Instead of allowing any negativity to set in, every member of the team instead turned the situation into a positive: they now have the unique opportunity to be involved twice as long with the Polar Academy as any previous team. They have now set their sights extremely high for next year’s expedition, focusing on raising their fitness and attitude levels off the scale. The following morning, every single member of the team and their parents turned up for a six-hour fitness session on the West Sands in St Andrews, hauling heavy tyres

through the sand and the sea. This session was considered the first of the new training year. In an incredible show of support, we were also joined by members of previous Polar Academy teams from every year we’ve been running. For me personally, it was a very emotional and proud day, seeing the positive results of our work throughout the years coming together to support our current team. Now that we’re all in the lockdown phase of this pandemic, the Bell Baxter team still train as hard as before, albeit remotely via various apps and social media wizardry. Going forward, all our plans have been moved 12 months forward. 2020 was meant to be the year we doubled our capacity; however, this will now happen in 2021 with Bo’ness and Stranraer Academy going forward for their selection. The Bell Baxter team will emerge from this global situation stronger than before, ready to take on any challenge, and empowered to inspire thousands of their peers to do the same.

8 Special Edition 2020

Mary Robinson FRSGS, RSGS Livingstone Medallist 2012 Jo Woolf FRSGS, RSGS Writer-in-Residence

“Every man and woman is a piece of the whole planet.” Growing up in Ballina, County Mayo, Mary Robinson learned to be a tomboy: she had little option, with four brothers. Her parents were both doctors, and they gave their children a loving, supportive home and a good education. Even so, as the middle child, Mary would argue with them over important issues. Why, for example, were her two older brothers allowed to stay up late, while she and her younger siblings had to go to bed? Why were the older boys the only ones allowed to go to the circus? “To the amusement of our parents, I became an argumentative champion of equality issues, not just on my own narrow behalf but also on behalf of my two younger brothers.” Without realising it, Mary was flexing muscles that she would one day use on a world scale, and in roles that she could never have dreamed of. Against the backdrop of Ireland in the 1950s and 60s, Mary was lucky. Her family believed that girls were just as important as boys, and taught her that she had exactly the same potential. But some aspects of Irish society jarred with Mary, for reasons that she couldn’t yet define, in particular the distinction between classes and religions, which divided families and caused bitter grief. “People were all equal and should be treated equally but from early on I could see that this was not the case and that, indeed, there seemed to be a great deal of unfairness in the world.” Mary saw how her father gave his patients, both rich and poor, the same degree of courtesy and care; as a bored teenager, she would wait for hours in shops and on street corners while her mother listened at great length to the

afflictions of her very large acquaintance; and then there was her Aunt Ivy, a missionary in India, to whom her father would send regular parcels of Palmolive soap. These were not for Ivy: she handed them out to the poorest children, and she would write home to share her joy at being able to improve someone’s life. With a formidable intellect and a strong sense of independence, Mary was destined for a high-profile career, and she chose law, studying at Trinity College, Dublin, and Harvard University. She excelled as a lawyer but soon turned her eyes to the political stage, and in 1969 was elected to Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate, as an independent candidate.

“She was inspired by a fundamental belief in people, regardless of their race, politics or religion, and her popularity soared as a result.”

Mary’s election came at a crucial yet sensitive time. As a country, Ireland was fiercely proud of its identity but its people were still trapped in the taboos and prejudices of the last hundred years. Contraception, divorce, homosexuality... these were issues that no one even talked about, much less debated openly in public. Under the velvet glove of the Catholic Church was a fist of steel. For most people, the consequences of speaking out against the teachings of their religion were unthinkable, both in this world and in the next. But if Mary’s colleagues expected her to sit quietly on the sidelines, they were in for a shock.

Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders, former President of Ireland, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is one of the contributors to the RSGS’s Climate Solutions programme (see page 19).



Special Edition 2020

Her childhood had taught her to challenge injustice, and when it came to speaking her mind she knew no fear. Ireland, she said, should allow people the right to divorce; it should lift the ban on contraceptives; and it should decriminalise homosexuality and suicide. Not surprisingly, she raised some powerful hackles. Spite masked fear: she received hate mail, and became the victim of malicious rumour. She was even denounced from the pulpit of Ballina Cathedral. But she would not back down.

The impact of climate change on human existence is not always appreciated to its fullest extent, but Mary has had ample opportunity to witness the plight of people throughout the world whose homes and livelihoods are being lost. Far from assuming that this is a natural process which cannot be stopped, Mary has set up an organisation whose specific aim is to redress the damage. The Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice (MRFCJ) is helping the poorest of people survive in a changing environment, by By 1989, many of these issues had RSGS Vice-President Professor John Rowan presented RSGS supporting sustainable industry and been addressed; in addition, women Honorary Fellowship to Mary Robinson in December 2012. allowing them access to clean, safe could now sit on juries, and they did not forms of power that will not deplete automatically have to resign from Civil Service employment the world’s fossil fuels. In effect, the MRFCJ ties together when they married. Mary resolved not to seek re-election, but gender equality, human rights and sustainable development. the Labour party came to her with an unexpected proposition. After a whirlwind campaign, in December 1990 she was inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland.

“We must ensure that all people in all countries are able to take part in the transition to zero carbon and zero poverty.”

As the first female head of state in Ireland, Mary now had a unique opportunity to speak about the matters closest to her heart. She was inspired by a fundamental belief in people, regardless of their race, politics or religion, and her popularity soared as a result. In a window of Áras an Uachtaráin, her official residence, she placed a symbolic light that echoed an old Irish custom: at night, villagers would put a candle in a darkened window to light the way for travellers.

More recently, Mary Robinson has been calling for a greater awareness of the potential damage caused by natural disasters. More attention, she says, should be given to the underlying drivers of risk, such as inequality, weak governance, declining ecosystems and conflict. And when help is provided, it must be carefully planned and executed: there is no point in siting new clinics in a coastal village if they are going to be swept away by rising sea levels. Rich countries have a moral obligation to act, but our response must reduce the impact of future disasters.

“Mary Robinson has long defended the rights of the underdog and has never shirked from speaking truth to power.” Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International From Irish President, in 1997 it seemed like a short step to become United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but in fact this was a huge role, during which time Mary Robinson grasped the torch of human rights and campaigned to end suffering and discrimination at both a national and a regional level, in all parts of the globe. She chaired meetings of world leaders on racism and equality, and she was the first Human Rights Commissioner to visit China. As an institutional reformer, she brought the human rights agenda into the core of the United Nations, with a particular focus on refugees and victims of natural disaster. In 2014, Mary Robinson was appointed as the UN SecretaryGeneral’s Special Envoy for Climate Change. Mary is a member of the Elders, an independent group of world leaders that was founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu; their quest is for world peace and human rights. In this role Mary has travelled to many countries, including the Middle East, Korea, the Cote d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, with the aim of easing political tensions and forging a path towards peace. As a tireless champion of women’s equality, she is also supporting women in these and many other countries, whose voices are not yet being heard. “When Nelson Mandela brought us together as Elders, he did so in the belief that together we are stronger, that change happens when people collectively take action to make our world a better place.”

“As an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.” Barack Obama


Everybody Matters by Mary Robinson Climate Justice by Mary Robinson

For her tireless humanitarian work in support of women’s rights and climate justice, Mary Robinson was awarded the RSGS’s Livingstone Medal in 2012.

10 Special Edition 2020

Time for a new adventure Kate Cave, RSGS Member

Let’s face it, staying at home is going to be rather different. A fine sunny day sees me and my husband itching to be off – walking the hills, or bike-birding with the essential ingredient: cake in a village café! So today it’s out into the garden which was, until recently, a well-worn football pitch. I joke with my friends that the garden is now a ‘semi-managed wilderness’ as frankly the great outdoors has always been more appealing than sorting the neglected bushes. However, the buddleia, which could easily fit into a large wardrobe, does get an annual cut-down. Thinking back to last year, we had a profusion of different butterflies on this one bush – red admirals, painted ladies, orangetips, peacocks and common blues. When the sun was out, it was spectacular! Now stuck at home, I thought I would take some cuttings of the buddleia and plant them somewhere else. I’ve only got trips to cancel today, not to plan. I fill the cups of our last recyclable take-away coffees with compost; I dip the cuttings in some ancient rooting powder; then plant and pop them in a warm spot. De-weeding my herbs round the back of the house, I spy a pond. Well, a large plant pot with an unknown dead plant in it, filled to the brim with all the recent rain. I look closely and find a tiny ecosystem – autumn leaves, algae, tiny water plants, and miniscule bubbles of oxygen – the sign of emerging life, perhaps? I think I’ll go back and have another look in a day or two. I check on the new kitchen waste compost bin. It’s not performing as it should be, but the inside of the bin is alive with little white, triangular winged insects, careening about like crazed windsurfers. They clearly like the warm decaying

fruit and veg habitat that I have created. But the mulch destined for my impoverished soil seems a long way off. Outside our front door, I keep noticing tiny white feathers on the ground; has a baby bird come to a disastrous end? I hope not. The touch of these downy feathers is soft, and so different from the flying feathers that eventually grow and allow the bird to fledge the nest. These longer flying feathers are stiff and robust, with their hooks and barbules that zip together in one of nature’s most technically marvellous constructions. And it all starts with a little bundle of fluff. I look up into the bare branches of a large sycamore tree whose roots are no doubt seriously undermining the foundations of our house. I see two greenfinches doing what they do best: sitting atop a high branch and singing. They are back in the garden after a long absence due to greenfinch Trichomoniasis, a disease which decimated their population in recent years. We’re not the only ones fighting off threats it seems – Hope Springs Eternal! Following my adventure into the garden, I realise that taking time to discover the wilderness on my doorstep is actually rather good fun. Of course, when the time comes to be let out again, I’ll be away. But in the meantime, perhaps you might have time for a new adventure of your own?

“Taking time to discover the wilderness on my doorstep is actually rather good fun.”

Images © James Cave


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Special Edition 2020

Let it grow Brian Cunningham, Head Gardener, Scone Palace, and Beechgrove Garden presenter

I like to think of myself as a ‘my glass is half full’ person. When things aren’t going right, I’ll maybe dort for a while, but it’s not long before I’m starting to make the necessary adjustments and coming up with a new plan. I think being a gardener helps in these situations as we often have to deal with losing a favourite tree that comes down in a storm, or a shrub that comes to the end of its life leaving a gap in our garden. Before long, we start thinking about the new opportunities this will bring, and what new things we could be planting to fill the place. There’s no doubt it’s truly awful what we are experiencing just now with the Covid-19 virus, but I can’t help feeling pleased that during this period of lockdown in our homes, companies selling garden seeds and bags of compost are experiencing spikes in sales as people spending more time at home are looking to reconnect with their gardens. And in this respect the timing could not be better as it coincides with the start of the growing season, the time of year when gardens and gardeners burst into life. In the veg plot, potatoes need planting, and in the next few weeks we’ll be sowing seeds of lettuce, carrots, beetroot, cabbages, peas and beans. If you are lucky enough to have access to a small glasshouse, you can be starting these crops off early by sowing them into trays and pots before planting them outdoors, but even more excitingly, you can also grow tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, chilli and pepper plants. The beauty of veg growing, and gardening in general, is that it’s not essential to have a large space. Much can be achieved in the smallest of spaces, such as a basement courtyard, porch or balcony, and with the correct planning, growing vegetables in containers can be equally as productive. Even root crops such as potatoes, parsnips and carrots can be grown in the simplest of containers, such as a turned-out compost bag. For over 150 years in the Kitchen Garden at Scone Palace, vegetables would have been grown in what today we would describe as the traditional method. Scores of men would be ‘double-digging the soil’ to two spades depth, incorporating animal manure to feed the soil, moving groupings of vegetable plants around in a three- or four-year crop rotation system to avoid the build-up of pests and disease in the soil. Today the garden team grow vegetables using the ‘nodig’ method which, as the title suggests, does not require the back-breaking autumn task of the traditional. Instead, composts made from manures, leaf moulds, kitchen and

garden waste are spread over the surface of the soil, feeding it and replacing spent nutrients. At one time on many large estates such as Scone Palace, gardeners would have lived in accommodation on or near their work, particularly close to the Walled Garden where the glasshouse stoves would have needed to be kept going all through the night. Today it is only myself, the head gardener, who is afforded this, and so I am the only gardener at Scone Palace working during this period of lockdown, having to draw on all my years of experience to keep the 100 acres of gardens from resembling a jungle when the rest of the team are allowed to return.

“If you are new to gardening, little and often is the key.”

Where normally we would cut the lawns on a weekly basis to keep them in pristine condition, I will be now reducing this down to fortnightly cuts and I’m not collecting the grass clippings either, saving valuable time having to dispose of them. We also leave large sections of the grounds where we never cut the grass, which is great for biodiversity. The most valuable tool I have in my shed is a hoe: going out on a sunny and windy day lightly hoeing the soil will bring young annual weeds to the surface. Just leave them there and let the sun fry the foliage and the wind dry the roots, killing them without us having to lift them. Hopefully there are a couple of tips here to help or inspire you, and if you are new to gardening, little and often is the key. I love being out working in my garden, but if there is one thing this situation has reminded me, I also need to make sure that I take a little time with a cup of tea or a gin and slim and enjoy it too. And make sure you do too. Happy gardening. Follow Brian on Twitter @gingergairdner

12 Special Edition 2020

An RSGS trip down memory lane Margaret Wilkes FRSGS and Blair White FRSGS, RSGS Collections Team

Monday is ‘RSGS Day’, for whatever the weather or season, we make the 45-mile rail journey from Edinburgh to Perth. As survivors of undergraduate field courses, we offer you sight of a few RSGS links on the way. Passing Murrayfield Stadium we see future Scotland rugby players on the outside turf, and salute one of our RSGS Vice-Presidents, the Princess Royal, also Scottish Rugby’s Patron. Hurrying out of Edinburgh Gateway’s soulless edifice, excitement mounts as we near Edinburgh Airport. Is there a plane coming in to land? Will it seemingly miss our train by inches? We’ve witnessed this! Once past the main runway we look for Carlowrie Castle, submerged in trees, and remember Isobel Wylie Hutchison FRSGS (1889-1982) whose family home it was. A former RSGS Vice-President, and Mungo Park Medallist, this remarkable Member was botanist, Arctic explorer, traveller, film-maker, painter, poet and writer. After Dalmeny we salute the Forth Bridge, for RSGS has a fine volume of photographs of 1890 recording its construction. Whatever the weather it looks memorable, overlooking perky tugboats speeding along the Forth to South Queensferry, or sitting on guard off Hound Point oil terminal. RSGS has links here to the fifth Earl of Rosebery, RSGS’s first President, and owner of Dalmeny House and Estate – also British Prime Minister briefly. Gazing across at the Queensferry Bridge’s white-glinting tracery in the early morning light, we remember RSGS has a rare plan for a proposed Forth Road Bridge in 1818, across the Forth here and looking remarkably like this new one. It was recently unearthed by Bruce Gittings, another of our Collections Team. We travel on past immaculate Aberdour Station, saluting as resident here RSGS’s Vice-Chair, Alister Hendrie, then wait to see the state of the tide. Are ‘our seals’ lounging on the rocks? As we move on past the sad sight of derelict, crumbling Carron (Starleyburn) Harbour, once the Carron Iron Company’s harbour for loading and transporting lime from nearby Newbigging limestone mine to the Carron Iron Works up the Forth, we recall a further RSGS link. This is to distinguished Scottish geologist Henry Moubray Cadell of Grange (1860-1934), an RSGS Council Member and VicePresident, and of the Cadell family of Carron Iron Works note. Curling squeakily through Burntisland and on past its waterfront, we gaze at remains of WWII wooden stumps set into the splendid sand spit there, placed to deter German landings. RSGS has an early 19th-century map of Fife that features this sand spit too; it doesn’t seem to have changed much!

Entering Kirkcaldy we salute well-seasoned rail traveller Michael Portillo FRSGS, other RSGS Members born here, and our doughty Kirkcaldy Group! Portillo’s grandfather owned a linen factory in the town, and the family collection of Scottish Colourist paintings now enhances the walls of Kirkcaldy Art Gallery and Museum. On to Markinch (early home of one of our Team) before our train is hidden in cuttings, then suddenly exploding into the flatness of the Howe of Fife. Here we recall revelations of surprising medieval life, from pollen analysis studies made in the 1980s by Dr Graeme Whittington, then of the University of St Andrews Geography Department and a Member of RSGS Council. The train cuts through the Ochils, passing wooded slopes alight with bluebells in mid-spring, before passing Lindores Lake and House, after which it descends to the Tay, passing Sir James Balfour of Denmilne’s ruined tower house (he was involved in the story of the important late 16th-century manuscript maps of Scotland produced by Timothy Pont). Galloping past the fossil port of Newburgh (where we salute the memory of RSGS Member Bob Scott, former Provost of Perth and a Member of our Collections Team) on the single-track rail line along the Earn/Tay carselands, the bold outline of Moncreiffe Hill appears; this is associated with RSGS through the gift in 1947 of WWI-dated maps of the Northwest Frontier provinces by the late Lieutenant Colonel John Moncrieff of Kinmonth, whose family home lies on its lower slopes. We also think of Tony Simpson FRSGS, another member of our Collections Team, who spent vigorous summers digging on the neighbouring summit of Moredun Hill. We continue, thankfully on an embankment, past fields beyond Bridge of Earn, the Earn here meandering promiscuously in rounded curves and enjoying a field day this spring leaking its waters into adjacent fields. We’ve named some of these fields. One near the Earn we call ‘Charlie’s Barley Field’, an irreverent reference to the Geographer Royal for Scotland, Professor Charles Withers who, travelling with us one day to Perth, decided the emerging crop was barley. The final field before the tunnel through to Perth is ‘The Alfalfa-Lucerne Field’ for, passing it three summers ago ablaze with purple flowers, perplexity set it – what were they? After copious research we decided they were lucerne flowers, sometimes called alfalfa. Then, zooshing through the tunnel into Perth we take a brisk walk (our record is seven minutes), ring RSGS’s door buzzer to access a much-needed cuppa with other Collections Team members, and resume work on RSGS Collections – and we LONG to get back to this!

“RSGS has an early 19th-century map of Fife that features this sand spit too.” © Blair White


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Special Edition 2020

Escape from Chile! Ruth Fraser, RSGS Kirkcaldy Group Chair

Saturday 14th March, up on deck on a beautiful morning waiting to go ashore at Castro when the Captain announced that one passenger, who had been isolated in his cabin for a week, had been ashore the day before at Tortel to be tested at a local clinic, and had tested positive. Devastating news for the man concerned, and for everyone on the ship as that meant straight to our cabins and be isolated until…?

At this juncture, a group of white-suited officials unceremoniously went along the line of people, pointing thermometers at our foreheads, taking our blood pressure, and asking a load of questions. Quite scary! Fortunately there was only one incident, of a perfectly fit chap fainting through lack of water and food, and there was a lot of rushing around giving us bottles of water, cartons of juice and cereal bars. Thus cleared, we were allowed to go up into the main concourse and have some food before boarding commenced at 5pm. Fantastic! PS On reflection, we now realise why A Boeing 777 (seats over we were kept in the dark about what 300) had been chartered was going on behind the scenes to to take us to London, so get us home, including the reason there was plenty of space we should not get ‘deck time’. We for 38 passengers. We assume the ship was not to be seen each took four middle from the shore, with 100 passengers seats, and I managed aboard. Also, our night-time escape is to sleep very well for six now understandable. There is a lot of hours of the 11-hour unrest in Chile, especially in Santiago, flight. We landed at but I guess it just takes a spark to Heathrow at 8.00am and overflow to small areas. were glad not to be met We are extremely grateful to Silverseas by media as anticipated. for their expert and incredible Silverseas representatives organisation in getting everyone home were well organised to so quickly, after our initial wonderful welcome us with gift bags ten days visiting Chilean fjords, Torres of essential toiletries, del Paine, etc. snacks and tissues. Also very welcome was the promise of a flight home at 9.00pm, after a day at the Radisson Blu at Canary Wharf, where a lovely suite awaited us and we enjoyed showers, sleep and a first-class lunch. Then a very quiet flight, an early arrival in Edinburgh with a smiling son-in-law to pick us up, and at home, a fridge full of food from daughter Jennifer. Great! Very happy to be home!

“We were to pack and await further instructions.”

Updates from the Captain were few and brief, but we were well fed, with menus slipped under the door and food delivered on trays. We awaited news of ‘deck time’ when we could walk in the fresh air. This never happened. We were fortunate to have a nice bright cabin with a large portal and ten good paces from door to portal! On Tuesday 17th, the Captain announced that plans had progressed for our repatriation, but no word of these must leak out! We had been sailing around between Chiloé Island and the mainland, going nowhere. We were to pack and await further instructions. The day progressed, and when we received the dinner menu we were disappointed as we had hoped to be away. However, we also received typed information to explain the next steps. Charter planes had been organised to pick us up from Puerto Montt, and we would be disembarking around 10.0010.30pm. Cases should be left outside the door. We should wear the masks and gloves provided. At 11.30pm we were called in groups of ten for disembarkation by Zodiac, wearing lifejackets and with just a backpack. We did not seem to be near land. The Zodiacs sped us across to a large vehicular ferry, and drove up the roll-on/roll-off ramp. We all got on to four buses on the ferry, and were told it would be around an hour until we docked, at which point we would stay on the bus and be driven to an airport. The ferry, and ourselves, were hidden from the town, behind an island, hence the distance we had to travel – with maritime police ever watchful. At the port, the buses drove off the ferry and then drove on ‘back roads’ which looked too narrow for their large size, with motorbike police in attendance, stopping what little traffic there was at 2.00am to allow our convoy to proceed. At the airport we were asked to stay in the buses for a further two hours, then we waited in a makeshift indoor waiting area where we were given blankets, water and snacks. We awaited the arrival of three charter planes, for Miami, Sydney and Sao Paulo. Our flight left at 7.15am and we enjoyed a breakfast of fresh fruit and cheese and ham on the flight. On arrival in Sao Paulo at 11.30am, we were escorted into a large space with toilets and seating for maybe half our number, to await our flight at 6.00pm. I managed to speak to an airport official and request more seats, as people of 70 or 80 were sitting on the floor. This worked: lots of typist-style chairs arrived in penny numbers until everyone had a seat.

Torres del Paine. © Ruth Fraser

14 Special Edition 2020

Spring place names in Scotland Michael Cairns, RSGS Collections Team

Place names in Scotland are largely derived from Gaelic, Norse, Scots and Old English. Some place names originate in the Celtic Brythonic language which pre-dates these languages and survives as modern-day Welsh. The origin of place names requires careful study. Similarlooking names may have different meanings. The earliest available spellings are of crucial importance to take account of vocabulary that may have evolved differently from the equivalent words in the ordinary language spoken at the time they were coined. Disagreements in toponymy (the study of place names) are not unknown. Surprisingly, there seem to be few spring-based place names in Scotland. The words Easter and Spring are found in place names such as Easterhouse and Springburn, both in Glasgow, but these are related to geographical features rather than seasonal themes. Lammermuir probably means ‘lamb moor’, from the Old English lambre for lamb and the Scots version of Old English of muir for moorland. Lammermuir stretches from the Gala Water, followed by the A7 road, to St Abb’s Head, including the Lammermuir Hills, in Midlothian, East Lothian and the former county of Berwickshire. The lamb theme is continued in individual hills including Lammer Law and Lamb Rig. Cassell’s Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland in the 1890s commented that “on the higher grounds considerable flocks of sheep are pastured.” Nowadays the Lammermuir Hills are probably better known for the large number of wind turbines located there. Penicuik is the ‘hill of the cuckoo’, derived from the Brythonic pen meaning hill or head, y the, and cog for cuckoo. It would be interesting to hear if anyone has heard the cuckoo’s call in the Midlothian town. A few years ago, Lothian Buses branded their route 37, which operates between Silverknowes in Edinburgh and Penicuik, The Pen-Y-Cog. The double-deck buses on the route carried an image of a cuckoo and an explanation of the origin of the name. Pen-y- is a very common place name in Wales, such as Pen-y-Coed (the hill of trees) found in Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Carmarthenshire and elsewhere.

“The origin of place names requires careful study.”

Tullybelton means the ‘Beltane hill’, derived from Gaelic tulach meaning hillock and bealtainn Beltane. Beltane was a Celtic festival held in May; it represents the peak of spring. Traditionally, bonfires were lit to honour the sun. Tullybelton is located near the ‘wee’ Glen Shee to the north-west of Perth in a range of hills that can be viewed from the city. Flowers associated with spring are frequently used in street names. You may know someone who lives in Bluebell Court in Ecclefechan or Armadale, Crocus Way in Irvine, or Daffodil Way in Motherwell, among many others.

© adriankirby from Pixabay

Isle of Barra / Barraigh Margaret Wilkes FRSGS Beyond horizons, sea-struck, battered bare, There lies an island, treeless, stark. With rush of wind – a searing, bleaching, endless organ sound – Honing blue sky to apocalyptic clarity. Tiny gold-gilded snail shells drift in on the tide – Edge-marking eddies; lie like lace bobbins Lining an endless crisp white frill around the bay, Bright symbols of their quiet death on an unquiet day. Ben Tangaval – the climb against the wind – the blast, Fighting, reckless, cold – the joyous leap of life. The green translucent silk of water, pristine clear, The warm white shell sand, fine-grained, far below. A peeling off of mask, return to clarity, The outer skin – stale, varnish-darkened and opaque – Removed; the colours re-emerge in naked truth To live again, repainted with the glow of life. The organ pipes resound, reverberate around; The senses tingle in the keen sharp air. The eyes, stripped of all need to hide, the ears unblocked, The mind is purged, be-calmed and clear. Elation, ecstasy, no words, no need; Scoured, bared to the core, receptacle re-cleaned. The stark, sea-girt scene, stage-set in simplicity – Cacophony and harmony for once as one.


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Special Edition 2020

Sallying forth… three saintly sailors Jo Woolf FRSGS, RSGS Writer-in-Residence

When you look at a map of Scotland’s islands, especially in the west, there’s hardly one that doesn’t boast the remains of a small chapel, a holy well, or some kind of place-name link with one of the missionary-saints from Ireland. Chief among these, of course, was St Columba, who arrived on Iona in the sixth century and set about establishing a Christian monastery. While St Columba usually steals the limelight, there are lots of other seafaring saints, less glamorous but just as interesting…

After his hair-raising adventure, St Brendan felt the calling to head east instead of west, and set sail for Scotland. He chose as his home the wild landscape of the Garvellachs in the Firth of Lorn, and on Eileach an Naoimh, Remains of beehive cells. the ‘isle of the saints’, are the remains of his curious beehive cells. In summer, this little island is a riot of wild flowers, including harebells, pearlwort, wild thyme and eyebright.

“There is something very appealing about these early travellers and their journeys.”


A perfect example is St Moluag. When he arrived on our shores, he took a particular fancy to the island of Lismore. I can certainly see his point: it’s relatively low-lying, with exquisite spring flowers on the limestone outcrops, and is just a short hop to the mainland should the need arise. But St Columba, so it is said, also had a beady eye on Lismore, and was unwilling to give up his claim. So the two men decided to have a race: the first to the island would win it. They set off in two boats and hauled vigorously on their sails as the wind drove them closer; when they were almost within reach of the shore, St Moluag had the (apparently) brilliant idea of cutting off one of his fingers and tossing it onto the beach, thereby settling the matter. You can’t help thinking that throwing his hat, his crozier, or any other kind of accessory would have had the same effect, but without the repercussions.

The third and last in my little fleet of saintly sailors is St Cormac. The Irish Sea must have been quite a busy place in those days! St Cormac washed up on a narrow little peninsula in Knapdale, and there he built Keills Chapel. It was an idyllic setting, but Keills may have been a bit touristy in the summer (I’m only speculating here!) so when the days started lengthening he drifted off to a little group of islands now known as the MacCormaig Isles. Here, he not only built another chapel but found himself a highly uncomfortable cave in which to sit and contemplate. If you dangle yourself into this dark cavity you can just about make out some crosses carved on its walls. One word, St Cormac: cushions. A fleece throw would have made a difference as well. There is something very appealing about these early travellers and their journeys… granted, chapel-building was a bit of an addiction for them, but they add another dimension to the map – and they certainly knew how to choose a spot for the best views!

But anyway, the island was his, and he established a small church which was later expanded to become the seat of the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles; for this reason, it is actually a cathedral! St Moluag’s pastoral staff, a rod of blackthorn known as the Bachuil Mor, is still in the possession of the Livingstones of Bachuil (Clan MacLea). On the hillside close by is a rock-hewn seat, most likely natural, known as St Moluag’s Chair, in which he was said to enjoy sitting and watching the world go by. St Moluag was obviously not a monk to be messed with, but the ambitions of one of his contemporaries make him look like a day-tripper. St Brendan, who hailed from County Kerry, dreamed of finding the legendary ‘Isle of the Blessed’. With a small band of intrepid companions he set out from Ireland on a voyage across the Atlantic. They ran into all kinds of drama, including mysterious islanders who pelted them with flaming rocks and an enormous sea-monster which came to the surface and raised their boat up on its back. If RSGS had been formed just a little earlier – 1,400 years or so – I think St Brendan would have made a first-class speaker!

St Cormac’s Chapel.

16 Special Edition 2020

The power of Iceland All images courtesy of Sophie Carr (


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18 Special Edition 2020

Open Learning

Learning from home

Kate Signorini, The Open University in Scotland

compiled by James Cave, RSGS Communications Officer

While people across Scotland are staying at home and social distancing, The Open University (OU) has hundreds of free online courses to help us stay informed, engaged and entertained. OpenLearn ( is the OU’s home for learning online; all the courses are free, and there are no entry requirements or start and end dates. There are more than 950 courses to choose from across nature and environment; society, politics and law; science, maths and technology; history and the arts; languages; health, sports and psychology; money and business; education and development. OpenLearn also has experiments and activities for families – perfect for keeping children entertained at home.

Climate Solutions

The Open University has seen a significant spike in visitors to OpenLearn; the site usually sees an average of 40,000 daily visits, but numbers have surged to four times that amount in recent weeks. Its dedicated pages on coronavirus provide information and links to UK government advice as well as advice from OU academics about the spread of the virus, and a wealth of free resources dealing with associated concerns such as mental health issues. OpenLearn short courses range from one hour to weeks of study. You can start right away or at a time that suits you. You can explore our geography related resources at edu/openlearn/society/politics-policy-people/geography. Geography Matters ( is a collection of content for anyone who wants to learn about geography. You’ll find a range of varied materials, from discussions about Brexit, to our podcasts about urbanisation, environmentalism and globalisation. Once their course is completed, students gain a statement of participation to share their achievement with others. More than 60 courses award digital badges for completion and passing assessments. You might like to try your hand at our new badged online course on the Scots language and culture, developed to enhance understanding and awareness of Scots language, literature and culture, and contribute to widening the relevance of and access to Scots to as broad an audience as possible. The Open University’s unique partnership with the BBC continues to flourish and evolve, with our academic experts involved in a wide range of BBC productions, and inspiring people to take their interest further through the OpenLearn website. You can go behind the scenes of the recent BBC2 series Travels in Euroland with Ed Balls and This Fishing Life, or relive the phenomenal impact of Blue Planet II. We’re delighted to be co-hosting a new landmark natural history series, A Perfect Planet, which will be presented by Sir David Attenborough in autumn 2020. This five-part series will explain how the living planet operates; showing how the forces of nature – weather, ocean currents, solar energy and volcanoes – drive, shape and support Earth’s great diversity of life. Thousands of visitors to the OpenLearn website have gone on to study at the OU, having experienced the quality of the free learning we offer. Visit the OpenLearn website and we are sure there will be something that interests and engages you.

The RSGS’s innovative online course, Climate Solutions, offers a quick way to gain significant understanding of one of the most important issues of our generation: climate change. With four online modules and a participative workshop to conclude, it will prepare anyone – individuals or organisations – for the transformation ahead, and outline where the opportunities lie. With contributions from Mark Carney, Greta Thunberg, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and senior business leaders across Scotland, it is imbued with positivity and focuses on how this critical issue can be tackled head-on. On completion, participants will receive a certificate evidencing their achievement, and will be invited to join a cross-sectoral climate solutions network to maintain their knowledge and involvement. We are currently offering places for £300 per participant, which represents a 33% early bird discount. This offer ends in December 2020, and the course must be completed within three months to qualify. Please sign up now at to save money and start making a difference! Stop the plastic tide!

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With the help of RSGS staff, our Honorary Fellow Catherine Gemmell is producing a digital Inspiring People talk about stopping the plastic tide! This in-house production will be published on the RSGS website and social media, and will be announced via our e-newsletter.

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If you haven’t already signed up to receive our monthly e-newsletter, please visit and scroll to the bottom of the page to fill in your details.

NASA at Home NASA at Home (, brings together a repository of videos and podcasts, engaging e-books on a variety of topics, do-it-yourself projects, and virtual and augmented reality tours, which include the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station, as well as an app that puts you in the pilot’s seat of a NASA aircraft. It also spotlights educational and entertaining resources and activities for families and students, and provides access to everything from formal lesson plans to amazing imagery and stories about how science and exploration help the world. There are also opportunities for citizen scientists to contribute to real ongoing research, which includes searching for brown dwarfs and planets in our outer solar system, and helping track changes in clouds, water, plants, and other life in support of climate research.


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Stargazing Mark Thompson

With many of us looking for things to do at home, and especially if there are children in your household, then finding something to engage everyone can be difficult. There are lots of suggestions, from learning a new language to learning how to play a musical instrument, but they all take lots of time and can cost a bit of money. Instead, why not look for the next clear night, get wrapped up nice and warm, head out into your back garden, and take a wander among the stars.

“You will notice there are red stars, blue stars, white and yellow stars.”

Finding your way among the stars can be a tricky business; after all, the keen-eyed among you will notice that everything in the sky moves. Furthermore, for people living in temperate latitudes like those of us in the UK, the things you can see in the summer sky are very different to the things you can see in the winter sky. Then there are the planets. Even if you have cracked the constellations and know your way around, the planets move among them to keep you on your toes. Back in the day, if you wanted to find your way around the night sky then you had to rely on maps, and they were not the easiest things to use. Mobile phone technology has become so advanced now that all but the most basic devices know the date, time, location on Earth, and even which direction they are pointing. With the availability of this information, there are now loads of apps on the various app stores that can guide you around the night sky. Popular ones include Star Walk and Sky Safari Pro. Once you have downloaded and opened them up, all you have to do is watch the screen and point the phone around the sky. You will see a graphical representation of stars, galaxies, planets, and even satellites. Many of the apps have advanced features that allow you to connect some phones to telescopes, to control them and move them around the sky. To prepare for your first stargazing outing, you need to prepare your eyes; they need to become dark adapted. Our eyes work very efficiently in daylight, but can work really well in the dark of night. However, you need to give them time to adjust. When you get plunged into darkness, the iris of your eye opens up to let more light in, and this takes just a few seconds. There is also a chemical change in the eye that takes about 40 minutes to complete, and it is only after this that your eyes are fully dark adapted. Before you head out into the garden, it is worth keeping light levels low if you can, so your eyes are starting to adapt. Once outside, resist using torches or other forms of bright light because that can instantly affect your dark adaption, and give yourself time outside to adjust. You will be amazed how much more you can see. Wrap up warm (remember, you are not going to be moving around much, so thick insulating clothing is best), head outside, and make yourself comfortable. Sun loungers are great for laying back and gazing around the stars. Now let your eyes adjust to the darkness, and you will slowly see more and more stars pop into view. Look around at all the stars you can see, and you will notice there are red stars, blue stars, white and yellow stars. You might see some faint fuzzy patches which could be star clusters, giant clouds of gas and dust, or maybe even a distant galaxy. Depending on the time of year or time of night, you may see a planet or perhaps a meteor (shooting star), or even a satellite slowly drifting overhead. The International Space Station can often be seen too, and the apps can guide you around everything you can see.

During the lockdown in the UK, you can join Mark on Twitter @Peoplesastro as he guides you around the night sky in his 30-minute #FamilyStargazeWithMark sessions. Or if you want to learn more about the objects in the Universe, you can buy his new book, 101 Facts You Didn’t Know About Space, published by White Owl.

20 Special Edition 2020

Trail and error James Cave, RSGS Communications Officer

In any rundown of the best hiking trails in the world, there’s a good chance you’ll find the Alta Via 1. And for good reason too. This ‘High Way’ marches from hut to hut through the most awe-inspiring, most finely chiselled, and pinkest jewel in the European crown: the Italian Dolomites. From the picturesque alpine village of Dobbiaco in the north to the bustling town of Belluno in the south, this 120km linear route offers some of the finest mountain scenery in the world: over narrow, imposing passes, through lush, cattlestrewn valleys, and down lofty limestone cliffs with the aid of the infamous via ferrata! For Rob, Scot and me – three careless fools with a passion for Italian food and a penchant for overestimating our abilities – it was the summer holiday that we had all been waiting for. After years spent slogging through the mist in Scotland we would, at last, breathe in some mountain views! No more wet feet; no more mishaps. Or so we thought… Setting off from Lago di Braies – a shimmering, turquoise pearl just outside Dobbiaco – our pasty bodies were thrust into the sunshine like ghouls appearing from a closet. But we weren’t complaining. We were raring to go; and needed to set out with purpose as our first day was twice as long as that suggested by our guide book. It would become an exhausting theme for the week!

Day six, our penultimate day, was a ‘rest day’, during which we met up with a wild bunch of Aussies, and with whom we soon found ourselves in an unspoken race! We knew it was daft, but powerwalking though the landscape was quite exhilarating. However, it proved to be my downfall, and quickly brought our holiday to an end, all within sight of our evening’s accommodation. As I marched, gazing at the glorious pink sunset, an unsuspected boulder forced my ankle into an uncompromising position: three cracks, a yelp, and I had effectively broken my ankle. It was all over in a flash.

“Sitting on the veranda overlooking meadows of pink, blue and white, we had, at long last, found outdoor nirvana!”

By evening, the joint had trebled in size and could have easily passed for a beaten-up grapefruit. Some late-lying snow was collected by the rifugio owner to create an ice pack – but it was too little, too late. Next morning, mountain rescue was called, and we were driven down to a hospital north of Belluno in a pick-up: a first-class ticket to A&E.

At this early point in the trip, our ambition made for sweaty work, particularly through the aptly-named Forno, a welldocumented heat trap that greeted us a few kilometres in! But as we climbed out of this hellish rocky cauldron, the effort was rewarded with the first of many 360° panoramas, this time featuring the snowy summit of the Marmolada, the highest in the Dolomites at 10,967ft. Soon after, we stumbled into our first rifugio for lunch – in many respects, the reason we’d come! Boots off, beers ordered, we were in our element, throwing back cured meats, cheeses, great globs of horseradish, gnocchi, pasta and parmesan. Sitting on the veranda overlooking meadows of pink, blue and white – alpenrose, mountain avens, and various species of gentian – we had, at long last, found outdoor nirvana!

Rifugio Fanes, 6,758ft.

Twelve hours later, however, things had changed. At just over 8,000ft, at the Forcella del Lago pass, we blundered into the biggest lightning storm of our lives. Thunder cracks exploded around the craggy walls above us; a torrent of rain exposed the quality of our waterproofs. We took shelter beneath a boulder, rucksacks on our heads to avoid rockfall, and shivered as the storm passed through. A few kilometres later, we passed by the scars of WWI fortifications at Lagazuoi, which really brought home just how hard fighting in these mountains must have been. For the next few days, our adventure continued in blissful outdoor isolation: laughing and chatting through the hills, relatively alone, and uninterrupted apart from the odd pause to cover the blisters developing on my heels. But with salamanders and marmots for company, and sights such as the Cinque Torri and Monte Pelmo, I wasn’t going to let an injury stop me.

Morning valleys on the trail.


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In the shadow of Monte Pelmo.

View from Rifugio Tissi, 7,381ft.

22 Special Edition 2020

Interview with Mollie Hughes Jo Woolf FRSGS, RSGS Writer-in-Residence

On 10th January 2020, Mollie Hughes became the youngest woman ever to ski to the South Pole, solo and unassisted – an amazing achievement. Firstly, many congratulations! It took you 58.5 days to ski 700 miles to the Pole. Tell us a bit about the challenges. On 13th November I set off from Hercules Inlet, where the sea ice meets the land mass. The weather was great, but within about two hours I saw these huge clouds coming up over the sea ice. I didn’t know they were going to stick on me for the next two weeks! That night it started gusting 50 knots, and then I had a whiteout for eight days. That’s when I had -45°C as well. It was a really tough start. After two weeks the conditions improved, and it was amazing when the sun finally came out!

one else there to make decisions, no one to motivate you or give you a hug or make you laugh. As much as I love climbing with guides, I wanted to prove to myself that I could cope on my own. What have you been doing since you got back? I’ve been doing school visits and motivational speaking. The school visits are my favourite! What do you believe is the role of present-day explorers? For me, expeditions are about seeing the amazing places that the world has to offer. Yes, I’m pushing my own limits, but I’m looking after myself. People make mistakes on expeditions by not looking after themselves. It makes good stories, but it’s not good exploration. I want to show the side of exploration that women can do, and show them that these things are achievable.

“I’m pushing my own limits, but I’m looking after myself.”

When did you start training for the trip? In January 2019 I spent two weeks in Norway with Hannah McKeand; she’s skied to the South Pole six times. Then I went to Norway for a week on my own, travelling around the Hardangervidda, putting everything I’d learned into practice. When I got back I started physical training in Scotland, dragging tyres along the beaches and in the Pentland Hills. On the beaches they just filled with sand! That was coupled with lots of strength training in the gym. I had to be pretty strong because the sled weighed 105kg. Did you have much communication with the outside world? I had a couple of satellite phones. Each night I would ring the base camp on the coast, run by Antarctic Logistics. I’d have a five-minute chat and give them my location. I’d ring home and ring my girlfriend about once a week. You listened to music and audio books… I had all the Harry Potter books! I read them as a kid. It’s another world, so you can take your brain away from where you are. You climbed Mount Kenya when you were 17. Was that the spark for future expeditions? I think so, yes. I grew up in Devon, so quite far from any mountains! We were pretty outdoorsy, doing a lot of surfing, hiking, and a bit of rock-climbing. When I was 17 I went on a charity trip to Kenya with my school, and we got to climb Mount Kenya at the end. I absolutely loved it. That sparked my interest in climbing, and in travel as well. Where else have you climbed? When I was 18 I went off to the Indian Himalayas. That was the first time I saw the Himalayas, and I loved it. The year after that I climbed Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. That summer, I also managed to go to Ecuador in the Andes, which was amazing. The next year I climbed Kilimanjaro, then I went to the Alps, and back to the Himalayas a few times, to climb a mountain called Ama Dablam. You’ve also climbed Everest from the North and the South sides. What are your proudest moments? As much as I love Everest, and as hard and as dangerous as it was, I think it has got to be the South Pole just because I was so alone. It took so much just to motivate myself. There’s no

Are there any figures in the world of exploration that you particularly admire? One person who springs to mind is Alison Hargreaves. She was an incredible climber. After my RSGS talk in Dundee, a guy came up to me and told me he was on Everest with her, and was a good friend of hers. After she died on K2 there was a lot of negative press, because she’d left her family behind to pursue her ambitions. It wouldn’t happen to that extent these days. She did Everest solo, unsupported, without oxygen. I can’t even contemplate that. It was so hard for me, with a team around me, with oxygen! What advice do you have for budding young explorers and adventurers who want to set off on their own? If you’ve got an ambition, give it everything to achieve it. Start now! People put things off; they’ll wait until they’ve finished Uni, or until they’ve got a bit more money. It’s hard work getting sponsors, but the money is out there. You’ll never regret it, and you’ll learn so much. Mollie, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your experiences! Wishing you the very best for the future. We look forward to hearing about your new challenges!


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© Hamish Frost

24 Special Edition 2020

From Perth to Peking Jane Griffiths, RSGS Collections Team

“You get wonderful information in Peking. I am an FRGS [Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society]. Some fellow smuggled me in, and now I am already an explorer of virgin territory and advancing civilisation!” Thus wrote the Scottish railway engineer William Orr Leitch from eastern China in 1904. His recipient was G W Morrison, China correspondent for The Times. William Leitch was later to become Honorary Treasurer of the RSGS (1939-45) and a member of Council (1945-47). Spending much of his working life in China as a railway engineer, he rose to become Chief Engineer on the Peking-Mukden Railway in 1930, before retiring back to Scotland in 1936. But... to begin at the beginning... with a small collection of hand-coloured slides, showing views of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace near Peking. The only clue to their provenance was a dusty card with a long-defunct address in Cheshire and the name Leitch. The slides showed imposing pink-walled palaces, dappled sunlight filtering through the trees above a pergola, a regal interior complete with throne, and the exquisite Jade Belt Bridge, arching its back across a lake. In another, Chinese workers went about their daily lives with wagons and rickshaws against a background of ancient pavilions. The glowing tones of the slides seemed unusually fresh, so it came as some surprise to see the diminutive figures of a family group in late Edwardian dress almost lost in the vast spaces of a square. This welcome clue suggested that the slides could well have been taken around the early 1900s, following the flight of the Chinese court and the Boxer rebellion, when the Forbidden City was unexpectedly, and briefly, opened to foreigners. The sights William Leitch may well have seen and photographed are vividly described by another visitor, Captain Richard Steel, writing for the Scottish Geographical Magazine in 1903. During the winter of 1900, the city of Peking was occupied by a host of foreign troops, with “each section ruled by its Power with that Power’s own peculiar idiosyncrasies.” Curious and unfamiliar sights greeted these accidental tourists: “A visit to the Forbidden City was like undoing an interesting parcel… Quaint doors, in unexpected corners, carved screens, priceless gems of Chinese art, contrast strangely with shoddy importations from the West… A clockwork toy jostles a solid gold elephant a foot high, sparkling with gems.” Officers also rode out to the Summer Palace where, in January, they enjoyed ice-skating on the frozen lakes and lunching on the Emperor’s marble barge. Ice-skating around the Summer Palace was probably far from the mind of William Leitch as he reflected on the many

challenges he had overcome in his most recent engineering project. A year after the publication of Captain Steel’s account, the Institution of Civil Engineers published a paper entitled Railway Construction in Northern China. Leitch was a co-author in this comprehensive record of the obstacles, literal and metaphorical, that accompanied the expansion of the Imperial Railways. This new line ran from the ancient city of Chinchow (now Jinzhou) to the coastal port of Yingkow, and the article left his audience in no doubt about the tenacity and grit required for life as a railway engineer in such circumstances. Initial difficulties centred upon buying land, which often resulted in awkwardly shaped plots and boundaries. “Land-buying in China is an art,” says Leitch, reflecting, somewhat ruefully one feels, on the problems associated with the Chinese habit of burying the dead individually rather than in cemeteries. Once these challenges had been overcome, engineers had still to cope with a climate that produced everything from dust storms and frozen rivers, to severe floods and heavy rains in the summer. Above all, the approach of an engineer had to be pragmatic! The rivers weaving their way across the landscape could freeze to a depth of two feet in winter. Some bridges needed ice breakers constructed around the piers for protection. Fires had to be lit along the length of the steam pipes to prevent ice forming. Construction methods also required sea-salt and warm water to be added to the concrete in the winter. The correct ratio was ascertained by “putting out various mixtures each night and seeing which one of them froze.” Barriers and embankments had to be designed wherever possible to avoid the engine fires being put out by rising flood waters. Quarries had to be opened, and five to six million bricks were produced to build stations, engine houses and water towers.

The methods used in the approach to flood defences have a surprisingly familiar ring about them. In addition to the Great Wall of China, another line on Leitch’s map indicates a Planned Willow Palisade curving across the plains for many miles. In a similar vein, local millet that could reach heights


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“The slides could well have been taken around the early 1900s, when the Forbidden City was unexpectedly, and briefly, opened to foreigners.” of ten to 12 feet was also planted in great quantities to stabilise the threat from towering sand hills. Relations with local Chinese workers generally appeared to be aimed at mutual respect and tolerance on both sides. In an account that rarely strays from the factual, Leitch almost allows himself a hint of affection in referring to the lime-burners, who “never quite gave up hope of passing off whitewashed stones for lime.” The paper concludes with a note of understandable pride as Leitch describes no less than six categories of carriages running on the line, beginning with the state cars “for Imperial and Viceregal use only.” First-class cars are described as “most comfortably arranged” but had a “commendable absence of gilding and useless dustcatching upholstery.” Private cars with a kitchen and servants’ accommodation were also available for the increasing number of travellers who would eventually travel on the line. From the fading opulence and mysterious worlds of the Imperial City, to the day-to-day challenges of laying a 20th century railway across the plains of Eastern China, this small collection of slides certainly opened a window into a varied and remarkable life!

26 Special Edition 2020

Interview with Gavin Pretor-Pinney Jo Woolf FRSGS, RSGS Writer-in-Residence

Cumulus humilis, spotted by Sinead Hurley over the Simpson Desert, south-east of Alice Springs, Australia.

How did the Cloud Appreciation Society come about? Towards the end of 2004 I gave a talk about clouds at a literary festival in Cornwall. I was concerned that people wouldn’t come along, because we have such a love-hate relationship with clouds. So I called it ‘The Inaugural Lecture of the Cloud Appreciation Society’ simply because it sounded intriguing. Afterwards people came up and asked how they could join the Society, so I thought perhaps we should start one! In January 2005 I got the website up and running. That was 15 years ago, and we now have 50,000 members in 120 countries. Have you always loved clouds? I’ve always been interested in the sky. What I love about clouds is that they generate mixed feelings in us, making them an emotionally engaging subject. But I’ve always felt that the sky doesn’t get much attention, given that it takes up half of our vision. We think of ourselves as creatures of the ground, but we also live in the air. The atmosphere can be seen as an ocean of air, and although it’s made of gases rather than liquid it behaves in a similar way. Waves in the atmosphere, caused by movements of air, can be rendered visible by clouds. I’ve always found that fascinating! Weather is such an emotive subject; we tend to dislike clouds, and look for the blue sky… It’s easy to see the sky as a battle between sunshine and cloud, but I try to dissuade people from thinking like that. Of course, we notice when clouds come between us and the sun. But clouds are the result of sunshine – the sun’s energy creates the weather – so thinking of one without the other doesn’t make sense. Also, it’s easy to take for granted something that’s always

there, and to become blind to the beauty of it. As humans, variety is important for us to feel alive and engaged. It’s really helpful for us to look at the sky as if we’re seeing it for the first time, and to keep inviting ourselves to do that. Watch how the clouds change over a short period of time… we can find beauty and fascination, and an added benefit comes when we slow down and shift our perspective, when we lift our vision from looking down to looking up. What are some common clouds that we can look out for, and what can we deduce from them? There are ten main types of cloud, and you can find more about them on the International Cloud Atlas of the World Meteorological Organization ( One of the classic types is cumulus. It’s the basic, generic cloud; the one you see at the beginning of The Simpsons! Cumulus is a fair-weather cloud, and is the most solid-looking of the cloud types. Its name is from the Latin, meaning a heap or accumulation, and it has well-defined edges. Often they develop on thermals in the morning, as the sun warms the ground. They sometimes dissipate during the day but if, by lunchtime, you start to see them growing into mountains, you can be pretty sure you’re going to have showers. ‘Morning mountains, afternoon fountains!’ Cirrus clouds are high ice-crystal clouds. They look like delicate brush strokes and their name comes from the Latin for a lock or curl of hair. If you see cirrus clouds developing and becoming more plentiful, that is an early indicator of the arrival of a weather front, especially if they are of the uncinus type, meaning ‘hooked’. These are sometimes described as ‘mares’ tails’.


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“Waves in the atmosphere, caused by movements of air, can be rendered visible by clouds.”

Clouds have been described as the face of the atmosphere, and that’s certainly how I see them. They can be helpful in predicting short-term weather changes. You can’t compete with computers and satellites, but when it comes to proclaiming the arrival of a weather front, for example, reading the sky and becoming conscious of shifting expressions is actually very powerful. Weather forecasters can get a good idea of what’s coming at some point, but it’s still difficult to determine how fast a weather front is going to move. It can be helpful to read the clouds, and it is a role that still exists from a practical point of view. We all know the saying, ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’. How does this work? The thinking behind it is based on two assumptions. One, that weather comes in cycles of rough weather followed by clear weather, and two, that weather (in the UK at least) is generally driven from the west towards the east by the jet stream. If you see red sky in the morning, then off to the east where the sun is rising the sky must be clear. The sun’s rays are not obstructed, and they glance through the atmosphere to produce a deep red light that shines on the clouds where you are. The thinking behind that is that you’ve had your clear weather, and the weather from the west is going to be unsettled. But with a ‘red sky at night’, the sun is on the western horizon, lighting up the sky with red light, so there must be no obstruction out to the west. Because weather generally travels from west to east, there’s a patch of clear weather on the way!

Altocumulus lenticularis, spotted over Lake Pukaki, South Island, New Zealand by Tania Ritchie.

lozenges. They form in the vicinity of hills and mountains. As wind rises over a mountain, it might not form clouds on the windward side but it can develop a standing wave in the lee of the mountain; a bit like a rock in a stream, which has a little crest of a wave as the water flows over it. Although the water is flowing, the position of the wave is fixed. Likewise, with lenticularis clouds you might have a stiff wind blowing but the position of the cloud remains fixed, as long as the wind speed is steady. If you watch them in time-lapse they seem to throb and shimmer slightly, like a living thing. How can people get involved with the Cloud Appreciation Society? There are different ways for people to engage. They can send in photos of the sky for inclusion in the Society’s photo gallery. Once they become members, they can receive our regular ‘A Cloud a Day’ emails. We promise an image and some interesting text, with no marketing or links. It’s intended to be a pause, reminding you to engage with the sky at some point during that day. The Society as a whole is like a gentle tap on the shoulder, to remind you to engage with this everpresent part of nature. It helps us to realise that it’s good for us as individuals, good for us as a community, and even a world community; it’s good for our relationship with the atmosphere, and it’s good for our souls.

What are your favourite clouds? I do like lenticularis. They are named after the Latin for a lentil! They look disc-like and are sometimes elongated like

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society (

28 Special Edition 2020

Classroom quizzes and ‘geo-kes’

Answers are on page 30

compiled by Kenny Maclean FRSGS and Erica Caldwell FRSGS

What in the world?

Odd one out

What do you know about these geographical features?

In each series of five features, which is the odd one out in the geographical sense?

1 Rushmore 2 Hwang Ho 3 Meseta 4 Popocatepetl

ns funny? Are mountai ll areas. Yes, they’re hi

1 Wadi, Barchan, Alp, Oasis, Inselberg 2 Crevasse, Sirocco, Mistral, Bora, Harmattan 3 Banker, Farmer, Shopkeeper, Soldier, Teacher

5 Baikal

4 Green, Agricultural, Russian, Ultraviolet, Industrial

6 Ebro

5 Flowering, Seeding, Leaching, Wilting, Budding

7 Ellesmere

6 Stack, Blowhole, Spit, Arch, Cliff

8 Deccan 9 Yucatán 10 Novaya Zemlya 11 Sakhalin

the e sea say to What does th beach? st waves. Nothing, it ju

12 Zebu 13 Surtsey

7 Peters, Vasco de Gama, Mollweide, Bartholomew, Mercator 8 Alberta, Ontario, Minnesota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan 9 Felixstowe, Newhaven, Dover, Holyhead, Canterbury 10 Hinckley Point, Drax, Sizewell, Upton upon Severn, Dounreay

14 Melanesia 15 Selvas

aries of call the tribut What do you river? Eg ypt’s main Juveniles

Geography fieldwork and exam responses • for ten minuets I did a traffic count • the aim is to turn 250,000 hectares of dessert into productive farmland • a lot of water flow in the privies week • the depths stay mainly at the same heights • ponds invested with larvae • the tides might be too close to the beach • there is a clear indication that the rivers are flowing downstream • the valley is most defiantly U-shaped

Cities quiz


Geographer 29

Special Edition 2020

Where in the world? 1 The Elbe, the Rhine, the Vistula: which river is furthest east? 2 Milan, Naples, Rome; which city is furthest west? 3 What is the name of the cold ocean current which flows northwards up the west coast of Africa? 4 In which country is the region of Calabria? 5 In which country would you find the Shinkansen railway? 6 They call them the Prairies in North America; what do they call them in Russia?

14 It used to be called the Czech Republic; what is its present-day name? 15 In which modern country is Carthage? 16 In which city would you find the Doge’s Palace? 17 In which country would you find Wuhan Province? 18 Which state is dubbed the ‘land of a thousand lakes’? 19 What is the official language of Senegal and the Ivory Coast? 20 What is the name of Japan’s largest island? 21 Who led the Kon-Tiki expedition?

7 What is the name of the cold ocean current which flows down the east coast of North America?

22 In which city is Sunset Boulevard?

8 Which American city suffered a major earthquake in 1906?

24 Which city is called the ‘Venice of the North’?

9 Where in the UK would you be if you were in ‘Arnold Bennett country’? 10 What do Americans call market gardening? 11 What is the home country of the airline Qantas?

23 In which country would you find the Nullarbor Plain?

e French e name of on I only know th Nice. city, which is

12 Into which bay does the river Ganges flow? 13 It used to be called the Belgian Congo; what is it called now?

Bear with me! In ursine terms, I’m a well-travelled bear, though with creaky joints now and slight fur loss – well, mohair actually. Though over 70, I’m in fine, furry fettle and I’ve no problem with self-isolation… I’ve endured it for years. From my main window sill perch, when the weather allows, I look at sweeping sights. Mostly, I gaze at the Pentland Hills or, if I want, look down on all the humans scurrying past below. They’ve stopped this recently. So for solace I’ve turned to my faithful friend, a world atlas. Note its bookmark, chosen to flaunt our RSGS Writer-in-Residence’s book, The Great Horizon, an apt title in terms of what I can see! If I want exercise, I perch on another window sill and gaze at the long line of the Lammermuir Hills some 25 miles away. If I want history, I look at Craigmillar Castle, but I’ve abandoned history these days for climatology; got interested in lenticular clouds. These lens-shaped clouds suddenly appear in front of the Pentlands and I watch them turn pink at times – amazing! I began life in Brum (local dialect for Birmingham), just west of its central business district, in a manufactory on the Chad Brook, for I’m a Chad Valley bear. We older ones are rather special. Not far away was the suburb of World’s End. This name caused my whiskers to twitch early on, as did nearby Bearwood, and Bourneville, the home of chocolate – yes, CHOCOLATE – you could smell it when the wind was right! My next home was 14 miles north, on the edge of the Green Belt (not very green, except for the local golf course, for

it was littered with remains of old coal workings and other extractive industries). From my perch on a bedroom window sill I could see Cannock Chase and its highest point, Castle Ring, an Iron Age Hill fort which my owner took me to view. I thought she intended to bury me there as a sacrificial relic. Thankfully I survived this encounter, but it’s put me off archaeology. I took to travel early – no choice. My owner loved it, so I endured a long train ride to the small seaside resort of Y Borth, near Aberystwyth. From there I was dragged to view wild orchids flowering on the sand dunes at nearby Ynyslas, learned about the wetland birds there and got very excited when I first saw a sundew. Unfortunately, it wasn’t edible; indeed, I was warned it could eat me. Travelling more widely in Wales, I visited Tenby in Pembrokeshire, was trailed up and down endless steep steps to the beach (lovely beach, no discarded plastic bottles or bags then). But after the mind-numbing effect of those endless steps, I fancied higher things and, legs tucked inside a knapsack, made my first ascent of a real mountain, Cadair Idris, near Dolgellau (only 73 feet short of being a Munro) by two different ways. The one by the Fox’s Path was fur-raising; the other, bear’s play. I got a real yen for mountains from this, so went up and down Wales’s highest mountain, Snowden (Y Wyddfa), on a train, and later travelled to The Lake District, where I was escorted (well, pulled really) up Bow Fell. It missed being a Munro by 41 feet. So I’m annoyingly Munro-less. My geographical jinks came to an abrupt end aged nine, though I lived part-year in Worcestershire for eight years, spent five years hidden from sight in Leicester, ten years in Sheffield, rollicking in the Derbyshire Peak District, before taking off, eyes goggling, in the back window of a white Mini for Edinburgh, where I’ve lived on window sills ever since. These are my bare facts – maybe bear facts? Hope they’ll help you all bear up!

By contrast, it seems that this Himalayan journey may have been the redoubtable Ella Christie’s first major expedition. Aged 43, she was the daughter of John Christie of Cowden Castle in Clackmannanshire. As a young girl, she had travelled extensively in Europe with her parents, but only on receipt of her father’s legacy in 1904 did she venture further afield. Like Jane, she had gathered a small party of local guides and porters and was camping en route, braving the precipitous mountain passes as she travelled by pony or yak, and crossing rivers by means of precarious bridges or goatskin rafts. A memoir records some of Jane’s remarkable experiences. During a rail journey across the Rockies, the Scottish engine driver created a seat for her in the ‘cow-catcher’ at the front of the train, “so that she might see the bears and other animals that ran across the line.” She had also ridden on horseback from Jerusalem to Damascus, and visited India, Japan and the USA. Born in 1848, Jane Ellen Duncan was already an inveterate traveller by the time she met Ella Christie. The daughter of a Glasgow ironmaster, she was referred to by her family as a “grain of mustard seed owing to her… pungency and small size.” By all accounts, Jane had a lively and engaging personality “that resisted injustice very warmly.” Despite her obvious energy, it was only in her fifties, following the deaths of her brother and the aunt who had brought her up, that Jane began her dizzying round of world travel that led to her meeting with Ella Christie. Neither woman was acquainted with the other, and each had taken her own individual and separate route to this unique spot. Their chance meeting was so perfectly timed that it could not have been more dramatic had it been staged. How on earth had their paths crossed? While we can only wonder what they said to each other a couple of hours later over tea and tiffin – one of Jane’s favourite British indulgences, which she enjoyed every afternoon – let’s take a look at their stories. Since she was positioned close to an orchestra of kettledrums, cymbals, clarinets and long brass trumpets, Jane didn’t immediately notice the sounds of a second band approaching from a distance. Soon, however, the first performers cleared a space for the arrival of newcomers, and set up a loud drumming in welcome. An immense and colourful crowd started to file into the arena, at the head of which walked a woman whom Jane instinctively recognised as European. She stared in astonishment. Such a coincidence could not be possible… yet it was. The lady was Isabella (‘Ella’) Christie, a fellow Scot whose appetite for adventure was just as passionate as Jane’s own. On the afternoon of 3rd September 1904, on a remote Himalayan hillside near Khaplu, now in northern Pakistan, Scotswoman Jane Duncan settled down to watch a spectacle that no Europeans had ever witnessed. For weeks she had been eagerly anticipating ‘the big tamasha’ – such a rare and important celebration in the villagers’ religious and social calendar that it would not be repeated for another 36 years. Now, seated on the grass in the bright sunshine, she watched as the traditional bands of gaily-dressed dancers and musicians performed for large and excited crowds. Jane Griffiths and Jo Woolf

Odd one out 1 Alp; the others are features of arid landscapes. 2 Crevasse; the others are regional winds. 3 Farmer; this is a primary occupation. 4 Ultraviolet; the others are important Revolutions. 5 Leaching; this is a process associated with soil formation. 6 Spit; this is a feature formed by deposition. 7 Vasco da Gama; the others are examples of map projections. 8 Minnesota; the others are Canadian Provinces. 9 Canterbury; the others are ports. 10 Upton-upon-Severn; the others are nuclear power stations.

What in the world? 1 Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota, with four 60ft high carvings of US Presidents. 2 China’s second-longest river, better known as the Yellow River; home to core area of Chinese civilisation. 3 Extensive high plateau in Spain; formed from relatively old and resistant rocks heavily folded and subjected to great heat and pressure in Hercynian times (c220m years ago). 4 Volcanic mountain in Mexico, 5,246m high; long thought dormant, but active since 1994; dubbed ‘Smoking Mountain’ by the Aztecs. 5 Located in south-east Siberia; largest freshwater loch in the world, with c22-23% of world’s freshwater. 6 Spain’s longest river with the greatest discharge; plays a significant role in Spanish hydro-power and irrigation networks. 7 Several possible answers; Ellesmere Island in the Territory of Nunavut is the third-largest island in Canada; Arctic/tundra-type landscape. 8 Major plateau in southern India, formed mainly from old hard rocks, with later extensive lava flows; flanked by Eastern Ghats (c600m) and Western Ghats (c1,000-1,200m). 9 Limestone peninsula in south-eastern Mexico; home to Mayan civilisation before arrival of Spanish Conquistadores. 10 Large Arctic island, part of Russia; strategic site from Cold War era, and perhaps more so in future with global warming; original indigenous Nenets ‘resettled’ to mainland, before island group was used for nuclear bomb testing. 11 North Pacific island claimed by Russia and Japan, divided after 1905 Russo-Japanese war; native Ainu people relocated to Hokkaido in 1949 when all Japanese were displaced. 12 Humped-back bovine with long drooping ears, domesticated in South Asia; typically half the weight of British cows but very well adapted to high temperatures. 13 New volcanic island off south-west coast of Iceland; thanks to tectonic plate activity, it surfaced in November 1963 and continued to erupt until 1967. 14 Somewhat extensive Oceania island group in south-west Pacific Ocean and home to c13m people; includes five independent countries. 15 Extensive but diminishing area of tropical rainforest in Brazil; area of botanic diversity, richness and Darwinian competitiveness.

Where in the world? 1 Vistula. 2 Milan. 3 Benguela Current. 4 Italy. 5 Japan. 6 Steppes. 7 Labrador. 8 San Francisco. 9 The Potteries. 10 Truck farming. 11 Australia. 12 Bay of Bengal. 13 Democratic Republic of the Congo. 14 Czechia. 15 Tunisia. 16 Venice. 17 China. 18 Finland. 19 French. 20 Honshu. 21 Thor Heyerdahl. 22 Los Angeles. 23 Australia. 24 Amsterdam. Cities quiz 1 Brussels. 2 Reykjavik. 3 London. 4 Rome. 5 Moscow. 6 Warsaw. 7 Oslo. 8 Madrid. 9 Budapest. 9 (down) Berlin. 10 Paris. 11 Sofia. 12 Tirana. 13 Athens. 14 Vienna. 15 Helsinki. 16 Belgrade. 17 Bonn. 18 Dublin. 19 Stockholm. 20 Prague. 21 Berne. 22 Copenhagen. 23 Lisbon. 24 The Hague. 25 Bratislava. 26 Zagreb. 27 Kiev.

Jane Duncan, Ella Christie and ‘

Answers to classroom quizzes (page 28) Special Edition 2020



Geographer 31

Special Edition 2020

‘the big tamasha’ Both women apparently treated their extraordinary encounter as the most natural thing in the world. Jane notes that “Miss Christie… congratulated herself on getting here at such an unusually interesting time,” and the two women attended several events together. Ella describes a polo match which was played at a furious pace: “A comic element was provided by a man wearing a large white goatskin wig who skipped about and caused great laughter by pulling out a notebook and pencil and pretending to draw our portraits.” Some of Ella’s photos are featured in Jane’s book, A Summer Ride Through Western Tibet. However cordially the two ladies might have shared their scones and tea, they must also have had a mutual agreement that after the tamasha they would go their separate ways. Jane writes: “I have described this festival in full detail because we are the only Europeans who have seen it, and it will not be held again until 1940. The day after the tamasha Miss Christie left Khapallu for Skardo, and I followed next day, true to our principle of travelling alone.” It was not the last time they saw each other, however. Little correspondence remains, but enough to indicate that they kept in touch. Ella refers to them occupying adjoining houseboats, probably on the Jhelum river at Srinagar, and there is a colourful account of them attending a state banquet.

After the publication of her book in 1906, Jane returned to India for the winter. She wrote to Ella, apologising for not having corresponded for several months, and mentioning a second volume of travel memoirs: “I am again at work on my book. I have taken a comfortable little bungalow and the garden is ablaze with roses. The scent from these and the honeysuckle perfumes the air.” She adds rather wistfully, “I wish you were here with your camera. My results are worse and worse.”

“Their chance meeting was so perfectly timed that it could not have been more dramatic had it been staged.”

While Jane’s dwindling health eventually curbed her zest for adventure, Ella was just getting into her stride. In 1907 she travelled around China, Japan and Korea, and over the next few years she made excursions into Central Asia, visiting Ashkabad, Merv, Bokhara, Samarkand and Tashkent. In 1912 she became the first European woman to visit Khiva in modern-day Uzbekistan. Her experiences in Japan inspired her to create an authentic Japanese garden in the grounds of Cowden Castle, which became her joy and passion. Ella received an RSGS Honorary Fellowship in 1911 and gave six lectures between 1920 and 1940, on subjects such as ‘Rhodes and its People’ and ‘Russian Central Asia’.

32 Special Edition 2020

Explorers quiz Questions 1 On 6th September 1910, explorer Roald Amundsen and his crew arrived in Funchal, Madeira, on board the Fram. Shortly afterwards, he sent a telegraph to Robert Falcon Scott. What did he say?

5 In December 1902, Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson were confined to their tent by bad weather as they attempted to reach the South Pole. On Christmas Day, what did Shackleton produce from one of his socks?

a) a bottle of Glenfiddich

b) a Christmas pudding

b) ‘ Anticipate joining you soon in Melbourne. Put the champagne on ice.’

c) a letter from King Edward VII

d) a sprig of mistletoe

c) ‘Beg to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic.’

d) ‘ Request formal leave to join your South Pole expedition. Amundsen.’

6 In 1879 while travelling in Malaya (Malaysia), Isabella Bird was staying in the bungalow of the British Resident, who was temporarily away. She wrote that she “had taken five meals in the society of ….. only.” Who were her dining companions?

a) ‘ Enjoying the sunshine. Wish you were here.’

2 Australian explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins was reputed to have a special gift. What was it?

a) h e could receive radio messages in his head b) h e could charm buffalo, snakes and crocodiles just by looking at them

a) lizards

b) deer

c) apes d) elephants

c) he knew instinctively how to fly any aircraft

d) he never dropped a single catch in cricket

7 In 1874, what personal items did Emily Anne Beaufort (Lady Strangford) advise other women to leave behind in Cairo while they were exploring ancient Egyptian sites?

3 While staying with tribespeople in Cameroon, around 1894, Mary Kingsley was awoken in the middle of the night by the noise of a leopard attacking one of the dogs. What did she do?

a) their crinolines

b) their hats

a) try to ignore it and go back to sleep

c) their poodles

b) grab a pistol and attempt to shoot it

d) their handbags

c) r ouse the rest of the villagers and evacuate them to safety

d) throw a stool at it

8 While plant-hunting in Tibet in the 1920s, Frank Kingdon Ward dined with some friendly villagers and then…

4 In September 1909, American naval officer Robert Peary sent a telegram to RSGS, among other geographical societies. What did he say?

a) he had just climbed Mount McKinley

b) h e had crossed the International Date Line three times and was now confused

c) h e had just finished mapping the entire coast of Arctic Canada

d) he had just reached the North Pole

a) drank rather too much alcohol

b) started playing the ukelele

c) found himself engaged to his host’s daughter

d) all of the above

Answers 1 c) Amundsen had originally intended to head for the Arctic but changed his mind en route and sailed instead to the Antarctic, ultimately gaining the South Pole before Scott. He felt obliged to inform Scott of his decision while in Madeira. 2 a) Wilkins astonished his friends by correctly interpreting radio messages when he was well out of reach of any receiver. However, he was so extraordinary that any of the other options are also believable! 3 d) Yes, incredibly, Mary threw a stool at the leopard in the moonlight, thereby scaring it off. The dog was not too badly injured. 4 d) Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole on 6th April 1909, but this was later disputed through lack of proof. He may have been up to 60 miles away. 5 b) Incredibly, Shackleton had been keeping it there with this intention all along. The other options might have been equally welcome, except perhaps for the mistletoe. 6 c) In The Golden Chersonese, Isabella wrote, “The apes had their curry, chutney, pine-apple, eggs, and bananas on porcelain plates, and so had I.” 7 a) Emily found hooped skirts a great impediment when clambering up the Pyramids or squeezing through tight holes to look inside archaeological remains. 8 d) It was a misunderstanding, and luckily Frank managed to persuade his host to release the obligation!


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Special Edition 2020

Prize crossword Mike Robinson, RSGS Chief Executive

A copy of The Great Horizon, by Jo Woolf, will be awarded to the sender of the first correct solution opened on 1st June 2020. Enter by post to RSGS HQ in Perth, or by email to Answers will be published in the summer 2020 edition of The Geographer. Across 2 What happens when you take the weight off – it’s glacially slow to take effect (9,7) 11 Type of nightshade in a PC type of music (8) 12 Move again with rhenium and hydrogen on river (7) 13 Not hide of calf again (6) 14 Diplomatic accord cited in Northern Ireland (7) 15 Unprepared bald one prepared (2,3) 16 Professor gives affirmative sign back (3) 17 Politicians or Spanish men around astatine (8) 18 Vehicle, rob we hear of flesh (6) 20 One resin quickly (1,1,1,1) 23 Ross-shire village in a headless rush we hear (5) 25 Tapeworm in camp for airborne soldiers (8) 27 Backward children bounce along (4) 29 Is it shut? Nope, it’s not (4) 30 Bottomless carrier lost in a hundred freeswimming larva (8) 31 Sacred rock in fanciful Uruguayan landscape (5) 32 Three riot in riot (4) 35 these confused and endless moths (6) 38 Curved liquid from old women is custard (8) 40 Writer with ring in fitness (3) 41 Small Strathtay town in lighter role (5) 42 Wrap net to form diamond centre (7) 43 Break a... disc (6) 44 Cait in a blood group finds herself in island channel in Ecuador (7) 45 Verbally abuse what sounds like awful clan (8) 46 These features are only surface deep (16) Down 1 A pelagic hero loses direction in islands (11) 2 Stamp to make an impact (7) 3 Forgetting a ring on a glove on a ring we hear (8) 4 Upturn traced upturns in glacially foreshortened feature (9,4) 5 Flies with yokes on island of the mist (4,2,4) 6 Flower from the Black Forest passes through Vienna (5,6) 7 Dumber lines reveal city (6) 8 Gaia loses head after silence between the bends of southern city (7)

9 Part of ear detects pool in waterfall to form one of several small mounds (7) 10 Deef – albedo or ocean circulation (8) 19 Bringing about early rain (13) 21 Copies confused peas (4) 22 Knock pot (3) 24 Famous distant sun (4) 26 Crashing noise of Newman’s band (11) 27 Trainers command for southern computer equipment (3) 28 Those proper lacking atmosphere (11) 30 I charm bozo whose top is closest to the sun (10) 33 Russian soldier of abnormal size and litter that is removed (8) 34 Happy caste in endless city (8) 36 Grandaddy loses two old pennies in desert ridge (7) 37 Balloon lost first leader to final letter in Tyrollean city (7) 39 Better one in space with fifty (7) 40 Headache pill without cleat leads to Andean plateau (6)

34 Special Edition 2020

A flavour of Costa Rica

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