A WRITER comes to Waterstones Inverness on Thursday (Nov 23) with her new book redefines the word “explorer” in a new book that celebrates 50 of them.
Jo is writer in residence at the RSGS and her book includes not just the usual suspects when it comes to international explorers.
Jo extended her research for the book and dug into the archives to find some incredible stories that featured both historic and contemporary explorers.
The contemporary and well-known media figures mix with less-well known names, including Chris Bonington, David Attenborough, Michael Palin, Neil Armstrong, W H Murray, David Livingstone, Rosie Swale Pope and Karen Darke, among many.
The word “explorer” conjures up an image of someone muffled in furs and battling Arctic winds, or perspiring in the heat as they hack their way through an equatorial jungle.
But as Jo’s book shows, the men and women described range from the famous (Livingstone, Scott, Fiennes) to the now all but forgotten, such as Himalayan explorer Sven Anders Hedin.
There are scientists, oceanographers, botanists, campaigners and athletes.
Historians revisit ancient journeys, such as Thor Heyerdahl and Tim Severin, who recreated the legendary sixth-century journey of St Brendan from western Ireland to the New World.
And there are those making a journey for the first time – such as Fridtjof Nansen, who decided at age 25 while watching Hamlet that he would be the first man to cross Greenland.
Deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard in 1985 uncovered the wreck of the Titanic.
There are activists, such as founder of the Green Belt Movement Wangari Maathai, and explorers who set out to inspire and assist others – from cartographer John George Bartholomew to Michael Palin to Craig Mathieson, whose Polar Academy each year selects ten Scottish schoolchildren and trains them for an expedition to the Arctic.
Their travels ranged from the Scottish Lochs (John Murray) to the Far East and beyond (Isabella Bird), from West Africa (where nineteenth-century explorer Mary Kingsley carried out her groundbreaking research into sacrificial rituals) to the North and South Poles.
Many of these journeys were made at considerable personal cost – people lost their relationships, their health and often their lives. Their courage and endurance shine out from these pages.
Captain Scott, for instance, famously described extreme danger and suffering as merely “uncomfortable” and “unpleasant”.
And there are also athletes including Paralympian Karen Darke and multiple marathon runner Rosie Swale Pope.
For would-be explorers and armchair travellers alike, their stories can’t fail to inspire.
The book is published in association with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and with full access to their extensive records.
It includes unique images and insights from the RSGS archives, along with never-before-seen material.
Jo Woolf was born in Shropshire, and now lives with her husband in West Lothian.
She has always had a passion for writing, along with a lively fascination for history and the natural world.
In 2014 she began looking into the archives of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, in a mission to bring to light some half-forgotten figures in the field of exploration.
Jo is talking at Waterstone’s Inverness on 23 November at 6pm.