I had the opportunity to share some of my adventures and forthcoming plans with a select group in a rather unique setting this week. I’m a great believer in the sense of place, and there are few more special to me than Ernest Shackleton’s Edinburgh residence. He lived at 14 South Learmonth Gardens between 1904 and 1910.
By some coincidence, this week marks the exact 100th anniversary that “Endurance” was finally swallowed by the ice of the Weddell Sea in 1915. (In passing there is a brilliant exhibition of restored photographs now open at the Royal Geographical Society in London to mark this event).
The front room of 14 South Learmonth Gardens has been a place of inspiration and planning for me during the past year. Of course I make no comparison between my own adventures and the legend who I like to call “the Shak”. However, by historical link 2016 is also the 100th anniversary of the completion of the first Trans-Siberian rail route (from Moscow to Vladivostok).
Shackleton lived in Edinburgh whilst he was President of the Scottish Geographical Society, and it was also during this time that he led the “Nimrod” expedition (1907-09), at that point travelling further South than anyone else before.
The return journey back to the Nimrod makes for some interesting reading – “We are so thin that our bones ache as we lie on the hard snow“, wrote Shackleton. From 18 February onward they began to pick up familiar landmarks, and on the 23rd they reached Bluff Depot, which to their great relief had been copiously resupplied by Ernest Joyce. The range of delicacies over and above the crates of regular supplies was listed by Shackleton: “Carlsbad plums, eggs, cakes, plum pudding, gingerbread and crystallised fruit“.
I’m not planning to be that thin, but I shall pack some gingerbread on my next adventure just in case I find myself with aching bones in the chill of a Siberian station platform. We held the talk in the front room of Number 14. It was a great way to get a sense of what parts of my adventures are interesting to others. It has also been the first time that I have tabled my next journey on a map to other people ahead of setting off – I like the feeling of doing that and seeing the reactions around the room. My thanks to Channings Hotel and Keith Parsons, my publicist, for pulling it all together.
In other news this week, I now have all my tickets in my bag as far as Beijing (or Peking as the Russian ticketing system still refers to it). Intriguingly on the D10 “Polonez” train to Moscow I am in carriage 344. As there is no carriage 344 currently on this train, I hope its an auspicious sign of the new Russian service using brand new Austrian carriages starting just a few days before my journey. The rumour is the carriage has a shower. Wonders may never cease!
More interesting news is that I have been given a carriage number and a berth on the train from Beijing to Lhasa. This is big result as it was always going to be the hardest single train to get a ticket for. It looks like I have made it to “First Class Soft” (a four berth shared compartment), but it is hard to tell too much at this stage, as I don’t actually see my tickets until I reach my forward operating base in Beijing.