Antarctica Archive

The ultimate white Christmas

If you want to see how travel has changed, look to Antarctica, says Peter Hughes. A century ago, it was populated by a handful of men who had taken four months to get there and then struggled to survive. Today it’s one of the world’s bucket-list tourist destinations, drawing almost 40,000 visitors a year. He went there, in the run-up to last Christmas, for Telegraph Travel

To ‘Mars’ and the frozen south

“The Mars of the Mid-Atlantic”, Ascension Island, is the subject of a programme by Peter Gibbs and Matthew Teller due to be broadcast on Radio 4 tomorrow at 3.30 pm. If it’s as good as Teller’s excellent piece on the Halley Research Station in Antarctica — which I’ve only just caught up with because I was away and offline when it appeared in March — it should be well worth a listen. Ever wondered how people end up working down there? Me too. Teller offers an answer: “Most of Halley’s heavy-duty vehicle drivers are recruited from BAS adverts placed in Farmers Weekly magazine.”

Another piece I missed, again on Antarctica, was by Peter Hughes in the FT (and worth signing on to read). A century on from Shackleton’s doomed expedition, he retraced its course on a ship with giant buffets and a band in woolly hats.

Will Self and the art of hotel reviewing

Here’s a hotel recommendation with a difference from Will Self in The New Statesman after a stay in Plymouth: “As I’ve had cause to remark before, there’s nothing I like more, when the evenings draw in and the wind gusts hard, than to lie in bed – preferably in an overheated old pile like the Duke of Cornwall – and read about the British officer class getting their bollocks frozen off in Antarctica.”

The Ondaatje Prize and ‘spirit of place’

One of the purposes of Deskbound Traveller is to seek out great travel writing in places where it hasn’t been looked for much before — not just in the shelves marked “Non-fiction” but in those labelled “Fiction” and “Poetry”.  The Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, an annual award of £10,000 (sponsored by Sir Christopher Ondaatje, the businessman, adventurer and writer), is for a “distinguished work” in any of those forms “evoking the spirit of a place”. Since the prize’s inception in 2004, winners have included titles as diverse as In the Country of Men, the debut novel of the Libyan writer Hisham Matar, and Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History, Adam Nicolson’s account of life and times in his family’s stately home.

The books short-listed for this year’s prize will be announced at the end of this month or early in May. I’m hoping to publish short extracts from each of them in Telegraph Travel and then a longer piece from the winner or an interview with him or her. Over the next few weeks on Deskbound Traveller, I will be publishing extracts from some of the titles that were short-listed for last year’s prize. I’m starting today with an excerpt from Empire Antarctica by Gavin Francis, who realised his dream of living alongside emperor penguins by signing up for a year as a doctor with the British Antarctic Survey.

Streaking to the South Pole

Residents of most US cities have reacted to the conditions of the “polar vortex” by staying indoors. Residents of  Antarctic research stations  take a different approach to climatic extremes: when the temperature falls to record levels, they go streaking. Svati Kirsten Narula, in The Atlantic, explains.

To the Third Pole with Gavin Francis

granta124travelcoverGavin Francis’s Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins was shortlisted for this year’s Ondaatje Prize, an annual award of £10,000 of which Deskbound Traveller heartily approves: it’s for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that evokes the spirit of a place. As a child, Francis was taken with “the pristine purity” of the polar regions as depicted in an atlas. The Himalayas also appealed, because they were just as blankly white. In the online version of the latest travel edition of Granta magazine, he reports on a motorcycle trip through those mountains – one that nearly proved fatal.