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Winter Escape

Now that the midwinter blahs have descended in earnest I have turned for solace to that time-honoured winter escape (for those of us who cannot actually fly away) of armchair travel. With all the prerequisites checked off: snuggled up in my favourite chair, comforter firmly wrapped around me, fire in the hearth, glass of wine in hand, snow swirling artfully outside and a good book in hand I must say I don’t feel too hard done by. Now for a great read!

Gertrude Bell may be one of the most famous people of whom you have never heard. I know I hadn’t until quite recently and I was astonished that I hadn’t, given the scope of her life. She was a contemporary of Lawrence of Arabia (who we all know of) and was arguably more prominent during their era than he was. She has been variously described as an archaeologist, spy, Arabist, linguist, author, cartographer, poet, photographer, mountaineer, and nation builder.

Born into a wealthy industrialist family in 1868 Gertrude was never one to sit idle. After obtaining a ‘first’ in history at Oxford (and uncommon accomplishment for a woman in those days) she took up mountain climbing. Never one to do things by halves, she wound up summiting the Matterhorn and carving out a niche for herself in the annals of mountaineering. Gertrude followed her stunning achievements in the Alps (often forced to climb in her petticoats) by learning Arabic and embarking on a lifelong career in the Middle East, befriending sheiks and travelers and making herself indispensable to the British in their aims to create the nation of Iraq.

Further reading:

Book Cover Image:  Daughter Of The Desert:  The Remarkable Life of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell
Daughter of the desert : the remarkable life of Gertrude Bell
 by Georgina Howell



Book Cover Image:  Desert Queen:  The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Janet Wallach
Desert queen : the extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell: adventurer, adviser to kings, ally of Lawrence of Arabia
 by Janet Wallach.



Related websites:

The Gertrude Bell Project

Gertrude Bell and the Birth of Iraq

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell

Another intrepid and astonishing woman adventurer is Beryl Markham. Born in 1902, Beryl grew up motherless on her fathers’ coffee farm in Nairobi raised primarily by the African workers on the farm. From them she learned to jump higher than her head and hunt wild boar with just a spear by the time she was twelve! Beryl went on to become an aviatrix, horse trainer and author as well as friend of princes and various transplanted Europeans like Karen Blixen (of Out of Africa fame) and Denys Finch Hatten , a fellow aviator and bush pilot.

Beryl gained the distinction of being the first person (not just female person ) to fly solo across the Atlantic from east (London, England) to west (a crash landing in Nova Scotia!). This accomplishment has been considered by some to be a greater feat than that of Charles Lindberg’s historic flight because the prevailing winds were against Beryl. Indeed she very nearly crashed into the sea when her fuel lines froze! As a horse trainer she won the Kentucky Derby six times. She didn’t write very much, but Ernest Hemingway said of her that “she has written so…marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer”. Heady words indeed! 

Further reading:

West with the night by Beryl Markham

The splendid outcast : Beryl Markham's African stories

The lives of Beryl Markham : Out of Africa's hidden free spirit and Denys Finch Hatton's last great love by Errol Trzebinski

Straight on till morning : a biography of Beryl Markham by Mary S. Lovell

Related websites:

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham Links

~ picks by Pam