Vanished Kingdoms – Norman Davis

Vanished Kingdoms - Norman Davis
Vanished Kingdoms – Norman Davis

I put this book aside in the middle of Rosenau, the account of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and the intertwined lineages and lives of Queen Victoria and Prince Albrecht (Albert) of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. A rare event, to abandon a book.

I’d been drawn to this hefty history of lost kingdoms by the earlier chapters – the Britons and the Kingdom of Strathclyde, Tolosa and the Visigoths – and whilst I enjoyed the overall concept and the three part structure of each chapter, as we moved into the early modern period and beyond and the quantity of sources expanded, the wealth of detail this afforded grew too much for me: the later chapters were just too heavy going.

Author’s page (warning: slow to load): Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe – Norman Davis

The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The Worst Journey in the World - Apsley Cherry-Garrard
The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The Worst Journey in the World has been on my reading list for a long time.

It’s Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of the 1910-13 Nova Terra Expedition to Antarctica, where he was part of a three-man scientific research team that undertook the harrowing Winter Journey to collect the first specimens of Emperor Penguin eggs. This is The Worst Journey in the World of the title.

However the Nova Terra expedition is better known for the explorations undertaken by its leader, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, together with Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates, and Edgar Evans, who succeeded in reaching the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it. All five men died on their journey back from the pole.

I had hesitated to embark upon The Worst Journey in the World, fearing that Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s autobiographical  analysis of the expedition would be a heavy going account reflecting the attitudes of Empire and the Edwardian era.

Sara Wheeler‘s introduction to the Vintage Classic edition I read dissolved my concerns, and I found this to be a fascinating and heart breaking read.

I’ve added Sara Wheeler’s biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard – Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard – to my reading list.

Publisher page: The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The Riddle and The Knight – Giles Milton

The Riddle and The Knight - Giles Milton
The Riddle and The Knight – Giles Milton

Giles Milton always tells a good story and The Riddle and The Knight is no exception.

Part travelogue, part history, part biography, The Riddle and The Knight explores the life and times of medieval traveller (two of my loves combined!) Sir John de Mandeville, who spent 34 years on an extended pilgrimage tour of the near east and beyond, and wrote them up in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville on his return. His account became a Medieval best seller. In it he claimed to have circumnavigated the globe.

But, having finished the book relaxing on the sofa at 40A as the rain tipped down outside, I really, REALLY want to know how his wife spent those 34 years.

She get this one tantalising mention on page 110 (my emphasis added):

“Yet in 1321 – just months before the author of The Travels claimed to have left England – he sold everything he owned and disappears from all records for the next 37 years. According to one of the few surviving land registries from that year, a ‘John de Mandeville and Agnes his wife‘ sold ten acres of land to Richard and Emma Filliol. Furthermore, ‘John atte Tye of Teryling and Alice his wife had a settlement with John Mandeville of Borham and Agnes his wife by which the former secured twenty marks of silver one messuage, sixteen acres of land, and one and a half acres of wood in Borham.’ Men didn’t dispose of land in the Middle Ages unless they had an extremely good reason. But it is entirely possible that Sir John did have a good reason. He was going abroad for a very long time, and needed a huge amount of cash to find his voyage.”

Author’s page: The Riddle and The Knight – Giles Milton


P.S. I also like the fact the Sir John was liege man to Sir Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex. Those two counties loom large in this Loosemore’s life!


And look what popped up in my Twitter feed two days later:

 

A Mountain in Tibet – Charles Allen

A Mountain in Tibet - Charles Allen
A Mountain in Tibet – Charles Allen

Charles Allen‘s superb history of the explorations in India, Nepal and Tibet in search of the source of the four holy rivers – Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus and Sutlej – and the water flows between the lakes of Rakshas Tal and Manasarovar and beyond, lying at the feet of mythic Mt Kailash. It’s mainly Europeans, but old friend Ekai Kawaguchi makes an appearance too.

Should have read it before my own exploration, courtesy of Wild Frontiers back in 2010, to appreciate that history, that of the ancient kingdom of Guge and its capital Tsaparang.

Publisher page: A Mountain in Tibet: The Search for Mount Kailas and the Sources of the Great Rivers of India – Charles Allen

Looking out over the ruins, and east along the Sutlej river valley, from the top of Tsaparang citadel, Guge, Tibet
Looking out over the ruins, and east along the Sutlej river valley, from the top of Tsaparang citadel, Guge, Tibet

 

High Albania – Edith Durham

High Albania - Edith Durham
High Albania – Edith Durham

Edith Durham  (1863 – 1944) was an English artist, anthropologist/ethnologist and writer who travelled and worked in Albania between 1900 and 1914. One of those intrepid Victorian/Edwardian female explorers, High Albania is her account of her travels in Northern Albania in 1908, the time of the Young Turks and the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Lots of late nights, early mornings, conversations with Albanians and Franciscans, blood feuds, besa and firing of pistols.

A perfect read before, during and after our week walking in the Accursed Mountains.

Abebooks.co.uk: High Albania – Edith Durham

Goodreads review: High Albania – Edith Durham