Apsley Cherry-Garrard and the world’s worst journey

Credit: Eyewitness Accounts with Scott in the Antarctic by Herbert Ponting.


The Odditorium: the tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) includes some amazing characters. Some you’ll have heard of, some you probably won’t. All of them have changed the world, although in some cases the wider world hasn’t noticed yet. They include Joshua Norton, first Emperor of America, and Reginald Bray, who carried out strange experiments with the Royal Mail. I was delighted to be asked to write about Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who is by far my favourite explorer. 

When I was at school, we were often told stories about adventurers and explorers as something to aspire to. Captain Robert Falcon Scott was held up as a great example, bravely sacrificing himself in an attempt to reach the South Pole. As Sara Wheeler once described Antarctica, our southernmost continent often seems to be “a testing-ground for men with frozen beards to see how dead they could get’”. Despite that, I find Cherry-Garrard’s accounts of his adventures uplifting and inspiring.

Scott intentionally framed his death as an act of heroism. Bruce Chatwin’s book What Am I Doing Here (1988) describes a note left by Scott reading: “I have done this to show what an Englishman can do”. This legend-making worked well, and Scott’s story has often been retold. But his account often overshadows the tale of his companion, Apsley Cherry-Garrard. When Cherry-Garrard wrote an account of his time in Antarctica, it was entitled The Worst Journey in the World (1922). This referred not to Scott’s fatal mission, but to Cherry-Garrard’s attempt to collect penguin eggs for scientific research. What Cherry-Garrard went through was about as bad a time as one could go through and survive to write about it. 


Cherry and his two companions travelled 60 miles on foot to reach the Emperor penguin nesting grounds, all in the darkness of an Antarctic winter. Pretty much everything that could do wrong did. Cherry’s teeth shattered from shivering at one point. Yet there was no triumphant return home and, according to Cherry’s account, officials at the Natural History Museum couldn’t care less about the eggs that had been retrieved at such high cost. 

Scott gets most of the glory from that expedition, despite his mistakes. But, for me, Cherry-Garrard’s story is the most precious – his graceful description of suffering and how to bear it has as much to say about daily life as it does about Antarctic exploration.

The Odditorium at the Buxton Festival is a chance for me to talk about one of my favourite people. Cherry’s account of frozen misery is inspiring, and is one of the greatest treasures that has been found in Antarctica. We’ll also be talking about Baroness Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven, who created the most important work of art in the 20th-century, the bestselling author of books on Tibet (who didn’t even own a passport) and an Italian time lord who built the world’s largest underground temple. In just two hours, you’ll hear an alternative history of the world told through the lives of these remarkable people. 


James Burt

Arts Award at Burbage Primary

We can’t believe it’s nearly school half term! Since the beginning of October, we’ve been at Burbage Primary School delivering Arts Award Discover level to Year 4 children.

Arts Award is a portfolio-based qualification provided by Trinity College London and supported by Arts Council England. It gives children and young people the opportunity to learn about the arts, artists and art organisations, and to grow their arts and leadership talents. The structure is similar to that of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards with Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, and additionally Discover and Explore as introductory levels. Young people who attain their Gold level are awarded 35 UCAS points towards a university application. So far, we have been working for eight weeks in primary schools teaching the children about different art forms and introducing them to local artists and organisations. At the end of the eight-week programme the children get a certificate in a celebration assembly.

Our first session at Burbage began with a few warm-ups and games – one being to create an action for our name (mine was a Grease Lightning move). The first session was an introduction to the programme and for us to talk to the children about what art is, and whether they knew of any artists or consider themselves artists; the latter is always an interesting discussion in the first session. It was wonderful to see so many children talk about playing a musical instrument, and such a range too – singing, piano, recorder, guitar and drums to name a few! Some children also talked about having dance lessons, drawing and painting and writing stories. We also talked about other ways the children are artists, such as decorating a cake and how video games and graphics are also art forms. We rounded the session off with a game that I remember from being at primary school – Say Boom Chicka Boom – a call and response game with each round adopting a different voice – quiet, loud, fast, slow and the children came up with some of their own. 

Last week, the children met a local artist and painter and this week, we will be getting messy in the classroom, doing some crafts and painting based on a landmark or image of Buxton. The children will also be meeting other artists and taking part in workshops, including some singing, acting and drama and a visit to the Buxton Opera House! We can’t wait!

Lily Bracegirdle Artists & Engagement Manager | Claire Barlow Literary & Outreach Manager



Book Weekend 2016 complete programme announced

The complete programme for the Book Weekend running from 18-20 November has now been finalised with new additions Germaine Greer, David Templeman and Clare Hartwell. 

To see the full programme, follow the link to the digital version of the brochure here.

Visit the website to book your tickets now!


Chatting with Festival supporter Mark Sutherland

During the Festival, I sat down with Mark Sutherland who is a great supporter of the Festival.

So Mark, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I live in Sheffield where by day I am a career civil servant working in project management in the Department for Work and Pensions. Outside of work I enjoy travel, reading, drinking too much beer and wine, visiting museums and galleries, and attending opera and concerts. I regularly attend performances at the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, BBC Proms and Wigmore Hall. Occasionally I also write reviews of these performances for the website classicaldiary.com. I am also a member of the BBC Trust’s Yorkshire Audience Council.

How did you first find out about Buxton Festival?

I was introduced to the Festival by a friend of mine Norma Hird who also happens to be a member of the Festival Board. Knowing my passion for opera and the fact I attend operas in the UK and abroad it was Norma who suggested I come to Buxton. I was ashamed to say that I hadn’t been to the Festival despite it being on my own doorstep.

What attracted you to the Festival, and what was the first event that you attended?

It was the variety of events and Norma’s steer that attracted me to the Festival back in 2012. The first event I attended was Intermezzo – an opera by Richard Strauss. As a lover of Strauss operas I thought this was a fantastic production with Janis Kelly terrific in the lead role. It was also the first time I had heard the fabulous Northern Chamber Orchestra who play such a critical role at the Festival each year.

Is there a particular part of the Festival that you like?

For me the unique selling point of the Buxton Festival is that it’s really three festivals in one; a fantastic marriage of opera, music and books. I love the fact the festival showcases rarely performed operas. Each day is varied from the talks and concerts in the morning and afternoon to the opera in the evening and then the late night jazz which makes the Festival very special.

Do you book your tickets fairly early? 

As a benefactor of the Festival I make good use of the priority booking period. So this year I booked my tickets in February which was just as well as several of the events I booked including the 9am talk with Nick Robinson and Peter Hennessy, and the Oldie Literary Lunch with Joan Bakewell and David Aaronovitch sold out quickly. The great innovation this year was that priority booking could now be done online which in my view was about time too.

Have you attended every year since you first visited the town and Festival?

Yes, since my first Festival in 2012 I have attended every year. I now try and spend around 10 days at the Festival going to as many events as I can. In addition I have attended the Autumn Literary Weekend since it was launched in 2014 and also various Friends of Buxton Festival events both in Buxton and London.

During the last five Festivals I have had some great experiences watching the operas and attending some fine concerts. It has also been great to meet in person some of the literary speakers. Personal favourites have included Alan Johnson, Gyles Brandreth, Peter Hennessy and Jean Seaton, the official historian of the BBC, who I met many times at the BBC Archives so it was great to hear her talking about her research. Each year I am an enthusiastic user of Twitter giving my feedback on events I have enjoyed.

What attracted you to the Festival this year?

It was the usual mixture of rarely performed operas, established and talented young musicians, alongside a range of interesting speakers.

What was your favourite event and why?

That’s a difficult question as there is always so much great stuff at the Festival. In the opera series I really enjoyed Beethoven’s Leonore. As someone who has seen Fidelio, the opera that Leonore eventually became, a number of times it was fascinating to see the genesis of this masterpiece. In the music series a standout was the concert from celebrated pianist Stephen Kovacevich. The late night jazz concerts in the Pavilion Cafe just get better and I loved the gigs from Jazz At The Movies and Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen. In the literary series Alexei Sayle was hilarious, Peter Hennessy entertaining in all three of his talks, and it was great to hear D J Taylor, a writer and critic I greatly admire. 

What would you say to someone who is new to opera?

Give it a go, don’t be scared. Opera is an art form for everyone not just the few. Many of the plots may be bonkers but the music and the singing will surely bowl you over. The glorious Frank Matcham designed Buxton Opera House is a terrific venue to enjoy a night of opera. Next year the Buxton Festival will be producing Benjamin Britten’s opera Albert Herring. This a great introduction for those new to opera. It’s a funny story, has some great music and is sung in English. Definitely give it a go!

What would you say to someone who is new to the Festival?

Enjoy all the Festival has to offer. Buxton is buzzing during July with the Fringe running alongside the main festival. Try and sample as much as you can whether it’s the opera, concerts or literary events. Buxton is definitely the “friendly” festival supported by a great Board of Directors and Executive Team, fantastic interns (some of whom end up working for the Festival full time!) and volunteers who all make sure you have a great time. I guarantee that if you come to the Buxton Festival, just like me, you will come back year after year!

Thanks, Mark!

Lucy Durack Development Director

Welcome to our interns!

Each year, the Festival welcomes seven interns to work behind the scenes, whether that be running the opera surtitles, page-turning, working front of house, managing artists’ riders or doing some social media (because we’re very social media savvy here), each day is varied and different from the last! I was an intern a couple of years ago at the Festival and absolutely loved it – the sheer variety of tasks and fast-paced environment; meeting new people and gaining new experiences. I’m really looking forward to welcoming our interns this year, and thought I’d have a quick catch up with them all to find out what they’re looking forward to at Buxton.

Verena Silcher

Verena Silcher

Most of all, I’m looking forward to being surrounded by music every day and to be involved in the day to day running of a large and exciting festival. The internship scheme is such a great opportunity to gain hands on experience and I’m really grateful to be able to find out more about how everything works and what challenges I’ll encounter. I’m particularly looking forward to operating the surtitles for Beethoven’s Leonore and since I’ve played the cello from the age of six, I certainly don’t want to miss Lionel Handy’s concert on July 21. Last but not least I’m looking forward to exploring Buxton and of course to meeting my fellow interns.

Olivia O'Connell

Olivia O’Connell

I’m eagerly anticipating my return to Buxton Opera House after spending my summers as a teenager performing on its stage. But, I’m equally as excited to work behind the scenes and with the creative and technical staff and hope to gain insight into the ‘other’ side of the glorious Opera House. I’ll be working on a new production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi – a variation on Romeo and Juliet – in the year marking 400 years after Shakespeare’s death!

Oliver Gildea

Oliver Gildea

I am very much looking forward to being part of the Buxton opera festival! I look forward to taking charge of the surtitles for Tamerlano and meeting lots of interesting new people whilst at the festival. I am very excited about the prospect of being able to work with and watch some amazingly talented musicians!

Philippa Ridgway

Pip Ridgway

I am delighted to be working for the Buxton Festival this year! I am excited to have a great festival experience, and I’m particularly looking forward to the opera productions, especially Tamerlano, and performances from Manchester Chamber Choir.


Emily Castles

Emily Castles

The Buxton Festival is a brilliant few weeks of literature, music and opera, and I am thrilled to be working at such a prestigious event and cannot wait to get stuck in! As a keen historian I am particularly looking forward to ‘An Evening of Murder with Dr Lucy Worsley’ as well as Josephine Wilkinson’s talk about the fifth wife of Henry Vlll, Katherine Howard. I am also extremely excited to watch David Crystal’s talk on Shakespeare and Claire Harman’s talk on Charlotte Brontë, exploring two of the biggest literary icons on their joint anniversaries through the eyes of the contemporary reader.

Matt ThomasMatt Thomas

I’m looking forward to actually watching one of the operas this year. For one reason or another, I didn’t manage it last year except for page-turning at the opera excerpts concerts.



Lee Moore

Lee Moore

I’m looking forward to being back in Buxton having done the internship last year! I’ll be working on the technical side of events, including microphone handling, stage set-up and sound checks. I like in particular the Music in the Cafe line-up this year.

We look forward to welcoming them very soon!

Lily Bracegirdle Executive Assistant

New events for 2016 Literary Series

We are excited to announce three new events for the Literary series in this year’s Buxton Festival. We’re holding a series of 9am discussions at the Old Clubhouse which touch upon various subjects of interest to Festival-goers.

Nick Robinson
Today frontman Nick Robinson

On Friday 15 July, historian, academic and crossbench peer Peter Hennessy talks to former BBC political editor, now Radio 4 Today host Nick Robinson about the Art of the Political Interview. For more information, and to book your tickets, click here.

Stephen Barlow
Festival Artistic Director Stephen Barlow

On Thursday 21 July, Festival Artistic Director Stephen Barlow and fellow conductor Laurence Cummings discuss the finer points of making interpretive decisions in Authenticity in Performance. For further information, and to book your tickets, click here.

Shiraz Maher
Writer and academic Shiraz Maher

On Friday 22 July, author and academic Shiraz Maher talks to Rod Dubrow-Marshall about Understanding the Roots of Extremism, in what promises to be a lively and controversial discussion. For further information, and to book your tickets, click here.

We aim to announce more early-morning discussions in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on our website! For further information on all these events, and to book your tickets now, phone the Box Office on 01298 72190 or click here.

These events are sponsored by the University of Derby.

Derby Uni logo

Buxton Poetry Competition – Now Open!

Buxton Poetry Competition is now open!

Our annual poetry competition is now accepting entries on the theme of Hidden. Here we talk to the competition organiser Claire Barlow.

Hi Claire, please can you tell us a bit about the history of the competition?

Hello, I’ve been running the competition for eight years now and every year it is a delight to be involved! The competition started when Buxton Festival and the University of Derby got together to create a joint project which would encourage people from across the country to have a go at creative writing. We had no idea that we would get so many great entries over the years and from people as far away as Australia, the United States and Brazil!

Wow, do people really enter from Brazil?

Yes they do, and we get entries from across Europe too. Every year I look forward to getting a parcel of entries from the same school in Slovenia, it puts me to shame that the young people can write poetry in English when I can’t say ‘hello’ in Slovenian!

But you don’t judge the competition do you?

No I don’t (thank goodness, with 600 poems to read!) We have a great team of judges each year who do take the time to read all the poems entered and to create a shortlist of poems. Then the judges whittle that list down further to choose a first, second, third, Highly Commended and Commended winner from each category. We have three categories allowing poets of all ages to enter, there is Children’s Poetry for those under 12 years old, Young People’s Poetry for those aged 12 to 18 and our Open Category for poets over the age of 18. What’s great is that the Children’s and Young People’s Categories are free to enter so young people from all backgrounds can enter the competition without any financial barriers.

Are the judges the same each year?

Matt Black
Poet Matt Black

No, I like to have a few new faces each year to keep things fresh and fair. All judging is done totally anonymously, I make sure of that, but it is nice to know that we get new perspectives and opinions from our judges each year. This year we welcome Matt Black as our Open Category judge. Matt won the competition in 2013 so we’re delighted to welcome him back as a judge this time.

This year’s competition theme is Hidden, can you tell us why the poetry competition has a theme?

The idea behind having a theme is to focus writers’ attention and to provide a stimulus to spark the imagination. We want people to create new work for the competition not to just enter something that was written a few years ago that they submit to every competition going. I also really like the idea that we are creating a collective body of work. Each year we publish an anthology of the shortlisted poems and I feel that a theme gives that document added purpose and impact. It is also fascinating to see how poets interpret our theme. I usually have a few ideas of what people will write about, but each year there are winning poems that surprise me in the way they answer our brief, and that’s great!

Can schools enter the competition?

Yes, we love getting entries from schools from across the country. The entries can’t be group efforts though, each child needs to write their own poem. I think kids will love the theme this year, I imagine poems from the younger entrants about hidden treasure, hide-and-seek and lost toys.

What do people need to do to enter the competition?

You need to visit http://www.buxtonfestival.co.uk/outreach/poetry-competition/ to download an entry pack. This has all the competition rules and entry information plus a form to fill in to send back with your poems. The closing date of the competition is 26th August, so you have plenty of time to perfect your work. For any more information please send me an email at claire@buxtonfestival.co.uk.

When will the winners be announced?

The winners will be announced at the Buxton Festival Book Weekend in November 2016. At this special event we’ll hear all the shortlisted poems read by their authors, plus some work from our current and past judges. Then our Patron Lady Jasmine Cavendish will announce the winners of the competition for 2016. This year our top prize in the Open Category has been increased to £500 so it’s really worth having a go at entering the competition.

Thanks Claire, we’re off to write our entry now…

In association with

Derby Uni logo


Vacancy: Book Festival Intern

This is a unique opportunity to gain direct experience at one of the UK’s leading book festivals. We are looking for a talented individual who will play a key role in every aspect of the book festival. As the Book Festival Intern, you will report to the Festival’s Literary Manager. You will be first point of contact for our speakers and you will:

  • welcome high profile authors to our events
  • manage event schedules
  • work closely with professional venue management and technical teams
  • set-up venues and manage speakers’ riders
  • lead a team of Festival interns in microphone handling during event Q&As
  • liaise with accommodation and transport providers
  • write features for Festival blog and social media
  • liaise with Festival partner Waterstones to provide book signings at events

This is a hugely rewarding role that will help you on your way to a great job in the creative industries. Previous interns now work in the arts, events, publishing, media, education and travel and tourism sectors. We are looking for an enthusiastic, friendly, self-motivated person who will thrive on the long days, variety of roles and pressure of the Festival.

Buxton Festival is a 17-day celebration of opera, music and books. Every year we welcome over 30,000 people to our diverse programme of events. The book festival draws large audiences to talks by a range of the UK’s best authors. You’ll get to meet politicians, comedians, historians, actors, academics, novelists, biographers and much more! This year features comedian Alexei Sayle, bestselling novelist Paula Hawkins, TV personality Julia Bradbury, historian Dr Lucy Worsley and politician Vince Cable.

The placement will run from 4th July – 27th July in Buxton.  While the placements are unpaid we do provide simple accommodation in Buxton and £500 towards your food and travel expenses.

If you would like to apply please send a CV and covering letter telling us why you would be perfect for this exciting role to lily@buxtonfestival.co.uk

Closing date – 13th May 2016

Shirley Williams ITV interview
Baroness Shirley Williams being interviewed about her mother, Vera Brittain, by ITV in 2014
Peter Hennessy talking about his book Establishment & Meritocracy at the 2015 Festival
David Starkey on the Magna Carta at the Buxton Festival Book Weekend 2015
Andrea Wulf signing her book The Invention of Nature at the Buxton Festival Book Weekend 2015

Shakespeare at Buxton Festival

This year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. His plays have been transported into the opera (and ballet) world, and his poetry and sonnets are still well-known and read today. This year, Buxton Festival will be marking the anniversary with a number of writers/speakers, musicians and an opera that have all been inspired by Shakespeare!

How was Shakespeare pronounced? is the title of a talk by David Crystal who will explore the Shakespearean language on 10 July, while Andrew Dickson (his book cover of Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys around Shakespeare’s Globe at the top) on 17 July takes us on a journey to understand how Shakespeare’s works have found a home across the world, and the most unexpected of places. It doesn’t just end there – on 19 July, Assistant Director of Leonore, Ella Marchment, directs a performance based on the life of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway – performed by Elin Pritchard (Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor 2015) – weaving together arias and songs that use Shakespearean text. A recital by tenor Nicky Spence, accompanied by Simon Lepper, As You Like It – Shakespeare Songs, offers a range of songs from Britten and Poulenc, to Purcell, Schubert and Tippett. Manchester Chamber Choir on 17 July features a selection of Shakespearean songs by Paul Mealor and Vaughan Williams (amongst others), and Buxton Festival Fringe’s Shakespeare Juke Box will be outside Buxton Opera House. One of the Festival operas this year is Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (see it on 9, 13, 16, 20 & 23 July). Artistic Director Stephen Barlow recently wrote a piece in the Festival’s newsletter about Bellini and his opera, which is in fact based ‘on other Italian sources’. In case you missed it, here it is below.

Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania at a time when Catania was a thriving city of grandeur, status and artistic fertility. His education was hardly all embracing, albeit there was a period when he was immersed in the music of Haydn and Mozart. Principally his life revolved around the music of contemporary Italians over whom Rossini towered. Bellini is said to have remarked after he saw his first opera by Rossini, Semiramide, that there was no purpose in anyone else trying to do anything. However, his adoration of Donizetti in particular led to his career blossoming and he was soon in demand as a composer who knew how to produce in the style of bel canto to please his audiences. But ‘bel canto’ goes nowhere near describing Bellini’s insight and rare talent to ally narrative and psychology within  ostensibly melodic parameters. Verdi was in awe of Bellini’s melodic talent certainly, apparently saying that ‘there are extremely long melodies as no-one else had ever made before’. He was also described romantically as the Swan of Catania as his reputation grew. It was in Germany where this deeper  dramatic talent was truly recognised, and as Tim Ashley writes ‘Wagner, who rarely liked anyone but himself, was spellbound by Bellini’s almost uncanny ability to match music with text and psychology. Liszt and Chopin professed themselves fans’. Wagner intervened in typically magisterial terms in an esoteric but heated debate in Germany with a full justification of Bellini’s seemingly innocent works attesting that behind the purity of simple melody lay deep dramatic artistry.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi was composed in about 5 or 6 weeks, very hurriedly to commission although you would never know it, based not on Shakespeare but on other old Italian sources. Capuleti is Bellini’s first opera in his prime written before he was 30 years old, and within the five years following he composed SonnambulaI Puritani and Norma which remain as three of the most complete and inspired operas of the time. It was the first Bellini opera I conducted and it was in Catania’s aptly named Teatro Bellini with the well-known soprano Mariella Devia as Giulietta. A beautiful statue of the great man stands outside the theatre, such is the value placed on his legacy. Alas, the Bellini cocktail has nothing to do with him at all, but Pasta alla Norma, a Catanese dish based on aubergines certainly does, named by a Director who claimed that the aubergine dish was as sublime as Bellini’s opera, Norma. Heinrich Heine held Bellini in very high regard, and although he described him as ‘a sigh in dancing pumps’ is quoted as telling Bellini he was ‘a genius and all geniuses die a premature death, like Raphael and Mozart’, which apparently he took to heart. He did in fact die at the early age of 34, only two years short of Mozart’s life span, and we can only speculate in sadness and admiration about what great works might have followed if he had lived longer.

Stephen Barlow Artistic Director

So, as you can see the Festival has much to offer to honour ‘England’s national poet’ and ‘Bard of Avon’. Public booking opened on 29 March so be sure to get in early to avoid disappointment!

Internship programme 2016

Do you see yourself working in the arts? Want to gain some experience? Look no further!

In 2016 the placements will run from 4th July – 27th July in Buxton.  While the placements are unpaid we do provide simple accommodation in Buxton and £500 towards your food and travel expenses.

Being a Festival Intern can be a hugely rewarding experience that will help you on your way to a great job in the arts.  Past Festival Interns have gone on to work in a variety of settings including Wembley Arena, the Lowry Theatre and Buxton Festival!  Being a Festival Intern is also VERY hard work.  We are looking for enthusiastic, friendly, motivated people who will thrive on the long days, variety of roles and pressure of the Festival.

There are two types of internship available:

Festival Intern:

  • operating the Festival opera surtitles (some additional rehearsals w/c 24th June)
  • page-turning
  • stewarding events
  • front-of-house duties
  • venue set-up
  • general ‘running’
  • admin in the Festival office

Literary Series Intern:

  • venue set-up
  • front of house duties
  • liaising with authors
  • author meet and greet
  • general ‘running’
  • admin in the Festival office

You will have the chance to see as many Festival events as you can get to from world-class opera, to the best of UK chamber music to the famous faces of our literary series.

Competition for these exciting and rewarding roles is strong and places are limited.  If you would like to apply please send a CV and covering letter detailing which role you are applying for, and any relevant skills and experience you think you could bring to the role to lily@buxtonfestival.co.uk.

Closing date – 18th March 2015