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

BBC #LovetoRead campaign

Back in May, the BBC launched its #LovetoRead campaign to celebrate reading for pleasure and to ignite a national conversation about books and words. Over the summer, the BBC have partnered with a variety of leading literacy organisations to promote the campaign, encouraging us to share our favourite books and what they mean to us, and to inspire others to love reading too. At the Festival, we have been joining in on the conversation online through Twitter and Facebook. Here, Lucy, Robbie and Lily share their favourite books. Stay tuned for the second instalment!

Lucy – The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I discovered this book when I was immersed in all things beautiful while studying History of Art. It was probably the importance of concept of beauty that prevails throughout that appealed to me, or possibly the fact that I felt a New England College would quite suit me…but either way I have adored this book since my first reading. Set in a picturesque New England College, the story is about a small group of eccentric and rather conceited Classics students whose obsessions with the mythological worlds they are studying lead them to experiment in ways that are initially light-hearted and amusing but soon become far more dangerous. The contrast between their beautiful surroundings and the romanticism of the language and myths they are studying is in stark contrast to the darker plot that unfolds which makes this book completely gripping and a little unsettling.   

Robbie – The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

It was a hard job to choose between John Irving’s novels – should I go for A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According To Garp, A Widow for One Year, Until I Find You? In the end, it had to be The Hotel New Hampshire, a typically sprawling saga of an eccentric family, filled with recurrent Irving themes (private school, Vienna, bears, wrestling, sex and death) as well as his trademark black humour and sudden heartbreaking poignancy. I first read it in my early 20s and it’s stayed with me ever since.

Lily – A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I can remember reading The Kite Runner as part of my English Literature GCSE and I was completely bowled over by it. A Thousand Splendid Suns is equally powerful. In both books, you feel like you are there witnessing the story unfold right in front of you. Hosseini engages with all your senses – you can taste the food, you can feel the heat, you can hear the characters and feel their pain and heartache. Suns explores the relationship between two Afghan women married to the same man, and their resilience and strength during the rise of the Taliban. It’s a fantastic book that I have read again and again, and each time fills me with emotion and admiration for the two women – themes that continue to resonate with today.











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 favourites

As the Buxton Festival Book Weekend is now less than two months away(!), the Festival team decided to share which events they are looking forward to this year.

“I’m very much looking forward to the Book Weekend this year with the added bonus of having some opera available to attend too! English Touring Opera will be performing one of my favourite operas, The Return of Ulysses by Monteverdi on the opening day of the Weekend this year.  And then on Saturday afternoon one of my favourite speakers, Matthew Parris will be giving us another one of his entertaining talks. I love listening to Matthew’s programme Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 which he delivers brilliantly and it is always a joy to hear him speak at the Festival. A lovely autumnal weekend of culture in a beautiful spa town – what more could you ask for?!” Lee Barnes Administrator

“As a Derbyshire farmer’s daughter who has many memories of being in and driving Land Rovers I am of course looking forward to Ben Fogle’s talk on Friday evening! The Mary Queen of Scots talk will be the first official event in the newly refurbished Pump Room in The Crescent – a little historic event for Buxton and the Festival!” Liz Mackenzie PR & Press Manager

“I first met Helen Keen in 2008 when I reviewed her show It Is Rocket Science at the Buxton Fringe. In it, she managed the unique trick of being engaging, informative, educational and very funny, as she told the history of manned space travel. The show was a hit, not just in Buxton, but wherever it was performed, leading to it being expanded into a series on BBC Radio 4. I was thrilled to see that Helen had her first book out, using the popularity of TV series Game of Thrones as a jumping off point to look at the scientific and historical questions it throws up in her own unique style. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones myself, but I know that won’t matter – looking back on my review of her Buxton debut I wrote: ‘Helen herself has a highly engaging personality and such an obvious enthusiasm that the audience cannot fail to be captivated.’” Robbie Carnegie Marketing & Web Manager

“As a Tudor fanatic, particularly Elizabeth I, I am really interested to hear David Templeman’s talk on the Queen’s Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart (or Mary Queen of Scots). Mary (like Josephine Wilkinson’s talk on Katherine Howard at the 2016 Festival) is largely a misunderstood character who really had a sad and unfortunate personal life. I am also looking forward to William Sitwell’s talk on Lord Woolton who was Minister for Food during WW2. I’m also a Game of Thrones fan (though I’m still on season 3 – need to hurry and catch up!) so I’m interested to hear Helen Keen on Saturday afternoon.” Lily Bracegirdle Artists & Engagement Manager

“I really like the line-up for the Literary Lunch on Sunday. Matthew Dennison who will be talking about the life of Beatrix Potter (it’s also the 150th anniversary of her birth), which is complemented nicely by Marina Warner’s book about fairy tale and Clare Hartwell’s book which looks at the landscape and history of Derbyshire.” Lucy Durack Development Director

“I’m so excited for the book weekend this November as it encompasses all my favourite things – food, heritage, poetry and Derbyshire! I’m particularly looking forward to seeing The Odditorium on Saturday evening, I’ve been listening to David Bramwell’s podcasts (http://www.drbramwell.com/podcasts/) and I can’t wait for him and the other speakers to introduce their wonderfully eccentric characters from history. I’m also looking forward to buying all my Christmas presents early at the Waterstones pop-up shop!” Claire Barlow Literary & Outreach Manager


Kathryn Harkup and Hugh Fraser at Buxton Festival 2016

This year, we welcomed Kathryn Harkup and Hugh Fraser to the 2016 Buxton Festival to talk about Agatha Christie and the poisons she uses in her novels. Still not sure whether to buy Kathryn’s book or missed Waterstones at this year’s Festival? Take a look at this lovely review by Anna Caig who attended the talk.

My sister and I went to see Kathryn Harkup speak about this book at the Buxton festival, in conversation with Hugh Fraser who played Captain Hastings in the BBC David Suchet Poirot adaptations. Murder geek heaven. I have to admit that most of the people I spoke to about my plans for that afternoon seemed to think that going to a talk on the use of poisons in the novels of Agatha Christie was an unusual and surprising way to spend my time. Even those who enjoy Christie do not necessarily want to indulge in this level of specialist exploration of plot minutiae. In the words of my brother-in-law’s friend who was visiting them for the weekend: “Wow, your wife has some pretty niche interests.”…

 Read the full review here.

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!