Royal send-off for trek across Arabian desert in British explorer's footsteps

2 months ago 29

By Frank Gardner
BBC information correspondent

Harry St John Philby successful  Jeddah successful  the aboriginal  20th CenturyImage source, Philby family

Image caption,

Harry St John Philby's ngo earned him a Founder's Medal from the Royal Geographical Society

The Princess Royal has launched a daunting godforsaken expedition to transverse the Arabian Peninsula from seashore to seashore - her archetypal nationalist engagement since the ceremonial of her parent Queen Elizabeth II.

The Heart of Arabia expedition volition retrace the 1,300km (813-mile) travel taken by the aboriginal 20th Century explorer Harry St John Philby, from the tiny sportfishing colony of al-Uqair, connected the Gulf, each the mode crossed the Arabian plateau to the Red Sea larboard of Jeddah.

The team, led by the seasoned British explorer Mark Evans, volition beryllium joined by Philby's Saudi granddaughter Reem erstwhile it sets disconnected successful mid-November, precisely 100 years aft Philby's ain epic trek.

"He is considered by many," says Mr Evans, "as 1 of the top aboriginal explorers of Arabia. He not lone acceptable retired crossed uncharted land, but took clip to grounds everything helium saw."

Reem Philby has spoken of being drawn to "the stillness and changeless question of the godforsaken astatine the aforesaid time".

"Just observing however quality controls everything successful harmony and however we are the ones that person to adapt, makes 1 precise humble."

Travelling solely connected ft and by camel, the squad purpose to honour the representation of her grandfather, who was awarded the Founder's Medal by the Royal Geographical Society for the ground-breaking technological information helium gathered on his route, documenting a portion of the satellite that was mostly chartless to anyone extracurricular the portion astatine the time. He was presented the medal by King George V.

Image source, Philby family

Image caption,

Harry St John Philby converted to Islam and became a trusted advisor to archetypal king of modern Saudi Arabia

Harry St John Philby was sent to Arabia during World War One to assistance T E Lawrence, besides known arsenic "Lawrence of Arabia", successful his efforts to muster Arab absorption to Ottoman Turkish rule.

The travel helium undertook resulted successful caller maps being drawn up, based connected the elaborate notes of everything helium observed, from section wildlife specified arsenic chaotic gazelles, to adjacent a immense crater near by a meteorite.

On arriving successful Riyadh, which was astatine the clip a tiny, dust-blown godforsaken colony alternatively than the sprawling metropolis it is today, helium met the tribal person Ibn Saud who went connected to go King Abdulaziz, the archetypal king of modern Saudi Arabia. Philby, who impressed his hosts by dressing and eating arsenic they did, converted to Islam and became a trusted advisor to Ibn Saud.

Philby had a lad by his archetypal matrimony - the infamous Kim Philby, who betrayed a database of MI6 concealed agents successful Eastern Europe to the Russians during the 1950s and 60s, sending untold numbers to their deaths earlier helium fled to Moscow successful 1963.

But successful the Middle East, Harry Philby is remembered astir for his relationship with Ibn Saud and his ground-breaking godforsaken travels.

The searing heat, blinding sun, and arid winds that parch the pharynx and tin thrust soil and grit into the eyes, marque the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula a pugnacious spot to past in. I person witnessed for myself the panic of a Bedouin household connected discovering that a lethally venomous saw-scaled viper had slithered into their camp.

Yet determination is thing astir this inhospitable scenery that keeps drafting successful British explorers.

Richard Burton, Charles Doughty, T E Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and Wilfred Thesiger each endured immense carnal hardship successful their quest to find thing successful the deserts of Arabia that was missing successful their ain country. Thesiger, successful particular, spoke of the enduring friendship, loyalty and generosity of the tribesmen helium travelled with.

Image source, Matthew Tomkinson

Image caption,

Princess Anne visited the Royal Geographic Society connected Tuesday for the ceremonial motorboat of the expedition

Unknown to immoderate who gathered astatine the Royal Geographical Society successful London connected Tuesday for the ceremonial motorboat of the Heart of Arabia expedition, its patron Princess Anne has ever been a keen instrumentality of some geography and voyages of discovery.

She spoke with large enthusiasm astir the value of inspiring a younger procreation with the discoveries that journeys similar Philby's tin bring.

"How did radical unrecorded successful the situation that helium crossed?" she asked rhetorically. "What was antithetic astir it? And actually, what's possibly adjacent much important successful modern terms, is to recognize however overmuch has changed, [compared to] what existed before."

Heart of Arabia is owed to acceptable disconnected from conscionable southbound of Bahrain connected 15 November.

After pausing successful the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the squad volition trek westwards for the much arduous portion of the travel to Jeddah. Winter connected that exposed, elevated and treeless plateau of cardinal Arabia tin bring bitter winds and adjacent sometimes snow. The going underfoot tin besides beryllium arduous, varying from black, volcanic larval stone to shifting, treacherous sand.

The expedition is expected to instrumentality astir 5 weeks successful total.

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