2014/2015 Lectures

7th October 2014

The Wild Within

Simon Yates

Simon YatesIn a career spanning nearly thirty years Simon Yates’ climbing and travelling has taken him from Alaska in the west to Australia in the east, from the Canadian Arctic in the north to the tip of South America. He first came to prominence as a mountaineer in 1985 after the first ascent of the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes and the ensuing epic descent described in Joe Simpson’s book ‘Touching the Void’.

For the last ten years Simon has climbed in some of the worlds most remote, uninhabited and inaccessible mountain ranges. This period has been the most productive of his mountaineering career with notable first ascents in The Cordillera Darwin in Tierra del Fuego, The Wrangell St-Elias on the Alaskan-Yukon border and in Eastern Greenland.  Simon took the audience on a journey to these remarkable places and shared with them the drama, excitement and beauty of modern exploratory mountaineering.

21st October 2014

The Remote Himalayan Kingdom of Zanskar

Rosamund and John Macfarlane

RosamundMacfarlaneZanskar is a rarely visited hidden valley high (13,000 feet)  in the Indian Himalayas.  It is cut off by snow for 8 months each winter, when the only access is the dangerous route along the frozen Chadar river.  In 2012 Rosamund and John organised a 2-week trek through the valley during the brief summer months in the company of a Zanskari friend, whose family still live in Zanskar in the tiny valley of Testa.  This allowed them a unique insight into the people, culture and landscapes of this remarkable remote area.  Leaving the valley at its eastern end they had to cross the 18,000 foot Phirtse La pass, which brought them into even wilder terrain, only populated by itinerant yak herders.

4th November 2014

Higher Ground: My life as a Mountain Guide

Martin Moran

Martin Moran - Lyngen Alps editedThis talk features memorable highlights from Martin’s 30 years as a guide – including Scotland, the Alps, Norway and the Himalaya.  His anecdotes focused on the most memorable climbs (Cuillin Traverse, Old Man of Hoy, Matterhorn, Eiger and Himalayan first ascents), the many wonderful characters that have been his clients, and the ridiculous and often hilarious situations that he has encountered.

18th November 2014

The Bridge on the River Kwai – Truth or Fiction

Julie Summers

JulieSummersThis talk focuses on the similarities and differences between the film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ and the historical reality of the building of the bridge at Tamarkan in 1942. It looks at the personality of Colonel Nicholson, played in an Oscar winning performance by Alec Guinness, and that of Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey. Did the prisoners whistle Colonel Bogey? Did they help or hinder the Japanese when designing and building the bridge? The talk explores other parts of the life and career of Lieutenant Toosey.

2nd December 2014

ss Great Britain – From Launch to ‘Re-Launch’

Ian Caskie

SS Great Britain editedIn building SS Great Britain, the second of his three great ships, Brunel successfully combined and adapted the very best cutting-edge technologies to create the world’s first transatlantic liner – a true wonder of the Victorian age.

She was the first ocean-going steamship with an iron hull, and the first driven by a propeller. This extraordinary ship, launched in 1843 as the largest and fastest afloat, transformed shipbuilding and sea travel for ever.

Ian was born and raised on Merseyside, where he spent many an hour watching the arrivals and departures at Liverpool’s busy Pier Head in the 1950’s and 60’s. This led to his lifelong passion for ships, especially ocean liners.  He has been a Visitor Services volunteer with the SS Great Britain Trust since 2007.

Ian’s illustrated talk tells the ship’s remarkable story from her original design through the different phases of her working life. It also describes her incredible salvage and return to Bristol in 1970, and finally her restoration, preservation and ‘re-launch’ as a multi-award winning museum of international renown.

13th January 2015

A Balkan Adventure

John Pilkington

John Pilkington 1In 2013 John spent five months exploring the Balkan mountains from Trieste to Istanbul. This part of Europe has always fascinated him and he visited Yugoslavia briefly in the 1970s, since when they’ve abandoned communism, suffered brutal conflicts, and taken small steps towards coming together with the rest of Europe. In Bosnia and Kosovo he found people still traumatised, but many were working hard to create a peaceful future. For instance, in the ominously named ‘Accursed Mountains’ Albania has joined Kosovo and Montenegro in an inspirational new project called the Balkans Peace Park. He spent three weeks in this fabulous range, walking freely back and forth between the three countries amongst people who were working together to overcome the horrors of the past.

Continuing south and east through the mountains, John met people in the remotest villages of Macedonia and Bulgaria. The route then took him to the River Evros, where Greece meets Turkey and migrants attempt to dodge European Union border guards. As summer turned to autumn he reached Istanbul – capital of two empires each lasting 1,000 years – and finally the Bosporus, where Europe gives way to Asia.

27th January 2015

Power from the Lakeland Fells

Andrew Lowe

Andrew Lowe editedA look at the industries in the Lake District that depended on water power, a renewable resource that has powered industry for the last thousand years.  Andrew goes on to consider ways that water power could be used in modern society.




10th February 2015

What really happened on Easter Island?

Paul Bahn

Easter Island

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is the most isolated piece of permanently inhabited land on the planet, and yet it produced a most extraordinary Stone Age culture: hundreds of sophisticated coastal stone platforms, more than a thousand enormous stone statues, the richest rock art in the Pacific, and a unique writing system.  This talk gave an introduction to the history of the discovery of this culture; to its principal features.  It looked at what the island’s archaeology, oral traditions and, more recently, palaeobotanical evidence have combined to teach us about the island’s cultural rise and decline, its environmental crisis, and the lessons all this can teach us about how we look after the Earth as a whole.


24th February 2015

The Red Wolves of Ethiopia

Pollyanna Pickering

Red Wolves

Pollyanna Pickering’s expedition to find the rarest wolf in the world.  Abyssinian wolves are an elegant, long-legged species of wolf found only in a handful of scattered remote mountains in Ethiopia, living at almost 5,000 metres above sea level.  This illustrated talk was a humorous and gripping account of Pollyanna’s quest to sketch one of the least known and rarest animals in the world.


10th March 2015

The Holocaust

Steven Frank

Steven Frank
Born in Amsterdam in 1935, Steven and his family remained in Holland at the outbreak of the war.  His family survived both a transit camp and later a concentration camp in Theresienstadt (close to Prague) in what was then  Czechoslovakia.  Liberated by the Russian Army after the war had ended, Steven is now one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors.  He shared his incredible and riveting story with us.