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Sunday, 11 January 2015


Pytheas  (380 – c. 310 BC), an explorer from the Greek city of Massilia (now Marseilles), voyaged north up the European coast, before veering west to visit Cornwall, where he described the trade in tin. He then sailed up the west coast of Britain and continued beyond it for six days to reach a land which he called Thule. At midsummer the sun never set, and beyond there the sea was frozen. As a result of this report Thule became for all Greek and Roman geographers the most northerly place in the world. Though often considered to be an island in antiquity, modern interpretations of what was meant by Thule often identify it as Norway.

Born into a family of Islamic legal scholars in Tangier, Morocco, 21-year-old Ibn Battuta set off on June 13, 1325  on pilgrimage to Mecca. Rather than taking the usual 16 months, he traveled for 24 years, exploring Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Developing the travel bug, he became one of the world's foremost explorers, touring India, China and the Horn of Africa.

Ibn Battuta. An illustration from Jules Verne's book "Découverte de la terre" 

Dutch navigator and cartographer. Willem Barents (1550-1597) was pilot to several Dutch expeditions in search of the Northeast Passage and responsible for the discovery and charting of the Spitsbergen group of islands. On his final journey, Barents' ship became trapped in the ice and the crew had to winter on the island of Novaya Zemlya in a hut built from parts of the ship (the ‘Behouden Huys’). He died on the return journey in 1597.

In 1854, Sir John Franklin and his crew of 128 men on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror disappeared as they searched for the elusive Northwest Passage across the Canadian Arctic, creating one of the world’s greatest naval mysteries. In 2014, Erebus was found, but Terror is still missing.

Ranulph Fiennes (b March 7, 1944) is regarded as the world’s greatest living explorer. He was the first person to visit both the North and South Poles by surface means and the first to completely cross Antarctica on foot. After getting severe frostbite during an expedition in 2000, back home he sawed off his fingertips to avoid a £6,000 operation.


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