Isabella Mackay and Ruby Featherstone hunt out some brave adventurers
Shrewsbury School, Shropshire
Old Salopian Adam Booth, 39, has now climbed Everest twice. Booth first made the famous journey in 2013 as expedition doctor on an expedition to mark the 60th anniversary of the first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.
At school, Booth joined the Rovers mountaineering club to climb Ben Nevis and Picos de Europa in Spain, writing vivid reports of his adventures for the school’s magazine. Keen to continue their spirit of adventure, Shrewsbury School has just appointed a Head of Adventure tasked with developing this tradition further by offering new and more varied opportunities for the students.
Other intrepid alumni: Globe-trotting documentary maker, actor and public speaker Sir Michael Palin and Andrew Irvine, who famously died in the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition with George Mallory.
Heathfield School, Berkshire
Rosie Stancer, 61, is eagerly anticipating her next expedition crossing the Aralkum desert in Eastern Europe delayed since 2020. The intrepid veteran of both north and south pole discovery has skied 1,000km solo to the South Pole and travelled alone over the vast and frozen Atlantic Ocean for 84 days. After self-amputating two frostbitten toes she finally called it a day just shy of the North Pole fearful for her pilots landing on treacherous melting ice.
Stancer, née Clayton, believes her ambition to prove herself, driving herself through the fear of failure to navigate jaw-dropping expeditions, stems from her desire not to feel like the ‘new girl’. ‘Without Heathfield,’ says Stancer, a cousin of the Queen, ‘I would never have contemplated becoming a polar explorer. I would have just watched others do it – much safer – but Heathfield girls are not observers of life.’
Sir Chris Bonington
UCS Hampstead, London
A holder of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire award, Octogenerian Sir Chris Bonington’s career includes nineteen expeditions to the Himalayas. His love of climbing started from a hitch-hiking expedition to Wales and inspired his school UCS Hampstead to create a climbing club. School wasn’t easy for Bonington as he struggled academically but the teaching was superb and imbued the explorer to leave school with the confidence to go on and conquer the world; he reached the summit of Everest in 1985.
Bonington still returns to UCS Hampstead as a speaker and notices they foster the same principles being keen to encourage independent thinking and the high quality of teaching.
Stamford High School, Lincolnshire
In November 2015, Sarah Outen, 35, completed her four and a half year long ‘London2London: Via the World’ challenge by rowing, cycling and kayaking around the entire Northern Hemisphere. Outen’s drive to succeed was fostered at her school, Stamford High School, through sport and the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
Failing was not on her ‘to-do’ list. An attitude which came in good stead when she surrendered herself and her trusty rowing boat, Happy Socks, to the flighty wiles of the ocean. She believes that as more emphasis is placed on the softer skills of emotional resilience, self-compassion and self-care, schools are crafting stronger cohorts of adults ready to take on the world.
Watch her video here.
Wellington College, Berkshire
Richard Wollocombe is a celebrated cinematographer, known for his work on Galápagos, Planet Earth II and Jangal. Wollacombe remembers Wellington College as being a competitive, supportive, and nurturing environment to grow up in, although sometimes challenging as an overseas boarder.
Wellington inspired him to develop the confidence, curiosity and critical thinking he needed to pursue his dreams while making good friends. Boarding allowed him to cultivate tolerance and broad-mindedness which ultimately opened up into career in Natural History and Conservation film making.
Other intrepid alumni: Award-winning photojournalist Rick Findler.
Cranleigh School, Surrey and Hurtwood House, Surrey
Having completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents and successfully rowed the Atlantic, Ted Jackson, 49, does not shy away from a challenge, nor a laugh. Jackson is planning a third go at the Marathon des Sables, a six-day 156-mile ultramarathon in Morocco, having previously tried to run it dressed as a camel.
He believes he owes his resilience and adventure to the annual 50-mile walk undertaken by the Lower Sixth in his house at Cranleigh. ‘Walking for 14+ hours teaches you how to just keep going’. Even lockdown didn’t stop him: he walked a jaw-dropping 100km around his garden in 24-hours with his youngest son. Jackson, who attended and works at Hurtwood House, is driven by the need to be creative and brave. He says you cannot be one without the other.
Charlie Walker, 34, is a renowned adventurer, writer and speaker, specialising in long-distance expeditions, and has travelled by bicycle, foot, horse and dugout canoe. Crediting his time at Bryanston to helping fuel his inquisitive mind, he set out to explore the world and its people from an early age.
He comments, ‘I have no doubt that Bryanston’s wonderful outdoors programme and its beautiful, extensive grounds helped nurture my adventurous spirit.’ Bryanston’s shop proudly contains several books written by Walker, aiming to encourage the school’s youngest explorers to follow their dreams.
Other intrepid alumni: TV celebrity and explorer, Ben Fogle.
Bear Grylls, 47, is a living legend in the world of adventure, survival and exploration; he has climbed into the carcass of a camel, drunk the moisture from elephant dung and his own urine from a snakeskin. His strength has come from his mistakes over the years, he says, as he learned things you just don’t get taught at school. An Old Etonian, there is much Bear wishes he knew before he joined the SAS and started his life of adventure.
Of his time at Eton College, he says, ‘there were people who were brilliant at school who were often disasters in life because they missed the one thing that really matters in life, which is called the fight.’ Bear undoubtedly has that fight and inspiration to triumph in anything he sets his mind to.
Other intrepid alumni: Polar explorer Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE, 77 and his friend, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, 85, the President of the charity Survival International is a veteran of over 30 ground-breaking expeditions who survived a 5 week covid-induced coma to trek up Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor.
Redmaids High School, Bristol
Belinda Kirk, 47, has walked across Nicaragua, searched for camels in China’s Desert of Death, pioneered expeditions for people with disabilities and rowed unsupported around the whole of Britain. Having attended Redmaids High School, she is now the founder of Explorers Connect, a social enterprise that connects people to opportunities for adventures and expeditions.
In 2010, she captained the first all-female rowing team to circumnavigate Britain non-stop, completing the journey in 52 days which was described by Richard Branson as ‘quite the most remarkable achievement carried out by any woman alive today. Absolutely magnificent both for mental and physical achievement bar none.’
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