I was browsing through iPlayer the other night, looking for something quick and easy to watch. I came across this documentary and it peaked my interest.
The lack of camera filters, rudimentary kit used and the “get stuck in” British approach, without the health and safety nonsense that might normally follow this sort of program, would be refreshing.
I think it might have been filmed in 1973, shown in 1974 and featured the Simpsons family as they were dropped into the middle of Greenland with supplies and four canoes. That’s two parents, four children (aged between 5-12 at a guess) a three man BBC film unit and a load of supplies to keep them all going for at least three weeks.
It turns out this family didn’t do normal family holidays. The father, Hugh Simpson, was introduced as an experienced polar explorer who spent three years in Antarctica and led an expedition to the North Pole. The mother, Myrtle, was described as a “tough explorer”. It’s hard to not notice the dismissive sexism in old TV shows but when it came to find out more I was pretty much blown away by Myrtle.
Turns out she is more than just a tough explorer. While I have no doubt about Hugh’s achievements, Myrtle was a pioneer of skiing and guiding in Scotland and key to setting up Glencoe, Cairngorm and Nevis Range ski centres. Its thought she may have been one of the first official mountain guides on Ben Nevis, guiding clients up Tower Ridge. She travelled to New Zealand to continue her climbing and then planned an expedition to Peru where she met Hugh. It was here they climbed six new peaks and were the first UK climbers to reach the summit of the 22,000ft Huascaran on a new route.
They married in 1959 and it was while planning an expedition to Spitsbergen in the Arctic that Myrtle found out she was pregnant. Rather than stay behind like a “dutiful wife” of the times they went with a six week old baby. She was the first person to ski across Greenland and attempted to ski to the north pole, eventually reaching the most northerly point for a woman at the time. Bear in mind that all this in a period of time when being outdoors and exploring was predominately seen as a boys own club. What an awesome lady.
This expedition found the Simpson family travel from Glasgow to Greenland, where they would attempt to canoe down the waterways of Lake Tasersiaq, over the Arctic Circle to Sondre Stromfjord.
This was certainly no package holiday to Majorca. I wonder how much say the children actually had in this or if they were simply dragged along. From watching they appeared enthusiastic enough to be there and were old hats at it all.
The expedition starts off well and we pass some lovely scenery as they paddle gently along. The whole family act as a team to make camp, prepare food and eat. The children are allowed to make a fire and cook on it. Its all about teaching them self sufficiency and responsibility.
After 5 days, they stop to make camp and decide to climb a nearby mountain because its there and want to see what lies ahead. The parents allow the children to make decisions on how to approach the mountain and the irony wasn’t lost on me when the children argue who was first up, while forgetting that the camera man was standing there filming them from the top.
The team (they’re more than just a family) reach a point where they have to portage because of the tide working against them. They all carry the canoes and kit for over a mile, making a few journeys, to progress. Later still they find two small lakes they were meant to go over were still frozen so have to find an alternative route on foot.
They abandon two canoes and head off, portaging two canoes and carrying other equipment across land. They find old Eskimo settlements along the way and allow the children to canoe short parts where they can to make transporting some of the equipment and supplies easier.
In the end, after three weeks, they make it to the destination and spend time with Eskimos. This allows their children to learn about another culture and share customs.
I’ve blogged before about getting kids outdoors and this film, from a long time gone by, certainly buys into that principle. It shows how it can work and the positive impact it can have if you allow your children to be empowered.
I got to thinking as I watched it. I wondered who was still alive and surely it was ripe for a follow up. I’d love to find out how these types of holidays and experiences helped shape what the children would become. Had they passed on this approach and experience to their own families and what did they actually think looking back.
And as a final thought, how it would be pretty cool to try and recreate the journey with the children now as adults. Sounds stupid but I got all this from watching a TV program over 40 years old, before I was even born.