Known as Poshpedlar to her 125,000 Instagram followers, Kathleen Hart’s heroines are as intrepid and inspiring as she is…
“Here I am, where I ought to be.” The words of Karen Blixen, whose first line, “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills” is one of the most well known first lines in literature.
So here I am, but maybe not quite where I ought to be, I’d like to be away, abroad, somewhere exotic perhaps, but the current chaos means I am sitting in my cottage, at the foot of the Galloway Hills in Scotland.
The cottage is named Devorgilla after a romantic Scottish Princess. A woman of the 13th century, fizzing with moxie and brimming with gumption, a little like the adventurers I have chosen to armchair travel with. Adventurers like Blixen, whose poignant memoir, Out of Africa, tells of her life in Kenya and the love she had for the land, culture and people. Her elegant prose takes us on a nostalgic journey, written on her return to her native Denmark after losing everything. Her memoir was published in 1937, at the age of 52.
Another intrepid adventurer also published her memoir at the age of 52. Nan Shepherd wrote The Living Mountain as a celebration of the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland. Hill walking was her passion, and the book, woven through with philosophy, field notes and memoir, takes us on a sensory exploration of a landscape she adored. Her description of wading into a remote, isolated loch, describing it as “one of the most defenceless moments of my life,” resonates. As a sea swimmer I understand completely the vulnerability and sense of aloneness she recounts. I’m yet to immerse myself in a Scottish loch, but having read Shepherd’s account, I will be doing so soon. Nan wore thick-nailed mountain shoes as she strode out on her sorties, similar to those worn by another favourite hill dweller, Heidi.
“With her feet encased in heavy hob-nailed boots, this hot and shapeless little person toiled up the mountain”. A mountain in the Swiss Alps to be exact and the setting for this charming story [Heidi] of a young orphan sent to live with her truculent grandfather. I read it over and over to my own daughter when she was little … warm goat’s milk, toasted cheese, straw beds, flower-strewn slopes and cow bells. Who wouldn’t want to visit Switzerland in summer having read Johanna Spyri’s wonderful tale? Spyri was another author coming into her own in her 50s. Which leads me to my final armchair travel adventurer and author, and another woman familiar with mountain life.
Gertrude Bell, who survived for 53 hours hanging from a rope on the north east face of the Finsteraarhorn during a blizzard, and whose letters from Baghdad are a fascinating insight to the early days of the Middle East.
“I had a well-spent morning at the office making out the southern frontier of the Iraq.” Bell wrote to her father in 1921. Cartography was just one of many strings to her bow. She was the first woman to win a first class degree in history at Oxford, she was an intrepid mountaineer, learnt Persian, taught herself archaeology and her thousands of photographs and letters home tell of her challenging life in the desert, and how she came to be known as the Queen of Arabia. It would appear that we can’t always be on top of the mountain, but it’s never too late to give it a go.
Devorgilla Days: A Memoir of Hope and Healing by Kathleen Hart is published by Two Roads on May 27.
After an agonisingly protracted recovery from breast surgery, Hart recuperated by buying a small cottage in Wigtown (the book capital of Scotland), which she named Devorgilla. Her book is an inspiring tale – a celebration of community,?wild swimming, and a call-to-arms for anyone who has ever dreamt of starting over.
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