Ran and Ginny Fiennes – why?

DSCF0299The foreword to the book is by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’ (seen in the picture above with two Magura friends).

The connection is through Ran’s first wife, Ginny, who is the author’s sister. The final chapter of the book describes Ginny’s final illness and early death at 56; the reason for including such a personal period of the author’s life is that it was Ginny’s bequest that led to the purchase of the house in Magura.

2nd September 2019 was the 40th anniversary of the Transglobe Expedition’s departure from London on the first attempt to circumnavigate the world along the Greenwich Meridian, over South and North Poles, over land and sea. The expedition was Ginny’s idea, and not only did she do much of the planning and organisation, but became the expedition’s communications expert – which meant spending a year in Antarctica, much of it with only her Jack Russell terrier Bothie for company. The expedition succeeded, arriving back in Greenwich three years later, in 1982. It set the benchmark for modern exploration and remains unique in its achievements.

To mark the occasion, the Transglobe Expedition Trust had a remarkable reunion at the Royal Geographical Society’s HQ in London. Part of the celebrations was the inauguration of Ginny’s Hut, a replica of Ginny’s science hut (she also had a radio hut and a living hut) made of Triwall cardboard to withstand storm force winds and temperatures that freeze human flesh in less than 60 seconds. But the replica hut had to be made from wood, since Triwall wouldn’t withstand the English damp. Arabella spoke at the inauguration before Ran snipped a ribbon. She also suggested that the fox resident in the RGS garden should be christened Bothie in  memory of a remarkable dog…

Sir Ranulph his wife Virginia and their dog Bothy

Here is Ran’s foreword to the book:

“Some of us explore the physical world, tackle the challenges of climate and natural hazards, and push the limits of physical endurance. While the goals seem daunting, with meticulous planning, a good team and a mulish dislike of giving up, even the world’s most unkind obstacles can be conquered. To me, the task of exploring the inner world, plunging into the darker realms of one’s psyche, is something much more unpleasant to contemplate.

There are no charts of the mind, no-one can come with you on the journey, and time has no meaning there. Rather like Transylvania in 2004, when my sister-in-law decided to make the southern Carpathians her home. Google Maps showed only a fuzzy green blanket where Arabella planned to live. When much of the world was photographed from space in intricate detail, the Carpathians were still a place of mystery.

When I first went to Transylvania to visit Arabella, my daily run from Măgura down to Bran and back reminded me very much of my teenage years running wild in the beech woods and chalk downs of West Sussex with Abbs’s sister Ginny and brothers George and Charles. I don’t think Abbs was even born at the time of our earliest adventures.

Ginny and I continued to explore, through the 45 years of our life together, on journeys that no-one else had taken before. But the hardest path I’ve ever had to follow – long and terrifyingly lonely – was trying to find a way through the grief of Ginny’s illness and early death. We are all condemned to travel this path at some stage in our lives, and everyone deals with bereavement the best way they can; I sank myself into work and relied on friends while Abbs left everything familiar and moved to Romania to live alone in the Carpathian Mountains.

I hate being alone and cannot understand why anyone would choose to live a solitary life, let alone one so distant from relatives, friends and familiar culture. I have taken solo journeys, but that’s my job, and I do so with a great deal of planning and support from a trusted team. For Abbs to launch herself into the haze of Central Europe in her mid-50s, having to pick up the skills of a bygone rural life after three decades in urban England, seemed reckless, to say the least. But for the second time she has shown that she can make a success of radical change.

Leaving London for Liverpool in the 1980s appeared to be a bizarre choice, but Abbs saw the potential, and played her part in helping Liverpool transform itself into one of Britain’s coolest cities. Now she has done it again, spotting the lustre beneath a tarnished image. The mysterious region of Transylvania has now, a decade after Abbs claimed her stake in it, become one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Not only that, but Abbs found one of the most beautiful villages in the whole country. She’d say it was by luck, not judgement – but Ginny had this same talent for finding a piece of paradise in the most unlikely places, and would, I know, be full of admiration for her little sister’s brave move.

And it was brave, whatever Abbs may say. She might not be an explorer of the world’s extremities, as her sister was, but she has been on a journey through the unmapped regions of the inner world at the same time as charting a whole new area of her life in Romania.

Reading about how Abbs has used solitude and time to find a depth of understanding of life and her own place in the world can give us all a map for our own inward journeys, if we have the courage to embark on such a path.”


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