For me, one of the best things about travel is the finding of stories. Stories that inspire me to travel in the first place and the ones I find on the road that capture my imagination. I’m particularly fascinated when I come across stories where the main player is a woman. Being the month of International Women’s Day, I thought it a fitting month to write about some of the women I’ve found along the way and their stories. Kicking off with trip right up North to…
Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, Stromness was an important place for whaling ships. It was a popular port of call to recruit crewmen and take on fresh supplies. The Orkney town was also home to to the formidable Margaret Humphrey; midwife, nurse and mother to thirteen children.
Whaling was a dirty and dangerous business, and it didn’t always end well. Ships could become trapped in Arctic ice, leaving the crew icebound and at the mercy of frostbite and scurvy. In 1836, 28 sailors made it back to Stromness who had suffered this exact fate. They found a place to call home and recover thanks to ‘Mrs Humphrey’s House’ .
Mrs Humphrey converted her home into a make shift hospital and oversaw the nursing of the whaler men . Little is known about the woman or her work, but the house she opened as a hospital is now marked with a blue plaque.
Modern day Stromness is a creative and friendly community, home to a world renowned arts centre and host of many festivals across the year. Read about my visit here and get all the up-to-date information you’d need to plan your own trip here.
Spetses, Greek Islands.
Laskarina Bouboulina was a woman with grit. The daughter of a sea captain, she was born into turbulent times and lived a life shaped by conflict and the high seas. Mother to six children, she married twice but lost both husbands to battles at sea. Her circumstances were probably not unusual for those times. How she played the hand she was dealt is.
Upon the death of her second husband she took over his trading business, built a fortune and fought off representatives of the Ottoman Empire who were chasing her assets. She joined an underground organisation fighting for Greek independence, built an eighteen cannon warship and headed up naval blockades. As if that wasn’t enough, she also roamed Greece on horseback transporting money and supplies to rebels. When her son fell in battle, she travelled onto the battlefield to collect his remains and then personally executed three Ottoman prisoners as part of his funeral. You wouldn’t mess with this woman.
After an eventful and colourful life defined by conflict, Laskarina was shot dead in a family feud. She travelled all over Greece fighting for freedom, but Speteses was the place she called home.
The island still honours her, from the square that carries her name to the museum in her former home. And when you look at this archetypal small Greek island, just a few hours from Athens, you can see why she thought it all so worth fighting for.
Edlesborough, Chilterns ANOB, Buckinghamshire
If you’re looking for quintessential rolling English countryside, dotted with market towns and scattered with tucked away villages, this could be the one for you. Despite being a short distance and easily accessible by car or train from London, this part of England remains very rural. It’s full of lovely views, old drovers routes, ancient churches and fascinating people.
You’ll find two of the latter in Edlesborough, a rural community sitting in the North of the Chiltern Hills. The village is dominated by the impressive Church of St Mary, perched on a chalk mound with views across the Chilterns and the Vale of Aylesbury. What makes this medieval church a little different, is that you can rent it overnight. This was the place we had our first ever Champing adventure. It was because I went to spend the night in the church on the hill, I ‘met’ Bridget Elizabeth Talbot.
A short walk from the church up a country lane, I came across this understated stone tribute. I’ve already devoted a whole post to Bridget Elizabeth Talbot and I’d love you to give it a read. She was a campaigner , humanitarian worker and inventor. She invented a water tight torch for sailors and successfully campaigned to have it made compulsory kit for the forces.
Born into a wealthy, well connected family I’m sure she could have married well and filled her days with gentle entertaining and country pursuits. But she didn’t. She campaigned tirelessly her whole life and worked her connections to make life better for others. She was an agitator, but for good causes. I salute that.
Bamburgh & The Northumberland Coast, North East England
Bamburgh- a coastal town in the heart of Northumberland. Keeper of rich history, some amazing stretches of coast line and a beautiful castle. As if that wasn’t enough, also home to the Grace Darling Museum.
Grace Darling, daughter of a light house keeper, became one on the Victorian era’s most celebrated heroines when she risked her life to rescue stranded survivors of a steamship that had run aground in the rocky waters between the mainland and the rocky Farne Islands.
Realising that it was too stormy to launch the lifeboats, and that survivors were unlikely to be able to hold on, Darling and her father took a traditional rowing boat ( known as a Northumberland Coble) and rowed out to them. Using their knowledge of local waters, the pair were able to travel a mile long route that kept them on the sheltered side of the islands. They rescued nine people.
Grace Darling died of tuberculosis just four years later. She is buried in the church yard of St Aidan’s in Bamburgh, where a monument depicting her sleeping effigy clasping an oar also stands. The church itself features a stained glass window in her memory.
Visitors to Bamburgh today can explore the castle, beautiful coastal walks and beaches. For the more traditional seaside town experience, head into neighbouring Seahouses. As well as fish and chips and amusements , this is where you can pick up a boat trip to the neighbouring Farne Islands. Hopefully there’ll be no Grace Darling style rescue required. Just a good sailing to enjoy the views and wild life, which often includes some very curious grey seals.
Well-behaved women rarely make history.Eleanor Roosevelt
I’d intended to publish this post on International Women’s Day, but real life got in the way. I’ve posted it anyway, because I think women’s stories should be told. Especially when they are as impressive as this bunch. Tell me about a woman who you think should be celebrated. Drop a story or a link in the comments. Let’s see how many stories we can share.