Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Scots of the Antarctic

March 12th, 2016

DSC03266IN PURSUIT of family history I have discovered that dogs are not allowed in the Antarctic.

My great-uncle Thomas B Whitson (Uncle Toby) was an Edinburgh accountant and friend of William Speirs Bruce, naturalist, polar scientist and oceanographer – Scotland’s most eminent and Britain’s least known polar explorer.

Bruce was already an experienced polar scientist when the purpose-built polar expedition ship RRS Discovery was launched from the yard of Dundee Shipbuilders Ltd in 1901. Despite his obvious polar credentials, his efforts to join Commander (as he then was) Scott’s 1901-1904 British National Antarctic Expedition, were thwarted.

Undeterred, Bruce set out to organise and lead a Scottish National Antarctic Expedition. Raising the necessary funds privately, mainly from the Coates thread family of Paisley, he converted a Norwegian whaler to a fully equipped research ship for polar exploration, which he renamed Scotia. Her master was Captain Thomas Robertson of Newport-on-Tay and the crew was made up of Dundee and Peterhead whaling men.

Polar exploration
The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition 1902-1904, sailed from Troon on 2nd November 1902 to undertake scientific work in the South Orkney Islands and the Weddell Sea. Perhaps as a poke in the eye for the British National expedition which had so lightly dismissed him, but certainly to emphasise the inherent Scottishness of his own expedition, Bruce ordered the Scottish Saltire and Lion Rampant flags to be flown from Scotia’s mast-heads.

Scotia completed her provisioning at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands before heading south to the spend six weeks charting the Weddell Sea. But, with the Antarctic summer almost over, it was essential to find a secure anchorage to see out the ice-bound winter.

A protected anchorage, subsequently named Scotia Bay, was found on the south side of Laurie Island, one of the South Orkney Islands, on 25th March 1903. The South Orkneys are so named because they are on the same latitude south as the latitude north of the Scottish Orkneys.

How does all this tie in with my family research?

Polar cape
It has long been the practise of explorers to name newly discovered territories and their geographical features after royalty, sponsors, members of expeditions and friends and relatives. Thus Cape Robertson on Laurie Island is named for Scotia’s captain, Thomas Robertson. Honouring the Coats brothers, his expedition’s main sponsors, Bruce named the south-eastern coast of the Weddell Sea, Coats Land.

In appreciation of his friend and accountant Thomas B Whitson’s contribution to the expedition as Honorary Treasurer, Bruce named a peninsula on Laurie Island, Cape Whitson.

My father told me the story when I was about twelve and it has lain in my subconscious since. Now I’d like to know more about the family’s geographical prominence in the Southern Ocean.

Our son Robert, who factors Ardverikie estate in Highland Badenoch, met Amy Kincaid working at Corrour Station House and restaurant on neighbouring Corrour estate. The station and restaurant are very remote and can only be reached by train or a twenty mile trek.

Amy goes in for isolation. In 2014/15, as one of a team of four, she worked for the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (visit looking after the base at Port Lockroy, described as little bigger than a football pitch, on Goudier Island on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The season lasts only for the Antarctic summer, from November to March, when the weather is open enough for cruise ships and a number of hardy yachtsmen to call at the remote former whaling station designated a historic site under the Antarctic Treaty.

Polar plunge
The team were responsible for penguin counts, maintenance, greeting the 18000 visitors from cruise ships and manning the most southerly post office in the world, processing more than 80000 pieces of outgoing mail.

And foolhardy or fearless, Amy swam in the sea in Antarctica where the temperature is barely above freezing. The cruise ships offer a polar plunge but they have a doctor on hand in case the shock proves too much for any swimmers.

Realistically, I know I’ll never see the South Orkneys – they are so remote that practically no ships go there. But Amy had been just 400 miles from the ancestral Cape – closer than anyone I’ve known. She joined the Doyenne and me for lunch and to tell us about her experiences. I’m hoping from the contacts she has given me to track down some contemporary photographs of Cape Whitson.

There is a conundrum, for me at least, arising out of these family researches. From the days of the early heroic age expeditions, such as Amundsen’s successful dash to the South Pole in 1911, most overland travel on the Antarctic peninsula was by husky and dog sled. An environmental protocol of 1994 banned all non-native species from Antarctica except man. All the sledge dogs had to go, causing much distress to their handlers.

Bruce’s scientific research is seen today as laying the foundations of our modern study of climate change. The non-native huskies, which one might have thought were environmentally friendly, have been replaced with non-native skidoos which run on fossil fuel.

I merely mention it.

Written on Saturday, March 12th, 2016 at 11:55 am for Weekly.