Wimbledon BookFest Review: Mariella And The 'Wild Women' Travellers

Celebrity author talks about lone women explorers from 1700s to the present day

Mariella Frostrup

Mariella Frostrup’s latest book – ‘Wild Women’ - is an anthology of over 50 lone women travellers from as early as the 1700s to the present day.


Lois Pryce, is one of these ‘Wild Women’, who, among other trips, has travelled the 20,000 or so miles from Alaska to Ushuaia on a small 250cc trail motorbike (so that she can “go off road exploring”).


Mariella observed at the Wimbledon Bookfest that women like her were hardly, if ever, recognised compared with many male adventurers and explorers who were lauded even in cases where their expeditions were effectively failures (think Columbus and Shackleton), a point greatly appreciated by the mainly female audience. 


The exploits of these women had illustrated the female ability to deal with any situation and Lois demonstrated this with a reading from her chapter in the book, discussing her trip through a particularly risky part of jungle where she wasn’t allowed to travel under her own steam and had to board a train where her travelling companions were a troop of heavily armed but also drunk and drug-fuelled soldiers, and where she was robbed of chocolate and biscuits at gunpoint. Obviously she survived the ordeal… 


For many of the women in the book, travel was the only way to escape their environment, although the majority were aristocratic since these trips had to be self funded. Even today it seems more difficult for women to gain sponsorship for such trips, and are often seen to be somewhat eccentric if not selfish. The idea of a woman doing something “just for the hell of it”, is not quite acceptable, and is almost seen as irresponsible. Men, on the other hand, are seen as great adventurers.


Mariella also quoted the exploits of several other of the women documented in her book, such as the Japanese Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, and Juanita Harrison, the African-American pioneer who travelled to 22 countries world wide in the 1900s, highlighting the different ways women see and document their experiences.


Travel should be  seen as an enjoyment, a liberation even, and that rather than being fearful, it is the unexpected which is the pleasure of travelling and allows the traveller flexibility and the ability to control the experience. 


The evening closed with a Q&A session, including which was the most useful tool to take when travelling and whether they kept a journal.


Mariella ended by quoting Felicity Ashton who, in 2012, skied across Antarctica in 59 days, a Guinness World record, who said: “We are each far more capable than we give ourselves credit for.”


By Anne Horsburgh

October 12, 2019