"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Today Nick and I found the perfect venue for training for our February trip to Norway - the chalk sea cliffs on the south coast.

It's strange standing on a beach wearing crampons, though.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Marie Marvingt, pt 2: France to Reydon in Suffolk by balloon, 1909

From Sports Illustrated, June 1961:

"The balloon held 900 cubic meters of hydrogen," she recalls. "It was called The Shooting Star and was the very last word in balloons. I'll never forget the trip as long as I live."

The Marvingt-Garnier balloon was virtually unnavigable. When The Shooting Star took off from Nancy [France] a rope connected to the ground tilted the gasbag and released pounds of precious hydrogen.The balloon sailed north from Nancy at an altitude of 1,000 feet over the German border, past the Krupp factories at Essen, past dazzled schoolchildren and peasants.

Because of the hydrogen lost at take-off, the balloon wouldn't rise higher than 1,200 feet. Near Essen the wind shifted suddenly and carried the craft northwest over Holland toward Amsterdam. "We were in the clouds most of the time," said Mademoiselle Marvingt, "but we thought after we reached Amsterdam that the most dangerous part of the trip was over. We knew we were losing altitude, but we knew that the Channel winds would sweep us over to England before nightfall."The wind did carry the balloon off the Continent and over the Channel. But the temperature dropped to below freezing, and the basket began to rise and fall dangerously close to the waves.

Before Marvingt and Gamier were five miles offshore they found themselves in the middle of a snowstorm.Marie threw out the last of the ballast, but still the balloon wouldn't rise more than 100 feet above the waves, often dipping until the basket actually was in the water.Night came, and the balloon continued bobbing into the choppy Channel. "My overcoat and wool stockings were no help," Marvingt said. "I was freezing. Besides that, we couldn't tell which way we were heading."

After battling the storm for five hours, the balloon suddenly lifted and rose through the clouds. Two miles distant Marie saw a light [of Southwold lighthouse] . It was the English coast. The balloon started to lose altitude and was headed toward the cliffs on the coast when an updraft caught it and lifted the pair over the top.

"It was still dark," Marie said. "We let out most of the hydrogen and put down in a pasture half a mile from the coast [in Reydon]. We barely had the energy to climb out of the basket. "

The Lowestoft Journal takes up the story:
The grounded aviator went looking for help and a man on a bike said she should have taken the ferry.

Another man later noted that he saw “a man with no hat on” gesticulating and talking rapidly in a foreign tongue – but shut his window and went back to bed.

Eventually four policemen were called to assist the adventurers. The next day, the balloon was packed up and, after purchasing several postcards, the pair left Southwold by train.

Marie Marvingt, pt 1

Mlle Marie Marvingt at the controls of her Deperdussin airplane in 1912

Marie Marvingt (1875-1963) was a pilot, balloonist, athlete, mountaineer, inventor, nurse, and much more.

She was born on February 20, 1875, at Aurillac, France. Her father, Felix, a postmaster, strongly encouraged Marie to pursue sports. By the age of five she reportedly could swim 4,000 meters. In 1890, when she was 15, she canoed more than 400 kilometers from her home in Nancy, France, to Koblenz, Germany. She also competed in water polo, speed skating, luge, bobsledding, boxing, martial arts, fencing, shooting, tennis, golf, hockey, football, mountaineering, and also studied at the local circus learning rope work, the trapeze, horseback riding, and juggling. In 1899 she earned her driver’s license. Marvingt was just getting started.

Between 1903 and 1910 she was one of the first women to climb most of the peaks in the French and Swiss Alps. In 1905 she swam the length of the Seine River through Paris, won an international military shooting competition in 1907 and became the only woman to be awarded the palms du Premier Tireur (First Gunner palms) by a French Minister of War. She dominated the winter sports seasons in France between 1908 and 1910, collecting more than 20 first place victories, including the women’s world bobsledding championship in 1910. And to get a good look at a volcanic eruption, she cycled from Nancy, France to Naples, Italy.
When she was refused admission to the 1908 Tour de France because, after all, it was a man’s sport, she successfully completed the course on her own, covering more than 4000 km and traversing 8 mountain passes, while averaging more than 150 km per day. Only 36 of 114 male riders completed the course during the official race that year.
In March of 1910 the French Academy of Sports (Académie des Sports) awarded her a Gold Medal for all sports, the only multi-sport medal the Academy has ever awarded.
Looking for new challenges, Marvingt soon turned her attention to aviation, first with hot air balloons and later with fixed-wing aircraft. Her first balloon ride was in 1901, she piloted a balloon in July 1907 and soloed as a balloon pilot in September 1909. In October of that year she became the first women to pilot a balloon across the North Sea and English Channel to England. The Aero Club of France issued her a balloon pilot’s license in June 1910 and in November she became the third women in the world – the second in France -- to be licensed to fly fixed-wing aircraft. She was the first woman to solo in monoplane (single wing) aircraft, generally believed to be more difficult to fly safely.
In her first 900 flights she reportedly never “broke wood”, or damaged an aircraft, which was a remarkable feat. Among those who learned to fly prior to WWI, 87 percent are said to have died in aircraft accidents.
[During World War I, she impersonated a man in order to fight on the front lines as an infantryman. After being discovered, she became the first women to fly bombing missions over Germany and was decorated with the Croix de Guerre for bombing a German airbase. She also pioneered the use of airplanes as air ambulances.]
In addition to the many things Marvingt did to earn a living, including journalism, poetry, and hosting conferences, she was also a trained surgical nurse with the Red Cross and various hospitals.
Marvingt never slowed down. When she was 80 she earned her helicopter pilots license, and later flew over her home town in a US fighter jet, reportedly breaking the sound barrier.
Marvingt cycled across France at the age of 86.

Marie Marvingt's Wiki entry is here.

Émile Friant's 1914 drawing of Marie Marvingt and her proposed air ambulance

Friday, 8 October 2010

Chilean miners

They're facing a media feeding frenzy when they come out, poor sods. Even the BBC are in on it. Everyone must see there's something wrong with this.