My old Kodachrome slides and the diaries I kept on the 1970 and 1971 voyages were stowed away at the back of a cupboard in 1978 when I got married and the boxes remained mostly untouched for twenty years. The availability of a place on Simon Richardson’s ‘En Avant’ in 1976 had provided the last real test of my resolve to settle down. Simple lack of cash meant that I couldn’t cover Simon’s demand for a £500 contribution to the costs so I turned my back to the sea and knuckled down to the priorities of career and married life.
It was twenty years later that in a slightly over-optimistic effort to secure the future of those irreplaceable transparencies I sent a selection off to Kodak to have them professionally scanned and digitised. While the proprietary Kodak PhotoCD format which accompanied their return hasn’t survived long into the 21st century, I’m delighted to say that the original film emulsion has fared much better; a testament to Eastman Kodak’s base product. The scanned images found their way onto a rudimentary website late in 1998 along with some of the text that still remains unfinished today on the site that you’re now reading. That early website was enough to put me back in touch with a number of ex-Tilman crew and a loyal base of Tilman supporters and readers around the world.
Moving on another ten years to 2008, I received an invitation to give a talk based on my experiences with Tilman at the Barmouth Tilman Festival. The digitised slides were ‘dusted off’ and a PowerPoint presentation was put together to include some of them along with a few scanned copies of some of HWT’s letters to me. Almost ten years and thirty odd talks later, I’d like to think I’ve introduced a few unsuspecting people to the remarkable story of this quietly understated giant of British high altitude mountaineering and high latitude navigation. In the last few years I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Dick Wynne on his initiative to republish the entire Tilman back catalogue. Working with Lodestar’s business partner Vertebrate Publishing and a host of notable contributors, we’ve produced the definitive fifteen volume Tilman edition complemented by the republication of JRL Anderson’s 1981 biography – ‘High Mountains and Cold Seas’. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the former crew members of the 1964 Patanela expedition to Heard Island we’ve also helped Philip Temple publish a new edition of ‘The Sea and the Snow’ which makes available two contrasting accounts of one Tilman voyage.
For sailing, climbing and other groups keen to find out more, the illustrated talk on ‘Travels with Tilman’ will bring to life the real experience of travelling with Bill Tilman. Containing many unpublished photographs and letters, the talk offers a unique opportunity to gain awareness and understanding of this remarkable man based on a friendship that endured until Tilman’s loss at sea in 1977. The talk, which given the subject matter and some unique unpublished images and letters has proved popular with local sailing clubs and national mountain festivals alike. Given that new material is regularly coming to light, the content of the talk has evolved considerably since it was originally presented in 2008. To discuss how the talk might fit your event, please take the ‘Contact’ option on the menu at the head of this page.
H.W. ‘Bill’ Tilman, ‘The Skipper’ as we knew him, was one of the most extraordinary characters of the twentieth century. Like many other members of Tilman’s crews, I knew virtually nothing about the man when I first sailed with him. He survived the Great War with distinction before carving out a new life in Kenya, where his climbing partnership with fellow farmer Eric Shipton began. Their expeditions to the Himalaya and Nepal included the ‘orgy of mountaineering’ which marked the 1935 Everest Reconnaissance, with two dozen virgin peaks over 20,000 feet bagged in a single season. The following year, Tilman was to stand atop Nanda Devi, at 25,600 feet the highest mountain yet climbed by man. During the Second World War, he returned to his military calling, at first in conventional operations in Northern Europe and North Africa, before the maverick in him led him behind enemy lines, by the end of the war becoming a local hero in the liberation of the Italian city of Belluno. After a brief return to the Himalaya and an even shorter steady consular job in Burma, Tilman bought a boat, taught himself to sail and became the pioneering high latitude navigator recognised by all those who follow in his wake today.