THERE will be music in the lecture theatre this month when the Royal Scottish Geographic Society welcomes its third speaker of the season. Jasper Winn is a freelance writer who has made life his study – he is the ultimate free spirit. Jasper will be recounting his three-and-a-half-month solo kayak trip around Ireland’s 1,000-mile coastline through word and music.
His writing and horse-riding skills have given him a rich and varied life. The publications he has written for include the Sunday Times, the Guardian, GQ, Harpers and Queen, CNN Traveller and the Geographical Magazine. Currently, he has a weekly column in the Irish Examiner and regular articles in the Irish Field.
Jasper told TheSouthern: “I knew that I wanted to be a writer from the age of eight – school seemed something of an irrelevance after that point; not for the best of reasons, but because it seemed that as a ‘writer’ I could spend the rest of my life doing interesting things under the guise of research without having to do any one thing for too long.
“That idea does seem to have worked out.”
While growing up, Jasper’s love of travel was already instilled in his genes. He was born in England and the family moved from Kent, to Sussex, to Gloucestershir. Then at the age of eight they moved to Ireland where he was brought up and still lives.
“My mother was partly brought up in Ireland and with horses, so they were always the major part of her life – and her father’s too; by some quirk of late fatherhood he was on horseback in the Boer War.
“Horses were just part of life on her side and so there was no question about it: both my sister and I were brought up with horses as a way of life more than as a pastime or a hobby.
“In my case I was led around in a basket on top of a Shetland rather than pushed in a pram.”
With this eccentric upbringing, coupled with a father who was an inventor, Jasper had the foundations to lead a haphazard life, existing within the vagaries of being an independent writer.
However, his skills have also been sought for radio, television and film.
Most recently he has acted as story and location consultant and horse wrangler for the Trinity Films IMAX production, Ride Around the World.
With horses seeming to be the predominant influence in Jasper’s life, he explained why kayaking is also part of his repertoire.
“My father had very much less interest in horses; but anything mechanical intrigued him – and so he liked engines; cars, planes and boats. There were various dramatic adventures at sea with my father when I was growing up – usually in unseaworthy, or at least unreliable, craft and usually powered by steam.
“In Ireland we lived within sight of the sea and I was interested in wildlife and so spent a lot of time on the coast. Sailing and boats were a West Cork norm, and so messing around in boats happened naturally.”
Despite travelling and working around the world in areas including West Africa, Cuba, Venezuela, Mali, and Kyrgyzstan, Jasper seems to leave his heart or his hat in Ireland.
He said: “I’ve been reading Peter Somerville-Large’s books recently. This prompted me to remember that as a 13 or 14-year-old I read his The Coast of West Cork about a December cycle trip along the coast of West Cork.
“Its mix of history, meetings with people, asides and self-deprecating humour was, I think, the first and greatest influence on my idea of what it was to be a writer; low-key, no fuss or sponsorship, but just getting on an old bike or a kayak or a horse and setting off to ramble, steered by chance and curiosity and stories.”
Jasper Winn’s lecture, Paddle: A Long Way Around Ireland, with music, is on Tuesday, November 27, at Heriot-Watt University in Galashiels, at 7.30pm.
Check out Jasper’s blog at www.theslowadventure.com