The Borders Group of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society will welcome their third speaker of the season at Peebles this month.
Colonel John Blashford-Snell is a retired army officer who has devoted his life to expeditions for scientific and conservation purposes, but more importantly, he has given meaning to thousands of young people.
John’s CV reads like a fictional character but even Indiana Jones cannot hold his hat up to this man.
Born in 1937 he was educated at Victoria College on Jersey and subsequently at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
Having served in the army for 37 years, based in Belize, Oman, Cyprus, Ethiopia and other countries, it would appear that he had served his country well. However, through his unstinting involvement with charities he is still serving the country.
He told TheSouthern: “Even before the riots across England in 1981, I could see a flashpoint when I was trying to help youth groups in conjunction with the Prince of Wales.
“In the wake of the riots, I set up an army unit in the Scottish Highlands named the Fort George Volunteers, designed to give young people a greater sense of purpose and responsibility.
“In the space of a year, several thousand youngsters, many from Britain’s inner cities, were put through a series of tough, exciting exercises.”
His seriously busy career has included the first vehicle crossing of the Darien Gap, the navigation of the 2,700 miles of the Zaire (now Congo) River and more than 100 expeditions to various locations in Africa, South America and Asia.
He assures me that he has a great love of Scotland and would live here if he could. To confirm his love of all things Scottish he said: “I always take tinned haggis on expeditions.
“When we hold Burns suppers the native people get confused and they believe that Robbie Burns is present in our company.
“One chief said if there will be dancing then I must bring some of my people. The women that came were topless. A man in our group remarked that it was not quite like this in Aberdeen.”
It was in 1968 when Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia invited the British Army to send a team to explore and make the first descent of the infamous Blue Nile that John set his name in the annals of renowned explorers.
A captain in the Royal Engineers at this time he was commissioned to select, train and lead the party of 60.
The success of the expedition gave him and his colleagues the skill and desire to set up the Scientific Exploration Society; for his leadership he was made an MBE. For his work on Operation Raleigh (1984-91) he received an OBE.
John is not always travelling on water. He told us: “I have ridden on some camels but they are very uncomfortable. Elephants are much more pleasant to ride upon.” Also awarded the Linvingstone Medal by the RGS, John will give his lecture on the complete exploration and navigation of the rapid-strewn Blue Nile in the mountains of Ethiopia at the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles at 7.30pm, on Tuesday
Tickets £8, children and members of the RSGS free.