Freya Stark – Explorer

​”Surely, of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.”

I am continually turning to the travel bloggers for tips on my next destination for me and my Qdai dress. I am always in awe of solo-female adventurers who travel to some of the most beautiful and daring destinations. 

So I was blown away by Freya, who ventured to destinations which were mostly unexplored by outsiders in the early to mid-1900s. Dame Freya Madeline Stark (Jan. 31, 1893 – May 9, 1993) was a trailblazer, intrepid traveller, and an accomplished writer. Freya literally wrote the books on travel to far-flung destinations, in an age where most people did not travel, let alone a woman on her own.

She had a bohemian upbringing, moving around with her artist parents, with no formal education as a child. Despite this, she was self-taught in German, French and Italian. She entered the University of London and studied at the School of Oriental Studies. She learned two more languages, Persian and Arabic. 

In 1927 she left on a cargo ship to Beirut, Lebanon, and caught the travel bug. She continued through Syria, Iraq, and Arabia. As World War II broke out, she moved to Yemen where she worked as an Assistant Information Officer. When she moved back to London, she studied cartography.

Her travels in the Middle East were extensive, she even ventured to parts which were utterly unknown to the west. She ventured into Persia to the Valley of the Assassins, on the back of a mule with bare necessities, the help of a local guide and a limited map. This was a place previously unexplored by Europeans, and the name alone would have turned many away – but she was one brave and determined lady!! She wrote her first book describing this journey and corrected the sketchy British maps she carried. This had made a significant impression on a prestigious association, the Royal Geographical Society. Freya received a Back Award in 1933, in a time when women adventurers were mostly ignored.

She further travelled to Kurdistan, Persia, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, and India. Freya really would have racked up some air miles in this modern-day!  In total, she wrote 24 travel books and autobiographies. She was awarded the Cross of the British Empire in 1953 and was named a Dame of the British Empire in 1972. 

By the way, if you were also blown away by her language skills, well she learned Turkish at the age of 60, and she never stopped travelling. In her 70’s, she visited China, Afghanistan, then Iraq, and Persia. At 86 she rode on horse back up Annapurna in the Himalayas. She lived to be 101 years old!!

On my next journey I will begin with a deep dive into one of Freya’s books, and I hope to be inspired by the fearless explorer Dame Freya.

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