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Charles Howard-Bury and King OAK

'One Steppe Ahead'- a mission to rediscover the original 2500km horseback journey taken by Anglo-Irish explorer, Sir Charles Howard-Bury, of Charleville Forest Estate, Tullamore, Co Offaly, (the home of King OAK, which came third in the European Tree of the Year 2013 Contest), through Central Asia whilst highlighting the cultural, environmental and political changes that have taken place through this vast region since his journey in 1913.

We've just voted for the King Oak (two votes!) and are persuading others to do the same. Good luck - fingers crossed!

My email is to ask if you've read 'Into The Silence' by Wade Davis, now in paperback, about the Mallory expedition to Everest? Because Charles Howard-Bury, who was born at Charleville, [in Tullamore] but moved to Belvedere [near Mullingar, Co Westmeath] when he married, plays a major part in it. There's a huge amount about his larger-than-life adventures, especially on pp 102-4. In case you haven't yet read it (I recommend it), and the info might be useful for publicity, here's a precis (have a spare moment to type...)

His father, Capt. Kenneth Howard of the Royal Light Horse, was a lover of plants, a world traveller [etc], and his mother an Irish heiress, Lady Emily Alfreda Julia Bury. They had met and fallen in love on a botanical expedition in Algeria, and after marriage settled at Charleville, the ancestral home of the Bury lineage. When Charles Howard-Bury was 3, his father died, and he remained at his mother's side, moving between Charleville and a family chalet in the Dolomites, where he developed a love of mountaineering. Privately educated by a German governess, he entered Eton in 1897, excelling in history and languages, and though he could have gone to Oxford or Cambridge he chose the army, entering Sandhurst in 1902 and graduating with the rank of Captain.

In 1905 he slipped into Tibet in disguise, crossing the high passes that led to the flanks of Kailash, the sacred mountain. Severely reprimanded by Lord Curzon for the unsanctioned adventure, in 1906 he travelled south from St. Petersburg to the Russian Turkistan, again in disguise, his skin stained brown with walnut juice. His next leave was spent in Kashmir ... In India he embarked on a pilgrimage along the Ganges, annointing his body with scented oils to received the teachings of Sanskrit scholars. In the holy city of Amarkantak, his reputation was made when he shot and killed a tiger that had eaten 21 fakirs... A brilliant writer, fine photographer and accomplished naturalist, he was fluent in no fewer than 27 Asian and European languages...

His army career ended in 1912 when he inherited Belvedere, on the shore of Lough Ennel in Westmeath; at 31, a wealthy man, he devoted his life to travel. In 1913, with his one constant companion, his dog Nagu, he went overland from Siberia to spend 6 months exploring the Mountains of Heaven, a range far older than the Himalaya that traverses China and the Silk Road....He spent his time collecting plants, taking notes... At Omsk in Russia he filled his railway carriage with wild lilies of the valley, bought for a penny a bunch from ragged children on the platform. Later he would plant acres of the same flower (at Belvedere) in memory of the Russian children killed in the revolution. In a local market he bought a baby bear, which he name Agu, and he carried it with him on his horse, eventually bringing it home to Ireland [where] it grew to 7 feet... Wresting with a mature bear was his favourite form of exercise. He also brought back from central Asia many mountain larks...

When WW1 came he returned to his regiment and served through Ypres, Arras and the Somme, writing of the latter in the regt. diary...'I have never seen any country to equal the sense of desolation; there was not a blade of grass... all the shell holes overlapped... through which we had to dig a trench ... We kept on digging corpses. They were lying everywhere... in the most advanced stage of decay... The horror of the place is almost impossible to describe...' [But he carried on, through] Passchendaele, poison gas, the Spring Offensive of 1918, [hated to see] the heroism of his men betrayed by the folly of the generals... In 1918 he was captured and taken to the POW camp at Furstenberg [till released after the Armistice, whereupon] he at one voluteered to go to India at his own expense to get Raj permission for an expedition to EVerest...' And that is only the start. He went on to play a decisive part in Mallory's famous expedition, as his index entry on p. 637 gives a glimpse.

As I read it, I imagined the branches of the King Oak trembling then more than once! I wish your campaign great success, exactly a century after his exciting 6 month adventure in Russia, alone with his dog. 

Lavinia and Walter Greacen


Important links: Please see the following related websites for more up-to-date information on Charles Howard-Bury:

Irish Explorer Series- Charles Howard-Bury: "inspire by adventure" The Explore Foundation (EF) promotes and supports distinguished modern-day explorers, founded by Irish award-winning environmentalist and scientist Tim Lavery in 2010. 


You can visit the childhood home of Charles Howard-Bury at Charleville Castle, Tullamore from here...


You can follow 'One Steppe Ahead' from their website here...

This is a revised information pack on this expedition
application/pdfOSA - Information Pack - 2013 Version - REVISED.pdf (4.32 MB)
Tom Roche (trading as) Just Forests Ltd.
Ringfort Workshop, Rathcobican, Rhode, Offaly, Ireland
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