Wander Woman: A Travel Podcast

In Search of Unicorns

February 07, 2024 Phoebe Smith Season 2 Episode 5
Wander Woman: A Travel Podcast
In Search of Unicorns
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Unicorns. Not usually the kind of mythical thing you'd think a travel writer would be on assignment to find.  Yet in the Canadian Arctic of the territory of Nunavut, on Baffin Island, a sea creature who inspired these fabled creatures lingers beneath the waves. We're talking the narwhal - a small whale that sports a twisted ivory tusk that to this day still baffles scientists. Accompanied by her Inuit guides Phoebe battles whiteouts and icy seas on a mission to find these marina mammals. Along the way she climbs icebergs, learns how to track polar bears and is privileged to hear, first hand, the indigenous legends of the creation of the first narwhal. Will she find one? There's only one way to find out...

Also coming up:
How to keep your batteries and devices going in cold climates - with this month's travel hack; Discover 10 flying alternatives for your next adventure; fresh from launching his new BBC series Wilderness, I meet TV presenter and author Simon Reeve, to talk wild places, his ultimate travel gear and... testicles?  In our regular gear chat you can learn all about the joy of using gaiters (the little shoe and boot covers that can make all the difference);  join us for a heart-to-heart with ice swimmer Kate Steels who shares some of the best swimming spots around the planet; and prepare to be amazed by our Wander Woman of the Month - Brigid of Ireland.

www.Phoebe-Smith.com; @PhoebeRSmith

Speaker 1:

On this month's Wander Woman podcast.

Speaker 2:

It's a squeezable little bum cleaning bottle that you can use instead of loo paper so you're not polluting the environment when you're somewhere.

Speaker 1:

I speak to TV presenter and author Simon Reeve about his travel adventures and his unusual piece of must-pack travel gear. I also journey to Arctic Canada to camp out in search of unicorns and meet the most vital member of our team.

Speaker 3:

I have to look after those clients to make sure they're alive, so they won't get eaten by polar bears.

Speaker 1:

And I catch up with Kate Steels, a cold water swimmer and one of just a handful of people to have completed the Ice 7 challenge.

Speaker 4:

I always say when it gets to about minus 12, minus 15, when you feel the hairs in your nostrils freeze and your eyebrows and eyelashes freeze, that's when what I say it's seriously cold.

Speaker 1:

Also, coming up, my regular travel hack reveals how you can prolong the battery life of your cameras and smartphones in cold climates in my travel gear chat, learn all about gaiters and, if you really do need them, and travel the world without stepping foot on a plane with my top 10 flying alternatives. Finally, I'll be revealing this episode's Wander Woman of the Month, the traveller whose name is lost in the history books. You're listening to the Wander Woman podcast, an audio travel magazine, with me, adventurer Phoebe Smith, exploring off the beaten track destinations, wild spaces, wildlife encounters and the unsung heroes behind conservation efforts. Come wander with me. So how do you go about identifying if there's a narwhal in the water?

Speaker 4:

What do you see first?

Speaker 5:

Their backs or the mist when they're breathing. If they're doing a deep dive, you'll see the tail going up. So if I'm looking at the sun right now, where the open water is like towards the sun, when the narwhal comes up, you'll see a bright little reflection from the sun that there's a narwhal there.

Speaker 1:

In case you hadn't guessed it, I'm looking for narwhal, the small whale that sports a twisted ivory tusk and has for centuries inspired the legend of the unicorn. I'm in Baffin Island, at a place known as the Floe Edge or, as the Inuit call it, the Sinaaq, the point where the ice meets the newly opened water of the ocean and where marine mammals come here in their thousands to feed and carve. I'm with Billy , an Inuit elder, artist and guide, with local outfitters at Arctic Kingdoms, on a snowy safari to try and find these near mythical sea creatures. As we stand watching the water, Billy tells me the plan if we do spot something.

Speaker 5:

No running or using your snowmobile to go to that certain area. And then just wait, because they usually feed under the ice and they come back out, and then they just sit there and breathing and we know that they're going to be going back. And once they go in, we go to that certain area where they go and they usually come back out in that same area. So we wait for them.

Speaker 1:

We did wait for hours, over several days, not that they were unpleasant. It was me and a small group of 12 from Canada, the US, the Netherlands and the UK. We were dressed in our big expedition jackets and fed gourmet food from the chef who accompanied us out to the Floe Edge each time we went, and seeing as we had nothing but time, I used it to get to know what brought my fellow adventurers out here with me. For most it was the chance to see the Arctic, or the hope to see a polar bear or a narwhal. Like Ethan from Arizona, "my 13 year old daughter is, and now my younger 4 year old daughter are both fascinated with unicorns. So I figured it was time that I see the unicorn of the sea. But then I stumbled upon someone who had another reason she wanted to see these marine mammals.

Speaker 6:

My name is Joanna Sturm, I'm from Washington DC and I came because I inherited a 7 foot narwhal tusk from my grandmother, who was given it for her wedding by the man who discovered the North Pole, Admiral Perry.

Speaker 1:

I was enamoured by the idea of living day to day gazing up at one of these tusks, but eager to see one actually attached to the whale it belongs to, I kept watching the water, because that's what you do when you go in search of wildlife. For those who would like some more facts, the name narwhal itself comes from the northward nar, which translates to cadaver, presumably due to the mottled grey and white colouring of the cetacea. The horn, or rather elongated tooth, however, is still a mystery to scientists. Some believe it's used to spear fish, others postulate it's for echolocation, though this wouldn't explain why many females haven't got them. Another theory is that it's used for fighting. Whatever the purpose, back in medieval times it was harvested by seafaring vikings and sold to unsuspecting Europeans and Asians as genuine unicorn horn. Danish kings are even said to have grated it into wine to ensure a long life, even though eating narwhal meat was said to induce a corpse-like state. In Inuit tradition, however, the value of the horn was, as with any animal, its use in everyday life, as Billy explains.

Speaker 5:

It's pretty much everything. The blubber that they eat is a source of a very good high vitamin C. Narwhal tusks were used for instruments like tools or a post for your tent. The sinew was used by the women. It was properly dried and in testines the long one was cut up into pieces and put blubber and cleaned well and put narwhals and blubber together and wrapped like sausages and fermented the meat. You can dry it either way. It's a very thin layer. It's another source of food for long winters.

Speaker 1:

Back at our base camp, the set-up was a much more luxurious affair. Our sleeping quarters contained beds with memory foam mattresses and a heater complete with a private en-suite toilet tent, that en circled the dining and kitchen pods, while a shower block with extra toilets completed our HQ. As well as several of our Inuit guides, two chefs and a maintenance team. There was perhaps the most important person, Joe.

Speaker 3:

I'm Joe I'm from Pond Inlet in Nunavut.

Speaker 1:

And you're here as our polar bear watcher on camp. What does that entail? What does that mean you have to do.

Speaker 3:

I have to look after those clients to make sure they're alive, so they won't get eaten by polar bears.

Speaker 1:

And are you afraid of polar bears?

Speaker 3:

No, I'm not afraid of polar bears. My biggest fear is black little flies, and mosquito and bumble bees.

Speaker 1:

Over the days we ventured out, we saw other creatures besides narwhal. King eider ducks with their striking red, yellow and green faces, a raft of ringed seals peering at us with their curious dog-like faces, and an arctic fox running towards us in his grey-white winter coat. Then one day there was something else, footprints from a polar bear. How can you tell that they're from a male?

Speaker 5:

They tend to go straight Fe males go in zig zags, but males go straight.

Speaker 4:

Why do they go straight then?

Speaker 5:

That's just how they are.

Speaker 1:

We followed the trail, finding footprints until, at last, we found the polar bear itself. We had to keep so quiet and had it not been for our eagle-eyed guides, we may have missed him, but it was a truly awesome sight. One of our guides, Jamie from New Zealand, was noticeably buzzing.

Speaker 2:

I never tire of seeing them. They're just an amazing iconic animal Again, charismatic megafauna everyone loves those big species.

Speaker 4:

But there is a reason.

Speaker 1:

We watched the polar bear for nearly an hour. It ate, rested, then fell asleep mere metres away from where we stood. On what turned out to be our final day on the ice, due to a whiteout causing us to become tent-bound for the next 24 hours, we also stumbled upon a huge iceberg that towered upwards taller than a block of apartments.

Speaker 5:

Might have drifted in the fall from Greenland and that's part of the glacier, so the current goes down towards the south, so they come this way and float. So at the end of the season, maybe some time it's going to go away eventually. Right now it's anchored on the sea bottom.

Speaker 1:

But as this melts inward, the iceberg is going to flip and then flow out to the sea.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, eventually, yeah, because right now, all the water that's melting right now all the way down there, eventually it's going to flip over.

Speaker 1:

Before we left the flow edge that day, I decided to take a kayak and watch in awe as a polar bear swam just metres from me. Then I took the plunge, literally donning a drysuit and leaping into the frozen water looking for unicorns beneath the waves. I did see something far below me a dark shape that could well have been a narwhal, but as to whether it was or not remains a mystery. That night we were contented instead with Billy telling us all about the Inuit legend of the first narwhal.

Speaker 5:

There was a blind woman. She and the husband was going to be harpooning a whale. And they went to the flow edge and harpooned a one and she had a rope around her waist but she didn't know what the man was harpooning when the whale dived. And that's when she was diving she said, out of revenge, she started forming her hair into a long twist and it froze and that's how she became a narwhal.

Speaker 1:

After being snowbound in our tents for another 24 hours, it was finally time to leave and head back to the township of Pond Inlet. There, a local cultural group met us and performed some traditional songs from this part of the Territory of Nunavut. And it hit me that, though the narwhals had brought us here what we had experienced - the silence, the unexpected encounters and the Inuit stories had been every bit as magical as seeing a real life unicorn. That was me in Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, in the Canadian Territory of Nunavut. Despite getting stuck in a whiteout, I have to say I truly value the time I got to know my Inuit guides, people who know, respect and understand the environment better than I ever could hope to. Now, despite being wrapped up from top to toe to protect me against the arctic air, there was one thing that always struggled with the cold temperatures. That is, my devices. From my DSLR camera to my podcast recorder and smartphone. All of them lost battery life quicker than you can say selfie. So is there anything you can do to help prolong their life in cold climates? Let's find out with my travel hack of the month. Now, I'll be honest it's been tricky to put this travel hack of the month together without a joke that starts "is that a battery down your trousers? But we'll best leave that one alone because, you see, the surest way to keep a battery alive in cold weather is to keep it somewhere very warm. You can see where this is going Now. batteries, we know, are rubbish. Sometimes it seems travel is a constant battle against batteries. Where's the next socket? What percentage is my phone on? If you're a photographer or podcaster, you could say your livelihood depends on it. In colder climates, the battery charge depletes much, much quicker. Smartphones, camera batteries all of them. The obvious answer here is, of course, to keep them warm, and the closer they are to your body, the warmer it's going to be. At night camping, we'd usually keep them at the bottom of our sleeping bags and, in an emergency, warm them under your armpit for five minutes, but do not be tempted to put them onto a stove or radiator, because that's going to have an even worse effect on them, if not ruin them altogether. During the day, keep the battery going longer by turning off heavy energy use features such as live view, and always take a few spare batteries with you, wrapped up in all the extra clothes you can muster. Some professionals also buy self-heating hand warmers and wrap the batteries around those, especially useful for day-long excursions spent out in the cold. That was my Wander Woman travel hack the insider knowledge I impart each episode to make sure your adventures are trouble free. Now, speaking of adventures, my next guest, TV presenter and author, Simon Reeve has been on many over the last 20 years, from danger zones to the Tropic of Cancer, Russia, Cuba, Burma and everywhere in between. His latest series sees him heading firmly for the world's last wildernesses. I caught up with him in London to find out why he decided to go wild.

Speaker 2:

It's a project and a series of journeys that I've wanted to do for a very long time. It's more than 12 years ago I first had the sort of sliver of an idea that this has become. I really felt and wanted to share the fact with viewers that there are still extraordinary wild parts of the planet out there. Yes, we, as an incredible species, have caused so much destruction and devastation. Yes, we have, but there are still wild, remote areas worth understanding, learning about, loving and protecting as well. If we don't know about them, we'll lose them. I felt that these are probably the most important journeys I've ever undertaken, to be honest, because they're parts of the planet that we go to which you really very rarely see I didn't know enough about. That was really the origin of the idea. We identified the parts we could go to. We wanted a bit of diversity amongst the journeys. We had mountains, we had ice, we had jungle, we had under the ocean, we had the tropics. We wanted to get all those elements in. We argued back and forth about the merits of different places. Oh goodness, if we can't go to Patagonia at that time of year, it's going to be impossible. But optimism won over pessimism, and thank God it did, because we were very lucky to go on a series of incredible I was going to say journeys, but they were proper expeditions.

Speaker 1:

I think that's the thing that marks this series is that there's a lot more effort to even get there before you even start doing the expedition. Which one of the environments so you mentioned jungle, mountain, ocean and desert which was the most challenging for you?

Speaker 2:

It was the mountains, because we went to the high Andes. We went to the South Patagonia ice field in Patagonia. We filmed the wilderness around that ice field, that enormous store of frozen water high in the Andes mountains. But getting to it was very physically challenging for all of us on the team. It involved risk, to be honest, not just of an ankle being twisted, which is a serious issue when you're in a very remote place, but not getting there, or the natural elements conspiring against us. So there's all sorts of risks involved. But we went for it, we trained for it. I was running around Devon for months before these journeys wearing a 15 kilogram weight vest. We all knew that it would be physically tough to do the journeys and nobody wanted to be the person who let the side down, as it were, or hadn't quite conditioned themselves to make it viable. So we showed the respect for the journeys that we should have done and of course we had some injuries and issues along the way, but thank goodness we came home safely.

Speaker 1:

Well, and it sounds to me like what I'd call a type two fun. So it's nice to look back and go. God, that was incredible. But personally I love that challenge to get somewhere because I feel the rewards were greater. Did it feel like that, for all the four places that you went to, that the effort was worth the payoff?

Speaker 2:

Totally. Yeah, it's like being involved in cooking sometimes, isn't it? It tastes a lot better if you've been involved, I think. Anyway, I think the journey should always be part of the experience, and we've slightly forgotten that. I think we've been sold an idea which is closer to a flying flop, and really we need to feel that we're on a journey, in whatever form. It is part of life after all. It's a cliche, but it's true. We need journeys in our lives and pushing ourselves into these remote places, yes. There was much more of a sense of achievement as a result.

Speaker 1:

Tell me obviously you wanted to bring in these landscapes and environments, but also the wildlife and people which of the wildlife encounters you had is the most memorable and which person you met on your adventure had the most impact on you.

Speaker 2:

I think the person who had the most impact on me I'm going to combine the two in a way, really, because I swam with whale sharks for goodness sake filming this. That was thanks to a local fisherman called Nerdin, in a very remote part of Indonesia, off the coast of the island of New Guinea. He has this wonderful relationship with wildlife around him. He's a fisherman, but he pours some of the catch back into the sea to feed these graceful, enormous whale sharks that hang around his fishing platform. I really admired him and his very simple outlook when it came to wildlife. He was shrugging and saying well, they're lovely and I want to look after them. I think a lot more of us could adopt more of Nerdin's philosophy. Frankly, the encounter was thanks to him. I got into the water with whale sharks and was able to be close and tightly among them as they were whirling and turning around and feeding. That was a spectacular experience, even if, towards the end of our time with them, one of them collided with me and it was being hit by a concrete bus. But still, I will never forget that.

Speaker 1:

And if there was one of those environments you could get to go back to or had to go back to again, which one would you choose?

Speaker 2:

God, it's tough. This. You're really making me pick. I'd love to take my lad back to the Kalahari and take him to meet Old Twee, who was one of our guides in the Kalahari, and he's one of the best of our species. He really is. He's a sand tracker of the Kalahari who is a master tracker. It's almost a professional title. He's one of the last of his kind. He has skills, feeling the like of which the rest of us have forgotten Hundreds of years ago. He can track wildlife across stony, rocky ground. He goes into the mind of the animal to know what it's doing, and being with him and seeing his interaction with the ecosystem around him was stunning, and he's just one of the nicest people. He wasn't aloof, it was like being with a friendly Yoda, and I'd love my son to have that experience.

Speaker 1:

And then my final question would be we saw in the Congo episode you taking your squash ball to help stop getting bugs and rainwater on your hammock. But is there any one piece of kit that you would never go on one of your adventures without?

Speaker 2:

What's my one piece of kit? Now I've got this sort of personal B-day bottle, that is. I mean you asked me, but you did. You know. It's a squeezable little bum cleaning bottle that you can use instead of loo paper so you're not polluting the environment when you're somewhere and it keeps you fresh and clean and you're up and off very rapidly. So I'm probably bringing that with me everywhere.

Speaker 1:

And any snacks of the testicles like we saw you eat in Patagonia?

Speaker 2:

I might have to eat them, but I'm not packing them, that's for sure. Flapjacks and some tea bags are always with me as part of my kit, but not testicles.

Speaker 1:

That was Simon Reeve. His latest series, wilderness with Simon Reeve, is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. He's always a pleasure to chat to, no matter where he's just got back from, and it was wonderful to see him journey into the wild areas closest to my heart and, of course, highlighting the issues facing them in this current climate crisis, and that's why this month's top 10 is all about how to have an adventure without flying. Want to hear some alternatives? Listen up. First at 10 is the ferry Beloved by kids and those with a strong constitution. The ferry can eliminate short haul flights with a relaxing float In between. Re-enacting the scene from Titanic and buying a kilo of M&Ms (make mine the peanut ones). It also offers ample time for relaxation and smug pondering of the ocean, and, as anyone who is afraid to double a nose, can provide a damn good time too. We're keeping to the sea, but this time with a cargo boat for number 9. Although once more common than it is now, travelling by cargo boat is still an option. Often there are spare berths on board, and sometimes there are special areas just for tourists wanting an adventure on the high seas. It might not always be the cheapest option, but it will give you one hell of a story to tell. Have a look at the websites, including CargoShipVoyages. com, for options. It's particularly worth considering for shorter journeys, for example from Australia to New Zealand. At 8, it's your own 2 feet. Walking to a place always offers a different perspective on a journey. It's life at a slower pace, it's time for contemplation or conversation, if you can make at least one journey on a trip walking, even if that's hopping off the train station one stop before your destination. At 7, it's cycling. Cycling in particular has become wildly popular, and with good reason. Why take 6 hours staring at the back of a wheelchair when you can spend 6 days discovering quiet lanes, meeting locals and learning how to say puncture a repair kit in a different language? We love the bike. At 6 and bear with us, it's a paddleboard. Daniel, the producer of this podcast, is a big fan. He's travelled to the Scottish islands and miles along canals, through the sea and down rivers, and just last summer I also spent a long weekend exploring the Norfolk Boards for next to nothing. You're probably not going to cut out a flight with a paddleboard, but it is a mindful and relaxing way to get from A to B much closer to home. At 5, the travel connoisseur would say is the best way to travel by train. We love it. Whether it's the trans-Mongolian or trans-Pennine, the train is the greatest and most civilised way to travel. It's where you make lifelong friends and lifelong memories. Always, always, make the train your starting point before resigning yourself to a plane, if needs be, and bonus points for taking a sleeper. At 4 it's a bus or coach, when nothing but honest on this podcast. No, it doesn't have the romance of a train, but the bus is usually the cheapest option and can be a blast, as every backpacker to New Zealand has always discovered. At 3 it's car sharing. If you not explored this world, then you'll be surprised just how advanced it is. In the UK, for instance, have a look at sites such as blahblahcarcouk or lifesharecom. There are hundreds of thousands of people using car sharing. Simply put in your starting and ending point for the journey and see what it spits out. At 2 is hitchhiking. Yes, it's risky to advise this and I'm presuming that we all know to take precautions Telling a friend or going with a friend, for example but it can be one of the most rewarding ways to travel. Some countries are, of course, safer than others, and hitchhiking is quite commonplace New Zealand, for example and I've done it a lot in Scotland. Grab a friend, a sign and your sense of adventure. Finally, at number one is a plane. Wait, what? Well, yes, how about an electric plane? They're already here, after all, harbour Air in Vancouver, the sea planes that serve downtown Vancouver and Vancouver Island, introduced them at the end of 2019. An easy jet is reportedly going to introduce their first electric plane by 2030. The future is here. We just have to push for more of it. Happy travels, everyone. That was my top 10 ways to get to your next adventure and make the journey just as important as the destination. From my own perspective, I love the train, especially the sleeper services, and highly recommend you consider one for your next trip, if it's an option. Now, though, you definitely won't need the topic of my regular gear chat on a train. You will want to consider them if headed into a wild place, whether snowy, muddy or at risk from leeches. What am I referring to? Why? The humble gaiter? Of course, still no clue what I'm talking about or is to be revealed. Welcome to my regular gear chat covering all the essentials for your adventures on land, sea, sand, jungle and beyond this episode. We're talking gaiters. If you've never used these fabric guards that sit at the bottom of your trousers and over the top of your walking boots, then you might think they're not for you. But I want to talk about why you may be wrong. Let's get one thing straight they are certainly not an essential, but, as I recently found out in the Arctic, they became essentially a lifesaver. Case and point is snowy terrain. These bad boys can be the difference between keeping your feet dry and getting frozen toes when moisture trickles its way in. Not fun. But it's not just snow. Muddy and wet ground, strewn crossings, rainy day strolls and even going on those paths that are strewn with tiny rocks and pebbles. Gaiters will stop all manner of things getting into your footwear. There's four main types or lengths Angle gaiters that just cover the top of your shoes and the bottom of your trousers great for running and their lightweight too. Then there's mid-length, which personally I find best for hiking. Full length usually stop below the back of your knee and are the classic sort you'll see on many ramblers. They're also great in very cold weather. Finally, there's specialised snow gaiters, which cover more of your boot, keeping more of the wet white stuff out of your socks, no matter which you go for, look for waterproof, breathable fabric with adjustable foot straps. Pull cords and durable fastenings like a zip or poppers with velcro. Then strap them on and enjoy the feeling of dry feet, whatever the weather. That was my regular travel gear geek out. I really hope this episode's chat helps you keep your feet nice and dry on your next adventure. Now, someone who relishes actually getting their feet wet is my next guest. I'm about to introduce you to a woman who has done something that few can boast. In fact, more people have walked on the moon than achieved what Kate Steels has. Intrigued. I was.

Speaker 4:

I started swimming back in 2009 and then I was introduced to cold water swimming and I just love the buzz of it. I love the opportunities it's given me, the challenge, the friends and to be able to get out in nature and all weather in the middle of winter. It's also taken me some amazing countries to travel.

Speaker 1:

Tell me about. I know you've completed the I7. I think you were the third person in the world to do it, the first in the UK. What is the I7?

Speaker 4:

That's swimming a my I smile in each continent of the world. There's a couple of twists. You could for the polar I smile. You can either go down to Antarctica or 70 degrees north. I went north, up to the very top of Norway, which was magical. And the other big, big twist is that one of those I smiles has to be done at zero degrees, so below one degrees. Wow, and that is for me personally. That's the hardest swim in my life that I did.

Speaker 1:

And do you wear a wetsuit to do this? Is it just a swimming?

Speaker 4:

costume. What is it? No, all ice swimming is a standard costume. A single hat, earplugs, goggles and a nose clip is allowed. Absolutely no neoprene. And what's the coldest place that you've swam.

Speaker 1:

I'm guessing it was the one that was zero degrees. But where was?

Speaker 4:

that I did that in China I've also done. Some of my coldest swims have been in either Russia or China. Elsewhere, Harbin is the coldest place. I swam when the air was minus 30, did shorter distance swimming, but I always say, when it gets to about minus 12, minus 15, when you feel the hairs in your nostrils freeze and your eyebrows and eyelashes freeze, that's when that's what I say it's seriously cold.

Speaker 1:

You've obviously got a lot more tolerance to the cold than most of us. I think it'd be difficult to strip to a swimming costume, if my nostrils were freezing? What about the other end of the scale? Where's the warmest place in the world that you've been swimming?

Speaker 4:

The Danube was very hot. It was the heat wave and the water was like 24, 25, that was hot and the air got up to 35. So towards the end of that swim it was nearly about 10 hours, 20 swim there about some memory. And I remember the last hour and a half I was really suffering in the heat, just wanted ice, but there was no ice on the boat.

Speaker 1:

Do you have a favorite place in the

Speaker 4:

world where you like to swim Anywhere that's beautiful in nature. So Norway the ice mile was particularly beautiful, very remote, overlooking some islands with lots of snow. Argentina was spectacular, and then other aspects. So I had a really good community support in Argentina and in Canada for my ice mile. So it's all. I love going to new places, I love meeting new friends and just being able to swim in the most beautiful places. But it is a community because although you're swimming individually, you couldn't do it without the support of those around you and the team and then as community. So I swim a lot at Andart Lake and I've helped grow swimming. When I first came back in 2014, I remember walking around the lake, speaking to the owner it's a small lake, it was built for scuba diving and telling him there would be opportunities to build swimming up. And first of all, it was summer and then ice, and now there's a real community. I mean I'm sat at Andart. Now there's a couple of swimmers just got in. Doesn't matter if they're wetsuit or non-wetsuit, if they're swimming head up breaststroke with a woolly hat. It's just lovely to see people in the water. I mean there's a couple of ducks on the pond.

Speaker 1:

I can hear birds because spring is in the air and it's just a beautiful setting when a very gray day otherwise I feel very envious sitting inside now when you've just opened that scene and I can hear some of the birds as well, and I'm all right in thinking that you've used your ice swimming as well to raise money for charity.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, so tragically, I lost my son, Daniel, my only child in 2018. And I've raised money for the Samaritans to try and prevent people losing their loved ones in the same way that I've lost Daniel. And yeah, swimming has kept me going the friendship, the community it's a big part of helping me look forward. And, yes, if I can raise money in doing that to prevent other people losing their life, that's got to be a good thing. Do you find in that respect and sorry to hear about Daniel do you?

Speaker 1:

find that being in the water and doing those swims gives you a bit of sort of calm and a bit of headspace.

Speaker 4:

Yes, swimming is where I can just be at one on my own. I can just the magic feeling of water around me and no one swim is the same. When you're swimming open water, you could be at the same venue with different weather, different temperatures, different wildlife around when you get to the sea I do a lot of sea swimming, particularly in the summer. You know the waves, the tides, everything who you're swimming with is so many variables and it's just to me is getting out and being at nature, and there's a lot of research has shown that any sport is good for mental health and I think, more recently, that swimming has been shown it's really good for your well-being.

Speaker 1:

That was the Extreme Ice Swimmer and RED Ambassador, Kate Steels. I have so much admiration for Kate and I'm in awe of how she took a desperately sad situation and used it to power her adventures and to raise money for charity. Truly a wander woman. I think her son Daniel would be proud. And already it's nearly the end of the episode, so time for me to share with you my utterly incredible Wander Woman of the Month. I hope you've enjoyed what you've heard. Please do subscribe so that you never miss an episode, and please, please, please do consider leaving a review. It means so very much. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @PhoebeRSmith. Go to my website, phoebe-smith. com, where you can sign up for my occasional newsletter and, of course, send me a message. Now this episode. We journey to Ireland, back in the 5th century. To meet a Goddess, turned farmer, turned holy divinity. It's 450 AD. The country is Ireland, the province Leinster. A young girl is stealing her father's sword. She doesn't intend to use it to do battle or cause harm, but rather to give it away to a poor family who have knocked at her door so that they can trade it for food. Needless to say, her parents are livid, but then. This girl is destined to become a saint. Her name is Brigid and her story is myriad. Legend says that this humble and kind girl asked God to make her ugly so that she wouldn't have to marry. Yet he refused to blemish her looks. Instead, she dedicated her life to conducting a series of miracles which benefited not her but her local community. She decided to build a church with an on-site monastery that would teach both men and women together radical. At the time, when she approached the Miserly King, he jokingly told her yes, I will let you do this. You are welcome to all the land. You can fit under your cloak. At this point, it says, she removed her cape and spread it out to cover not only the hill and oak grove she wanted, but also the surrounding 4,870 acres known as the Curragh. Indeed the name of the town where this took place, modern day Kildare, comes from the Irish phrase Kill dara Dara of the oak. During her lifetime at the church, she is said to have performed several miracles she could tame any animal, she magicked food out of none, hung a cloak on a sunbeam, turned a wooden stick into a tree, cured blindness and muteness, and she once moved a river so her kinsmen could travel through a bog. But her past, it seems, goes back further than her birth. Some say Brigid is the embodiment of the pagan goddess of fire that predated her by hundreds of years. Often known as Breed, she lit an eternal flame here, in the same town and location of Kildare Cathedral, which was then tended by Brigid and then, after her, the nuns who followed. She has been recognised as a feminist symbol, a patron saint of brewing and dairy farmers, cattle, midwives, babies, computers, blacksmiths, poets, and now, 1500 years after her death, she has been honoured with a public holiday in Ireland on February 1st, also the pagan festival of Imbolc - the coming of spring. We may never really know who Brigid was, but we do know the quality she embodied and symbolises peacemaking, female empowerment, environmentalism are universal and definitely worth celebrating. And there is one final thing it's said that she believed that if she could brew a lake of beer, all the problems of the world would be solved. Now there's a miracle that even a millennia and a half later, we could all get behind. That was our incredible Wander Woman of the Month and if you've enjoyed hearing a snippet of her story, tune into my special Wonder Woman Extra bonus episode: Will the real Brigid please stand up? Available now from wherever you get your podcasts. In the next episode of the Wander Woman podcast, I go eco diving in Egypt to discover the red sea resort that is cleaning up its act and the ocean. I also talk to a child soldier turned artist from Uganda who is now using his sculptures to try and help others and the planet. My travel hack will uncover ways to travel more sustainably on a budget and my travel gear chat will look at eco friendly kit for snorkelling and I recommend the best places to try your first dive into the underwater world. See you then, Wander Woman out. The Wander Woman podcast is written and edited by me, Phoebe Smith. The producer for this episode and writer of additional material is Daniel Neilson. The logo was designed by John Summerton. Thanks to all the people I met on my journey and were willing to talk to me, it's because of you that this podcast is able to happen at all.

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Kate Steels - Ice Swimmer and RED ambassador
Wander Woman of the Month - Brigid of Ireland