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Landscape to be brought to life on Orkney

20 May 2013

The landscape that inspired one of the world’s most important arctic explorers is to be brought to life on Orkney next weekend.

2013 marks the bi-centenary of the birth of Dr John Rae, the first man to prove the existence of the North-West Passage.

Born in Orkney in 1813, the son of an agent for the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), Rae spent much of his childhood exploring the Orkney landscape, which held him in good stead during his later life.

After graduating as a doctor, he worked in Canada for the HBC where his work with the Cree Indians saw him become an authority of Native American methods of Arctic survival and travel.
It was this expertise that saw him being  commissioned to map the unexplored North West territories of Canada where he became involved in the search for a lost expedition, led by John Franklin. During this time Rae continued to chart the unknown territories of the north Canadian coast, proving the existence of the North West passage.

The search for Franklin’s expedition was abandoned after Rae learned the men had died of starvation. However he was later vilified in certain sections of Victorian England for not visiting the site and his findings were dismissed.

He remains the only explorer of the period not to receive a knighthood.

To mark the bi-centenary of his birth, Historic Scotland’s Orkney Ranger Service is running a series of special tours over the summer which will help bring Rae’s landscape to life for visitors and locals alike, providing a fascinating insight into Rae’s world.

Led by local guides, the tour will follow the Clestrain shoreline taking in key landmarks that inspired Rae as well as others which held a personal tie for Rae including his childhood home, boat noust and sail store, where his fascinating story will be explored.

The tours are taking place as part of John Rae 200, which is marking the bi-centenary of the birth of Dr John Rae, and will see a series of commemorative events being held.

Sandra Miller, for the Historic Scotland Ranger service said;

“John Rae is one of Orkney’s and Scotland’s most unsung heroes.

“His contribution to the world of arctic exploration was immense, yet tragically he was never recognised for his achievements in his own lifetime.

“He had a great love for, and appreciation of the Orkney landscape and spent his youth taking part in a whole host of pursuits from sailing to trekking.

“These tours will provide a unique opportunity for locals and visitors alike to experience the landscape that inspired Rae and helped him to become one of the world’s greatest arctic explorers.”

‘’We are also very grateful to the local landowners who have been very supportive in helping us organise this rare opportunity.’’

The tours will take place each month from May through until September (Sunday 26 May, 23 June, 28 July, 25 August all at 2 pm and 29 September at 11 am). Places are limited and booking is essential. For further information and to book contact the Historic Scotland Ranger Service on 01856 841 732. All details are on the events page of the Historic Scotland website

Notes for editors:

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

  • 2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland, inspiring our people and our visitors to celebrate Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty, landscapes and biodiversity as Scotland prepares to welcome the world in 2014 and beyond. Find out more about Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty at

Historic Scotland around the web:

                                                       Year of Natural Scotland logo linking to

For further information

Iona Matheson
Media & PR Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8703 or 07827 956 858