Julian Dowdeswell is a glaciologist, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute and Professor of Physical Geography in Cambridge University. Evelyn Dowdeswell is a glacial geologist with a number of seasons of field experience in the Antarctic and Arctic. They have written both scientific papers and more popular works about Antarctica. Julian has recently authored ‘The Continent of Antarctica” with his colleague and friend Michael Hambrey. They will be accompanying our Antarctic Cruise – Ross Sea Voyage next year. We asked Julian and Evelyn to share their thoughts on who has inspired them, their best travel advice and more…

How often do you travel to the polar regions?

Evelyn – The polar regions are absolutely amazing places to be in and so I go whenever the opportunity comes along. I have been very lucky to have been able to work in both polar regions.

Julian – I go to the Arctic in most summers and to Antarctic about every third year – Antarctica is harder to get to and more planning and resources are involved in doing research in the South. Over the forty years I’ve been doing polar research, I’ve been to many parts of both the Antarctic and Arctic.

What are your favourite places there?

Evelyn – I think that Scott’s hut at Cape Evans is a very special place indeed. The atmosphere in the hut is unique and you can feel the presence of history there. More generally, camping on the ice to do research projects is fun and always presents interesting challenges. In terms of geology, the settings of Castle Rock and Observation Hill in McMurdo Sound are certainly among my favourites.

Julian – The Antarctic is more varied than most people think and has a huge amount to offer in terms of both landscapes, seascapes and the history of its exploration. I agree with Evelyn about Scott’s Cape Evans hut. In terms of landscape, the glacially carved mountains at Wolf’s Fang in the Queen Maud Land area of East Antarctica are very spectacular. I’ve also spent a lot of time on icebreaking research vessels in Antarctic waters, and waves breaking on the cliffs of huge tabular icebergs are a wonderful sight.

Why did you become interested in the polar regions?

Evelyn – I was brought up in California and when I was a child, we spent our summers hiking and camping in the mountains and the desert. I was always curious about the forces that shaped the mountains and loved being out amongst nature. When the chance came to do a master’s degree at the University of Colorado, with a field season of glacial geology work in Arctic Baffin Island, I jumped at it. I’ve been fascinated by the polar regions ever since.

Julian – From an early age I always loved maps and reading the landscape from them. As a youngster I spent a lot of time in the mountains of the English Lake District and North Wales, which are of course classical glacial landscapes. When I went to Cambridge as a student studying Geography, I was lucky enough to be taught by my predecessors at the Scott Polar Research Institute. After going to Colorado University for a Masters, and coming back to Cambridge with Evelyn, I did my doctorate at the Institute and have been involved with Antarctic and Arctic research and history ever since.

What is so special about the Scott Polar Research Institute?

Evelyn – Working in a place with such a strong sense of dedication to both polar research and exploration feels like an honour more than a job. It is very good for focussing the mind, and the museum is great to explore when a break is needed.  No matter how much time I spend in the museum, there is always more to see. I am very fortunate indeed.

Julian – As well as being the oldest polar research institute, celebrating its centenary in 2020, I think it is the mix between our research and heritage activities that makes the Institute so interesting and varied. Our scientific research is published regularly in the international literature and the Institute has hosted many significant scientific conferences. We also have a large cohort of doctoral and master’s students, who are unfailingly clever and interested, and are our future research leaders. The Institute is also the keeper of much of Britain’s polar history; for example, we hold Shackleton’s diaries from all four of his Antarctic expeditions, the sextant that Worsley used to navigate the little James Caird on the open-boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia, Scott’s last letters, and the original glass-plate photographic negatives taken by Herbert Ponting on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. That we are able to project these broad and deep collections through our Polar Museum, which attracts about 50,000 visitors a year, many of them school children, is a particular privilege.


Accompany Julian and Evelyn Dowdeswell on our Ross Sea cruise is in partnership with the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). The voyage coincides with the Centenary of the Institute. For more information, please visit our website or get in touch with one of our travel experts today.

Thanks for reading

Author: Lara Paxton