Senior School news

On The Trail of the Cossacks – A Journey Over the High Caucasus Mountains

12 March 2024

Many of us are likely to be be poorly acquainted with the mysterious Caucasus isthmus, a mountainous region that stretches between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east, comprising countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and parts of Southern Russia. On 12 March 2024, a packed Blake Studio enjoyed a fascinating evening learning more about this richly diverse area with its proud Cossack history, situated on the very frontier of the Russian Federation.

The talk entitled High Caucasus: A mountain quest in Russia’s haunted hinterland was part of our series of public cultural lectures delivered on site in partnership with external groups. Last night we were delighted to welcome back to the Blake Studio the illustrious Royal Geographical Society (RGS), under the dynamic Chairmanship of James Firebrace, FRGS.

Our guide to proceedings was experienced journalist and author Tom Parfitt, whose talk detailed his epic four-month trek on foot from Sochi on the shores of the Black Sea, across the highest peaks of the Caucasus to the plains adjoining the Caspian Sea. Accompanied by some appealing slides, Tom blended a tale incorporating the history,  topography and geo-political aspects of this region. He explored the Caucasus’ complex relationship with an often overbearing Russia and the periodically violent history of regional conflicts. Many of us remember the horrors of the deadly 2004 Beslan school siege, for example, when 1,100 people were taken hostage (including 777 children) and ended with the deaths of over 350 people, 186 of them children. He spoke of the brave and principled native peoples living in the shadow of Mt Elbrus (Europe’s highest peak at 18,510 ft), of the privation and dangers endured by the local shepherds who eke out a meagre existence on the high barren slopes and of the uneasy relations between the many ethnic mixes. Tom concluded by drawing parallels between titanic historical struggles and the current Ukraine war as ‘The Russian Bear’ seeks repeatedly to exert its influence and territorial claims on the region.

The audience of RGS members, parents, ONS, pupils, staff and friends of the school kept Norfolk-born Tom on his toes over questions afterwards over questions, refreshments and book signing. Those intrigued to find out more are recommend to check out his much lauded account in his 2023 travel book:  High Caucasus: A Mountain Quest in Russia’s Haunted Hinterland.

  • 7 May 2024  at 17:00 to fit in with the school day as we hope many young people will be able to attend - Shackleton's ship beneath the ice: discovering the Endurance. In March 2022, Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance was discovered at the bottom of the Weddell Sea by the Endurance22 expedition. Our speaker, Professor John Shears, was the expedition leader. Join us to hear first-hand about the excitement of finally locating Shackleton’s lost ship.