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A Home without a dog is just a house

The UK regularly tops the charts of animal loving countries. Best estimates suggest that there are currently over 12.5 million dogs snuggled up in over a third of British households, closely followed by cats, birds and a host of small furry creatures. In fact, Britain was the first country in the world to start a welfare charity for animals, as early as 1824.

There are many images of Isobel with dogs at Carlowrie castle and the likeness of one beloved canine was even captured in stone and is still to be found in the grounds today. It seems we have the Victorian’s to thank for making pet keeping socially acceptable, as they placed new emphasis on home and domestic life – values that all at once were dear to Isobel and yet stifling in the lack of opportunities they afforded women.

No doubt Isobel’s love of animals was a useful attribute in her Arctic travels, where dog sledge was the standard means of travel. Consisting of four to ten dogs, a team can get up to speeds of 20 miles/30 kms an hour, perfectly suited for the long distances of ice and snow they regularly cover. While we know that Isobel was a veteran of the sledge, it seems it was mostly as a passenger. It’s recorded that on one occasion she did take a dog sledge out on her own but forgot to use the break, crashed down a steep bank and overturned on the frozen sea below. Thankfully only pride was hurt.

There are multiple accounts of Isobel’s affection for the dog teams who made her adventures possible. Her itinerary of equipment taken to Greenland, included one stone (6.5 kg) of dog biscuits along with cakes and confectionery for their drivers (mushers).

Isobel with one of her Arctic friends, Whitie, the lead-sleigh dog and favourite of Isobel's

The Greenlandic people said that Isobel was never angry, but she did lose her temper one Sunday when a party of huntsmen killed and wounded some seabirds. She raged at them (in Greelandic), not only for their cruelty, but for hunting on the Sabbath which offended her deep Christian faith. Even though she lived and was accepted as a local, moments like this would have marked her apart from fellow explorers and no doubt secured the respect and reputation for kindness which went before her.

During Isobel’s trip to Alaska in 1933, inclement weather trapped her boat in the ice, forcing her to change her plans, hire a dog sledge team and trek the 350 miles/563 kms along the Arctic coastline to her arranged meeting point. That same trip found her marooned with Estonian explorer Gus Masik, in a small cabin on a thin spit of land. An unthinkable situation for an unchaperoned woman of the time, but all part of the adventure and even poetic inspiration for Isobel.

“I have reached the edge of the polar seas,

Through toil and weather, through ice and snow,

Through winds that go crying such as these

That now about this thick-walled cabin blow…”

Winter storms raged for seven weeks, leaving Isobel and Gus stranded and unable to do anything but wait. Every day Isobel insisted on walking the sledge-dogs up and down the spit on a lead, much to Gus’s amusement. Perhaps it was the relief of surviving their prolonged snow filled encounter or their shared love of dogs, but Isobel and Gus remained friends for the rest of their lives. As Charlie Brown says about Snoopy “sometimes the most ordinary things are made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people.”


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The North Star Explorer

Learn more about Isobel’s passion for the natural world, her experience of travelling to remote places and her encounters expressed through art and creative writing.

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