Explore, Enjoy, Educate with Antony Jinman
- Credit: Matt Austin
He’s best known for his explorations of the extreme parts of our planet, but Antony Jinman wants his discoveries to have a purpose, as he explains to Alexis Bowater
Polar explorer Antony Jinman has all his fingers and toes - I know, I counted them when he wasn’t looking as we shared a coffee at his Dartmoor home: they’re not sliced, clipped, amputated, frost bitten or frost nipped.
Which means, as an adventurer, he’s remarkably lucky - or rather, remarkably good at what he does.
For this comparatively young Devon explorer has faced the world’s worst cold weather wildernesses head-on, at temperatures of down to beyond minus 50 degrees Celsius, and lived to tell the epic tales.
It’s a destiny he wished for from when he was a small boy growing up and exploring the rock pools of Wembury beach, dreaming of the North Pole.
“Hand on heart when I was quite young at primary school when I was seven or eight we did the Captain Scott topic at school,” he says.
“It’s quite embarrassing to admit but I had lots of cuddly toys, penguins and seals and polar bears and at a very young age I was intrigued by the polar regions and Dad was always a bit of a Shackleton enthusiast.”
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It was a dream he shared with few but as he struggled through his teenage years it was one he never let go of. With undiagnosed dyslexia Plymstock Secondary School became a trial, having to stand up in class and read being a humiliating nightmare. But if he had nothing else this young man had determination.
Over the next decade he consciously - and subconsciously - cherry-picked the best qualifications and experience needed for a 21st century explorer.
Completing Ten Tors in 1996 when it was cancelled by snow: getting into the Territorial Army; summiting Mont Blanc; becoming a snowboarding instructor and breaking his back but recovering; learning to skydive.
But the craving for the poles never left him. “You really do know what you want to do, you have an idea and you have a dream but everyone keeps telling you to do these exams, do jobs, that threw me into turmoil,’ he admits.
No surprise then that an accidental move into the Navy instead of the Royal Marines due to a persuasive recruitment officer saw this born adventurer have a complete breakdown when faced with a life in a tin box on the sea.
You can’t cage an explorer: “Not many people know this about me,” he admits. “But I actually got escorted off HMS Scott from Oman and basically I got a medical discharge. I was very, very, very unhappy. I was calorie counting, I was trying to keep fit, at one stage I was self-harming. They did not diagnose me with anything but I knew that the Navy was not for me.”
And what looked like the end was in fact just the beginning. “That was the lowest point in my life, I was 22, nearly 23, I didn’t get any help for that. It was a pivotal point in my life and it made me realise just what exactly I wanted to do. Suddenly I was out, how do I get to be a polar explorer?”
How indeed? Well by signing up with Explore Worldwide, guiding all over the world for three years, including six times up Kilimanjaro. By fast-track training for outdoor learning and becoming an expedition leader by aged 25 and finally, finally, after nine projects and trips to build up your CV and experience, standing on the North Pole at expedition number ten, despite falling through the ice.
“I was 29 when I hit the North Pole and it was a dream come true. It was all about this point, about becoming a polar explorer. All my life people were telling me that I wasn’t going to do it. People talk about the journey but for me it was the destination.”
“I’m 33 I have done the North and South Poles and I have done 16 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. People come up to me all the time and say - I’d love to do what you do, how do I do it, and I tell them that it’s going to be hard and involves a lot of sacrifices.”
From this platform the future it’s not just about adventure, it’s about education. Antony’s Education Through Expeditions organisation tries to bring the whole world to children wherever they are.
He has recently returned from taking ten ten-year-olds from Plymouth on a trip to the Arctic Circle with him, part of the city’s Spirit of Discovery project. But in these days of Google Earth where all the maps are written where is the room for a real-life explorer?
“I’m raising aspirations to a whole range of things. It’s not about creating 100 new adventurers it’s about adding value to life,” he explains. “It’s not what you are doing, it is what you make people feel.”
As Plymouth University Explorer in Residence with an Honorary Degree as Doctor of Education under his belt, those days of bullies at school and just one A level in Geography (grade C) must seem very far behind, yet his biggest adventure may well be ahead: to help to educate others.
“What was the point in going to the South Pole?” he says. “I went to the South Pole to prove live learning. I didn’t want to spend £70,000 and a year-and-a-half of my life going on another expedition. I wanted it to have value and meaning and purpose.
“We had over 8,000 children who took part in over 300 debates and topics with two dozen online scientists and educators all over the world.”
“I want live learning to be the next buzzwords in British education,” he says.
And with his track record of making crazy dreams come true, no doubt he will. w
For more information on Antony Jinman’s Education Through Expeditions please visit etelivelearning.org
Antony Jinman’s things I love about Devon
1. Dartmoor - a true wilderness and wonderful national park. If I hadn’t spent time on my grandparents’ farm on the moor, or undertaken challenges like ten tors then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Dartmoor is very much a part of who I am.
2. The Dawlish Coastal Railway line - every time I’m returning off an expedition or from working overseas I always enjoy traveling back by train. There’s something very peaceful and calming as I enjoy looking out over the sea along that part of the coastline. I’m nearly home!!
3. Devon’s history, especially its links to polar exploration, not just Captain Scott but other explorers and seafarers who came from our county and the rest of the South West.
4. The green rolling countryside - no other place in the world matches the lush green Devonshire countryside. Especially in the spring time when everything is waking up after the winter, suddenly the trees have leaves, the flowers are in the hedgerows and gardens and lambs are in the fields. There’s a calming air of summer anticipation
5. Devonshire junket - my gran used to make the best junket, served chilled in the summer with a nice dollop of clotted cream. If you see it on the dessert menu, give it a try.
6. Junket deserved a special mention but I also enjoy exploring food markets, different country pubs and restaurants.
7. The great country and seafood.
8. I cannot mention food without mentioning Devon’s vineyards and micro breweries. Sharpham Vineyard and Dartmoor Brewery are two of my favourites.
Antony Jinman’s things you don’t know about me:
1. I’m Plymouth University’s Explorer in Residence and enjoy travelling in the polar regions and sharing my stories and experiences within schools as well as running leadership and employability workshops for young people.
2. I recently became the 12th Briton to ski to both the Geographic North Pole and skied solo to the Geographic South Pole.
3. As well as cold places I also enjoy working out in the Middle East and have worked in places like Yemen, Kurdistan, Libya and Iran. I’m equally at home hiking the jebel and wadies of Yemen in 50 Celsius summer heat as I am skiing over the Arctic Ocean at -40.
4. I’m not short, I’m vertically challenged!
5. My fitness and health is important to me and I enjoy keeping fit. I’m always looking at new ways to keep fit. A local farmer gave me an old tractor tyre that I enjoy flipping up and down my drive.
6. I’m dyslexic and didn’t do very well at school, especially at A-level and never went to university. That’s one of the main reasons why I know enjoy working within education and using what skills I have to help contribute something back to my community. It gives my expeditions and travels purpose and proves to be more rewarding.
7. I’m a dog person and have a very energetic two-year-old Springer Spaniel Labrador cross, who’s an amazing companion and takes me out for runs and walks.
8. I used to teach snowboarding both here in the UK and in Austria.
9. I’ve spent all my time traveling and I’m still single!!