The life of Orkney’s John Rae explored in ‘Long Strider’

Storyteller and musician Bob Pegg presents Long Strider, an exploration of the life and times of one of Scotland’s most intrepid explorers, John Rae. Part of the Dingwall Word on the Street Festival, Long Strider blends traditional tales, folk song, extracts of letters and more in a spirited yet moving tribute to the Orkney-born Arctic explorer.

Born on Orkney Mainland in 1813, John Rae went on to work as a doctor for the Hudson’s Bay Company in what was to become Canada, where he mapped great swatches of previously unchartered territory. There he befriended Inuit and First Nations peoples and earned the nickname Aglooka, meaning ‘he who takes long strides’ in one of the Inuit languages.

Though Rae’s independent nature earned him many friends, it also led to conflict with the authorities. He fell from favour after suggesting, based on information obtained from a local Inuit, that the survivors of the failed Franklin expedition of 1845 may have resorted to cannibalism. Sir Franklin’s widow led a campaign of vilification against Rae, supported by Charles Dickens, who published several pamphlets condemning Rae’s assertions. Rae died in 1893 and is buried in Kirkwall, with a monument to his memory in St Magnus Cathedral.

Bob Pegg’s retelling of John Rae’s life incorporates traditional tales from many cultures, French and English folk song accompanied by concertina and Native American flute, plus extracts from Rae’s letters, Dickens’ pamphlets, and a rendition of W S Gilbert’s The Yarn of the Nancy Bell, a gruesomely humorous response to the Franklin disaster. A tale of high adventure and great heroism, shot through with personal sadness.

See Long Strider at The Greenhouse, Dingwall on 16 October. See event listing for more information.