Lining up pioneers of the great outdoors

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lAST year, Scots adventurer Mark Beaumont was one of the star turns at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival, thrilling his Melrose audience with an account of how, in 2010, he had cycled from Alaska to Argentina for a BBC television series.

The 29-year-old documentary maker from Perthshire had already won a place in the Guinness Book of Records in 2008 for cycling around the world – a total distance of 18,297 miles – in 194 days.

But the many new friends he made after his festival appearance in the gardens of Harmony House were stunned in January this year when they heard that Beaumont, in his latest act of derring-do, had been one of six rowers cast adrift in the North Atlantic after their boat capsized.

Beaumont and his crew spent more than two hours on a raft lashed to the hull of their stricken vessel before being miraculously rescued by a Panamanian cargo ship. They were taking part in the Atlantic Odyssey challenge to row from Morocco to Barbados in less than 30 days – and the disaster occurred 520 miles from their destination.

The drama of that day will be relived at 6pm on Thursday, June 14, when Beaumont will open the region’s literary extravaganza.

“Given that Mark is lucky to be here to tell the tale, we thought his story would be an ideal curtain raiser for our festival which features some fascinating events covering the great outdoors,” said festival co-ordinator Paula Ogilvie.

“Some of these are not for the faint-hearted and, although they are in the adult programme, they have been timed specifically for a younger audience and any with an interest in the science of nature.”

Jeremy Wade has become a household name and a weel-kent face with his TV series River Monsters being watched by over four million viewers.

Zoologist and journalist Wade will be at the festival on Saturday, June 16, at 4.45pm to promote the book of the same name, published in November last year, which is described as “a tale of obsession, adventure and very big fish”.

Wade, like Beaumont, has had several scrapes with death on his mission to find the world’s most deadly and bloodthirsty freshwater creatures – man-eating catfish, bullsharks, giant eels and super-piranahas – which are every bit as spectacular as those that prowl the oceans.

On the banks of the Tweed, one of the world’s most renowned salmon rivers, Wade will offer the ultimate fisherman’s tale, taking his audience on a journey from the Amazon to the Congo, from North America to the mountains of India.

Sandwiched between Beaumont and Wade, biologist Simon Watt, presenter of the award-winning Channel 4 series Inside Nature’s Giants, will present Dissections Uncut, on Friday, June 15, at 4.45pm.

The series explores the anatomy of the largest animals on the planet to reveal how these amazing creatures really work and the book to accompany it features dissection, CGI and wildlife photography to show how millions of years of evolution have enabled animals to thrive across the world.

Watt’s lecture has already been a huge hit at science festivals at York, Edinburgh and Oxford, and comes to Melrose with glowing testimonials.

Meanwhile, Watt will also be part of the Family Book Festival on Saturday, June 16, at noon when he adopts the guise of Doctor Death to offer a comic look at medicine throughout the ages.