There’s a phrase I read in Sir Ranulph Fienne’s biography of Ernest Shackleton, which really stuck with me to the point that I flicked through the book – simply entitled ‘Shackleton’ – all over again just to find it. Shackleton was described by his wife, Emily, as “a soul whipped on by the wanderfire”. And I felt like today, of all days, is a great day to reflect on that phrase.

The term “wanderlust” is one used by everyone who travels and I’ve never really liked it. In my mind, it has always been a cliché – overused by anyone who sets foot out of their own hometown. There’s no magic to the word.

But there is something beautiful about the term “wanderfire”. And when you connect it to such an inspiring Irishman as Ernest Shackleton, it has even more meaning – for me anyway. Whenever I read it, I can imagine the burning desire Shackleton had to do something great. And, of course, he did many great things. He is now remembered as a great explorer who was associated with four Antarctic expeditions – three of which he led.

The most famous of his journeys was the 1914 to 1916 Endurance expedition. Shackleton, always “whipped on by the wanderfire”, had big plans to make history on this expedition. He and his team would be the first to walk across the continent, starting from the coast of the Weddell Sea, traversing the South Pole and ending up at the Ross Sea. But disaster struck when the ship was crushed and Shackleton and his crew drifted for months on sheets of ice until they reached Elephant Island. Shackleton managed to rescue all of his crew and, astoundingly, each and every one of them survived the ordeal.

The reason that phrase – “a soul whipped on by the wanderfire” is on my mind today – January 5th, 2022 – is because today is the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s death. While he was on what would be his last Antarctic expedition, members of his Endurance crew, who had rejoined their great leader, noticed he wasn’t quite himself. He was drained of the spirit that had kept him going on so many previous expeditions.

Sadly, on January 5, 1922, Ernest Shackleton suffered a heart attack in his bunk while the ship was off the coast of South Georgia. Forever respectful of that “wanderfire”, which whipped on her husband’s soul, Emily Shackleton told the crew to bury him there and his grave remains in the tiny cemetery of Grytviken.

Many Antarctic trips take in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, giving today’s explorers the opportunity to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps and to visit his grave. We chose a basecamp expedition that does not travel to those locations, instead spending the duration of the trip around the Antarctic peninsula (read more about my planned expedition here). But someday, if the opportunity arises, I would love to follow in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton who has become somewhat of a hero of mine – as has Tom Crean, another Irish explorer who travelled with Shackleton on more than one expedition, including the Endurance. But we’ll get to him another day.


Recommended Shackleton Reading:

Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ book, ‘Shackleton’, was a Christmas gift to me from my dad, who has a knack for buying exactly the right books. “Learn from the master” is the inscription inside the book, as I prepare to head off on my own Antarctic journey. Between that and two books about prosecco and champagne, he really hit the nail on the head with reading material this year.

I’ve tried to read other books about Shackleton’s expeditions, such as South, and I’m finding it to be quite heavy reading. But Ranulph Fiennes has a way of writing that is so easy to read. It draws you in, hooks you on the story and makes you want to read more.

If you’re interested in reading more about Ernest Shackleton and his journeys south, you can’t get much better than this. Fiennes himself travelled to Antarctica and writes, not only from knowledge but from experience.

Click the link below to check out ‘Shackleton’. I promise, if you have an interest in this topic, you won’t be disappointed. Just so you are aware, as an Amazon associate, I will earn a small commission on any purchase made through the link below – and at no extra cost to you. But I want to make it very clear that I will never share affiliate links to products unless I highly recommend them.


Purchase ‘Shackleton’ at the link below:


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