Explorer Allen returns to base camp – in Norwich

He has journeyed single-handed through unimaginably harsh conditions, lived with remote indigenous people and seen the natural beauty of uncharted territories.

He has journeyed single-handed through unimaginably harsh conditions, lived with remote indigenous people and seen the natural beauty of uncharted territories.

And yesterday, Benedict Allen - one of Britain's top explorers - returned to Norwich, the city where he began his career, to share his passion for our incredible planet.

The author, filmmaker and TV presenter, who travels without back-up, set off on his first epic adventures as an eager UEA student.

More than 25 years later, he has endured searing heat, sub-zero temperatures and conquered thousands of miles of the remotest corners of the globe, in the process becoming world-famous for creating TV documentaries of his travels without the help of a professional film crew.

He dropped in to Norwich to officially launch the Earth Event at the Forum, a display of stunning landscape photography with a green message, and to give a talk of his adventures.

Speaking to the EDP about returning to the city, he said: “In a sense, it hasn't really changed, it's still Norwich, the heart is there and the essentials are very much as they were.

Most Read

“When I was coming in on the train from London, I saw distinctive landscape and all the memories of field trips came flooding back - we would go to Cromer and along the north Norfolk coast.”

Mr Allen dreamed of becoming an explorer from a young age and looked up to great heroic men in history such as Raleigh and Nelson

He said: “I didn't know how to get in to it - there is no such thing as a degree in exploring.

“But I did the next best thing and came to UEA to do environmental science, and did three explorations from here in my third year.”

He added: “I think that from those first explorations I realised I was quite well-equipped for it, quite dogged and good in a crisis.

“I was attacked on my first solo trip, to the Amazon, I was 22, and I had to end up eating my dog to survive.

“I thought I wasn't going to see my mum and dad again, but then after walking in the rainforest, I wanted to understand this world that had almost killed me.

“To have to spend two of three weeks completely on your own is not something most people do, either. It is very strange.”

Mr Allen's support for an environmental event is apt, as he has seen first hand the devastation man can wreak on the planet.

“I was quite depressed about it all for a long time, and I have seen communities completely wiped out.

“But I think in the last six months alone, there has been a definite shift in attitude, and the message now is one of hope that man has the power and will to change.

“The Earth Event really stresses that collective responsibility, that we can all make a difference if we try.”

For his next trip, Mr Allen plans to trek across the Taklimakan Desert in north-west China, the second largest shifting desert in the world.

Undaunted, he says:“Its name means if you go in, you don't come back.”

The free Earth Event exhibition, which includes floodlit installations outside the Forum, runs until April 29.

See Thursday's EDP2 for an interview with Adrian Ramsay of Norwich's Green Party.


t Allen, 47, read environmental science at UEA, where he managed to cram in three scientific expeditions - to a volcano in Costa Rica, a remote forest in Brunei and a glacier in Iceland - into his final year.

t After working in a warehouse to raise money, he made his first solo journey. He travelled from the mouth of the Orinoco to the mouth of the Amazon, during which he famously resorted to eating his dog. He made the eight-month, 3,600-mile crossing withoutusing a map or compass.

t Next came six months spent in New Guinea, where he underwent a brutal male initiation ceremony in order to try and understand the world of the Niowra, or Crocodile People.

He was beaten every day for six weeks to be make him “as strong as a crocodile”.

t With the help of Matses Indians, Benedict has crossed the Amazon Basin, a journey of almost eight months.

t Benedict has twice lived with Aborigines in the Gibson Desert - the first time after arriving in Australia by canoe across the treacherous Torres Strait.

t He has also lived for a time with the Iban people of Borneo.

t Benedict spent almost six months travelling three thousand miles through Mongolia by horse and camel.

t He completed a 1,000-mile

trek through Siberia with a dog team, carrying out the expedition during the worst winter in living memory.

The journey became the subject of the 2002 Icedogs series for BBC TV.