A renowned explorer who made headlines at the turn of the year following a close call in Papua New Guinea, Benedict Allen is one of the headline speakers at this year’s Peebles Outdoor Film Festival. We caught up with Benedict to learn more about his very particular approach to exploring wild places

You hit the headlines recently following your ‘rescue’ in Papua New Guinea. How close a call was that?

I have been in worst situations, but it did look a tad grim. I had malaria and dengue fever and my exit was blocked by a war – something that was not part of any feasible calculation. I was about to attempt to walk out alone. I put my chances at 80% but what worried me was that my judgment might be impaired with fever – 80% might have been too optimistic.

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Any schoolboy errors while on expedition that you’d like to confess to?

They happen all the time. On my last trip to cross Papua New Guinea’s Central Range, my reserve malaria tablets were in a waterproof bag, and this I carefully placed safely in my rucksack, to be carried by a local. But during the trek, unknown to me, this carrier grew weary, re-distributed the contents of my rucksack and the bloke who then carried the medical bag shoved his bush knife right through it. The contents grew wet and useless.

Looking back at your many expeditions, and the subsequent films, is there one in particular that you are most proud of?

My first film, Raiders of the Lost Lake, in about 1996. It was very naïve but it was honest, and also the start of self-filming expeditions for the telly. Without a filmcrew suddenly, and for the first time, the true ups and downs of a journey could be relayed to an audience honestly.

Is your style of going-it-alone exploring a dying art, or are there plenty of others following in your footsteps?

Plenty go it alone, but very few seem keen to go without some sort of sat phone … to ask the world for advice on weather, toothache, or how to get out when everything’s gone wrong. This means they are not alone. And that’s fine, but of course they are being a bit naughty if they say they are doing their adventure solo or unsupported.

And do you feel exploration generally is very much alive and well?

Exploration will always be alive and well – it’s what humans do. But the most important work ahead is now mainly for the specialist: the scientist pushing our boundaries of knowledge. Most ‘explorers’ that we hear about are actually adventurers, or extreme sportspeople – nothing wrong with that in most cases (although there’s a danger they distract from people and more valuable things) because they can be really inspiring.

Who did you draw inspiration from when growing up?

My dad test-flying his Vulcan bomber.

Rather than technology, do you still very much favour map + compass and living off your wits as ‘back up’?

Technology has its place, but my personal mission is to learn about the lives of local people, and for me this means mentally immersing myself in another world. My backup is still there – it’s just that it has become the local people whom I travel with. They are far quicker at getting out of dense forest in an emergency than any helicopter can manage! There’s a certain Western arrogance that we have solutions and the ‘natives’ don’t.

You’ve travelled to some of the most remote parts of the world, but have you ever been to Peebles?

Never! Exciting! A first!

See Benedict Allen at the 2018 Peebles Outdoor Film Festival on Saturday 27 January, 6.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets £15, £8 schoolchildren, from 01721 725777, or at www.eastgatearts.com. The 2018 Peebles Outdoor Film Festival runs from 26–28 January. See eastgatearts.com/