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RIYADH: The Heart of Arabia team enacting British explorer and scholar Harry St. John Philby’s “Coast to Coast” journey 105 years ago, was welcomed here by the UK Embassy in Riyadh.

Britain’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Neil Crompton hosted the small group of UK explorers who are retracing the 1,300-kilometer journey across Saudi Arabia that Philby made in 1917. 

The event was held at the ambassador’s residence on Monday night, a day before they set out on their journey. The Heart of Arabia expedition is named after Philby’s book. 

“This expedition highlights the historic and enduring relationship between our two kingdoms. It will build on our understanding of the desert and Saudi Arabia and celebrate our history,” said Crompton.

British explorer and team leader Mark Evans, Saudi explorer Reem Philby, British logistics expert Alan Morrissey, and Swiss photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache left Riyadh at 6 a.m. on Tuesday to drive to their first base camp at the remote port of Al-Uqair. 

They set out early on Wednesday in the footsteps of Reem’s grandfather, explorer Harry (Abdullah), who started his journey from the same coastal village.

Reem, the Saudi explorer, hopes the trip will inspire young people to take an interest in nature.

“My kids grew up in the outdoors. So, for example, when we visit a country, we will most likely visit the city on the first day and then drive to the outskirts to see the outdoors, mountains, or whatever. When you’re outside, whether you’re a kid or an adult, you learn a lot again; you learn from nature, and you become very humble. You become very in touch with other people from different cultures, and you become very open-minded,” Philby told Arab News.

The team will use the trip to learn more about the desert and research three important international science projects that look at how the world has changed over time: The DRIFT, Bat Distribution, and Green Arabia projects.

The DRIFT project, led by Dr. Nathan Smith at Coventry University, looks at the psychological impact of living in extremely isolated environments. The aim is to produce a psychological support tool to enable humans to thrive on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Evans will lead this research on the trip.

The Bat Distribution project is led by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. More than 30 kinds of bats live in Arabia. They are important to the ecology of the desert because they control the number of insects, and pollinate and spread the seeds of date palms. Philby will lead research into their roosting sites.

The Green Arabia project led by Michael Petraglia, director of the Australian Centre for Human Evolution, will record archaeological artifacts found in the desert. This research will lead to a better understanding of environmental changes in the desert over the past one million years. Morrissey will carry out the data collection. 

Evans’ aim is for the expedition to inspire young people to explore the world around them. “If we inspire one person to get out and ask questions, then we will have helped move society forward.” 

The Heart of Arabia expedition was launched in September at the Royal Geographical Society in London, with the UK’s Princess Anne as patron and Saudi Ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar in attendance.



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