Meet the team: 10 questions with Peter Watson
In the first of our series, we speak to communications officer Peter Watson about his role at UKAHT, his love of cricket and a stuffed penguin called Pøgas.
1. Tell us about yourself
I am a travel writer and founder of the outdoor travel blog Atlas & Boots. A keen trekker and climber, I can often be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges or, closer to home, hiking the moorlands of Dartmoor.
I’ve visited over 90 countries across all seven continents and am currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. So far, I’ve ticked off Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Kosciuszko in Australia and most recently Aconcagua in South America. I still have Denali in North America (which I'm attempting next year), Vinson in Antarctica and Everest in Asia to climb. I also plan to summit Puncak Jaya in Indonesia to complete the two separate versions of the seven summits lists.
A glorious day at Lord's cricket ground (Credit: Peter Watson)
As a travel writer, I’ve written for The Guardian, The Telegraph, BBC Travel, The Independent, Lonely Planet and National Geographic among others. I’ve also contributed to guidebooks by DK Eyewitness and Lonely Planet as well as photography to a range of publications and even a recipe book.
Away from travel and writing, I live in East London with my wife and am a huge cricket fan. I will watch any form of the game but I really adore test cricket. I try to get along to Lord's or the Oval as often as I can. One day, I'd like to watch a test match overseas, ideally in the West Indies or Sri Lanka.
2. What does a normal day at UKAHT look like for you?
As the communications officer at UKAHT, my roles include looking after our social channels, be it posting cute shots of our resident Gentoo colony to snappy videos of our conservation work. I am also responsible for content on our website which includes publishing dispatches from our teams working on the continent as well as writing original content such as Why does heritage matter during a climate crisis?
My day usually begins by dropping by our social channels and responding to comments and questions before getting stuck into emails. At the beginning of the week, I try to schedule all our social posts for the upcoming week and put together any assets I’ll need such as photography, videos and infographics.
Once the admin is out of the way, I get stuck into the bigger jobs. Currently, I am editing a short video about the recent restoration work undertaken at Damoy Hut. Also on my to-do list is to create individual web pages for all our heritage sites and prepare next month’s newsletter that goes out to our 10,000-plus subscribers. If you haven’t already, please do sign up!
3. What made you want to work for UKAHT?
Ever since I was young, I have been enthralled by the tales of Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and so on. It is what got me interested in travel to begin with. Just under a year ago, I visited Antarctica. It was a lifelong ambition of mine but I still plan to return to try and climb Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s highest peak.
Peter in Antarctica (Credit: Peter Watson)
I was already aware of UKAHT’s work in the region. In fact, in 2022, I applied for one of the roles at Port Lockroy. Although I was naturally disappointed I didn’t get the job, when I met the successful applicants, I realised they were the perfect team for the job. In the end, my skillset is far better suited for the role of communications officer. As such, I was delighted when I spotted the vacancy on UKAHT’s Instagram feed. The rest, they say, is history.
4. What's your favourite UKAHT site?
As we approach UKAHT's 30th anniversary, I've been exploring some of the stories behind its more remote sites. For me, it has to be Detaille Island Hut. There are several aspects of its unique history that appeal to me.
From 1956 to 1959, Detaille was home to Base W of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (the precursor to the British Antarctic Survey) before it was hastily evacuated when encroaching sea ice made it unsafe for the team to remain in situ. As such, the team left almost everything behind, except the sledges they escaped on and their work, which included geological samples, leaving the base practically frozen in time. It remains one of the best preserved of our bases.
Steve the dog (Credit: BAS Archive)
However, my favourite Detaille story is of ‘Steve the Dog’, an Antarctic adventure right up there with the Heroic Age. At the end of 1958, as the team were about to depart from Horseshoe Island (30 miles from Detaille), one of the team’s sledge dogs escaped. Nearly three months later, Steve the dog reappeared, fit and well. From his healthy condition, it was clear he had returned to Detaille and lived on the old seal pile from which the dogs had been fed. As midwinter approached and his companions failed to return, he must have decided to go and look for them and retraced his steps all the way to Horseshoe.
5. What's your favourite species of penguin?
I have a soft spot for the Adélie, the feistiest of all penguin species. You’ll see why…
6. If you were working at Port Lockroy for the season, what luxury item would you take?
I’m not sure if it’s classed as a luxury item, but I would take my adopted penguin, Pøgas (don’t ask!). In 2015, I adopted Pøgas for my wife’s birthday. Eight years on, we still have him and he travels everywhere with us. He’s visited dozens of destinations – including Antarctica – and we always take photos of him on location, often with other animals.
When we visited Antarctica, we took him ashore every day where he posed for photos with other penguins. One morning, during our polar plunge, he got wet so we didn’t take him on the afternoon landing – our final one of the trip – to a Gentoo and Chinstrap penguin colony on Barrientos Island.
Pøgas meeting some gentoos (Credit: Peter Watson)
No one told us beforehand but there was a surprise in store. The colony had had a successful breeding season and was teeming with adorable penguin chicks. While we had the privilege of watching them nest and feed, we’ve always regretted that our penguin chick travelled all the way to Antarctica and didn't get to meet any other chicks. As such, I’d put that right and take Pøgas to Port Lockry so he could meet some penguin chicks.
7. Tell us about a travel experience that changed you
The obvious answer is Antarctica. For me, visiting Antarctica was a watershed moment. It was everything I had hoped it could be: wild, isolated, beautiful, enormous, and home to some of the most extraordinary animal life I’ve seen. The trip immediately became my number one travel experience – one I will savour for years to come.
However, it was trekking Kilimanjaro back in 2010, that really changed the direction of my life. Before then, I hadn’t done much in the way of outdoor activities other than a few camping trips around the UK. Not only did it give me the idea of climbing the seven summits, but my Kili trek changed the way I travel.
On the summit of Kilimanjaro in 2010 (Credit: Peter Watson)
Since then, nearly all of my trips have had an outdoor or nature focus. I have gone on extended wilderness treks and climbs to remote destinations such as Greenland, Pakistan and Namibia as well as more familiar spots like Nepal, Norway and Switzerland. Engaging with nature and getting into the outdoors has proven mental and physical health benefits and this rings true for me – I am at my most content when in nature, especially in the mountains.
There is a sense of scale and perspective that only mountains can bring. On a climb or trek, my mind clears of all the distractions of the modern world and settles into a wonderfully uncomplicated routine: eat, drink, climb, rest, repeat.
8. Tell us about a dream trip you still want to take
It has to be completing the seven summits, culminating with an ascent of Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth. Even though I am well aware it is a highly improbable dream (I’m around £100k short at the moment!), deep inside there’s a kernel of hope that, one day, I will achieve my ambition. I would, after all, rather harbour dreams I won’t achieve, than nurse none at all.
Peter climbing in Pakistan (Credit: Peter Watson)
I still have Denali in North America and Vinson in Antarctica to climb before I would have a go at Everest so it’s a real long shot. It’s clichéd I know, but perhaps that old aphorism really is true: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
9. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Personally, I would like to see humans change their relationship with animals and show them more respect. I love the outdoors, nature and wildlife, and I love spending time in the company of animals, but I feel that as a species, we’ve come to regard animals as products and commodities.
Peter has always loved animals (Credit: Peter Watson)
I think that one day, we will look back at the way we have treated animals as a defining moral failing of our age. Whether it's industrialised farming, overfishing or the destruction of wildlife habitat, I would like to see humans treat animals more as our equals as opposed to subordinates.
10. Could you tell us about something you have learned while working at UKAHT?
I was fascinated by our podcast with British Antarctic Survey (BAS) marine biologist Dr Huw Griffiths and the unique wildlife being discovered and studied in the deep waters of Antarctica and how it is teaching us about our planet’s past and even revealing some secrets of the universe.
Huw featured in season three of our podcast (Credit: UKAHT)
Huw explained that even though Antarctica is so far away and so different to the world we know here in the UK, it may not be that different to what the seas and waters surrounding us were once like. In Antarctica, there is so little human interference, that we get an idea of what creatures may have lived in the waters around the UK before humans made such an impact.
For example, every square mile of the Irish Sea is dredged or fished three times a year on average, so anything that's slow growing or long-lived like corals and sponges would have long been damaged or completely destroyed. By looking at the wildlife found in the deep waters around Antarctica, we can see the impact humans are having – and have had – on our seas and oceans closer to home.
Huw has worked for BAS for over 20 years, studying the animals that live at the bottom of the sea around Antarctica and the Arctic. You can listen to our podcast with him here.
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