Craig Mathieson

4th November 2011 at 00:00
The explorer caught the adventure bug from a bridge enthusiast with an affinity to nature and a nicotine smile

My headteacher at primary school, Mr Brown, was the one who told me about Captain Scott. It was his copy of The Worst Journey in the World (by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of Scott's companions on his fatal bid to reach the South Pole) which I read when I was 12.

After I read it I made the decision that I was going to be an explorer. I never saw Mr Brown again after I told him I was going to the South Pole, and unfortunately he passed away and never got to know that I reached it.

He was a proper character and had a true passion for education. He lived what he did; he went above and beyond.

The seven-a-side rugby team used to travel in his Volkswagen Beetle to all the games and play against all these teams like Drymen, where Billy Connolly used to live. He and Mr Brown were brilliant pals and he used to disappear and come back at the end of a match.

I'm sure he was a bit of a rogue. We used to hear stories - he liked a drink. I don't know if he represented Scotland, but he was a big bridge player. He would go off to play international games. He also brought in a chess computer to school one day.

No one had seen anything like it then and he put a pound note above it and said if anyone beat the computer they would get the pound. I got it.

Quite often he used to say: "Enough, put your books down, we will go out and learn about nature." So we would go out and learn about plants and animals. I had this fascination with snakes and I could find an adder quite easily. There was no "health and safety" back then and there were no accidents because everything was done right.

I remember he used to give me his wages to pay into the bank, which was just a minute's walk from the school. He was much, much more than a teacher. Everyone liked him, parents and pupils. He really cared about the kids too. I had two brothers and a sister, and if one of us was off sick he would come down after school or phone my mother to see how we were.

In P7 in the afternoons, he would allow us time off to go and play with the kids at the special needs community school in the village. Stuff like that was great for everyone.

I never knew his first name and I don't know how old he was. To me he was an old man. He was always in a suit, a bald guy always with this yellow smile because he chain-smoked. I never saw him angry, unlike Mrs Brown, who was also a teacher and scared the living daylights out of me - out of everyone! She was so much stricter.

When I went to high school I really did not cope; a lot of people from Buchlyvie didn't cope. All of a sudden, there were all these teachers and it was just a job to them.

Balfron High was a very scary place. I never had one good day at high school. I could not wait to get out. It was just too big and there were too many people in class. I did not excel at school at all. I was just seen as another Mathieson. That was what they said to me on my first day.

Everything I have achieved since has just been down to hard work. The headmistress of the Raploch in Stirling happened to live in Buchlyvie and taught me guitar. She was one of these special characters who just inspire children with their stories.

I gave a talk in Buchlyvie earlier this year and she was there and stood up to thank me. She had a copy of the Worst Journey book with her.

Craig Mathieson was talking to Julia Horton


Born: Johnstone, near Paisley, 1969

Education: Buchlyvie Primary and Balfron High, Stirlingshire

Career: Joined the Royal Navy, underwent polar military training; reached the South Pole in 2004 and the North Pole in 2006; VAT director for an accountancy firm in Edinburgh.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today