John & MC Ridgway


My parents, John and Marie Christine still live at Ardmore.   It has been their home since 1964.  Running their adventure school and improving the crofts has been their life.  Hard work and a little luck have allowed us, as a family, to stay and build our lives in this most lovely but often harsh place.  It has been the springboard for all our journeys and the place we always wanted to come home to.

My parents met at a roulette party

My mother, Marie Christine D’Albiac, was accompanied by her brother; my father, a Captain in the Parachute Regiment, was entertaining an American airborne officer.

She thought he was a spy.

They were married on 21 March 1964 when Mum was just 20 years old. Dad resigned his commission from the army and they moved together to the north-west Highlands. They would search for a home and jobs that summer.

Mum and Dad at the helm of English Rose VI in the 1977/78 Whitbread Race.

Living in a rickety caravan above the fishing harbour at Kinlochbervie, Mum worked as a secretary, the only woman on the pier. Dad got a job with the salmon fishery and loaded lorries with fish boxes by night. They looked up and down the coast for a croft house on a sheltered sea loch, eventually finding an old corrugated iron house at Ardmore, accessible only on foot or by boat.

They bought the house but with much-reduced income, they decided to return south, Dad requested to re-join the Parachute Regiment and was given a desk job, while Mum worked as a secretary. They escaped north to Ardmore whenever they could.

1966 North Atlantic rowing

On one visit north, Dad heard of David Johnstone’s plan to row across the North Atlantic from Boston, Massachusetts to Land’s End, starting on 1st June 1966. Could he make the crossing too?

With no funds, no partner and no boat and with 67 days until Johnstone and Hoare would start in ‘Puffin’, Dad received a letter from Hughie Ross, a lone lobster fisherman and neighbour at Ardmore. He enclosed a leaflet showing a twenty-foot Yorkshire Dory. “If anything can do the crossing, I think this design will” were Hughie’s words.

John and Chay make final preparation to English Rose III

Dad bought her for £185, naming her ‘English Rose III’. Dad’s platoon sergeant, Chay Blyth became his rowing partner. Johnstone and Hoare set to sea before English Rose III.

English Rose III left shore with limited communication, little experience and an equal amount of fear and hope. The two Para’s fell into a hard daily routine and John often suffering from seasickness.

They dreamt of living a simpler life if they survived and talked for days about Ardmore.

After two hurricanes, one of which lasted for a week, easterly gales which blew them backwards, days of searing heat, lack of food and water, saltwater boils, great whales and over curious sharks, they survived all the sea could throw at them, sighting the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland after 92 days.

John and Chay returned to a hero’s welcome but they never forgot Johnstone and Hoare, whose boat was found upturned by a Spanish vessel some weeks later. With John and Chay back home to their wives the press declared a ‘baby-race’.

John and Chay were welcomed back into the Parachute Regiment, having had to resign their commissions before the Atlantic Row in case they perished. I won the baby race, being born a couple of weeks before the Blyth’s daughter.

1968 Golden Globe

With itchy feet and more self-belief, Dad entered the 1968 Golden Globe single-handed round the world race, the first race of its kind. Dad’s 30’ masthead sloop, ‘English Rose IV’ which now sits on the shore at Ardmore, was hit by a press boat as he left from the Aran Islands.

Irreparable damage worsened and Dad took the hard decision to pull out of the race and divert to Recife, Brazil after seven weeks at sea.

English Rose IV being towed to the start off the Aran Islands

Out of nine competitors, four pulled out before leaving the Atlantic, Tetley’s boat sank and he drowned whilst leading the race, Crowhurst committed suicide, Moitessier chose not to stop and carried on the Tahiti.  Knox-Johnston was the only finisher.

The Adventure School

Mum and Dad had been making plans to start an Adventure School at Ardmore. Over the bitter winter of 1968, Hughie Ross and Rod Liddon rebuilt a long wooden building bought at auction, at Skerricha, the inland end of the sea loch, while my parents searched for clients. The first course arrived Saturday 5th July 1969.

Three principles that Dad felt had kept him and Chay alive rowing across the Atlantic would be the cornerstone of the Adventure School: Self-Reliance, Positive Thinking and Leaving people and places better than you find them.

The Adventure School was none stop work throughout each summer with no electricity, television and before computers and the internet. My parents decided to go on expeditions, usually to the southern hemisphere, every other winter, to recharge their batteries and write books to cover the costs.

Dad led an expedition to trace the Amazon from its source to the sea, they went to Southern Chile together, travelling in small rubber dinghies to access an unexplored ice-cap in Patagonia, they raced ‘English Rose VI’, a 57’ ketch in the 1977/78 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, ran marathons across America, walked in the Himalayas.

Dad sailed English Rose VI none stop around the world with just one other person, only seeing land once on the whole voyage in 203 days, a record at the time.

In 1985, I left school and we went on expeditions together to Peru several times, kayaked around Cape Horn, sailed for 18 months, then to Iceland and Greenland, always returning to Ardmore, the ‘sheet anchor’, as Dad describes it in the early days; it has remained thus for all of us.

The Reasons Why: 1970

In Dad’s own words, articulating what he and Mum hoped for with the Adventure School.   Many of the same sentiments remain over fifty years on.

“What was it that led me to row across the North Atlantic? In a phrase, I wanted to test myself, to establish my own qualities in the face of the severest challenge I could devise. It is a theme which, I suspect, runs through many of the most exacting exercises in human endurance.

In that setting, an open boat in mid-Atlantic, I found myself deeply impressed by the permanence and the simplicity of the challenge posed by sea and sky. The artificial pre-occupations of the world in which most people live were even more remote from my mind than from my body. I felt a keen sense of cleanliness and natural charachter of the problems we faced and a deep contentment to overcome them. I resolved that I would try to share with others both my view of the world and the satisfaction that such experiences have brought me.

The School of Adventure arose from that resolution.

Upon reflection I decided to create a small enclave, a corner of the world where people could experience – genuinely but within the limits imposed by their physical condition and working circumstances – the same direct confrontation with the real world which I find so stimulating and satisfying.

The site I selected for the School is ideal. It is in the North West Highlands of Scotland where the mountains sweep down to the empty Atlantic. Twelve miles south of Cape Wrath there is a sheltered sea loch where, a thousand years ago, the Viking long ships eased through the narrow entrance into the calmer waters beyond.

In the loch itself are seals and otters. In the mountains nearby nest some of the few surviving golden eagles. On the outlying islets live thousands upon thousands of sea birds: guillemots, puffins, razor-bills, kittiwakes and fulmars to mention only a few.

In 1964 Marie-Christine and I found Ardmore, which is three miles from the coastal road. In 1968, we moved there with our daughter Rebecca and faced our first challenge: that of building the School with our own hands without any kind of outside capital or institutional commitment. Our first season was 1969 and ever since then we have steadily improved the facilities and content of the courses.

The theme of every course is the same. To give people an opportunity of throwing off the artificial restraints, demands and worries that preoccupy them for most of their lives and to give them an opportunity of measuring themselves against the sea, the sky and a primitive landscape of great beauty.

The object is not to exhaust people but to allow them to expand against this unique background. Safety is never ignored with an instructor ratio of 1:6 or better, and the simple creature comforts are taken care of. But the main experience is a direct contact between the individual and the real world in which he lives yet seldom sees.

What I have tried to do here is to explain to you the principles upon which the School was founded and-as clearly as I can-exactly what it has to offer those who come to it.

John Ridgway – 1970

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