Creative, tough, tenacious – Freya Stark

image of Freya Stark as a young woman
Freya Stark

Zest for life

I might never have learned about Freya but for a book sale where I stumbled on her autobiography, Traveller’s Prelude 1893-1927.  It’s an astonishing document of her experiences up to her mid thirties. Freya Stark had a fascinating life. She was an explorer and wrote more than two dozen travel books about the Middle East and Afghanistan, autobiographies and books of letters.

Born in Paris to artists, Freya Stark lived her 100 year creative journey to the fullest.  She and her sister had an unconventional upbringing between Britain, France and Italy.  She had no early education but was self taught, well read and curious.  These qualities led her to learn multiple languages and dialects and eventually earn a university degree. 

Life was not easy

Her parents separated.  There were moves.  There was financial strain.  She was often sick for long periods and as a teen suffered a disfiguring accident in which part of her scalp and her right ear were ripped off.  After this, she always wore her hair combed down the right side and also sported hats. She had amazing stamina and persevered in following her interests in walking, mountaineering and travel.  She kept up a voluminous correspondence and wrote about everything.

Aside:  for several years, she farmed at a vineyard near Ventimiglia in Italy.  Until she could afford a cistern, there was little to no water.  As I carry my watering can over to my tomato containers and my one grapevine, I often think of her stamina – she would carry 100 buckets of water every day to water her flowers and vines.

A connection to British Columbia

Freya’s father, Robert Stark left Europe and settled in Creston, B.C.  He owned Broken Hill Ranch.  After he suffered a stroke, Freya spent two winters with him before he died there in 1931.

WW1 and WW2

During WW1 she worked as a nurse in northern Italy; during WW2 she worked for the British Ministry of Information as a political advisor.  Throughout her life she visited, mapped and wrote about remote middle Eastern places most people would not have dared to visit.

Return to Asolo, Italy

From childhood, Freya had a connection to Asolo, with visits to family friends.  Eventually a villa was willed to her and she made it her permanent home until her death.  If you travel to north Italy and the Veneto, I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful hill town.  Have an ice cream in the town square like I did!

Dame Freya Stark

For her work in the middle East, she was awarded a Cross of the British Empire in 1953 and was named a Dame of the British Empire in 1972. 

Here is a link to a YouTube documentary of a trip Freya took Nepal at the age of 88.

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.”
― Freya Stark

Images of Freya Stark are from a Facebook site dedicated to her