Home Useful Links Contact 
The High-Flying Duchess
Previous Books


High-Flying Duchess

Extracts / Some Other Interests

Mary loved canoeing on the Tamar at Endsleigh.

“She was more adept at preventing her canoe from capsizing than the rest of the party whenever they were staying at Endsleigh, where the Tamar ran through the estate close to the house. Even on quiet days, the rocks, pools, bends and rapids presented some interesting challenges. When the river was in full spate, even Mary, in her own words, ‘shipwrecked handsomely on two occasions. The first time was rather a shock, as the water was so cold that it took all my breath away, and the current is too strong to allow of standing, even if you are in your depth, which I was not. The second time I saw shipwreck was inevitable and was prepared, as I had already been under, head and all.’ ”

Mary’s canoe can still be seen at the National Maritime Museum at Falmouth



She used her yacht both for bird watching and travel.

“Although the first Sapphire (Mary later had a second yacht called by the same name) was always described as a yacht, it was perhaps less smart than later generations imagined. Mary’s sister Zoë later told her grandchildren of how she used to make ‘a few trips with Mary round Europe in a rather damp and leaky wooden sailing boat.’ Zoë would send home a great many post cards and bring back endless souvenirs, including a Swedish National costume which still survives, somewhat moth-eaten but intact.
The photograph of Mary and her friends in fancy dress on board Sapphire was captioned in her album with Banquo’s description of the three witches in Macbeth:
‘What are these so withered and so wild in their attire,
That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ Earth
And yet are on’t?’ ”


“In 1911, she persuaded Captain Elliott, most reluctantly, to sail the yacht within sight of the fabled island of Jan Mayen, 310 miles north-north-east of Iceland and 240 miles from the coast of Greenland, as she later recalled in an article for Country Life. With floating ice to one side of them and heavy surf on the other, even Mary conceded that to attempt to land would be unwise: she merely stopped the yacht a mile from the island, unable to drop anchor as they were close to the Wille Glacier, and rowed the dinghy within a few yards of the shore. As they left, the fog came down, to be driven away in its turn by an easterly gale and sea which even the Duchess described as dangerous. ‘But I had seen Jan Mayen, and did not greatly care what happened.’ ”


Mary’s travels usually involved some form of adventure.

“After some days’ travel, the two young women reached Chamonix in Switzerland, full of plans for climbing mountains. It was pouring with rain when they arrived, the cloud down low on the mountains and the guides dispirited, but they were woken at six next morning when the weather changed. Early in June, there was still so much snow that it was knee deep for most of the climb and a single false step plunged them in up to their waists. They and another small party on a different route on the same day were the first groups to make the climb that year. Starting out on mules, they were soon on their feet, roped to the guides, climbing in earnest for some five hours.

"At last they reached their destination, the hut at Les Grands Mulets, a well known landmark on the most direct route to the summit of Mont Blanc from Chamonix. Snow lay a foot deep on the floors of the rooms, and only in the kitchen was it possible to make even a semblance of a fire. They slept in the one room where there was only deep mud rather than snow. After a frozen night in the icy hut, they made their descent, encountering on the lower slopes a Russian princess, most unsuitably clad in silk or satin and lace, with a husband bent on reaching the same point, though the English girls later learnt that the couple had not reached even the first glacier by nightfall. Meanwhile, Mary and her friend found everyone in their hotel assembled outside to greet them with a cheer on their return. At this early point in the season, reaching Les Grands Mulets was seen as quite an achievement., acknowledged by the presentation of a certificate from the Company of Guides at Chamonix confirming their feat.”

She had a remarkable way with animals.
“Mary photographed her cats playing the violin, playing a game of croquet and engaged in other human activities. 

"As so often, she enjoyed combining a range of different skills in a single challenge.  She always had a number of cats, either Persian or Siamese (Goblin, a Siamese, was beautifully painted by the Belgian artist, Henriette Ronner), and she thoroughly enjoyed devising their costumes and persuading them to play their parts as she photographed them.

"Several other photographs, some taken by her herself and some by other people, reveal her remarkable rapport with animals. One shows her immaculately dressed in a riding habit with a bowler hat, kneeling on the ground to talk to her hunter David. No-one is holding the horse, but he clearly has no more intention of breaking off the conversation than his mistress.  Another photograph shows her Pekingese spaniel Che Foo enthroned in a tiny carriage resembling a converted wheelchair with shafts drawn by her Shetland pony Viking. On other occasions apparently Che Foo rode on Viking’s back. Mary was proud of her success with both animals.”



all rights reserved