Words

A few stories I've written for National Geographic.

The Diamond Shipwreck

Five centuries ago a Portuguese carrick loaded with gold and ivory and bound for the fabled spice port of Goa vanished in a wild storm off the southern tip of Africa. Days later it foundered on a mysterious fogbound coast whose sands were strewn with millions of carats of diamonds. This whole improbable yarn would have been lost forever had it not been for a chance find on a lonely Namibian beach in what’s known as The Forbidden Zone

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The Ghost Ship of Filey Bay

The Bonhomme Richard is said to be one of the last of the great historic shipwrecks that has yet to be found. Left burning and adrift after its epic battle with HMS Serapis off the Yorkshire coast in 1779 – during which John Paul Jones scorned surrender and uttered his immortal line “I have not yet begun to fight! – the ship is assumed to have been carried far out to sea by the local currents. Sophisticated computer modelling says that must have been the case. Yet an old Yorkshire fisherman swears it went down in Filey Bay, not five miles from the battle. And he’s producing some tantalising evidence.

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Before Stonehenge: The Ness of Brodgar

One long ago summer, around the year 3200BC the Neolithic farmers and herdsmen on Scotland’s remote Orkney islands got together and decided to build something big. Using thousands of tonnes of fine-grained sandstone they set to work constructing a vast temple complex whose scale and magnificence was unlike anything the Neolithic world had ever seen. Now it has been found.

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Manor House Station to Gibson Square

Think you know your city? To become a cabbie in London you’ll need to pass the world’s toughest geography exam – memorising the city’s 20,000 streets and another 40,000 landmarks and be able to recite the shortest legal route between any two addresses within a six mile radius of Charing Cross instantly and without looking at a map. It’s called The Knowledge. The pass rate is lower than the pass rate to become a Navy Seal.

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The Real Pirates of the Caribbean

The Golden Age of Pirates played out in the first two decades of the 18th century. One of the last and most successful was Captain Bartholomew Roberts a.k.a. Black Bart – a cavalier swashbuckler and the nearest thing to a real life Jack Sparrow real life has to offer.

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Vlad The Impaler: The Real Dracula

No question about it – Vlad Tepes was a hard man even in an era of hard men. He was also a man who made plenty of powerful enemies and at a time when the printing press made it possible to create reputations – or tear them down. Was Vlad truly as monstrous as legend has it, or was he at least partly the victim of the world’s first bad press campaign?

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