The intrepid journey of a young woman who took on a walking tour of England and Scotland in 1923 with a pack donkey as her travelling companion has been documented in a new book.
Eve’s Journey tells the story of Eve (Doris) Brackenbury, 30, who recorded her trip in a surprisingly intimate diary. Described as a “post-WWI Bohemian”, Eve’s quirky interests, courage and curiosity, and a spark of wickedness and inclination to shock people are revealed.
Her granddaughter, Gill Brackenbury, says Eve’s story captured her imagination. “Doris, or Eve as she was also known, did not seem to comfortably fit, nor did she seem to accept, the social norms of her generation. She was very human, a determined and rather independent thinker, and controversial at times.”
The initial part of Eve’s Journey is a cameo of her life which sets the scene before her on a solo journey from Derby to Scotland with her pack donkey, Hotep, then her travel without Hotep, an episode punctuated by memorable escapades as she makes her way back to London. She and Hotep would have walked for more than 300 miles on their trip.
“Her diary conversation is laced with wry commentary, and commonplace occurrences are often enlivened with her spark of wickedness and individualistic approach,” the author says. “Most of all one has to admire her pluck as she explores personal boundaries, meets challenges with courage and curiosity, and progresses on her physical and emotional journey.”
Despite being told that she would be murdered or die on the moors, Eve set out with Hotep. This colourful social history shows Eve as she rises to the challenge of new, and sometimes risky, experiences and shows spirit and resourcefulness crossing the moors with Hotep, walking for hours in atrocious weather and fending off some unnerving, unwanted attention.
She and Hotep developed quite a bond during their journey, and the donkey even attacked some unwelcome “joyriders” intent on taking Hotep for a spin.
Eve wrote: “During the first part of the walk, the scenery was magnificent but rather frightening. The wind howled through the telegraph wires overhead, making a weird uncanny lament as we climbed higher and higher. For many miles, there was no sign of human habitation, no sheep, no birds — we seemed to be the only living creatures in a wilderness of stern grey boulders and wind-flattened grass.
“Seven men came into the stable … But for Hotep’s unexpected and timely intervention I might have fared rather badly and I made up my mind to be more careful … ” she wrote.
Eve had many entertaining experiences, including meeting the Sovereign of the secret aristocratic gentlemen’s club “The Beggar’s Benison”, a risky visit down the famous Ashington coal mine and an illegal cockfight.
In 1924, Eve married Graham Brackenbury, who died in 1952.
Later in life, Eve worked as a researcher, working on archaeology and genealogy in her local area of Bath. Eve died a few months short of her 90th birthday, in 1982. The author says “the passage of time has created a freedom to tell her whole story”.
Born in Horsham, Sussex, UK, Gill Brackenbury emigrated to New Zealand as a two-year-old. The family was based first in the Nelson region, mostly in the country, before moving to Wellington. Educated at Wellington Girls’ College, she then trained as a School Dental Nurse before taking a two-year overseas experience break in Europe, mainly based in London.
On returning to New Zealand, Gill gained a BSc in Botany at Victoria University of Wellington. She then worked for the former DSIR before taking up the position of Head Technician in the Botany Department at Victoria University. She later moved to a career in computing at the Government Computer Services, then for EDS.
Now ‘retired’, Gill lives in Seatoun, with keen interests in gardening, music and craftwork. In recent years she has become increasingly interested in her family and roots in England. Having been given her paternal grandmother’s diaries, she realised this was a wonderful opportunity to get to know her grandmother and to share the quirky, intimate tale of her challenging solo walk with a donkey from England to Scotland. Gill is now researching the histories and writings of other members of her family in England.