Cotswold Doctor, Ian to the South Pole

PUBLISHED: 18:56 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:57 20 February 2013

Cotswold Life reaches the south pole!

Cotswold Life reaches the south pole!

Katie Jarvis meets the man who likes Cotswold Life so much that he carried a copy with him all the way to the South Pole!

Cotswold GP and polar adventurer Ian Davis would go to the ends of the earth to help his patients. As indeed he has. He's recently returned from Antarctica, where he was providing medical support to seven international teams racing to the South Pole. It's the first such race since Scott and Amundsen's historic battle nearly 100 years ago - and this time, the Norwegians won again. But close behind were the British team, which included TV personalities James Cracknell and Ben Fogle.

"The temperature got down as low as -40 degrees C which, with wind-chill, feels like -60 degrees. Everyone got frostbite at some point," Ian says. Although he's been to the Magnetic North Pole on four separate expeditions - once as official doctor on Top Gear: Polar Special - nothing could have prepared him for Antarctica: "One of the big problems is the monotony. We travelled 2,500 km, and it was snooker-table flat. It was a vast desert of nothing."

During his eight-week trip, he spoke by satellite phone to pupils at Fairford Primary School, which two of his daughters - Molly, 9, and Poppy, 6 - attend. And he celebrated his arrival at the pole by reading a copy of Cotswold Life magazine he'd taken with him.

He and his wife, Becky, also have a one-year-old daughter, Daisy.

Where do you live and why?

We've lived in Fairford for 14 years. Everything's here - pubs, school, shops, our social life; I work nearby, at the surgery in Rendcomb, and I look after Cirencester Hospital at night and weekends. The bizarre thing is, I actually felt cold when I got home! Suddenly you take off all those big clothes and you stop eating 7,000 calories a day, which is what you need to keep warm in Antarctica.

How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?

I moved here from Birmingham 25 years ago, when I was 16, because my father got a job locally. I went from an all-boys' grammar to Deer Park: girls, alcohol and parties. I was in heaven, but it also explains why I failed my A levels first time round!

What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

I love simply being outside with the kids. It's taken me 10 years of fatherhood to realise the only thing children need and want is you. It doesn't matter what you do: in the garden; making a den; strolling in the woods; or just sitting and reading. It's funny talking about weekends because time has no meaning in the Antarctic. You get to the point where you're so used to using the sun to work out what time it is, you might as well throw your watch away. You eat when you're hungry; you sleep when you're tired.

If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

If I won the lottery, I'd dearly love to buy a manor house in one of the stunning archetypal Cotswold villages - the Duntisbournes or Eastleach - because I long to be surrounded by my own space. But another part of me would like to give the money away. When your whole world has consisted of a tent, a cooking stove, a cigarette lighter and a book, you find it hard to imagine why people would think they need a plasma TV. One of the people I shared a tent with emailed me after we got home and said, "I have realized the UK is full of nothingness." I've felt an affinity, in a bizarre sort of way, with soldiers who serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their experiences are far more profound than mine, but I understand how difficult it must be to come back and live your old life, without any support, when you've experienced extreme conditions.

Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

In a big town like Cirencester. (Well, it's a big town to me!)

Where's the best pub in the area?

When I get time, I go to either the Masons Arms in Meysey Hampton or the Old Spotted Cow in Marston Meysey. I actually took on my trip a half-litre of Cotswold blackberry gin, made by a friend I go shooting with. If we'd had a really hard day - if a vehicle had broken down or one of us was ill - I'd give it out as if it was medicine and everyone would take a tiny nip. It was nectar.

And the best place to eat?

Allium in Fairford. I had my 40th birthday there: scallops from New Wave [the Cirencester fish shop], followed by venison. All a bit different from the Antarctic, where meals came in plastic envelopes. They weren't bad, to be honest. My favourite was the sweet and sour chicken, which I used to hide away! The Norwegian team supplemented their diet with cubed reindeer fat; and every morning they ate a reindeer tongue - gross! It was vacuum-packed, chewy like a salami, and some were still green where the animals had been eating grass.

Have you a favourite tearoom?

Coots's Caf at the Gateway Centre in South Cerney: I like the fact that it's oak-framed, with solar panels, and uses recycled rain water. I also enjoy a cup of coffee by the swimming pool at Cowley Manor, with ambient music playing. But nothing can match the tea I had in my tent each day. When you're travelling at altitude, it can take an hour-and-a-half to melt enough water for a hot drink. When you've had to put that much effort in, tea tastes so good.

What would you do for a special occasion?

I thought reaching the South Pole would be a special occasion; but though we got there at three o'clock in the morning, it was disappointingly like Swindon railway station. There were tractors going up and down and Americans yee-hawing. I'd taken one of my grandfather's pipes with me so I could bury it there - I'd buried another at the North Pole - but it just didn't feel like the right sort of place. At the end of the trip, I was airlifted out to return to England with Ben Fogle, while the three colleagues I'd shared a tent with had to drive the vehicles back to base, 2,500 kms away. They offered to take the pipe to the most perfect spot we'd seen on the way: a rock face in the middle of nowhere, utterly sparse, remote and silent. They took a GPS reading so if I ever want to go back and find it, I'll know exactly where it is.

What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?

Clean, fresh, unspoilt, open space. And variety: the Antarctic is one big nothingness. On the way back home, I was having breakfast at a hotel in Cape Town, when a fly landed next to me. I was absolutely fascinated by it - I hadn't seen anything like it for two months - and I just sat watching this thing walking round. It makes you appreciate the ordinariness of life.

... and the worst?

Our obsession with celebrity, and the adoration that comes with it. One of the racers, who skied 750 kms, was an Irish guy called Mark Pollack, who is completely blind. He should be a celebrity, inspiring children, but he's not. Halfway through the race, he and his team arrived at a checkpoint we'd set up. It was around two o'clock in the morning, in a storm, and he came skiing through this whiteout, face covered in frost, saying to me, "Doc, I'm so happy to be alive." I found him so inspiring. He couldn't see it, but I was crying my eyes out!

Which shop could you not live without?

I spent two months fantasising about Coke, fresh food, fried bacon, fruit, puddings, cream. Then the day after I got back, I drove to Waitrose and just stood looking at every bit of produce from all parts of the world. I didn't have to shoot it, kill it, boil it or prepare it; I just had to buy it. I rang my wife and babbled that we have no idea how lucky we are.

What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?

There's a big cohort of genuine country folk in villages such as Winstone, the Duntisbournes and Elkstone, who still have a true sense of community. I value that. When Ewan McGregor

went round the world on his motorbike, the happiest people he came across lived in the middle of nowhere - Mongolia and Russia. They had almost nothing, but were willing to share the little they had, with open arms.

What would be a three course Cotswold meal?

Some of the farmers I look after let me go shooting in the countryside near Barnsley, so I'd get myself some venison for main course. Lots of people hate shooting but it's proper food and it reminds me of the values I encompass on my trips. For pudding, I'd have Cotswold hedgerow fruit, and North Cerney cheese to finish.

What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?

Duntisbourne Abbots. I run a surgery in the village hall on a Wednesday. I know my patients so well, I feel a bit like James Herriot. On my desk, I've one of those digital photo frames; most of my consultations overrun because we sit and talk about the pictures going round.

Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...

Stone walls

Barn conversions

And the Cotswold Water Park lakes

What would you never do in the Cotswolds?

Drive with my car windows down and music blasting out.

If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

When I went to the Magnetic North Pole once, I took a little cube of oak from a Gloucestershire tree that had been used for an extension on my house.

What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?

New England-style holiday homes that seem to be sprouting up all over the place. When we extended our old Cotswold farmhouse a few years ago, we had terrible problems with the planners, right down to the fine detail. And then you drive down the Spine Road and get these places that have nothing to do with the Cotswolds, built on green-field sites.

What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?

Walk slowly through Cirencester.

And which book should they read?

Amundsen's diary. I got from him a sense of fantastic planning, great team work and his utter gratitude to the men that were around him. We could all plan a bit more, and take advice from the right people. My grandfather always said: It doesn't matter how much you know about a subject; if someone's trying to teach you, you should sit and listen.

Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

From the valley in Frampton Mansell where Daphne Neville lives, up to the Crown Inn.

Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

Fairford Festival: they pick one of the children from the school as the Carnival Queen and parade through the town, with the playgroup, the scouts, a fire engine, RAF Fairford and a whole lot of others all following. The whole of Fairford stops while this procession goes through.

If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

I would go back to the South Pole on my own. In fact, I'd love a button to press that would take me back there every now and again, just for an hour. It's the tonic I need.

To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?

Jeremy Clarkson: he should be Prime Minister. I worked with him on the Top Gear: Polar Special, and I was impressed by his no-nonsense approach to life. The world would be a better place if we all - including politicians - could just say what we felt and people didn't get upset about it.

The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?

Coots Caf in South Cerney is a good example of a blend of an old landscape and a contemporary building: 21st century doesn't have to mean plastic.

Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?

Walking through Waitrose and seeing someone you haven't met before and saying 'Hello' to them, and them smiling and saying 'Hello' back.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

Amundsen and Peary [American explorer Robert Peary who claimed to have been the first person to reach the geographic North Pole]. I went onto the internet and found an amazing picture of Amundsen, Peary and Shackleton [the famous Antarctic explorer] together, dressed in their Victorian suits, complete with starched collars, all glaring at each other. I'm sure there was a lot of one-upmanship, though in his book, Amundsen was kind to Scott. At the start of it, he clearly says, I'm not going to turn this diary into an 'I've done better' type of book: it's not for me to judge you.

BBC2 will be showing a six-part documentary, On Thin Ice, later this year, following James Cracknell, Ben Fogle and the other competitors in their race to the South Pole.

For more information on the race and how to take part, visit

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