Why adventure travel is a family affair for Sir Ranulph Fiennes

19th Feb 19 | Lifestyle

The esteemed explorer has teamed up with his cousin, actor Joseph Fiennes, for new National Geographic TV series, Fiennes: Return To The Nile.

Fiennes: Return To The Nile

Fame must run in the Fiennes family, but despite being A-list cousins, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and actor Joseph Fiennes had, until recently, only met each other on a handful of occasions.

But during filming for new three-part National Geographic documentary, Fiennes: Return To The Nile, the pair finally had an opportunity to properly acquaint themselves with each other.

Charting the course of an expedition Sir Ranulph made along the Nile in 1969, the programme follows an epic road journey across Egypt, and examines the growing bond between two cousins who have adventure in their DNA.

Along with confronting flesh-eating spiders and poisonous snakes, they spend the night alone in the Great Pyramid and visit the World War II battlefield of El Alamein, where Sir Ranulph’s father fought.

Below, they share some further insights on the expedition…

Crash-landing in sand dunes

Desert dunes with Joseph Fiennes and Land Rover Defender in the background. (National Geographic/Russ Malkin/PA)
Desert dunes with Joseph Fiennes and Land Rover Defender in the background (National Geographic/Russ Malkin/PA)

Getting to grips with a 50-year-old Land Rover was a struggle for Joseph, and he almost crashed the vehicle while driving over a dune.

“That was hairy,” he says, recollecting the nail-biting incident. “The desert winds can make it look like the dunes are nice and soft and undulating, but actually, sometimes they can just drop off the other side like a cliff.”

Fortunately, the pair survived.

“It looked like Joe was literally flying,” Ranulph chuckles. “You have to time it so that you’re driving fast enough to get up the dune, but not so fast you fly over the top and crash. So, actually, he got it almost right. ”

Joseph and Ranulph Fiennes (National Geographic/PA)
Joseph and Ranulph Fiennes (National Geographic/PA)

In fact, the 74-year-old explorer wasn’t at all phased.

“He’s always as cool as a cucumber,” says Joseph. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned from Ran on this trip; slow and steady, nice and calm. I can see how he survives these journeys.”

Travelling in extreme heat

Joe and Ran Fiennes with crew filming at the pyramids in Giza (National Geographic/Russ Malkin)
Joe and Ran Fiennes with crew filming at the pyramids in Giza (National Geographic/Russ Malkin/PA)

Temperatures soared while the pair were travelling through the Sahara desert, but they were both able to cope.

“I was thinking more of the cobras and the scorpions at first, and then you forget to drink water,” admits Joseph. “It’s the small things that can catch you unaware. Staying hydrated is so important.”

Ranulph, however, is an old hand at dealing with tricky temperatures.

“Contrary to what people think, more of my expeditions were actually in the extreme heat than in the extreme cold,” he says. “The British media are much keener on colder stuff for some reason. I’ve never worked out why.”

Visiting the newly-discovered tombs at El Minya

Along with traversing difficult terrain and dodging dangerous creatures, Ranulph and Joseph also had an opportunity to visit this network of underground tombs, found at the Tuna El-Gebel site in El Minya, south of Cairo.

“The man we were following through the tunnels and tombs had only discovered them eight weeks beforehand,” explains Ranulph. “By the time we got there, it was very safe, but he went in there not knowing whether the whole thing was going to fall in on him.”

Both cousins were overwhelmed by the experience.

“It’s indescribable, the joy of going into the tombs and seeing the sarcophagus; getting right up close to these mummified bodies and seeing the skulls and the jaws of somebody who died 2,000 years ago,” says Joseph. “They were brilliantly intact. It felt like you were encroaching on their privacy.”

Encouraging a return to Egypt

Ran Fiennes exploring a tomb at the historic site of Gebel el Sissela. (National Geographic/Russ Malkin)
Ranulph Fiennes exploring a tomb at the historic site of Gebel el Sissela (National Geographic/Russ Malkin/PA)

Although Egypt has faced many challenges in recent years, Ranulph hopes the programme will have a positive impact on audiences.

“Hopefully the film can encourage people to go to Egypt and not be put off by a few, isolated incidents,” he says. “The people of Egypt need the money and it’s an amazing country.”

Fiennes: Return To The Nile starts on National Geographic on Wednesday, February 27.

© Press Association 2019