A leading scientist of the mid-twentieth century has died aged 97, writes Betsy Everett.

PROFESSOR CUCHLAINE KING, who has died in Bainbridge aged 97, was a leading scientist of the mid-twentieth century whose work took her all over the world, but whose heart was in Wensleydale, her family’s home for generations.

In 1965 she became the first woman to be allowed by the Canadian government to join an expedition to the Arctic, setting the pattern for future generations.

Working initially on sand movement and coastal erosion, and later glaciation, she travelled from the Mediterranean to the Arctic, to communist China, New Zealand, North and South America, Iceland and Norway.

Her expeditions combined an academic interest in her chosen field, geomorphology, studying the physical features of the earth’s surface, with a lifelong love of the natural environment, from the ice fields of the Arctic to the valleys and hills of the Yorkshire Dales, where she lived for 37 years after her retirement.

Cuchlaine Audrey Muriel King was born in Cambridge in 1922, and was proud of her first name which her mother, Margaret Amy King (née Passingham), had invented especially for her. Its origin remained a mystery, even to close family members.

Modest, unassuming, plain-speaking and without a hint of grandeur, Prof King had scaled heights – literally as well as figuratively – that few can equal. (In the mid-50s she was photographed atop a glacier in Iceland, in above-the-knee shorts, a shirt, walking boots and woolly socks. Not a hint of a jacket, head protection or climbing equipment: just a stick).

The Northern Echo:

In his 2016 book, “Baffin Island,” geologist Jack D. Ives, a former student of hers at Nottingham University, paid tribute to the unique role she had played in opening up Arctic research to other women.

Prof Ives fought the Canadian government to get Cuchlaine on his Baffin Island expeditions in the mid-1960s: they eventually relented.

“And so the barrier was breached,” he wrote.

Professor King’s father, the eminent geologist William Bernard Robinson King, was her role model – she and her sister Margaret both followed his example by gaining BAs in geography at Cambridge University in the early 1940s.

She was ahead of her time, writing books and publishing influential articles on her specialist subjects, glaciation and coastal erosion, both of which have such resonance today in relation to climate change.

Among her many publications was “Beaches and Coasts” (1959) which examined coastal erosion, destructive wave patterns, sand movements, and the complex processes at work on our coastlines.

In 2016 Prof King was the subject of a paper, “Blood, Sand and Ice,” presented to the Geological Society of America’s annual conference in Denver, Colorado, by Dorothy Sack of Ohio University.

In it, Prof Sack described her as “one of the first, and one of the most accomplished, women geomorphologists of the twentieth century.”

In the early 2000s she visited Cuchlaine at her home in Wensleydale. “She was truly a pioneer. . . and she was such a delight. Meeting with her was one of the highlights of my professional life,” she wrote.

After graduating from Cambridge in 1943, Cuchlaine King joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (the WRENS) where she was a meteorologist and surveyor throughout the war. She taught for a year at Durham University, then moved in 1959 to Nottingham University where she later became a professor of physical geography until retiring in 1982.

She received the Gill Memorial Prize of the Royal Geographical Society in 1961 and the Linton Award of the British Geomorphological Research Group in 1991.

On retirement Prof King moved to the family home in Worton in Wensleydale, before moving to Sycamore Hall, Bainbridge, where she praised staff for their care and concern.

She worshipped for many years at St Oswald’s Church, Askrigg, where she was an enthusiastic bell-ringer. She was a generous benefactor and a commemorative plaque in the church bears the inscription: “In 2017 new bell ropes were provided through the generosity of Prof Cuchlaine King, bell-ringer, 1988-2003.”

She led walks for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, accompanied by her border terriers (“If people were half as sensible as dogs, the world would be a better place,” was a favourite saying) and entered her prize-winning vegetables in local produce shows.

Prof King leaves a niece, Jane Ritchie of West Burton, and three nephews, Nicholas, Timothy and John Ritchie.

Cuchlaine Audrey Muriel King, born Cambridge, June 26, 1922, died Bainbridge, North Yorkshire, December 17, 2019.