A 1300 km crossing of Saudi Arabia in the footsteps of Harry St John (Abdullah) Philby

Exactly 105 years after Harry St John (Abdullah) Philby, the Heart of Arabia expedition will embark on a two-stage 1,300km journey across Saudi Arabia, loosely following the route of Philby’s 1917 mission to Ibn Saud.  Philby’s mission earned him the Royal Geographical Society Founder’s Medal, and our own journey takes its name from the title of the book that Philby wrote after his journey.

Our expedition will start in Al Uqair on November 15th, the same place and date as back in 1917 when Philby and his party came ashore after a boat trip south from Basra. Using his meticulous field notes, we will travel inland on foot, by camel and by 4×4. Our expedition vehicles will allow us to travel greater distances off the original route to visit places of interest that Philby visited or mapped in the 40 or so years of his life that followed 1917, such as the remote meteorite crater Al Hadida in the northern Rub Al Khali, and parts of the famous Darb Zubaydah pilgrim route.

As with Philby, our own journey will gather primary field data, supporting three specific areas of research, and the live tracking feature on this website will enable you to follow our progress, and learn more about the extraordinary beauty and diversity of Arabia.

"When St John Philby died suddenly at the age of seventy-five in Beirut on Friday October 1st 1960 on his way back to Arabia from London, The Royal Geographical Society lost one its most distinguished explorers, and a man of very remarkable character.

During long, and often solitary journeys Philby was able to free himself from the political and moral controversies into which he so hotly plunged in more civilized surroundings. All attention was concentrated, without thought of personal comfort or advantage, on the scrupulously careful collection of scientific observations of all kinds. These formed the foundations of our knowledge of Arabia".

Laurence Kirwan

Royal Geographical Society Director, 1960

About Philby

The Explorer and Arabist Harry St John Bridger (Abdullah) Philby was awarded The Royal Geographical Society Founders Medal for his 1917 crossing of the desert from Al Uqair to Jeddah. Philby was a true scholar of Arabia, constantly curious of his surrounding landscape and people. Our expedition closely follows Philby’s 1917 route, also enabling us to collect field data to support the work of three research projects.

Mark Evans

The Team

The multi-national/disciplinary expedition team was created by Mark Evans and combines a broad range of skill sets and experiences. The team are united in not just celebrating the achievements of an extraordinary geographer and explorer in Harry St John Philby, but also through a desire to promote a greater understanding of the diverse landscapes and cultures that make up Saudi Arabia.

the expedition is on foot and camels

Track the Expedition

Exactly 105 years to the day since Harry St John Philby set off from Al Uquair in the east for Jeddah in the west, we will embark on our own expedition on foot, by camel and by vehicle, and follow in his footsteps through the Heart of Arabia to Riyadh, and onwards arriving in Jeddah in early 2023. Be part of our community – follow our progress on our social media feed and on our live tracking map.


The team at Heart of Arabia is very grateful for the generous support of our key partners;

Lead Partner - The Saudi British Bank
Lead Partner - HSBC
Official Photography Partner
Official 4x4 Partner
Official Communications Partner

Background to Heart of Arabia


Heart of Arabia is using this journey as an opportunity to raise funds for two very worthwhile causes-please donate!

Future Generations Fund

A fund being established to inspire and inform young people about positive solutions to geographical issues. 

The Philby Arabia Fund

A fund being established to support purposeful travel that leads to an increased knowledge and understanding of Saudi Arabia.

RSGS Talks

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