Charles vows to wear scorpion-proof socks from Arabia at Royal Ascot
A special pair of socks from the deserts of Arabia is included in the Prince of Wales's wardrobe this Christmas, geographers in Northern Ireland were told.
Handwoven from goat hair and sheep wool and layered to protect from the burning hot sand, he received the unusual gift in recognition of his support for research in one of the toughest regions on Earth, the Arabian Peninsula's Empty Quarter.
Charles backed a British-led expedition which traced arrow heads from civilisations 1,500 years old in a 49-day quest for evidence that the barren region was once heavily populated.
He said he would wear them at Royal Ascot, lead explorer Mark Evans told a meeting of the Northern Ireland branch of the Royal Geographical Society in Belfast.
He added: "The socks were not the kind of socks you would buy from Cotswold Camping, they were woven especially... from goat hair and sheep's wool, loose weave so sand drains out of them.
"They are double-layered so when it is hot your feet do not burn on the sand, when it is cold they don't get cold.
"They are very bristly and spiky, which means that when you are sitting around a fire the scorpions don't snuggle up next to your feet."
Arabia once played a vital role in humankind's exodus from Africa and research is being carried out by a project called Green Arabia, which Mr Evans' journey contributed field work to.
He said that attracted Charles' interest.
He met Charles when he visited Oman and the present was brought in an old plastic shopping bag, prompting a quizzical look from the prince.
After the socks were pulled out of the bag half the desert drained on the floor.
Mr Evans recalled: "Evidently Prince Charles saw the funny side and he swore blind that he would wear them at Royal Ascot this year."
In a 1,300 km journey he recreated the travels of British explorer Bertram Thomas in 1930 across the Arabian Peninsula's vast Rub' al Khali, the world's largest sand desert, known in English as the Empty Quarter and a source of the Gulf states' enormous oil wealth.
Mr Evans travelled from the coast of Oman through Saudi Arabia to Doha, Qatar, on foot and on camel, with the indulgence and protection of sheikh leaders.
Along the way he enjoyed the hospitality of desert bedouin, as guest of honour he feasted on animal brains on a bed of rice, and learned a healthy wariness of the spitting and kicking camels which bore him across the baking wilderness.
"The Empty Quarter is emptier than it has ever been.
"The bedouin have gone, we have gone, ultimately the oil companies will soon go."