Was Scott fearless or foolish?

A century after Captain Robert Scott and his men were beaten to the South Pole and died on the return journey, experts continue to debate whether he was heroic or foolhardy.

The explorer and his team of four battled horrendous weather conditions to reach the pole on January 17, 1912, only to find that Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen had got there first.

On their way back to base camp all five of the British Antarctic pioneers succumbed to starvation and extreme cold, with Scott probably the last to die on around March 29, 1912.

The centenary of Scott's doomed final journey is being marked with exhibitions and polar expeditions that reflect how his stoic courage, moving words and tragic death still grip the imagination.

Over the past 100 years the explorer's reputation as a national hero who typified the British stiff upper lip has been questioned by studies suggesting his incompetence lay behind the mission's failure.

Scott has been accused of taking inadequate equipment - including too few dogs and experimental motorised sledges that broke down - as well as picking insufficiently experienced team members.

But the incredible tale of his voyage into the unknown continues to inspire books, films and further Antarctic exploration.

Scott was born in Plymouth, Devon, in 1868 and joined the Royal Navy as a cadet aged 13.

In 1901-1904 he led an official British team, which became known as the Discovery Expedition after the name of their ship, to chart and carry out scientific research in the Antarctic.

The explorers, among them Ernest Shackleton and scientist Dr Edward Wilson, travelled further south than anyone had been before and the mission was judged a great success.

On his return to Britain, Scott was promoted to captain by the Navy and awarded many honours.

He married the artist Kathleen Bruce in September 1908 and they had a son the following year, but the explorer still dreamed of becoming the first person to reach the South Pole.

Scott's final expedition, which was privately funded, set out for the Antarctic on board the whaling ship Terra Nova from Cardiff in June 1910.

Stopping in Australia in October en route to the polar region, the British explorer received a telegram from his Norwegian rival which read simply: "Beg leave inform you proceeding Antarctic, Amundsen".

After spending nearly a year at Cape Evans on Ross Island in the Antarctic seeing out the winter and making preparations, the 43-year-old Scott set off for the pole on October 1, 1911.

Over the next weeks the motor sledges failed, the ponies struggled in blizzard conditions and were shot for food, and the dogs were sent back, leaving the men to haul their heavy sledges.

On Christmas Day the explorers enjoyed a four-course dinner - including slices of horse meat flavoured with onions and curry powder, and a stew of arrowroot, cocoa and biscuits - that Scott described as a "feast" in his journal.

On January 3, 1912 Scott decided that four men, not three as originally planned, should join him for the final push on the pole: Wilson, Captain Lawrence Oates, Lieutenant Henry Bowers, and Petty Officer Edgar Evans.

But the day before they reached their goal, Bowers spotted one of Amundsen's black marker flags ahead and they realised that the Norwegian team had beaten them by a month.