Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas lights brightening up in the Arctic

I wish all visitors the best festive season ever, a Happy Christmas and the nicest ending days of this year 2014.

Some images of arctic settlements and towns celebrating Nöel :

Barrow, Alaska
71º 17' N

Nome, Alaska - the gold rush town.
64º 30' N

Iqaluit, arctic Canada
63º 45' N

Tasiilaq, Greenland's east coast
65º 36' N

Longyearbyen, Svalbard Islands  - the highest arctic town.
78º 13' N

Røros, Norway
62º 34' N

Yakutsk, Siberia - the world's coldest town.
62º 02' N

Æðuvík, Faröe Islands
62° 04′ N

Tórshavn, Faröe islands
60´º 00' N

Trondheim, Norway
63º 25' N

Sisimiut, Greenland
66º 56' N

Even the skies celebrate !

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Igloolik and Hall Beach, two nearby arctic settlements in Nunavut, Canada

The Igloolik island and settlement are among the most visited in last century's arctic expeditions, by land or by sea.

Igloolik is located right on a possible Northwest Passage, almost half way from Greenland to Alaska, in a sea strait often frozen, making it a strategic place for the wintering and refurnishing of ship expeditions.

The route from the Atlantic ocean through Foxe Basin to the Gulf of Boothia is part of the historic Nortwest Passage expeditions. William E. Parry, in his 'Second voyage for the discovery of a north-west passage', during the years 1821 to 1823, mapped the east coast of Melville peninsula.

Parry and his crew playing cricket while wintering in Igloolik (1822). This was the first contact with Europeans of the local Inuit.

The narrow strait connecting the Foxe Basin westword to the gulf of Boothia was named the Fury and Hecla strait, in hommage to Parry's two ships. Later, in 1847, John Rae proved Melville is a peninsula, not an island.

By the end of the 1930's the Hudson's Bay Company had set up a post on the island. But only in the 1970's was the hamlet officially recognized and benefited from minimum facilities - nursing station, health care, basic education and decent housing.

For most of the year, Igloolik it is blocked by ice floes.

Igloolik is quite close to the large Melville Peninsula and its other settlement of Hall Beach, a few hours distance to the south.

Population:    ~ 1600
Coordinates:  69°22′ N,  81°47’ W
                   (North of the arctic circle)

The name 'Igloolik' means 'there's a house here'. It derives from igloo, which means house or building.

Igloolik main street.

Igloolik's local radio station.

The 'Nunavut Quest' – a top dog sled race through High Arctic.

The sled race runs hundreds of miles from Igloolik to Pond Inlet, or from Arctic Bay to Igloolik - it's not always the same route. The first race was called the North Baffin Quest, with competing mushers from Clyde River, Igloolik, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Hall Beach. 

Local women in traditional clothes.

Inuit children.

Modern Igloolik

The airport terminal:

An important link to all southern Canada.

The Tummivut building:

Housing the local government's offices.

The 'Igloolik Research center':

In the hamlet's centre, the strange round building allows studies of inuit traditions and environment protection.

Artist Henry Evaluardjuk (b.1923) was born in Igloolik. His beautifully stylized bears are likely the result of his hunter’s memory combined with the influence of varied native communities he visited.

Henry Evaluardjuk, Polar Bear.

Basket with Walrus, made with beach grass, leather and stone, from unknown local artist (2007). 

Hall Beach

Hall Beach (Sanirajak) is just 70 km south of Igloolik, at the north-eastern tip of Melville peninsula.

The shoreline of Hall Beach in Summer.

And in Winter.

Hall Beach is located at the shores of Foxe Basin, across from Baffin Island.

Coordinates:  68°45′ N, 81°13′ W
Population:    650 -700

The traditional name for Hall Beach is 'Sanirayak' or “sits along the coast”.

Hall Beach is the oldest permanently populated community north of the Arctic Circle. Nearby there are a few Thule archaeological sites.

Their main occupations still are hunting and fishing.

Kamik boots, inuit hand-made in sealskin or reindeer skin.

Inns North's local hotel.

The DEW line

The community of Hall Beach was formally recognized as a hamlet in 1957, following the construction of  a DEW (Distant Early Warning) station here.

This was a system of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada, Aleutian Islands of Alaska, the Faröe Islands, Greenland and Iceland.

It was set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning of a land based invasion.

The military base attracted people to this area with the promise of jobs and trade.
After the Cold War ended, the DEW station was eventually decommissioned.

The flora of Melville peninsula

I'd like to end with some more joyful subject. Maybe with some images of the local flora - the arctic tundra explodes in colourful clusters of flower each spring. Here are some examples:

Arctic Lousewort

Moss Campion

Purple Saxifrage

Arctic Bell Heather

Mountain Avens

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lochmaddy, North Uist : faraway, deeply Scottish and with a modern Art Gallery.

I simply can't resist the particular charm of these small civilized places, with almost every modern facilities, but completely isolated in a semi-desert and bare natural environment. These are genuine european "Ultimi Thuli ", the last refuges in Europe for those seeking quietness and simple life merged in pristine and protected Nature.

North Uist is sub-arctic, at its 57º N latitude. Trees are scarce (mostly rowan trees, or mountain-ashes), the island is almost plane and covered with grass or a few shrubs.

The Vikings arrived in the Hebrides in 800 AD, where they built large settlements, but later the island must have been almost deserted in large periods of History. Presently some 1300 inhabitants live there, scattered in small or minuscule settlements.

The main 'town' is the fishing port of Lochmaddy, where the ferry from Skye or Harris, more frequented islands connected to the continent, arrives at least twice daily with supplies, the post, news from the world... and visitors ! Yes, because Lochmaddy became a small-scale Mecca for walking and cycling tourism, offering a surprising choice of lodging places.

In North Uist, the severe lack of trees does no harm the natural beauty of freshwater lochs, estuary heather moorland, inlets and grassy hills.

Lochmaddy (Scottish Gaelic: Loch nam Madadh, "Loch of the Hounds") is the administrative centre of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Lochmaddy village.

Coordinates: 57.60° N, 7.16°W
Population: ~300

The Tourist office, close to the ferry terminal.

The village sits at the end of a sea inlet and, due to the rocky coast nature, is the only settlement on the east coast, but not far from the villages in the west of the island.

Lochmaddy's Sheriff Court.

The Old Courthouse, now a character B&B.

The first mention of Lochmaddy is dated 1616: "Lochmaldie on the coast of Uist is a rendezvous for pirates". The natural protection of the local harbour made it ideal for raids against ships sailing nearby.

Lochmaddy's harbour at dawn.

Nowadays the same good harbour makes Lochmaddy the ferry port for the island, and the village has the only bank, courthouse, tourist information office, post office and youth hostel on North Uist.

The Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre

The Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre stands close to the high-tide mark in Lochmaddy. The oldest building, from 1741, was originally an inn.

This is a major a focus for cultural life in North Uist. Taigh Chearsabhagh include a museum, where displays of local life and history can be seen. There are also two galleries.

Chris Drury's boat.

It is worth visiting for its family-run café alone. The shop stocks a selection of books, pottery, jewellery and crafts, plus music by traditional Scottish musicians.


The 'Hut of the Shadows'

Along the shore, after crossing a suspended bridge over a deep inlet, stands a traditional, turf-roofed building. Hut of the Shadows was built on 1997 on the end of a spit of land and surrounded by sea, islands and sky; the work, also by welsh artist Chris Drury, is a grass-roofed, stone tumulus which mirrors the shapes of the surrounding islands.

It has a curved passageway leading into a small chamber which, by means of a lens and three mirrors built into a wall, projects on to the opposite wall, the reflections of Loch nam Madadh´s waters like an old blurred movie.

Winner of several prizes in 1997 and 1998, for the protection through art of rural Scotland.

Another artistic intervention: a mosaic macquerel, part of a the sculpture trail in North Uist.

Caledonian MacBrayne's  MV Hebrides, the twice daily ferry.

Still in northwestern Uist, a rather peculiar feature is the Scolpaig Tower, a weird octogonal tower on a small islet in a low-tide inlet lake.

Built over an Iron Age dun on a small islet in Loch Scolpaig, it's a Gothic-style lunacy from 1830 with the noble intention of providing employment and income to starving natives.

But, on the island of North Uist, the most distinctive landmarks are the turf-roofed thatched houses, like this one in the northwest, at Malacleit near Sollas.

Struan cottage, on the shore of 'Traigh Vallay', 10 miles from Lochmaddy.

The Uists have lots of deserted beaches, tiny villages and areas teeming with wildlife.

'Traigh Udal', North Uist, near Malacleit

'Scolpaig bay' beach