Sunday, 29 September 2013

Chefornak, Alaska :
Drum dancers and grass baskets

Chefornak is a small coastal town in Alaska's subarctic tundra territory, on the south bank of the Kinia River, an arm of the Bering Sea.

Coordinates: 60°9′N, 164°16′W
[ more than 700 km south of the Arctic Circle ]
Population:  ~ 480

Chefornak is a traditional Yup'ik Eskimo community; many of the villagers live a subsistence lifestyle, basically traditional hunter-gatherer activities. They rely mainly on halibut, salmon and herring, rabbits and birds, but in recent years Yup'ik art is a growing source of income.

On the vast expanse of tundra, Chefornak is but a cluster of plywood houses, a post office, a school, a church, all connected by wooden boardwalks.

A wooden boardwalk runs through the village, from the school at one end to a church at the other, connecting some two dozen houses.

Some 'Public Watering Points' are placed along the boardwalk. Clean water is one of the main problems in town.

The Kinia River (Urrsukvaaq) and its many tributaries are vital to the people of the village, allowing water travel and areas for hunting and fishing, but on the other hand they cause frequent floods implying undesired dislocation.

Probably the best building in town, it's a modern and comfortable school made to improve standards of life, but respecting the native Yup'ik lifestyle.

Post Office

Community Service Center

St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church

Artists of Chefornak

Jane Wiseman gathers a variety of grasses along the banks of the rivers near her village, to craft exquisite finely coiled grass baskets:

Jane Wiseman hand treats and dyes the grasses and weaves baskets, bowls and trays.

Mary Jane Joseph, Grass Basket

Pauline Jimmy, a coiled grass basket

Joan Tenenbaum, Raven in flight

Joan Tenenbaum, pendant

A popular activity in Chefornak is Yup'ik dancing. The high school has a dance team that visits other villages for feasts and festivals.

Traditional dance.

Women use dance fans made of woven grass and caribou feathers, while men use a ring-style dance fan made of wood and feathers.

A Yup'ik man dance fan.

Yukon Delta Wildlife reserve

Subarctic, far below the arctic circle, this region has tundra as well as forest and mountain landscape; but nonetheless the critical treeline is quite strongly marked here, the forest and the tundra clearly bounded.

The interior dry alpine tundra colours in Autumn.

This is a moving treeline, according to long term climate variations.

Here the treeline is almost north-south oriented, parallel to the coastline. 

As we approach the coast, the landscape changes to vast flat and grassy wetlands; thousands of canals and ponds among green patches.

Most of the territory is flat wetland/tundra complex dotted by countless ponds, lakes, and meandering rivers.

Treeless coastal sedge meadows

Strong, dense grass

A maze of lowland marshes.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

St. Margaret's Hope,
and the Italian chapel in the Orkneys

St. Margaret's Hope is a small village in the south of the Orkney Islands, on the island of South Ronaldsay, and the closest settlement to the Scottish mainland.

Preserved by time, it's really like travelling backwards one or two centuries.

Probably few people ever heard of it, that's why it figures here in Ultima Thule. Besides, this is a little jewel.

The village of St. Margaret's Hope, known locally as The Hope[Hup] ), lies on the causeway-linked isle of South Ronaldsay. It is Orkney's third-largest settlement, named probably after St. Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III of Scotland. By that time, Norway lost the rule of the islands to the Scottish Kingdom.

As you approach the coastline by ferry, you notice a set of dark gabled houses, one or two white painted, and a church, up on a descending road.

The word Hope comes from the Norse word 'hjop', which means bay. The safe bay was used as a Viking anchorage in the 13th century, and continued drewing more trade in later centuries.

Coordinates: 58.8° N, 2.9° W
Population:  ~ 560

By the 18th century there were 50 fishing boats working from the harbour, where a fishing station was later established, and the village grew, like so many in Orkney and the east coast of Scotland. By 1842 there were 245 herring boats in The Hope.

The fishing character becomes clear with all those sandstone piers and jetties into the water of Hope bay. 

The village has one main street - Front Road - where almost everything is located.

St Margaret’s Hope is an old fashioned village with a winding main street which, at two points, descends down a steep hill. The waterfront is attractive, and there’s a square in the center.

In town, there is an art gallery and craft shop, hotels, inns and B&B, shops, a post office, a café and an award-winning restaurant, a golf course and the Hourston Smiddy Museum with artefacts used by blacksmiths.

Let's start on Front Road:

Bellevue Inn

The Creel (beige house)

The most famous restaurant around.

See that little house in the left?

Someone loves to live here !

Murray Arms Hotel

The Galley Inn

Shops - just a few!

General goods

Baker and grocer

The Workshop & Loft Gallery, quality knitwear and craft, and a small gallery:

This one on Back Road !

The Blacksmith's museum, known as the Smiddy:

In the town center, the Cromarty Hall is the place to be for cultural events, like films and drama:

Church of Scotland

Hard to find a nice photo...

Opened 1856, the church was designated as the principal place of worship for the Parish of South Ronaldsay and Burray.

St. Margaret's Hope is connected by ferry to Scottish mainland.

The famous new 'Pentalina' ferry (2009) in Hope's bay.

Pentland Ferries runs daily catamaran ferry service between St. Margaret's Hope and Gills Bay, near John o' Groats. The journey takes about one hour.

Around St. Margaret's Hope

On the island of South Ronaldsay, and then going north to the small island of Lamb Holm, there are some other features not to miss:

The Millennium Stone

This large stone, thought to be an old standing stone, lay undisturbed in a ditch near St Peter's church for at least 30 years. Three local men decided to move and re-erect the stone as their own Millennium project.

The Churchill Barriers

Man-made barriers were ordered by Winston Churchill as naval defences, to protect Scapa Flow from submarine attacks, following the torpedoing of the HMS Royal Oak in 1939.

Since 1940, they linked South Ronaldsay to the isle of Burray, than Glimsholm and Lamb Holm right through to Mainland Orkney, creating an overland road connection.

There are several of these barriers, over which runs the only road from The Hope to Kirkwall and Stromness.

The Italian Chapel

One of these islands is the small Lamb Holm island, where a magnificent chapel surges from nowhere just like that - on the corner of a barren grassy islet...

Made from two converted Nissen Huts, during WWII by Italian POWs in need of some homely comfort.

The chapel is the work of Domenico Chiocchetti, the author of the paintings, decorations, furniture and woodwork. The end of the war came too soon for Domenico's work - in 1945 the italians were repatriated. But the orcadians promised him to cherish and protect the chapel.

Though not a remote arctic location, St. Margaret's Hope is a hidden treasure deserving a mention here as one's possible Thule.