Sunday, 2 January 2022

Kirkjubøur and Saksun - Faroese historic houses and museum

Starting 2022 on a northern Island !

No palaces, castles or medieval towns are to be expected in the Faroe Islands; these were until half a century ago a quite backward place, seldom visited by fishing vessels; most communities lived on fishing and sheep herding, just above subsistence mode, under millenary traditions and ways of life; but that is also what makes the Faroe a large Museum as a whole: the most authentic past of the Faroe can be seen in its Historic Houses, mainly the farm sets in Kirkjubøur and Saksun on Streymoy Island, the largest and most populated (~25 000 hab.) and also one of the most amazingly beautiful.

Stremoy is around latitude 62º N, and has a northwest-southeast extension of 42 km by 10 km wide. An almost treeless* island, covered with green grass pastures, Streymoy has a network of roads and bridges to serve the capital and some coastal villages.

Kirkjubøur is located on the southernmost tip of the island, a few meters above the sea; presently some 70 people live there. It is the most important historic site  of the Faroe, the old residence of Erlendur, the viking bishop, son of King Horik of Denmark, who around 1300 AD ordered the building of the magnificent Magnus Catedral, from wich only walls remain - or maybe only some walls were built. With Erlandur, christianisation began on the islands, until then submitted to Norway and the Norse cult.

The walls of the Cathedral testify the importance of the Diocese of the Faroe and its episcopy in Kirkjubøur, whose residence had a special dignity: Kirkjubøargarður, the farm at Kirkjubøur, was built around 1100.

Roykstovan is the oldest house, maybe even older then 1100 AD. In the photo above St. Olav's Church is also visible, closer to the sea; a runic stone is the only valuable found exhibited inside.

One of the world's oldest inhabited wooden houses.

The rampant lion with an axe, indicating submission to the Viking Kingdom of Norway.

There were no trees on the islands then, wood came from Norway, mostly - they say - as driftwood on the beach. The older parts of the house are the roykstova (smoking room) and loftstovan (attic), now a small library.

The Roykstova is the communal room, for work as well as for dining, the largest in the house; a hole in the roof was provided to let out the smoke and grease from the hearth and ovens.

The library in the attic, where bishop Erlandur used to retire to work.

Kirkjubøargarður farm houses belong to the State but are partially rented to the
 Patursson family, who have lived there since 1550, and at present occupy the most recent building, while taking care of the whole, which has been classified as heritage site.

The most recent complex dates from the 16th/17th centuries.

A room from the Patursson family house.

Saksun , on the northwestern coast of Streymoy, is a very small farm village by a lake. It was before a sea inlet between mountains and a sheltered harbour; but a violent storm blocked its entrance with sand and so a salt water lagoon was born, with no access from the sea.

Saksun is now a picturesque village, a few grass roofed houses around a herding farm from the 17th century, renovated as a museum -the Dúvugarður. A fine example of what Faroese country life looked like.

Inside we can see tools and furniture in ts original setting.

The glasstova (glass room) is the only room with a glass window. There they slept, worked and had their meals.

The room is warmed by a coal stove fed with embers from a hole through the wall:


* Since a few years ago a small forest and some scattered trees were successfully planted on the Faroe.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Point Nemo, the absolute nowhere land on Earth

There is abundant information on the web about Point Nemo. Still I found that publishing a short and nicely informative post  might be of interest, and surely it has to do with Ultima Thule. I had promised the year of 2021 would not be finished without a new post, so here it is.

The  designation Point Nemo, a tribute to Captain Nemo, was assigned to the most inaccessible place on the planet, the most distant from any access by land; more precisely, this is the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility.

That place's location is on the Pacific Ocean, more than 2 700 km equidistant of three islands:  Ducie Island, an atoll in Pitcairn archipelago, (British territory); the island of Motu Nui (part of the Easter Islands); and Maher Island off the coast of Antarctica. All are minuscule and uninhabited.

Motu Nui

Point Nemo was found in 1992 by the Croatian surveyor Hrvoje Lukatela using geospatial software, with which he modelled the ellipsoid form of Earth; he obtained then a greater precision locating the three equidistant points: "the location of three equilateral points is quite unique, and there are no other points on the Earth’s surface that could conceivably replace any one of those", he wrote.  

But if Point Nemo is over 2 700 km from any other place on Earth, that means the nearest human beings at times are astronauts aboard the I.S.S. ! When the station's orbit passes over those coordinates (48° 52.5′ S, 123° 23.6′ W), they are only 416 km far up, in a vertical direction.

Is there any form of life at Point Nemo?

In 1997, a NASA oceanographic team registered a mysterious sound less than 2000 km east of the site. That caused great commotion and some fear. The sound was named "Bloop"; it was stronger than what blue whales make, it was ultra-low-frequency submarine noise of great amplitude. Soon the fear arose of an unknown marine monster, or even a terrible new soviet super-submarine!

In the end, the team found its real nature: the underwater echo of great icebergs crashing and tearing in the Antarctic Ocean's depths. No horrendous chimera, as the Cthulhu suggested by Lovecraft.

Point Nemo
 is placed inside the South Pacific Giro (Gyre) , a large system of rotating oceanic currents, which is also the greatest oceanic desert, a region quite hostile to sea life. Ultraviolet radiation is extreme there, and water quite stable, reaching surface temperature around 7°C at Point Nemo. 

The whirling currents block out colder water, richer in nutrients, so the sea bed lacks life, it's the "least biologically active region of all oceans".  Nevertheless, the bacteria around volcanic chimneys allow for a few exceptional organisms, like the blind 'yeti' crab.

The North Pole of Inaccessibility, or Arctic Pole, is located on the Arctic Ocean, 1008 km far from any land (and also equidistant of three islands!), presently at 85° 48′ N, 176° 9′ W, some 100 km away from North Pole. Like the Pacific Pole, it lays in the middle of nowhere.

Going South to Antarctica, its Pole of Inaccessabilty was reached only in 2005 - with great difficulties in spite of modern vehicles -  by a Spanish expedition, 3000 meters high and -40º cold, the innermost place in the continent at 82° 53′ 14″ S, 55° 04′ 30″ E.

The Spanish team had modern technology for the uneven ice.

Before that, in 1958, a Russian Station had wrongly signed the Pole with a Lenine statue. It's still there, looking at nothing, meaning nothing,

Well, these Poles of Inaccessibility have a strong point now: they are places where you surely can use no mask and need not to vaccinate ! 

Have a nice ending of 2021 and a quite better New Year !

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Symbister, Whalsay (Shetland), the northernmost hanseatic trading post

This is really an incredible place! Accessible only by ferry, Whalsay Island is one of the most isolated of the Shetlands, far into the North Sea at the latitude of Bergen in Norway.

Why on earth would anyone in the 16th century be interested in a port so far away ? Well, whales first of all. Whalsay = Whales Island *, and the trade with German Hanseatic towns was all about seafare. The Hanseatic post at Symbister, though just a small cabin, was a counter of intense business.

The importance of Whalsay as a seafare island resulted in the establishment of the trading booth at Symbister in 1563: the Pier House (Da Böd) was the counter for the export of dried and salted fish to the Hanse, the alliance of trading guilds that established and maintained a trade monopoly over much of Northern Europe between the 13th and 18th centuries. The trade was done first by way of the League's 'Kontor' in Bergen, then (as illicit trade became the norm) direct with Hamburg and Bremen.

German ships sailed to Symbister and brought their goods - iron tools, seeds, salt, cloth and some luxury items - to barter for dried and salted fish (mainly cod) from the island. This old Hanseatic house was used by the Germans for about five centuries until 1707, when they were forced out by a high import duty raise.

Two centuries later herring was the focus of activity. The peak year for herring catches was 1834, but these had declined dramatically within a few years. Fishing boomed again in the late 1800s and in the mid 1900s, but each time this was followed by decline.

The Pier House in the red circle, at Symbister waterfront.

Today, Whalsay is a thriving community largely because of a relatively new fishing phenomenon: the pelagic trawler. These huge vessels are built for deep sea fishing, and keep their catches fresh over prolonged periods at sea.

The new pelagic fleet mooring at Symbister harbour.

Whalsay Island, Shetlands

The island measures some five and a half miles from south west to north east, and some two miles wide.

The most remarkable historic site here is undoubtfully the Böd, the old Hanse boot now modestly refurbished as a museum. Inside, it tells how ships from Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck sailed to Shetland every summer. The first written trade record dates from 1557.

The brae to the rear is still known as Bremer Strasse.

The museum in the Pier House tells how ships from Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck sailed to Shetland every summer, bringing seeds, cloth, iron tools, salt, spirits, luxury goods and hard currency.

But Symbister and other places like Isbister, Marrister, Brough and Kirk Ness have something else worth to visit. The rest of the island is sparsely populated, there are no precisely defined villages, but nature spots are rewarding.

Symbister, Whalsay

Coordinates: 60° 20′ N, 1° 1′ W
Populstion (island):  over 1000

Symbister is the largest village and port on the island of Whalsay, Shetland. The population in 1991 was 797. The focus of the village is the harbour, which is home to small fishing boats as well as large deep sea trawlers.

The village is overlooked by the granite mansion Symbister House, built in 1823.

Symbister from the sea; the community centre down left, the School and Symbister House top centre.

Symbister House, a Country House from 1823.

This is the finest Georgian mansion in Shetland. Since the 1960s, the House (also called the New Haa) has been used as part of Whalsay High School, providing education to students of age 4–16. On the grounds of the Symbister House an old wooden boat sculpture has been placed.

Down and back from the school, the Heritage Centre is installed in the old Farmers House.

The Community and Heritage centre, for meetings, exhibitions and keeping historic memorabilia.

Kirk Ness, at 60º 22' N, is a small island linked to the north coast of Whalsay by a tombolo, which has been reinforced so a road could run on top of it. Surprisingly enough the only building on the island is a kirk !

This is the only parish church on Whalsay, dedicated to Holy Rood; the original church from 1733 has been remodeled in 1867.

A modest new interior in clear wood.

* norse Hvalsey or Hvals-øy