Heading North May 2017

This should have been a weekend of at least mild panic.  The Headington bit of Oxfordshire Artweeks starts next Saturday (20th May) and in each of the last three years I would have been running around getting pictures framed and hung and trying to get the house into a state where visitors could be invited in.

But not this year.  

This year I’ll be running away to sea.

This weekend I’m getting my wet weather, cold weather and photography gear ready to do a trip I’ve wanted to do for a while.  Next weekend I’ll be heading up to Aberdeen and then getting a boat to the Shetland Islands.  

“So what?” I hear you cry.  “You’ve gone up to Aberdeen and got a boat to Shetland more times than I can remember”.  

This trip is a bit different.  

Fair Isle

Instead of getting onto one of the Northlink boats in Aberdeen, I’ll be joining the MV Ortelius run by Oceanwide Expeditions and heading to Fair Isle, about 25 miles from my house at the southern end of the Shetland Mainland.  From there the boat will turn north, crossing the Arctic Circle until we make landfall on the remote island of Jan Mayen at almost 71N.  This little island is home to an isolated Norwegian weather station and Beerenberg, a 7,500 ft high active volcano.

After a little bit of time on Jan Mayen, when hopefully we’ll have seen the top of the volcano (although statistically this is extremely unlikely) it’s north across the Greenland Sea and into the high Arctic.

Jan Mayen
Next stop is Spitsbergen (79 North).


So why has this trip been on my must-do trip for a while?  

It should let me see a variety of whales (including orca, fin, bowhead and minke) as well as polar bears, seals, walrus and arctic fox.  It should let me add another seriously remote location to my island list (and spend a few hours on Fair Isle too).  It gets me back to Svalbard, complete (at this time of year) with 24-hour daylight.  

Perhaps most importantly it will let me experience the gradual transition from the (relatively) mild maritime conditions around the Scottish coast at 57 North to the full arctic conditions at 79 North. I’m interested to see how the weather changes, and when during the voyage we first encounter ice.

The last time I went to Svalbard I jumped from London via Oslo to Longyearbyen enclosed in an ‘airline bubble’ so the transition was a step change rather than the slow change I hope to see this time.

It would be lovely to be able to come back south by boat too, but unfortunately that would involve staying around Svalbard until the autumn when the tourist boats come back south again so my return journey will be in the airline bubble.

Waterproof Clothing

Over the years I've had some pretty dubious waterproof garments for wandering up mountains.  

Some of these really weren't waterproof at all.

Some of these were very waterproof.  They mostly didn’t let the rain in, but they also ensured that they didn’t let water (aka sweat) out, so in anything warmer than near-arctic conditions you were pretty much sure of getting wet.  Incidentally, one bonus was that it was possible to put a pint of beer into each of the two big pockets of one of those coats and it would stay there until it was drunk or until the wearer fell over.  Probably better not to dwell on the research that went into that discovery.

Once funds allowed I swapped from the ‘beer-coat’ and it's like to decent Gore-Tex based waterproofs.  These have done a very good job over the years in keeping me mostly dry and usually warm too.  Over that time I’ve usually bought Berghaus kit and generally been very happy with it, certainly when it was new.

Over the last few years I’ve become aware of an increasingly large number of walkers and photographers wearing Paramo/Nikwax kit, and had rather assumed that this was just another (high-end) flavour of the same sort of kit.  The need to replace my own all weather gear led to me doing a bit of deeper investigation.  

I am certainly interested in the reviews that talked about the Paramo 'directional' approach of attempting to push (or indeed pull) liquid away from the wearer.  I'm also interested in the environmental impact that Paramo (and Greenpeace) talk about - and particularly in trying to move away from the use of PFCs (fluorinated compounds) in outdoor clothing.

So on the basis that you can only do desk-based research for so long, I have just bought a set of Paramo Enduro garments - and I’ll report back on how I get on with them over the next few months, although I don’t think I’m going to try and repeat the beer test.

Make Time for Slow TV

I'm delighted to see that the Norwegians are at it again.

In the past they've brought us all seven hours of the Oslo to Bergen railway line. And yes, I was compelled to do it.

They've offered up all 134 hours that it takes the Hurtigruten boats to travel from Bergen to Kirkenes. And yes again, I have done that journey too - although I opted to go on one of the older more traditional boats.

If you want to see all the hours - they can be found on the NRK website

They've even offered 12 hours of continuous non-stop knitting action.  I can't claim to have done this myself, but over the years I've watched way more than 12 hours of knitting happen.

And now the Norwegians are bringing us, live and uninterrupted, 168 hours of reindeer migration.  And lovely viewing it is too - click on the image below to get to the live stream!

And relax.

Jutland April 2017

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Denmark over the years - but generally haven’t had the chance to explore very much.  This Easter gave us the chance to see rather more of Jutland than we’d seen before.

I’d rather thought of Jutland as the west coast of ‘mainland’ Denmark, in fact it really is pretty much all of mainland Denmark.  We were based near Herning, not too far from the North Sea coast in western Jutland, and also got to spend a couple of lovely days in Aarhus which fronts onto Aarhus Bay on the eastern edge of Jutland.

North Sea Coast at Søndervig Strand - complete with souvenir fortifications from the Second World War

North Sea Coastline
Beach Fortifications

Downtown Herning - and the lovely Danish Photomuseum

Downtown Herning 
Photo Museum, Herning

Mønsted limestone mine - complete with bats and cheese (yes, really a cheese mine)

Mønsted Kalkgruber
Mønsted Kalkgruber
Mønsted Kalkgruber

Trolley Bikes on the old Skjern to Videbaek railway line - Denmark had their equivalent to Dr Beeching who closed down rural railways, although I don’t think trolley bikes put in an appearance in the UK.

On the Rails
Biking Vikings

Aarhus University - the second oldest university in Denmark

Århus University

Aarhus Waterfront - gradually transitioning from working harbour into upmarket residential

Århus Waterfront - traditional
Århus Waterfront - modern
Iceberg - Århus Waterfront

ARoS - Aarhus Kunstmuseum - lovely big/modern art gallery - with a seriously cool rainbow panorama on the roof

ARoS Rainbow Panorama
ARoS Rainbow Panorama

Aarhus Old Town Museum - buildings and streets from 1864, 1927 and 1974 - am struggling with 1974 being history, and there will soon be a 2014 street too!

Work Experience, 1864-version
Old Town (and New)

Shetland March 2017

Another spin on the Shetland weather lottery.

This didn’t (as you might have seen from the previous entry) start too well.  Four hours sitting in the gloom at Aberdeen airport wasn’t what I had planned, particularly with the background commentary letting me know just how rubbish the visibility was at Sumburgh Airport.

And given the pessimistic tone of the messages (and the lucky-dip nature of the seat allocations) I was, on reflection, pretty grateful to be wandering on West Voe Beach and on Scat Ness by middle of Friday afternoon without getting too wet.

Scat Ness in the Friday murk
West Voe of Sumburgh
From there on the weather just got better and better.  

It was a little bit murky at Sumburgh Head on Saturday morning.  There was a celebratory PARP of the fog horn to mark the start of the visitor centre season.  PARP doesn’t really do it justice but it’s the best description I can conjure up - although the low notes do made it feel like the whole Head was vibrating.  I’m sure that Flybe/Loganair could make use of the fog horn to guide planes in through the murk.  The mid-day fog horn (and the warm welcome from the visitor centre staff) heralded the clearing of the clouds and the arrival of a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the south end of Shetland.

Sumburgh Head Fog Horn
Waiting for the Fog Horn
Scat Ness in the Saturday Sunshine
And on Sunday the weather just kept getting better - my vague hope that my long weekend back on Shetland might be extended by the return of the dodgy weather didn’t pan out.

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse
Shetland Daffodils still in Season
The only real disappointment of the visit, although there were plenty of daffodils, guillemot, shag and gannets around, was that I was just a few days too early for the return of the puffins or indeed of the orcas which periodically put in an appearance around Shetland. 

And just to show how clear the weather was, by Sunday the Fair Isle test ("Can I see Fair Isle from the bedroom window?") had been passed.

Fair Isle Test: Passed

The puffins are pretty reliable in their timekeeping for their return to the Shetland cliffs, unlike the orca where lots of the luck is required - they really are part of a whole new Shetland lottery!