Across the Arctic Circle
Scotland, Norway & Spitsbergen
Aboard Polar Pioneer
- 14 Days Jul 2013
Our journey is a ship-based exploration of three distinct regions. In the wild islands off the Scottish coast we plan to take in Neolithic sites scarcely changed in 5000 years, and ponder the mystery of huge monoliths that marked the change of seasons for the ancients. We explore the islands and fjords of Norway's stunning coastline, before crossing the Arctic Circle and reaching the Svalbard archipelago. The largest island of Spitsbergen is still virtually an unspoilt wilderness and is a breeding home for walrus, polar bear, reindeer and millions upon millions of migratory land and sea birds.
Aberdeen, West Scotland
We board Polar Pioneer around mid-afternoon in Aberdeen, after settling in we will set sail in for the Orkney Islands, where Stone Age villages like Skara Brae, relics of Viking occupation and the wild sea stack Old Man of Hoy vie for our attention
Among Orkney’s archipelago of 70 windswept islands, lying 6 miles north of the Scottish mainland, a rich tapestry of archaeology, history and wildlife awaits. We follow the passage of time – from 5000 year old World Heritage neolithic sites, past relics from wandering Vikings and reminders of World War 2 occupation, to present day crofting communities. Imposing sea cliffs teem with seabirds and cliff top paths and bleak moors beckon the keen hikers among us, while our kayakers use paddle-power to explore sections of Orkney’s fascinating coastline.
Mid-way between Orkney and Shetland, Fair Isle houses a major European ornithological research station, and is also famous for knitwear and historic shipwrecks. About 3 miles by 2 miles, it is surrounded by impressive cliffs. The 70 or so islanders mostly live in traditional crofts on the more fertile low-lying southern part of the island.
A bird watchers’ paradise, Fair Isle lies on the intersection of major flight-paths from Scandinavia, Iceland and Faroe. It attracts common species and also eastern rarities such as the lanceolated warbler. In summer, the cliffs teem with breeding fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins, and it is an excellent place to view seabirds at close range, especially puffins. The island also has over 250 species of flowering plants, including wetland flowers, rare orchids, alpine species and common wildflowers. We’ll be welcomed by the hospitable villagers and may take a hike or visit the museum.
Shetland Islands Sea
Britain’s most northerly islands lie almost 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland, at a similar latitude to the southern tip of Greenland, or Bergen in Norway. Kept relatively warm by the Gulf Stream, Shetland’s 100 islands experience almost 24 hours of daylight in summer. They abound with nature reserves and archaeological sites, and offer a taste of traditional island life.
We plan to visit some of Shetland's best-preserved and most complex archaeological sites, brochs - fortified Iron Age towers.
As we sail towards the Norwegian coastline, the warmth of the bridge or the outer decks offer an excellent vantage point for birdwatching. Our historian and naturalists will delight us with their informative talks.
Our aim is to spend the three days exploring the superb Norwegian coastline, cruising the intricate maze of seldom-visited inlets and outer islands. The cod-fishing island of Sor Glaeslingan will welcome us with its delightful wooden houses and cheerful inhabitants, while we search for nesting kittiwakes and reclusive sea otters. Delight as we hunt for fabled trolls, as we pass by Torgatten, meaning mountain with a hole, said to be caused by a troll arrow.
Crossing the Arctic Circle, we make our way to the Lofoten Island’s, meaning puma’s foot, this is a land scoured by ice and legend, the towering crags with their sharp edges, standing in silent protection of the villages below.
As we travel north, the days are noticeably longer and we search for sperm whales, orcas, minke whales, pilot whales and dolphins in the deep squid rich ocean trenches off Andenes.
We approach Spitsbergen at its most southerly point, South Cape or Sørkapp and explore the coastline entering a different world – that of the polar desert.
Enormous peaks and deeply gouged fjords make our visit to Hornsund a powerful experience. As the southern most fjord in Svalbard, we will be on keen lookout for polar bears, cruise in Zodiacs, along glacial fronts that are home to bearded and ring seal, kittiwakes and guillemots. Here we continue our exploration into human history dating back 400 years in Svalbard, encompassing trapping and hunting, whaling and mining. If the skies are clear we may catch a glimpse of dramatic Hornsundtind, peaking at 1430m.
Dramatic folds characterise the geological landscape of Bellsund and here we will enjoy magnificent vistas and steep bird cliffs creating lush vegetation; an open invitation to Arctic fox and polar bears. Little auks, guillemots, northern fulmar and pink footed geese all make this their breeding home. Reindeer graze the slopes peacefully and with two branches of the fjord, there are numerous places to explore. Polar bears pass through the area on their way to the west coast, and if we are lucky we may encounter of the elusive and alluring white beluga whale.
On arrival Longyearbyen, we will disembark and bid farewell to new found friends.