Reliving the 19th Century?

Having just about had time to browse my images from the Northwest Passage and reformat my memory cards, it's time to pack up and escape the country again. This time replaying another 19th Century journey.

The Northwest Passage trip provided the chance to get a glimpse of some of the places visited by a number of early Arctic explorers, and most particularly to visit some of bleak and desolate islands that Sir John Franklin and his fellow travellers saw on their fateful expedition in 1846.  

Graves from Franklin expedition on Beechey Island
Visiting some of these islands from the comfort of a well-appointed expedition cruise ship really brought home the challenges that these explorers faced.  They were seeking to find routes through a maze of islands surrounded at best by drifting sea ice and at worst by wild Arctic storms.  They were trying to find their way through uncharted waters, where one of their few modern instruments was, in modern terminology 'useless'. 

Magnetic Compass Useless
To supplement paper charts we not only had radar to help spot icebergs and GPS to confirm where we were, we also had daily ice charts to help us understand what the ice conditions were.  And when the going got tough we were able to call on the Canadian Coastguard, in the shape of Captain Frost and the CCGS Henry Larsen, to clear the way for us.

CCGS Henry Larsen

There are further images from the trip on Flickr, and if you want to follow my journey day-by-day, my photodiary on Blipfoto starts here.

Franklin, and Roald Amundsen who eventually did sail the Passage in the early years of the 20th Century, would have been astonished both at the technology at our disposal, and perhaps even more surprised to find that in the early part of the 21st Century the Northwest Passage is now on the tourist circuit.

Organised tourism, in Franklin's time, was just starting to develop.  Individual travellers had for many years made journeys or pilgrimages, and the Grand Tour had become a regular rite of passage for affluent young men.  In the middle of the 19th Century, Thomas Cook started for the first time to organise trips around the UK.  In 1863, after a number of successfully tours to Paris, he decided to branch out and offered his first international tour to Switzerland.  One of the travellers on the first Swiss tour was Jemina Morrell, a woman from the north of England who in addition to being an intrepid traveller was also a dedicated diarist.  She wrote, and subsequently published, a detailed account of her travels through the Bernese Oberland.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be repeating Jemima's tour, going to Geneva and Leukerbad by train and bus, before travelling on by cable car, train, boat and foot to wind up in Lucerne.  I'll be travelling to several of the towns that Jemima visited as she covered long distances mostly on foot.

I would love to be able to say that this tour is still being offered by Thomas Cook, but it isn't . Our itinerary has been put together by InnTravel.  

In the 1860s this trip was state of the art, modern tourism. In 2013, InnTravel distinguish themselves from other travel companies by the tag-line the 'Slow Holiday People'.  I wonder if there will be mules available for hire if the going gets too slow.

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