Glass Half Full

As we turn the corner from one year to the next, there is always a temptation to reflect on the Old Year and to think ahead to the New.

And the switch from 2013 to 2014 is no exception.

So by way of reflection, with an emphasis on the positive things.

Some of the highlights for 2013 were

1. Celebrated our 25th Anniversary
2. Quit my daily commute, and my day job.
3. Spent more time on Shetland than I had in any previous year.
4. Travelled through along the Northwest Passage in Arctic Canada.
5. Became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
6. Held my first photo exhibition (running until 12th January 2014).
7. Won a, very small, photo competition.
8. Clocked up another 365 images on Blipfoto.

Ice Baffin Bay 2013
And some targets for 2014

1. Developing the ‘Islands’ theme – with a growing list of ‘new’ islands to visit.
2. Returning to the Lofoten Islands (and getting to the western end this time)
3. Returning to the Hebrides (and getting to St Kilda this time).
4. Taking part in Oxford Artweeks.
5. Entering more photo competitions.
6. Spending even more time on Shetland.
7. Clocking up another 365 images on Blipfoto.

We’ll see how these targets stand the test of time.
St Ninians Shetland 2013
Cheers. And Happy New Year.

Another 24th December

Just over nine years ago I bought my first digital camera, and I decided (just as a bit of digital fun) that I would take a picture every day for a year.  I never quite got round to stopping – and I have found some interesting places to take pictures over those nine years. 

The first picture-of-the-day was 24th December 2004, so I now have 10 “24th December” pictures in the collection (taken with six different cameras). These weren't often the most exciting image of the year, but do mark each year as it went past.

Merry Christmas.

North Sea Ferries - Sign Me Up.

Once upon a time, long long ago, there were lots of ferries across the North Sea from the UK to Scandinavia.

It used to be possible to get a ferry from Newcastle to Bergen or Stavanger in Norway. It used to be possible to get a ferry from the Shetland Islands to Bergen (or in the other direction to either the Faroe Islands or Iceland).  It was even possible get a ferry from Leith, outside Edinburgh to Oslo, and (albeit briefly) between Aberdeen and Bergen, although both of these were longer ago than I can remember!

MV Norrona, very close to Shetland
The Shetland Island service stopped in 2007, although frustratingly you can still often see the ferry as it passes close to Shetland, pausing occasionally for just long enough to allow a medical evacuation by helicopter to Lerwick Hospital but not to pick up or deposit paying passengers.  The ferry from Newcastle ran for many years, I first used it in 1972 and most recently in 2004, until the plugs were pulled on the service in 2008.

Heading to Bergen, 2004 version
As the gannet flies it’s about 230 miles from my house on Shetland to Bergen.

Won't take me long to get to Bergen. You?
Getting my car from the Shetland front door to Bergen, involves at least one ferry to mainland Scotland, then either an 2000 mile drive via the Channel tunnel, up through Germany, Denmark and Sweden before a final drive across Norway or a variety of ferries across the southern end of the North Sea and the mouth of the Baltic, and still needing to drive most of the 2000 miles.

I was therefore delighted to see an announcement recently that there just might be a return for the Newcastle to Bergen/Stavanger service.  Norwegian Seaways are talking, it appears very seriously, about putting this route back into service in early 2014.

I would be even more delighted to see the Shetland Islands properly back on the shipping routes. Historically Shetland has been at the centre of trade across the North Sea, and further west too.  The issue of better communications with places like Norway and the Faroe Islands do periodically make it up the political agenda, but rarely with any visible outcome.

At the moment there are no regular ferries from Shetland to anywhere other than Orkney and Aberdeen, and only a very seasonal weekly flight from Sumburgh to Bergen to complement the regular flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.  The only way that Shetland can be called well-connected is entirely virtual – the SHEFA-2 undersea communications link from the Faroe Island to mainland Scotland, briefly comes up for air on Shetland.

I would be first in line to book a berth on a ferry from Lerwick to almost anywhere but in the absence of that I'm already looking forward to being on the Norwegian Seaways service from Newcastle.

When do bookings open?

Shetland Selection

A collection of my images from remote places is going to be on show in The Boiler Room at the Jam Factory in Oxford from 12th November 2013 until mid-January 2014.

Over the last  few weeks I’ve been publishing a blog post about each of the three regions I’ve covered in the exhibition where I told the stories behind a few of the images.

Part I was an Arctic Assortment, Part II was an Antarctic Aggregation

This is Part III, images from Shetland.  This selection doesn't reflect all of Shetland, which is over 100 miles from end-to-end, in fact the four images here were all taken within circle about 2 miles across at the extreme south end of the Shetland, my patch on the islands.

Curious Puffin, Sumburgh Head

One of the big tourist draws on Shetland are the puffins at Sumburgh Head.  There are numerous places on Shetland where puffins nest, but the RSPB Reserve at Sumburgh is not only a busy location (in puffin terms) it also provides several points where puffins and people can get close together.  At times when I'm not quite sure if the tourists are there to see the puffins, or vice versa.  If you sit still the birds will come very close to get a good look at what you’re doing.  The RSPB reserve is also very close to the main airport on Shetland and during the summer it's very common for people to head straight up to Sumburgh Head as soon as they arrive, and to try and fit in a final visit to the puffins just before leaving.  We know from experience that it’s about 7 minutes from the reserve to the airport check-in desk!

Quendale Bay Sunset

Shetland is roughly 60 degrees north.  This means that during the summer it doesn’t really get properly dark (the locals call it Simmer Dim), and in the winter it feels as if it doesn't really ever get light.  The other ‘quirk’ is that the direction were the sun sets changes quiet dramatically during the year. In the middle of summer, not only do you need to stay up pretty late to see the sunset you also need to find somewhere with a clear view to the northwest rather than the west.  In the autumn however, the sun does what it’s supposed to do and disappears due west of the islands – and if you are lucky and the weather is clear to the west, you might just see the sun dropping into the sea.

Loch of Gards, Scat Ness

One of my favourite places on Shetland is Scat Ness.  This is one of the two south-pointing peninsulas at the south end of Shetland, the other is Sumburgh Head.  Scat Ness doesn't have the same dramatic cliffs that Sumburgh Head does, nor the Stevenson-era lighthouse for decoration, but neither does it have the volume of visitors.

Scat Ness is a place to go for peace and quite, and for a spot seal-watching and otter-spotting along with nesting terns and numerous other birds dropping in to visit the freshwater Loch of Gards.  In the background is Fitful Head, the highest point at the south end of Shetland.

Scat Ness Storms

It would be an understatement to say that Shetland can be windy.  

The wild winds ensure that there aren't too many trees around on Shetland, and that the buildings are all built to be capable of withstanding winds that would wreak havoc elsewhere in the country.  When the storms blow in they generate huge waves that usually batter the west side of the islands.  However, the storms don’t last forever. Every storm eventually passes, and the days after a storm are some of my favourite days on Shetland.  Sometimes the sun shines, and there are still big seas blowing in from the storm.  

On these days, I will regularly go out onto the more remote parts of Scat Ness and watch the waves barrelling in against the rocks, spinning up a mist of salty spray and providing a reminder that wave power might just be worth considering.

The exhibition

If you want to see these pictures and more, the exhibition runs from 12th November 2013 to 12th January 2014 – there is more information about the exhibition on the Jam Factory website

Images from this collection are also available on the new North South Images website.

Antarctic Aggregation

A collection of my images from remote places are going to be on show in The Boiler Room at the Jam Factory in Oxford from mid-November.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to publish a blog post about each of the regions I've included in the exhibition where I’ll tell the stories behind a few of the images.

Little bit of Empire, Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula

I think this is the furthest south I’ve seen the Union Jack flying. 

Port Lockroy is on Goudier Island part of the Antarctic Palmer Archipelago.  The island was named for a French politican, and although the bay around the island was used by whalers in the early years of the 20th Century, the base on the island wasn't built until 1943.  In the 1943, despite or (more likely) because of the war, the Admiralty decided that it would be a good idea to establish a permanent British presence in the Antarctic.  Operation Tabarin resulted in three bases, on Deception Island, at Port Lockroy and at Hope Bay.  The Port Lockroy base was operated continuously until 1962 when it was essentially abandoned.  In 1996 the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust renovated the base which now operates (in the southern Summer) as a museum, post office and souvenir shop.  I visited the island very early in the season, so there was still plenty of snow on the ground, and the penguins were busy building nests – and stealing pebbles from each other.

Penguins at Dawn, Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands

One of the highlights of my first visit to the Falkland Islands was sharing the beach with the penguins.
Each morning the penguins, on Sea Lion Island mostly gentoos, set off from their nesting sites for their morning swim.  If you go out early, and sit down on the beach (so you’re not too much taller than a penguin) you might well become the centre of attention.  Penguins are very curious birds, and they will inevitably come and investigate anything that’s on the beach and doesn't look like a threat.   On this morning, the crowds gathered and for a long time the penguins just shuffled closer and closer to see what this new visitor to the beach might want (or indeed taste like).

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

There are a lot of King Penguins on South Georgia.
Salisbury Plain is one of several beaches that are home to big colonies of King Penguins, in this case perhaps as many as 500,000 birds.  The beach is named after the other Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, although I really did struggle to see any resemblance.  I visited Salisbury Plain at the height of the breeding season in December.  At this time the beaches are covered with adult birds, both nesting and moulting, and with last year’s chicks who are in the final stages of shedding their brown down.  The juvenile penguins tend to gather together leading to the colony appearing to have stripes of brown and black/white.  The early explorers couldn’t quite get their heads round the breeding cycle of the King Penguins, so for several years the juveniles were thought to be a separate penguins species (the woolly penguin).
St Andrews Bay, South Georgia Island

When you’re a young King Penguin, still with a thick winter coat, and the temperature starts to climb, it’s good to have a nice cool pool to dip your feet in.  This pool on St Andrews Bay is just the thing, so lots of brown-coated juvenile penguins loiter around the waters edge.  Far into the distance are thousands and thousands of both juvenile and adult penguins.

The pool looks beautiful with mountains of South Georgia reflected in it, but I wouldn't suggest the pool as a swimming stop for any human visitors no matter how warm the weather got.

The Exhibition

If you want to see these pictures and more, the exhibition runs from 12th November 2013 to 12th January 2014 – there is more information about the exhibition on the Jam Factory website

These images are also available on the new NorthSouthImages website

North South Images

I've been planning for a while to set up an additional photography-based website to sit alongside my various blog sites and social media presence.

Welcome to North South Images - I'll be using this site to showcase some of my images, and to provide a mechanism to allow you to buy images ready to hang on your living room wall.

Do go and explore.

Jam Factory Exhibition November 2013

A selection of my images (some of which have appeared on this site) are going to be on display at the Jam Factory in Oxford from 12th November 2013 to 12th January 2014.

If you are going to be around Oxford over that time you'll find that the Jam Factory is a very convenient place to recover from the train journey to Oxford, a splendid place to get a coffee or something to eat and they've usually got some jolly nice pictures on show too.

Arctic Assortment

A collection of my images from remote places are going to be on show in The Boiler Room at the Jam Factory in Oxford from mid-November.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to publish a blog post about each of the regions I've included in the exhibition where I’ll tell the stories behind a few of the images.

Sculpted Icebergs – Eastern Greenland

Eastern Greenland is prime iceberg spotting territory.  From the coastline of any of towns along the coast you can watch bergs on the horizon being carried south by the East Greenland current.

Sometimes these bergs will get pulled in closer to shore until they run aground.

This particular berg was in King Oscars Havn just outside the town of Tasiilaq.  Tasiilaq isn’t the easiest place to get to – I got there by flying from Reykjavik in Iceland to Kulusuk, and then getting a helicopter ride to Tasiilaq, in the summer the only other way to get there is by boat. After that if you want to go any further than the edge of town, walking is your only option.  I walked out of town onto a deserted headland where I could look down onto this grounded berg.  The scars and grooves on the berg show that it had rolled and calved many times as it melted on its journey south from northern Greenland.  This berg would have stayed put near Tasiilaq for a few days or weeks until it melted enough for it to either float on, or to roll again and unpin itself from the sea bed.

One of the delights of photographing icebergs is the knowledge that an image can never be repeated.  After just a few minutes the light was different, in a few hours the water changed and after a few days the berg would have been transformed out of all recognition.

Every iceberg image is unique.

Feeding Time – Polar Bears – Svalbard

A whale washed ashore in the Arctic is a feeding bonanza for polar bears – even an old carcass is still likely to have lots of meat on it.  This carcass, probably of a Fin Whale, in a remote bay at the northern end of Spitzbergen Island in Svalbard had already been ashore for over a year when I visited.  When it was fresh, bears had come from huge distances to eat their fill on the water’s edge.

By the time we turned up the bit of the skeleton above the waterline had been picked clean – but that meant that ‘Mum’ needed to drive deep into the water to tear off huge mouthfuls of meat to feed herself and her cub.

While feeding time was underway we were able to sit in a Zodiac just a few metres from the bears, watching as the adult got a full feed, and the cub discovered just how cold Arctic water really was.

Fishermans Huts – Lofoten Islands

The Lofoten Islands are just off the west coast of Norway about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Despite this bleak location the islands aren't usually covered with deep snow – the Gulf Stream stretches far enough north to ensure that this.  When I visited in February the islands had just been transformed by a heavy fall of snow – the custodian at a local museum felt the need to apologise that she hadn't yet had the chance to clear her paths and car park.

Around the Lofoten coastline are lots of red-painted, black-roofed, white-windowed wooden huts.  These are the rorbu, the traditional fishermans huts.  Many have now been transformed to luxurious holiday cottages others, like this one at Henningsvaer, looks as if it’s ready for the more traditional use.

In the background there is just a glimpse of the jagged ridge of mountains which run along the length of the Lofoten Islands – from a distance these peaks all seem to join up forming the ‘Lofoten Wall’.

Tabular Berg – Baffin Bay

The first glimpse of this berg was no more than a white line on the horizon.  The crew agreed that it looked a bit like a huge tabular berg, but it couldn't be because you don’t see that sort of berg here.

As we continued north-west across Baffin Bay the white line got longer, and gradually thicker too, then we could pick out the abrupt ends of what really was a tabular berg.

The crew, long experienced in both Arctic and Antarctic waters, decided that this deserved a detour. Several had seen bergs like this (and this big) in the Antarctic, but none had seen a berg like this in Baffin Bay.  The berg was close to two miles long with about 20 metres of ice visible above the water line – we couldn't see the top surface of the berg from the highest point on the boat.

We spent about an hour exploring the edge of the berg, which had probably split from Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland before drifting down into the southern end of Baffin Bay, getting as close as we could to the face.

The exhibition

If you want to see these pictures and more, the exhibition runs from 12th November 2013 to 12th January 2014 – there is more information about the exhibition on the Jam Factory website

Images from this collection are also available on the new North South Images website.

Brussels October 2013

I first travelled on the Eurostar in April 1995.  At that time it was a new service and left from Waterloo Station and then trundled slowly across Kent, before dipping under the Channel to emerge at Calais at which point the train dramatically accelerated. That first trip was to Brussels, and one of my recollections was of the train decelerating again (to Kent speeds) after Lille as it crossed into Belgium - the Belgians were as slow as the Brits in getting high speed lines in place.

London - St Pancras
In September 2013, I had my second experience of the Eurostar.  In the intervening years I'd done about 400,000 air miles, but hadn't left the UK by train again. In my absence, the train companies had built what is now called HS1 and  transferred the Eurostar service to a nicely rebuilt St Pancras station.  That trip took me to Paris and on, via the TGV network, to Switzerland.  I wondered at the time when I'd next get to use Eurostar, and vowed that I wouldn't let another 18 years go past.

The appearance of a useful looking meeting in Brussels on development in the Arctic was the ideal excuse to head back to St Pancras and to Belgium.  The journey this time was significantly faster than the 1995 version, and I certainly wasn't aware of any dramatic changes in speed as we went from country to country.

My Brussels trip in 1995 was just a day-trip for a meeting in an hotel just beside the Atomium on the outskirts of the city.   On this trip I managed to spend a couple of nights in the city, in a city centre hotel close to Brussels South station (also called Brussels-Midi), where the Eurostars arrive.  This meant I had time to sample a least some of the delights of Brussels.  A country that appears to run on beer, chips and chocolate must have something going for it.

Manneken Pis - still attracting the photographers
I had visited Brussels once before, in summer 1977, and from the few pictures I've got from that trip I didn't appear to be very impressed with the Manneken Pis.  Having visiting it again this time, I think my scepticism was justified. There are lots of stories about the statue, and why it's there but I really don't understand why it has become such a famous landmark. I found it very easy to resist the encouragements to buy a replica for the mantlepiece.

Grand Place by night
The Grand Place is a different matter altogether. This really is a magnificent square, and is well worth visiting both for the architecture and the people watching.  The lighting is very dramatic, so an evening visit is well worth fitting into your timetable.

The meeting I was attending was in the EU Quarter of Brussels, which in addition to lots of dramatic new EU-centric buildings also has a number of equally dramatic (albeit shorter) old buildings.  The location meant I had an excuse for an early morning wander round the Parc du Cinquantenaire - built in 1880 to mark 50 years of Belgian independence.

Parc du Cinquantenaire
There is a small selection of pictures on Flickr from the limited time I had to be a tourist in Brussels.

As with so many city visits, I wish I'd added in an extra day for wandering so I could take more pictures and try a few more of the local beers.


Shetland Autumn 2013

It's a pretty good bet that you won't get snow on Shetland in September or October, but anything else is highly likely.

You might well get gale- (and sometimes storm-) force winds that will attempt to blow you off the cliffs, in one direction or the other.  You might well get fog, which while it probably won't delay your flight to or from Shetland too much, it will wreak havoc with any plans you might have to get to Fair Isle. You might even get gale force fog, which at least means that you can't see the cliff edge as you get blown towards it.  You might well get big seas which will make the ferry crossing to Aberdeen very entertaining, and the wee boat to Fair Isle, at least two notches beyond entertaining.  You might get bright sunshine, still air and dramatic sunrises and sunsets.  And if you get lucky, clear overnight skies will coincide with a little bit of auroral activity and you'll get a glimpse of the Mirrie Dancers, the wonderful Shetland name for the Northern Lights, and even if the aurora doesn't play ball the dark skies might give you some dramatic starscapes.

I've spent the last three weeks in the house at the south end of Shetland, and have seen all the variants mentioned above.
Clear air across Quendale Bay - all the way to Fair Isle
Sunlit South End - Fitful Head from Compass Head
Eshaness - On a photograph, no one can tell how hard the wind was blowing.
Sunset over Quendale Bay
Victoria Pier Lerwick, boats in harbour ahead of the storms
Storm Surge at Sumburgh Head
Lost in the Mist, on Quendale Beach
Mirrie Dancers over Virkie
Star-struck in Shetland

The ever changing autumn weather (although on Shetland 'ever-changing' is a reasonable description of the weather at any time of year) also changes the wildlife that can be found. In the autumn Shetland draws in a huge variety of migrating birds some intending to spend time on Shetland, other blown there en route somewhere warmer.  The bushes and fields have been thick with unlikely birds over the last couple of weeks, and the roads have been choked with visiting bird-watchers all intent on adding another tick or two to their lifetime lists.

My own personal highlights (I don't really get that excited by seeing birds that have been blown to places that they shouldn't be visiting) was seeing huge number of porpoises in the bay in front of the house and seeing otters on a beach where I hadn't seen them before.

I suspect the porpoises are in the bay for a lot of the time, but with waves blowing through it can be pretty hard to spot them.  When the water is mirror-smooth they are easy to see - I counted about 40 in the bay one morning, and another more diligent observer got to  75.

Shetland has the highest density otter population in the UK, allegedly averaging one otter for each mile of coastline (and Shetland has a lot of miles of coastline) and that probably means that otters are visiting pretty much all of the coastline quite regularly.  I am always delighted when I spend time watching a beach where I've not seen an otter before, and I get rewarded by a new sighting.

Going Swiss

At the end of 2011 after the almost-endless long haul back from South Georgia, I couldn't face another many-hour flight so I planned a 'trains and boats' trip round northern Scandinavia.  After getting back from the Northwest Passage last month, which, despite being boat based, did involve over 10,000 air miles, I was delighted that the next trip was going to be entirely surface based (assuming that cable cars count as being surface based).

Our trip to Switzerland was organised by InnTravel in Yorkshire who describe themselves as 'The Slow Holiday People'.  The itinerary wasn't by any stretch of the imagination, original. In fact the itinerary was based on one first put together by Thomas Cook in 1863. It’s quite possible that the details of that trip would have been lost had the entire journey not been documented by Jemina Morrell, one of the original Cook’s tourists.

So following in Jemina's footsteps we headed to London to start out on our Swiss Adventure.

Mr Cook’s party (an unbelievable 130-strong) set off from London Bridge Station on Friday 26th June 1863. We (a party of two!) set off from St Pancras International on Friday 6th September 2013.  The 1863 journey travelled by train to Newhaven, steamer to Dieppe, then train to Paris (and had a very short overnight stop there) before another very early start so that they would reach Geneva (again by train) by the Saturday night.  Thanks to Eurostar, the Channel Tunnel and the French TGV network – we were able to be in Paris just after 10 on the Friday morning, in Geneva by mid-afternoon, and in our first Alpine hotel in the spa town of Leukerbad for dinner on the Friday evening.

Leukerbad - in the morning sunshine
The 1863 tour (or at least the part of the group that Jemina M was with) went from Geneva off to Chamonix for a few days before arriving in Leukerbad.  Leukerbad was already well established as a spa town long before it made Thomas Cook's itinerary and Jemina does comment not entirely favourably on activities she observed in the baths including knitting, eating and playing of draughts. Jemina doesn't admit to having actually spent any time taking the waters, we however did, and spent a very pleasant couple of hours in the 50C waters in an outside pool watching the sun disappear off the mountain tops.

From Leukerbad, both our and the earlier tour followed the same itinerary over the Gemmi Pass to Kandersteg.  We despatched our luggage via the Swiss Transport System for delivery to Kandersteg, and then headed for the Gemmi Cable car to whisk us up almost 1000 metres to top of the pass.  Thick mists ensured we could see almost nothing, but just occasionally we got a glimpse of the steep path (“vertiginous” is a word that keeps coming to the fore here) that Jemina and her party (with their luggage presumably, although that doesn't often get mentioned in the diary) must have scrambled up.  We (and Jemina, having recovered from her climb) then walked past the Daubensee and to the remote mountain hotel at Schwarenbach.  In July 1863, the party were able to enthuse about the views, and the spring flowers under a ‘broiling sun’. In September 2013 we saw very little other than brief glimpses of what Jemina called ‘the dreary Daubensee’, and our first sight of the Schwarenbach Hotel was when we were only a few metres from it.  From the hotel we took the option of heading towards another cable car station to be whisked down to the outskirts of Kandersteg.  Jemina and companions again needed to scramble down another steep path until they reached ‘the first habitation’ where they spent the night.

Daubensee in the mist
We spent three nights in Kandersteg before again following Jemina down the valley towards Lake Thun. On this occasion, at least, Mr Cook had arranged carriages to get his party to Spiez to catch the steamer along Lake Thun to Interlaken.  We followed the same route, but used the ever punctual Swiss Railway service to get to Spiez to join the steamer.   It takes a couple of days to really absorb the slogan printed on the back of our Swiss Travel passes, “Imagine a country where public transport is always on time”. It’s true. And the buses connect with the trains.  And the trains connect with the boats.

Lake Thun ferry in Interlaken
From Interlaken, both tours headed to Lauterbrunnen to have a look at the Staubbach Falls, where water tumbles 1000 feet from a hanging valley down to the main valley below.   We then continued on from Lauterbrunnen catching yet another punctual cog-rail train to climb slowly up to Wengen, while Jemina retraced her steps to spend some more time in Interlaken.

Underneath the Staubbach Falls
For both tours the next stage was to Grindelwald.  We got there by a slightly circuitous route splitting the climb from Wengen up to Kleine Scheidegg and the descent down to Grindelwald over two days. The huge number and choice of cable cars and mountain railways in this part of Switzerland makes it very easy to flex walks according to the weather and the state of grumbling knees.  I decided, on this trip, to forego my traditional travel souvenir of a local T-shirt, and to buy a souvenir walking stick instead.  Jemima didn't have the cable car or mountain railway option, and her party had to complete the descent into Grindelwald “after the manner of the goats, leaping rents, and clearing the ground at a furious speed”.  We did not.

Trains and hotels at Kleine Scheidegg
For the final stop of the trip we again followed in Jemima’s footsteps heading back to Interlaken to catch the steamer towards Brienz with a stop at Giessbach to admire the Giessbach Falls, en route to Lucerne.  In 1863 the journey from Brienz to Lucerne involved coach and horses and a crossing of the Brunig Pass.  The route still involves crossing the Brunig Pass, but now it done in a very calm and controlled manner courtesy of Swiss Railways.

And from Lucerne it was, for both parties, a simple journey back towards Paris, although in our case it took about 4 hours rather than two days.


2013.  Trip was organised by InnTravel, and included stays at Parkhotel Quellenhof (Leukerbad), Belle Epoque Hotel Victoria (Kandersteg), Hotel Alpenrose (Wengen), Hotel Kruez and Post (Grindelwald) and Hotel Wilden Mann (Lucerne).  Travel involved Eurostar, TGV, Swiss Travel System Flexi Passes and walking.  Our luggage transfers  (which all worked perfectly) were also handled by the Swiss Transport System.

1863. Trip was organised by Thomas Cook, and included stays at Hotel des Freres Brunuer (Leukerbad), Hotel de l’Ours (Kandersteg), Hotel du Lac (Interlaken), Adler (Grindelwald) and a chalet in the grounds of the Giessbach Hotel.  Travel involved all manner of trains, boats, carriages and time on foot. Luggage transfers appear to have been handled by mule.

Thomas Cook charged just under £20 for Jemima’s trip, and my ready-reckoner suggests that this is equivalent to about £2000 in 2013, which is pretty close to what we paid for our trip.

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.