my wild week in Svalbard

<span>Photography: Albert Terland Bjørnerem/Hurtigruten Svalbard</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ d0c9f3a” data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ f3a”/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Photography: Albert Terland Bjørnerem/Hurtigruten Svalbard

Don’t worry,” says our guide Charlotta, showing her rifle. “I’m very quick if necessary.” My 12-year-old daughter eagerly watches the Arctic wilderness. As much as she loved Philip Pullman’s armored bears, one of the reasons she wanted to visit them, our proximity to reality is starting to dawn on us.

There are traffic signs throughout the city warning us of the risk of polar bears. Here they number about 3,000, compared to the approximately 2,500 human inhabitants, which is why the Svalbard authorities insist that you only walk beyond the main settlement with an armed guide.

As a result, attacks are extremely rare (around five since the 1970s), with the aim being that humans and bears interact as little as possible: they are protected by law and it is a crime to hunt, feed or disturb them.

Charlotta is not taking any risks this morning. She loads four bullets into the barrel of the gun, closes it, and places it on her shoulder. “Okay, let’s go,” she says, and we follow her across the frozen tundra as she tells us about the life of trappers more than 100 years ago, hunting foxes and polar bears, often alone and several days from civilization.

Throughout the city there are traffic signs warning us of the danger of polar bears: there are about 3,000 here, compared to 2,500 human inhabitants.

We stood silently absorbing the scale of this unforgiving landscape. A deep sense of isolation and loneliness looms over us in a land where historically only the toughest survive: adventurers, hunters, and hardy explorers. However, it is this toughness that makes her so attractive and beautiful as well. It is a place of extremes with temperatures that can drop to -20°C in winter and in the long polar winters there is no noticeable difference between day and night. It’s also the time when you’re most likely to see the Northern Lights.

We land during the last remaining hours of sunlight and our first view of Svalbard is a desolate range of sharp, black mountains shrouded in clouds, a peach sun hanging below the horizon.

The Norwegian archipelago is located halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and is one of the northernmost inhabited areas in the world. There are three main islands and Spitsbergen is the largest. Longyearbyen, where we stayed, is its main settlement, largely populated by tour guides, tourists, academics and researchers.

A deep sense of isolation and loneliness hangs over us. However, it is this toughness that makes it so attractive and beautiful.

There is only one street: Main Street, a short, snowy avenue that puts my local main street to shame. Your local store (Coop Svalbard) has an impressive range of fresh produce, as well as a drinks aisle stocked with champagne, gin and beer; They have their own brewery nearby (“The northernmost craft brewery in the world”). We stopped for a tasty smoked salmon sandwich at Café Fruene across the street. Opposite is Nordover, its art cinema (“The northernmost art center in the world”). There’s also the Karlsberger Pub, known as KB to locals, open until 2am most nights. It’s surprisingly easy to spend money here: there’s a tempting range of shops selling outdoor gear and Scandinavian knitwear, and one of Norway’s best restaurants, Huset, is also here, focusing on Nordic cuisine.

We stayed closer to home, eating at the Barentz gastropub (you guessed it, “The World’s Northernmost Pub”) attached to our hotel, the Radisson Blu Polar. The menu is varied and tasty; Between us we enjoyed a caramel shake, a glass of riesling and a homemade pizza. The rooms are stylish, cozy and warm, while the Scandinavian breakfast buffet is a highlight; Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon in the morning with views of the mountains is hard to beat.

As tempting as it may be to lounge at the hotel (there’s an outdoor sauna and hot tub), Svalbard is all about its outdoor activities. The first stop is a glacier cruise aboard a hybrid electric catamaran, a greener way to explore the fjords with propellers that minimize noise and vibration.

“Welcome to the cathedral of nature,” says Sam, our guide, as we set off. Sam, a marine biologist, is passionate about his subject. “This is where we observe climate change in real time.” For Svalbard, real time is accelerating at an alarming rate, perhaps faster than anywhere else in the world. Research suggests that this entire area is warming six times faster than the global average. Some predict that in the next 70 years its glaciers will lose ice at twice the current rate. It shows us a series of NASA images that illustrate the dramatic rate of decline of ice and glaciers. He believes that the only way forward is collective participation through science. “Participate,” he tells us enthusiastically. “Citizen projects in your local area are a good way to start. We need more eyes, counting birds, investigating, collaborating.”

This is where we watch climate change in real time. We need more eyes, counting, investigating, collaborating

Sam, marine biologist

The mood is gloomy as we approach the front of the Nordenskiöldbreen glacier. They turned off the engines and we stood on deck, soaking in the silence and the extraordinary sight before us: a vast glacier, about 25 kilometers long and 11 kilometers wide, glowing blue from the layers of ice. compressed over time. The engines start as we return home and Karl, a historian, tells us hair-raising stories about adventurers at sea. He points to a perfectly preserved hut, Svenskehuset, crouched on a snowbank where a group of 17 seal hunters died mysteriously during a long winter in 1872. The last man collapsed just as rescuers arrived, the only clue to what had happened. . There was a diary that one of the men kept, filled only with crazy scribblings. Some 130 years later, researchers determined to solve the mystery returned to find their bodies buried still intact in the permafrost. Samples taken revealed high levels of lead, which was also found in the sealant of the cans they had been heating to eat. The extreme effects of lead poisoning had killed them and driven them crazy first. Svalbard is full of strange stories and facts like these. For example, no one gives birth in Svalbard because there is only one hospital and no maternity services, so pregnant women are flown to the mainland shortly before their due date. No one can be buried here either: permafrost means bodies cannot decompose, raising fears that viruses and infections could also be preserved. And cats are prohibited because they could harm wildlife, particularly the bird population.

Back on dry land, our final adventure is a sleigh ride pulled by eight eager huskies who drag us through the arctic night. The highlight for my daughter is meeting the puppies afterwards. We then headed to Barentz Camp in the desert and sat in a cabin around a campfire, eating, drinking and listening to stories about the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz, who discovered Svalbard in 1596.

We spent our last night watching a blues band at a local bar. It is full and there is a party atmosphere, dancing, singing and good humor. It’s part of their annual Dark Season Blues festival, which marks the loss of natural light for the rest of the season. The people of Svalbard are undeterred by the extremes of life here or the challenges of the polar winter ahead. Instead, they enjoy and celebrate it, and you can see why.

A five-night stay in Svalbard costs from £599 per person, including B&B accommodation at the Radisson Blu. The wildlife and glacier cruise costs £208 per adult, £112 per child, and the husky on wheels costs £120 per adult, £60 per child. Overnight in the Wilderness costs £108 per adult and £57 per child. To book, visit: For more information, visit

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