Friday, 26 May 2017

Birsay Bay Tearooom, at 59º N - tea and cakes in sub-arctic Orkneys

No, don't worry, I'm not changing to gourmet blogging...

One would not expect a dedicated and exquisite tea-room in such a lonely place at the far north of main Orkney Island. Nobody finds it just by chance, or just passing by - it is a pilgrimage tearoom; in fact, people go there through inhospitable and desolate lands just for the warm delicacies and, well, archaeology.

Anyhow, it does deserves to be mentioned as Ultima Thule.

This is mainland Orkney, where the capital Kirkwall and Stromness, the magical town of adventurers, are situated, East and West of the island. You have to travel some 25 km northwardly to find Birsay Bay.

Tea with a view

Birsay Bay, northern tip of mainland Orkney.

Coordinates: 59°08′ N, 3°18′ W
- the latitude of Stavanger, Norway, or most of Hudson Bay, Canada.

Panoramic views overlooking the Brough of Birsay.

The coach corner for comfortable views.

Wilderness outside, and cold; coziness inside, warm and sweet....

Shortbread, cookies, biscuits...

Incredible home made cakes, they say.

Close around Birsay, some bits of History and architecture are worth a visit.

Earl's Palace ruins

The ruins of the Palace of Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, built in the late 16th century.

The St. Magnus Church

The present church building dates mostly from the eighteenth century. Located in the south wall is a bricked lancet window, the upper part of the thirteenth century.

The Brough of Birsay

This tidal island, run by Historic Scotland, holds an Iron Age hill fort, Norse ruins dating back from the 9th century to the 13th century, as well as evidence of the earlier Pictish settlement from the 7th century onwards. During low tide there is a two hours interval when access is possible by a slippery stoneway.

Around Birsay thee are several other prehistoric sites.

Already a taste of the Faroe Islands, they are not that far...

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Old Crow, an Arctic native village in Northern Yukon, Canada

This time we travel to the Beaufort Sea coast of Yukon, west of the McKenzie Delta, and then southwards inland. This is a Gwitch'in ethnic region, a native population living around the Porcupine River lowlands and mostly settled at the village of Old Crow.

Their name means "people of the lakes". Other smaller communities can be found at Fort Yukon, Fort McPherson and the NWT region's capital, Inuvik.

At the banks of Porcupine River, south of the Ivvavik and Vuntut Parks, Old Crow benefits from a pristine natural taiga surrounding.

Flatland taiga covers Porcupine River basin at northern Yukon.

Old Crow ('Teechikin Gwich’in) is an inland community in Canada's Yukon Territory, in periglacial environment. The community is situated by the Porcupine River - tributary of the large Yukon River - in far north Yukon region. It's the only settlement there north of the Arctic Circle.

At over 67º North, Old Crow experiences a sub-arctic climate, which means long, cold winters, and a short but sunny summer.

The old mission cabin welcomes visitors, though amenities and accommodation are very limited.

Old Crow's main road, featuring the wide façade of the Community center.

Old Crow is the only Yukon community that cannot be reached by road.

Coordinates: 67° 34′ N, 139° 48′ W
       (~ 120 km north of the Arctic Circle)

Population: 250-300, Vuntut Gwitchin                                       First Nation

Harvesting caribou is essential to the livelihood and the traditions of the Gwich’in people. Their main sources of livelihood are trapping, hunting and fishing. The Porcupine Caribou provides meat and skin for boots, moccasins, mitts, traditional outfits, and even decorative housewares.

A local's log cabin typically decorated with caribou antlers.

The old Mission cabin, now b&b, from 1935.

Old Crow School

The Health Center and Nursing station.

The Old Crow Health Centre was built in 1960 and later upgraded in 1985. This large building houses a clinic, offices for staff, a visitor's suite, storage space. It is staffed year round by two Nurses.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment.

The anglican church of St. Luke.

St. Luke’s Anglican Church was built in 1959 to replace the community’s original church. This log building echoes with memories from the past.

Renewable power station

A project of Solar Energy power has been implemented since 2014 by the local Vuntut government to decrease costs and reduce gas emissions.

Old Crow's thermal amplitude can be huge - a record of -61ºC in January to +36ºC in July. In winter, 12-14 days of full polar night happen in December, but over 3 months of midnight sun happen from May to August - that's when the Solar Energy system will be fully profitable.
What a climate show !

Old Crow's Community Center

The Community Center is where most things happen at Old Crow: traditional potlatches, dances, concerts, lectures, handcrafting, courses...

Inside the Community hall, photographs of community Elders, past and present, are hanging on the walls.

Gwich’in men are well known for their crafting of snowshoes, birchbark canoes, and the two-way sled. The women are renowned for their intricate and ornate beadwork. They also continue to make traditional caribou-skin clothing and porcupine quillwork embroidery.

Beading on slippers.

Hand made caribou skin boots.

Gwich'in embroidery, dog blanket.

Baby bag, porcupine embroidery

The only way to access the community is through the Old Crow airport.

"Air North" flights link Old Crow to Dawson City and Inuvik.

Ivvavik Park and the Porcupine River

Initially named "Northern Yukon National Park", Ivvavik Park was renamed in 1992. The park protects a portion of the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd and represents the Northern Yukon and Mackenzie Delta natural regions.

The Porcupine River (Ch’ôonjik in Gwich’in) is a 916-kilometre tributary of the Yukon River in Canada. It flows north through the community of Old Crow, crossing a taiga land covered by small and larger lakes.

Old Crow and the landing strip are visible up left, in one of the meanders of the Porcupine.

A landscape where plants and animals managed to survive in a land where Arctic and sub-Arctic meet.

Caribou crossing herd, Porcupine river.

Caribou hunter, Porcupine river.

The boreal taiga forest in the Parks and banks of the Porcupine is mostly above the arctic circle, as the tree line here is displaced to a higher latitude; spruces, birch, alder, larch and willow manage to survive in the cold. But the northern and coastal strip of Ivvavik Park is treeless arctic tundra.

Monday, 24 April 2017

the reborn (?) Russian Arctic ghost village from 'Leviathan'

This is northeastern Russian Arctic territory, close to Finnish Lapland; so geographically we are still in Europe, and civilization is somehow nearby.

Murmansk and Arkhangelsk display the nuclear-powered Russian fleet, its most powerful icebreakers and submarines; Gazprom reigns with large fields of oil and gas extracting and processing plants west of Novaya Zemlya.

Teriberka might be developed and wealthy as it neighbours oil and gas fields.

The recent movie masterpiece Leviathan, by Andrey Zvyagintsev, was mostly shot in Teriberka, a village by the Barents sea; it showed with bitter humour the lifestiles from the past and the present day corruption.

Teriberka is located more precisely west of the White Sea, on the Kola peninsula. Before the film was shot, it was just a ghost town of ruined houses and boat skiffs amidst polluted water and muddy ground. Now it's a tourist attraction.

Teriberka belongs to the Murmansk district, and was built on a flat tundra terrain.

The village was born around a small shipyard.

Teriberka was founded in the 19th century, neighbouring a ship repair yard and a fish processing factory. Codfish and haddock abounded then and the population reached some 5000. But excessive fishing and bad planning quickly exhausted the maritime resources and ruined the economy.


Coordinates: 69° 10′ N, 35º 10' E
           300 km north of the Arctic Circle.
Population: ~ 1000

This is "new" Teriberka !

Remote, cold, poor and difficult to reach, Teriberka became world known the day a filming crew arrived to shoot Leviathan. Notoriety grew when the movie won a Gold Award in 2015, and became a symbol for the almost romantic, epic, soviet failure.

Apartment blocks from the 1920s  with fissured walls and uncovered rotten brick.

By the end of the 19th century, the main buildings were a metereological station, the lighthouse, school and church; people (mostly Sami) lived from rein herding, as they were still a semi-nomadic population. Then came badly planned industrilization and the building of appalling residencial blocks. The fisheries went down , only carcasses of ships remain along the coast to remind of the sea based prosperity.

There is one called "old" Teriberka, made of wooden houses or cabins and boat skiffs close to a sea inlet; and a "new" Teriberka, more widely open to the sea, bordering the abandoned shipyards, built of semi-empty decaying blocks of the last century.

This wooden two-story dwelling, probably the best in Teriberka, was the family house in 'Leviathan'.

At over 69º N latitude, the whole year is lived in cold weather, reaching down to -20º C. The short Summer - a month to fifty days - rarely warms up to 14 º.

Covered by ice, the road is even a little more serviceable.

Entry to town.

The 'town centre': the blue church and the yellow school.

Industrial soviet derelict

Image from 'Leviathan'.

During daytime some people can be seen walking, but by night the village is deserted; uncovered and  bumpy walls, where holes open instead of windows, a very creepy ambiance:

Even the inevitable Christmas tree is not able to break the gloominess.

Amid the decaying blocks, the new school is like a sign of renovated future:

The only joyful, colored place.

So the investment in tourism came as a surprise. Someone had the brilliant idea of making profit out of ruins, like the antiquity shops do. So they built a tourist village, quite red as it should be expected, and a folk festival  was added; alltogether it's Teriberka's New Life !

"Teriberka, New Life" (новая жизнь) is now in its 3rd season.

Native people are the Sami, also known as Lapps, traditionally reindeer herders; some 2000 in Kola peninsula.

Tourist Apartaments with orthodox chapel.

Always present a handicraft saling stall.

To reach Teriberka, the distance of 90 km from Murmansk must be run on a muddy road through the wet and undulating tundra, where some shrubs are the only sight over desolation.

In winter, the road is frequently impracticable, but under snow things get much better. Like the whole landscape - under the white cap, all ugliness is disguised and landscape even gets to look beautiful.

Close by, to the North at the Barents, an immense wealthiness is accumulated by oil and gas industry. From that, Teriberka receives only an tiny fraction : tourist visitors. And even that thanks to a film which is mostly hated in Russia, but was prized in the Western world.