After two days sailing north from Norway between the Barents Sea and the Sea of Greenland, deep into the Artic, this was our first glance of Spitsbergen - one of the most desolate and beautiful places on earth.

spit 1

Our visit was some years ago, and I now feel guilty for having made the journey, because Spitsbergen is also one of the places where global warming is felt most directly. It is a wonderful place, but I should not have been there.

spit 2

Glaciers snake down to the sea, shedding ice into the Kongsfjorden as we sail up towards Ny Alesund.

spit time

With the sun high in the northern sky, this is what it's like at 40 minutes past midnight. This, of course, is the middle of the arctic summer, with the temperature rising to a balmy 4 degrees!

spit 3

It's difficult to convey the sense of wonder, as your feet touch the spongy tundra, with tiny plants making the most of the few months of warmth and sunshine. And always, the sense of distance and the vaste snowfields behind the glaciers.


The is the most northerly cafe in the world - in the tiny settlement of Ny Alesund.

ny als

Ny Alesund is the most northerly permanent human settlement, with a population of 57, most of them scientists manning the many monitoring instruments that are dotted around the tiny cluster of buildings.

spit 5

Looking north from Ny Alesund! Beyond this point it's just snow and ice all the way to the North Pole.

And always the small icebergs, floating away from their glaciers, are a reminder - if one were needed - that this is the place where global warming becomes an experienced reality.

A pair of Arctic Tern feed and guard a chick, here almost invisible against the identically-coloured rock.

They are a hazard to those who, like me, are bald. An unprotected pate is fair target for their swooping attack.