Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Magic of The North

I enjoyed reading this story at the BBC of the ship Tara that has finally freed itself of the polar ice after 500 days. It was only partly because the achievement of the voyage - half of the 1,000 days that a certain well known couple are trying to achieve at sea.

But mostly because it reminded me of the great explorers of the North - men like Nansen, and his boat, the famous Fran.

Its hard these days to remember how the great far North gripped the imagination. We have come blase - when we can do a virtual fly-by of Salvbard on Google Earth, and watch Jeremy Clarkson drive a 4x4 to the magnetic North Pole for a Top Gear special.

But at the end of the 19th Century it was all unknown. A land of cold darkness, where mysterious ribbons of fire lit up the sky. A terrifying land into which explorers like John Franklin would disappear, never to be heard of again.

Scientists in London would debate the wonders of those remote places. Was there land at the top of the world? Was there maybe an open sea? Where was the magnetic north pole and what were those lights?

I caught some of the magic when reading Arthur Ransome's Winter Holiday, when the Swallows and Amazon's and D's hosted their own exploration to find the North Pole, conveniently located somewhere in the Lake District. And it was there also in Lyra's journey in Northern Lights. Those children - and presumably Ransome and Pullman - were gripped by tales of Nansen's journey.

Here is the Fran locked into the ice:

And here is the route he took, stuck in the ice and drifting with it across the roof of the world. It took him 3 years - yes, thats over a thousand days! - and brought his wooden boat the furthest north of any in history.

Those great adventures were managed by men with the most basic of technology. I would like to follow where they went and get a sense of the stern beauty of the land and seas they found.

But preferably with better heating and taking a lot less than a thousand days!


don said...

Traversing the NW Passage is becoming more of a possibility, and in reach of average sailors - albeit very well prepared and equipped.
You may be interested in the reference below.

JP said...

Thanks for the link and congratulations - sounds like an amazing journey! And some great photos.

And I agree with the comment on your site that we have entered - unwittingly - a new era in artic exploration.

The opening up of the NW passage is just one more ominous sign of the extent of climate change.