Friday, 6 October 2017

From Vankaren to Polyarnyy, the Far Eastern Arctic coast of Russia

Russian Arctic is known to be quite a gloomy, unwellcoming corner of our Earth. Not only the landscape is bleak and desolate, but the settlements on Arctic Sea's north coast are unfriendly places: derelict residential blocks, obsolete industry (mostly mining, oil and gas), pollution, military ports with nuclear fleet, remnants of gulag camps nearby; even the native villages of rein herders are mostly miserable and abandonned to their unlucky subsistence economy. No place for Ultima Thule there.

Nevertheless, I try to find any bit of attractiveness in the iced tundra and iced ocean areas which show minor damages from russian-style "progress" in the past century. These small villages are a set of some historical interest as rural, native or mining settlements, under administration of the larger Cape Schmidt port town, built under soviet regime, which is also a testimony of the middle-20th century madness.

The Chukotka district is the unit of the Russian Federation that occupies the easternmost extension of Siberia, reaching toward the Bering Sea.

The indigenous population makes up around 28% of the total population. They now have some benefits of modern life (electricity, post, school, transport) but many keep their traditional life of reindeer herders and sea hunters.

Probably related to Alaska's Yupik eskimos, the Chukchi native people used to have a nomad life in tents, changing campsites through the seasons


Vankarem is situated on the coast of Chukchi Sea, not far north from the Arctic Circle, not far west of the International Date Line; it's a rural settlement, most of its inhabitants are Chukchi, keeping ther traditional life style.

Coordinates: 67° 50′ N, 175° 51′ W
Population: ~190

The original settlement was mainly a set of small wooden cabins in parallel lines to the coast.

The best improvement in decades: a greenhouse. Finally green fresh vegetables.

Colour is important in the Arctic, it helps keeping up good spirits.

The local School.

The Meteo and Communications station.

Due to the latitude, arctic lights are frequent in Vankarem:

Cape Schmidt

Cape Schmidt (Mys Shmidta) is a work settlement and administrative centre. Most of the town is a nightmare of terrible looking blocks and industrial buildings, many in ruins. It was built along the shore of a land spit ending in a double Cape, and separating the sea from a water inlet.

Coordinates: 68° 55′ N, 179° 27′ W
Population: 160, decreasing

The settlement was founded in 1931 as a part of the Soviet Union's development of its Arctic air defences. Changes in strategic defence in recent decades led to a decline in Mys Shmidta's importance, though the settlement remains one of the main northern sea ports for Chukotka.

In 1954, the airfield was developed as part of the plan to create a ring of the Soviet Air Force air bases around the Arctic for the use of its strategic bomber fleet during the Cold War. The airfield then became less important and finally closed for military use; now it provides civilian flights to Anadyr.

The airport terminal of Cape Schmidt.

That's a landing runway where anyone would be deadly frightened to land on tundra wetland:

The port at Mys Shmidta is generally open between July and Septembera. Though it also has lost importance, Mys Shmidta is still the main northern sea port in Chukotka.

Average temperatures are negative most of the year.



Built on the same land strip ending in two capes in the arctic waters, Ryrkaypiy (Russian: Рыркайпий) is a Chukchi rural village just close to Mys Shmidta but on the ocean side of the spit.

Coordinates 68° 52′ N, 179° 22′ W
Population: ~800
                  over 300 are Chukchi native

The road entrance to the village.

Marine hunting and reindeer herding have traditionally been a key source of food and employment for the local indigenous people, but finally some real progress has recently arrived.

The monument to Nordenskiöld, a Finnish-Swedish sailor and scientist who first travelled the Northern Sea Route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, in 1878-1879, thus inaugurating the Northeast Passage. He harboured and explored this area during the expedition.

They seem to like yellow up there.

The new school and educational centre.

Chukchi dance in the Centre's hall.

Some efforts are made to keep the traditions alive. This and the modern facilities being built are helping to fix some population in Ryrkaypyi.

A younger generation is growing in somehow less apalling conditions.

As with several of the rural settlements thorughout Chukotka, Ryrkaipiy was the centre for a collective reindeer farm. The reindeer herds are still the major source of employment for the local people.

Things are different, anyway.


This is probably the most attractive siberian ghost village :D

Isn't that a big tourist attraction ?


Coordinates: 69° 09′ N, 178°43′ E
Population:  0

The settlement was established to house miners working in the nearby goldmines since 1963. At the end of the 1980s, construction of large residential buildings started. Polyarnyy had a population of around four thousand during the 1980s.

In the 90s mining became unprofitable, and in 1995 the settlement was abolished.


Aurora over the port of Cape Schmidt.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides - Tarbert, a little harbour town, and the amazing St. Clements Church

The geology of these Islands is 3 billion years old - in fact, this is one of the oldest territories on Earth. The Isle of Harris is northernly, remote and rich in History, that's what Ultima Thule is all about.

Lying in a valley where North and South Harris meet, and set against a backdrop of rugged mountain peaks, Tarbert is the island's main port and capital village.

The Caledonian ferry at Tarbert, Harris

Tarbert lies on the shores of Loch Tarbert, and South Harris avoids becoming an island by just a few hundred yards of land over which the Vikings would drag their longboats into West Loch to avoid sailing around via the Sound of Harris.

The Caledonian ferry has daily calls at Tabert harbour

Tarbert, Isle of Harris

Coordinates: 57° 53′ N, 6° 47′ W
Population:  ~500

Pier Road, the town center: Hebrides Hotel (long, white), the Tarbert store (yellow), the Tourist information center (beige, right).

There are two villages on the Isle of Harris, Tarbert and Leverburgh (in the south).  Tarbert lies on a narrow strip of land.  The name Tarbert means “portage” or “ithsmus”.

Tarbert has most things that a person needs:  besides the Tourist Information Centre (above), there is a small bank, post office, a hardware store, two hotels, a coffee shop, two grocery stores, a gift shop, the Harris Tweed shop, a fish & chips.

The famous Tarbert Stores

The Tarbert Stores, where you can find almost anything except food.

On Pier Road, Tarbert Stores is specialized in supplying the needs of fishermen and other tradesmen. This simple timber construction is thought to have been built ca. 1900 with timbers deriving from Swedish origins as return ballast from ships exporting fish.

A traditional house and fishing hardware shop and ironmonger, also providing electrical services.

Heading now for the First Fruits Tearoom, a local must, with a gourmand offer in a friendly cozy atmosphere.

The tearoom is installed in Pier Road cottage.

First Fruits is a very popular place to spend some time waiting before the ferry leaves, if you can find a seat.

Main Street (or High Street) is a long and rather straight street from Pier Road to the Harris Tweed Shop, further west.

A yellow Hostel on Main Street

Main Street in a rainy day, as is quite often the case.

Buth Bheag, candles and fragrances, on Main Street.

There are several alternatives for guest accomodation, from Hotels to hostels and B&Bs;  the Harris Hotel is surely one of the best offers.

The family run Harris Hotel has been welcoming holidaymakers to the island for over a century.

The garden room.

Tarbert was founded as a fishing village in 1779, mainly for herring. From 1840 a new pier in Loch Tarbert allowed for a weekly mailboat service. By 1894 Tarbert was the main settlement on Harris, and a few years late Harris Tweed mill was set up here.

Tarbert harbour is the island’s main ferry terminal and also serves for boat tours to colonies of puffins and razor bills.

In 1964 the MacBrayne ferry started service on the Tarbert route. Fishing decayed and the port's main activity is now the loading and unloading of goods.

But Tarbert is mostly known as the home of the Harris Tweed Mill. This mill was established during the 1900s and became a major industry in Tarbert at the time.

Harris Tweed Shop

Today the Harris Tweed shop is opened on the main road running toward the ferry terminal.

A tweed cloth handwoven by islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides.

Tarbert's Church of Scotland, built ca.1860.

Main Street and the port by twilight.

The Isle of Harris is one of the oldest geological terrains in the world, mostly ondulating rocks of gneisse covered with moss and dry grass, or flat wet moorland.

St. Clements Church,
 or Tur Chlíamainn, in Southern Harris

St. Clements Church, dedicated to the patron saint of seafarers, is situated in Harris Island's southern tip, some 30 km south of Tarbert, and dates from the end of the 16th century.

The tower was built on the top of a rocky outcrop, a higher level ground than the nave.

St. Clements church is widely thought to be the grandest medieval building in the Outer Hebrides. The heritage building is now in the care of Historic Scotland.

Medieval celtic cross.

The interior of the church is impressive and atmospheric, and contains the finest examples of late medieval sculpture in the Outer Hebrides.

The carvings.

This is the finest medieval wall tomb in Scotland, crowned by an arch and ornated by elaborate carvings of biblical design.

The arched recess of Alasdair Macleod's tomb (1528), in the south wall.

The arch surmounting the tomb has some unique Carvings with Gothic and Celtic motifs.

A sailing galley in the 1500s.

The pretty Razorbills

Besides Puffins, the Razorbills are a Nature attraction for tourists in the Isles.