In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen), a small polar archipelago off the northern coast of Norway. Svalbard is by far the most northerly place we’ve covered on the show, lying roughly midway between continental Norway and the North Pole, around 580 miles (930 km) north of Tromsø, Norway. The archipelago consists of nine main islands, the main island being Spitsbergen, which makes up over half of the land area. In total, Svalbard has a land area of around 24,209 square miles (62,700 square km), making it similar in size to Sri Lanka or the US state of West Virginia. There are only 2,500 permanent residents here, most of whom live in the main city of Longyearbyen. First settled as an arctic whaling base in the 17th century, the islands later saw the establishment of coal mining towns, but in recent years Svalbard’s main economic lifeline has been tourism and arctic research, both of which have boomed recently. Due to its extreme northern latitude, in the summer, the sun does not set on Svalbard for 4 months, while in the winter the archipelago goes weeks without any sunlight at all. Svalbard is also notable for being home to the Global Seed Vault, while as of 2012, all residents must carry a gun while travelling outside an established settlement, in case they encounter one of the many polar bears that live nearby.
Thanks to Dr Ciaran McDonough (@metamedievalist), Sonja Murto, Aengus Ó Maoláin and Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling) for talking to us about their first-hand experiences visiting or living in Svalbard. They were invaluable to giving us a full picture of the place.
Pack ice at Svalbard – photo by Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling on Instagram)
Nesting birds – photo by Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling on Instagram)
Arctic fox – photo by Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling on Instagram)
Svalbard reindeer – photo by Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling on Instagram)
The Svalbard coast – photo by Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling on Instagram)
Mountains in Svalbard – photo by Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling on Instagram)
A polar bear in Svalbard – photo by Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling on Instagram)
The northernmost statue of Vladimir Lenin, at Pyramiden – photo by Aengus Ó Maoláin
It’s a long way from anywhere! Signposts – photo by Aengus Ó Maoláin
Some further reading:
More on the Pomors, believed to be some of the earliest inhabitants of this region can be found here.
“Elegy for the Arctic” by Ludovico Einaudi is a very striking video made by Greenpeace showing the condition of the arctic ice around Svalbard as a result of climate change, which is well worth a watch.
In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Faroe Islands, an autonomous group of islands in the North East Atlantic. Home to almost 50,000 people and with historical links to Denmark, Faroe Islands is a country within the Kingdom of Denmark, but has a distinct culture all of its own, in part due to their isolation and remoteness from the Danish mainland (and pretty much everywhere else also.)
The Faroe Islands have probably been inhabited since approximately 300 AD onwards according to archaeological evidence, but the first full settlement was established by legendary figure Grimur Kamban. The Faroe Althing, may be the oldest parliament in the world if, as thought, it was established in approximately 900AD. Faroe Islands were occupied by the British during World War 2 in order to prevent invasion by Nazi Germany. Fishing has always been a mainstay of the economy and advances in technology versus depleted fishing stocks have had opposing impacts on the fragile fortunes of the archipelago.
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In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about the Isle of Man, a small island in the Irish sea that lies right between Britain and Ireland. From its highest point Snaefell (620 m, 2034 ft), it is said you can see 6 kingdoms: England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Man and Heaven. It’s known for its rugged landscape, motorsport and a very curious flag. Today, the island is a British crown dependency although it has never been a part of the United Kingdom. It’s 85,000 inhabitants, 28,000 of whom live in the capital, Douglas, on the east coastare spread over the island’s 572 square kilometers. The Isle of Man’s fascinating history has made for a unique pocket of culture within the British isles, a place that has never been truly overcome by the powers surrounding it, and has always stood apart. Your hosts are Luke Kelly@thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle@markboyle86 and Joe Byrne@anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)
We are all Irish, but the Isle of Man, despite its proximity is really that neighbour we don’t know very well. Needless to say, we learned a lot this week about the smallest Celtic nation.
There are some things we talked about you might want to know more about:
Tynwald claims to be the oldest continuous parliamentary assembly in the world and largely consists of the directly elected House of Keys. At Tynwald Day (annually on 5th of July) laws are promulgated from a hill in St Johns. The Sword of State (which leads the procession on Tynwald Day each year) allegedly dates back to Olaf the Black
The Chronicle of Man and the Sudreys (early history of the Kingdom of the Isles in Latin with English translation) can be read here, while a version of Njal’s Saga which deals with the Battle of Clontarf in Dublin and the Manx brothers who fought on opposite sides can be found here
We also mentioned that the Isle of Man was once part of the Archdiocese of Dublin; the homepage of Francis Street Parish describes the “manx emblem” decorating the church, reflecting this history
The Camp – a newsletter from the World War 2 Hutchinson Internment Camp – can be read on archive.org
A book of Manx Ballads and Musicedited by Arthur William Moore (1896) includes a wonderful introduction, maligning the music itself with passages like the following: “It will be observed that their authors, the majority of whom are clearly illiterate men, are occasionally quite indifferent to the exigencies of either metre or rhyme.” Some of the songs are charming. The Arrane Oie Vie/Good Night Song can be found on manxmusic.com
And finally, the TT (Tourist Trophy motorcycle race) is probably the thing the Isle of Man is most famous for. It’s fast, dangerous and unique and its madness is probably best demonstrated by a video, like this one of Guy Martin and Michael Dunlop racing at speeds of up to 200 mph on public roads