Monday, 23 August 2010

Arctic Adventure - Longyearbyen

Thursday 11th August 2010

Longyearbyen, with two of the preserved wooden supporting towers for the abandoned aerial ropeway.

As requested, the passengers had placed their luggage outside each suite on Wednesday night. Early on Thursday morning, I'd watched the luggage being placed on the quay. As a drizzle started, a large tarpaulin was stretched over the multi-coloured suitcases.

Breakfast on Thursday was the last meal on the ship and then we 'swiped-out' for the last time before leaving the ship to identify our luggage. By this time, the rain had stopped and the tarpaulin had been removed but finding and identifying the luggage of 120-odd people involved a bit of a scrum. Four large coaches were waiting for us. Like the majority of the passengers, I'd opted for coach transfer to the town, giving me a couple of hours to explore the town before catching a coach to the airport where we would be re-united with our luggage.

We drove out of the port and turned left onto the road to the town centre, with the narrowing fjord on our left and the looming mountain on our right. Just a few minutes brought us to the small town which is built in a valley running at right angles to the fjord. The buildings were modern and mainly wood-built Although there was some snow high on the mountains, most of the hills were dark and rather oppressive. I was reminded of a Welsh pit village and the image is appropriate because coal mining forms an important part of the history of Longyearbyen.

The town is remarkable in many ways. It is the administrative centre of Svalbard and, I was told, has a population of around 2,500 (the whole of Svalbard has a population of around 2,700!). When I visited, it was still the period of 'Midnight Sun' with no snow but, a little later in the year, the area enters a long period of permanent twilight when it never enjoys daylight and heavy snowfall can be relied upon. It takes a certain sort of individual to want to live there permanently.

The industrial heyday was at the beginning of the 20th century when John Monroe Longyear, an American businessman, developed a series of coal mines around the town now named after him. Longyear established an elaborate aerial ropeway system to bring the coal down to the fjord for exporting by ship. The abandoned remains can be seen all around the town today. Anything over 50 years old is regarded as a cultural relic and protected. Modern-day mining is concentrated on more discreet installations and tourism is now an important industry.

After the first world war, the Spitsbergen Treaty confirmed the territory as Norwegian but gave the various signatory countries residential, commercial and research rights which are still exercised.

More follows ...

Wikipedia has more information.

My Collection of Arctic pictures is here.

My pictures of arrival and disembarkation are here.

My pictures around the town are here.

My pictures of the Aerial Ropeway are here.

My pictures of mining equipment are here.