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Magnetic North – Discover Greenland

20/03/2012 | By | 5 Replies More



Icebergs from Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, Greenland. Photograph: Alamy

The Arctic is a place where myth meets reality – the early sightings of “mermaids” and “unicorns” describe one of Greenland’s most graceful inhabitants – the single-tusked narwhal.

Magnetic North – Discover Greenland

Still there are places in Greenland where the world appears to have turned to glass; where the iridescent turquoise-blues of icebergs the size of UK – St Paul’s cathedral render one utterly speechless. It is hard to believe that this wild and beguilingly beautiful place is just a few hours away from some of Europe’s most sophisticated cities.

Many early explorers were drawn to the mystique of the north and its frigid wastelands of stark beauty. The Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia returned from his travels to Greenland in the fourth century BC speaking of a place where the summer had no night, and “where neither earth, water, nor air exist separately”. The seas were congealed with cold, he said, and there were floating castles of marble and crystal.

No longer do you have to be a rugged polar explorer to experience what Greenland has to offer. Tourist ships frequent the west coast, allowing passengers to get up close to whales and seals and take in sights such as the spectacular Ilulissat Icefjord – the home of the glacier Sermeq Kujalleq, which purportedly calved the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Organized tours can be booked from the UK, Germany and other Scandinavian countries, like Denmark, Sweden or Iceland, often including dog-sledge and helicopter trips; alternatively, independent travellers can fly direct from Copenhagen. If you are planning to hike, it is advisable to take a guide, or at least let someone know where you plan to go. Even in the height of summer, one must be prepared for the weather to change rapidly – temperatures and visibility can plummet.


The Future of Greenland

Things have changed dramatically in Greenland over the years, and the rudimentary hunters’ huts in old days, with no electricity or running water (ice was collected from nearby icebergs for our daily use), have now all but disappeared. Nowadays, the settlements seem little more than an annexes’ of Scandinavia, with tourist-class hotels and brightly painted wooden houses furnished with satellite televisions and Bang & Olufsen stereos.

The environment, however, stays essentially the same – the tundra is still covered with purple saxifrage, Arctic cotton, green mosses and Arctic poppies with blooms the size of a newborn’s fingernail; Arctic hare, snow bunting, arctic terns, seal and narwhal still proliferate.

Even in some of the more modern settlements, you don’t have to dig deep to find the older, grittier side of life; many hunters still use kayaks and harpoons in the summer, seal meat is still a staple in the Inuit diet – although arctic halibut and reindeer meat are more likely to be on the tourist menus – and dog-sledges are the preferred form of transport for any self-respecting hunter.

Dog-sledges have been used by hunters since time immemorial: before wood was brought to the area by whalers and explorers, sledges were constructed from pieces of bone lashed together with thongs made from the skin of a bearded seal. The runners were often made from whale rib or narwhal tusk, then covered with strips of sealskin, or even fish laid head to tail. The fish or fur was frozen to the runners and water painstakingly applied with a piece of fur, until there was a thick, smooth coating of ice the full length of a runner.

There is nothing quite like shooting across the sea-ice on a dog-sledge – knowing that the bejewelled carpet of ice beneath the creaking sledge is the only thing between you and thousands of metres of hypothermia-inducing Arctic waters. It is out there in the polar wilderness – either on the sea-ice or on the vast ice-sheet that covers five-sixths of the island’s landmass, that one gets a unique perspective on life.

Greenland on summer


Greenland on winter


Still, Greenland has a profound effect on anyone who travels there. For me, the serenity, the brutality, the majesty and complexity of its environment and its people are without comparison. It is a place that sometimes breaks your heart with its raw beauty, a place that if you ever get a chance to visit will always call you back.

Discover Greenland – Greenland is unique. That’s a fact !

For more information: Visit Greenland  (


Category: Greenland

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