I've been doing quite a bit of island-hopping this year. The trips have all been brief - 2 nights on Orkney (http://www.alexinthewild.com/p534278733), 2 nights on Shetland (http://www.alexinthewild.com/p869608951), a week in Ireland (no photographs) and 2 nights on Lewis/Harris (http://www.alexinthewild.com/p138703297).
Although I had completed my polar Arctic circle last year, I felt there was still a little unfinished business in visiting West Greenland. East Greenland remains one of my favourite ever expeditions and yet with only one settlement to visit, it felt like there was much more to see, population-wise in the west. In addition, I knew that the birthplace of the largest icebergs was supposed to be in the Disko Bay area.
For various reasons, I didn't book until late in the season, and I knew I wanted to try and visit at the same time of year as I'd been to East Greenland, both for the autumnal colours and for the chance to see the northern lights. I also hoped to miss the mosquitoes but in so calculating, overlooked the fact that the birds would largely have migrated south for the winter. I certainly didn't anticipate the place to be devoid of any mammals whatsoever other than whales (which are always a bonus) and huskies in settlements. To that end, it was remarkably quiet and desolate, which provided its own atmosphere, but which at times seemed a little forbidding. No-one else appeared to have too much of an interest in the birds, so my enthusiasm on the occasions we did encounter snow buntings (the only songbirds in the Arctic) didn't seem to be shared. We did have a regular following of fulmars who like to swoop round ships, and where whales fed, glaucous gulls congregated. On occasion, I would spot one or two young adult Brünnich’s guillemot (thick-billed murre), but they clearly hadn't got the message that they should have migrated by then.
Flying in via Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq and on to Aasiaat, both within the Arctic Circle in North-West Greenland, and met by leader Jordi, we had the opportunity to walk around town before embarking on the ship - the same "Rembrandt van Rijn" on which I had sailed round the Scottish Islands in 2012. She is a beautiful Dutch schooner and I already remembered her propensity to "rock and roll" in rougher waters - the hazard of being on a small ship. We had a couple of occasions in open water when we had to keep quiet as she battled 30-knot winds. For the most part, however, we had perfect weather and on one occasion, we were able to put up the sails and use that wind, which was a magnificent sight.
As in the east, there are plenty of historical relics in the west, and our visit was enriched by the addition of Erik as one of the guides. He has a wealth of knowledge of the region and turned out to be a useful plant-spotter too. Whilst I'm not very adept at knowing the different names for all the flowers, I do appreciate the wide variety of the plant life in the Arctic and it never ceases to amaze me how hardy they are to withstand the rigours of life in the far north.
It was early in the season for the Northern Lights to give the best showing and yet we saw them on four consecutive nights, usually preceded by fine sunsets and on one evening, a spectacular moonrise. I hadn't anticipated having calm enough conditions to attempt photographing them from the ship, so hadn't brought a tripod with me - my luggage was already far too heavy as it was! And yet on the first night, the water was as flat as a millpond.
When one imagines the Arctic, it's easy to think of the colours being white, grey and perhaps a little blue. I hope these pictures will dispel any such notions. The Arctic in autumn is a stunningly beautiful place to be.
The pictures are at http://www.alexinthewild.com/p276236821.