Skokholm my privileged stay

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Skokholm an Island off of the Welsh Pembrokeshire coast – my privileged stay
Sunday 28th June – Overcast warm day – with a sunny end

Kim and Dave arrived promptly at 9.30am and loaded all 7 of my bags on an already full truck!

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We left at 10am on our 305 miles trip to Haverfordwest (all signs appear to lead to here!!) in South Wales with a quick pit stop for lunch we  arrived at Milford Haven at 4.20pm to stay overnight in the Heart of Oak B&B at £25 a night.

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After Dave was sent into the back of the truck to release the jammed lock we put a few of our bags in our rooms and set off in the search for a good meal maybe the last one for a week,  a little walk around Milford Havens harbour to Martha’s Restaurant where I had a yummy crab salad (gluten free of course) whilst the others had steak and a burger and with a whisper I said the sun was shining in Wales 😎

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After two Pimms it was off back to the Heart of Oak for a Bushmills nightcap and a chat with the local characters (a mad lady with a Jack Russell) Off to bed at 11.30pm ready for an early start, alarm on for 5.30am.

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Monday 29th June – Warm hot sunny day cooler in the evening.
Up early for a shower the last one for 4 days!! A Full English Breakfast was ready for us at 6.15am so we’d be on time  for the boat trip to Martins Haven – we left at 7.17pm and had a quick stop off at Tescos for Salad and germolene (for a sudden splinter in thumb)

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After 20 minutes we could see Skomer over the horizon. Kim reversed down the lane to Martins Haven where we unloaded all our bags we had about 8 each!! Kim took the car to the car park whilst Dave & I moved the bags to the end of the jetty. It was here we learnt how helpful everyone was each helping to move bags suitcases some extremely heavy full of the weeks food supply, camera equipment and of course clothes. By now there was 22 of us (2 volunteers Bryny & Rebecca) all packed on the Lady Helen with all our bags.

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The trip only took about 25 mins however I was a little concerned that we were to sail through Jack Sound as I remember it being very rough from my last trip to neighbouring Skomer however the captain carefully manoeuvred through the rocks and the tidal swell and we made it.

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At the islands landing area waiting was the previous weeks students (and a few seals) with more piles of bags however once we moored up we formed another human chain to get all our stuff off before we did the reverse to get the other guys bags on board – could so easily have put some bags back however Warden Richard was extremely well rehearsed at this procedure and even had a dumper truck and a golf cart to take all the bags up to the accommodation area but not before we waved off the Lady Helen.

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We all walked up to put the kettle as it was by now 10am. Once Richard had completed 3 trips in the trucks he joined us to give us a logistics talk on how to use the kitchen area, food storage area and toilets procedure as we were using composting toilets, sit well back was the advice!

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There was no showers or mains electric apart from the solar power that heated the water and gave us light. We then had chance to put our luggage in our room and our food away in the chest fridge (a basket each) & larder ( a shelf each) and two containers with the purified drinking water.

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This was my Gluten Free shelf and I was to discover later another lady in the group was also on a Gluten Free diet and we shared tips and food.

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I was in the main house in the ‘Smoke room’, it was well equipped with a comfy bed, sink and plenty of storage

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At about 11.30am we all met up & went for a walk around the island with Richard pointing out all the interesting parts even taking us up to the top of the light house where both he and Giselle live for 6 months of the year.

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We saw many birds along the way including a short eared owl, a chuff, razorbills, guillemots, gannet and even treated to a Manx shearwater 2 day old chick and mum – Richard showed us nest 6 and how they breed in burrows that they only come out at night, this was also warning to us to not leave any main paths on the island firstly for our own safety but also as not to disturb the Manx or any other birds for that matter.

We all walked back to the accommodation area to get our own lunch prepared and I soon realised that it was going to be a free for all in the kitchen.

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As it was a nice day we could eat out in the sun and appreciate the peace & quiet of the island. Once we’d finished lunch Kim went off to find a Chuff and Dave and I walked to the neck area of the island looking for Puffins. There was a few about but not enough so we carried on walking to the Crab Bay hide, the hide is so small that only 3 people can sit in it, to save any wasted trips to find it full there is a 3 stick system at the top path, just take a stick with you.

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The puffins burrows are so close to the hide its easy to get photos of them standing about however with sand eels in their mouth was going to be tricky as the black back gulls were circling above trying to pinch the sand eels from them so the puffins landed directly in front of their burrow and disappeared straight in. I sat there for quite a while practising and eventually got a couple of good photos however to get them in flight is going to take a lot more practice! Although the weather had been warm all day it was starting to get chilly so I made my way back for dinner about 6.15pm.

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In the distance you can see the mainland too and on the way back I managed to get a phone signal and called Andrew to tell him about my day.

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As the kitchen was very busy I sat down with my laptop and downloaded the days photos, until it became quieter. I had Andrews lovely prepared chilli & rice and sat outside to eat – yum. Under the watchful eye of the resident Herring Gull. After washing up and having lesson from Kim on my laptop we all gathered in the lounge for Richards bird logging session. We were also offered a trip to Grassholm the 4th biggest gannet colony in Britain if the weather stayed calm Richard was to organise for a few of us later in the week however this was not to be. It had been a long day so we all retired to bed with a cup of tea at 10pm. I’m glad I bought my super warm sleeping bag as there was no heating and my room was on the side of the house that had very little sun to warm it up during the day. We also had several visitors!!

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Tuesday 30th June – Hot and sunny all day ending with a beautiful sunset.
Up early at 5.30am ready to get some more Puffin photos, cup of tea first then off to Crab Bay hide where Dave had beaten me to it, we stayed at the hide until 9.30am and I think we got some good shots but I really need more practice trying to photograph birds in flight Kim helped me with my settings however I found it very frustrating. We popped back to the cottage for breakfast and then we went down to the harbour to try a different angle and by now it was extremely hot & sunny. Another great spot for the Puffins and swooping overhead Dave spotted 2 Peregrine falcons we also saw at least 7 seals basking in the rocks making a few grunts & groans. We then decided to walk over to the neck area of the island again finding a good spot for Puffins. We returned for lunch around 2pm and went back out again this time for a walk towards the lighthouse, The Bluff and along Western Plain to Mad Bay point to see the Razorbills & Guillemots on the beautiful rugged coastline.

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We decided it was going to be a great sunset so decided to return to Mad Bay later after dinner (Gnocchi with an Italian tomato sauce) about 8.30pm we set off and got some lovely shots of the red cliffs with the waves crashing below them as although it had been a lovely day the swell was rolling in!! I was very happy as I got a couple of lovely silhouettes of the Puffins in front of the days beautiful sunset.

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We managed to get back before total sunset and we ate Gluten Free Chocolate Brownie that I’d bought with me (a present from Jackie) whilst I downloaded the days photos and then retired to bed around 11.30pm

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Wednesday 1st July – Started sunny until mid morning when the sea must rolled in most of the day however ended with a warm clear sunset and clear full moon.
Up at 5.45am to a beautiful sunrise and the promise of another hot sunny day. After a cuppa and a biscuit we walked up the lane and first detoured to Spy Rock a great place to view the whole island before we set of to Crab Bay.

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At Crab Bay hide I found Giselle swapping shifts with Richard on their 24hr puffin count – I chatted with Richard for a while about Puffins and these are the facts I picked up.

  • They can travel 5 miles out to collect the sand eels
  • They only have one chick that gets fed approx. 10-12 times a day
  • The gulls steal about 10% of the sand eels from the puffins before they have chance to feed their chick
  • the juvenile puffins learn feeding behaviour from their parent and we saw many hanging around with sand eels in their mouth with no chick to feed.

The predicated hot day soon turned out to be a cloudy overcast day on Skokholm and as the sea must rolled in so we returned for breakfast and I had a wash a stand in front of the sink job and a cold one at that!!

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We hung around the cottage for a while then Dave and I again walked over to Crab Bay where we spent all afternoon I attempted some flying Puffin shots with no success and as the weather closed in it became quite difficult to take any decent shots so we sat and watched the puffins, feeling very relaxed at one point I nodded off to sleep!! yes sleeping with the puffins.

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Puffins are very inquisitive birds and several times they waddled very near us.

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At about 4.30pm we gave up on the poor misty weather and returned for an early dinner as we’d missed lunch, it was great as the kitchen was completely free. We then downloaded our photos and Kim gave me another Lightroom lesson, before we all decided to go back out for some back-lit puffin shots. Kim adjusted my camera settings again and coached me again on flying puffin shots and to my surprise I took one photo where the puffin was in focus and in the middle of the photo wha hoo!!

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The sunset was beautiful however the backlit puffins did not work too well. Off back for tea and chocolate and then Dave and I headed back out about 11pm to listen to Manx Shearwaters however as they are sensitive to light and there was a full moon we gave up and returning in the dark and getting a little lost. Bed at 11.55pm

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Thursday 2nd July – Started Sunny 19 degrees rain mid day.
I appeared to have not heard my alarm this morning so awoke to hear the others getting ready, I thought they were keen this morning however it was 6.20am instead of 5.30am!! Once up we had a quick cuppa and biscuits, then all headed off in three different directions to see what we could photo. I still had one mission to get one clear shot of a flying puffin with sand eels. So I headed off to Crab Bay and got slightly distracted again by Spy Rock and as it was still sunny I took some video and shots 360′.

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Once at Crab Bay I took my stick and as there were still 2 left this meant only one thing I had the hide to myself!! and then I started to smile even more as the sky was buzzing with what seemed like thousands of puffins doing their usual fly past to make sure the coast was clear of seagulls ready to steal their loot! I took a few photos practising my new panning skills and to my surprise I had a couple of clear Puffin shots, very small in frame but none the less it gave me hope.

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It was very hot in the hide so I decided to head back to the Neck area of the Island where last night Kim said the puffins took the same route in and it would be easier to get some clear shots. I was nearly skipping when after a few attempts I was getting a few more clear shots and even a bit bigger in the frame.

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The sky was by now very cloudy and a few spots of rain started to fall so I decided to head back to base and as I hadn’t had a proper breakfast and as it was nearly noon I decided to have a proper lunch a second portion of Andrews yummy chilli and Marks and Spencer Gluten Free focaccia bread. By now Dave and Kim had returned for their lunch too and I was very excited to tell them all about my new learnt skill. After lunch it started to rain so we all managed a power nap before the next outing. We all decided to visit Crab Bay for the puffins and there were several other guests there too. Time goes so quickly with the puffins they are mesmerising and very comical. At 5.30pm Dave and Kim walked back and I followed about 1/2hr later.

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We all had dinner and then went back out again as it looked to be a great sunset. Dave and Kim went over to the Neck area whilst I went to Mad Bay point area to get some back-lit Puffins with the unusual rounded burrows and pink thrift and I was not disappointed I got some great shots.

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The sunset was gorgeous and as I walked back to the house I noticed a rather large moon shining over the house so I couldn’t resist some more photos.

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When I got back to the house everyone was in the lounge for their nightly logging meeting and after that had finished a couple of us talked a little while before going to bed – I can’t believe how quick the week has gone!! Tomorrow we had to be out of our rooms by 8.30am and our bags loaded into the dumper truck ready for our slightly delayed boat trip return to the mainland – originally it was due at 7.30am however due to the tides it looked more like 10.30am.

Friday 3rd July – Glorious sunny day 26 degrees.
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Up at 6.30am for breakfast then we cleared out of our rooms with our bags and left them in a pile out the front – Dave and I wondered over to Crab Bay for the last time and we said goodbye to the Puffins, we then walked over to the lighthouse via the scary path, one area that we had not been before – I suddenly felt like a mountain goat as it was a little steep in places.

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We walked back the main track way and we were not back long when Richard came along with the dumper truck and the bags were all loaded on, just needed to wait for the boat the Lady Helen and again as before a human chain was formed and all luggage moved along onto the boat.

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We left Skokholm at 11.30am and arrived Martins Haven at 12.15pm the human bag chain was replicated to unload again and the man from the car park campsite met us and took most of the bags and Karen, the rest of us walked up the lane to Kim’s car.

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We left the farm car park at 12.48pm for the return 305 miles where I think I slept most of it,  we arrived home by 8pm only stopping once, well done Kim for driving both ways you’re a star

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I nick named us the ‘Famous three’ as I felt we were all on one of those Enid Blyton’s Famous Fives Adventures (showing my age now!!)

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A brilliant week to escape from it all and a chance to get close to nature and of course to take 1000’s of photos of puffins.

For more interesting information follow the Skokholm blog or look up Skokholm on the South Welsh Wildlife Trust.

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Dawn’s Polar Adventure Svalbard June 2015

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This is an adventure of a lifetime that has been booked for over 18 months after a couple of set backs that may have prevented me from going I eventually have fullfilled my dream, thanks to everyone for putting up with my excitement along the way and especially Andrew my husband. Nothing but nothing stops Dawn from making the most of life and I’m sure this will not be my last adventure.
Friday 29th May 2015
Spent my whole day off packing it’s a logistical nightmare trying to get everything in but I did it yay two soft cases & my camera trolley.
Saturday 30th May 2015
On the count down to my once in a lifetime polar experience and it looks like it’s going to be the hottest day of the year when I leave the UK!! So much for wearing my skiing jacket to save on packing space 😝
How cool is this app ‘Marine traffic’ you can track the MS Quest on its way, this is the trip I’m joining in exactly one week – soooo excited and the fantastic app that Natural World Safari use Vamoos to keep all your travel documents on.
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Tom Brown from Natural World safari called me on Friday 5th June just to make sure all was ok for the off on Sunday – note the operator was Polar Quest.
Predicted weather in Longyearbyen for my Polar Adventure looking favourable.
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Sunday 7th June
Weather – sunny and warm UK 19’c – Oslo 12’c – Longyearbyen 2’c
Left home at 10am and only took 1-1/2hrs – I was through security by 11.30am and I love the SAS plus as it was straight into the Lufthansa Lounge for free food and drink! Two meals, peppermint tea and a Prosseco – fantastic. I popped out to get a bottle of water & bought some chocolate for Hanne Larson my cabin buddy. At gate A18 boarded at 15.15 and took off late at 16.05!! I was in seat 4D and luckily not a full flight so had the whole row to myself. I could only have a snack on board as I’d not booked a Gluten Free option however the cabin  staff suggested I asked the very kind SAS lady once at Oslo to book my return flights Gluten Free meal.
Landed at Oslo at 18.50 and we all got on a bus to terminal through security & passport control then found gate 59 for the flight to Longyearbyen should have left at 21.00 but took off 20 minutes late at 21.20. Seat 1D with the middle seat free this time.
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Landed at 00.20 local time and I found my cabin buddy Danish Hanne Larsen talking with Axel one of our expedition leaders who made sure we were all on the right bus to take us to the Radison Blu hotel where Norweigen tradition says everyone has to take off there shoes at the entrance so we all did. Luckily I had a bright blue cabinar that I used to attach to my boots to make sure I recognised them!
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Land of the midnight sun and it was weird seeing everyone in the hotel bar with the windows blacked out but full sun outside (and a couple were very drunk too lol) off to bed at 1am as another long exciting day starts early in the morning.
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My room and the view at 1am in the morning!
Monday 8th June
Weather – Sunny/cloud 3’c- 5’c
Up at 7am bath the last one for a week and breakfast.

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Breakfast room with a view of Longyearbyen

We had the morning free to investigate Longyearbyen so I wondered along the High Street as most shops didn’t open until 10am I was a little early. I found the tourist information and purchased 5 Polar Bear postcards for everyone back home and to my surprise the stamps also had a polar bears on too.
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I found another great little shop that sold neck buffs with Polar Bears on as in fact everything in the town appeared to have my favourite white bear on. I returned to the hotel and one of the others on the trip suggested I popped into the WildPhoto Gallery and I was pleased I did, the photos of Svalbard were fantastic however the book they were selling was too heavy to purchase so I decided to buy the half price 2015 calendar with several beautiful photos. I intend to buy the book on my return home when I can get it delivered.
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Instead of car parks in Longyearbyen the 2000 strong community also have a skidoo each!!
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We all were told to meet at the hotel at 12 noon for the mandatory safety talk, I’d sat with Hanne in reception talking to a guy from Nottingham who was on his laptop watching the nearby coalface here in Svalbard not far from Longyearbyen being mined by the latest machinery and 4 million tonne a year is shipped to the UK.
Apparently as the projector didn’t work in the room we were waiting outside the Polar Quest team had moved venue however they had not seen us sitting in the reception area, they eventually realised we were missing and they came to find us.
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The talk from Ronald the expedition leader was very informative on how to use the zodiacs and also the way to behave in the Arctic, once the talk had finished we had lunch in the hotel and then at 2.30pm we all made our way to the Svalbard Museum that described the history of the area in great detail, one of our guides Rickard talked us through the museum which bought it to life, a much better experience however the reality of human kind on the natural world was all too apparent.
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The longyearbyen Museum resident Polar Bear.

From the museum all 50 explorers got onto the coach at 4pm and we arrived at the quay to find the MS Quest ready and waiting for us. We set sail around 5pm and we said goodbye to Longyearbyen for the next week.
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 Once we had found our cabin 318 and checked our luggage was there we went to the meeting area on level 4 for a safety talk and introduction to all of the expedition leaders. They translated into dutch and Swedish and English. We were then told to return to our cabins to find out which lifeboat was applicable to our room – ours was lifeboat number two.
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Along with Hanne I also made friends with Ann Skeet from Felixstowe and she was in the cabin opposite ours 329. There was a test on the fire alarm and we all went to find our boat so we could practice putting on our life jacket. Once we finished we were ready for our first evening dinner and after my initial concern if my Gluten Free diet was being catered for I really did not need to worry as I could eat most things on the menu even the pasta dishes. Gluten Free bread was cooked fresh daily too.
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The food really tasted as good as it looked, we also had a great view at dinner time what a great sight of the beautiful landscape through the resturants portholes. For the first night Ann and I ordered a bottle of presseco to share however if we’d have known that we had another trip off the boat that evening we may have changed our minds – we docked at a Russian mining village called Barentsburg and was given a tour by a young Russian lady Natalia that spoke just like the Russian ladies in the 007 films. She was also the lady who ran the local postoffice.
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We popped into the post office and I sent another postcard home to say we’d visited at little piece of Russia in the Svalbard and Ann tried to dress like a Russian! we also had a treat as we saw our first Arctic Fox in the hills above the postoffice whilst Natalia was giving her talk on the settlement.
We got back to the ship by 10.45pm and yes still daylight! After a cuppa and a photo download in the meeting lounge we all retired to bed. Unfortunately I got locked out of my room as key decided not to work and I had to wake poor Hanne up. The ship sailed all night and was quite rough for the first part of the night and of course don’t forget still day light and even the blackout blind it didn’t keep out the light along the bottom edge!!
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Tuesday 9th June
Weather – mostly cloudy with the odd ray of sun.
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Wake up call at 7.30am and Breakfast at 8pm
Awake at 5.30am decided to have a shower at 6.30 and whilst in the shower the tannoy announcement came over and there was our first polar bear call – I’ve never got ready so fast in all my life, both Hanne and I were like a whirlwind and made it in 10 mins, we got to the front of the boat to see our FIRST polar bear AND we were lucky to see bulugar whales blowing on the ice edge. Managed to get a few photos however quite small as he was searching for seals quite a way off. Once we lost sight of him we all returned for a well deserved breakfast at 8am.
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Everyday the whiteboard was updated with the days activities, sometimes just the morning was put up as weather was a great decider on where we could go, each day the map in the observation lounge was also updated with the route we had taken.
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We then learnt we were going out on the zodiacs for the first time to discover Van Keulenfjorden and although I was a little nervous at first it was really great fun. It took quite a while each time we ventured out, we had to make sure we had several layers on to keep warm and my lifejacket was securely fastened.
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I took both cameras however really only needed my ‘polar bear’ lens 150mm-600mm we were now on a polar bear hunt however we were not so lucky this time however we spotted a Walrus that was unusually feeding in a ring-tailed seal apparently its rare to see them eat meet as they normally only feed on crustaceans. Then after a little scouting we build the zodiacs up onto the fast ice and were invited to get out and walk on the ice I was a bit apprehensive of this at first however I’m sure we were safe on 70cm thick ice.
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Van Keulenfjorden

All guides continuously tell you about what you can see and also carried rifles with them too as they reminded us many times that the bears could be anywhere at anytime. After we had a bit of a walk about on the ice and the obligatory team shot and just before we embarked on the zodiacs and we were lucky to have an inquisitive bearded seal entertain us.
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We were out about 2 & 1/2 hours when we returned it was almost lunchtime.
After lunch we are due to get out into the next fjord to find more bears in Recherché Fjorden. We all then boarded the five zodiacs the first two were Swedish speaking then English and the last two dutch. We made our way to a beautiful turquoise glacier it was so peaceful we saw may different birds and then we spotted a Svalbard Reindeer all alone on the ice so we then landed the zodiacs just in front of him to get some great shots,
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I also took the time to get some landscapes scenes with brilliant reflections, everything looks very monotone so when there is colour in the landscape it really stands out.
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After a while we all boarded the zodiacs again and moved round the coast to spot another seven Svalbard reindeer and many other birds before we again landed to visit an 1918 trappers shack, it was very sad to hear that between the English and the Dutch an entire species of whale was wiped out from the area – the northern right whale.
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After being out on the zodiacs all afternoon (2-6pm) we headed back to MS Quest for Captain Alexi’s reception at 7pm and then dinner followed in the restaurant.
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Russian Captain Alexi

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Sample MV Quest menu

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We raised anchor almost immediately the zodiacs were all hoisted back on board and once out of the fjord the sea swell became very rough so there was a lot of staggering going on. Both Ann and I had tea in the lounge before retiring at 9pm – we had a fantastic day however we were all very very tired. I just had time to write down my days adventures and download my photos before falling asleep. The ship would be heading north all through the night to move around the northern most point we would travel this week and we crossed the 80′ latitude twice, it was extremely rough so rough I had to eat some gluten free ginger biscuits during the night!!

Wednesday 10th June
Weather – Sunny and 4’ to start the day – moved up to Northern Svalbard and a bit colder and some snow.
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We got up around 6.30am and both showered before breakfast and found out we were going to go on the Zodiacs to see walrus, just a little bit of a concern as very choppy but we made it with help from one of the leaders and staff from the ship. The beach we landed on was full of very large boulders and then very thick snow that we walked on to the bay where about 12 rather large Walrus were sleeping looking up at occasionally to see if we were a threat.
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With 4cm of skin and 11cm of blubber to keep them warm, they were making the most of laying on the beach sunning themselves. I could have sat there all day they we were just fantastic to watch, we even had a couple of young Walrus get into the water and start playing.
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There was also a fantastic glacier with the bright turquoise colours running through the great stack of ice. We stayed there for about 2 hours before all reloading onto the Zodiacs.
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Lunch was at 12.30pm and was very tasty and filling however we needed it with all the cold weather the staff have also got my Gluten free menu down to a T so very confident they know exactly what I can eat. The MS Quest had now started moving to out next stop nearly two hours away ready for our next adventure Smeerenburg & Virgohamna. We are due out on the zodiacs at 2.45pm where we are to be split up into two groups as there is a limit to numbers allowed to land at once. We were told to dress up warm as its a lot colder and very overcast.
We all boarded the zodiacs and made our way to Smeerenburg first, an extremely desolate place that once had 200 Dutch whalers inhabiting the area with 6 blubber ovens to extract the oil and blubber from the 1,000’s of whales they killed. By now it was snowing quite heavy and very windy.
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Axel one of the guides explained the history of the place whilst I noticed a large colony of Arctic Terns and two barnacle geese. Back on the zodiacs to Virgohamna the site where many failed balloon attempts to reach the North Pole started and finished. There was many remnants however the several graves reminded you of how many lost their lives trying such a mad flight.
Virgohamna (EnglishVirgo Bay) is a small bay on the northern coast of Danskøya, an island off the northwestern coast of Spitsbergen, the main island of the Svalbard archipelago. The bay is named after SS Virgo, the vessel of Swedish engineer and explorer Salomon August Andrée‘s 1896 expedition.
The Dutch were the first to use Virgohamna as a whaling base as early as 1633 (perhaps earlier).[1] The Dutch overwinterers in 1633-34 referred to it as “Houcker Bay”. In 1636, with no room being available along the beach at Smeerenburg, the newly added Friesland chamber of the Noordsche Compagnieestablished what was later called the Harlingen kokerij (“Cookery of Harlingen”). By 1662 the ships from Harlingen had found little use for the station, with the merchants of the original charter offering other Dutch whalers its use for a certain fee.[2] The German surgeon Friderich Martens visited the (by then) abandoned station in 1671, where he found four buildings still standing, “whereof two were warehouses, in the others they dwelt”. There he found tools and barrels frozen up in the ice.[3]Archaeological excavations have found the remains of five buildings and two double-ovens belonging to the station. Another station was found on Æøya (named after the common eiders that reside there), a small island on the eastern side of the bay. It was here, in 1896, that S.A. Andrée built his balloon house. Adverse winds forcing Andrée to return home on his first attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon, he returned to Virgohamna in the summer of 1897. He left the bay early in July in what would be a fatal attempt to reach the pole. In 1906, AmericanWalter Wellman built an airship hangar and base camp in the bay. The hangar wasn’t completed until August, forcing Wellman to return the following summer, where he again failed in his goal to the North Pole by airship. Wellman returned to Virgohamna once more in 1909; he again failed to reach the pole.
On the way back we were then taken on a slight detour to see a colony of very inquisitve harbour seals.
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Back to the MS Quest for a 7pm dinner, both Hanne and I sat with Rickard and Andreas and there was a hint we may be moving to Marstandbukta to find a polar bear and sure enough Ronald came over the bing bong tanoy to announce there was a mother and cub to the left of the boat – so we scrambled ASAP grabbed my camera and warm clothes and ran to the side of the boat and sure enough there she was, it was so exciting and trying to steady the camera and focus I could feel my heart pounding!!
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Another announcement went out that the zodiacs were going out as the MS Quest may be frightening the mother away. We had 20 minutes to get dressed ready for the zodiacs and we were off, however she had reached such a height that it was difficult to see her so we moved down the fjord and had yet another treat a young walrus and adult perched on a rock in front of a beautiful glacier.
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We returned to the boat at 10pm at great speed as we had Rickard driving our zodiac!! After downloading my photo’s and writing my blog I retired to bed at midnight – midnight sun!! The boat will be travelling through the night whilst we sleep as our next destination Alkefjella is 11 hours away.
Thursday 11th June
Weather – colder than previous days approx. 0’degrees
am – overcast 
pm – High Winds, snow and low visibility
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Breakfast was at 8am as usual and then we were off to find a guillemot cliff at Alkefjellet Odinjokilen in the Hinlopenstretet and as the MV Quest is a icebreaker and cut through 70 cm of thick ice, she could get very near to the cliff as it easily made a path through the ice.
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We saw Arctic Skua’s eating a dead guillemot.
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Lunch was at 12.30pm and I started to feel a bit under the weather sore throat and temperature lets hope it goes away quickly.
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We spent all afternoon hunting for Polar Bear on the pack ice however the weather was very rough and it started to snow and we did not find any however the captain did a great job of missing all the icebergs.
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Due to the weather it was considered unsafe to go out on the zodiacs, so one of the guides Axel gave a great talk on the attempts of Andrée and how he tried to balloon to the North Pole from Danishland Virgohamna where we had visited the previous day.
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Then we had another very informative talk from another guide Andreas on the ‘ocean bear’

Here are my notes:-
Ocean Bear or Ice Bear Isobjorn=Swedish
All tagged bears are female due to the very large long neck on the male the tag would not stay put.
Eyes and ears on the top of the head so the bear can swim low in the water
Weigh 150-500 (male) kilos
Ursus Maritimus = sea or ocean bear
Bearded seals 350kilos = fav food
4-5% die of starvation
only 50% cubs live past 2 years old
1 seal each per week to survive
cubs born new years eve (like the one we saw = 6 months)
one polar bear killed in Longyearbyen city in 1995 after killing one and injuring another human.
Due to climate change the polar bear and the brown bear have been known to mate and this will see the evolution and survival of the polar bear.
Polar Bears live between 20-25 years in the wild
Only 25,000 bear left in the world
2-3,000 live in and around Svalbard
5 countries have Polar Bears Canada, Greenland (Denmark) Russia, Alaska and Norway
One polar bear skin for sale on Longyearbyen for €8,000 very controversial
1 or 2 shot per year for protection only
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BOOK RECOMMENDATION Polar Bears on the Edge – Morten Jorgensen
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There was promise of a trip out on the zodiacs however due to the 50knots wind it was decided too unsafe and unfortunately I had now a very sore throat and high temperature so slept when I could – the ship was now moving to find a sheltered Fjord as the sea was extremely rough so dinner was always going to be interesting, most folk stayed in their cabins although I did try a little soup and vegetable curry but retired to my room to rest. I soon heard a knock on my cabin door and a member of staff was obviously making sure everyone had something to eat and was offering crackers and fruit which I gratefully accepted. I slept all night making sure I had lemsips to keep the fever away.
Friday 12th June
Weather – Snow overcast 4’c
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I awoke at 2.30am to hear everything banging and crashing due to the high seas however I did manage to get back to sleep and when I awoke at 6.30am we had anchored and all was calm. Wake up call as normal at 7.30am and breakfast at 8am. Due to the poor weather conditions the guides were out on the zodiacs scouting for a safe landing place and we were told that there was a couple of options, snow walking and bird watching however I think the trip in the zodiac in such poor weather put quite a few of us off. So we stayed behind and watched the spy cam polar bear TV programme whilst some braved the snow and wind on their respective trips. It was lovely to talk in the lounge with some of the Swedish group who managed a little English and of course Steven the bird man with his great stories of travel and sailing.
As soon as everyone had returned from their trips MV Quest was again on her way to find some fast ice for us to scout for animal life, again the MV Quest manoeuvred into the ice so we could look for wildlife – in the distance we saw seals and an arctic fox but no polar bears.
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After an hour we moved back out of the ice and back along the Fjord to the Texas Bar a 1932 trappers hut where we were all Zodiac’d across to the beach and we walked up across the snow to the hut.
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The guides raided the ships bar brought with them whiskey rum and Jaggermiesters so we could have it neat or with hot chocolate – I had Captain Morgans rum and hot chocolate it was a great idea. Rickard told us one of his stories about polar bears and the trapper that stayed in the small hut for 32 winters. The little hut was fully kitted out with magazines to read a bed a log stove and a large pile of logs.
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Then someone saw an Arctic Fox he run right at us across the snow, he was beautiful half black and half white, he started playing in the snow before running off over the hill. Due to the weather conditions and the steep walk up to the hut I did not take my camera so missed the chance to photo the fox however very happy with the great experience.
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The wind had really picked up and was whipping the loose snow up into the air – it felt like being in a blizzard. It was very deep snow and was challenging for me to climb further up the hill and then back down however I made it and we then all piled back into the zodiacs and returned to the MV Quest all a lot wetter. Dinner was at 7pm and the ship was again on the move we were warned that due to the high winds it would be another rough trip back overnight round the North West corner of Svalbard.
After dinner I had tea and chocolate and retired to bed around 9pm.
Saturday 13th June
Weather – much better sunny and part cloud 4degrees
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The ship was still sailing however we were due to arrive at our destination at 9am.
We had our Bing Bong breakfast wake up call from Ronald as usual and then breakfast at 8am, then we all met in the observation lounge at 9am to get our briefing before our visit to Ny Alesund at around 9.15am
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The one shop in the settlement of mainly researchers was only open for half an hour at 9.30am however it had some great gifts and I managed to find a couple of great things for Andrew and Mum. We left our purchases hanging outside the shop quite safe for our return then we split up into our respective language guides and Rickard was todays english speaking guide.
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He told us all about the failed zeppelin trips to the North Pole and that the small settlement was a research station for 15 countries around the world.
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We walked across the tundra area to the zeppelin tower that still had plenty of snow however you could hear the constant sound of the running melt water. At the end of Rickards guided tour of Ny Alesund we walked through some Arctic Terns territory and they started to dive bomb us, the best thing to do was hold your hand above your head to prevent attack!! We walked back into town passed some feisty little Arctic Terns that started to dive bomb us all as we were obviously near there nests. Then Rickard showed us the dog pound where all the dogs that pulled the sleds in the winter were housed.
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It was then time to return to the boat when a shout went up that there was a mother and cub Polar Bear on the very small Island adjacent to Ny Arlesund. As Ronald and Anietta had both worked in the settlement they warned the locals who said they were unaware of the bears and that it was the first encounter this year!!
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Eventually we got back on the boat where lunch was being served and we were told that the boat would try to relocate nearer the bears for a better view, I was not going to miss the Polar Bear sighting from the ship.
After lunch we had a  second view of the bears and after about an hour we started to move off to see the glacier at the end of the fjord at Ossean sars.
We were going out on the zodiacs and we could choose between a beach walk, a medium hill walk or a long hike I chose the medium hill walk but soon realised after getting 1/4 the way up it was far too steep for me so Axel was very kind and returned 4 of us back to the beach so we could continue with Rickard.
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We walked to one end of the beach spotting Polar Bear footprints in the snow just behind the beach. We then sat in the sun on the rocks when Rickard produced a bar of chocolate whilst telling one of his stories. He then offered us a zodiac excursion along the coastline and out to a beautiful turquoise iceberg, from the zodiac we saw Svalbard reindeer and more Arctic Terns. We returned to the boat at 5.30pm and I managed to download the last couple of days photos.
There was music coming from the back of the boat and a distinct BBQ smell and yes tonights dinner was a special BBQ on deck in front of one of the most spectacular glaciers we’d seen so far.
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We were told that fancy dress was optional and I had my Polar Bear attire to the ready, however not so sure about the Scottish Swede?
We ate, drank dressed silly and danced until we spotted a beautiful sky and that we were moving away from the glacier to our next port of call. Bed at 11.30pm whilst the boat was still sailing.
Beautiful end to the day.
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Sunday 14th June
Weather – 3/4’degrees cloudy/sunny
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We were now back very near Longyearbyen as my phone received a couple of text messages as we sailed past, up till now we’ve had no signal since Monday morning. With the boat now moored, we were up for breakfast at 8am after our usual 7.30am wake up call.
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9.15am dressed ready for a zodiac trip to Trygghamm a glacier where we saw at last the king Eider duck and a harbour seal playing nearby, once we found a suitable landing spot we had a small hike nearer the glacier with some of the guys using the slope to toboggan down including Charles and Emily (Salt Lake City USA) 91 and 87 respectively!!
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After we returned from the mornings zodiac trip we watched 8 of the guests do a polar plunge along with Annette – all quite mad!! Michael the english man had been locked out of his room and he desperately wanted to do the plunge at 78 I think it was mad however he did it and got his certificate along with the rest – 2’degrees water temp approx.
Lunch was at 12.30pm and then we were on the move again to search for puffins and after a slight delay the MV Quest found the place and we went out for the last time on the zodiacs, quite amazing that I’d never been on one a week prior. We all set off and it was quite windy however it was not long before we spotted our first puffin bobbing in the water ahead of us, we also saw some more guillemots on the steep cliffs on the side of the fjord at Skansbukta.
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We then landed at a disused Gypsum mine that had not seen action for a few years and this was the first time all week that we were able to roam along the beach without sticking to the guides like glue, as Polar bears were quite rare in our current location each guide stood at each end of the beach just incase as ‘Polar Bears can be everywhere at any time’ a few words that we have been reminded of all week and one day will save someones life.
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I think I would find number 3 hard to stick to!!
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I took several more photos with my 150mm-600mm lens but was treated to a couple of Svalbard Reindeer running past me.
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We wondered around admiring the castle like features of the cliffs saying our goodbyes to Svalbard ‘the Polar Dessert’ watching the many reindeer way up high on the shale.
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After about a couple of hours we all got back into the Zodiacs and as some folk had already returned to the boat I was lucky enough to have Rickard take me back with only two others and he loves to push the zodiacs to their limits and go as fast as he can, making the last trip great fun. Once back we had a short time to pack a little before meeting in the observation lounge for our last debrief of the days events from Ronald and a couple of practicalities along with a glass of champagne.
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Dinner was at 7.30pm and then we were due a slideshow of the weeks photos the guides had taken, however a few apple i.t problems so they said they will send us the video ‘before christmas’ along with a log book of our weeks travels of 900km. All guides along with the ships Russian captain Alexi thanked us for travelling with them and we all had chance to thank our guides individually, at this point I got quite emotional as I really couldn’t believe I was here in the Arctic and a year ago this week I may not have thought it possible!! We then returned to our room 318 to pack, I really can’t believe I got everything all back my bags, however I did and we were told to leave our cases outside our room before midnight as they would be loaded on the bus in the morning. Now for some sleep before our last wake up call at 3am ready for our journey back home. We arrived and moored at Longyearbyen at 11pm where the MV Quest was making the most horrendous noises, from reversing the engines to putting down anchor and we only have 4 hours sleep!! Hanne has her ear plugs in as she needs her sleep and I’ve just text Andrew and got a reply I can’t wait to tell him all about my adventures I also can’t quite believe I’ve managed to survive without wi-fi for a week!!
The flights on the way home were a breeze and the only hiccup I had was my brightly coloured trolley duffle bag had been ripped open which I discovered when I was reunited with it again at Heathrow terminal 2, I’d already rang Dave Harris, my taxi home to say I’d landed however I had to wait to fill the in the forms to get a new case. I was told that I needed to claim for any loses from the bag from SAS airlines and as I did not know what was missing I left that for another day. Dave had the ‘Jeakings’ sign up on his iPad and helped me with my bags to his car. We chatted most of the way home however all I wanted to do was sleep as it was now 3.30pm, we got home at 5pm. I was so pleased to see Andrew.
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Wow what a week its been too on Dawn’s Polar Adventures I’ve met some really great people that I hopefully will stay in touch with. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and been totally inspired by Emily and Charles from the USA who made me realise you’re really never too old to do anything.
Thanks to everyone at Polar Quest and Tom at Natural World Safari for a true adventure.
Now I just need to save up for the Antarctic!
This is my first ever blog so a few hiccups!!

I booked my polar adventure February 2014 with Natural World Safaris and after an eventful year in between the countdown to June 2015 is nearly over, making sure I have everything I need for this trip of a lifetime has seen lists upon lists of clothing, equipment and research to other people’s polar trips – whilst everyone back home will be basking in temperatures of 20’plus I’ll be lucky if it makes it over 5 degrees in the Svalbard.

My fantastic polar bear birthday cake was a gift from Darren and Wendy who have put up with my endless excitement & talk of my forthcoming trip. 
The guys at Natural World Safaris use the Vamoos app to share all of your travel documents – perfect.