No sign of lights in world of white

In snowy scenes from a child’s Christ­mas dreams, goes in search of the elu­sive Aurora Bo­re­alis

Harefield Gazette - - LEISURE -

Bstripes, neat zigzags and in­tri­cate petal pat­terns: a va­ri­ety of de­signs dec­o­rate the many pairs of mit­tens hang­ing in a dis­play cab­i­net at Tromsø Univer­sity Mu­seum. For a place where the tem­per­a­ture can drop be­low freez­ing for a large chunk of the year, an ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing ther­mal ac­ces­sories does seem ap­pro­pri­ate. Yet I dis­cover the pieces of hand­made handwear bear a greater cul­tural rel­e­vance.

De­signed by in­dige­nous Sami peo­ple, one-time no­mads who herded rein­deer across Rus­sia, Fin­land, Swe­den and Norway, th­ese bright mo­tifs were used to de­fine so­cial groups, a bit like knit­ted iden­tity cards.

Con­cen­trated mainly on the is­land of Trom­søya, linked by bridges to the main­land, the ‘cap­i­tal of the Arc­tic’ is sur­rounded by wildlife-rich fjords and jagged moun­tain ranges. Well po­si­tioned be­neath the aurora belt, it at­tracts thou­sands of tourists ev­ery year, with prim­i­tive mit­tens in­creas­ingly be­ing sub­sti­tuted by high-tech NorthFace gloves.

Thanks to di­rect flight con­nec­tions with the UK, it’s eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, and within a mat­ter of hours, vis­i­tors can be glimps­ing the aurora in wild wood­land set­tings, or com­mand­ing a pack of huskies through moon­lit, snow-steeped val­leys.

I meet our guide, Alexan­der, a film-maker from the Nether­lands who makes ends meet by lead­ing North­ern Lights tours dur­ing the win­ter sea­son. As we drive into the wilder­ness, city lights fade be­hind us and steel street­lamps are re­placed by bolt up­right pine trees, lined up like sol­diers on pa­rade.

“Peo­ple al­ways come here on their time clocks,” com­plains Alexan­der, in ref­er­ence to the short week­end vis­its peo­ple make. “But the Lights are un­pre­dictable; you never know when they might turn up. So of­ten, peo­ple have to learn to be pa­tient and just wait.”

But with a bliz­zard set­ting in, it be­comes ob­vi­ous that no mat­ter how long we’re pre­pared to wait, an aurora dis­play won’t be hap­pen­ing any time soon.

A thick coat­ing of snow does, how­ever, cre­ate the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for the day­time out­door ac­tiv­i­ties I have planned.

We drive an hour and a half south-east of Tromsø to Camp Tamok, a Sami-run ac­tiv­ity cen­tre where peo­ple can en­joy tra­di­tional Lap­pish hos­pi­tal­ity.

When I ar­rive, Rua and his wife, Caran, are us­ing metal shov­els to clear snow from the en­trance to their lavvu (a typ­i­cal Sami tipi once used as a mo­bile dwelling).

almost two me­tres of snow has fallen, cre­at­ing the kind of pris­tine white land­scape ev­ery child dreams of wak­ing up to on Christ­mas Day.

Long, thin ici­cles hang like dag­gers from the door­ways of wooden cab­ins, look­ing de­cep­tively sharper than the blade made from rein­deer horn, which swings ca­su­ally from Rua’s waist.

“Ev­ery knife we make tells a story,” ex­plains Rua, dressed in a warm Cos­sack-style hat and wrapped in a blan­ket. “And when we gift a knife to our chil­dren, we pass on that story.”

He proudly claims he car­ries the blade with him at all times, although he does ad­mit to leav­ing it at home if col­lect­ing guests from the air­port, after once be­ing given a hefty fine.

Rua gath­ers his herd of rein­deer by en­tic­ing them with bun­dles of soft, spongy lichens. We sit on wooden sleds while Caran har­nesses the an­i­mals and pulls them through the thick snow with the ease of tug­ging a toy train. An ir­re­sistibly blank can­vas lies ahead of us, with lit­tle dis­tinc­tion be­tween land and sky, and over­head, snow clouds are form­ing with the con­sis­tency of whipped cream.

The en­joy­ably slow am­ble is gen­tle prepa­ra­tion for a moon­lit husky ride we have planned later that evening.

In com­pe­ti­tions, the dogs can reach up to 30mph, but I’m re­lieved to learn they go at half that pace when tourists are mush­ing.

Guided only by starlight, we race through the for­est, weav­ing be­tween tree trunks like a slalom skier. All I can hear is the sound of dogs pant­ing and my wooden sleigh bump­ing and creak­ing over the icy ground, and in that mo­ment, I un­der­stand why Rua has fully em­braced an out­door life.

PA Pho­tos/Hand­out/Re­nato Granieri

n HAR­NESSED: Caran pulls her rein­deer and sled

n COOL BLUE: View above Tromsø

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