NEVER BEEN TO... SVALBARD
YOU’D BE WISE TO KEEP AN EYE OUT for prowling polar bears if you visit Svalbard, an archipelago 600 miles or so south of the North Pole. Four years ago, British schoolboy Horatio Chapple was tragically mauled to death here by one of these huge beasts.
Svalbard, well inside the Arctic Circle and part of the Kingdom of Norway, is very much polar bear territory. A group of icy islands, it mostly comprises mountains, fjords and glaciers. The 2,600 humans who live there stick to the few settlements, including the regional centre Longyearbyen. Should they need to commute between settlements, they normally travel by boat or snowmobile. International flights arrive at Svalbard Airport, Longyear.
Originally colonised by whalers and fishermen in the 1600s, Svalbard now has three main industries – coal mining, tourism and scientific research. There’s also an intriguing place called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where a million plant seed samples (“of value for food and agriculture, and of importance for research, plant breeding and education”) are stored at minus 18 degrees centigrade. The seed bank doesn’t have many visitors. But if a plague ever wipes out the planet’s flora, everyone will be beating a path to its door.