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Field Notes from the Arctic!

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Earlier this month our Operations Manager, Jolene, joined Heatherlea Guide Ian Ford and our group on the ‘Aberdeen to the Arctic’ voyage as they embarked on an expedition cruise to the far north! We asked her to share her experience and highlights from the trip.

It was an amazing adventure, exciting and surreal! Our group joined the voyage at Aberdeen and we set sail for the Arctic on Tuesday 28 May. As we left the harbour a beautiful pod of Bottlenose Dolphins passed the ship and gave us a lovely send off on our journey.

The first stop on our voyage was the tiny remote island of Foula, Shetland. It was a beautiful day and after a thrilling zodiac journey to reach the island we were left to explore as we wished. I joined a group of birders on a coastal walk led by Ian. The birdlife was amazing straight from the off: Fulmar, Puffin, Arctic Tern, Razorbill, Bonxies and a few guests even spotted a Golden Oriole fly in and make a quick exit! Further on our walk, Arctic Skua could be seen and the drumming of Snipe could be heard along with singing Skylark. The island’s Shetland ponies and lambs were adorable and posed nicely for photographs. Once back on board we sailed around the island to see the spectacular sea cliffs, where thousands of gannets were nesting. The rock formations were incredible, and I really enjoyed seeing the Gannets flying so close to the ship.

As we sailed towards our next destination, we continued to see many birds, including a lonely Wheatear who appeared to have hitched a lift from Foula. Cetaceans were everywhere and we had excellent views of Orca, Fin and Humpback Whales. One morning I opened my curtains to see a large pod of Pilot Whales swimming past my cabin window, what a way to start the day!

A couple of days later we reached our next stop, Jan Mayen Island. We were so lucky with the weather; the temperature had dropped but the sun was shining and we had amazing views Beerenberg Volcano and the island’s Glacier. The birdlife as we sailed passed was wonderful, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Little Auk, Bonxies and my first Long-tailed Skua!

Leaving Jan Mayen later that day, we set sail towards the pack ice. That evening there was great excitement on board as the first few tiny pieces of ice started to appear and you could hear the clunking noise of the Plancius cutting through the chunks of ice. The mist rolled in and the air became cooler creating a very atmospheric and eerie feeling as we travelled.

We spent the next few days exploring the pack ice searching for cetaceans, birds and mammals. Fulmar were ever present and it was really interesting so see their colour gradually change as we sailed further north. Bottlenose Whale and White-beaked Dolphin were added to our list as we marvelled at the floating ice sculptures.

After several days at sea, we finally reached Svalbard. I was really surprised how big and mountainous the landscape was! The scenery was fantastic and we spent time cruising around some of the Fjords and enjoyed views of our first Arctic Fox and Svalbard Reindeer.

The following day we were able to land on an island called Forlandet National Park, where we took a short walk to see Walrus which were hauled up on the shore. As we watched these magnificent creatures a few others popped up out of the sea and posed for the group. As we travelled back to the ship by zodiac more Walrus appeared in the water right next to us and it was incredible to see them so close. Later that same day we enjoyed a rather chilly but exciting zodiac cruise to a beautiful glacier, where we saw yet more Walrus plus Barnacle Geese, a playful seal and stunning King Eider! A fantastic day to end the trip.

At the end of the cruise, we disembarked in Longyearbyen and had some time with the whole group to explore the town and do some birding before everyone made their onward travels. Again, we were very lucky with the weather, the sun was shining and Snow Bunting were signing from the rooftops of the colourful buildings. Reindeer could be seen wandering around the streets and the whole place had a very relaxed feel to it. Some guests had booked a one-night extension in Longyearbyen and Ian and I joined them. It was great to have some extra time to explore the town further and learn more about Spitsbergen.

The whole trip was an amazing experience and it was great fun spending time with Ian and the group. The Oceanwide crew were also fantastic and the food and hospitably on board was brilliant. There’s definitely more to explore on Svalbard and I hope to visit again in the future. Maybe next time I will be lucky enough to see a Polar Bear….

The full trip report from Ian will be available soon. If you are interested in joining next years tour visit our Aberdeen to Arctic page or contact the office for availability!


About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248