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dreaming of a colder country

January 28, 2011

Today has been an un-achieving day. When we went to get younger son ready for school, we found him still fast asleep, which is almost unheard of. My husband carried him through to our bed, and there he lay, looking pale and wan and complaining that everything ached (‘even my toes are aching’). Yes, there is a bug going through the school, and it has reached us. After he was sick while getting dressed, I realised that we were in for a very quiet day at home. So son has spent most of today lying on the sofa, watching DVDs and looking wabbit. (That’s not a bunny with a speech impediment, but a good Scots word that means something like ‘pale and feeble’.) And his mother has spent the day trying, but failing, to get much done in between tending to the invalid.

Now, there are certain rules that apply to poorly children, as any parent will know, and anyone else will no doubt remember from their own childhood. (I’m talking about a child with a bug, nothing worse.) Rule number one is, they always throw up on the soft furnishings, don’t they, never in the loo or the bucket? Yup, I’ve inflicted this rule on my own mum in my time, and now I am the one snapping on the rubber gloves and reaching wearily for the scrubbing brush.

Luckily, rule number two is that children always look especially sweet and precious when they are feeling rotten. This means that the parent will find them adorable even as they are throwing up on the carpet. Nevertheless, it’s a relief that small son is now at the tetchy convalescent stage: recovered just enough to be bored of having no energy. Funny how one can welcome the return of a bit of cheekiness.

Anyhoo, since I have been stuck at home on nursing duty, my mind has been free to wander today. And it has wandered to thoughts of possible future holidays. In Greenland. Yes, I am dreaming of escaping the cold Scottish winter to a holiday in the Arctic. No, really, it does make sense. Let me explain.

Well, firstly, I love it when it’s cold and dry outdoors. Admittedly, it doesn’t often get properly cold here in Scotland – it’s not like living in Manitoba or Outer Mongolia – but my favourite weather of the past year was when it was ten or more degrees below freezing, with blue skies and powdery snow. As long as, crucially, you have the appropriate clothing, cold is fine. I prefer mucking about in the snow to sweating self-consciously on a hot beach any day. (And motherhood means that snow gear is rather more suited to my figure than a bikini.)


now this is my kind of beach: Loch Morlich, Cairngorms

And then there’s the pull of the North. While my poor husband is longing for Mediterranean sunshine and la dolce vita, I have succeeded in persuading the family into (wonderful) summer holidays in Orkney and Denmark in the past two years. The last time we went to anywhere that might reasonably be called Southern Europe was circa 2003. It’s not that I haven’t loved previous visits to France, Germany, Italy and so on…but there is so much to discover to the north of the Scottish mainland, about which I know comparatively so little. Shetland is on my fantasy holiday agenda; so is Fair Isle, and Norway, and Lapland. Places that do not figure in every weekend travel supplement. I am intrigued by the clean air and big skies, the history of human and animal migrations, the flora and bird-life of the far north, at once familiar and strange to a Scot. And so, watching a good programme last night about life in Greenland and other parts of the Arctic (‘Human Planet: Arctic – Life in the Deep Freeze’, BBC1), it was inevitable that I should be inspired to find out more about Greenland. ‘When you’ve seen the world,’ runs the saying, ‘there’s always Greenland.’

Ilulissat, photo Elke Meissner/Destination Disko, from

One thing for which I would not be going to Greenland is the food. The programme’s depiction of the Inuit delicacy kiviaq (seabirds fermented inside a seal carcass) was enough to put me off my scrambled eggs. As long as I could stick to reindeer venison, berries and fish, I should be fine. The wildlife, on the other hand, initially looks cosily recognisable to a Scot: Greenland, like the Highlands, has ptarmigan, mountain hares, white-tailed eagles and reindeer. But it also has narwhals – narwhals! whose tusks were once mistaken for unicorn horns – and it is a home to that itinerant symbol of the Arctic, the polar bear. Actually, I would not be sorry if I never came within sight of a polar bear. It’s probably safer for the bear, and certainly safer for the human, if our two species keep well away from each other. But just knowing that they are on the same land mass..!

eek! (image from

There are several travel companies who arrange guided tours in Greenland for greenhorns like me. Many of them include the option of a trip by dog-sled. Imagine bundling the children up in sealskins and snuggling down together under reindeer furs for a dog-sled ride across the ice sheet. Imagine the colours of the sea ice seen from a boat, or the deep silence of the snows on the ice sheet, or watching the darkness lit up by the aurora borealis. What an unforgettable experience it would be for the children – and indeed for their parents.

We may never get there. It would be a very expensive trip, I think, and the lure of southern sun might prove stronger for the rest of the family. But this January, dreaming about the Arctic is keeping me warm.

See also: Prehistoric encounters on Cairn Gorm; Warm things from cold countries; In Orkney, there are seals at the bottom of the garden

23 Comments leave one →
  1. maryz permalink
    January 28, 2011 10:11 pm

    Good luck on getting to Greenland. We went to Iceland last year, and loved it. We had lovely weather, though, since we were there in July. Some of the group went on to Greenland, but we headed to England instead.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      January 28, 2011 11:18 pm

      Well, that’s closer than I’ve got – I’ve never been to Iceland. I’m not sure if I could cope with Greenland in July, mind you: I find the lack of true darkness, even in the Scottish midsummer, makes me tired and crabby. Maybe we could go in Spring or Autumn. (The smoke from my pipe dream is growing more elaborate…!)

  2. Deb permalink
    January 28, 2011 11:22 pm

    We woke up to -17F this past week, with windchills of -27F, so I can’t say that the arctic sounds very good to me right now. Unless, of course, if it would be warmer.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      January 28, 2011 11:47 pm

      I just took a quick peek at the current weather conditions for Greenland. It looks like most places are around plus 13 to 15F, with only a couple of places listed as -18. Maybe you ought to think about moving…! I don’t envy you living in that sort of cold, I have to admit.

  3. January 29, 2011 12:54 am

    I think you’re right about the cold, and narwhals are a good argument too (although you probably won’t see them…?!
    I personally never have been colder than in Ireland at plus five degrees celsius. The humidity was just bone chilling. I must admit, I love, love, love that country (we had some wonderful sailing there!), but man – what a climate!
    Actually: Both Scotland and Iceland are at the top of our list…we’ll see what it’s going to be this year! Oh, and when it comes to southern European sun: Have you ever thought about Galicia in Spain? Wonderful. And with good food. Whatever it’s going to be – have a lot of planning fun…!

    Hope your younger one gets well soon…poor aching toes and all!

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      January 29, 2011 12:03 pm

      Funnily enough we have thought of Galicia. It’s interesting to hear that you enjoyed your visit. We both appreciate ‘Celtic’ folk music – I’m married to a piper – and as a fluent Spanish speaker, my husband is always looking for an excuse to go back to Spain. We might indeed get there one day.

      I do know what you mean about damp cold. It feels colder here now, when it’s been damp and chill (around 2 to 4C) than when it was well below freezing in December. I hope that the weather is kind to you if you do choose to come to Scotland this year!

  4. January 29, 2011 11:15 am

    Well … “Snap!” as they say. I have always described myself as a Northern Latitude Lass; not for me the Mediterranean beaches or palm trees!

    If you can’t get to Greenland here are some other ideas (keeping in mind boys like to be outside and busy):
    [1] it is possible to get accommodation in converted lighthouses, or former lighthouse outbuildings
    [2] there are yachts (big, medium, modern or wooden) that run charters out of, say, Oban. Ever been to St Kilda? Get someone to head for Rockall, the Flannan Isles, Monach Isles if weather permits. Go to where there are the remains of old whaling stations on the west coast (Soay, Bunabhainneadarr)
    [3] National Trust accommodation is another possibility e.g. Canna. Goodness, I have just discovered that the NT have lighthouse accommodation!

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      January 29, 2011 12:05 pm

      Glad I’m not the only one, I sometimes think there must be something odd about my preferring cold countries!

      Thanks for these great ideas. Never been to St.Kilda but my husband is mildly obsessed with getting there one day. And lighthouses are a great idea – what a memorable holiday that would be!

  5. January 30, 2011 2:04 am

    Hi Beastie: I’m for spring myself and maple syrup time which begins in another couple of weeks. I love the lingering light of a northern summer, and from my front doorstep on ocassion I have seen northern lights displays that rival your picture. But nothing is as cruel as the damp bone chilling -18C we had for a few days last week coupled with a strong northwest wind – gaack! you would have laughed yourself silly at a tall elderly and somewhat plump lady in two layers of clothes – fleece pj’s under my day clothes with it all topped off by a nordic fleece night robe and a handknit fuschia cap tied under my chin – this was in the day – the cap came with me to bed along with several hot water bottles – but when it gets to be 30C next summer I would cheerfully stow away with you to Greenland!
    BTW hope the young son is better – I thought I had erased all memories of children and cats and dogs puking, but I guess that is indelibly etched on all mothers’ brains.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      February 1, 2011 11:32 am

      Thank you for painting a delightful picture of you battling the elements!

  6. January 30, 2011 4:38 pm

    I love cold places too, and would love to get up to Iceland or Lapland, or Greenland; I don’t think it’s odd at all!
    I did finally try dog sledding last winter when I went back to Canada to see family at Christmas, though. I had heard so much about it from all the French people I was teaching English to when we lived in Paris. They were all going on these trips to Canada to do really “Canadian” things, so I was feeling like I wasn’t measuring up, not having gone dog sledding myself (but at least I have childhood memories of skidoo-ing across frozen lakes. I think that must be rather Canadian!). I never had thought to look before, but I found places near my mother’s house where you can hire dogs and everything…. it was nice.

    I do hope you get to go on a great Northern adventure some time soon, and also that your son is feeling better.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      February 1, 2011 5:00 pm

      My Canadian cousins always talked about skidoo-ing, so I certainly think of it as particularly Canadian. So often though, as you say, we don’t do the archetypal ‘native’ things of our own country until we’ve been away from it long enough to appreciate it. One of the reasons I like having foreign visitors here is it gives me the opportunity to play the tourist in my own land. (Though I’m quite keen to get back to Canada one day too!)

  7. January 31, 2011 1:22 pm

    My wee Scottish Granny has just arrived for her hols – She is certainly making the most of the sunshine!… I don’t think I could do Scotland in the Winter any more – although it does look beautiful.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      February 1, 2011 5:04 pm

      They do claim that living in a hot country ‘thins the blood’, although I’m sure there’s no scientific foundation to that old tea-planters’ theory! I grew up in the tropics and, although I sure feel the cold more than my husband, I absolutely relish cold winters. In fact I just love all the turning seasons of a temperate climate. Each to their own! Hope your Granny enjoys her winter sun.

  8. January 31, 2011 7:21 pm

    I’m with you there! Top of my list is Svalbard, followed by the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Faroes, a return visit to Shetland…bottom of my list are Hong Kong, Dubai, Thailand (with apologies to any of your readers who live there!).
    If you’re thinking of Spain, we loved the French Basque country this summer, even tho Basque was impenetrable to us. Green, mountainous, wild, great food.
    There are a few Shetland photos on my blog to tempt you – look in the labels cloud. I’ve been twice – once as an accompanying parent on a school orchestra trip that my son was on, and then the following year on a family holiday because he and I loved it so much. We had 1 day of rain in the 2 weeks we were there, and came home wind and sun burned. The children were swimming in the sea, impervious to the cold.

    We go as often as we can to Norway, and are overdue for return visits to Sweden and Finland. Since my husband I got engaged in Sweden, we’re quite fond of it!

    Hope your wean improves soon. It’s definitely the season. My daughter is sitting Highers prelims just now and I’m crossing my fingers that a bug doesn’t strike.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      February 1, 2011 5:06 pm

      Oh, you definitely have the northern bug, probably worse than me! Everyone I know who has been to Shetland has loved it. Svalbard is on my list too! My husband loves the Basque country and is still trying to get me there…

  9. February 1, 2011 2:21 pm

    M and I went a couple of years back to Norway to see the Northern Lights, was one of my best holidays ever, so very much on your wavelength with this post! (though I never say no to a beach either!)

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      February 1, 2011 5:06 pm

      Just a teeny bit jealous here…! 😉

  10. February 1, 2014 7:35 am

    It is certainly worth the trip. We lived for about six years or so, on and off, in northern Sweden, about two hundred miles South of the Polar Circle. It is indeed magical in winter, albeit no less beautiful in short, intense summer. The light reflecting on the snow and ice make it incredibly bright in winter and the dry snow is nothing like the normal slushy mush associated with the UK. We had temps down to minus 40 but, as you say, if you have the correct clothing it’s no real problem. In addition, the lovely wooden houses are so well insulated and heated that, again, it is no difficulty. Lycka till, as they say up that way!

    • February 2, 2014 12:25 am

      That sounds just heavenly, Iain. I read your comment out to my husband and he said, ‘right, shall we move, then?’! Scotland’s two bright, snowy, very cold winters of a few years ago had such a different quality of light to this one. I found them so invigorating and uplifting, and the snow stayed pristine here for weeks in the cold, just as you describe in northern Sweden. If Scotland had winters like that every year, (and properly insulated homes to match!) I’d be a very happy snow bunny.


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