The Arctic Circle is easily considered as one of the more inhospitable climes on the planet, Visions of months of darkness, vast empty swathes of bleak and barren tundra, eye-wateringly low temperatures, and the presence of mysterious and fearsome wildlife, is usually enough to dissuade the curious traveller. However, it is between these parameters, that it is not only possible, but almost inevitable that the beauty of this wilderness can be found.
The northernmost region of Finnish Lapland is relatively low on most travellers’ radar, the more dramatic Nordic countries, such as Norway or Iceland, have a much more explosive appeal and, thus, draw the travellers in vast numbers. However, it is upon occasion that the path less travelled can often yield the greater sense of reward, in that one has to look harder, and past the showstopper locations, to find a sense of tranquillity and quiet beauty.
The first breath taken in the morning, over a steaming cup of hot coffee, fills the lungs with an icy blast of the purest air that one could hope for, a pure white blanket of perma-snow softens the landscape, and receives the smooth and subtle tones of Polar Night, painting the gentle rolling hills in the most sublime palette of pastel purples and pinks. The sun sets in early December, and won’t rise again until the end of January. Whilst the radiance of the sun is not felt, one can find solace in the array of subdued colours that exist in hours of twilight. The silence can be almost deafening, however clichéd that may sound. Never has the sound of one’s own breath, or the gentle squeak and crunch of fresh snow underfoot seemed so apparent. It is this heightening of the senses, that allows the visitor to immerse themselves fully in this sublime Arctic landscape.
Yet on occasion, there is life that breaks the deep silence. In early winter, the lakes creak and groan as the ice forms; what might appear as a lifeless skating rink is bursting with energy under the surface, fish continue to swim beneath the insulating blanket of snow and ice. Hardy birds continue to prise the last nutrients from the seemingly endless pine forests, jumping from branch to branch, causing a thud as snow laden branches dispense of their load onto the ground below. Across a lake a herd of reindeer may pass, walking in careful formation to minimise the exertion of breaking trail. Foxes and stoats scurry through the forest, searching for prey that exists underneath the insulating blanket of snow.
Whilst these moments exist in the brief daytime, it is at night that the Arctic truly comes alive. As twilight fades, the bright twinkle of stars arrives to the North. It seems only a matter of minutes, until the skies are awash with a dazzling array of light. Around a new moon, the darkness is indescribably deep, drawing in your attention. It is at this moment, that one can hope to witness one of the most spectacular phenomena on the planet.
Although the sun is not seen for many weeks, the effects of its power are still most apparent. Ejected solar particles, carrying an electrical charge, are projected towards the earth and, upon collision with the atmosphere, result in a light show incomparable to anything else on this planet. Whilst initially attracted to the magnetic poles of the planet, with only a minor fluctuation in the polarity, the sky appears to catch alight with flares of green and pink, swirls and pillars of dancing light. This is the true magic of the Arctic, the seemingly dormant landscape set on fire by an explosion of colour that draws the breath from your lungs. These displays of solar activity can disappear in minutes, or on rare occasions, paint upon the dark sky for hours on end, an ever changing, morphing wonder, a bewitching force, blessing those brave enough to withstand the elements, delivering a reward so great, that the rest of the world has yet to find an answer.