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Inspired by the Arctic at the British Museum

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Although our wanderlust is still limited to armchair travels, you only need to wait until the end of lockdown to go and enjoy the British Museum's Arctic: Culture and Climate exhibition, guaranteed to whet your appetite for an Arctic journey.

Whilst Antarctica has no indigenous residents, the Arctic has been home to rich cultures for nearly 30,000 years. This fascinating exhibition reveals how various peoples have lived in and off this beautiful land. The Arctic has 400,000 indigenous inhabitants belonging to 40 different cultural groups which include the Sámi from Northern Europe, the Nenets, Mansi and Khanty, and Nganasan from north-west Russia, the Evenki, Even, Sakha and Dolgan from north-central Siberia, the Yukaghir, Koryak, Chukchi and Siberian Yupik from the Russian Far East, Aleuts, Alutiit, Yupiit, and Inupiat from Alaska, the Gwich'in bordering Alaska and Canada, Inuit groups from Canada and Greenland, and more.

Covering art and artefacts, jewellery, food, hunting, fishing, trapping, clothing, transport and culture, the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the resourcefulness of those who live within the Arctic Circle. It reveals high levels of adaptability being stretched to the limit not so much by climate change itself, but by the speed of it.

British Museum Arctic exhibition

Wonderful use of sound and light bring a mystical and magical feel to the exhibition, with recordings of traditional songs and instruments, whilst the light gradually changes, reflecting the glimmering darkness of the winter months and the nearly permanent daylight at the height of the summer.

These seasonal changes are reflected in the behaviour of the people, busily taking advantage of the summer's abundance to store and stockpile, whilst using the winter months to carve, sew and fashion, using every single resource to contribute to their lifestyle. Extraordinary video footage is used throughout the exhibition to give further insight into the way of life.

What the exhibition reveals is that the Arctic is not just about the snow and ice: the glorious scenery will take your breath away, there is much to learn about the wildlife, and above all the indigenous people have a fascinating and rich history and culture.

Local man in Qaanaq, Greenland

Once you get a taste for travel in the Arctic, there are so many options open to you, and this is a region that can be most easily visited by ship. Your first visit might be to the glorious Svalbard archipelago, where you seek out polar bears and walrus, and sail the edge of the northern ice cap.

Greenland beckons, with amazing fjords, glaciers and mountains, and a rich culture of myth and legend. You can follow in the footsteps of the great explorers as you seek out a route from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of the North West Passage. On the western end, explore the far reaches of western Alaska, visiting the Aleutian Islands stretching across the North Pacific, with an extraordinary abundance of bird life.

Polar bear in Svalbard

The spectacular volcanic scenery of the Sea of Okhotsk and the Kamchatka Peninsula, not to mention the marine life, will make the Russian Far East an unforgettable visit, and intrepid visitors are now able, on rare occasions, to join a ship here and set forth through the legendary North East Passage, a long and remote journey along the north coast of Siberia from the Pacific to the White Sea and the wilds of northern Europe. On one such cruise there were no fewer than 86 polar bear sightings!

Northern fur seals in the Sea of Okhotsk, Russian Far East

The increase in the number of state-of-the-art expedition vessels, specifically built to minimise their impact on the environment, with outstanding learning opportunities combined with a high level of comfort, means that the Arctic is now within the reach of many curious travellers. If you've been inspired by the Arctic, then do get in touch with us to discuss your travel plans.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Adventures.

More about Edwina

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