Tuesday 30 April 2013

London Overnight

Tower Bridge on the River Thames, one of London’s icons was opened for Fram to pass to her overnight mooring.  Celebration drinks were served on deck.   Crowds waved from the shore, their  daily business stopped while we passed.  
The photos show the story of the journey  upstream England’s longest river:  Industry, the Thames Barrier, the Millenium Dome,  Greenwich College and Park, the Cutty Sark, the new Shard building and finally the Bridge itself.  
A quick dinner, then guests set out to see London by night.  A great end to a cruise.

Monday 29 April 2013

What a Blink

Newcastle’s Millenium Bridge is the first in the world that opens like the blink of an eyelid. When raised, the normally horizontal pedestrian and cycle path is 25 metres above the River Tyne, allowing vessels to pass.

Out of the city centre, the huge Angel of the North statue welcomes those arriving by road and rail.
Durham is set above a different river, the Wear.  A medieval Cathedral built as a shrine to St. Cuthbert at its centre. Across a green space, Durham Castle built as residence for Prince Bishops who ruled the area for some time from the fourteenth century.
The place that is now Newcastle was first called Pons Aelius after the family name of Roman Emperor Hadrian. The 117 kilometre wall built in the Second Century AD was also named after him and forms part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chester’s Fort was placed astride the wall, outside of which is the well preserved bath house, and a civil settlement which has yet to be excavated.

Bridge tours, lectures and the Captain's Cocktail reception took afternoon into evening, all in wonderful sunshine.

Sunday 28 April 2013

An Evening after Edinburgh

Bernie & Beastie have been hosting ‘Whisky with Entertainment’ Evenings bringing knowledge and wit to the Panorama Lounge after dinner. Tonight guests sampled three Cambeltown single malts.

Moored at Leith, next to Britannia the former Royal Yacht, for most of the day, guests made the short journey to see the City of Edinburgh and its Castle, or ventured further to Stirling and Scone.

Now open as a museum, the Royal Yacht sailed over 1 million miles around the world in the 44 years before her retirement, having called at over 600 ports in 135 countries.
Exiting Leith through its lock, and sailing on, gannets were returning in large numbers as we passed Bass rock, an important British sea bird colony.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Orcadian Sights

St. Magnus Cathedral dominates the skyline approaching the harbour. Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkney. This group of over 70 islands and skerries was first written of the Orkneyinga Saga of 1046. Less than one third are inhabited, but the population today is growing again, after a considerable decline leading up to the 1970’s.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is the largest landowner, a range of habitats exist are found within close proximity from cliffs to marshes, moors and maritime heath. A haven and breeding for many species. And for those migrating to and from the Arctic each year, the perfect spot for a break.
Visits included sights from a range of era in local history. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney including Skara Brae village and the Ring of Brodgar stone circle are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Skaill House, home to its Lairds for twelve generations and now open to see a family home of the 1950’s. Highland Park Distillery was combined with the 20th Century history of sheltered inlet Scapa Flow. The Italian Chapel was created by World War 2 prisoners of war sent to Orkney to build the Churchill Barriers.
In town, built in French Renaissance style in 1600, the ruin of the Earl’s Palace stands next to the red limestone Cathedral, in which sits a memorial to John Rae.

This year is the bi-cenntenial of the birth of this discoverer of the North West Passage. Recruited to the Hudson’s Bay Company, his time in Canada working closely with the Inuit resulting in his passion for Arctic exploration. Kirkwall’s pilot boat is named after him. The harbour pilot climbing down onto it after his work on the bridge was finished.
Pianist Ralf plays regularly in the Lounge, including today at Afternoon Waffles. But this evening he also took to the stage to sing works of German songwriter Udo Jurgens, as a prelude to the Fruit & Ice Carving.

Friday 26 April 2013


The Shetland Isles are the most northerly part of the British Isles, populated by around 22,000 humans but many more birds and mammals.

Mousa Island is a bird reserve.  Its 13 metre high Iron Age broch is considered the best preserved in the world.  Surviving more or less as built, it is thought that the many loose stones available meant that it was never plundered for construction material.

A mainland drive took guests to the Neolithic remains and settlements from the Bronze and Iron Ages found at Jarlshof as well as introducing Shetland culture and farming.
Now in the boutique, and featured in the evening Fashion Show new arrivals of colourful Helly Hansen outdoor wear. The story of Helly Hansen began in 1877. After many years at sea, Norweigan Captain Helly Juell Hansen and his wife Maren Margarethe began producing oilskin jackets, trousers, sou’ westers and tarpaulins, made from coarse linen soaked in linseed oil. This waterproof gear became an immediate success and still is today. 

Thursday 25 April 2013

Coffee and Cake at Kviknes

Kviknes Hotel is the most prominent feature of Balestrand, elegant on the outside and a comfortable stop since the early days of tourism. Fram’s guests stopped here for morning coffee and cake after a walk of the historic sites.

Ciderhuset hosted a tasting of their products, and later those hiking with the Expedition Team returned through their orchards from the hills above the strand. Reaching a viewpoint high above Sognefjord the combination of snow, sun, plants and birdsong in the forest added to the pleasure of walking
Leaving Norway by afternoon the course was set to cross to the Shetland Islands passing the oils rigs of the Troll Field.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Sognefjord in Sunshine and Snow

Fram slipped into the Nærøyford at breakfast time for a look at this special part of the fjord system. Turning at Gudvangen at its head, it was clear that this year Spring is very late, even at sea level there are still parts to defrost.
At Flåm, as always the Flåmsbana rail excursion was popular. Storms overnight had left deep powder snow at higher elevations. The waterfall stop was magical. At the summit of Myrdal, the mainline Bergen-Oslo track on the adjacent platform was totally invisible. Suddenly, and almost silently an engine emerged from the tunnel, the plough on the front doing its job effortlessly. The connection to Aurlandsfjord from Bergen made, the return to Fram was without delay despite the now blizzard conditions.
Moving on to another arm of the Sognefjord, bright sunshine finally emerged, lighting the snow capped mountains, and making for a pleasant walk to an evening visit.   Another UNESCO listed treasure, built for private use by a powerful family, Urnes Stave Church is perched on a hill above Lustrafjord. One of the oldest and best preserved examples of the few still standing, the church warden explained the fine details found both inside and out.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Into Hardangerfjord

Exploring Hardangerfjord the Polarcirkles have been in use again. The weather was unkind for a large part of the day but there were at least some indoor options ashore.   At Ulvik, the landing is at Brakanes Hotel, with a welcoming lobby and large conservatory facing the fjord. There has been a hotel on this scenic spot for 153 years, the first building of 1860 had just four rooms.
The thirteenth century stave church here was pulled down in 1710, and its replacement had the same fate in 1858. The third and present church of Ulvik was completed in 1859, the pretty painted decoration dating to 1923.  Surviving valuables from the medieval church are in museums, in replacement a copy of the alterfront of 1250 hangs on the wall.
After lunch we landed at Agatunet on the western shores of Sørfjorden. This hamlet of 30 buildings dating from the Middle Ages to the present is one of the few remaining group farms in Norway. The buildings, local costume collection and fjord marine life all explained by local guides.
The Court of Appeals lodge built around 1250 is the oldest medieval building of its kind in Norway that is still standing on its original site.   Huge tree trunks make up the walls, and the later metalwork features on the door to the main room.