Once British sailors were a big part of the whaling industry in the southern hemisphere.
Now only rusting buildings and ship skeletons remain, where once thriving whaling stations were, writes Adam Nicholson.
The abandoned whaling station at Leith Harbour on South Georgia in the south Atlantic looks as if it has been bombed.
Rusty steel chimneys lie collapsed across the roadways.
Power plants and dormitory blocks lie half-smashed, their innards spilling out through the walls – cast-iron beds and baths, piping and wiring, cushions and mattresses all now leaking into the freezing air.
Some of the huge steel cylinders of the whale oil tanks, 30ft high and 30ft across, have had their sides folded in, as if by a giant hand. But these are just the effects of time and the brutal winds of the Southern Ocean.
It is not somewhere you would ever like to be alone. The winds that hurl off the mountains of this sub-Antarctic island, 800 miles east of the Falklands, on the same latitude as Cape Horn, make the whole place creak and groan.
Rusted corrugated sheets screech against their fixings, doors slam open and shut, the ventilator cowls on the giant processor plants still turn in the wind as they have done since the place was finally abandoned and left to the elements in 1965.
No-one is there now because Leith Harbour, like most of the other whaling stations on South Georgia, is strictly off-limits.
The collapsing structures are too dangerous and the asbestos in which the whale processing machinery is still wrapped makes the enclosed places too toxic. The South Georgia government – this is one of Britain’s few remaining overseas territories – had to give us permission to film in this breathtaking time-capsule of a forgotten way of British life.
And we had to be accompanied by Tommy Moore, a Yorkshireman familiar with asbestos safety, and dressed in full protective gear.
Gaping Gill is the largest underground cave chamber in Britain.
It’s often said, without exaggeration, that this dramatic chamber is big enough to fit a cathedral.
It is so big that there has been an attempt to fly a hot air balloon inside the cave. The vertical main shaft from the surface to the floor of the chamber is about 98m deep and normally contains a substantial waterfall, the route by which the surface stream, Fell Beck, finds its way to the chamber floor.
The chamber and the extensive cave system it is a part of are usually only accessible to experienced and properly equipped cave explorers.
But for two separate weeks of the year (around the August and late May public holidays) two local caving clubs provide a winch to allow members of the public to be lowered down the shaft on a boatswain’s chair, and later winched out again.
Once inside you can just explore the chamber, or the slightly more adventurous can enter some of the easier and closer passages of the 16.6km cave system.
It’s a good idea to wear waterproof clothing as the winch passes you through the spray from the towering waterfall.
Keith Bellows, Editor in Chief, National Geographic Travel
When I was growing up, Quebec City was something of an also-ran compared to Montreal, its brasher, more idiosyncratic sibling and my hometown. My family would often drive the 150 miles up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, and as a kid I recall coming away a little underwhelmed. I
t seemed so dutiful and reserved next to the “sin city,” as Montreal was known. Sure, Quebec City could lay claim to a marginally more storied history—symbolized by the star-shaped Citadelle and the once bloody Plains of Abraham, where the British and French clashed over control of what would become Canada. But next to Montreal it lacked panache.
Notre-Dame de Quebec – Photograph by Susan Seubert
No more. These days the cities have reached a comfortable détente over which has the most to offer. They are simply different. Quebec City’s warren of cobblestone streets, hulking Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, and Upper and Lower Towns are backdrop to its francophone fashion shops, chansons echoing off centuries-old cut-stone buildings, and air heavy with thick Québécois accents—a combination that’s unique in all North America. The food has gone from pedestrian to a superbly traditional force of gustatory nature (many dishes draw on local ingredients).
Raclette – Photograph by Susan Seubert
When it turned 400 years old in 2008, Quebec City also seemed to turn a corner. Now it is a truly modern city with old bones. My advice: Learn a little French, try it out on the residents, and you’ll enter a world where the locals will help you unlock the keys to street-level Old France.
Burrowing hundreds of feet into the second-largest glacier in Europe, the world’s largest system of ice tunnels and spaces (including a chapel and cafe and exhibit spaces) are being excavated to connect visitors with a massive natural blue-ice cavern buried deep beneath the surface of Iceland.
This incredible complex is set to open within the next few months – just in time for a summer vacation.
Set inside Lanjoekull (Long Glacier), the Ice Cave rests on hundreds of feet of ice and is set nearly 5,000 feet above sea level – naturally, its location within a glacier means it can be accessed year-round.
Combined with its record-breaking size, these factors make it unique among global ice architecture projects.
Part of the raging River Wharf, the Bolton Strid is a picturesque stretch of river that looks like the type of place one might find fairies frolicking in the heath.
But just beneath the surface is a natural booby trap that has claimed a number of lives.
Around the area of the Strid, the River Wharf runs between two banks of mossy boulders, looking more like a stream or a creek than a rushing river, but travel just upstream of the spot and you will see that the waterway expands into a proper river, some 30-feet across with frothing currents and waves.
The reason the Strid is so thin is not because they’ve ended up running off course of the river, but because the waters simply change orientation.
Instead of flowing in a wide horizontal course, the waters begin to flow vertically in the tight shaft created by the natural rock.
This change in orientation has created a deceptively deep and powerful current, even carving out some area beneath the shore rocks to create a void where debris (and people) in the water can be trapped.
Indeed while there do not seem to be any hard numbers about exactly how many people have perished in the Strid, the local legend is that no one who has dared enter the waters has ever made it out alive.
The caves and naturally carved traps laying just under the surface of the photo ready river have been claiming lives for centuries.
Nonetheless, the hiking trail that takes people near the Strid is still a popular place to stroll. Today there are signs up all around warning of the river’s hidden dangers. Even with these in place, it seems unlikely that the bloodlust of the Bolton Strid has been sated.
The Orthodox church has always had a knack for picking spectacular locations for its sacred buildings, and Meteora is no exception.
Even if it weren’t the location of the second most important monastery complex in Greece, Meteora would still be a site worthy of awe.
In the foothills of the Pindus mountains, above the central Greek plains of Thessaly, is a series of geological wonders that stick out from the ground.
The name Meteora means “suspended in the air” or “suspended rocks” and it is appropriate. Wind, water, and the harsh temperatures have carved out a series of gigantic sandstone pillars, some of them hundreds of meters high.
The first hermit monks appeared in this area as early as the 11th century, however the monastery complex only began to flourish after the Ottoman conquest of Byzantine empire in 1453.
Due to persecution and concern about the Ottomans, orthodox monks sought refuge in increasingly remote locations. What better place to establish a monastery then in, as Meteora is sometimes translated, “the heavens above”?
To gain access to the monastery one originally had to climb a series of ladders tied together or be dragged up via a large net. According to the monks the ropes up to Meteora were only replaced “when the Lord let them break.”
Today steps have been carved into the rock and a bridge built from a nearby plateau.
At its peak the complex included 20 monasteries, however only six of them remain today; five are for men only, and the sixth for women.
Great Meteora is the largest and most often visited by tourists.