In tonight’s instalment of Davina McCall: Life at the Extreme, the plucky presenter embarks on an Arctic adventure. She tracks polar bears, spots snow foxes and endures the harshness of the polar climate – even in spring, temperatures fall well below 10°C.
Fair play to Davina, she’s pretty game. She treks for five hours on a snowmobile across the frozen deserts of Svalbard in Norway, dips her hands into the frozen sea (to test whether blubber really is an insulator – it is) and finally comes face-to-face with a polar bear (or the “iconic” bear as she keeps calling it).
She also spends a night in a remote cabin where she is taught to fire a pistol to scare off polar bears should she be disturbed while making a dash outside for a pee. She practices with the weapon but adamantly refuses to contemplate the idea of such a nighttime foray. Who can blame her, eh?
It’s heady stuff.
But you don’t have to be an intrepid TV presenter to experience life in the extreme cold. In fact, you don’t even have to be an adult. I have just come back from a holiday lodge in Lulea in northern Sweden, which specifically caters for families with children as young as four – and it was a (icy) blast.
First things, first: there are no polar bears in this part of the world. You are just 50 miles from the Arctic Circle – where you get 24 hours of daylight in summer, and 24 hours of darkness in winter. Polar bears, I was assured, lived at least 400 miles further north in Norway (near Davina) and Finland, which meant we didn’t have to go to the loo with a weapons-training manual.
We stayed at Brandon Lodge, which is about 20 miles from Lulea, Sweden’s largest northerly city. Brandon Lodge is by the sea – which is frozen in winter – and overlooks a string of islands dotted with holiday homes. In the summer, it gets quite warm, but for us it was all about the bracing cold.
The lodge is a collection of snug, four-person wooden cabins congregated around a large wooden building where you eat and can get Wi-Fi. The cooking is excellent – a delicious mixture of soups, reindeer stew and fish dishes – but there is not a huge amount of choice so picky eaters may be disappointed. There’s also a kitchen in each cabin where you can cook for yourself, and a kettle for an early morning warmer.
Despite the freezing cold outside, it is balmy within. The owners stock an impressive and thorough array of kit, including snow suits, boots, hats, gloves and mittens, for really cold days and trips. And the trips are what it is really about…
Yes, you can take a pack of huskies out. One parent and children sit on the sledge, while the other parent takes the reins, and off you go – on a 14-mile ride through stunning forestry, frozen lakes and fields. The dogs absolutely love it (so please don’t feel guilty about being ferried around) and it is astonishingly easy to do. All you have to do is master the brake that stops the huskies in their tracks and remember to engage it when you make pitstops (the dogs need to eat before they go and they also need to defecate… a lot). The family running the trips are friendly and helpful and they love their dogs. They really love their dogs. And you will too.
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If you like a more automotive mode of transport, you can also take a snowmobile out of Brandon Lodge. The Swedes are a pretty relaxed bunch so you are just shown the accelerator and the brake, and told not to go above 50kph and to follow the tracks left by your guide. Then you career across the frozen Baltic, visiting various islands and stopping for hot chocolate and cinnamon buns – a staple of the Swedish tradition of “fika” or mid-morning snack. It’s an especially welcome pitstop in this part of the world.
The kids really enjoy this one. You snow-mobile about 1km across the frozen Baltic outside the lodge, drill a hole about five feet down into the ice, dangle a line down there and wait, sitting on the reindeer skins that are provided. Even the most inept fisherman or woman will be able to make a catch – probably a Roach, which isn’t the tastiest of fish but tastes like heaven when cooked on the fire your hosts have made for you. As my four-year-old observed, it was like being a real-life Pingu.
Dinner on the ice
A snow mobile ride at night and food cooked on an open fire while you are swaddled in reindeer skins. One for the romantics and an unforgettable experience. If you are lucky (and we weren’t sadly – it was cloudy the whole five days we were there), you’ll see the Northern Lights.
Well, this is Sweden after all. The lodge has a very cosy and clean sauna and outdoor hot tub (you have to book the hot tub). Hardy souls (and that includes me) roll in the snow before heading back into the heat. It’s exhilarating.
Yes, the lodge also has a hovercraft which whizzes you across the frozen sea ice to the islands. You can travel much further afield, exploring the many little havens that are holiday homes in the summer but locked up in the winter. It is slightly eerie but the backdrops are breathtaking, especially if you catch an Arctic sunset.
Essentials: Brandon Lodge’s Frozen Archipelago Adventure costs from £1,495 per adult and £1,080 per child, including return flights (London to Lulea, via Stockholm) airport transfers, four nights’ full-board accommodation, icefishing, husky safari, snow fun, hovercraft tour, Northern Lights snowmobile sledge tour with wilderness dinner, cold weather clothing, fully qualified guides. Minimum age 4 years. Call Activities Abroad, tel: 01670 789991, www.activitiesabroad.com
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