By Andrew Matheson
This is definite bucket list material. Our train travelling north on Sweden’s Inlandsbanan railway stopped in the middle of the wilderness next to a sign and a line of painted rocks. What’s the fuss? After travelling more than 1,200 km on this train we had reached what in Sweden is known as the Polcirkeln, and what we call the Arctic Circle.
This is more than an arbitrary point to indicate we’re getting closer to the North Pole (which is still more than 2,500 km away). It is the most southerly point in the northern hemisphere at which you can see the midnight sun, where for one day of the year the sun is still above the horizon at midnight. (It’s also the most southerly point at which, for one day of the year in midwinter, the sun never rises.) As we travel further north the midnight sun period gets longer: a few weeks more only 100 km further north, and of course about six months if we were to reach the North Pole.
I’m not sure how long the sign and the rocks have been here, but unless someone moves them every year then we weren’t on the exact site of the Arctic Circle. The earth wobbles a little on its axis thanks to the moon’s pull on the oceans, and the Arctic Circle is drifting north at about 12 metres each year. But we did cross the exact line at some point on our rail journey through Sweden’s interior.
The weather has conspired against us actually seeing the sun at midnight. On a special trip up Mount Dundret late at night we saw only the inside of clouds, even though it was still daylight. When we got back to our hotel at Gallivare, well after midnight, though the sky was overcast there was no need for streetlights in the small hours of the morning.
So far, no luck. We have a few more days to try and glimpse the sun that never sets. Regardless of what cards the weather plays, it is fascinating being this far north and understanding how extremes of daylight hours influence people’s lifestyles.
Above: A blustery and cloudy midnight on Mt Dundret.