Making places in Antarctica: history, science, and territories

I've commented before that so many human-made places in the far South are ugly buildings sitting in magnificent landscapes. We called at Esperanza station in Hope Bay, on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula: it's a busy research base and a stamp of Argentina's territorial claims, a scatter of red corrugated metal underneath the fossil filled hills.

Hope Bay is also where three men of the Nordenskjold expedition spent the winter. They build this little stone hut to survive, which is now preserved. It is tiny, full of holes and of course in winter will be barely above the snow. Yet they established scientific enquiry here and survived to reach Snow Hill Island and rescue, Built from the local materials, it fits the landscape but would be unbelievably uncomfortable. I quite see why the buildings behind it are red (visible in a whiteout) but why they have to be scattered almost randomly, unadorned save by national flags, beats me

Hope Bay itself is a rocky but beautiful anchorage. It has one of the very few navigation lights in Antarctica, maintained by the Argentinian base, but the only way ashore is via small boats onto the steep slipway. The Navy people stationed here look inland, skiing and trekking rather than travelling by sea.

Grytviken, on South Georgia, was founded as an industrial whaling site by Carl Anton Larsen. Today there is a science base here (at King Edward Point), but the curve of the bay is where the main factory was sited. The remains lie scattered around, rusting and protected. The  Petrel's harpoon gun mounted on her bows points inland, away from the killing fields.

Some of that industrial past is striking. The factory ran on steam: three of the brick-lined kilns which generated the power still survive, though most of the overhead pipes are gone. They produced more steam than they could use, so these vent-bricks were used to avoid explosion. 

Anyone who lives in Cardiff (as I do) is familiar with the Norwegian Church built on the edge of the Bay for the spiritual sustenance of sailors. Larsen cared about his prayers and brought this familiar church flat-packed from Norway. It looked like home to him, and strangely enough to me too. 

He obviously also cared about his coffee. This wee building was built especially for roasting and grinding coffee for the factory. It is sweet, combining practicality with a pleasure in the look of the thing. I don't expect there is any way to make the grisly, stinking business of whale butchery and rendering an attractive sight, though Larsen obviously cared about the non-industrial parts of his settlement. He was committed to Grytviken as his home, not only a place of seasonal employment: maybe that is why he bothered. I would say again, though, that transience is not  a good enough reason for the  messy bases blotted across Antarctica.

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