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Brett's Guest Story ­­­­­– Secret Atlas Review

Brett’s Guest Story ­­­­­– Secret Atlas Review

I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world in my time, and I guess that’s not as impressive as it sounds as I am now 73 years old, but nonetheless, I have been lucky enough to travel to many countries mostly competing in racing dinghies. Since I was a young boy, my life has revolved around sailing but it’s never brought me to the polar regions.

My experience of travelling has consisted mostly of packing a car badly last minute, bundling the kids and dogs into the back, missing the ferry we’ve booked and pitching up a tent in the wind and rain. When I looked at the voyages with Secret Atlas, I knew this was going to be something entirely different to what I was used to and I was doing this with my daughter. As she’s grown up now, it’s been some years since we went on an adventure together – though this time, I had a feeling she might be the one looking after me.

Sophie and Brett Dingwall on a hike during an expedition in Svalbard

It’s some years ago now that I was diagnosed with leukaemia, which stopped me in my tracks. My existence for many, many months was four walls inside a hospital room and for anyone who’s experienced anything similar will I’m sure agree it profoundly changes your perspectives on life. I’ve never booked an organised expedition, never been on a holiday that didn’t evolve racing in some form or travelled in a group with strangers. To be totally honest, I wouldn’t really know where to start but I thought it sounded like an opportunity too good to be missed.

From the moment we arrived, it was obvious to me this was more than a job to the team involved, this was a way of life and something they were genuinely passionate about – everything about their demeanour, attitude and language reflected this.

Each day I woke up, pulled back the curtains in my cabin and couldn’t believe where I was. I always thought of the Arctic to be white and bitterly cold, I imagined a scene from a Christmas card, but the landscapes constantly differed. Red mountains, sandy beaches one day. Iridescent icebergs stitched together like a tapestry as far as the horizon the next. Sometimes it was hard to believe we were in the same country day to day.

Brett Dingwall on glacier in Svalbard

People ask me questions like, what’s the best thing you saw or what’s your top highlight and it’s not a simple answer for me. I was shocked at just how much wildlife and flora flourished in what is a baron, rugged, harsh environment. It was simply incredible to watch a polar bear walk the coastline with her pup – we watched as he would get easily distracted and bumble a little, assuming he’s still learning the use of his huge paws. But for me, the dramatic scenery, the fresh dry cold air and the orchestra of the Arctic made it all that much better.

One morning we visited a glacier on the zodiacs. It was a gloriously sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. The only sign of ‘weather’ was a heavy fog which bared no threat to us, hugging the mountainside at low level as if it were just there to enhance the scene. It’s here I learned of what they call the ‘Arctic silence’. Time taken to enjoy the present moment. I think this is something which is overlooked and undervalued today – it’s strange to think I had to travel such a distance for that, but I think it’s something hard to come by unless you’re submerged in nature.

Svalbard is so different to any place I’ve ever been to. I’m unbelievably grateful to have had this opportunity and I think anyone that gets the chance should go. I left understanding how fragile our ecosystem is and gained a newfound respect for every living thing that fights to survive in this extreme environment. It made me think, I’d love the idea of spending the winter there, learning how to support yourself and adapting to the enteral darkness. Maybe one day…

Feeling inspired by Brett’s story? Come join Secret Atlas for an epic adventure into the wild polar regions!

We can’t wait to have you on board with us!

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