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Snow, more snow and Santa Claus. Utter the word “Lapland” and you might imagine a place where it’s Christmas all year round. But due to its location, largely within the Arctic Circle, Lapland has extreme seasonal variations in climate. While it can be freezing cold for much of the year, visit in spring and summer and you’ll witness permanent sunlight and warm temperatures, sometimes reaching 30C. For those inhabiting this region, which spans parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, being able to adapt is key and no more so than when it comes to earning a living.Take for example Swedish Lapland. Traditionally the endless light of summer was a crucial time for getting jobs done before the inhospitable winters set in and the lightest time of year still plays a big role in people’s lives.Mikael Suorra is from the indigenous Sami population and has grown up around the reindeer, brown bears, eagles and moose that roam this part of the world.
From a base near Harads, around 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Mr Suorra runs nature tour company Hide & See which takes tourists on local safari trips. He says the months from May to August are perfect for spotting brown bears.”Bears are active at night and at this time of the year you can see them all day and night; even at 1am the light is good.”Mikael has built a six-person hide right in the middle of an ancient pine forest so that visitors can get the perfect camera shot of one of the region’s most revered creatures.Visitors aren’t guaranteed to spot a bear – this is still a largely untamed wilderness and there are no certainties. However, even though guests pay around £300 per person, Mikael says that his visitors don’t mind if they don’t encounter one of these majestic animals.”They often come here for the quietness and beauty of their surroundings and if they see a bear it’s a bonus.”
The stunning natural beauty of Lapland doesn’t just offer opportunities to local business people. Every summer Jay Bartlett, a Reading native, runs Fly Fishing Adventures which offers salmon fishing trips for enthusiasts keen to reel in a prize specimen. The Briton charges up to £1,250 a week but says this is comparatively cheap.”Historically this kind of fishing’s been expensive and in parts of America, Canada and Russia you can spend a hell of a lot more.”Wading into the River Torne at Kengis Bruk, just before midnight, Jay casts off, hoping for that magical tug on the end of his line. Surely though, even in the quest for the ultimate catch, fishing in the middle of the night is a bit extreme?”When you have 24-hour sunlight it’s difficult to go to bed when you know the fish of a lifetime is in the river,” says Jay. “It also makes practical sense. During summer, daytime temperatures can get pretty high but the optimal is around 12-13C. Those conditions are most likely in the middle of the night.”
The salmon season runs from the beginning of June to the end of August and for the rest of the time Jay is back home in Reading drumming up trade for his trips. However, he says he “counts the days” until he can go back again in June. Tourism is an increasingly important part of Northern Sweden’s economy, and up in Jukkasjarvi, 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the Ice Hotel has found a novel way of capitalising on this. Every year around December the firm constructs a hotel from blocks of metre-thick ice from the River Torne, although come spring it melts away. This year, however, the company launched a second ice hotel that stays open all year round, ironically by harnessing the power of sunlight. The ice on the exterior of IceHotel 365 does melt during the summer months, but the interior remains frozen thanks to a cooling system powered by solar panels.
“Every summer people turn up expecting to see the Ice Hotel but of course it’s already disappeared,” says hotel guide Ellen Rye-Danjelsson.”But at the new hotel we can keep the temperature at between -5C and -8C all year round.” Sleeping surrounded by ice in the middle of summer may seem counterintuitive but this part of the world is full of surprises.Take Per Pesula’s farm in Kukkola, which is right next to the River Torne, which divides Sweden and Finland. Up here, a few miles south of the Arctic Circle, Mr Pesula lays claim to being the world’s most northerly producer of cooking oil.”People are shocked when I tell them I grow rapeseed and mustard but because of our geographical position we have an extra growing month. In the summer the 24/7 light means that the rapeseed shoots up by 2cm a day.”At his farm gift shop, Mr Pesula tells that me his burgeoning business produces around 12,000 litres of rapeseed oil a year as well as homemade mustard.
“We use 5,000 litres of the oil to power the farm machinery and I sell the rest to visitors and local supermarkets. When we’ve finished the pressing we use the by-product for cattle feed instead of importing soy from Brazil.”In autumn and winter the number of daylight hours falls dramatically and Lapland businesses must adapt. But for some locals the transition can be hard. Stockholm-based occupational psychiatrist Royne Strand says that the extremes of 24-hour light in the summer and almost permanent darkness in winter can cause psychological problems. “Some people aren’t affected by the darkness but others really suffer. We see depression, stress-related disorders and many people don’t perform as well at work.”The opposite can also be true.”I also have patients who get depressed when the light comes. There is a huge expectation to get everything done and the pressure to make up for lost time.”