Davina McCall: Life at the Extreme

Benjie Goodhart / 08 March 2016

Davina McCall spots polar bears, walruses and seals as well as exploring the inside of a glacier on her visit to Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.

In her new series, Davina McCall travels the world looking at how animals adapt to survive in the most extreme environments possible. With that in mind, she travels to some of the hottest, coldest, wettest and deepest underwater places on earth.

This week, she is off to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, home to the most northernmost settlement in the world with a permanent civilian population. This is actually rather a charming programme. This is partly because McCall herself is a funny, charming and self-deprecating character, and partly because Svalbard is simply magnificent. What a place!

Related: Visit Svalbard with Saga

The series is filmed in April, at the start of the long summer. The next time the sun sets will be in late August. Apparently, the locals actually prefer the winter, and permanent darkness, because permanent daylight plays havoc with sleeping patterns.

Despite being considerably colder than your average deep freeze, Svalbard is home to polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer and marine mammals. It’s fascinating and remarkable to witness anything at all survive in the midst of such a hostile environment.

McCall’s trip also sees her explore the inside of a glacier, which is like a stunningly beautiful version of the planet Krypton, if it was sponsored by Swarovski. And she visits the abandoned mining town of Pyramiden, named after a nearby pyramid-shaped mountain. There is something hauntingly gripping and profoundly melancholy about abandoned towns, and the sense of isolation in Pyramiden is exacerbated by its remoteness, and the lack of anything resembling natural life.

This is a rewarding programme about a quite remarkable place – a testimony to the ingenuity and resilience of both the natural world and humanity. Indeed, so remarkable is Svalbard that, in spite of its harshness, it has begun to develop a small but thriving tourism industry.

In the summer months there are several flights a day to the main town, Longyearbyen, from Oslo and Tromso. Much like Davina, visitors can zip about on snowmobiles, go on trips to see native fauna, tour glaciers, and take boat trips and balloon rides. They’ve even re-opened the hotel in Pyramiden to house visitors, though the idea of running a hotel in an abandoned town in one of the most remote and hostile outposts on the planet sounds like an investment opportunity I’d happily forego. I bet they don’t even have a Nandos nearby.

Davina McCall: Life at the Extreme, ITV, March 14, 2016 at 9pm

Related: Cross the Arctic Circle with Saga

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