Former Ellon teacher on life trekking in the Arctic

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A FORMER Ellon teacher has spoken of his new life in the Arctic, after becoming a tour guide with a polar adventure company.

Bill Smith - who formerly taught art at Ellon Academy, as well as organising the Ellon Raft Race for many years - now works as a polar expedition guide for polar expedition company Oceanwide.

Having just returned from an expedition to Svalbard, he described a world of active volcanoes, polar bears, whales, and first hand experience of the shrinking polar ice caps.

“This area of Aberdeenshire abounds with tales of hardly seamen, and has an exciting history of Whale and Seal hunting in the far north,” he said, harking back to the region’s once thriving whaling industry.

Peterhead was once famous for the scale of it’s fishing fleet, and the polar region is set to become a major area of strategic interest for the nations of Europe - and Scotland in particular - as the ice caps melt, creating new trade routes to Asia and the Pacific.

The region remains a draw for tourists due to it’s residual spectacular scenery and wildlife.

“It’s probably the most exciting job I’ve ever had. It’s more dangerous than working in education, but probably not as stressful, he joked.”

As part of his duties, the former teacher is responsible for bringing polar tourists close to the Arctic’s diverse wildlife and for showing them the spectacular polar scenery.

“We hunt in the ice in zodiacs, and on land for polar bears, beluga, blue whale, orca, arctic fox and countless species of sea birds including the much sought after Ivory Gull. Passengers are give an opportunity to study and photograph these delightful creatures as close-range.

“The landscape is stunningly beautiful, either the flows in the sea ice, towering bergs and the dramatic mountains and glaciers of Svalbard. Though 24-our a day sun takes a bit of getting used to.”

Bill’s latest expedition included trips to Jan Mayen - north of Iceland and the northernmost active volcano in the world, allegedly first discovered in the sixth century by Irish monk St Brendan, who described a ‘black island, on fire’, and believed he had discovered the entrance to hell.

Bill added that he had seen evidence of global warming first hand near Svalbard.

“I have first-hand evidence of global warming as the sea ice was 62 miles further north than last year at the same week and glacier fronts had receded massively,” he said. “It’s an awesome experience.”