Virgohamna

Bay in Svalbard

One of the most intriguing sites in northwest Spitsbergen is Virgohamna, on the bleak, gravelly island of Danskøya, where the remains of several broken dreams now lie scattered across the lonely beach. Among them are the ruins of three blubber stoves from a 17th-century whaling station and eight stone-covered graves from the same era. You'll also find the remains of a cottage built by English adventurer Arnold Pike, who sailed north and spent a winter subsisting on polar bears and reindeer.

The next adventurer here was Swedish engineer Salomon August Andrée, who set off from Virgohamna in an airship in the summer of 1897, hoping to reach the North Pole. The fate of his expedition was not known until 1930, when sailors from a seal-hunting ship put ashore and stumbled across their last site on Kvitøya.

Then, in 1906, journalist Walter Wellman, who was sponsored by a US newspaper, attempted to reach the North Pole in an airship, but failed. The next year, when he returned to try again, his ship was badly damaged in a storm. On his third attempt, in 1909, he floated to within 60km of the pole, met with technical problems and gave up for good; mainly because he'd heard that Robert Peary had already reached the pole anyway (although that claim is now largely discredited). All of the remaining junk (including dozens of rusted 44-gallon fuel drums) is protected. Erosion damage, caused by the few visitors who manage to get here, has been considerable, so do the right thing and stick strictly to the marked paths.