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02 November 2019 02:38

Aurora United Kingdom Northern Lights

As BBC's 'His Dark Materials' begins on TV, Gavin Bell heads to Svalbard for a taste of the polar realm that inspired it In the freezing darkness of a polar night, a man is standing by a wooden cabin and staring at the heavens. He is a big Dane with a bushy beard and a rifle, and he is looking for something. "They are always there in winter, but it depends on how powerful they are if you see them," he says. But not tonight. A full moon has risen over ghostly white mountains, banishing any prospect of the Northern Lights dancing in the skies above them.

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Dinosaurs, Nazis and forgotten mines - the historic Arctic wonderland that inspired Philip Pullman

So we troop into the hut, where a log fire is blazing beneath an iron pot with reindeer stew, to hear tales of the lights and of the 16th-century explorer who discovered this icebound wilderness in the high Arctic.