PHOTO STORY: Latvia's freezing Baltic coast
Windswept, raw, desolate and beautiful. Cape Kolka - Kūolka in Livonian meaning 'corner' - separates the open Baltic Sea from the Gulf of Riga. The peninsula's vast pine forests are rimmed by miles of white sand, dotted with old farming and fishing villages and hide rusting, moss-covered Soviet-era military installations.
Frigid, ice-crusted and pristine, the beach is littered with twisted, broken trees uprooted in an epically violent winter storm in 2005. Ice and seashells crunch underfoot, and golden light from the low winter sun streaks through the trees. Small fishing boats lay upturned and fishermen patrol the shores checking their nets.
The peninsula is exposed and elemental. Strong winds and colliding currents from the Baltic and Gulf of Riga make the waters treacherous; numerous shipwrecks are said to lie buried in the shifting under-sea sands.
Being a strategically-placed corner of the Soviet Union, Kolka was a militarised zone with strict controls on civilian access. Concealed within the forest were surveillance towers and bunkers, and the long, straight tree-lined road into the area was a secret runway for military aircraft.
The cape remains virtually unspoiled. Slitere National Park as the area is known is famed for its abundant migrating birds, and is a popular summer destination for Latvian holidaymakers enjoying its beaches and forest hiking trails. Wealthier city dwellers visit their weekend dachas accessed by winding tracks through the pine forest.
The remote peninsula is home to Latvia's few remaining Livonians - or Livs - an ancient Finno-Ugric ethnic group with a unique language who survived historically by fishing. The villages have the feel of an anachronistic time capsule: Kolka is an odd mixture of picturesque old churches - one Roman Catholic, one Russian Orthodox and one Lutheran representing the main Latvian religious groups, together with decrepit, creaking wooden farm buildings and severe Soviet-era housing blocks built for military personnel.