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Published: September 4th 2009
Motorhome News from Europe 29
Norway July 2005
Europe - from the top down. Northern Norway
Nordkapp. The most northerly point of Europe, on the island of Magoya.
Picture a magnificent cliff, ragged peaks and tiny dark islands. Picture a knot of people bent into the wind at a lookout point high above a raging sea, gazing north to the distant horizon, dreaming of snow and ice, polar bears, brave explorers, and the North Pole, just 1,100Km distant. Then, dream on. As David, a young Polish hitch-hiker plucked from the roadside in the bitter arctic wind and rain described it, ‘The Visitor Centre was a bit like MacDonalds.’
We had already put the 1989 built Visitor Centre at Nordkapp in the Mickey Mouse category of Disney, but it serves its purpose well, bringing tourists and their money to this remote island from the many cruise ships and Arctic coach tours. The Centre is huge and seemingly underused at present. There is a vast, overpriced souvenir shop, an impressive video presentation, a Thai Museum (very strange), a small and very lovely chapel, and an echoing, empty, subterranean bar. The sun was still shining when we arrived in the
.. out to the North Pole
early evening, though the sea mist was swirling across the fjords and rushing like steam from a boiling kettle through the valleys near the headland.
A bright white cruise liner passed behind the 1000 feet high cliffs on a ray of sunlight heading south into the port at Honningsvag and we were able to gaze out to sea and walk a while in the cutting wind before seeking the ‘delights’ of the Centre. The visitors arriving by coach an hour later saw only thick penetrating mist, low cloud and zero visibility for their money, by which time we were tucked up nice and warm inside Smiley having tea! There were still no other Brits on site, even at the hottest (and coldest) spot in the north! Of worthy note, we sank the odd German battleship in these waters during WWII. The Scharnhorst finally went down to Allied bombardment close-by, with the loss of her 1,500, German crew.
The north coast is dotted with tiny fishing villages, somehow still gleaning a living from the sea. They have been eating fish here for thousands of years, but like meat, it’s just too expensive now, so how long will the industry
..as far North as you can go by road,in Europe.
last? One local teenage girl told us she plans to go to university in Trondheim to study maths and science, but there are only fishing related jobs in the village and she is unlikely to find work there. This all smacks (no pun intended) of our own coastal fisheries; tomorrow’s ghost towns where challenged youth has no place, and governments must now throw money at tourism if the communities are to survive at all.
The temperature had dropped to 9 degrees by morning and we resisted the temptation to hike the 18Km trail to the next headland. Instead we headed south for Hammerfest. Nordkapp was our turning point on the Scandinavian tour; you can’t go any further north on dry land, and in turning southwards we had that feeling of being ‘on our way home’. The drive back down the peninsula was a palm-print of where we were amongst the skuas a few days earlier, but the terrain had little of the wild remoteness that made the Gamvik route to the east so special for us.
In his book about Europe, Bill Bryson visited Hammerfest (pop 6500) and stayed for weeks hoping to see the Northern Lights. One
town or one fishing village is much like any other on the northern reaches of Norway, but Hammerfest, in addition to being Europe’s most northerly town, has the added feature of being a terminal for Statoil liquid gas.
North Norway’s bitterness over its devastation in the dying days of the last war is evidenced by a highly emotive archive film at the Museum of post-war reconstruction. The Germans' scorched earth policy in 1944 flattened every building with the exception of some churches. As a result there is not a house standing today that is much more than 50 years old and they were all built to a standard format, many in prefabricated form. They are coming to their useful end now, and the dilemma is whether to save them or to start all over with a fresh pencil. There are tens of thousands of these look-alike two storey box-houses across the top of Norway, Finland and Sweden, differentiated here only by their colour; they were shining in the sunlight that morning, yellow ochre, dusty blue, brick red, English racing green - and white of course. We liked Hammerfest. The cruise ships make short stops; about three a day, with
Adolf Hitler. Features in all North Norway museums
'in Finland we shall forget, but in Norway they will never forgive'
just enough time for passengers to visit the lovely 1961 church, a quick whiz round the museum or to join the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society - they were signing up by the dozen at £18 a time! There were a number of Brits from a Page and Moy ship, followed by a boatload of Swedes and finally the French hopped ashore (as they do).
One sunny afternoon we stopped at an empty picnic site in a lay-by for lunch. The kettle boiled and the tea was poured, when a coach-load of Germans arrived and commandeered all the tables, with enough food to feed a Panzer division! Now, why didn’t we think to put our towels out when we arrived? There were male eiders on the fjord, the first we had seen on our journey. They obviously leave the females to look after the brood and then go off to sea with the boys to talk about their conquests.
We haven’t seen any Trolls on our travels yet. I’m told they turn to stone if exposed to sunlight, so we presume they’re still hiding under bridges and in caves awaiting the darkness of the coming of winter.
.. two storey box houses
We’ll keep an eye out for them anyway; just in case - and of course, we’ll let you know as soon as we catch sight of one. A few miles out of Hammerfest we spotted three people playing the world’s northernmost golf course. At the time of writing it was six holes, par 20. We didn’t even touch the brakes!
Norway runs along the western seaboard of Scandinavia in a thin line like the rind on a rasher of bacon, its high-rise mountains, arms wide, welcoming the warm breeze from the Gulf Stream which keeps the ports open throughout the winter. There were many Sami in traditional costume with their tented stalls beside the road, selling reindeer skins, reindeer horns and handicrafts. We had not seen this in Finland or Sweden.
The trees returned around Alta, birch mostly, with a few sparse willows along the river. Meadowsweet the colour of buttermilk, mingled with a blaze of rosebay willow herb, posies of harebells and banks of orchids by the road. Newly mown pocket- handkerchief meadows beside the water were dotted with bundles of hay wrapped in white plastic, whilst here-and-there, hay was hanging out to dry, forlorn as
unwashed hair, on long wooden racks. The lilac was still out in the gardens, about two months after ours at home. (Home? Where’s that?)
Alta stretched along the A6 for more than 5km, its centre a square of ‘60’s buildings, spacious and bright. I visited the Tirpitz museum outside of town on my own, to get a picture of the sinking of this vast war machine. For all the steel on the seabed, the museum could only find an eclectic selection of photos, swastika stamped cups and cutlery, and a few uniforms of the era. Not to be recommended, but a brief history lesson none-the-less. 1944 was the beginning of the end for Germany here.
There were signs-posts for Well-being Centres and Psychiatrists along the road. The locals are all happy bunnies in the summer, but the SAD syndrome must kick in pretty hard come winter. And winter returns each year as sure as eggs are eggs (eggs here are all white by the way. Just out of interest, they taste just the same as brown ones).
The “Ooo’s, Ah’s and Wow’s” became more frequent as we moved south. The grand hills turned to soft
purple snow-clad peaks, erupting like living volcanoes from vast stretches of glistening fjords. Tiny fishing boats bobbed in sheltered bays and small harbours showed little sign of decline in the fishing business, with often dozens of boats at their moorings. Nowhere was there evidence of surfboarding, water-skiing or sailing - only small fishing craft - everywhere. I guess it’s too cold and the season too short for water sports.
Smiley looked a bit smart following a much needed two-hour shampoo and set to celebrate 50 days on the Scandinavian roads. So far Smiley has averaged 24 mpg and we’re hoping we can get home before the next 12,000 mile service is due. The last one was in Italy! Miles clock up very fast here as it’s sometimes 30 miles or more around a fjord to reach a point just a km or two across. We passed many fjords on the way south: Langfjorden, Burfjorden, Reisafjorden, Oksfjorden, Solbergefjorden and Jokelfjorden, its glacier now sadly receded from the sea. Our last glacier visit was Morteratsch near St Moritz, a long hard walk through knee-deep snow I seem to remember!
Janice noticed a picture in a leaflet of some children holding
aloft the letters of the alphabet. The letter C was missing, so she ticked it and gave it a mark of 25/26. We then discovered there is no C in the Norwegian alphabet! Now, that’s rather sad because that being the case, you can’t buy cheese in Norway; and we like our cheese. (Cheese is ‘ost’ - of course; usually that funny brown stuff, Gudbrandsdalsost; like soft toffee. If that had a C it would be Cost; which everything does a lot here). We’re still looking, but we can’t find a W or a Q in the alphabet either. Revised mark, 23/26.
The travel brochures all talked about the island of Senja off the west coast beyond Tromso as the place to relax, walk and enjoy the scenery away from the crowds. That sounded like our kind of territory and we headed off in search of peace and tranquillity. We did find our best campsite yet in Norway there, and the best freecamp, and toured around for a few days; in and out of little fishing villages hugging the rocky shore, over high, winding, mountain passes, through long dark tunnels and scattered birch woods on the lowland
Hay drying in the fields
hay hanging out to dry, forlorn as unwashed hair,
slopes. The island has great variety, with small farms and shallow hills in the south and a skyline of jagged saw-toothed mountains and dazzling fjords in the north.
Sunday night saw us camped by the sweeping sandy shore of a Senja fjord enjoying dinner at the picnic table, looking west over the Arctic Ocean in glorious sunshine. There we awaited the midnight sun and listened to the gently lapping waves as oystercatchers and redshank called for their young. ‘Sprinkle a few coconuts on the beach, stick a palm tree or two around the fringe and bring out the grass skirts. This surely is paradise!’
Further south, another sandy beach with crystal clear waters tempted us into the Arctic Ocean for a brief, very brief, swim. It was certainly warmer out than in. We have only seen three people swimming in the sea on our journey; and two of them were us! At 70 degrees we were further north than Iceland and most of Alaska, but we enjoyed some extremely good weather; very occasional showers at night and sun most of each day, with bright crisp afternoons and evenings. It is still light all night and most disconcerting to wake
..a very brief swim in the Arctic Ocean
up to bright sunlight only to discover it is only 3am. We are fortunate indeed to have witnessed the beauty and serenity of the mountains and fjords in the heart of summer with so few people about, but the drama and spectacle of raging storms, sub-zero temperatures and blinding snow must surely have its own glory.
The Lofoten Islands were our next major objective, but before that we decided to divert back into Sweden for some serious walking; south towards Narvik then westwards across the border into the Abisko National Park, only about 50 miles north of where we were in Sweden a month ago. Northern Norway was not ideal walking country, the hills too steep and few recognised tracks. We’re about ready for some strenuous exercise and we’ll tell you all about it next week!
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads
Quote of the week:
‘What day is it today? Janice asked.
‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘Does it really matter?’
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads
And, for those who might be in the slightest bit interested:
Birds: Great bird-hide near Alta, with candles, visitor’s
book and complete with dustpan and brush. More skuas, whimbrel, bullfinch, good close-up and several more white tailed eagles + lots we’ve seen before on this trip, plus - yellow wagtail, greylag geese, heron - surely at the northern extent of its range? and a twite on the wire!
New flowers: Hemlock, water dropwort, rattle, marsh valerian, alpine sow thistle, sneeze wort, sea mayweed and sea rocket. We needed expert help to identify the common ‘melancholy thistle’ (what a lovely name).
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