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Published: September 4th 2009
Abisco National Park
Sweden's largest National Park
Motorhome News from Europe 30.
Sweden August 2005
Abisko in Sweden and west to Norway’s beautiful Lofoten Islands
There is a chair lift in Sweden’s largest National Park at Abisko. Rising to about 3,000ft, the Linbana lift ferries skiers to the top in winter and walkers and tourists in the summer. We took the easy way up and hiked the five-hour trail across wild hill-bog rich with flowers, down to the dense birch forest and scrubby willow deep in the valley below. We went there for the walking and to see the birds of course; and we were not disappointed. Even as we ascended in the cable car a hawk owl flew across our path and perched on a tree below, and a pair of willow grouse with their young looked up as we passed. A golden eagle soared overhead on the descent and a rough legged buzzard screeched as it circled the trees close above us. Neither of us had seen a hawk owl in the wild before and, believe it or not, that’s exciting, a real buzz! The mountain was totally deserted; which is how we like it, allowing us exclusive viewing and hours of
Abisco National park
'It never rains here,' the lady told us! Note the red markers in the background - useful in the snow.
This area is said to be the driest in the whole of Sweden, sporting just 300mm of rainfall per year. The young lady lift attendant shrugged her shoulders when we pointed to the ominous black clouds over the hills to the north. ‘It’s been like that all morning. It never rains here,’ she told us with great confidence. A few minutes later, at the top of the mountain it rained, ‘Sod’s Law’ as they say, though it did clear up after a while and we shed our wet gear for the warm and sunny walk the rest of the way down. It rained again that night - all 300mm of it I think - a whole year’s supply! The 450km Kungsleden hiking trail begins - or ends here, depending on which way you plan to take it on. We hiked upwards for a while, but decided to leave the long trek to the youngsters, some of whom would surely be getting awfully damp camping out on the hills that night.
Abisko is renowned for its fishing. A Norwegian couple, parked next to us, were on their way home from a successful salmon fishing holiday and planned
...all 450km of it!
to fill up their caravan with ‘cheaper’ food at the border. They told us they also come here with friends in April each year for ice fishing. We had noticed the tiny aluminium cabins along the shore of the 70km long Lake Tornetrask, equipped with skis to allow them to be tugged on - and off the ice. I’m not sure I fancy that!
The railway comes through these remote parts thanks mainly to a British company that went bust in the process. Completed in 1903 with money from the government, the line now connects Narvik in Norway to Lulea in Sweden on the Gulf of Bothnia and serves to bring iron ore to the ice-free western ports. Our road back into Norway followed the railway towards Narvik and then to the islands of Vesteralen and Lofoten off the west coast. A short-eared owl followed us along the road across spectacular limestone wasteland dotted with smart tiny fishing huts and seemingly abandoned cars, their owners somewhere on the marshes picking cloud berries (a National pastime in July and August), or fishing (the other National pastime), on the lakes.
It is not always necessary to camp
There is nowhere in Europe to compare
on official sites anywhere in Scandinavia, and Sweden caters for this cost efficient traveller’s need rather well. The 24 hour picnic site near the Visitor Centre on the main route between Norway to Sweden was full, with half a dozen caravans and a similar number of motorhomes ‘overnighting’. We couldn’t believe the most superb public toilets this side of the North Pole - stainless steel accessories, soap and paper towels, automatic hand-dryers and hot water on tap! Three lads appeared with a van towing a caravan around six o’clock in the evening and cleaned and polished the whole shebang whilst we were there. There were toilets at all picnic places and even the remotest of beauty spots right across the region. We could learn a thing or two from that in the UK. Where do all our taxes go, by the way?
Talking of toilets, as one does from time-to-time, I now only shave one side of my face. It’s the corner mirrors in our en suite bathroom, you know. If I stand in front of the mirrors and put the razor on the left hand side of my face looking into the left mirror, my right hand follows
on the other side in the right-hand mirror; which explains why the left side of my face gets shaved twice each day and I’m growing a beard on the right. It’s no wonder I keep getting funny looks. If you don’t believe me, try it. Smiley’s superb bathroom incidentally, was our key purchase feature. Whilst it’s only 4ft X 7ft, it has a compact WC, a good-sized hand-basin and a separate shower cubicle. As a consequence we rarely use site facilities other than occasional electricity.
Campsites vary a bit in terms of facilities and outlook, but we have certainly had some great ones in the past few days. One gave us views over the fjord with diving terns and a red fox hunting for voles in the rosebay willow-herb by the water; another was on a white sandy beach surrounded by mountains on three sides, and at yet another, where we watched an otter silently fishing for a herring breakfast in the fjord, swirling the still waters with sparkling bubbles and ripples of silver. ‘What view would you like tonight, darling?’
After all the hype in the books and brochures we were prepared to be disappointed
on the open road
by Vesteralen and Lofoten. Surely the whole Norwegian population would be there, crowding the roads and wearing out the footpaths. Not that it would matter a lot; we could go sightseeing in the middle of the night here - it still never gets dark. But no, the roads were as empty as all other roads in northern Norway, the beautiful sandy beaches were deserted, the ‘touristy’ things were certainly not busy and anyway; there is so much space for so few people. Our first port of call was on the island of Vesteralen, to the northern tip at Andenes. They do whale watching trips from here, but at £65 per person we’ll live with our wonderful memories of whales in Australia. There were museums for everything and anything that might take a shilling from the unsuspecting tourist, but to be honest, they were all a bit naff and many subjects are repeated in every other town. As a point of interest, Andenes is on the same latitude as the north tip of Alaska. The longest day here is 1,608 hours; from the 21st May to the 26th July!
The western road to Andenes sweeps along the rocky coast, with
narrow silver-sand coves on a calm bottle-green sea westeards towards Iceland and the Shetlands, and backed by jagged mountains, rising steeply to knife-edged ridges. ‘Bird Island’ off the coast at Bleik where the trees give way to a bleak moorland landscape, provided the spectacle of the day with the help of our telescope; white tailed eagle, skuas, and tens of thousands of puffins, guillemots and razorbills filled the air: fabulous! They still take puffins’ and gulls’ eggs from the first clutches each year, sharing the spoils across the village in line with their tradition of self-sufficiency. We took the liberty of collecting ripe cloudberries for our tea along this road; soft sweet yellow berries like our blackberries at home, but on short stems close to the boggy ground, their leaves a little like those of strawberries. Cloudberry is a wonderful accessory to salmon we’re told, but we chose to savour it as a sauce, stewed with a little sugar, with our first taste of Norwegian fishcakes (at least that’s what we think they were!).
Further to the west we found the little village of Hovden, a fishing community stuck out on a peninsula miles from nowhere, with
its enclosed harbour, ghostly fish drying racks and silver sand, whooper swans poking their long necks and yellow beaks above the reeds like periscopes, and kittiwakes nesting on the rocks by the road signalling our presence with their incessant cry of ‘kittiwake, kittiwake, kittiwake.’ We had fabulous views of endless mountains bursting through the dark rain-clouds on Lofoten to the southwest and Hinnoya in the east.
There are tiny fishing villages right the way down the coast from Nordkapp; detached wooden houses all smartly painted, neatly trimmed lawns, a few flowers, no fences or hedges to fight about, and generally half an acre or so to each plot. The top end of Norway gets its prime living from the sea, selling two thirds of its dried cod (stockfish) to Italy, Spain and Portugal. We never knew that before and assumed as we travelled through those countries, that it was all local. Norway is not a member of the EU and if the northerners have their way, it never will be. For them, it makes sense to keep the Spanish out of their waters. Along the narrow strip of land between sea and mountain, small meadows support the many dairy
on the beach. Heaven!
farms hanging on to a living without the benefit of enough topsoil to grow anything other than grass. The only trees are birch and willow with little commercial value, scrubby along the peaty marsh beside the fjords, rising with more growth to the tree line on the mountains.
The weather was a bit iffy during our few days on the islands, with rain on and off and overcast skies. We could have done with better to see such spectacular scenery, but we’ve done well and can’t complain.
With only three weeks before our ferry out of Norway to Shetland, we were running out of time on our schedule and we were conscious of this some time back. Every diversion has taken us many miles out to far away places and back - and there are some special areas that we haven’t been able to get to. One such missed delight is the Jules silver gallery in Kautokeino, sadly out on a limb in the direction of nowhere in particular. We did, however, get to see some of his wonderful work at another silversmith’s.
Our last newsletter came to you courtesy of the local council offices in a
any ledge will do.
rather small village on a fjord somewhere. We stopped to ask where the local library was.
‘I’m sorry, the library is closed for the summer,’ the lady behind the glass doors at the front desk told us.
‘Can you tell us where the nearest internet might be then, please?’ I asked.
“You can use this one, if you like,” she said with a friendly smile after a brief consultation with a colleague. We sat in her office for twenty minutes whilst she went off for her coffee break! These are wonderful people.
With all this walking and our love of the 'wilderness' one wonders how long I can keep going at this pace. We have seen some great Zimmer frames in these parts and Janice has promised to put one on order for me, just in case I ever do get old (most unlikely). They have four wheels and you hang on to the handlebars as you walk along with your feet in the middle. The great bit is the platforms either side - for you to stand on like a scooter as you go whizzing down the hills! (I hope mine arrives soon!)
There was a repeat
there is art everywhere
of the ‘Smiley length’ fiasco when we arrived at the ferry terminal between the islands of Melbu to Fiskebo.
‘How long is the motorhome?’ enquired the handsome young guy with the portable ticket machine.
‘Twenty two feet,’ I replied. ‘That’s within a gnats’ whisker of 6metres.’
Unsure what a gnats’ whisker might look like, he continued; ‘May I see the documents please?’ A short pause while he looked unsuccessfully for this minor detail on our license.
‘Is it more, or less than 6 metres?’
‘It’s a very teeny- weeny bit more,’ I said,demonstrating between finger and thumb.
‘Are you English?’
Janice nodded politely, trying not to laugh.
‘OK. That’s 109 Kr,’ he said, holding his hand out, resigned to failure.
Being English must either indicate being very poor, or else very much liked by the natives. A vehicle over 6m is charged more than two cars for some reason and having now consulted the price list, it appears we were charged for a car and two pensioners. Janice was none too pleased being many years off as yet, but if that’s the price of success, I’ll take it. The next problem would be to work out a strategy for
Sand Sculptures on the beach
Can you see the drowning fisherman clinging to his boat?
the next long ferry (3 hours plus) from Lofoten back to the mainland in a couple of days! Failure there could cost us over £60 extra on the fare. It’s not that important, it’s only money, but it's been fun trying to buck the system!
David and Janice
The grey haired nomads
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