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Published: September 5th 2009
the outline of grey mountains rising from windswept fiords
Motorhome News from Europe 31.
Norway 10th August 2005
The beautiful Lofoten Islands - and back to the mainland
Above the Arctic Circle and heading south. Fiskebol, Svolvaer, Lofotr, Å, Flakstad, Bodo, Svartisen Glacier, Lovund, Trondheim
The Viking Gods were against us as we arrived by ferry on the island of Lofoten. Our dreams of dazzling fjords and sunlit dramatic scenery vanished in a haze of damp mist and drizzle as soon as we landed at the dock in Fiskebol. But we have never let a small thing like rain spoil our day. The outline of grey mountains rising at 60 degrees from windswept fjords and dark clouds masking a determined sun were still dramatic and exciting. That day was also a day of magnificent rainbows; great arches of brilliant colour casting pots of gold on rocky outcrops and mountain peaks. The magic of the Arctic Circle is a light that changes with every second of every day, with every passing cloud above a mountain and every flash of sunlight on water.
Lofoten is Northern Norway’s holiday hotspot and for the first time we felt the weight of traffic, busy car parks, coach-loads of tourists and bustling
Viking Chieftain's longhouse
shops. Holidaymakers with upturned collars jostled in the streets and sat bedraggled outside cafes in the new square or tinkered about in the gift shops. We stopped in Svolvaer for essentials, Ti for maps and guides, the Co-op for a few groceries, and a brief look at the visiting yachts and cruisers before heading west away from the crowds to Henningsvaer, a working fishing harbour with great charm. Were this Cornwall, the streets would be heaving, the shops full of tacky souvenirs, and overpriced car-parks, but in Henningsvaer there were few shops, selling very little, and very few people! The return drive to join the main E10 road was something to be remembered however; layer upon layer of austere craggy mountains, dusty grey and green with moss, erupting, dark and sombre into a dark damp sky - the stuff of picture-story books, fairies and witches! None of the mountains on Lofoten is much more than 2,500ft, but they are truly spectacular, steep, peaked and jagged as an alligator’s back. Wow factor 98!
Very early on in our travels we recognised that we would have to be selective when it came to touristy things like galleries, pleasure trips
Viking Chieftain's longhouse
on land or sea and museums. There are limits to the budget. We have seen a string of war museums of one sort or another in the north and a bevy of Sami and local culture museums; we passed on the whales and a second bird trip, and sure, we have probably missed the best one somewhere, but that’s life! One we weren’t going to miss was the Lofotr reconstruction of a Viking Chieftain’s long house and ship on an archaeological site at Borg. The 83m long timber-framed building is quite magnificent, with log fires and cooking pots, Viking paraphernalia and many of the original site finds on display. Our guide was incredibly well informed and the Kentwell - style actors and craftsmen helped to create a moving atmosphere to remember. (Some of you will know Kentwell Hall, near Long Melford in Suffolk for its wonderful Elizabethan costumed events in the summer)
Around every corner there was yet another fishing village. That certainly goes for the bit at the westerly tip of the island, at Å, (yes, that’s the name of a village though it does have a little ‘o’ over the top as you will see and it’s
pronounced ‘or’), and Reine (which it didn’t that particular day for a change). As fish is a prime product of the country, we were interested to know more. Å had a matching pair of museums; one all about fishing and the other about, well,…. fishing. The first was a whole village of fishing associated buildings, each with its own exhibits and in parts still a working community. The other was all about stockfish, mostly cod, which is caught in January and February each year as the fish come in to spawn and then dried in the open air on racks (or 'stocks') until May or June. Both were interesting and we are now better informed about the Vikings, cod fishing, cod-liver oil production, whaling (they still do that here), and stock-fish. Three museums in two days must be a record for us; we are in danger of becoming tourists!
We didn’t see a white-tailed eagle on Wednesday.
The weather turned for the better mid-week, the skies brightened and the cameras started to get back into top gear. Trevor, from Down Under, recently asked in an email about our photos and what we do with them all.
.. overpriced for motorhomes. Must remember to talk to the Norwegian Tourist Board
We’re both digital now of course and our photos are downloaded onto the laptop after tea most evenings. The theory is that we transfer them on to CD now and again, but that hasn’t happened as yet on this trip (I’ll do it tomorrow). Goodness knows when we’ll ever get time to look at them all. We probably have a couple of thousand between us and sorting the best from that lot will be a mammoth task on our return. Now, if I were clever like our Trevor, I’d put them on a website for you to peruse at your own convenience!
There were peregrines flushing meadow pipits out of the long grass and Arctic skuas chasing screeching terns for their catch at our campsite on the sand dunes at Flakstad. The mountains, the sheep and classic U shaped valleys reminded us very much of Mid Wales, one of our favourite spots for walking and birds of prey. Suffice to say, the Lofoten Islands came up to and beyond our expectations despite the inclement weather and we’ll always remember the images of spectacular mountains, of light and rainbows, of sandy beaches on sparkling fjords, fishing boats, smartly painted matchbox
houses, bus shelters with gingham curtains and peaceful panoramic campsites.
Our ferry off the island left at ten in the morning and, after checking our strategy for ensuring reduced fares for the elderly (and Smiley with two feet cut off the back), we appeared at the booking desk ready for action an hour ahead of departure time.
‘Two people and a motorhome to Bodo, please,’ I asked with confidence.
‘How long?’ the young lady enquired.
‘Eighteen feet nine inches. Under six metres, I think,’ I fibbed a little.
‘567 Kroner,’ she said, smiling knowingly and holding out her hand.
And I’d expected the Spanish Inquisition at least. The real fare should have been 1,252Kr - all that extra for two lousy feet! They don’t sting cars with caravans like they do motorhomes and they are all longer than us! (Make a note to write to the Norwegian Tourist board about it - 1252Kr is more than we paid to get from Newcastle to Kristiansand!) And there we were, on the ferry with our books, coffee and sandwiches, ready for the four-hour trip to the mainland.
Back on the mainland we headed south on the tree lined ‘Tourist
Route’ along the coast, past round-topped glacier-worn mountains clothed in birch and juniper with low cloud swirling up the deep valleys like steam from a boiling kettle. The Svartisen Glacier came into view across a Caribbean blue fjord and proved too inviting to miss. It was reached on this side by a short ferry ride and an hours walk along a tree-lined track past an isolated farm, to the accompaniment of cow and sheep bells. There is something magnetic about glaciers. It really doesn’t matter how many you have seen, the next one is equally magical. Svartisen is huge, with fingers reaching some 50 km across the mountain-tops; an enormous powerhouse of ice, sky blue in the sun, bringing a cool breeze over the rock strewn moonscape. Yet another wonderful experience.
Once more we crossed the Polar Circle on our way south. The ‘Globe’ marking the spot could be seen from the ferry as we passed in glorious evening sunshine at around 8.30pm; late for us, and a campsite to our liking was proving difficult to find. Finally we parked for the night with an international group of motorhomers at a viewpoint overlooking the puffin island of Lovund, twenty
or more miles off-shore, rising like a volcano to two thousand feet from a sparkling sunset sea.
With a mean sun in the blue, blue sky to tempt us, we took the two and a half hour ferry to Lovund the next day, travelling as foot passengers to see the last of the puffins before they headed back to sea at the end of the breeding season. Lovund boasts 200,000 puffins at breeding time and the islanders have a special festival called Lundkommerdag (Puffin Day), celebrating the puffin’s return on the 14th April each year. Needless to say, most of the puffins had heard we were coming and were already miles out on the ocean waves laughing at us, though a few were still around feeding young in the pepper-pot of burrows on the northerly slopes; a tempting meal for the sea eagles scouring the mountainside from the cloud caped peak above. The bird spectacle of the year might have eluded us, but we did enjoy the ferry ride, the endless sun and the uphill walk!
There are thousands of islands off the western coast road. We took several days to travel this stretch, savouring the
last of the sunsets before heading inland. With the salesman’s ‘assumptive close’ technique we managed to get away with only paying full fare for Smiley once on the eight ferry crossings which linked this otherwise inaccessible coastal route. You will all have experienced the assumptive close: ‘Shall I wrap it for you, Sir/Madam?’ pushing you into making a positive decision. In our case, Janice took the driving seat just to throw some confusion as to who was driving, Janice, or the collection of teddy bears, whilst I handed him the correct money for a 6m motorhome from the nearside window. Only one guy failed to take the bait, stepped out the length of Smiley in one-metre strides and promptly shook his head. You can’t win ‘em all!
Northern Norway doesn’t have the colour of Spain, the dramatic contrasts of mountain and desert, of olive groves and orange orchards, of ripe, scented, chestnuts and grand forests, amazing art, the seemingly excessive indulgencies of Catholicism and long golden beaches - or the plastic bottles, rubbish, pickpockets, vandals and thieves. In Norway, you don’t need eyes in your back, your hand on your valuables or the nervous twitch of an English tourist.
Norway is extremely beautiful. It’s like the Alps without crowds. The air is crystal clear, its people are enlightened with a high standard of living and they have a culture of respect for others and their possessions. It is unusual for people to lock their doors or cars here. I could write a good thesis on the ‘economic cost of culture’ in a Nation. We have a lot to learn in Britain and we seem to be content to continue to pay the huge cost of litter strewn verges, drugs, petty crime, lack of respect for others and unruly youth.
One question we are often asked, is, ‘Have you found anywhere on your travels you would like to live?’ I guess the answer is, ‘Yes, there are possibilities,’ but it is not in the north of Norway. However wonderful it might appear on a bright summer’s day, it does get terribly dark and cold in winter and it is also very expensive. I would certainly be happy to rent a cottage with a fjord view to the west for the summer, to write, and contemplate. (I’m still reserving judgement on where I might live if it were not Gate
Lodge, but at the top of my list to date would be Capri, or perhaps somewhere along Australia's Queensland coast).
Memorials to world war two are plentiful throughout the north, acting as a poignant reminder of the tragedy of German occupation in WW11. A pleasant stroll along grassy tracks through open farmland revealed a German gun emplacement by the coast, with concrete bunkers and rusty remnants of heavy guns facing the strategic entrance to the fjords. A short ride away, there was a memorial garden commemorating the deaths of many thousands of Russian and International Prisoners of War along these shores during the last war. Many died on board a prison ship destroyed by ‘friendly fire,’allied bombing in 1944. It is all too easy to forget the part that Russia played in freeing Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany during those traumatic years.
The Germans were back on the campsites in large numbers as tourists in motorhomes of all shapes and sizes, outnumbering even the travel wise Dutch. There were still few Brits, though following our walk, a larger than life Englishman with a huge smile stopped by for a welcome chat. J D and Martha
were also motorhoming and parked in a lay-by back along the road. We made them tea, as one does when one is from the little island, and later joined them for a snack, a welcome game of chess and a few Vodkas back at their mammoth wagon; fixed king-sized bed, twin rear axle, garage; the lot. J D and Martha live in Portugal and he commutes to London bi- weekly to take his seat at Westminster. We have been invited for lunch in The Lords in November. It’s just amazing the lovely people you meet when ‘on tour’.
At the end of the coast road, we turned inland once more, journeying the main E6 road south from Mo I Rana, the worn limestone mountains marbled-grey as a string of elephants, trunk to tail for 100 miles, with spruce and pine on the hills and broad shining rivers reminiscent of BC. The valleys widened and larger farms emerged, rye and some oats ripened in the late days of summer sun. The clover was turning brown, buttercups long gone and many campsites scheduled to close on the 15th August, eight days before we leave for Shetland.
our wedding anniversary on Monday and I took Janice out to dinner. There was no restaurant within a days’ drive of our camping spot that night, so we ate at the table outside Smiley’s Cafe at the edge of the fjord in the evening sunset. We’ll celebrate in style when we get back to civilisation. (‘I want fish and chips,’ declared Janice) Just to put Norwegian fjords into perspective, that particular night we were 60km (36 miles) from the coast and the fjord was still all of half a mile wide, salt water, tidal, and flanked by precipitous mountains. There can be no place on earth more beautiful than Lofoten in the summer, pierced with vibrant colours to warm your heart. It is likely a far different story in the winter - though there would be those who would surely admit that summer here is well worth waiting for.
But the best of Norway's scenic water wonderland has been saved until last. Shortly we will be near Trondheim, on known territory amongst the breathtaking fjords and mountains where ‘wow’ meters were invented. It’s ten years or more since we travelled a circular route from Bergen that far
north in the old Volvo 480 and it’s also on the ‘Grand Tour’ route for holidaymakers doing Norway in a fortnight. We have been travelling on this trip for 10 weeks now and covered 6,956 miles so far - that’s even more in kilometres! With good fortune and the continuing good cooperation of Smiley, our motorhome, there will be more travel news from the Nomads again next week.
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads
Flowers: sea rocket, bog rosemary, mountain avens, self heal, tormentil, alpine ladies mantle, devil’s bit scabious, the dwarf cornel now turned to red berries.
No new birds!
Sun now sets at 10pm.
Understatement of the week: ‘It’s nice ‘ere init.’
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