Northern light

456 nights : 17,252 miles travelled : countries visited: 20

I lost my mind, eternal light                                                                                                                                         I lost my heart in the countryside….                                                                                                                           I lost myself to nightless night              Nightless Night by Husky Rescue

 

We are exhausted!

Our energy levels drop through the floor at about 4 pm and we promise ourselves an early night. Then by 10 pm we are as bright as the skies with no intention of pulling the blinds and blacking out the light. We were too late in the year to see the midnight sun ( a Norwegian camper assured us it is the same sun as at all other times) but still, it never gets dark. It is so novel to take Kipper off for his last walk at 10.30 pm to watch the sun set. What a thrill for a few nights; but after five weeks, weariness is etched in our faces and leads to faintly comical searches for keys…and glasses….and names!

We wondered if the Norwegians would to think to put a sign on the road to mark when we had crossed the Arctic Circle. I kept thinking we’d passed the point, my map reading skills aren’t the best, but the satnav assured us that we were still below 66°. We needn’t have worried. There was a visitor centre selling an impressive array of souvenirs and spookily, the bright sunshine gave way to a grey chill as we approached the invisible line.

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We took a ferry crossing to the Lofoten Islands. They are unlike anywhere else we have been; Norway with a twist. Looking back at photographs is a multi-sensory  experience with salty smells and calling sea birds accompanying them all. Scandinavian weather has often carried two seasons in one day, but in the Lofotens they can be seen just by turning around on the spot. We cannot wait to return.

The economy is a perfect blend of fishing and tourism. Å is a tiny village that leans heavily on the tourism but even here, fishermen were hard at work. Red painted rorbuer were originally their homes but are mainly holiday accommodation now.

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Lofoten’s traditional catch is cod which is then air dried on wooden racks from February to May and exported to Italy as stockfish. We saw mostly empty racks, with only dried heads waiting to go to Nigeria as ‘okporoko’ where it is used as flavouring in soups and stews.

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The ochre buildings of Sakrisøy stood out in a chain of beautiful villages on the southern islands and we stopped to buy some of the local delicacies.

 

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There but for the grace of cod……..

Stockfish has been traded since Viking times and in the 18th century, was exchanged with Russia for timber to build Flakstad Kirke (the onion dome on a wooden cabin is an unusual combination). The interior is most serene and the wood smells divine.

 

In Fredvang, we found a simple campsite at the end of a long gravel track. White beaches combined with cold clear water and dramatic backdrops to insulate us from time and other worldly interference….. oh just take me back!!!!

 

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Thank goodness we found the Vikings, we were beginning to think they were a myth! An insider told us that they were all nursing sore heads after a wild night around the camp fire but we were not shocked. That is exactly what you expect is it not?!

The Lofotr Viking Museum has reconstructed an 83 metre longhouse which showcases skills from those times but we were fortunate to catch the end of the annual festival where fanatics gather to live a Viking life…we pretended not to see the visa mastercard machines.

The four main Lofoten Islands are linked by bridges or tunnels which have you traversing the spiny peaks of the archipeligo.

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The winding journeys were made slower by the need to stop and stare at the clouds which wrapped themselves like ribbons around and between these peaks. Breathtaking.

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Henningsvaer doesn’t quite live up to it’s moniker ‘the Venice of Lofoten’. For one thing the temperature was the coldest we had experienced so far, but it does have some stylish little shops.

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Everybody needed their woolies!
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What do you think the old kaviar factory is now used for?

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It was in Henningsvaer that we bumped into Julie and Jason. Our Tour is one of the valuable and inspiring blogs that we read in the months before we packed our lives into the snail. Their travels with their dog Charlie convinced us that Kipper would tolerate life on the road and we were all delighted to meet them. Charlie may have found Kipper’s delight a bit over the top….literally!

The risk of ticking too many items off your bucket list is that eventually you may start to feel obliged to kick that bucket. We continued north to the top of Vesterålen in the hope of ticking off one of the top five. Andenes is close to the edge of the continental shelf, so it is relatively easy to reach areas where whales may be seen. However when we arrived we were informed by boat operators that the wind was too strong for trips. We were advised to keep checking with them, if we could afford to wait. We found a campsite on the lovely long beach at Bleik and decided that we could wait for two days.

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Oh yes we can wait here!
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Waiting patiently.
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Still waiting.

We got the go ahead on the third day. Or I got the go ahead. Graham feels sick before a ferry even leaves the harbour so he and Kipper volunteered to snail watch. I enjoyed the informative introductory presentation, boarded with many other hopefuls and quickly realised that I was not going to be able to see more than the backs of heads at the front of the boat. I joined the ashen faces of the landlubbers at the back and was amazed when the ‘blow’ of a sperm whale was spotted. We watched him bask on  the surface for a while before he dived. I am happy that I made a strategic decision to focus on watching not photographing because all too quickly he was gone.The boat moved further out to sea ( my breakfast moved out to sea too) before finding another male. It was the biggest thrill to see him blow, rest and dive twice which solves my problem with the bucket list. I’m not ticking it off until I’ve seen it all again!

 

We finally rejoined the mainland and as we found the E6 northbound, the fjords stretched wider and mountains grew higher.

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Our vocabulary shrank at the same rate the landscape expanded, with sighs and wows the only appropriate comment. Each day we drove through another page of grandmother’s calendar….you know, the kind with technicolour scenery.

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The first time we passed the Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta we thought it was the incinerator for the hospital next door! The hospital turned out to be a hotel and the front of the Cathedral was more attractively innovative. The interior was primarily artificially lit which is a surprise until you remember the length of the dark winters.

Where the cathedral aims to lift your gaze upwards, the ancients looked down for spiritual answers. Alta museum sits next to stone carvings between 2,000 and 6,000 years old, with scenes of hunting and fishing on earth often mirrored by similar scenes inverted, thought to be depictions of the underworld. While the modern red paint makes it easier to see the incisions, it is now recognised as harmful and is gradually being removed. With or without pigment, all the images left goosebumps and the setting on the waters edge was uplifting.

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We were close to the top of mainland Europe and there was an increasing sense of anticipation. Many people had left their mark at one of the rest stops, recording their names and journeys. We joined the community of pebbles and reflected on far we had come.

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We settled down for an overnight stop and were thrilled when we had what turned out to be our first visit by a reindeer. Cue childish squeals from the humans and Barry White growls from the dog.

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The final miles were memorable for being different. Bare but not barren. Stretched out before us but not unending.

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We arrived …..not quite at the very top of Europe ….but close enough for us. The voices of the travellers around us echoed our own sense of excitement. We were all grinning like Cheshire cats and the notorious charge to visit Nordkapp seemed not to matter.

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On top of the world…nearly!
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Nordkapp 71. 10′ 53″

Norway isn’t perfect. Kipper is regularly dive bombed by Arctic Terns and Graham is intimidated by the half-naked locals maximising their exposure to vitamin D. Prices are prohibitive, food often lacks imagination and towns are sometimes a little dull. Yet the natural landscape  is breathtaking and the power and scale of the scenery leaves you drunk and wanting more. We now know why there are so many Norwegian motorhomes on the road. Why would you go anywhere else?

We gazed at the horizon and imagined the Arctic ice that lay beyond. We watched a beautiful sunset slowly unfurl and at midnight my birthday was heralded by a bright orange streak in the sky. And we weren’t tired at all!

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M & G xx

Treat of the week: Lofoten stockfish is regarded as the best there is but we are taking some time to get used to it’s chewy texture (even dunking in beer doesn’t help!)

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Kipper is having no such difficulties and his treat of doggy stockfish is a daily highlight.

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