Friday, 20 August 2010

Norway 4 - The Far North

Our route through Norway's far north

The Vesterålen islands – Friday 30th July to Monday 2nd August 2010

We left the Lofoten islands as we had arrived, on a ferry in the rain. Only this rain was lighter, the clouds higher and we could see the towering mountain skyline as the tiny port of Fiskebøl receded behind us. The ferry journey was much shorter too, at 25 minutes to cross to the town of Melbu, at the very southern tip of the Vesterålen islands, which lie to the north of the Lofotens and just off the main Norwegian coast. Unlike the Lofotens, which form basically one long line, the Vesterålens have a convoluted geography, and the main islands are pierced by fjords great and small, gentle and steep, pointing in all directions, which make them resemble random splashes of paint on the map.

Vesterålen view – Eidsfjord

The Vesterålens, despite some wonderful scenery, are overshadowed by their southern neighbours and thus get only a fraction of the tourists. In some ways this is nice – there are vehicles other than tour buses and motorhomes on the roads – but in other ways it becomes more difficult as the facilities in some areas are fewer. We drove the length of the scenic Eidsfjord without a single picnic or parking area that suggested itself for an overnight stay, but eventually, following our by now well-honed instincts, found a suitable glade in the woods inland, by a long single-track gravel road leading up to a lake.

Vesterålen view – Forfjord with glacial morrains in the foreground

We moved on in slow stages. A wet Saturday was spent largely on the internet in rain-soaked Sortland. It also saw us in almost comical efforts to find a chemical loo dumping point at a garage. It turned out to be an unmarked manhole cover in the roadway that we had walked or driven over five times before the exasperated staff came out to physically point to it. That’s another disadvantage of less touristy areas, you start to become obsessed by taking in water and emptying out t’other.

Vesterålen view – Nordmela on Andøya

Still, once all the practical jobs were out of the way we managed to find another beautiful camping spot by an unmade road just past the hamlet of Myrland, this time with a fjord view – Godfjord. Rob tried his Ray Mears best with a fire, but the day’s rain had soaked all the wood around.

Myrland camping spot by Godfjord on Hinnøya (Vesterålens)

“Heard of reindeer?”
“Of course I’ve heard of reindeer.”
“No – there – down the road. It’s a herd of reindeer!”
And there ahead of us, on the tiny road back from Myrland the next morning, we spotted a group trotting ahead of us. We kept a respectful distance, not knowing the usual way to behave around these creatures. There was no person in sight, so we don’t know if they were fully or semi-wild. Eventually, and seemingly without acknowledging our presence, they turned off onto a track through the birch and we last saw them crossing the sandy shore of a lake for water.

Reindeer near Godfjord

Ever changeable, the weather on Sunday was sunny and hot, and out came the T-shirts again for our move north onto Andøya island, where consideration for tourism picked up in the form of a series of gravel parking areas all along a lovely stretch of coast. We camped there by the open sea, facing the setting sun. It sank behind clouds before reaching the horizon, but we estimated sunset as probably no earlier than 11:15 p.m.

Andøya (Vesterålens) – Camper van alley

The Vesterålens start in the west and the south almost as craggy as the Lofotens, but as you move further north and east the parapets soften and the summits get lower, until on Andøya the mountains are more grassy, whale-backed fells that are reminiscent of the Carneddau in North Wales, so that for a while on the way to Andenes I (Rob) imagined driving from Bangor to Llandudno with the lofty smooth-topped hills to my left.

 Andøya coast – Hills near Stave and Nordmela

That night, on the coast of Andøya, I (Rob) was still up at 1.30 a.m., and glancing out to sea I was certain that I could see a number of whales cavorting (for want of a better word) some way off the coast, in a flurry of finned backs and tails rising from the water. Seeing whales here did not seem very surprising for Andøya is a prime whale-watching spot and several ports offer ‘whale safaris’, although at prices that made me choke. I woke Lesley, who was as captivated as I was until she said ‘why are they always in the same place?’ With a slight seed of doubt in my mind along with a desire to see more, I set out on my bike at two in the morning to find a closer vantage point along the coast. In the few minutes it took me to get there, all whale activity had ceased. There were in that direction, however, occasional glimpses of submerged rocks. Now I may have indeed seen a group of cavorting whales but on balance I think it more likely that I saw waves forming over undersea rocks at a certain point in the tide, the shapes of which looked black in profile in the twilight, and that my imagination did the rest. I would still rather it had been whales.

Nordmela coast – Camping spot, early morning – There be whales!

Senja – Monday 2nd  to Thursday 5th August

We caught the 5:00 p.m. ferry on Monday 2nd August from Andenes in the Vesterålen islands, to tiny Gryllefjord on the island of Senja, which lies adjacent to the Norwegian mainland and on the way to Tromsø.  On Senja we were back in true fjord country again, where sheer rocky hillsides fell straight down to long narrow inlets of steely grey sea. It was steely grey of course, because the sun had disappeared behind another layer of low cloud that decapitated all the hills under a level white blanket, but at least we were spared any serious rain.

Andenes-Gryllefjord ferry, approaching Gryllefjord on Senja

It was off the steep rocky shores of Senja that we cracked the art of Norwegian sea-shore fishing, at least for beginners. The secret lies in where you fish – a place with no fish = no luck, but a place with plenty of fish – well it’s almost embarrassingly easy, as the coley, and if you’re lucky the cod, just throw themselves at your hook. There is no doubt an art in placing yourself correctly, but we found a few good spots. The outside edges of harbour walls are great if you dare clamber on the rocky ledges. The technique is not complex (once you know how to cast – see the Lofoten post for our experiences on that front), and involves repeatedly hurling a small metal fish-shaped lure with three large hooks at its tail out into the ocean, and reeling it in before it snags on weeds or rocks and you lose it.

Fishing – Coley again!

By the time we moved on from Grylleford harbour wall, with our wealth of coley, evening was drawing in. We picked up some Czech hikers, who’d been trudging up the hillside since the 1:00 p.m. ferry. Passing places where we could park up for the night, we did our good deed and took them to the next village. Though for the whole journey the poor girl who had “stolen” Charlie’s seat had to put up with him lying at her feet throwing reproachful looks in her direction. “I don’t think he likes me sitting here,” was her comment – in excellent English of course.

Gryllefjord view

You would think that doing good deeds might bring something in the way of karma, but no – having doubled back, tried another damp squib fire (Ray Mears must always carry a trailer of dry wood you know), set about cooking our very fresh fish – the gas we bought in Mo i Rana ran out. Lots of bad words from Rob along the lines of – this was a 5 kg bottle of butane and it only lasted 2½ weeks, compared to our 907 Camping Gaz bottles of propane at 2.9 kg lasting almost as long. He wasn’t much calmed by me pointing out that actually meant they weren’t as expensive as we thought they were.

Gryllefjord view

Tuesday dawned with yet more rain. If you were here on a two week break you’d be pretty miffed at this weather. As it is, we can afford the luxury of sitting and waiting around until some decent scenery emerges from out of the shrouds screening our views. It does give us time to read, write and get some housework done. Yes – housework – all ten minutes of it. Such is the joy of living in a small van!

Mefjord morning from our overnight spot

We followed the coast around the north of Senja, moving from one steep sided fjord to another via the series of long tunnels (some 500m, some 1km long) bored through the granite mountains. Luckily they are well lit, but I (Lesley) still found them a bit disconcerting and spooky in the way they twist and turn, so that you appear to be driving directly at a wall of rock. I’ve never liked rocky tunnels much since a 1970s episode of Dr Who. Rob, however, kept saying how he’d love to cycle through them – such madness is beyond my understanding!

Multebaer  or cloudberry – Norway’s most expensive berry – one plant bears one fruit

We ended up on Tuesday by Mefjord, and parked in a picnic layby, looking back on the busy fishing port of Senjahopen and its baby brother, the prettier village of Mefjordbryggen, where Rob had earlier caught yet more coley and some small cod. As he was shutting the van blinds for bedtime, he called me over, saying there was an elk coming up the road. Unlike his whale safari, this time it was the real thing, a gangly-legged nervous young elk, which was obviously aware that we were in the van and desperately wanted to trot past. It kept edging closer, then moving back down the road. In the end it braved it and climbed as high up the cutting beside the road as it could, before passing on down the road and back into the scrubby, stunted birches growing on the lower slopes of the mountain.

Senja - Mefjord

Mefjord was classically deep and sheer sided, as was its neighbour Husøyfjord, both providing a wealth of spectacular views over sparkling waters towards dizzying heights. The small village of Husøy lies on an island at the sea end of the fjord and is joined to the main part of Senja via its harbour wall, which is strangely painted in two garish shades of blue. Luckily that doesn’t detract from its general attractiveness, with wooden houses in a multitude of shades – petrol blue, cardinal red, yellow ochre and white – and all of them held firmly to their rocky island via thick cables. We hadn’t noticed this really before Husøy, but seemed to see it everywhere for a while after that. We’d moved on to Botnhamn (bottom harbour) to catch the 5:30 p.m. ferry and make our way back to the mainland, but sunshine and craggy sided fjords combined in the evening to keep us on Senja for another night. We explored several great wild camping spots before settling high up at the tunnel mouth before Husøy, where the view was fantastic and the occasional thunder of a vehicle approaching sounded eerily like a phantom train. Rob got his wish and cycled through the tunnel to go back down to Husøy to fish and to stop every few yards to admire the view – something I’d been reticent to do in the van.


Back to the Mainland – Thursday 5th August

We caught the morning ferry from Botnhamn to Brensholmen on Kvaløya, our last Norwegian island, and drove to Tromsø, crossing a bridge that brought us back onto the mainland. We managed 120 miles today, which is a long way at our kind of pace. Compare that to fellow British passengers aboard the same ferry who were taking three and a half weeks to go from the UK to the most northerly point at Nordkapp, and back again!

Tromsø Domkirke

Tromsø is a thoroughly likeable little town – whoops, main city of this region – and we found plenty to hold our attention for the duration of our two hour parking ticket. The place has retained a 19th century feel due to the many wooden buildings which recall the boom times when its fishing industry was at a peak and there was an ongoing barter trade with Russia. They give the place a sort of American frontier town feel. There’s a very elegant wooden cathedral from 1861 and another catholic church of similar age and style. Across the water the 1960s Tromsdalen kirke, more popularly known as the Arctic cathedral, is a soaring construction in white concrete. It also looked interesting from what we could see by peering through the open doors and the side windows, being unwilling to pay 30 kr each for what we knew would be a ten minute visit! We gave the cable car to Tromsø’s heights a miss since the weather changed again, in the space of our two hour parking, from warmth and clear skies to blustery with clouds which had descended low enough to hide said cable car.

Tromsø Arctic Cathedral

We left Tromsø on the main E8 road south, having duly noted down the co-ordinates, thanks to Garmintrude, of the most northerly place we’d ever been and planned (at this time) to be on this trip. Finding a place to wild camp along a major road is perfectly possible, but we always seem to do better off side roads and so turned off to drive along Ramfjord, which turned out to be very agricultural and littered with small settlements. Those conditions rarely provide any wild camping, and we passed a couple of possibilities early on, driving past in the hope of something better turning up. Since we rarely turn back once we’ve done this, don’t ask why, we just don’t, we carried on, with the ensuing heavy sighs and loud tuts becoming more and more frequent until man and dog were fed, which always settles them both somewhat and reduces the whining.

Camping on the Lyngen Peninsula

Giving ourselves a time limit – we will stop here unless we find somewhere better by 9:30 p.m. – which we then added ten minutes to, again and again actually, we ended up in one of the best places so far, towards the end of Sørfjorden on the Lyngen peninsula. This only goes to attest to the truth of my (Lesley’s) theory that something better in the way of camping spots always does turn up if we are patient and don’t just pick any old place from panic.

Lyngen glaciers

The mountains on the Lyngen peninsula are known as the Lyngen Alps, and for the next three nights we camped in a lovely spot at the water’s edge, where we enjoyed a constantly changing light show on the bare sides and glacial peaks towering above us. We built fires to our heart’s content and collected our own fresh spring water from the icy stream that cascaded over rocks and into the fjord. We found it very hard to tear ourselves away from the sunshine, the evening skies of deepest orange and pink and “real” camping - so we didn’t – we stayed until almost total lack of electric output from the van’s leisure battery forced us to get it in motion. Next time we do this we will have solar panels, of that we are both determined.

Lyngen glacial light show and glacial lake

We took the fridge starting to defrost as a sign that we should move on, after all, I’d put a message on Facebook saying we’d be in Finland by Thursday evening and it was now Sunday morning. However, by Sunday evening we were still not in Finland, we weren’t even heading towards Finland, as on a whim we’d decided to continue driving north, not to Nordkapp, but as far as Alta, to see some more of the arctic fjords as well as the Finnmark landscape (or Lappland to most of us), the traditional homeland of the nomadic Sami peoples.

Disused Sami hut

The drive to Alta took us back onto the E6, which is the main motorhome superhighway to Nordkapp, and after the relative isolation of the previous few days we were again seeing dozens of our fellow hobbyists each hour. You are never in fact far from a motorhome in Norwegian fjord country, as this style of holidaying is very popular among the Norwegians themselves, who often turn up on the smallest roads seeking quiet spots for fishing or a weekend away, and many who use them do not travel that far. Up here there are also a fair number of Germans, Dutch and French, but surprisingly we noted in the far north a great number of Italian motorhomes, more than any other foreign group. The Norwegian tourist board must have been working overtime in Italy!

Lyngen to Olderdalen ferry by the E6

The E6 drive over the next two days was particularly scenic. First we passed the Lyngen Alps on their east side, and their craggy skyline and glinting glaciers looked spectacular in the sunshine. At another point we cleared a headland to see an archipelago of islands below us in the Kvænangen gulf, before twisting around more inlets to reach broad Alta fjord, hemmed in by more mountains and islands. On one  stretch before Alta, reindeer roamed at will across the road, forcing us to slow down many times. We gave a lift into Alta to a French hitch-hiking teacher who was spending the summer in northern Norway, and had a special interest in the Sami, or Lapps are they are often known in English. We last saw him striding off into a municipal woodland in Alta, on his way to seek out a Sami sacred stone.

Reindeer on E6 above Langfjord

It was Tuesday evening when we arrived in Alta, and we carried on for a bit to look for a nice overnight spot. We eventually took a dead-end road leading to the coast at the northern edge of Alta fjord, opposite the islands of Stjernøya and Seiland, and stopped for the night by a little-used jetty outside the village of Mikkelsøy. I (Rob) tried midnight fishing but to no avail. The next day was beautifully warm. An old woman who came to talk to us told us that we would have to go further round the coast to catch any fish, so we decided to do that, and the day being as nice as it was we decided to stay in the area for another night. We camped early on Wednesday evening, above the water near the village of Nyvoll, and saw reindeer nearby. We cooked over a fire, and at midnight I had a little more luck fishing, including my first ling. We noticed in this area for the first time that the forests were beginning to show the golds and browns of autumn, and this on the 10th of August.


70 degrees 13 minutes 35 seconds. That is the furthest north we got. It is higher than Iceland, or most of Alaska, and lies on a par with the Siberian tundra, Baffin Island in Canada, or the middle of Greenland. We were little more than 100 miles from Nordkapp at one point but decided against going there because: we had never intended to aim specifically for Nordkapp; it is a very long cul-de-sac; it is not even the most northerly point in Europe; everyone goes there despite this; it is dominated by a ghastly and overpriced ‘visitor centre’; we now have a deadline to get to Helsinki, and would have had to rush without doing the trip justice; and finally, we just felt our time was more enjoyably spent chilling by these beautiful fjords for a couple of days.

Bird on Skillefjord – We wish we’d brought a bird spotting book and binoculars with us!

Finally we headed south, and left Norway for Finland on Thursday 12th August. We had stopped in Alta for some shopping, then headed inland across the Finnmarksvidda, an undulating upland of birch forest and swamp that is cut by fast-flowing rivers on wide stony beds. Alta was a very spread-out town of wooden villas stretched around a wide bay, and merging gradually into the surrounding woods, but its centre was a post-war grid of spacious pedestrian boulevards, whose oldest buildings betrayed a 1950s origin. This was no chance town improvement scheme, but part of a wholesale reconstruction of the towns of Finnmark after the second world war, when in a final act of wickedness the German Wehrmacht systematically burnt and destroyed every town and village they passed in their retreat before the Red Army in 1944. There are very few buildings remaining in the far north, east of Lyngen, from before this date.


Our last town in Norway was Kautokeino, which is called Guovdageaidnu in Sami, and is basically a Sami town. It has no real centre but largely blends into the birch forest that surrounds and almost envelops it. We stopped to visit the local museum, which inevitably focused on the Sami, although it was rich on costumes and artefacts but poor on descriptions of history and culture. One interesting aside was that from the 1940s to the 1960s goods travelled into and out of the area in winter by means of a sort of sled-train hauled by a bulldozer equipped with a snowplough.

Kautokeino – Pikefossen waterfalls, hay drying and a Sami lavvu (wigwam)

Around 20 kilometres later we were in Finland.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Norway 3 - The Lofoten Islands

The Lofoten Islands are seen as a “must” on the tourist trail of northern Norway – particularly in motorhome circles. The islands stretch along just off the northern coast, with a range of spiky mountains running up through their centre, curved like some prehistoric animal’s spine. Their reputation of stunning beauty is well deserved, as below the serrated granite teeth of the bare topped mountains lie glistening fjords, quaint fishing villages with their collections of fisherman’s huts, or rorbuer, and stretches of white sandy beaches.

If you didn’t know where the Lofotens are…

In the right light all of this scenery is so very photogenic, and in Lofoten that light is not always going to be sunny. It might be seen as something of an understatement to say that the weather is very changeable. If blankets of grey, woolly clouds draped over slabs of ancient rock towering above you is what you want this is the place to come, as you are bound to see them at some point. It doesn’t always rain, but when it does you can see sheets of the stuff blowing across the faces of the mountains. Yet when the sun shines through it is glorious, all the more so as it reveals layers of the landscape that you missed in all the cloud and rain, with skies of deepest pink through to bright blue and back to moody, threatening grey.

Lofoten scenery

We had fallen asleep on the 4:30 a.m. Monday morning ferry from Bodø and were woken by the announcement that we had reached Moskenes and drivers should return to their vehicles. We couldn’t see the famed spine of mountains - the ‘Lofoten Wall’ or ‘Lofotenveggen’ - through the driving rain, and as Moskenes had not yet opened its doors at 8 a.m. we decided to move on to the town at the very beginning of the island range – the aptly named Å (pronounced awe). We parked, along with the many other motorhomes, in the large carpark by the museum village and fell asleep to the drumbeat of raindrops on the roof of the van.

Å in the rain

We woke again in the early afternoon to much the same sound on the roof, and the same view, only different vans, plus the day’s coach tours, outside our window. We visited the museum at Å, which seemed to take over most of the small fishing village, and mused on how hard life was and how truly disgusting cod-liver oil is, having tasted some in the little shed where it used to be produced as one of the village’s economic mainstays. It really is made from boiling down the livers of many, many cod.

Å village museum

Å has many of the features found in Lofoten fishing villages - a jumble of wooden storerooms and workshops for fishermen and fishing equipment built out on stilts above the rocky creeks around the harbour, all painted the uniform rusty red and with a backdrop of sheer mountains. The wooden huts are called rorbu (‘rowers’ dwellings’) for the small ones and sjøhus (‘sea house’) for the larger, but these days very few in such scenic places as Å serve their original purpose, having been converted into lucrative, and very attractive, tourist accommodation. These conversions were so successful as tourism took off in from the 1960s onwards, that many new rorbuer and sjøhus were built specially as holiday homes. This phenomenon went hand in hand with the decline of much of the older small-scale fishery and subsistence agriculture, and brought a welcome income to communities facing uncertain futures.

Å rorbu

Fishing is the Lofotens’ main industry, although vying now with tourism in the short summer. Many small boats are still used, although recent fisheries policy has favoured larger trawlers. In the winter the seas hereabouts teem with fish, and most of the catch is brought in during these busy months. The Lofotens specialise in dried and salted cod, or ‘stockfish’, and have done for centuries. Much of the bacalao / bacalhau consumed in Spain and Portugal comes from here, and it is traditionally dried on large wooden racks that stand in the open air on rocks above and around the fishing villages. These, like the rorbuer, are a feature of the landscape, and in summer they stand bare and stark on the hillsides, but in winter and spring will be covered with thousands of cod carcasses hung up to dry.

Cod drying racks

We only saw Å in the rain, but then moved on up the coast of the island, Moskenesøya, which is the last and westernmost of the chain. It is almost split in two by a three-pronged fjord that cuts deep into the craggy mountains. At the mouth of the fjord, the road threads across a series of causeways and high, one-way, bridges linking the villages of Reine, Sakrisøy and Hamnøy. The road then skirts the southern edge of the islands, with fantastic views on a good day of the wall of mountains stretching in a seemingly endless line, and on a very clear day, the snow-capped peaks of the mainland running almost parallel to the south-east. Not that the views were so good in the rain on Tuesday (20th July).

Cod heads at Sakrisøy for export to Nigeria for use in a spicy soup - Egusi

The rain actually eased off enough on Tuesday afternoon to give us a chance to try our hand at fishing, so we stopped at the harbour in Sund where two lads seemed to already be hauling a fair catch. We ummed and ahhed a lot at first, embarrassed at being complete beginners in front of the natives, but after they’d given us one of their coley – ‘sei’ in Norwegian, and very plentiful hereabouts - possibly out of pity, we decided to try it ourselves. I’m sure that anyone watching us cast would have been in stitches. Armed with the instructions from the back of the rod’s shrink wrapped packaging and using a 5 kroner coin, which has a hole in the middle, to practice with instead of our 15 kroner lure, we began our first casts. Unfortunately, due to rubbish knot tying, the coin flew off and plopped into the harbour – and that was 50p down the drain. Then, our complete failure to understand equipment as simple as the reel meant that every time we cast all the line sprang off and tangled into a mess. We retreated back to the van with the only option being to Google for fishing tips at our next internet opportunity and in the meantime to untangle the line. Still, the whole fishing trip can’t be classed as unsuccessful as the two lads gave us another 3 fish, one of which was a small cod.

Fishing at Sund

The weather improved on Wednesday so we headed back to Reine to take a boat trip on Reine fjord, after spending an hour untangling our fishing line following Tuesday’s attempts on the hunting front. The plan was that I (Rob) would get off at the tip of the fjord and make my way overland via footpaths to the place where we were camped, while Lesley and Charlie would take the round trip and return in the van, but alas the boatman had other ideas, insisting that round trips were offered only in the mornings, so I ended up going alone. And by Thursday the rain had descended again so we never got the scenic round trip of Reine fjord.

Camping spot at Selfjord – daytime and one in the morning

My walk across the island to our camping spot was the mother of all underestimates. It was about 3:30 p.m. as I got off the boat at a tiny sprinkling of wooden houses called Kirkefjord (or Kjerkfjord – the spellings varied) and followed the at first clear footpath over a steep col, which then revealed a broad uninhabited U-shaped valley ending in a beach on the roadless northern shore. So far so good. I had no proper map but had seen a marked route on tourist information boards, and was sure from these that it should be less than 10 km to the next road. How long can that possibly take? So I took my time, detouring to the beach at Horseid, then stopping to take in the views on the next col. However, not all 10 kilometers are the same, and these ones were bigger than I’d expected. It was not just the climbs, although there were a good number of these, but the descents were very long and the path often treacherously boggy, disappearing in the lower reaches over rocks and among tangled beech woods, making progress very slow. And finally I had not added on the time once I reached the road! Anyway, the upshot was that I walked back to Lesley and Charlie, camped by the roadside, on a quiet dead-end branch of Selfjord, at a quarter to midnight, and we sat down to eat just as the sun set. (Note from Lesley – He said he’d be back by 8 p.m. Luckily we had mobile signals this time.)

Boat trip up Reine fjord and view of Reine fjord and village of Kirkefjord

On Thursday, as the rains returned, we moved up the Lofoten chain to the next island, Flakstadøya, which was as mountainous as its neighbour. We visited a couple of small fishing villages on the south side, giving lifts to young German and Swedish hikers on the way. Nusfjord particularly was attractive, a huddle of rorbuer and wooden harbour buildings in a narrow fjord and, like Å, largely given over to a museum, although we were there quite late and just wandered through. We stopped that night at a proper campsite at Flakstad, a low-key affair where you camped or parked right in the dunes, and as the clouds began to disperse (in the biting wind) we almost saw the midnight sunset.


On Friday the weather began to brighten, and we crossed via an undersea tunnel to the next island Vestvågøya, which is larger than the westerly ones and has a flatter agricultural central area, hemmed in by mountains along its north and south coasts. The main town Leknes was modern and bland but well equipped with shops, and the end of the day saw us heading up the minor road to Unstad looking for a place to stop. Unstad is the end of the road, a small farming community beside a beach in another wide glacial valley. It is reached nowadays via a road tunnel, but the old route snakes up to the top of the pass above, and this is where we found the ideal spot for the night, with panoramic views over tiny Unstad and beyond it, the setting sun. OK, the sun went down behind a headland, but for a van with a view this was hard to beat.

Unsted – a great evening view

We had been commenting to each other for most of the time in Norway, and particularly in the Lofoten Islands, that we had seen hardly any Brits since Germany. Imagine our surprise then to be quietly having our breakfast on the abandoned road over the mountain pass to Unstad on Saturday morning when 2 coaches lumbered up carrying 60 or so British OAPs on a sightseeing trip from their SAGA cruise. It was only then that we realised that the abandoned road is now used as the local viewpoint and tourist attraction. Through the day we had several coaches come up, park, take photos, turn round in a big space just right for the job and drive back down. We had cars full of people who drove up for the fresh air and a fag, and we had groups of hikers dropped off there to walk to the village of Eggum, around the headland. One guy climbed to one of the mountain peaks with his mates and then, when he got back to his car, decided to change his sweaty clothes. It wasn’t until he popped behind the van to change his underpants that he realised anyone was still sitting in there!

Unstad – the next morning

In between all these visitors to our mountain viewpoint, and while Rob rode down the mountain and back, and then walked to the top of a nearby peak and back, I made use of the long stretch of abandoned road to perfect the art of casting a Danish 1 krone coin (only worth 10p if I lost it), having mastered tying it on securely.

We left this spot late afternoon and visited the Lofotr Viking Museum. Rob almost need resuscitation at the whopping 120 kr each admission (£12.50), but it was a really interesting place and we had a guide all to ourselves. It has left us wanting to know more about the Vikings, such as their interaction with the Sami people, their emigration to other lands, their forced conversion to Christianity, and their old Norse gods.

Viking gods and horse decorations (never dragons!)

After the museum we headed to the village of Eggum on the north coast, where the car park by the beach offered a view of the horizon over the sea which was uncluttered by headlands, villages or large islands with mountains. It was the perfect place to watch the sun set and rise, and the dozens of motorhomers, cars and hikers sharing the spot obviously all felt the same. The atmosphere, as the sun set at around 23:45, was almost partyish in a low-key sort of way – or maybe that was just the bottle of riesling we’d cracked open by way of celebrating a jolly good sunset and to fortify us to meet the sunrise some two and half hours later (not that it got dark in between).


Then, on Sunday, a British guy cycled past us at Eggum and started chatting. It turned out he was from Leicestershire – Barwell, a village just next door to where we’d both worked at some time or other - which only goes to show that it is indeed a small world.

Eggum sunset and sunrise

Eggum was also the site for another one of the 33 Artscape Nordland sculptures. We’d passed a few already on the Lofotens. On Moskenes we must have parked near one of them about three times – apparently “Laurel Leaves” – but missed it. However, if you are ever on the E10 between Raine and the Sund turn there’s a large car park with a view point and the toilets there are a work of art in themselves. “Epitaph”, on Flakstadøya, was a round stone wall about 8 ft high, but we’d picked up a couple of hitch-hikers at that point and didn’t stop at the sculpture. At Eggum there’s a gentle walk about half a kilometre along the headland from the car park to a sculpture by Marcus Raetz, called “Head” which is, as titled, a head, mounted on a metre high pole. Viewed from different angles it is variously a head in profile, an interesting set of carved lines and a head upside down. I (Lesley) liked it, but it was a lot smaller than it seemed in the clever photography of the tourist brochures.

The Head – Four of the sixteen different views

From Eggum we moved a tiny distance up the southern Vestvågøya coast, where the bays proved shallower and no good for fishing. Doubling back on ourselves a bit, we crossed over the straight to the southern flank of Gimsøy, and then on to Austvågøy – the last island that counts as part of the Lofoten chain. We took the minor road towards Brenna, where we tried fishing off a quay, this time with some success. No actual fish, but no tangled line, decent casts and very few instances of getting caught in weed. We found a lovely wild camping spot from where we watched another great sunset, only this time one our own, rather than with a whole car park of folk. Still having no success on the hunting front, we turned to gathering instead. Rob had seen an advertisement for locals to pick sea snails for restaurants, so we decided they must be good and collected some for our own version of pasta and clams – in this case the seafood being good old winkles.

Brenna wild camping – we’ve been really lucky with some of our spots

Almost since we arrived in Norway, and certainly for the whole of our time in the Lofotens, Charlie dog has taken to travelling on our second passenger seat. At first we shouted back to him to get off, but soon gave up in the face of his dogged defiance and the fact that the old dog is thoroughly spoilt. He is obviously enjoying the scenery too much and when he isn’t staring out of the window at the many sheep, aimlessly wandering about accompanied by the sound of clanking neck bells, he somehow manages to curl up on the small cushion and snore away contentedly. Still, it makes up for not being allowed anywhere off the lead in Norway, where from April through to August all dogs must be leashed. That’s all very well for those trained to do their business on a lead, but Charlie is used to a bit of freedom to find a secluded patch for his bodily functions. Talking of which, the poor dog got dived bombed by an angry gull at Henningsvær, the results of which can be seen below!

Charlie dog came too – got bombed, got spoilt and got to see some wild life.

Our last few days in the Lofoten islands were all spent on Austvågøy. We stopped one night at a quite popular free camping spot by a small beach at Kalle on the south coast, only to be surprised by car-loads of young Swedes (and not a few Czechs) arriving until gone midnight and setting up tents. The next day, as they donned solid-looking plastic helmets and pointed up at rock faces we realised we had stumbled across a corner of the rock-climbing world, the mountains around here apparently being   particularly suited to the sport (and the Lofotens of course a rewarding trip in themselves).

Strange cloud formation at Svolvær

Some of the charm of the museum-villages was beginning to wear off by now. Henningsvær we found more touristy than its appearance merited, and Kabelvåg was an attractive 19th-century small port town, but did not have enough to detain us for long. This end of the Lofotens was far busier and more visited than the other end at Å and Reine, and the mountains not so craggy and in-your-face. We stopped in Svolvær which is the main town on the islands, and despite some commercial sprawl on the edges, I (Rob) found it quite an appealing place with an unpretentious core of wooden buildings on the usual grid pattern and a spruced-up leisure harbour. However, the crowning glory of this end of the Lofoten chain came for us at the end. One rainy afternoon we decided to stop at a proper campsite for a day or two, and chose the Sildpollnes Sjøcamp (the last bit just means ‘sea(side) campsite’, the first bit is literallu ‘herring bay head’), a few km beyond Svolvær. It was located on a headland in the middle of Austnesfjord, a large and classically high-sided fjord that reached from the south coast deep into Austvågøy island. As the clouds gradually lifted we were rewarded with views of magnificent vertiginous hillsides opposite us over the water, the tops a corrugated mass of gullies and pinnacles. The third day dawned so bright that we stayed on for an extra night, and I (Rob) clambered up a hill on this side of the fjord to be rewarded with breathtaking views of mountains, water and islands. It may rain for days here but when the sun comes out you forget all the bad weather in an instant.

Views around Sildpollnes

And while staying here we caught – or more precisely Lesley caught – our first fish, a diminutive coley that some may have thrown back, but not us. To celebrate our triumph it was soon filleted and lightly fried in butter and flour. Mmm, lovely, the taste of success (at last).

The fishy taste of success (well, it was once we cooked it)