We arrived full of cold, tired from too much driving.
The ferry journey was special indeed, out of Bodø, past many skerries and islands, but we were a bit too knackered to take it all in.
We drove the three or so miles from the ferry to where we parked up.
We sighed, and reminded ourselves that we’re doing this for pleasure.
And had a short walk around.
The beauty of Lofoten is such that fatigue, beauty blindness or whatever else you might have is blown away in an instant.
The mountains seem higher, the sea clearer, and the lakes more numerous.
Wherever you look out to sea there are more islands, and probably a few Vikings too.
We’d headed to Å, the most south westerly point on the main Lofoten archipelago, and being the romantics that we are, parked up in the glamorous main car park along with 25 or more other motor homes, vans and cars.
Aside from the municipal utilities this small fishing village has all the incredible impact of St Ives (imagine St Ives if you’d never seen it before, and the sun was shining), but it’s utterly un-commercialised.
Tiny fisherman’s huts are built on stilts, part in the water, part on land to make access to their boats easier. They’re all painted red (see falun red in the Swedish article), they all have white windows, they’re mostly charmingly dilapidated, and they’re a photographer’s dream.
Drying racks everywhere scent the air as a few hundred thousand fish, and their separated heads, are air dried for markets in Italy and Nigeria respectively. It’s an interesting sight, even if the fragrance is unlikely to catch on.
I say it’s un-commercialised. In fact the fishing huts, robuer, as they’re called, are pretty much all rented out as accommodation cabins now. But they’re so basic it doesn’t feel commercial, and in fact they seem mostly taken by guys on fishing trips anyway, so their use hasn’t changed much.
There’s a shop.
There’s a bakery (excellent cinnamon buns).
There are two cafés.
There’s a good but basic looking restaurant – expect to pay about £75 a head for two courses and a drink.
And a museum.
That’s about it.
And it’s bliss.
Money, and where to spend it, in Norway.
Norway is expensive.
There’s no pretending otherwise.
Most foods are about double the price we’re used to paying if you shop at Lidl. If you’re a Waitrose person then it will be less of a shock.
Many supermarkets are pretty basic, but not as bad as the Swedish ones.
Meny, the first super we went to was superb, but we only saw the one. Rema 1000 is most common and not quite as good, think Kwik Save from 20 years ago in Britain.
You can’t buy any booze in the super other than low strength beer.
You have to shop at the state run Vinmonopolet for anything above 4.5% alcohol. But that’s OK, it’s like a smart off license, and they don’t ask about your addiction! They do however take a lot of your money. We were well impressed to see Proper Job for sale in the Vinmonopolet in Ornes, and it was only about £9 a bottle (usually 3 for £5 in the Coop).
Eating out is silly expensive – so we haven’t. Not yet anyway.
Even fuel is expensive, despite this being the second biggest oil exporting country in the world. Diesel is about £1.60 a litre here – good job the low speed limits mean that it goes a long way.
There’s a counterbalance to all this. I have never been to a western world country with fewer shops, and to my knowledge so far, no bars at all. The opportunity to spend anything is pretty minimal.
After two Å nights, a short drive past Ramberg, via the more touristy Reine and the best scenery imaginable, we then camped another two nights at Camping Skagenstrand, Flakstad.
It might only be some rough plots in the low dunes but on a good night as we had it’s utter bliss.
A very long white sand beach, that doesn’t seem big as it’s a series of little coves all joined at the edges. All around tall mountains soar from within 200m of the sea.
I imagined the midnight sun to be a cold thing, but it was warm and wonderful, in fact I got the first sunburn of the year – inside the Arctic Circle!
My swim was chilly and brief, but at least I got in there and it was still warmer than the Swedish lake last week.
Fuelled by Aqua Vit, Minty’s private Midnight Sun party was a thing to behold, involving much cheering, falling off her bicycle, and rolling around laughing. She was rather quiet on her second day there and in bed by 9.00pm.
Around a few more corners and through a few no-towns and we’re at Haukland for a night crammed in with a load of other vans.
And we wonder as we often do – why does the majority of people seem so grumpy? We’re all in a stunning place, we’re all on some sort of holiday, it’ll be sunny tomorrow, and OK, the anaesthetic is expensive, but it is available. So we make a point of extra enthusiastic waving at anyone who gives way to us on the road, and to all those who somehow forget to acknowledge us when we let them through.
It was a shame the sun didn’t shine at Haukland as the scenery was stunning again, and I got really high above it all on an old cart track.
Best of all though was discovering something that I bet only one in ten thousand visitors to Haukland Beach get to see.
I followed a track past a lake.
I carried on up then past another lake.
I could see on the map before I set off that the path would come to an abrupt end.
But I made that end my destination.
Seeing the end wasn’t enough. I decided to go all the way to the concrete bunker-like wall at the track’s end.
The wall had a circular hole in it with a grill across. Moving a big rock into place I could get enough height to look through the grill.
And what I saw was completely brilliant.
The bunker caps a tunnel that no doubt allows access to the complicated drainage systems that keep the lakes from overflowing and flooding.
I could see probably 100 metres into the steeply climbing tunnel.
And at the end of my vision, just before a corner, a road has been created, with the same lighting as in any of the road tunnels we’d driven through so many times.
And on that road there’s a car.
A real car.
A car that no one will ever be able to get out.
It’s just there.
How completely bloody brilliant!
A few more narrow roads (little acknowledgement from people you stop to let by, I wonder what they’d do if you didn’t stop?), a few more miles, and we pull out to Eggum.
It’s a bit smelly from rotting seaweed, but otherwise beautiful.
The Germans had a huge radar station here in the Second World War, watching the channel.
The Norwegians have a rather smart café here now. Watching the channel.
There’s another big hill – I hope I’ll climb it later after Minty’s excellent gnocchi with a spinach and crème fraiche sauce settle.
No rush though as it won’t get dark for at least 400 hours yet.
Instead of the hill Polly and I circumnavigated a lake at midnight – that was ace too.
Does anyone remember that 70s classic cholesterol fuelled dinner Egg On Cheese Dream? Our breakfast version here, Eggum Cheese Dream, was a tad healthier with spinach, and toast rather than fried bread. Parmesan on breakfast has got to be the way forward.
At Malnes a rough little lane takes us 2kms off the already small road.
At the end paradise awaited us and we obliged by stopping the night.
The best swim – hot sun, very cold, completely calm water.
Some van envy with a young German couple in a 4×4 Sprinter. We pour over each others’ rigs with glee, and the skies just got better and better until sleep took us away.
At Svolvaer, probably the Lofoten’s largest town, we filled up the LPG tank at the only facility we’ve seen for a long time. Apparently there’s no LPG in Finland at all, so that means we won’t use the heating anymore. We need to eek what gas we have out until we get down to the Baltic states.
On the Lofotens the Rowan seems to be the go to tree.
At Å, on our arrival, its sticky sweet blossom helped mask the stench of the hundreds of thousands of drying fish heads.
And everywhere a million buttercups mingle with pretty purple flowers to create a wild flower delight. While clouds of cow parsley cover most low land.
We trundle into another wild west town, a huge American station wagon from the 50s hums by. There are no horses, and hardly any other signs of life.
Except here, at Laukvik, there’s a bar!
We park up harbour side and go straight there.
Two beers – £20!
At least their decent wifi allowed us to download some project work.
Minty tells me that it got rowdy late at night – but I slept through, oblivious.
Here they have the biggest fish drying racks we’ve seen, possibly 8 metres high, and I hoped to photograph them in the morning light – but the stench drove me back.
Now at probably our last Norwegian over night stop over we’re surrounded by high snow capped mountains yet again, as we camp up with a few other vans on the fjord side.
The eight vans here tonight are, Norwegian, Swedish, 3 x German, Czech, Spanish, and ours from Cornwall. The United Nations of Vans!
One last thing in Norway – and what a beauty. We detour 10miles off the E6 to visit Narvik. Not the town itself, but the cable car. At 656m it’s not the highest ski station, but when it’s close to a sheer drop to sea level that’s impressive enough.
We also ate lunch. A shared burger, a beer each and two cable car tickets for a sniff under £80 – ah well, it’ll be a long while before we pass this way again.
Norway – wow!
Our short Norway adventure has been truly wonderful. The few sunny days have been fantastic, but the scenery never once let us down no matter what the weather. The swimming was cold but invigorating, and I’m delighted to have been for a few dips inside the Arctic Circle. The walking has been good too, although it has brought home to me how lucky we are in Britain to have so many way marked trails.
Yes, it’s expensive, but there’s little to spend money on. The coffee’s not great, usually served from a flask (think corporate meeting rooms), even in cafés, but you can top up. We only ate ferry food (that sounds so lame, but the fact is there are very few restaurants, and each that we’ve seen has been stupidly expensive) but that was fun anyway. We’ve seen very few British vans, mostly Norwegians and Germans, but we have seen thousands of vans – they’re easily the most common vehicle on the road.
The high point has to be the midnight sun (and Minty’s party) on Skagen Beach, Flakstad.
Thank you Norway for your wonderful roadside facilities, your jagged mountains and chilly lakes, for your beautiful beaches, and easy roads (except the narrow tunnels that is).
Tonight, Sunday 8thJuly, we’re be back in Northern Sweden’s Abisko National Park, en route for another new country – Finland.
Thank you Dr Ellery, thank you Dr Unversucht, and thank you anyone else who told us that we must go to Lofoten if we travelled north in Norway.
Margaret B – we left your pebble in Fiskbol, on Lofoten. We intended to get to Trømso, but the weather there has been awful for weeks so we skipped the far north.