Author Archives: Aaron Hill

About Aaron Hill

My wife Nicky and I have swapped our static desk-bound working lives for a more adventure-filled open-air existence on the road. We are currently travelling around Europe by motorhome. You can read all about our recent travels here: https://aaronandnickytravels.wordpress.com/about-us/

Andøya – Stave & Andenes

Driving to Andøya Island where we wild camped near Stave and visited Andenes

Leaving Nyksund, we drove deeper into the Vesterålen, through Sortland again and north to the island of Andøya.  We drove first to Bleik camping with the intention of staying there, but found it to be just a steep, scruffy field all really crammed in with caravans, and it didn’t appeal to us at all.  We moved on instead to Stave camping, where we had previously eyed up the opportunity to hire one of their grassy mound hot-tubs and thought this could be the time.  But on arrival, this also disappointed; the site was small and rough and the hot-tubs dirty, as well as being on the wrong side of the main road for casual dipping into water at the beach.  Their flyers had sold us a dream but delivered much less, so we preferred not to give up our money to either campsite and went looking for a wild camp spot.

Not far along the road we spotted a large patch of gravel at the end of a long pitted track.  It was far enough from the road to be quiet, and our position would be discreet, so we slowly bumped up the short road and settled in.  We were later joined by a solitary German lady and her inquisitive sausage dog, parking up near us in her very old motorhome.   Much later, in heavy rain, a BMW pulled up near us and, as we wondered what they were planning, out came a small tent and they pitched it on the sodden gravel as they readied themselves for a damp night.  With their tent up, they remained sitting in their car most of the night until it was time to brave the cold tent for sleep.

Matind - (the walk begins)

Matind - (cold mist envelops us)

The weather had been awful all day, with a solid, low-lying mist that never burned off, but blew around quickly, teasing us that it might leave, but returning just as quick as it departed.  We had vaguely planned to undertake either a puffin tour or a whale-watching trip, but the visibility was so poor we decided it was not worth the trouble or expense.  We had found a local hill walk instead, and were waiting for a burst of motivation to go.  Late morning we saw a brief weather window and chanced it, all the while thinking that we’d most likely turn back on the walk if the mist returned and closed in.  So we quickly packed up and drove off, carefully rolled though the huge craters of our entrance road and headed for the start of the walk.  We passed two cyclists being followed above by a tracking drone, filming their progress through the damp fog.  We doubted it was the most iconic footage they recorded during their cycle tour of Norway.

Matind - (on the edge)

Matind - (above the mist)

We parked on a small stopping place and quickly bounced up the obvious path leading though some light trees, before the weather had a chance to change its mind.  We were heading for Måtind, a small hill at only 408m high, but an isolated grassy bump with steep cliff faces on three sides, making it seem far more imposing and spectacular than its height suggested.  The low mist was thick and fast flowing, like a bubbling white soup.  Nothing was visible in the valley below us, and only a few local green peaks rose high enough to escape the blanket of white and be lit gloriously by the sun.  Occasionally, with a stiff bluster from the wind, the fog escaped the valley bowl and spilled over the saddle of the mountains in a fast moving wave, encompassing everything in its perfect whiteness.  We got caught a couple of times in this foggy overspill, but it cleared again quickly like a retreating wave on a beach.

Matind - (valley in cloud)

Matind - (mist layer in valley)

Matind - (n on the top)

Reaching the higher areas above the top level of the fog afforded a magical view across the top of the cloud blanket.  We couldn’t see the pristine beaches we knew were directly below, but the fragile, ethereal nature of the meandering fog created for us its own special spectacle. There were no other walkers around anywhere on the hills, the fog in the valley forming a barrier between us and them as we climbed ever closer to the highest point.  We enjoyed a long stop at the top, marvelling at the wide-ranging views above the fog and our glorious isolation on this island peak.  Once we began heading down we were soon engulfed in the white mist, our skin chilled in its cold grasp, and the path was difficult to see.  We made it safely back down without seeing much of anything, very glad to have had our special time above the whiteness.  We were also pleased to have manufactured ourselves a decent, interesting hike on a rather grim day when it would have been so easy to stay snugly inside Benny.

Matind - (cliff edge in cloud)

Matind - (the summkit plateau)

Matind - (together on the top)

The next morning we thought it important to visit Andenes, to close off the loop of where we would have been if we had impulsively jumped on the departing ferry at Gryllfjord, back on Senja Island.  If we had taken it, this ferry would have deposited us in Andenes a few weeks ago, to continue the main national tourist road.  Today our route took us past another built viewpoint where we stopped a while to look out to nesting gannets and cormorants on some nearby rocky islands.  We then drove on into Andenes and stopped briefly near the tourist office for a look around, but we saw nothing beyond what we had expected from a ferry port town.

Andenes - viewpoint stop

Deciding we had seen enough of Andøya, we departed for the south, passing by Sortland again on our way to overnight at the marina at Lodingen.  This stop was a quiet, pretty place, with vastly oversized plots that caused no end of confusion to late arrivals who thought it would be fine to park on empty parts of already occupied spaces.  It was popular and over-subscribed but they could easily accommodate many more motorhomes with a more sensible approach to spacing; we parked central to our designated plot and had five metres each side remaining unused, and twice a newcomer tried to fit in between us and the next parked van, but were moved on by the site warden.  We had a rather futile walk into the town then a short clamber up to the small lighthouse behind the aire, before retiring for an early night.

Lodingen - giant bicycle

Lodingen - harbour aire

We were heading back east in the direction of the airport at Evenes, where we had a very special visitor flying in to join us on our travels for a week, and together we planned to explore the Lofoten Islands.

 

Norway – Nyksund & Dronningruta

Leaving Ringstad, driving to Nyksund village & walking Dronningruta (The Queen’s Route) the following day.

After saying our goodbyes at our WorkAway in Ringstad, we were back on the open road for the first time in ten days.  We hugged the coast clockwise, our first stop just short of the small town of Staume.  We paused a while near a small museum so we could walk up to the The Man from the Sea statue, a tall installation figuratively representing the local fishermen of the area. The 4.5m high cast iron statue initially divided the community, it being loathed and loved in equal parts, but as the symbolism of its form was more understood and disseminated, it has slowly become an integral and respected part of local lore. The elongated form allows a high view out to sea, keeping watch over fishermen at work.  Its giant feet deeply rooted it to the land, as an anchor would a ship.  It holds a light aloft, to help guide the fishermen safely back home, a crystal that glows blue in arctic winter light.  Even its controversial penis signifies the continuity and family-focused nature of the local fishing communities, with skills, knowledge and craft being handed down over generations.

Man from the sea (view out)

Man from the sea (in context)

There was a photographic display of other artists’ works, but very few of them were of the same emotive quality as The Man from the Sea.  We would see a few others in later days and be a little disappointed at each, from either their small size or from a lack of imagination perspective.  We moved on, followed the road along the winding coast before turning left up another finger-like peninsula to reach Myre.  After a quick shop for some fresh provisions we pushed on northwards, where the road became a hard, pitted dust track.  For five slow miles we bumped along it, with the sea on our left and high cliffs tight on our right, until we reached our goal; the once-abandoned but now quirkily revived village of Nyksund.

Nyksund (wharf buildings)

Nyksund (harbour view)

We squeezed into a narrow strip of hard-standing alongside a few other motorhomes, just a few hundred metres beyond the busy car-park.  We all lined up neatly with noses looking out to sea, snuggled in tight, like a display row in a showroom.  Happy with our spot, we walked across the causeway into the centre of Nyksund for a quick explore.  Nyksund was a traditional fishing village that, due to the use of larger fishing boats that were unsuitable for its small harbour, was depopulated and eventually abandoned.  The town lay empty for over thirty years before a German man organised to have discontented youths from Berlin live and work there to help reactivate and redevelop the site.  It has since become a haven for artists and other creative types and that in turn has brought an influx of tourists, supporting the cafés, restaurants and guest houses scattered around the harbour; a self-perpetuating cycle.

Nyksund (town and aire)

There were several nice art galleries in town, but only a few artists displaying works that we found of interest.  We browsed some small shops, filled mostly with junk and postcards.  A large mural brightened up one small square where locals chatted as they cooked sausages on a gas stove.  Many of the buildings were still in their renovation phase, with boarded up windows and in desperate need of paint. The town as a whole was still in need of much more investment and time; we found it scruffy and tired, but perhaps others believed that was an essential part of its charm.  We climbed the small hill to visit the community church, a quaint timber structure with a simple, yellow interior, bright and airy.  From here we saw three expedition kayakers loading up and leaving for a multi-day excursion, waving goodbye to well-wishers on the shore as they paddled out of the calm harbour into a choppy sea.

Nyksund (sunset in bay)

Seeing the thriving community in Nyksund was interesting, but our main goal here was to walk the Dronningruta, the Queen’s Route, one of the top rated hikes in Norway. The mountainous circular loop could be joined only a short distance from where we had stopped, so we could start the hike straight from Benny in the morning.  That evening we had one short walk to stretch out legs as the red sun fell into the glowing sea.  We wandered over a small rocky hill that offered us a wonderful view back to Nyskund village and of our comfortable wild-camping aire.  A tail of fluffy clouds glowed pink above the stone causeway and the distant grey mountain slopes looked lit from within.

Dronningruta - (first climb)

Dronningruta - (mountain views)
We slept well, too well, and awoke much later than expected. Ten days of actual work must have made us a little more weary than we’d realised. We ate breakfast, packed up a lunch and finally started our trek around 11.15am, under a bright, hot sun and cloudless sky.  Like at Besseggen Ridge, we’d lucked out again with perfect weather on the day we had a long, iconic hike planned.  The route rose sharply from sea level, up a well-worn dirt path flanked by low, pink heather.  We were soon sticky with sweat and silently cursing the sun cream running off our foreheads and into our eyes.  When we could see them through blurred, stinging eyes, the views were quite spectacular.

Dronningruta - (cairn with a view)

Dronningruta - (nicky at cairn)
After the steep scrambled climb we reached a long grassy plateau with panoramic views out to sea and beyond to rows of faint snow-capped mountains.  This was the area of the Vesterålen Islands that we’d just left and, further behind, the distant Lofoten Islands where we were heading to next. We followed the marked path, seeing only a handful of other walkers, and a few fell runners, spread out across the mountain.  We’d expected the renowned route to be busy, especially in such glorious weather, but we were happily surprised to have it mostly to ourselves.

Dronningruta - (plateau walk)

Dronningruta - (us on rock)

We ate our lunch on a flat rock looking out to sea, picking out a few small lighthouses built on the rocky skerries far below.  A few boats glided past, looking insignificant in the expanse of ocean surrounding them.  Far below to our right we could see the small fishing village of Stø, overlooked by some sort of radar monitoring station. We descended down a steep path to reach the road just outside of the village, before turning left to follow the walk back along the coastline.

Dronningruta - (the route continues)

Dronningruta - (a on the path)
Dronningruta - (n looks over islands)

On this lower return leg we soon crossed Skipssarven beach, a wonderful curved stretch of white sand set at the bottom of high cliffs.  We had noticed it before from the cliff top before descending to reach Stø village, and it was even more pristine and inviting up close.  There were people camping on the grass just behind the beach, and with such a quiet and beautiful spot in the bright sunshine we were momentarily jealous of those who sleep under thin canvas in such natural surroundings.  Later we would remember why we no longer do, and our jealousy would turn to pity once the wind and rains returned and we saw other campers struggle in a deluge.

Dronningruta - (skipssanden beach from above)

Dronningruta - (approaching Sto)

Dronningruta - (Sto village)

Dronningruta - (Skipssanden beach)

This stretch of coast was littered with large trunks of smooth, grey driftwood, scattered around the stony beaches.  Some had been dragged up to be utilised as makeshift benches, other parts formed bridges through the muddy areas of the well-worn path.  It was all much easier walking on the low part of the walk, and we quickly ate up the miles back as the view slowly changed.  Before reaching the last uphill stretch to close our loop, we reached a small, shallow lake set not far from the sea.  With no other walkers nearby, we decided on a quick cooling dip, and stripped off and slipped into the water.  It was smooth and warm and we relaxed a few minutes before redressing just as a group of seven walkers appeared over the stony hillock behind.  We shared a knowing smile with each other as we nodded our casual greetings to them.

Dronningruta - (view back to skipssanden beach)

Dronningruta - (skinny dip in lake)

Dronningruta - (getting boots back on)

We closed the Dronningruta circular route shortly after our swim, with a last climb up a narrow dirt path lined with rocks and twisted tree-roots to the sign-posted saddle between two small peaks.  From here it was an easy downhill back the way we began, until we reached the gravel road that took us back to Nyksund.  The sun was still shining but the wind was now whipping up white horses in the sea and it chilled us when we walked in the shadow of the mountain.  We returned to Benny a little over five hours after leaving and passed a second quiet night in the same aire, very contented with our iconic and very beautiful 17.5km walk.

WorkAway – Ringstad (Part 2)

Ringstad Part 2:  Cooling swims at local lakes, foraging for berries on local islands, midnight camp fires and mountain hikes.

Ringstad - (Seahouse from sea)

Ringstad - (island across still bay)

Our work continued day to day, with each day a simple variation on a theme.  The weather stayed bright and clear, the views out to sea remained spectacular, the beauty never diminishing with familiarity.  The restaurant was busy and the house and apartment turnover high, so there was always plenty to be done.  I chipped in with cleaning a house when required, but managed to avoid the kitchen or restaurant in favour of more outdoor gardening work.  Each night Nicky and I drank and chatted late with Karina, learning more of the history and future of their busy lives and business.  The more we heard of the wild beauty of the Vesterålen islands in winter, its pristine snow glistening bright under green aurora skies, the more we vowed to return.

Ringstad - (setting sun over sea)

Ringstad - (barbecue hut)

Ringstad - (pink clouds)

One night, after closing the restaurant, we all walked a short way around to a comfortable timber shelter and spent the remainder of the late evening barbecuing on an open fire.  The site was kitted out with woolly blankets, cushions and lots of seasoned firewood, all we needed for a good night.  The sun turned the sky pink over the barbeque place, reflecting the lines of coloured-in clouds on the still, dark water of the adjacent sea.  When the flames died down a little, we devoured tender slabs of steak and pork straight from the metal grill, with sides of various potato salads.  Afterwards we sat around the dying fire sipping red wine, chatting into the small hours under the midnight sun.  Nicky and I were the last to leave, reluctantly abandoning the fire and the mesmerising pink skies around 2.30am.

Ringstad - (firestarters)

Ringstad - (barbecue hut chat)

The next morning, after a few hours work, the full group of Workawayers decided to take kayaks out to visit a few small islands to forage for berries, and perhaps wild mushrooms if they were ready.  We all paddled as a group out to a nearby spit of sand joining two small islands and exited our kayaks, with empty tubs in hand.  We walked through the low, springy bushes searching for ripe cloudberries, but we were a week or so early, as we could only find hard red fruit on each plant.

Ringstad - (view from beach)

Ringstad - (foraging beach spot)

Ringstad - (a kayaking on calm sea)

To compensate, there were many ripe wild blueberries, so we picked those instead.  We then kayaked to another grassy island, again landing on a small sandy beach between pointed rocks.  We all foraged for blueberries and found there to be an abundance, and ate many as we picked.  The collected blueberries were later made into very enjoyable sweet dumplings by our lead kayaker and resident chef, Xervin.

Ringstad - (A & N kayaking)

Ringstad - (second beach stop)

Over the week, we had a few short sea dips to cool off from the heat of the day, lasting only a few minutes each time but we emerged from the chilly sea water cooled and refreshed.   One afternoon we had a quick cycle to a popular sandy beach set on the end of a local lake.  It was only 3km away, an easy free-wheel down past a few other small lakes, huge expanses of wild lupins and a neat strawberry farm.  The tiny stretch of beach was packed with families, the parents sunbathing and the kids playing raucously in the water.  We slumped onto the short grass at the side of the sand and lazed a while, then tried to have a swim in lake.  The only issue was the shallowness of the water, and we had to walk a long way out to get deep enough water to cover our knees.  It was perfect for small children to splash around in, but not ideal for a proper swim.  Still, it cooled us down very nicely in the warm afternoon sun.

Ringstad - (sunset on seahouse)

Ringstad - (pre-dinner drinkspot)

On our last day in Ringstad, we worked through the busy morning shift to help out, even though it was a scheduled day off for us. Mid-afternoon we borrowed our host’s battered old jeep to drive a short way around the coast to where we could begin a climb of a nearby peak.  The 467m high hill, Vetten, had formed the solid backdrop of our stay and we had long talked of standing on its top to look down over the islands we had kayaked around, and the time was now.  It was a short walk, around an hour and half up to the top, with an initial steep climb turning into easy walking for most of the well-worn route.  We passed and examined a neat green cabin available for hikers to use before continuing up to the top of the hill where another small hut had been built for walkers to seek shelter.  We sat inside out of the chilling wind to eat our lunch, signing the scrappy visitor book as we took in the expansive view.

Ringstad - (view from Vetten)

Ringstad - (hut on Vetten)

Even on this rather dull, cloudy day, the setting was incredible; below us there were calm, protected bays scattered with rocky islands covered with green vegetation and nesting sea birds. It was an eye-opener to see the scale of the area in one vista.  Ringstad, where we had based ourselves, was visible on the end of a small peninsula, and we could just pick out Benny awaiting our return in the car-park behind the main house.  Ringstad was positioned on one of many small inlets scattered throughout this small tongue of the mighty fjord, with many other stretches of water and tall dark hills stretching to the horizon and beyond.  We could see why boat traffic and travel was so important here; a thirty minute jaunt on a fast boat to cross the fjord could be a three hour drive around the difficult, winding coast road.  Our high overview literally gave us a different perspective on the terrain we had immersed ourselves in.

Ringstad - (climbing Vetten)

Ringstad - (from top of Vetten)

Our ten days in residence in Ringstad proved to be a wondrous experience.  We worked hard, and played just the same, taking all kayaking opportunities, swims and hikes whenever possible.  The eagle viewing on the rib-boat nature safari was a visual treat, and the calm, ever-changing views of the surrounding inlet and far-away mountains were a constant delight.  We enjoyed the long chats with our hosts and our quiet, contemplative row boat trip under a cloudless sky.  We were hesitant to leave but equally hesitant to stay on, as we could easily have become trapped by the visual enchantments of such a place.  It was sad to drive away, but life is but a series of meetings and partings, that is the way of it, as a wise frog in a muppet movie once reminded us all.

WorkAway – Ringstad (Part 1)

Part 1:  Arrival at our WorkAway in Ringstad and settling in with our hosts, our allocated jobs and our responsibilities.

We left our fjord-side aire in Årstein and headed west, deep into the Vesterålen islands.  The weather was incredible on the way over; clear, bright skies with light wispy cloud and the temperature stuck around 24 degrees.  The bodies of water we passed as we crawled our way through to the Vesterålen islands were of such luminous light green colour, mineral rich with blonde sand visible below, each framed with brooding, dark mountain peaks.  We passed through the main town of Sortland on our way, pausing for a quick look at the famed blue houses at the harbour.  We also passed the town’s bronze statue of their recently retired, very dedicated and much loved litter-picker.

Ringstad - (beautiful route in)

The winding route we followed hugged the coast, avoiding any of the large, jagged mountains that formed the ever-present backdrop to our scenic drive. We arrived into Ringstad , at Huset på Yttersiden, after around three hours driving, where we met the proprietor Ian, originally of Cornwall, and several of the other current WorkAwayers, who were mostly young students from various places around Europe.  The WorkAwayers were all living in the same house and we were offered a tiny room with bunks alongside them, but politely declined, deciding to live in Benny instead.  The house’s clutter, grime and noise was just a little too much of a reminder of our own student days, times we had left behind us twenty years ago, and we didn’t want our old, grumpy heads to cramp their laid-back student style.

Ringstad - (first kayak tour)

Ringstad - (n on the water)

After having been on site for less than an hour we got invited to join a beginner’s kayak trip, out around the local skerries, but with only one spare kayak remaining Nicky bagged the only available spot.  She was to be trained up to perhaps lead future kayaking trips, once she learned how the site was set-up and where the standard local route goes.  She followed the group out, led by Ian, taking in the direction of the route and learning how best to deal with novice kayakers in what could be a dangerous environment if the winds or weather were to quickly change or someone went over.  The trip took a leisurely three hours or so, and Nicky enjoyed every minute on the calm water.

Ringstad - (kayak store shed)

Ringstad - (the setting)

That evening we finally met the lady of the house, Karina, when we all sat down for dinner.  Ian and Karina had met many years ago in Germany, before returning to Karina’s homeland of Norway where they had now run their hospitality and tour business for over ten years.  Along with many kayaking trips, Ian led rib-boat bird-watching and photography tours, local hiking tours and hired out fishing boats to guests.  There were bookings to manage for their houses and apartments, along with all associated house cleaning, laundry and daily maintenance.  On top of that, they ran a busy bar and restaurant, the only one in the local vicinity.  No wonder the welcome assistance of keen, hard-working WorkAwayers was something they relied upon.

Ringstad - (row boat at night)

We all sat on the external decking as we ate dinner, looking out to sea, the night still and beautiful.  Seagulls were nesting on a nearby island and they were the only disturbers of the peace, with their raucous calls and squawking the main background noise.  With the skies entirely cloud free the views out to the far mountain ranges were simply incredible, but the temperature had cooled dramatically and we shivered in the cold air for a while, until thick, woollen blankets were brought out to help warm us.  Even in the summer, being this far north we should have expected to experience cold, crisp nights.  Wrapped up well, we talked late into the night as we continually stared out at the island-filled view, enchanted by its simple, still beauty.

Ringstad - (cutting the grass)

Ringstad - (site plan sketch)

I was put on gardening and maintenance duty, a job that suited me just fine.  I strimmed edges and pathways, raked off moss, trimmed hedges, weeded and cut grass all around the site on their sit-on mower.  It was sticky work under the hot afternoon sun, but it involved a level of pleasant effort that kept me very active and produced immediate, satisfying results.  I also engraved a couple of fishing gaffs with personal messages, to be presented as a small token of their appreciation to long-term returning guests.  I was also tasked with sketching up a quick site plan for both WorkAwayers and customers, so they would know where each property was located for cleaning or visiting respectively.  I was later asked to help with producing fire plans for each of the properties, and sketched up quick floor plans of each, noting escape routes and positions of fire extinguishers and break glass points, that were later to be framed and hung in the properties.

Ringstad - (a kayaking)

Ringstad - (nicky in kayak)

Nicky had been on cleaning duties, either in the kitchen or turning over apartments between guests.  But with our host Ian feeling rather ill one morning, Nicky was tasked with leading her first kayak group, with my back-up support.  Nicky led them out of the bay, after explaining all the basics; how to put on spray decks, how to get in and out of the kayak safely, and how to paddle correctly and efficiently.  I followed behind, carrying the safety tow line, medical kit and spare paddle, staying at the back to keep a watchful eye over the novice paddlers.  I had to correct a few, those somehow using their paddles upside down or back to front, and taught several how best to steer their kayak, but generally they all managed to muddle their way through the peaceful island tour with no real issues.  The sea was mirror-calm and the warm sun glimmered lightly off the flat surface, making the whole experience quite idyllic, perfect for their first ever sea paddle and for Nicky’s first kayak guiding experience.

Ringstad - (nicky on rib-boat)

Ringstad - (island lighthouses)

Afterwards, as we hadn’t lost any paying guests to the sea, we were rewarded with seats on the rib boat for a Nature Safari trip.  There were ten paying guests so we sneaked on at the back as the last two extras.  Before setting out we were all dressed in full fleece overalls and life vests, with hats and gloves optional. The powerful rib could run at over 60 km/hour, bouncing smoothly over the small waves.  We visited Hellfjorden, a spectacular, narrow strip of water with high cliffs, and the site of many nesting arctic terns.  We watched the very pretty but highly territorial birds until they grew slightly irate with our presence, then moved off before we disturbed or upset them too much.

Ringstad - (arctic tern)

Ringstad - (cormorants)

After a fast crossing of the wide Eidsfjorden, we reached a scattering of small rocky outcrops where a large colony of cormorants nested.  They sat dramatically on the top of rounded bumps thickly coated with guano, their bodies neatly silhouetted against the greying sky.  We next travelled to view a colony of yellow headed gannets, where they similarly stood around in large groups, resting in the afternoon sun.  We cruised past many small lighthouses or stone day-markers, and later passed a very remote house on a small island that the current owner was transforming into a hotel to offer an exclusive, peaceful experience.  It was perched precariously on a steep, rugged cliff and reachable only by boat.

Ringstad - (gannets on rock)

Ringstad - (sea eagle swoops)

On our return leg, close to home, Ian suddenly veered the rib boat violently to the left, turning a sharp bend and then cutting the engines to glide towards a small island.  He had spotted the main focus of the trip, a sea eagle, watching us from its high perch.  Ian threw a fish into the water, knowing that an eagle could spot it from up to 2km away, and we sat back with pregnant anticipation. In only a few moments, we saw the huge sea eagle take off, with its wing span of two and a half metres, then elegantly swoop down and take the fish from the water, talons first.  It was the definite highlight of the rib-boat trip, and we felt privileged to have witnessed it at such close quarters.

Ringstad - (a rowing)

Ringstad - (n rowing)

That night we were offered a la carte in the restaurant, and we both chose to have peppered steaks with frites from the menu, which was a very tasty, richly sublime and rare treat. We later celebrated our wonderful day, and dinner, with a fun trip around the sheltered bay in a small rowing boat, peacefully floating around and absorbing the view.  After a few days we have expected the beauty to wane and our enthusiasm for it all to wear off, even a little, but we were both still deeply enthralled by the subtlety of the changing light on the islands and on the extensive saw-tooth mountain backdrop.  We could see the peaks of the Lofoten Islands far to the back, with the island of Hadsel standing tall in front, set just across the deep blue Eidsfjorden.

Part 2 to follow.

Norway – Gratangsbotn & Årstein

Enjoying a few restful, lazy days around Gratangsbotn & Årstein, on the banks of a calm fjord.

We moved on the next morning from Senjatrollet, again following the tourist route road.  We first called into the tiny hamlet, or rather the hotel and fishermen apartments, of Hamm, and had a short walk around their pretty marina front, watching a few beginners have kayaking lessons in the still, protected water. From here we drove all the way to Gryllfjord, just to have a look.  As we arrived at the end of the road, staff on the about-to-leave ferry wildly gesticulated to us that we could quickly sneak on if we wanted.  We didn’t, although annoyingly if we had wanted to, we’d no doubt have been patiently waiting in the queue from several hours ago.

Hamm - apartments

Senja - (parked by the water)

We returned the same way, as the only way forward was that ferry to Andenes.  Instead we drove inland, to the town of Finnsnes where we paused for a bite of lunch.  After lunch we went hunting for LPG, and at a junction near Bardufoss we found exactly what we were after – 11kg propane –  and they even accepted our old, empty Spanish gas bottle in exchange (Norway and Spain have the same top connection) so it only cost us €25 for the refill.  This was our first gas purchase on this trip, and a happy result for us given the high prices we’d been quoted in Sweden.

Gratangsbotn (n with view)

Gratangsbotn (Benny parked)

After a few more hours driving, through mostly built-up townscapes and unusually scruffy countryside, we arrived in an aire at Gratangsbotn, a picnic spot set in front of a rather empty and sadly neglected looking hotel.  There were other motorhomes around when we parked up, but one by one they all disappeared down the hill and left us to enjoy the beautiful view over the fjord all by ourselves.  The sun set slowly into a pink bath as we enjoyed the peaceful quiet of this stop.

Arstein - (at the fjord)

The next morning, with the sun brightly lighting up the view below from a cloudless sky, we rolled down the hill about eight miles to another nearby aire in Årstein.  We parked up right on the edge of the same fjord we had been admiring from afar, on an area of rough gravelled ground by the base of a bridge.  There was a line of motorhomes already in residence, haphazardly parked along the edge, all bar one looking out over the water.  We had arrived in our chosen aire very early and now planned a very lazy down day, sitting in the sun and relaxing as we watched the light slowly change on the distant peaks.  Our one exertion of the day was to wander slowly across the bridge to the town of Årstein, where we found a Spar and bought some fresh bread.

Arstein - bridge across fjord

Arstein - (cycling along fjord)

The next morning we had initially planned to move on again, but changed our mind early on.  The day was beautiful, the aire peaceful and we had no place else to be.  Also, it had been 3205 miles, three countries and 51 days since we had last cycled, back at Guldbæk Vingård in Denmark, and it was time to change this; the poor bikes must have thought we’d forgotten about them.  The weather was kind, we had a full day to play, so why waste it?  We removed our bikes from the garage and, after some loving maintenance and a thorough garage tidy, we set off.  We first crossed the nearby bridge and followed the coast of the fjord anti-clockwise and north.  The cycling was hard work, our lungs felt and sounded like old, rusty cylinders being rubbed down with sandpaper.

Arstein - (n cycling fjord)

Arstein - (path down to fjord)

We were rasping and gasping on what were really only minor inclines, amazed at how desperately we were lacking bike fitness after only seven weeks out of the saddle.  Our efforts were being rewarded with a beautiful backdrop of jagged peaks, splattered with patches of snow that sat high above a tree line that formed a solid green band between the bare rock and the sea.  The water in the fjord was a milky green-blue, shimmering in the sunlight when the light wind ruffled the surface.  We rolled through a few settlements until we found a narrow cut path through some high grass, snaking down a steep hill that led, we hoped, to the banks of the fjord below.

Arstein - (aaron post-swim)

Arstein - (nicky swims)

We abandoned our bikes near the top of the slope and walked down, eventually finding a small beach area and an old timber fishing hut – a perfect spot for a sneaky fjord dip.  We stripped off, carefully crossing the jagged stones before gently easing ourselves into the cool water, feeling instantly refreshed.  The slightly salty water was sharp and cold, but clear and invigorating and we splashed around for a few minutes, enjoying the cleansing thrill after our sticky hot cycle.  We quickly dressed to avoid the attention of the persistent flies our presence had intruded upon, and re-climbed the steep path to reunite with our bikes.

Arstein - (a on road back)

Arstein - (n enjoys downhill)

Arstein - (seal watching)

We returned along the same route, our lungs better up to the task this time, and spent the rest of the afternoon seal watching in the bay.  One ‘seal’ we spotted from afar, on closer inspection, became a fully hooded snorkeller, with long fins, slowly making his way along the bay inspecting the bottom – for what, we had no idea.  It was really good to have a few relaxing days of easy sunshine, to recharge and relax.  Our next stop was at another WorkAway project, deep in the Vesterålen islands, where we would hopefully have some fjord kayaking opportunities alongside our other duties, so we wanted to be rested and ready.

 

Senja Island – Mefjord & Senjatrollet

We caught a ferry across for a short visit to Senja island, where we spent a few days exploring different sites as we followed the National Tourist Road around the island’s coastline.

We rolled away from Tromsø east to catch the ferry from Brensholmen to Botnhamn, on the island of Senja.  There were only three ferries a day, and we had arrived a few hours early for the next one.  Whilst waiting we noted that, if booked through a Trøms Region travel app, the ferry cost was 20% less, so decided to try.  We downloaded the app and purchased the ticket, only to find that tickets, bizarrely, have a shelf-life of only 45 minutes from purchase, so we were not going to be boarded before it expired.  Playing dumb, it took a few explanatory phone-calls to their head office to finally get the original purchase expunged and refunded, and we waited until we were physically rolling onto the ferry before repurchasing a new ticket.  A bit of a palaver but it all worked out okay, just, in the end.

Ferry to Senja

Senja - (Mefjord harbour)

We followed the tourist route, in the now driving rain, to Mefjord, not seeing much of the beauty of celebrated Senja due to the dark wet greyness that surrounded us.  We stopped on the side of the fjord in a rather scruffy car-park littered with puddles due to the heavy rains, and sat out the worst of the weather.  During a short clear window, we walked around the harbour wall and through the nearby town, taking in a little of the pretty bay we had landed in.  Later we walked to the top of the hill behind, finding a large circular car-parking area with several day walks leading off into the hills, and wondered if we should move up to overnight here instead, but we were too lazy to move again.  The rain fell in sheets and we sat inside trying to imagine how the green fjord would look if bathed in sun.

Senja - (walkway to rocks)

Senja - (walkway to the sea)

Senja - (on the rocks)

The next morning we continued a short way along the tourist route, hugging the coast.  The weather was much better, dry and clear with only a little low-lying cloud, so the island was beginning to shine for us. We stopped in at two separate viewpoints along the way, both additions as part of the passing national tourist route.  The first was a high-sided timber walkway leading to smooth rocks on the side of the fjord, with a lovely concrete barbecue point built into the base at the end for use on better days than this.  We walked out along the rocks, surrounded by the steep face of many mountains, their jagged tops hidden in low grey cloud.

Senja - (n on viewpoint)

Senja - (a on viewpoint)

The second viewpoint was at at the top of a series of hairpin bends, a cantilevered timber walkway high above the valley that offered great views across the fjord below.  It had several curious cut-outs and additions formed in the framework to add interest to the decking.  We played here for a while, enjoying the idiosyncratic forms of the wavy timber decking and taking funky photos.  The view down the valley was clothed in grey cloud, but still managed to be quite spectacular.  The only issue with the viewpoint was the size of the parking – perhaps four cars, or two motorhomes would fit, but not much else, so when others arrived we had to move on to make room for them; no loitering.

Senja - (Senjatrollet entrance)

Senja - (a with troll)

We drove on the short way to Senjatrollet, not realising until we arrived that it was the site of many massive model trolls and lots of quirky, fun buildings, with activities mostly aimed at kids.  We parked up and decided to spend the night here, even though it was still early.  We walked around the interesting café building, admiring the artistic efforts and humorous touches that, viewed together, brought the place alive.  There was an old train carriage in the yard available for hire as interesting accommodation, guarded by the big-nosed trolls.

Senja - (a with troll head)

Senja - (senjatrollet trolls)

Senja - (evening view)

Later we walked around the nearby coastline, looking out to sea from a grassy headland as the evening sun lit up the island-strewn water.  This was a rather special view and we lingered to enjoy it, later returning to sleep peacefully under the watchful eyes of our giant troll guards.

Norway – Tromsø

A short visit to the northern city of Tromsø, Norway

Leaving AuroraSpirit, we drove back along the same awful-surfaced road to reach the main E6 where we finally met some smooth rolling tarmac and made good progress towards Tromsø.  There was a shorter way but that included an uncertain (time and cost) ferry trip, so we chose to drive around by road. Tromsø was to be the furthest north we had decided to travel on this trip, having recently made the decision not to push on to visit Nordkapp, at least not this time.  Instead we would work slowly south, back to Oslo and beyond, exploring Norway’s northern west coast.

Tromso - (arriving at island)

Tromso - (bridge across)

We approached Tromsø from the south, seeing the busy, built-up island on our left as we made our way to the connecting bridge over.  This was our first city visit in quite a while, and we weren’t too delighted by the busy traffic and unprotected roadworks that greeted us on arrival.  We nudged, stuttered and bumped our way through the centre to reach the only centrally located overnighting aire we knew of, but when we arrived we found it was basically a construction site car-park, due to the new student accommodation  building being built right next door.

Tromso - (marina)

Tromso - (waterfront)

We drove another unproductive loop before stopping at the next available parking close to the centre and paying for an hour, as we had a time sensitive job to do.  We had located a store on-line that could potentially replace the shattered screen on Nicky’s iPhone, dropped and cracked back in Flåm moments before boarding the Flåmsbana railway.  We found the shop just a few minutes before it closed at 5pm and confirmed they had all appropriate stock and time, so we could drop the phone in first thing in the morning and it would be ready in an hour; perfect.

Tromso - (Elverhoy church on hill)

We went for a short walk around the centre before our parking expired, seeing the Kulturhuset and Bibliotek buildings, along with a quick look into Tromsø Domkirke.  There was a classical music concert on so we didn’t linger too long inside.  Returning to Benny, we decided to drive a little further out of town, and climbed the hill behind to visit Elverhøy Church.  This was a red-painted timber church set in light forest, but we only visited it as a potentially interesting time waster until the construction workers cleared out of the parking spaces at the aire, which we assumed would be soon after 6pm.  We returned later, the aire much quieter and more inviting than before and we bagged ourselves a nice marina view.  Parking was only free from 9pm to 8am, so we paid the requisite amount to allow us to stay until 11am the next morning, giving us time to have the phone repaired and to visit a museum.

Tromso - (polaris museum)

Tromso - (arctic boards)

Tromso - (nicky with polar bear)

After dinner we had another walk into the centre, where we first encountered the dominos-falling Polaris building, an Arctic themed experience centre.  It had fantastic external display boards on Arctic and Environmental issues, reminiscent of those we saw in Granada many months ago. There was a life-size bronze statue of a polar bear to the side of the entrance that Nicky had a little cuddle with, looking like Lyra in The Golden Compass.  The neighbouring building was housing MS Polstjerna, The Polar Star, with a curved glulam beam and glass structure built to frame the fully preserved sealing ship. We spent time reading information boards and admiring the buildings and water-front setting.  We could see across to the Arctic Cathedral designed by Jan Inge Hovig, a notable feature in the distance.  The rain had abated and the evening was still and calm.  Tromsø had a much more peaceful feel to it in the evening and with us now on foot.

Tromso - (sealing ship)

Tromso - (arctic cathedral)

The following morning we arrived at the repair shop for 9am, leaving Nicky’s phone in their hopefully capable hands.  We had an hour and a half to look around town and so, choosing to feed our mini-obsession with all things polar, we walked along the front of the old harbour building to reach the Polarmuseet, the Polar Museum.  Situated inside a beautiful former Customs House building dating from the 1830s, the museum covered the history of Norwegian trapping, Arctic scientific research and, the big draw for us, polar expeditions.  We paid the 60 NOK entry fee and began our own exploration, working through the exhibits with the welcome help of our printed English translation pamphlet, as all of the permanent information displays in the museum were written in Norwegian only.

Tromso - (trapper hut)

Tromso - (seal skins)

There were detailed reconstructions of old trappers’ cabins, complete with tools, personal diaries and their hanging prey, such as Arctic foxes sold for scarves and terns for meat and down.  There were stuffed seals, musk ox, brown and polar bears scattered about, between all manner of other interesting exhibits.  The walls were hung with guns, knives and other tools, interspersed between old photos of their previous owners.   Climbing stairs to the first floor, we were greeted by a bust of Roald Amundsen at the top, alongside a scale model of the Norge, an airship he had built to fly over the North Pole.  This was the first (non-disputed) Transpolar flight; leaving from Spitsbergen, it succeeded in passing over the pole as planned and finally landed safely in Alaska.

Tromso - (amundsen and Norge)

Tromso - (musk ox corner)

Tromso - (n with bear)

We reached a beautiful first floor room, with glossy timber floors and trussed vaulted ceilings, that housed many delightful curiosities.  Between the stuffed animals, there were several detailed model ships, the Fram, The Gjøa and the Maud, all Arctic exploration vessels used by Nansen or Amundsen (or both) on various famous trips to the Poles.  They were framed by lots of personal photos of the men who travelled with them on the ships, creating a little personal background and story.  We saw a few colourful notebooks with interesting writings and wonderful, freehand sketches that brought the pages alive.

Tromso - (customs house)

Tromso - (top room display)

Back on the ground floor, the last room (or first if you turn right on entry) was all about glacial waters and the abundance of life that exists under the ice. We ate up the remainder of our available time reading of the biodiversity of the region, and the perils each tiny organism or delicate ecosystem faces with the challenges of global climate change.  We could have spent much longer inside the museum, immersing ourselves further in the details, but we unfortunately ran out of time. We had to get back to collect Nicky’s now fixed phone (1400 NOK – ouch) and quickly return to Benny before our parking expired.

Tromso - (arctic ship models)

Tromso - (voyage notebooks)

Tromso - (outside the museum)

We visited the small botanical gardens on the way out of town, after first a few unnecessary trips around, back and through the long tunnels passing under much of the island, due to missing our required turn.  The gardens were pretty, with a strong bias towards alpine rockeries, and they also had large populations of the difficult to grow Himalayan blue poppy brightening up their borders.  The day had clouded over again and a light rain fell as we walked a loop around the garden, enjoying the relative tranquillity of this calm space, once a farmhouse garden and meadow but now squeezed between a busy new road, a tunnel entrance and a few petrol stations.

Tromso - (Tibetan bliue poppy)

Tromso - (botanic gardens)

With Nicky’s phone all fixed and our whistle-stop look at Tromsø complete, we filled up with diesel and got back on the road out of town.  For almost the first time since we left home in April for Holland, we were now heading south.