Category Archives: Hiking

Posts relating to long hiking days in the mountains

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.

Sweden’s High Coast (Höga Kusten) Part 2

Following on from Sweden’s High Coast (Höga Kusten) Part 1

We awoke to the sound of birdsong echoing through the trees, mixed with the low hum of a ticking car engine. We discovered a few other walkers had finally arrived, as it was the weekend, to explore this beautiful national park.  We had a long walk planned for the day but still had a very slow start, taking time over our breakfast in the glorious morning sun.  We finally got ourselves moving around 11am and headed off into the forest, initially following the same easy trail as the previous night.

Hoga Kusten - (trekking cabin)

Hoga Kusten - camping lodge

We soon turned off the path and dropped steeply down to the shores of Långtjärnen.  We circled the north edge and continued on through neat paths threading their way by ever-present fir trees, where we reached the forest opening of Norrsvedjebodarna.  This was a beautiful meadow with a free to use camping cabin, fire pits and picnic tables. We had a look inside the beautiful timber cabin, fully kitted out with beds, kitchen and log fire, signing the visitor book with a message thanking Sweden for being so awesome.  Near to the cabin was a small path leading to lake Skrattabborrtjärnen, a very inviting, sun-warmed waterhole that we would definitely return to later.

Hoga Kusten - (swim lake)

The path continued around the lake, climbing on to a high plateau with incredible far-reaching views out over the islands and the Baltic Sea. The path was strewn with twisted and withered white trees, their gnarly forms intricate and fascinating. The sun continued to pour down on us, making the walk sweaty work, but we were so glad for the clear, cloudless skies.  Again we dropped steeply down from the plateau, finally passing some other hikers, an organised group outing it seemed, coming up the same path.  We were now near to the main long-distance coastal path that passed through Skuleskogen National Park, so we certainly expected to see a few more walkers now.

Hoga Kusten - (twisted trees)

Hoga Kusten - (top view)

Hoga Kusten - (summit selfie)

We turned north up the wider, well-walked path and after a short scramble over a discarded boulder field, we reached Slåttdalsskrevan, a deep, wide chasm in the rock, and a key focal point for many walks in the park.  The steep sided cleft in the rock face left a deep cavity, filled with mossy boulders at its dark, ever-shadowed base.  We climbed up over the left-hand side where there were again incredible views out over the coastline.  Below us there was a many-islanded archipelago, green splodges of land scattered at random intervals in the beautiful, calm sea, all framed within a backdrop of light blue sky and wispy white cloud.  We found a nice spot on the flat rock above the chasm and ate some snacks, savouring the calories along with the exceptional view.

Hoga Kusten - (chasm)

Hoga Kusten - (a above chasm)

Hoga Kusten - (plateau views)

From here we retraced our way a little, before climbing up over Slåttdalsberget, a high ridge running parallel to the main hiking path.  The route was marked with helpful cairns and had scatterings of pretty white flowers growing wherever small pools of standing water were found. The same incredible views over the forest trails and out to sea greeted us as we walked, loving the easily accessible beauty of this rugged coast.  With the view implanted on our minds, we finally dropped off the end of the ridge, re-joined the High Coast Trail path north for a little while, before turning west and headed back the same route we had arrived on.

Hoga Kusten - (ridge walk top)

Hoga Kusten - (n in boulder field)

Hoga Kusten - (easy walking)

We paused again at lake Skrattabborrtjärnen, near the camping cabin, and enjoyed a very refreshing dip in the lake we had promised ourselves earlier.  We played around, jumping off the wooden pontoon into the idyllic peaty lake surrounded by trees and with intermittent water-lilies peppering the calm surface.   It was so lovely to jump into the water like carefree loons, cooling off from our trek and enjoying its refreshing coolness caress our hot skin.  Refreshed, we returned to Benny and passed another simple, very pleasant evening in the quiet forest, with all other day visitors having completed their walks and left us in total peace, alone with the birds.

Hoga Kusten - (swim time)

Hoga Kusten - (star jumps)

Hoga Kusten - (post swim bliss)

We woke early the next morning and left the west entrance, driving a short loop around to park up at the north entrance, positioned on the coastline.  This was a similar set-up with the same buildings, but with more signs of life; there were seven other motorhomes parked up here, along with quite a few cars.  We wanted to do a more low-level walk, to taste a little of all the varied environments available within the park.  We walked south, through very similar terrain, enjoying an easy and mostly level trail through the fir trees and along the water’s edge.

Hoga Kusten - (island cabin)

Hoga Kusten - (lunch spot)

We reached the turn for Tärnättholmarna, an island group that is now reachable by foot across a natural causeway.  The land has risen from the sea and sand had silted up to create the causeway that now linked the island to the mainland.  A smaller island sat behind the larger, and we rested here a while simply staring out to sea, its metronomic regularity mesmerising.  Both islands had timber cabins available and would be beautiful camping spots, with wood seats, fire pit areas and a multitude of swim spots, and we could easily have passed a few peaceful days here enjoying nature.

Hoga Kusten - (view back to islands)

Hoga Kusten - (lake on retrun walk)

We returned to the mainland and, to make our outing a circular route, we took a steep uphill path to Gamm Bodarna, gaining height quickly on the wet path.  This brought a lovely coastal view back over the islands we had just left, before the path headed back into the trees to two inviting lakes at Tärnättvattnen.  After our many swims over recent days, on this occasion we managed to resist jumping straight in.  We overnighted at the North Entrance and enjoyed another tranquil night in the wooded wilderness, most other visitors having left again.  We continue to delight at the expansive size of Scandinavian countries relative to their low populations and at how easy it is to find a beautiful spot to call your own.

Sweden’s High Coast (Höga Kusten) Part 1

We drove away from our tranquil perch on the banks of Lake Storsjön, first heading back into the main town of Östersund for a slightly longer explore.  We had a quick walk along the pedestrian streets lined with closed shops, and down to the waterfront to look at the marina, all perched on the same lake we had recently left.  It was a thriving town, quiet at this hour but with obvious affluence. We found a line of motorhomes parked up in what looked like a town centre aire, and whilst a nice location it definitely wasn’t a patch on our lake-side layby near Sonne.  We stopped briefly in the central Tourist Office for a map of the region we would next reach, then hit the road east heading to the Baltic coast.

Ostersund - (Sveriges Julgran)

Ostersund - (marina)

It hadn’t escaped our notice that the most northerly Distillery in the world (they say – I think Aurora Spirit in Norway may disagree) was on our direct route.  We called into Box whisky Distillery hoping for a tour visit and perhaps a few tastings, but they were right in the middle of preparing for their annual whisky festival.  It was organised carnage, lots of bodies running around stacking, building and relocating all manner of items, in advance of their 5pm opening.  They were definitely not geared up for, or expecting, any regular visitors this afternoon.  We had a brief wander around their main buildings and display, all the while ignored by their busy staff.  We just felt a little in the way, and whilst our younger selves would have embraced the party spirit, changed plans and stayed for the festival, we left them to it all and headed off for a more serene experience.

After many miles, we finally stopped at a free roadside aire for a late lunch.  It was a grassy rastplats, the front field peppered with caravans.  Behind was a large, clear lake where kids were playing and swimming as their parents picnicked on the grass. It had a busy but nice atmosphere, but there was also a lot of road noise.  Our original plan had been to spend the night here, but given we hadn’t spent any significant time at the whisky distillery and it was still early afternoon, we decided to push on a little further into the national park.  Our first stop was to be at their new Visitor Centre, Naturum Höga Kusten.

Hoga Kusten - (visitor centre)

Naturum Höga Kusten, still not fully complete externally, was still a great starting point to learn more about the park.  We enjoyed their colourful nature exhibition, picked up leaflets and maps for hiking trails and finally decided on which of the three National Park entrances we would head for first.  We checked that overnighting in Benny in the Park was allowed and had it confirmed as a definitive yes, if we were hiking in the park.  As that was exactly our intention for a couple of days, we happily headed off in search of the west entrance.  The maps showed it had bins, toilets, information areas and fire barbecue pits, with several of the main hiking trails starting from there; ideal.

Hoga Kusten - (west entrance)

Hoga Kusten - (forest walkways)

Straight off the main E4 road, a narrow gravel track rose up for the last few kilometres or so into Skuleskogen National Park, created as Sweden’s nineteenth National Park in 1984.  For some reason we were expecting a large and possibly busy car-park, but we found only a small strip of diagonal parking and only a few cars currently visiting.  We drove around the one-way loop and on the opposite side we parked up alone in a quiet spot, conveniently hitting a perfectly level patch of the sloping gravel on first try.  We were quite amazed, but also very glad, that such a prime spot for exploring the celebrated Höga Kusten was so under-used.  In early July we were expecting a lot more visitors, and motorhomes, in the park, especially with the option to overnight for free.

Hoga Kusten -(information deck)

We looked round the neat timber buildings that included refuse and WC facilities and, slightly deeper into the forest, a large curved information centre with pictures and boards explaining about the local scenery and wildlife. Later we walked around 4km to the two nearest viewpoints in the park, not seeing anyone on the paths.  We enjoyed expansive views overlooking Långtjärnen lake, tall forests and right out to sea.  We sat a while outside the shelters built on the highest point around, at a place called Långtjärnhällorna, still in shock at having this wonderful place practically to ourselves.  Where were the crowds we would expect in such a beautiful landscape, if this was in the UK?

Hoga Kusten - (viewpoint)

Hoga Kusten - (on viewpoint)

Returning to base, we again passed the barbecue fire pits set within stone on the decking, snuggled within the trees.  It had a wood store, complete with chopping axe, fully stocked with seasoned wood ready to use.  Delighted that we had picked up some BBQ smoked chicken earlier in the day, we decided to have a peaceful fireside evening in the woods, cooking on an open fire.  We packed up all we needed and returned to light a fire on the decking, enjoying the simple process of chopping wood and building the fire.

Hoga Kusten - (fire pit wood store)

Hoga Kusten - (starting fire)

We had chicken thighs with bundles of mixed vegetables wrapped in tinfoil that we slowly roasted to perfection on the large barbecue grill positioned over the glowing embers of the split spruce logs.  We ate at a table near the fire, enjoying its nearby warmth.  It was so incredibly tranquil, sat all alone in the forest, silent but for the crackling fire.  We split a banana and stuffed it with dark chocolate squares, leaving it to go mushy and gooey on the dying embers whilst we cleaned up. We brushed the decking and chopped up a few more logs, to leave some small fire-ready sticks as kindling for the next user to enjoy; the very least we could do since we were allowed access to such a wonderful facility.

Hoga Kusten -(cleaning decking)

We savoured our shared dessert spoonful by spoonful as we reflected on the easy beauty of Sweden’s coast.  We then had a very quiet night and readied ourselves for a long, exploratory walk around the area the following day.

Part 2 of Höga Kusten to follow.

Åreskutan circular walk from Björnen

Undertaking a very boggy Mt. Åreskutan circular walk starting from Björnen, with a refreshing lake dip and a visit to an historic mining community included. 

We left our comfortable campsite at Ristafallet and drove back west a little way, to the hillside town of Björnen.  The town is a cross-country ski hub in winter time, but was rather forlorn and empty at this time of year.  The cross-country trails are walkable in the summer months so, with the help of an acquired local map, we combined a few to create a circular (or rather, triangular) walk through the local mountains.  Our planned route would leave from Björnen centre and head north to Blåsten, then turn south east to Lillådammen lake, on to Fröå gruva, an old mining community, before returning to Björnen; a walk of around 15km in total.

Areskutan walk - (first uphill)

Areskutan walk - (signpost)

The ground was quite boggy and the paths churned up, making it difficult to navigate a sensible route through. We were used to getting our walking boots dirty, but this was wetter and deeper than simple mud and in a lot of places had to be studiously avoided.  We hoped the trail would dry out as we got higher, and for a short while it did.  We made good progress along dusty gravel paths and large stone steps on the first steep ascent of our walk.  But once the path began to level out it again became a quagmire and we had to search for delicate paths through or around each bog, making it slow going.

Areskutan walk - (by the snowline)

Areskutan walk - (leg removal)

We hit the base of the snow-line on the slopes of the peak of Åreskutan, standing tall to our left at 1420m. The recent snow melt and receding line had left a wide expanse of very wet ground that again had to be avoided.  In many areas it was easier going to walk in the snow rather than fight through the deep bogs left by the summer melt.  The path was marked with large red crosses on tall posts, so was easy to follow in general terms, but we had to wander off piste, literally, quite a distance to find suitable passage through.  This was turning into one of the boggiest walks we’d attempted in years.  We worked hard to progress, forging new paths though springy bracken and small, low bushes that scraped the skin off our legs.

Areskutan walk - (plateau with view)

Areskutan walk - (on the snow)

The wide plateau at the high base of the slope to Åreskutan was stony and mossy, and much easier to walk on.  The elevated position also offered wonderful views right across the nearby hills and several huge lakes.  We then had a stretch of welcome and comfortable downhill, on dry paths and sponge-soft heather, away from the snow.  The blue sky was home to only a thin layer of clustered cumulus clouds and the bright day lit up the lime greens of the valley below.  The views had definitely been worth the climb, and we paused a long moment to soak in all aspects of it.

Areskutan walk - (n crosses snow)

Areskutan walk - (welcome downhill)

We reached Blåsten camping area, basically a crossroads set on the junction of several routes, with its various small timber shelters scattered about.  We sat a while in one small shelter, out of the wind, and ate our lunch.  From here we turned south west, to continue along our planned route.  Shortly after we met a few other walkers coming up the trail, walking from where we were heading, who bemoaned how boggy their upward path had been.  Great, so no possibility of improvement on the way back.  We also confirmed their onward route was going to be no better.

Areskutan walk - (Blasten shelter)

Areskutan walk - (dubious dam to cross)

Areskutan walk - (Lilladammen lake)

After more downhill and what we saw as a better, more stable path underfoot, we reached the northern shores of the small and beautifully still Lillådammen lake.  We crossed a rickety looking dam of sorts and found a comfortable, sheltered spot on the banks of the lake away from the main path.  The reflection of the mountain behind was perfect, the water so still and clear; we just had to jump in.  We stripped everything off and made our way into the biting cold water, tingling and refreshing after our sticky, sweaty hike.  The water was so clean and pure, and despite the coldness, felt like a true reward.  The sun dried and warmed us quickly when we came out and slowly dressed.

Areskutan walk - (ready for swim)

Areskutan walk - (in the water)

Areskutan walk - (post-swim)

Areskutan walk - (gone swimmin)

Revitalised, we continued on our path back down, passing Byxtjärn lake on our left where we heard lots of loud laughter but could not see the happy culprits.  We next reached Fröå gruva, the historic and protected site of an old copper mining community.  Copper was mined here from 1744 until 1919, with up to 600 people living in the vibrant community.  We walked around the buildings, seeing a smithy, a pump-house, several cottages, a windlass and others, reading the history of each.  We had a quick look in the visitor shop then made our exit by walking along a long timber pathway winding through the remains of copper-laden stones extracted from the mines below.

Areskutan walk - (river walk on return)

Froa gruva (coil wire hut)

Froa gruva (mine slipway)

We passed the shores of the larger Fröåtjärn lake, where we finally saw another swimmer for the first time in Sweden.  The waters were so inviting we had found it difficult to understand why more people were not indulging themselves in the lakes, but perhaps the temperature was not quite optimum yet.  We’ll see over the next few weeks.  We returned into Björnen along an easy gravel road, being pipped by two joggers right at the end as we hit the main road in town.  A muddy, technical ascent with difficult footing that brought us incredible views, a sublime, refreshing skinny dip in a picture-perfect lake and an interesting, informative visit to an historical mining site; all in all, not a bad day in our new outdoor office that is Sweden.