Category Archives: Norway

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.

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.

 

 

Kilpisjärvi and #Aurora Spirit

A flying visit to a rainy Kilpisjärvi and our return to Norway with a visit to the world’s northernmost distillery #Aurora Spirit


We left our quiet spot at Juoksengi Polcirkelhuset, to follow the road north along the river.  Lined with tall pine and birch trees, the road formed a narrow strip of grey in a wide expanse of green stretching hundreds of kilometres.  This was to be our longest drive to date, over 350km, taking us around seven hours.  Later we left the trees behind to meet a new landscape, awash with lowland scrub and rocks set in stagnant pools of still water. This was perfect mosquito breeding land, and we soon hit large swarms of them that clouded our vision. Thousands were splatted on our wing mirrors, front grille and windows.  Our attempts to clean up the mess ended with a thin, sticky layer of smeared mosquito all over the windscreen, obscuring our visibility.  The occasional lone reindeer, either oblivious or unconcerned about traffic, wandered casually into the road, sometimes seen only as a blur between the smudges.

Reindeer on road

The majority of the road we followed was on the east of the river, in Finland, not Sweden.  After a good, rolling start, we drove over long, horrible stretches of road where the top surface had been removed. We had to stay alert as the SatNav told us we had a right turn to watch out for in 199 miles.  There were roadworks on and off for over 80km of the route, a large percentage of this was reduced to single narrow lane of pot-holed gravel, controlled by long-hold traffic lights, a route that could only be passed with care. This really slowed our progress, beat up Benny’s tyres and tried our patience, but we eventually escaped to make it back onto smoother tarmac.  Just as we did, heavy rain joined us, to ensure our long driving day was kept topped up with concentration, challenges and surprises.

We arrived in the village of Kilpisjärvi, where we hoped to trek to the Three Countries Point, the place where Sweden, Norway and Finland all meet.  There are no roads near, so it can only be reached either by walking 11km there and the same back, or by catching a boat out to within 3km of the point, then walking back the 11km route.  We had arrived too late and the visitor centre had closed only minutes before at 5pm, so we spent a while walking along the road looking for signs of where the boat may leave from, and when.  We eventually found a small information board fixed to the side of a privately hired sauna, but there were no times listed nor any means of contacting anyone.  The pouring rain and the deep grey cloud smothering everything removed our resolve to look further, so instead we parked up in a large car-park aire by the water, closed out the world and opened a bottle.

Aurora Spirit- (building approach)

There was no change to the weather in the morning, so we reluctantly gave up our search for the boat.  The thought of trekking all 22km over steep, wet ground, with no map, in a miserable drizzle and low visibility simply to see a small monument to an arbitrary border point suddenly seemed ridiculous, so we stayed dry in Benny and moved on.  This was to be our only night spent in Finland on this trip, as we very soon passed back into Norway, reaching Lyngenfjord at Skibotn and turning left, following the coast line. We turned again at Oteren, sticking by the shores of the fjord as we juddered and bumped along another terrible road surface to the village of Lyngseidet.

Aurora Spirit- (distillery building)

Just north of here was our destination, a perfect choice for a rainy grey day; Aurora Spirit, the undisputed most northerly distillery in the world.  The final mile to their newly constructed visitor centre was a narrow gravel track through tightly packed trees.  We had a tour booked for 1pm, but we called on the way and got switched to the 11am tour, as we would now arrive just a few minutes past the hour and they were happy to hold it for us.  We arrived and were warmly greeted by Tor, founder, owner and for today, our guide.

Aurora Spirit- (taking the smell test)

Aurora Spirit- (typical slide)

Aurora Spirit- (presentation area)

Our distillery tour began as soon as we removed our coats.  We were led through, with five others, to a small presentation area with a flat screen TV and five Viking horns, complete with stoppers.  A sign behind read “Do you smell like a Viking?”. Our first act was to test our smelling capabilities so we sniffed each in turn, trying and failing to name all the ingredients and flavours related to spirit distillation. The chat was smooth and informative, and the presentation of images and information using Apple TVs and iPads was all very slick and polished.

Aurora Spirit- (production area presentation)

Aurora Spirit- (production and storage)

In the next room we smelled and tasted barley at various stages of roasting as we learnt more of the processes.  The mash was produced off-site at a local brewery and delivered, all to exacting specification, ready for distillation. Aurora Spirit had fully computerised distilling, controlled by iPads and phones, all accessible and tweakable from off-site if required.  The building had been designed and cut from timber by a CNC machine, and was constructed on site in only five days, before the high-end mechanical and electrical fit-out, the key distillation items and the main copper still were added. It was all highly efficient and technologically future-proofed.  They produced flavoured aquavit, gin and vodka already, with their first whisky set to be ready in 2019.

Aurora Spirit- (copper still and column)

Aurora Spirit- (rhubarb distillation)

The chosen name was formed from the joining of Aurora Borealis, visible all winter above their building set deep in the Arctic Circle, and Spirit, defining their will and heart to succeed, along with the obvious connection to the alcohol produced.  Their key product branding was called Bivrost, after the old Norse word for the Northern Lights.  In Asatru, bivrost was believed to be a bridge of light leading to Asgard, or Heaven, from the land of mortals.  It was crossable only by the Gods or the very bravest of men who had proven their valour in battle.  You too could prove yourself worthy by drinking this brand, made under the Northern Lights for Gods and adventurers.

Aurora Spirit- (a viking view)

Aurora Spirit- (in visitor centre)

After the end of the tour and a couple of tastings, we were kindly offered a cup of tea and sat down for a chat with Tor and Hans, another member of the team.  We talked of our journey to date, joking that we’d driven all the way from Scotland to visit them (technically, we had) and this sparked tales of Tor’s wish to drive a classic Morgan from distilleries in the west of Scotland back to Aurora Spirit, to form a connection between the two places, and create a lasting story, a whisky-bond, a future legend for the fledgling business.  It sounded like it would make a great trip and story, and we strongly encouraged it.

Aurora Spirit- (spirit tastings)

Aurora Spirit- (nicky checks weather)

Aurora Spirit- (chatting after tour)

The site was once a NATO coastal fort utilised for operations during the Cold War.  There were several bunkers scattered around the site, including a few older concrete ones that dated back to Germany’s occupation in World War II.  We were offered the opportunity of a personal visit to see the old NATO bunker, and jumped at the chance.  Originally there were plans to build the distillery over the bunker, but this had to be abandoned due to technical difficulties, but the bunker will be utilised for secure and stable cask storage, with a small exclusive tastings area.  We got to smell the intense flavours of some as-yet unfilled casks, previously used for Madeira, Sherry or Bourbon, sitting ready to begin imparting their subtle taste and colour on their first distilled whisky heart.

Aurora Spirit- (visitor centre restaurant)
Aurora Spirit - Tor anad his hammer

Aurora Spirit- (NATO bunker)

We said our goodbyes to Tor, thanking him for the tour, and spent a little time walking around the site.  We viewed the simple but beautiful building from a nearby jetty, reflecting on the chosen location.  It was in a stunning setting, on the edge of the fjord and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, deep in the Arctic Circle.  The pure glacial water used for the distillation must be some of the clearest and cleanest anywhere.

Aurora Spirit- (context setting)

We would love to return in deep winter, to see the Northern Lights dance above the distillery and to taste their three year old whisky on its initial release.  But there are many days to be lived between then and now, so as ever we moved onwards, this time in the direction of the region’s main city; Tromsø.

 

 

The Road to Hell, and Sweden

Leaving Trondheim, passing Hell, and arriving in Sweden at Ristafallet Camping

We left the quiet beauty of Trondheim behind and headed due east out of town.  It was a beautifully sunny, dry morning, as it had been the past few days.  But we knew it wouldn’t last, as the cloud armies would regather their forces and combine to block out the sun by early afternoon; it was becoming a predictable pattern, making us embrace early morning starts much more than we have recently been used to.

Turn right for Hell

We stopped briefly in the town of Hell, simply because the name was amusing to us.  There was an event on, a cycling race or a triathlon, with marshalls sat around at key junctions to facilitate smooth passage for competitors.  We didn’t want to be in the way, so moved on quickly, after grabbing a few photos of their humorous (to us) signs.

Sweden - border arrival

The main road to the border was rather uneventful; an easy, smooth drive on a relatively straight road.  No hairpins, no steep mountain climbs, no grandiose mountain views reflected in mirror-blue fjords.  Just pleasant, rolling countryside hills and pretty meadows as Norway toned down its scale from the wild exertions of the fjord regions.  We expected a nominal border, and there was nothing but a closed up building where you could volunteer declarations, although it seemed customs didn’t open on a Sunday.  So, we arrived in Sweden, our fifth country since we left the UK in late April, with rather a whimper.  The clouds had indeed now gathered, and the spitting rain began as we progressed along the easy, empty road.

Tannforsen waterfall (top)

Tannforsen waterfall (top of falls)

We passed a sign on the roadside pointing to a visitor centre and café positioned at Sweden’s largest waterfall, Tännforsen, so decided to investigate.  We parked near the café and walked the few hundred metres along the river’s edge to view the falls, the gushing, bubbling noise increasing with every step closer, growing to an almost deafening roar. The volume of water was incredible and it was an impressive sight, especially from one thin, jutting viewpoint built just below the falls, cantilevering over the wild, white river.  Cold spray thrown up by the power of the flow soaked us as we stood gaping at the noise and spectacle.  Yet, with all the energy and volume of water passing under us, one thought nagged at us; largest in all of Sweden, at 30m high?  Oh Sweden, how Norway must laugh at your puny waterfalls.

Tannforsen waterfall (panorama)

Tannforsen waterfall (viewpoint)

We arrived early afternoon in the ski resort of Åre, which we had planned to make our base for a few days.  It was a centre for hiking in the summer months, and had that generic look and feel of ski resorts the world over.  We parked in the centre and visited the tourist office and an ATM for local currency, whilst we sussed out what to do.  There was a free aire outside of town that we’d eyed up before arrival, but when we visited it was more of a noisy truck-stop on a grubby road-side track, so we decided it wasn’t for us.  Instead we both agreed a campsite was the way forward, and chose to base ourselves in Ristafallet, a few kilometres out of Åre, just off the main through road.

Ristafallet - (local river)

We found ourselves a nice level spot beside the rushing river, with the familiar noise of another waterfall nearby.  The rain that followed us from Norway continued unabated, so exploration took a backseat to simple relaxation.  We read, drank lots of tea and caught up with the world, all with the background percussive accompaniment of rain on roof.   The following day brought more of the same, and we obliged with continuing our lazy ways, until late afternoon brought a cessation of weather hostilities and so, with a rain armistice declared, we walked along the local river banks to see Ristafallet waterfall.  It was an impressively wild stretch of river, with sharp rocks, deep bowls and whirlpools, entirely unnavigable, but great to look at. The recent heavy rain had swelled the flow to a torrent.

Ristafallet waterfall (a with panorama)

Ristafallet - (local waterfall)

The next day was brighter and with our batteries fully charged and our stagnated minds in need of fresh air, we set off for a hike through local forests to visit a small lake beach we read about.  We walked from the campsite uphill, following small gravel local-access roads for much of the way.  The road was a hardened fire track in pine forest.  Twice the heavy rain returned with an almighty burst, catching us out and soaking us thoroughly, but like a tap was soon turned off and we dried off as we walked on. We arrived after 6km at a small car-park near a pretty red house, and just behind, accessed by a short timber walkway raised above muddy ground, we reached our small, stony beach.

Ristafallet - (countryside)

Ristafallet - (path to beach)

Ristafallet - (lake and beach)

We sat a while on rough timber log seats surrounding a recently used fire pit made from a metal barrel, looking out across the lake.  The water was rough and wavy from the blustery cross wind, yet with the light turquoise glow of mineral-rich freshness.  We could see snow-capped mountains and tall forests in the distance, framing the lake.  After some initial trepidation we decided to go for it; we stripped off and quickly jumped in the cold lake, repressing involuntary yelps.  It was chilly, invigorating, adventurous and a little bit crazy.  We splashed around, swimming only a few strokes, before returning to our benches to dry off, shivering with cold and excited from the refreshing thrill.

Ristafallet - (on the beach)

Ristafallet - (swim in there)

Ristafallet - (us in the water)

Ristafallet - (grassy meadows)

We walked briskly, stomping and swinging our arms to get the warming blood flowing to our digits.  Our return walk took us on an alternative route, across the nearby railway line and through some tall, grassy meadows, to arrive at a familiar path.  We linked up with the end of the riverside walk from the day before, and followed this all the way back into camp.  The river was still in fine, boisterous flow, and the short waterfall continued to throw a fine white spray high in the air as we passed.  It had been a long wet, walk of 13km for a very short dip, but it was stimulating, nerve-tingling, titillating and made us feel we were livsnjutares, embracing our inner Scandinavian spirit.