Early in June 2008, my brother and I flew from Dublin to Oslo and, after an overnight stay there, flew North of the Arctic Circle to the small coastal town of Bodø. Norwegian’s Boeing 737-300 seemed cramped compared to Ryanair’s -800 which had flown us from a rain-lashed Ireland to sunny Norway. After taking a three hour ferry trip across to the Lofoten Islands, for the next two days we made our way through breathtakingly beautiful scenery, before driving back to Bodø for our return journey to Oslo.
One and a half hours after leaving the cathedral-like splendour of Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport, we touched down at Bodø’s elegant, but rather more homely, facility. My 6' 3″frame was delighted when Budget upgraded our hire car from a Peugeot 107 to a Toyota Auris : if only I had brought a larger suitcase ! Not wanting to waste any of our limited time, and having ascertained when the tide was due to turn, we headed out to see Saltstraumen – “ the world’s strongest maelstrom “, as guidebooks describe the surge of water up and down a narrow inlet each time the tides change.
The first of the many spectacular sights we would pass over the next three days. Only slightly disappointed at having missed the optimum moment to see the maelstrom, my brother decided that seeing the Midnight sun would compensate. On to Mount Rønvik, a recommended viewpoint. We arrived at 11.00 p.m., to find the sea lit by an orange ball which, over the next hour, subsided gently towards – but never below – the vividly coloured horizon. It was hard to grasp that this was as dark as it would become. Indeed, for our time in Nordland, as this Norwegian region is called, the strangeness of going to bed “ in daylight ” never quite left us.
Next morning – or rather, later that same morning – and bleary eyed after what was a far too little time in bed, we drove the short distance from our hotel to the docks. A few cars, most of which seemed – like ours – to be hired, were already waiting to catch the ferry across Vestfjorden to the small village of Moskenes, on the Lofoten Islands. There was a brief moment of excitement when the ship arrived : I was relieved that she was on time. Noting, wryly, that the crew had packed the cars tightly into one small section of a car deck most of which remained empty, we clambered up a steep flight of steps onto the deck.
For three rather blustery hours, as one row of spectacular snow capped mountains fell below the horizon astern, another, equally spectacular, emerged in front of our speeding ship. The quay-side Tourist Office at Moskenes was crammed with ruck-sack laden youngsters. Gathering up a collection of tourist literature, we retreated back to the car.
Fascinated by a town whose name comprised only one letter – Å – we headed there, and caught sight of racks of fish hanging out to dry : a regular feature of many Lofoten hamlets. We never did discover where these unappetizing items were destined for. While my bird-watching brother tried to spot local species, I took pictures of the amazing scenery. Throughout our trip I found myself suffering from sensory over-load as we drove past mile after mile of spectacular scenery.
Aiming to experience something unique to the Lofoten Islands, we had booked our first night’s accommodation in a rorbu ( cabins formerly used by men visiting a region during the winter to fish from rowing boats ) at Nusfjord. Opening the door to “ our ” cabin, the word “ rip off ” sprang rather too readily to mind. We discovered that we were being charged an exorbitant amount to spend the night in what can only be described as primitive conditions. The cabin was in two sections. One, bare of any furniture or adornment, was apparently the original structure. Walls and floor were of rough timber, in which there were a number of holes through which – disturbingly - the world outside could be glimpsed. The other, our living quarters, comprised four beds on two shelves up near the ceiling, and sufficient furniture, etc. for Spartan living. I quickly decided that my arthritic joints would not survive having to climb up and down an 8´steep, wooden ladder to the shelf upon which our bedding was laid out. Tossing mine onto the floor, I surprised myself by sleeping soundly all night ! In retrospect, it may well that be our mood was not improved by our having been unable to find a restaurant serving local food. After driving around for some time, searching for one, we reluctantly had to settle for a mediocre ( in quality, if not price ) Italian meal served by a charming Iranian girl dressed in her local costume. As if to apologise for man’s greed, and the absence of facilities for hungry tourists, the scenery outside our crude cabin was wonderful.
Because most of the Lofoten Islands are mountainous, the roads – which were of uniformly good quality and almost totally empty of traffic – tend to snake along the coast. This results in landscapes in which towering mountains form a dramatic backdrop to deep blue and brilliant torquoise waters, often enhanced by picturesque signs of former human activity. In general, though, apart from a few small settlements where small wooden hulled fishing boats were moored, large tracts seemed to be uninhabited. When we remembered the long, dark and bitterly cold, Winter days in these far Northern islands, we started to appreciate that the climate here does not always provide the temperate picture postcard conditions we were enjoying. It was during this day’s drive, along the length of the Islands, that it occurred to me that, by pointing the camera randomly in any direction, there was usually a strong probability of achieving a good photograph. Paradise for me !
Next day, after a restful night in a comfortable Harstad hotel, we headed along the E6 road back to Bodø. Stopping, from time to time, to watch birds and / or take pictures, we realized that our visual appetites had become sated by the sheer magnificence of the Lofoten Islands scenery. Again and again, I quietly laughed at myself for declining to photograph a scene which, in other places, would have left me drooling !