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Arctic Anniversary

Friday 13 September 2019

Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary!

(Most of this post written by FIONA Illingworth, whilst enjoying her well deserved holiday with me here in Norway)

9.45 am

In the bakery at Andenes. This building had housed a bakery since 1912. It appears to be the hub of this small town, as we have seen in so many other places. People come here and have coffee, eat a huge sandwich or a pastry and catch up with friends. It all seems very civilised. They are calm and quiet places. Bread and cakes are an important part of Norwegian culture from what we can gather. Each place has its own version of cinnamon bread for a start. There is a lot of choice of other cakes, but cinnamon bread appears the staple. The people here are solid, heftily built but not fat – no wonder with all the bread and cake they eat, combined with their love of the outdoors.

Bårds Bakeri, Andenes

11.45 am

We had a walk around Andenes. There is much new building going on – a new hotel opening next year and work is ongoing in a new visitor centre at the Aurora Space Centre.

Aurora Space Centre

But much of it seems down at heel. We have seen more houses empty and/or with peeling paint today than before. We have been wondering what work is available for the locals. Once you have accounted for the emergency services and other public sector, the army, the fish farms and tourist trade … what else is here? The surrounding areas beyond town are made up of farms … mostly small family farms, so I expect they will offer limited work opportunities.

I suspect we are not seeing the place at its best. The tourist season ended on 1 September, so many things (such as some of the restaurants and galleries) are closed now for the winter. But I have to be honest, even so, Vesterålen does not appear nearly as impressive as its big brother, Lofoten.

Sunset at Nøss …

We are in a small carpark not far up the road from Nøss, a spot that John discovered on a phone app he has used a lot on this trip, (Camper Contact) which details lots of sites, paid and unpaid. We tried another one earlier on, where we had a go at cleaning the solar panel on the roof as the leisure battery has flattened on us a couple of times recently. It has to be said that we are charging a lot of batteries and devices and the sun hasn’t made much of an appearance lately. The car park was fine but there wasn’t much of a view so we decided to move. I am glad we did because here we can look straight out to sea and there is a beach where we went to do a piece to camera. Fiona wore a Norwegian hat, in which she looked completely ridiculous. She tried to write the dates of our wedding anniversary in the sand, but didn’t do a very good job. She needed a long stick to avoid messing up the sand with footprints. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Beach near Nøss
Sunset at Nøss

More information about Skulpturlandskap Nordland (Artscape Nordland)

I picked up a brochure in the tourist information office today that provides a lot more information about the sculptures we have seen dotted about Lofoten. This is a county wide initiative, inviting international artists to take part from19 countries, including Norwegian artists (so not as first thought). Nordland is a province of Norway. From the name, you’d think it was the northernmost part of Norway, but in fact it forms the middle section. There are 36 sculptures all together, two of them are by English artists: Anthony Gormley and Tony Cragg. We won’t get to see either of their artworks as they are in places we don’t have time to visit. There are 5 artworks on Vesterålen and I am particulary keen to see one by a Norwegian artist called Kjell Erik Killi Olsen. His piece is at Bø, in the south western part of the islands, and is titled The Man from the Sea. Perhaps we will do that tomorrow.

There are 5 art pieces on the Lofotens and we managed to see 3 of them – not bad going!

The idea of the project is to reflect the fact that the landscape shows traces of struggles through time. Each piece is designed to take up its own place in the landscape and to create a new dimension in the landscape. Some of the ones we saw worked really well; others spoke less to me but perhaps they will appeal to others.

Hello Vesterålen Islands

Thursday 12 September 2019

(Most of this post written by FIONA Illingworth, whilst enjoying her well deserved holiday with me here in Norway)

1.20 pm

We are on the ferry from Fiskebøl to Melbu. So that’s me at least saying goodbye to the Lofotens but hello to the Vesterålen islands.

On the ferry to Melbu

4.20 pm
First impressions of the Vesterålen islands are that there is much to explore. It is clear that the tourist season ended on 1 September and by the time we got to the Tourist Information place at Sortland, at 3.55 pm, it was already closed. But there was a free information brochure in English, which looks like it contains some helpful information. The islands offer walking, cycling, whale watching (would love to do this!) and I think we could easily spend a week here. The whale watching is expensive – probably cost us nearly £250 but may be an experience we will never repeat.

We’ve decide to drive right up to the northern most tip of the islands at Andenes and then slowly make our way back down south. Given that I have to be at the airport in Tromsø on Friday afternoon, we really only have 5 days here.

As we drive along the road, we keep turning corners into amazing vistas in the distance, hazy mountain recesses with the hint of sun and the promise of rainbows.

7.30 pm
We have driven up to Andenes as planned but bypassed it and driven on the smaller road to the outer side. We have passed Bleik and Stave and are parked up just beyond the small village of Stave. This island looks beautiful and there is scope for some good photographs I think, but it also feels immediately obvious that it is not as touristy. There are many fewer places to park up and enjoy the views; I imagine that might get frustrating as we drive past potential photo opportunities, with no chance to stop and make the most of them. But we will see what tomorrow brings. We thought there might be a possible sunset tonight but it is very cloudy and I am not sure we will get anything. It is also very windy so taking photographs with the tripod may prove tricky.

The weather does not look all that promising for the next couple of days but better again on Monday and Tuesday. Fingers crossed we get some good spells! This string of islands is much less populated I think and the towns/villages are further apart. There are lots of flat plains with mountains rising on either side. This most northern island is Andøya according to the atlas, Andøy according to the tourist booklet. I have noticed that the atlas has many different versions of the names used in other books. I don’t know why. There are five municipalities in the Versterålen: from north to south you have Andøy, Øksnes, Sortland, Bø and finally Hansel. Most of the hotels and facilities appear to be in Andøy but Sortland is also a large town, with many attractions.

I am hoping that we might be able to do a walk or two whilst we are here. There are many hiking trails, of differently lengths and grade. It would be good to do some more exercise. I am eating far too much bread, chocolate and cake!

We haven’t taken any photographs today, which is unusual. There simply hasn’t been the opportunity. We saw a possibility for photographs just as we turned off the main road to Andenes. The sun was breaking through the clouds out at sea and you could see some lovely shadows on the mountain peaks to the left. But, at that point, the sun was still too high in the sky. Maybe we should have gone back, but we didn’t. Just goes to show you sometimes just have to seize the moment and hold on until it comes good.

There appears to be a significant military presence here on Andøya. We have seen a lot of masts perched on the ridges of mountains, with supporting infrastructure down at sea level. There is also the space centre just up the road, so maybe much of the antennae we have seen are connected to that? Of course, none of this is mentioned in the tourist brochure, except for the Spaceship Aurora, which is widely publicised.

Andøya Space Centre

The ferry trip from Fiskebøl to Melbu was super efficient. We were lucky in that the ferry was in dock when we arrived at Fiskebøl and we only had to wait about 5 minutes. I am sure that I read that the trip took 45 mins but that couldn’t be right as it seemed much shorter. I’ve just checked, it takes approx 30 mins.

More coffee, more cake!

Wednesday 11 September 2019

(Most of this post written by FIONA Illingworth, whilst enjoying her well deserved holiday with me here in Norway)

8.30 am

We are already on the road! It is both windy and fine this morning and we are driving along a rather poor single track road through the sizeable villages of Austre Nesland and Vestra Nesland. Before roads, these places must have seemed quite accessible by boat. The road becomes increasingly bumpy as you get to the end. I do wonder how many of the houses we see here are occupied all year round and how many are summer houses only. According to the guidebook, Nesland was quite an important port in Lofoten when boats were the main means of transport.

The plan today is to explore a few of the quieter roads on the Vestågøy island before catching the ferry from Fiskebøl to Melbu, which is at the tip of the Vesterålen islands.

10.50 am
Visiting the sculpture at Eggum, designed by the Swiss sculpture Markus Raetz. “The Head” is beautiful and somehow, at certain angles, turns upside down. Very imaginative. The idea was to display the transitory nature of the sensual experience and how things are not always what you expect. I like it. It is very small and seems somewhat lost in the incredible landscape that surrounds it. But maybe that is the way it should be: we are not masters of this place but merely one species amongst many. The place we hold in the grand scheme of things is small indeed. You only need to look at the landscape and see evidence of the impact of the stone and ice ages to realise that.

“The Head” by Markus Raetz

I am looking out to sea and observe nothing on the horizon. We are creeping closer to the north of Lofoten here but not quite. There are other islets jutting out on both the inner and outer side of Lofoten as we drive further north. We are in Vestågøy municipality now and will head further into Vågan and the Gimsøy Nature reserve.

At the carpark we looked at the circular stone building, up on the hillside. It was used by the Germans during the war to service a listening station. Some of it remains to this day, all broken up and rusted but enough of it intact to see what it is.

All that remains of the early radar device abandoned by the German army during WW2.

1.55 pm
Wow. Hov is a beautiful place where you can go horse riding. It truly does appear idyllic. From the cafe you look out onto a small field where there is a campsite (not good reviews due to the complete lack of decent washing and toilet facilities), but beyond that there is a fabulous white sand beach and sea for as far as the eye can see. Just stunning .

The cafe was in what appeared to be (in appearance and name) a converted barn. (Låvan i Hov). It was beautifully done out, with old tin milk urns used as lampshades, wooden tables and sheep skins on all the chairs. There were large windows looking out to the bay and easy chairs with low tables, where we sat and ate our cake. It definitely had a woman’s touch.

In the field adjacent were a whole bunch of sturdy looking ponies. Clearly horse riding is a thing in the summer. I loved it. I don’t think John was quite as enamoured. He didn’t have any cake as it didn’t really appeal and he only had a little bit of mine to try. I had to eat the lot myself; it was gorgeous! It felt so decadent to sit in such a fabulous setting, drinking coffee (sadly not very hot), eating cake and looking out onto an amazing scene. The sun was shining and we had nowhere we had to rush to. Just perfect. As far as I was concerned, it was worth the £10 we paid for one cake and two coffees.

Coffee in the converted barn
Great view

5.10 pm
We have driven slowly up through Vestågøy and Vågan municipalities towards Svolvær, where we are again camped for the night. On route we went via Eggum and Hovsund, both of which were worth the trip. We found another sculpture at Lyngvær, which was designed by the American artist Dan Graham. It was essentially a mirror in which you can see the landscape reflected. As you approached it, the perspective changed. Sometimes you saw yourself in the panels and sometimes not. It was so simple but very powerful. It doesn’t have a name but has been parochially named “the shower cabinet” and it was easy to see why. The panels were like the heavy glass doors of a walk-in shower. I really liked it and think it is the best one we have seen. Interesting that none of the artists who have contributed are Norwegian, but from all over the world.

“Untitled” by Dan Graham
Fiona contemplating the artwork by Dan Graham

John has gone for a shower with the single 10 NOK coin that we have. Hopefully we will get some change from reception when it opens at 6 pm. We have been on a lot of beaches in the past few days so there is sand everywhere. I have just given the van a really good brush out and wiped down the floor. It smells much fresher. We bought some bleach the other day and I’ve just soaked the two dish cloths, one of which was getting a bit smelly. Not easy to keep things clean when we are in such a confined space. I do think that we could use the space in the van much more effectively. I have had a glimpse into other people’s van as we have been travelling. Many of them have a much better storage system than us, with hooks and shelves all over the place, to be utilised. We have lots of potential to do the same so we need to think about that.

The best cinnamon buns in the world!

Tuesday 10 September 2019

(Most of this post written by FIONA Illingworth, whilst enjoying her well deserved holiday with me here in Norway)

We spent a peaceful night, along with a number of other miscreants in a range if mobile homes, camper vans and tents in a place where it says “no camping”. There are Germans, French, Spanish and Italians here. The large group of French young people played volleyball on the beach. We thought they might be rowdy later on but not a bit of it.

The weather looks good this morning but it is due to rain later. So our plan is to have breakfast and then set out for Myrland.

2.50 pm
Bitty day stopping at lots of places. Watching surfers at Unstad. Called into Unstad Arctic Surf for coffee and very expensive cinnamon bun in the cafe. Very nice place. Gorgeous buns! £21! Their tag line is “The world’s best cinnamon buns!” I think they’re right 😁

Definitely the world’s best cinnamon bun!

On the way back southward we called in to a beach we missed near Flakstad. Just stopped to take mist over the mountains and some cormorants. Hoping they would spread their wings but no joy.

The beach at Flakstad is right next door to a carpark and loo we’ve used before. The waves here are pretty good … hard to believe that surfers would find the cold bearable but they seem to think it is worth it.

6.25 pm
We have driven down a small road to Nesland, which feels like it is at the end of the world. We were hoping to camp her overnights get but the place we are parked up (and where we had had dinner) is not the best. We are on a slight slope and even with the wedges under the rear tyres we are still sloping downward. It is a shame but I do agree that it is a bit precarious and we don’t have any kind of view. So it looks like we will move once we have had our coffee and a John has downloaded his photos.

After coffee we moved to a fantastic spot just down the road and having got the van all set up we were treated to the most gorgeous evening sky lighting up the fjord. We were perched on top of a cliff and the view was just tremendous.

What a place to spend the night and what a glorious evening sky we had.

We have driven around much of the Lofotens in the past 4 days. Given the weather, we have probably not spent as much time in some places as we might have. We are wondering if it might make sense to explore somewhere different in my last week. I would be up for that but the big question is where? I have no idea about where we should be going. John thought we would take much longer to drive down to the bottom of the islands; he hasn’t got a plan B in his back pocket. So we are looking at an empty canvas. The danger is that we will waste this time and neither of us want that. So it’s not an easy choice!


Monday 9 September 2019

(Most of this post written by FIONA Illingworth, whilst enjoying her well deserved holiday with me here in Norway)

We’ve had a good overnight stay in a campsite called Brustranda near Valberg. It was quite windy last night so having gone to bed we got up again and put the roof down. We were both lying there waiting for the next slap of canvas.

11.30 am
Just stopped at a viewpoint on the 815 – stunning location and looking across the water to mountains. Beautiful. The sun is shining again today and all the red berries look fab, lots of autumn colours in the ferns and bracken. We just spent a very pleasant hour taking photographs and drone footage. Perfect!

2.30 pm

We’ve had some fun on a long stretch of beach on the road to Utakleiv, which was gorgeous. I did some yoga in front of the lapping sea whilst John filmed it with the drone. Took a while to find my balance and it wasn’t perfect by any stretch. But it felt so exhilarating. How amazing to sit in front of the waves just trying to be in the moment.

Cinnamon buns by the sea!

5.45 pm
It has been a glorious afternoon. We have driven to the end of the road, through a short tunnel to Utakleiv. They are charging 250NOK to camp on the other side so we have come back through the tunnel and are now parked in front of a wonderful white sandy beach called Hauklandstranda (stranda = beach). It is a popular spot with picnic tables and some loos. There are families here with young children. The notice board says No Camping but it looks like a few, like us, are going to chance it. Who’s going to check in a Monday night? It is not clear, to be honest , if the sign even applies out of season. It doesn’t say otherwise, so I am sssuming it does. We are hoping for a good sunset over the water. With the light shining on the coastal mountains. It is idyllic. We had a 6km walk round the peninsula to the other side. Half way along there is a small opening in the rock and someone has built a beautiful table and chairs there, together with a BBQ! Amazing!

BBQ under a rock and free for anyone to use – brilliant!

I suspect today may be the last of the sunny days but let’s hope the forecast changes!

It was magical to walk along, feel the sun on your face and hear the water crashing against the rocks. Invigorating and relaxing at the same time. We almost made it to the other side but headed back after approx 3km.

First Taste of Norway

8 August 2019

This turned out to be a really busy day! It began when I arrived in Karasjok, the Sami capital, and visited their cutural centre. It was fascinating to learn a little bit about their way of life.

After a good look around, I stayed for a coffee and a delicious cake before moving on northward.

I began to get used to seeing reindeer on the road and avoiding them (they have absolutely no raod sense and think nothing of standing in fron of your vehicle even though you drive right up to them.

I then found, quite by chance, the site of the Skoganvarre Field Hospital from World War Two, that has been left just as it was for anyone to look around. As an English person I never learned about the devastation that was caused in Northern Finland and Norway during the war, but it was extensive and cost thousands of lives. After crossing a very rickety suspension bridge over a wide river I looked around the remains of what was obviously an extensive facility that was hidden in the forest.

Quite late in the evening I found the Silfar Canyon in Porsanger and took a couple of images as the setting sun lit up the canyon walls.

Silfar Canyon

That just gave me time to find a wildcamp site on the shores of a small fjord nearby. And so to bed. An interesting day.

A look around Rovaniemi

6 August 2019

I had booked for two nights into the campsite here at Rovaniemi because I needed a rest from driving so I made my way on foot into the town to have a look around.

It’s a small town with all the amenities you would expect, including supermarkets, fast food stores, pubs, clubs shops and all the other attractions we expect to see. It has a friendly feel about it and the architecture looks like it has a very much Soviet Russian influence, which is not surprising as it’s quite close to Russia. Most businesses seem to be emphasising the “Arctic” in whatever they’re selling, either that or Santa Claus.

A few pictures might illustrate the place better.

I enjoyed looking round the town and bought a little souvenier to hang on the tree at Christmas. I then made my way back for an early night, much more driving to do tomorrow!

Rovaniemi, the home of Santa Claus

Monday 5 August 2019

Today I made my way to Rovaniemi that I knew was a fairly large town but what I didn’t know was that this was the home town of Santa Claus! That’s what the tourist brochure said anyway and who am I to doubt it.

I checked in to the large campsite on the opposite side of the River Kemijoki and found it to be a very pleasant place to stay with ample clean facilities and I good spot with a view across the river towards the town.

In the evening the sun went down and lit up the old road/rail bridge with a really magical light – perhaps Santa does live here after all!

After a good shower I settled down for the night.

Finland’s forgotten war

Sunday 4 August 2019

As I left the Wild Brown Bear Lodge I knew I had had an experience I would never forget. The site of those magnificent animals up close and within range of my camera lens, was a dream come true.

And so I left the Lodge and began my journey north west towards Norway and I came across a memorial to an event I had never heard of before, Finland’s Winter War and the Battle for Raates Road near a small town called Suomussalmi. the town has built a museum and a memorial in honour of those who died here and to the futility of war. It was very moving and I post it here simply to make it more known.

That evening I found myself in a rest area near a village called Posio and decided to saty there for the night.

One Week Gone Already!

Sunday 28 July 2019

Day 7

The journey through Denmark was all too brief and I could have stayed another week exploring just Copenhagen but I have an appointment to keep with some wild brown bears!

This first couple of weeks of the trip is a bit of a rush but will slow down in the next couple of days giving me chance to take photographs and really take in the surroundings. 

So one week into the adVANture and I’m up against a slight problem. I’ve created a couple of vlogs but finding difficulty in getting sufficient Wi-fi to upload the files to YouTube. I think I’m going to give up the idea of doing a regular vlog purely for that reason. 

On thinking about it, I could probably put everything into a WordPress Blog and get the information and the pictures out that way. I’ll look into it.

Meantime, I found a place to wild camp for the night on my way north to Finland.