The Arctic Circle and The Computer Says No

After the gorgeous time in the wilderness we beatled our way up the long and winding road to the Arctic Circle. It’s a very long drive, it’s currently at 66°33′48.7″ north of the equator, it changes dependent on the earths tilt. I doubt they move the sign though or the gift shop/info centre/cafe! Jigsaw left her sticker on the sign, with everyone else it seem’s, who passes by.

It’s an odd sensation getting there, we are so used to seeing the arctic on TV as a remote snow and ice covered wilderness but it was no different to the landscape we’d been driving through for hours. Stopping at Muddus National Park we hiked up to a 360 viewpoint, with an incredible vista, tree’s as far as they eye could see with snow covered mountains as their backdrop. So many trees in fact, that my eyes kind of blurred looking across the forests, somewhat like a landscape painting by Bob Ross (of The Joy of Painting) as his trees were always big brush fuzzy 😄 Anyhow, if we wanted the TV arctic it was many hundreds of miles further north, nope!

Abisko National Park is one of the main attractions as such of the area, in the far north of Sweden and close to the Norway border. Having driven past the ugly mining town of Kiruna, which I’ll come back to, Abisko in sharp contrast, was worth it’s reputation. Pretty busy with campers as a result but not enough to spoil, given it’s vastness. Tree forests either side of the roads creating tunnel drive throughs with glimpses of silky lake surfaces and high snow capped mountains. It felt rugged and severe and no doubt is brutal in winter (unless skiing of course) As a result the roads were great, the infrastructure was all designed to cope and we even had phone signals and FaceTime ability! Spending time in Abisko was a treat, we had temperatures of c. 18deg while walking on permafrost around the high meadows and birch woodland. Jigsaw continued her devastation of the Swedish mouse population in earnest, wherever we stopped. Lake Tornetrask was stunning with its mirror surface reflecting a misty grey sky. Skinny tree’s, unable to grow tall in the conditions, reflected added to the remoteness feel. The cable car/ski lift to the Abisko Aurora Sky Station was fab, riding above the tree’s to what is purportedly one of the best place to view them from in Scandinavia (in winter!) The views were long, the skies were brooding and the air was clean! The rainbows were immense!

We had a surprise one evening when a helicopter landed 10m away from where we were parked. We assumed an air ambulance but it was actually a meet up point for it to transport bags of stuff into the mountains nearby for a 70km Arctic Mountain Marathon starting the following day, with 600 runners. We did wonder why there were tables, chairs, gazebos, foods and a printer in the middle of a gravel car park! Anyhow it added a different spin to the evening as it came and went several times. Jigsaw, poor thing, was trying to have kittens 😒

So, part of our plan, if you can call it that, was to head into Norway from this area, to Narvik. We did quite well, we were 20 miles into Norway before we arrived at their border check point. To be honest we didn’t expect to be allowed through, we chanced it, but yes “computer says no”. This issue being that given we are no longer in the EU our COVID vaccination details are not part of the EU covid app so when our QR codes are scanned it errors. Frustrating as every other country has just cross checked the vacc details with passports and its been fine but that’s their rules and we have to respect them. So we turned around, surprisingly with some Swiss and Fin’s too and headed back down the E45. The 20 miles of Norway that we did see was beautiful though, becoming more rugged and mountainous with visible glaciers. A stop at the Battle of Narvik memorial meant we could at least claim to have set foot in Norway this time!

So retracing our steps was a bit of a drag until we took the decision to stop at Kiruna, for a look. It’s so ugly we just had to! Kiruna is a town with a story that Nordic Noir writers have picked up on. The mean, mercenary and powerful mining companies do so much damage that the whole town has to be relocated… enemies created… easy storyline… Anyway, for Kiruna this is actually true, the whole town is being moved as a result of the mining of iron ore destabilising it. The town is surrounded by landscape scarring mines, everywhere we looked. Walking around it feels like a ‘ghost town in waiting’. New tower blocks are being built and there’s a program to dismantle and rebuild the more historic buildings, the unique fire station being one. Thankfully the stunningly different church and its bell tower are two others on the move. We doubt the shopping centre with its Specsavers, H&M and The Bishops Arms will survive! Hopefully it’s bizarre outdoor sculpture will! Kiruna is twinned with Redditch 😉 although Frome would of been proud of its fountain!

Kiruna Church is scheduled to be moved in the next 5 years, hope it works out! It reminded us of Japanese Buddhist temples we’d seen in Kyoto but it’s actually based up the Sami Kata. It’s one of Swedens largest wooden buildings, completed in 1912 and ironically, paid for by a mining company. Gazing down are several highly polished statues symbolising virtue, chastity, strength, shyness, love… all states of mind apparently. I liked the pious one, Nick liked the love one, of course!

A slight detour off the E45 took us to the famous IceHotel but it was missing… the meeting point sign (below) was funny though! We’d always thought it was in an isolated and remote area only to find it’s only a few miles from Kiruna and there’s lots of other houses around it, myth busted! It’s a serious commercial venture as you’d expect with a giant ‘ice block making’ warehouse and numerous cabins, an expensive bar and high price tag! Nice spot though!

So, having gone up and back down the long and winding road, we knew we had to ‘Let it Be” regarding Norway continue as ‘Day Trippers’ and for sure, remember, ‘All You Need is Love’ xx

***** Breaking News *****

Having written the blog less than 24 hours ago we get a pop up alert that Norway is open to us so, in the words of Sweden’s biggest export ‘Mama Mia, here we go again’…. 😀🍀 We are so lucky and photographer man is now the one having kittens!

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