Majestic mountains with jagged tips, piercing the sky, the ubiquitous red stilted buildings and beguiling fishing villages were all there to meet us as we explored The Lofoten Islands. A long held dream of a trip came to fruition with the generosity of the Norwegian Government and frankly, great timing!
We short cutted Narvik by taking a ferry across to Lodingen where after two long driving days we pitched up at a pretty full site to service ourselves and Fred for the adventure ahead. (by the way, Fred is Norweigen for ‘Peace’) To say Norweigans are friendly is an understatement, Jigsaw as ever introduced us to several, but we enjoyed the company of Inger & Tore and Renee & Stig until the early hours. Really lovely, generous and interesting people celebrating Stig’s birthday. They shared their dried fish (very intense flavour, famously dried here) with Jigsaw who was best pleased. Fabulous start at a super location.
The Lofoten Islands are at 68th and 69th parallels north of The Arctic Circle and consist of 6 municipalities, we weren’t actually in them when we started along the E10, the road that runs all the way to Å where it ends, literally. Basically travelling c. 230kms along the islands, we immediately encountered tunnels one minute, high drama mountains the next, a view opening up into the Norwegian sea and small rocky islands. It seemed as though every turn had something different, all with changing weather and light to add to the atmosphere. It’s difficult to describe what is a start stop road trip without fixed destinations, so hopefully the pictures do it the justice it so deserves.
Our first main stop (we stopped several times en route just to look!) was at Henningsvær, a small fishing village, one of the areas most picturesque sea ports. A drive across two stunning bridges over to the islands we immediately spotted the stilted buildings surround a tiny harbour of colourful houses. Racks for drying the “Stockfish” (and Cod) are everywhere, even looming over the local football ground, as though the headless fish are supporters. Thankfully, given this process of hanging the fish is a winter activity, there’s unlikely any snowbound matches for that type of crowd! Henningsvær is a great place to wander around and explore day and evening, as we pitched up harbourside for the overnight.
Back to the E10 we found ourselves at a gorgeous spot at Valberg, a beautiful little church sitting opposite a white Caribbeanesque beach (without the Palms) and turquise water. Given the Gulf Stream impact, the water temperature wasn’t all that bad actually! We were quite a while there, walking on the beach and chatting with two amazing photographers from Tromsø, Vivian and Trine and two local ladies out on a walk who liked cats…
Continuing along the coastal road was the small port harbour of Stamsund and the main town in Lofoten, Leknes. We have to both confess to being ignorant of the infrastructure on Lofoten. We both underestimated how good the roads were and also the scale of the towns and the business going on. It’s that “Artcic Circle myth” again, that everything is desolate which is absolutely not the case. Yes they have 24 hour darkness in winter but most of the Nordics do and its just a way of life. Ice cream at the peninsula island of Ballstad, a tiny road to Hauklandstrand Beach and another tunnel to Uttakleiv Beach where we pitched for the night. A stunning location again, white sand, blue waters and a sea eagle swooping low. A photographers paradise! The rock pools were stunningly colourful and mesmerising. The archipelago and its islands has so much to offer, it was difficult to pack it all in to the limited time we had. Jigsaw wasn’t sure what the woolly things were that wandered around the beach areas.
After a morning photo session on the beach (not of me I hasten to add!) we were on the move again, towards Å. Stopping off at Vikten, at Glasshytta Vikten we watched in awe, some incredible glass blowing and were mesmerised by pricy pieces of extraordinary art that once upon a time we’d have considered. Most of the archipelago rock is granite but there is white quartz is this area, used in the glass, that gives it a weird, indescribable arctic character.
Passing the iconic Flaksted Church, built in 1780, we crossed the two bridges to Hamnoy, said to be the most picturesque. I’m not sure it is but there are plenty of pictures on a certain persons memory card. I thought the Sea Eagle on a rock, scanning for prey was more beguiling. We kept Jigsaw indoors just in case! Continuing along, encountering more savage beauty and overpowering mountains, we passed Reine and stopped abruptly at Å. It’s a quintessential Lofoten fishing village, exactly as our imaginations expected. Stilts, fish drying racks, small harbour, fishing boats…. and then a pretty smart hotel and restaurant. We treated ourselves then headed back to the van in the car park! Shockingly, Å was buzzing though the following morning with tourists, but thankfully the bakery hadn’t sold out so a bun and coffee harbour side was in order. At this point we had no alternative but to turnaround… Ah…
Reine was a detour, first mini cruise ship we’d seen in a reasonably sized town that seemed to centre on day trips and fish processing. On the road away however were two gorgeous white sand beaches, Ramberg and Skagsanden with temporary fractals in the sand from the waterflow to the sea. The back drop being moody clouds sitting atop the craggy mountains, waiting to soak everything overnight. Another side road took us to Nusfjord, boasting original Rorbu (historic stilted houses) A historic village in reality but with an amazing museum style shop! That evening, the rains came as the clouds had promised! Jigsaw spent some time tempting them in.
The following day however was bright as a result and we had what I call our “Olympics Moment” You all know it, you watch athletes doing something at the Olympics and think, that doesn’t look too difficult…. we sat and watched hikers climbing up a scree rock face to a view point across Henningsvær, and thought, yeah we could do that! It’ll be worth it! We quickly realised that most of them were half our age and had the agility of mountain goats but we clambered on. Good job I had that chalk for grip in my pockets! From the boulders and scree it was the rain soaked tree line, holding onto branches as we went. Of course at our ages we don’t want to be medivac’d off the mountain. We did actually get our gold medals at the top with a glorious hidden mountain lake and panoramic long views to die for (or hopefully not in our case!) Difficult to photo being back lit but the pictures aren’t too shabby! We clambered down in one piece, regular stops to allow the goats to pass. A welcome hot shower was in order that night before we had to sadly leave Lofoten. There’s so much we didn’t see, the northern parts of the archipelago for one, but we know we’ll be back one day.