Lars at the mouth of the cave
Rorbuer at Å
Nusfjord (best preserved Norwegian fishing village)
Viking longhouse/mead hall
Prow of Viking ship Lofotr
In late June we travelled to the North of Norway in search of midnight sun and adventure. We found a lot of midnight grey and North Atlantic cold. We were, however, also rewarded with a couple glorious days and nights of sun. We flew to Tromsø where we met our friend and had the initial intention of driving further North (Tromsø is at 70 degree N latitude). Instead, in the run up to our departure, it was decided that we should drive South, to Lofoten. This mountainous archipelago stretches over a 100km from the Norwegian mainland into North Atlantic. It is anchored in the West by a speck of an island called Røst which is famous for its rich seabird colonies. There are lots and lots of puffins there.
We rented a hytte (cabin) in the small town (read: cluster of 5 houses) of Myrland on the island of Flakstadøya. It was an idyllic place. We were 200m from the ocean with a white sand beach and a glorious view of mountains to the NE and an unimpeded westerly view for the midnight sun.
Although these islands are firmly situation in the Arctic Circle, the Gulf Stream keeps the temperatures at sea level above freezing for the entire year. The archipelago is, on average, 24 degrees centigrade warmer than places at comparable latitudes around the globe. This does not, however, alter the fact that it is in the Arctic Circle. There is no arable soil, very little in the way of trees, and thus, historically speaking, not particularly amenable to human settlement.
Through the first half of the twentieth century the people here fished. The fishing industry is still quite active, but its modern industrial organization has radically altered the shape of the lives of those who live here. Its scale has, in the space of a generation, eclipsed a way a life. This way of life has been, nevertheless, neatly rendered into a consumable object. Some of the small towns, Nusfjord for example, have been turned into museums allowing one to see how life was once fully organized around fishing; one can stay in fishing cabins (Rorbuer) and go fishing on tours and eat fish and so on. They still dry (cure) fish in the traditional way here. There are elaborate wooden scaffolds from which thousands of fish hang. Another interesting fact is that 80% of all Cod (Bacalao) eaten/served in Italy is caught in Lofoten waters.
The area is ideal for recreation, which is what the oil rich Norwegians with their $7000 mountain bikes, gor-tex anoraks, and fancy camping gear most like to do. We didn’t have bikes, but we did take advantage of the wonderful network of hiking trails whose tendrils lace the nooks and crannies of the mountainous landscape. If we return, I think we’ll rent or bring bikes. It’s an ideal way to take in the breathtaking scenery – mountains whose rock is as old as the earth itself (3 billion years old). It’s quite clear that when God created the earth, God started here.
Lofoton is a fantasyscape that is worthy of the most mythic of narratives. I wonder if the Vikings had one. One can imagine a battle scene with Thor and Odin. Thor tries to strike Odin, he misses and his hammer crashes into the earth – mountains rise and water rushes in around, Odin flees on Slepnir the 8 legged horse. Something like that. Maybe Snorre has written something.
Speaking of Vikings, we went to a Viking museum in the small town (cluster of 8 houses) of Borg. This was nowhere near as hokey as it sounds. The museum is a reconstruction of a Viking longhouse (mead hall) adjacent to the ruins of one the largest such structures found in Norway. It was much more living effort at historical recovery than a Disney-fied experience. There was, thankfully, no horned helmets (Vikings never wore horned helmets, just the Minnesota Vikings and German nationalists with fascist proclivities). The most exciting thing at the museum is a reconstructed Viking ship. It’s a reconstruction of the Gokstad ship, which was found in the Vestfold, dated to ca. 900, and measures 23m (78ft.). The ship is amazing. We, and a French filming crew, got the chance to row it. I’m sure we were only slightly less effective than 20 hardened Viking sailors would have been. When they first reconstructed the ship they entered it in a regatta with other sailing ships. The Viking ship (its name is Lofotr) won in imperious fashion setting a time record for the distance. This museum should be high on your list if you happening to be in this part of the world during this time of year at 1pm (don’t arrive later or you’ll have to watch the others having fun from shore).
We also went out to sea on a monstrously powerful speed boat (it had two 250 Evinrude outboards). The boat's captain -- Lars -- was very cool. He and a guide took us to see some of the old abandoned fish villages inaccessible by road. We also crossed the infamous maelstrom -- inspiration for Poe's "A Descent into the Maelstrom" and the scene of the climax of Vernes' 20,000 Leagues under the Sea." The tidal currents are incredibly strong there because there's a sea shelf of relatively shallow depth, 70meters or so, surrounded on both sides by depths that exceed 500meters. The water crossing the shelf moves quickly. As one might expect, the fishing in this most dangerous place is always great.