I left you in Tromso but I’ve realised there is one place that we went to before then that was worthy of a mention. After we went to NordKapp we visited Oksfjord, its only claim to fame in the guide books is that it has a bit of ‘preserved road’ that you are allowed to drive on. It was only a short detour off the E6 on our way south, the preserved bit was at Oksfjordbotn but after failing to find the preserved road (although we did find an interpretation notice board) we went on to the end of the fjord on a road overlooked by mountains, icefields and a glacier. Stopping by the notice board on our return we found the road. The sign, which explained that the road ahead was like many old roads of the time in Norway, the width of a cart cut into the mountainside, was facing the wrong way to make sense of it and it actually started 400m away in someone’s backyard. So with the track just a little wider than our Trafic spiralling up between the trees Doreen drove with me saying helpful things like ‘mind that rock’ and ‘don’t go over the edge’ until she confessed that she would rather I drove. I think she had done most of the difficult bits by then although it was an out and back route, which involved me doing some reversing and a ten-point turn.
In Tromso I tried Geitost a popular Norwegian cheese. If you stick to cheddar there are three things wrong with the three-word description of this cheese: Sweet, Brown and Goat’s. Actually if you don’t think of it as cheese its quite passable. Michael Palin had a similar problem in the Himalayas when offered tea made with rancid Yak’s butter, okay as long as you thought of it as soup not tea.
The Lofoten islands stick out into the Atlantic, well above the Arctic Circle between about 67º and 68ºN. They have just started building a road (with many km of tunnels no doubt) to join Lofoten to the mainland. It will be open in 2008. At the moment you have to get a ferry, and we went across from Melbu, which was the shortest crossing and is to the north of the island chain. Tunnels and bridges interconnect the six major islands and the end-to-end distance by road is 170km. Everything is on a small scale the mountains are steep and pointed but of no great height the villages tiny the whole place is picturesque. Lofoten has a population of about 25,000. They get about 200,000 tourists a year but we saw very few apart from at the ferry terminals. We spent a week there, in mixed weather, ie on no day did we have 24 hrs of sun, and plan we to go back, perhaps in 2008.
Arriving at Lofoten from Melbu and The view from a Lofoten Wild camp
Just to pick two highlights. We found an almost perfect campsite on Vestvagøya by the side of Rolvsfjord, Brustranda Sjøcamping for 130 NOK a night, mostly cabins but room for some touring vans. As well as the usual facilities there was a restaurant, a gift shop and boat hire. We only stayed one night but we were mostly wild camping by then. Then there was the village of Nusfjord, a preserved fishing village on Flakstadvøya. It has a free car park but you pay a small admission charge to walk in the village. A German guy that we met was greatly put out by the fact that the ticket didn’t say by whose authority the charge was made which we found amusing. We got talking because they really liked our van; they were camping in the back of a small hatchback. The village and tiny fjord are beautiful and we didn’t begrudge the admission charge – to be fair neither did the Germans they just wanted to be sure it was officially sanctioned! They have a fishing museum but we avoided that. We drove away a km or two and spent the afternoon dozing by a small lake before finding a place for the night.
The week on Lofoten cost us very little, we spent two nights in campsites had one meal in a restaurant and there were no tolls on the bridges and tunnels, we didn’t hurry and managed to avoid the fishery museums – yes if there is one thing I disliked about the place it is that every time they have a few redundant buildings they say lets have a fishing museum. The tiny village of Å whose size isn’t much bigger than its name manages to have two!
This is as good a moment as any to mention dried cod (stockfish). All over northern Norway we came across these great racks for drying cod, most were empty, the dried fish having been dispatched – bodies to Italy, heads to Nigeria. In Lofoten 16,000,000 kg of cod are dried on 400,000 m² of racks so you can’t avoid seeing them. The spawning cod are caught in the winter and put out on the racks to dry. In June some are still there, the heads having been detached are tied together with string on smaller racks. The cod is not a pretty fish when alive, dead and dried, it is out of a horror movie! Without the heads the open body cavity just looks like some primeval mouth. There are also flies, seagulls and an awful smell. Now the Lofoten cod is an expensive delicacy prized greatly in Italy for its high protein, low fat content, and where it is reconstituted and used in a sort of fish stew 'baccalà alla vicentina' but having seen its raw material it will definitely not on my ‘must try’ list.
Dried Cod, Yummy
We left Lofoten from Svolvær, a two hour crossing to Skutvika.
In the next few days we were going to see many more ferries. First though we re-joined the E6 into tunnel land, the map shows 15 in one 70km stretch, I think it was a few more. One, when Doreen was driving, had no lights on – scary especially when you switch the van lights off when trying to get high beam. Did we say headlights have to be on at all times if you are moving in Norway? Some contradiction that, 24hr daylight, but you have to have your headlights on 24/7.
We wanted to see the famous maelstrom at Saltstraumen, near Bodo. Conveniently they have built a bridge over the narrows where the whirlpools form on the flood and ebb tides. Up to 400 million cubic metres of water flow through the narrows back and forward twice a day. There is a large campsite nearby but even nearer ie under the bridge there is a car park. It slopes but nothing our plastic wedges couldn’t handle. We were able to wander along under and over the bridge at midnight to see the flow at its greatest for that day but unfortunately our visit coincided with neap tides so it wasn’t as impressive as the 4.5m deep whirlpools that sometimes occur on a spring tide.
Saltstraumen is at the Northern end of the RV17, which wends its way southward by a series of roads, bridges, tunnels and ferries along the coast. It is not a road for anyone in a hurry but it has much to recommend it as a holiday route, we followed it for 400km over a two day period. We picked up a guide to ferry times which was useful but sometimes when we thought we had missed one it was still there and sometimes there seemed to be a ferry missing. On average I guess each of the six ferries that we used cost about 80NOK but there were no other tolls. Journey time varied between ten and ninety minutes and on the last ferry we crossed back below the Arctic Circle. The scenery was much more massive than on Lofoten, impressive rather than pretty. Eventually we veered off the RV17 and rejoined the E6.
RV17 - Ferries and Bridges for 400km
We didn’t bother going into Trondheim as we went there on our 2002 cruise but skirted it and headed off west on the E39 mainly so that we could visit the Atlantic Highway which is near Kristiansund (not to be confused with Kristiansand which is probably 700km south). Guardian readers and travel writers voted the Atlantic Highway as the best drive in the world. Well all we can say is that they must have led sheltered lives! The guide books all mentioned it but didn’t give a clear understanding of where it started and finished, I think that is part of the con, it is only 8km long, 11 if you are feeling generous! It interconnects various skerries and islets and of that the one place that everyone photographs is a single bridge. Now that we are back its clear that the photographs that accompany any article about the highway shows the same bridge. It’s by no means the most impressive bridge even in that area. When I think of the tolls that we paid and two days we spent getting there and back it still rankles. PS for those of you with a sentimental streak we did pass the last resting place of the killer whale Keiko star of ‘Free Willy’.
We went to the nearby town of Molde though (the town of roses) and spent a sunny afternoon there eating strawberries, and that night we had an unmissable series of experiences. We left Molde and headed south towards the fjords. Spent some hours on very minor roads, picked up some groceries and went to the Mardalsfossen waterfall, the longest vertical drop in northern Europe. We then retraced our path a little and camped by the sides of the lake. We could see the Mardalfossen and on the opposite side of the lake we had high mountains and other waterfalls, not only that by the side of the lay-by a few yards away a stream rushed out to the lake. Some sheep and lambs came to see us, then whilst I was clearing up our disposable BBQ along came three badgers who disappeared into the foliage just the other side of the van. Later the sun went below the mountainside giving us a great sunset, of course it was nearly midnight by then and it didn’t actually get dark that night. One other thing no cars or people went along the road at all while we were parked until we were awoken next morning by a man who came and emptied the waste bin in the lay-by.
A Perfect Wild Camp Spot
It was going to get busier as we went into the tourist part of Norway but I’ll save that for another day. Part III