Lofoten Islands, May 2014

My first visit to the Lofoten Islands was in February 2012. That visit was dominated by snow.

Svolvær , February 2012
There had been some snow before I got there, but as I arrived the snow started falling seriously.  The upshot was that I didn’t get to see too much of Lofoten. The tops of the mountains were mostly covered in cloud, and the roads were entertaining to drive on. I did, however, see just enough of the mountain tops, and just enough of the villages near Svolvær to ensure that the Lofoten Islands stayed firmly on my must-visit list.

This time I arrived in Lofoten, after crossing the Vestfjord from Bodø, in bright sunshine.   My plan (assuming typical island weather) had been to hire a car to provide both transport and shelter.  The weather that appeared meant that the only shelter I really needed was a sun-hat, so I reverted to a boot-and-bus travel plan.

Rorbu on Svinoya
My first base in Lofoten was Svolvær, the biggest town in the islands. This doesn't make it a metropolis but does mean a choice of places to stay, and a choice of places to eat.  Svolvær doesn't have the charms of some of the villages further down the coast, but it does have the administration, communication and industrial facilities that are needed to make life in a remote group of islands in the Arctic possible. It also has a fantastic setting that will set the heart-beat of any would-be mountaineer soaring.  For other tourists there is the draw of fjord safaris, looking for whales and white-tailed eagles, and the island of Svinoya linked by bridge on the other side of the harbour.

Fish drying racks (hjell) on Svinoya
Svinoya is covered with red-painted rorbu, and huge numbers of triangular hjell (mirroring the shape of the mountains) used for drying cod each winter to transform it into stockfish.

In the evening, there is also a museum in Svolvær, telling the story of the Second World War in the Lofoten Islands. It's a very busy, and fascinating, little museum. And why in the evening? Lots of towns along the Norwegian coast base their activities around the Hurtigruten ship timetable, Svolvær is no exception. Both the north-bound and south-bound ships call in the evening and for 3 or 4 hours the town is filled with Goretex-clad visitors eager to visit anything that's open.
Lofoten Cathedral, Kabelvåg 
Just south of Svolvær are the villages of Kabelvåg and Henningsvær.  Kabelvåg known for its unique island cathedral and for a pair of museums, the Lofoten Museum telling the story of the islands themselves, and the Lofoten Aquarium telling the story of the waters around the islands.

Harbour, Henningsvær 
Henningsvær sits a little further along the coast, on a little group of islands linked to the 'mainland' by high arching bridges. Henningsvær fits a lot of the Lofoten stereotypes.  A collection of mostly red-painted wooden houses around a harbour filled with boats, with snow capped mountains behind, and racks of drying fish on almost every available piece of ground.

The one piece of ground exempted from fish drying around Henningsvær, is the football field, and it’s surrounded by fish racks rather than terraces for the supporters.

Tunnelsyn, Skrova
A few miles across the Vestfjord from Svolvær is the island of Skrova. This little islands claim to fame is as home to one of few remaining whaling boats still active along this bit of coast. The island is, like many around Lofoten, reliant on catching and processing fish. I did see the whale boat when I was visiting, and was relieved not to see it at work.  The history of Skrova is told through the eyes, or more correctly the lenses, of local photographers in a wonderful exhibition called Tunnelsyn - Tunnel Vision - which really is in a (mostly unused) tunnel. It's a long time since I was encouraged to wear a hard hat to look at photographs.

Å i Lofoten
My southern base in the Lofoten islands was the little village of Å (or Å i Lofoten, if you want be sure not to mix it up with other places called Å).  This really is a small place. Especially out of season. There is somewhere to stay, the youth hostel. And if you’re prepared to walk the 3 km to the next village, Sørvågen, there is somewhere to eat. So why would you come to Å? You might come to visit the world’s only Stockfish Museum. You might come to visit the Fishing Museum. But for most people they come simply because it’s the end of the road.

The E10 starts at on Baltic Coast in Sweden in the town of Luleå, winds across northern Sweden and then into Norway where it comes King Olav V’s Road (as well as the E10).  From the Norwegian border the road heads to Narvik before crossing the Tjeldsund Bridge and onto the Lofoten Islands. A network of tunnels and bridges carry the road through the islands to a final tunnel just outside Å, which provides a dramatically situated car park and turning circle.  South of that are a few faint footpaths (not all suitable for the faint-hearted) up into the mountains but otherwise no way further south other than by boat.

Beyond the Road, Å i Lofoten 
Back up the road are a series of implausibly picturesque villages – at least they are when they are bathed in sunshine under blue skies and backed by snow-capped mountains.

Sørvågen boasts supermarkets, an excellent little restaurant and a telecommunications museum (at some times of the year).  This unlikely museum is a nod to Norway, Lofoten and particularly Sørvågen’s place in telegraphic history. In 1903, just four years after Marconi demonstrated wireless communciations, there were large scale experiments going on Sørvågen providing communications to the outlying Lofoten Islands.

Both Moskenes and Reine have been built around natural harbours. Moskenes has a seasonal tourist office, a single restaurant and ferry connections to the Norwegian mainland, and Reine on its own little peninsula at the mouth of the Reinefjord.  There are several isolated hamlets around Reinefjord, and the best (maybe only) way to see these and to explore the fjord is to hop on the little ferry that goes around the fjord two or three times each day delivering hikers, shopping and post as it goes. If you’re lucky you’ll also get a good look at the resident pod of orca that live in and around the fjord.

My second visit to Lofoten really did confirm my initial impression that this is a special place. The dramatic mix of mountains and fjords, of villages and harbours, combined with the clear, crisp air that gives the light a special quality makes Lofoten a wonderful place for photography.  I'm certainly going to be back again.  I've explored a few of the towns and villages but there are many more to explore.

I do think I'm going to need to do a little bit of personal expectations management about the weather ahead of my next trip.  The odds on getting another couple of weeks to match the two I've just had must be pretty long.

My photo diary for the trip (on Blipfoto) starts on 3rd May when I arrived in Svolvær, and there is a selection of images from trip on Flickr too.

If you want to revisit my earlier trip which had more snow and more aurora but much less sunshine is elsewhere on Flickr.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I love the island. You presented great information, and the landscape is one of the most beautiful I've seen. Very beautiful pictures. Keep up the good work!