A Merry Christmas

It is time to sign off for the year – wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2018.

And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”   Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Approaching Honningsvåg, Norway – 23rd December 2014 on the Hurtigruten Ferry.

Homeward bound …

I have been driving for an eternity. A two week car journey around Lapland was immediately followed by a 700 mile round trip to Traigh Golf Course near Arisaig.  The greater the effort the greater the rewards and both adventures were very rewarding even if I left my golf game at home for the latter. I have limited this post to just two images – the first from our last full day at Abisko in Sweden and the second from a late evening drive between Traigh and Acharacle (the view to the small isles from Glenuig).  Hopefully both explain why the effort was worth it:

What is this life if ...
The view to the small isles ...

Senja

This first image of Finnsnes was taken from MS Finnmarken on 22nd December 2014. Within a short time we would float under the bridge in the distance, heading north to Kirkenes.  At the time my knowledge of the local geography was sketchy at best and I certainly didn’t appreciate that the bridge connects a sizable island with Finnsnes and the mainland. Nor would I have expected to be driving over said bridge just seven months later, my geographical knowledge much enhanced, to appreciate the wonder that is the island of Senja.

The bridge ...

Once across the bridge we turned left and did the clockwise tour taking various detours to the north of the island where the passes get higher, the roads narrower and the tunnels deeper. There is much more than can be seen in one day:

Snow gates ... More from ... The north road ... The high peaks ... Bovaer ... Bovaer ...In the high mountains ...Riding ...

Storekorsnes and Oksfjord

The Norway of my imagination survives at its distant edges. It is an imagination fed by a too brief holiday in the early sixties when the sun perpetually shone, the snow-capped mountains reflected a clear bright light and the fjords were a deep dark blue. I found it again these last few days, at Storekorsnes and Oksfjord.

Both are situated at the end of long and winding roads and both survive not because of their tarmac connections but because of their proximity to the sea. Storekorsnes is a small fishing village and Oksfjord a thriving ferry port – it is the sea that feeds them.

Like many of the coastal towns and villages, the routes to them include long deep tunnels, some descending far enough to burrow beneath the seabed. The route to Oksfjord includes a particularly unpleasant 4km example – a single lane with irregular passing places, it is roughly hewn, dimly lit and damp throughout. It has more in common with Telford’s canal tunnels than anything designed for motorised transport. Emerging back into a bright Norwegian light is a welcome and remarkable contrast; from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.

Views from ... On the road to ... On the road to ... On the road to ... On the road to ... The road in the sky ... The perfect location ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ...

Mad dogs …

Everything has changed.  Gone are the thousand lakes and the endless forests.  Gone too, if temporarily, are the midges. We have crossed into Norway, into snow-capped mountains on the edge of the sea.

The 200km trip north from Lakselv along the E6 and E69 is spectacular, at one point diving deep beneath the sea in a 6km tunnel – exciting in a car, not so pleasant for the many laden-down cyclists heading north for world’s end.

The objective was Nordkapp via Honningsvag, a town we last saw under deep snow in December.  By coincidence MS Finnmarken is moored at Honningsvag quay, the ship that brought us here over Christmas, as is P&O’s Arcadia, the ship we travelled on to the US, the Arctic and the Med.  As a consequence the town is echoing to the sound of English accents and so is Nordkapp where the dreaded cruise tour buses line the car park.

... from Lakselv to Nordkapp

... from Lakselv to Nordkapp

... from Lakselv to Nordkapp

... from Lakselv to Nordkapp

... from Lakselv to Nordkapp

... on the road to Nordkapp

... from Lakselv to Nordkapp

Seven months on the snow has gone from Honningsvag and it looks a little rough around the edges but then most towns are improved by their winter coats. This first image of MS Finnmarken contrasts with the version shown here:

MS Finnmarken ...

Heading north ...

Heading north ...

Heading north ...

It is a long haul to Nordkapp and as you climb through cloud there is a sense of achievement on arrival. This is soon followed by disillusionment at the exorbitant entry fee – like Land’s End, Nordkapp is now a themed experience but having come this far we feel obliged to cough up. At least there is a statue which recognises our irritation – “No Kimi, I will not tell you again, it is just too darn expensive!”

Heading north ...

At the edge ...

In all the +1000km we have journeyed to the far north, I had not seen one UK registration plate until this appeared in the car park at Nordkapp. Only mad dogs and Englishmen would go out in the land of midnight sun in such a device – good luck to them, a fine adventure.

Heading north ...

The snow-capped mountains come in the next post.

Inari

We have continued along the narrow road to the deep north.  Leaving Sweden we stayed one night in Levi and have now arrived on the banks of the Juutuanjoki as it flows into Lake Inari. This is the cultural centre of the Sámi in Finland.

Inari is home to both the Sámi Parliament (Sámediggi) and the Siida, the National Museum of the Finnish Sámi.

After a morning in the Siida, heads echoing to the drone of Sámi music, we float across the lake to Ukonsaari and Hautuumaasaari, old man and graveyard islands. In winter we could make the same journey on foot. The skies threaten as we return; nevertheless it is hard to imagine this vast lake frozen for seven months of the year and harder still to imagine tribes of people surviving in such an empty harsh land for thousands of years:

The view from ... Hautuumaasaari ... The view from ... Leaving ... In the grounds ... 104-Silda-wordpress In the grounds ...

(Click on the images to enlarge – the penultimate photograph is a detail from a wall-hanging in the Siida Museum and therefore not mine – photography is allowed but not flash)

Tärendö

It has taken two days to get here but the effort was worth it:  Newcastle to Manchester to Stockholm to Kiruna, to Tärendö. Into the Arctic Circle again, we came in the winter for the darkness and the aurora and now we are back for the midnight sun, a chance to see some of the places in daylight that we only glimpsed in snow and the too short days of winter.

This feels like escape – endless forests, lakes and empty roads which for miles and miles are unmade, not because they are out-in-the-wild tracks but because the Swedes have a novel approach to resurfacing – dig everything up, start again but don’t close the ‘roads’.

These are a few images from our brief stay in this beautiful place, fittingly at the Forest Hotel.  All of them taken in haste – stand still for more than a few seconds and both the camera and photographer are covered in midges 👿

Tomorrow we drive east into Finland.

A room with a view ... Evening light ... Into the sun ... House in the woods ...
I've looked at clouds ...
Bridge over ...
The Blue Angel ...

Downtown ...