The Arctic Cycle Tour, 2005
Updated December 22 2005
Near Stamsund, Lofoten Islands solo tour, June 2004
Here's a summary of the key learnings and highlights of the trip in no particular order:-
We flew from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Oslo with an hour and fifteen minutes to make the connecting flight from Oslo to Bodø. Unfortunately the Arrivals Hall in Oslo has a new Duty Free shop to distract returning travellers until their bags arrive on the carousel. It opened three weeks before our arrival, and now the handlers can't fit new bags onto the conveyors after the first set have gone into the hall because no-one is waiting to collect them, they're all in the shop queueing for Jack Daniels at the knock-down price of £24 a bottle rather that the £55 the Vinopoly charges. We didn't appreciate that this was the reason for the non-arrival of our bags, but the net result was that we missed the last flight on a Saturday to BOO. The SAS staff did hold it for us briefly, advising us just to leave our bags in the hall and leg it to the Gate, but it had gone anyway.
Stranded in Oslo with a trolley each
So we found ourselves alone in the terminal with two bikes, a trailer wrapped in cardboard (the size of cello despite attempts to reduce its length), and two large nylon duffel bags containing four or five panniers each. The staff were apologetic however, and put us up in the SAS Radisson on the airport. The hotel people were unfazed by our bike-laden trolley getting jammed in their revolving door, and soon we were relaxing in white fluffy dressing gowns after a nice hot bath. Dinner for three in the restaurant consisted of steak and chips with a cheesecake each for dessert and soft drinks - I believe the cost was 700kr so we're fortunate that SAS gave us meal coupons! Janet declined my offer to guide her around the wet streets of Oslo in the evening (37km away by train from Torp).
Today is the first day of the summer holidays for children in the UK. I am curious as to the impact that travelling in peak season will have on our onward journey once we pedal out of Bodo tomorrow.
First thought on waking is that the sunshine is streaming into the room at an unearthly hour of the morning. Last night the sky was full of rainclouds, clouds low and grey. Today the weather has cleared and a light breeze is blowing across the airport. The control tower is a glass thimble on an imposing pencil-thin cylinder about a kilometre away, other than this all I can see is grass and parked cars. Downstairs we breakfast on fruit salad, hot rolls and brown cheese with lashings of stewed coffee. The bikes have spent the night in a large empty guestroom on the ground floor next to reception. We debate the best way to stack them onto the luggage trolley for the return to the departure lounge, a ten minute walk away, then pile them on anyoldhow in an ungainly heap, thankful to have brought plenty of bungees and compression straps in our carry-on luggage. Fortunately today everything is going smoothly and we are soon on our way up the coast of Norway to Bodø, although somewhat miffed to discover that as with the flight yesterday they aren't offering anything in the way of lunch or other refreshments unless you get your cash out.
On arrival we disembark onto the tarmac by the rear door and watch the bikes land with a crash on the baggage trolleycar nearby; never mind, up until now SAS have always been fairly careful with our luggage, and it looks like it has all arrived (we'll need that tent!).
The airport is very small. Ten minutes later we are reunited with our mountain of equipment and the crowd is already thinning out - we are going through a high speed reassembly of bikes involving much cutting of parcel tape and hex key brandishing. The problem of course is that the clock on the wall already reads 14:05, and the ferry is due to leave the port for the Lofoten Islands at around 15:00, so our arrival today is cutting things fine; if we miss the boat, we'll lose a day waiting for the 15:00 sailing tomorrow.
The trailer is the significant problem - it's light frame is good for flying with, but being alloy it is easily damaged and a cross-threaded allen bolt here could wreck the holiday. For some reason I also forgot to try the trailer on the back of my bike with the selection of bags I am carrying before we left the UK, and of course now I realise that I can't fix my saddlebag and camera bag where they usually sit (suspended from the loops on my saddle) so these items need to be bungied onto P.'s handlebars.
With thirty minutes remaining we wheel the bikes out into the sunshine and cool breeze (always windy in Bodø) and steady ourselves for the ride down to the ferry terminal. Fortunately a bystander is on hand to help Janet to her feet after her first attempt at mounting her fully loaded bike ends in a tumble after her foot fails to clear the pyramid of clothing strapped to the back of it...
A close relation to the Trek trailer we took.
It is Sunday, and the roads are empty of traffic. I was here last year, so I have no problem guiding us onto the cycle path on the other side of the airport perimeter road, and then safely down through the town centre to the dock. P. is enjoing the attention he's attracting and is working out where best to position his toys and Bluey the Teddy in the pockets available to him in the saddlebag. Janet is just pleased to be out in the cool sunny afternoon air with someone who knows how to get to the ferry. I try to point out the key buildings we pass, whilst keeping the bike out of the ruts and gulleys in the road along the seafront.
Down by the docks the mighty Nordlys is tied up, and cars and vans are just about to be loaded on board. "Have you a booking?" asks the worried-looking petty officer supervising the loading, "No? Well then just a moment while I check with the chief... yes, ok, you can go on the lift now". Phew! A moment later we are descending into the cargo area on the car hoist with a motorcyclist and his bike, and then after strapping the bikes to the bulkhead near the door we are off up to Resepjion with our handlebar bags and coats (we plan to be on deck a fair bit). The adult fare to Svolvær is 417 Kr per person.
Three views of the Nordlys; the first was taken at Svolvaer ©www.hurtigruten.com 2004
The huge vessel pulls away fifteen minutes later and heads out to sea with P. frantically arranging the deck chairs on the afterdeck (he really takes to this on every boat we board). It is a lovely afternoon, almost too hot downstairs with the sun streaming through the windows, so we spend quite a bit of time at the very back of Deck 5 out in the open air on sun loungers.
After an uneventful voyage we dock briefly at Stamsund at 7pm, then pull into Svolvær in warm evening sunshine at 9.30 pm. We find the Sjøhuscamping about twenty minutes later after much head scratching and a further repacking session in the square. The paving of the square is still being laid (it seems to have been a seasonal job since 2001, but fortunately the mud is slowly being replaced by large irregular shaped paving stones).
There are two Harley Davidsons outside the Sjøhuscamping. They belong to a couple from Sweden who have ridden up here to meet friends from Oslo, who are touring the islands by car and bicycle. Our room is beyond theirs in the hall, on the left hand side of the second floor - a bunk bed for us and a low children's bed for P. in a neat, grey painted wood-lined room with blue chintz curtains. P. soon finds the two-foot-long trapdoor in the floor in the hall outside our room (for fishing through in the winter) and we spend the next hour luring him away from it, aware of the potential for a splash as his inquisitive nature gets the better of him and he falls through it. By the time we are unpacked and settled in, it is 10:30pm and we are ready for bed, not too bad for me with earplugs in or for P. with his boundless energy drained by the novelty of it all, but it is still bright enough in the room to read by, due to the light streaming in through the window. The awful truth is dawning on Janet ~ it never gets dark at midsummer here...
Woken by gulls. They are perched on the wooden rail at the front of the Sjøhus, making a terrible racket. A quick look at my watch - 07:40, and the barometer is steady at 1006. P. is still asleep, shaded from the sunshine flooding into the room by a sarong tucked in around the bunk bed opposite me. Janet is dozing and shows a great unwillingness to get up, probably because she didn't sleep at all last night. I pull on some clothes and head out to the shops to stock up on provisions for the day. On the way I visit the indoor shopping center and find an incredibly tall woman - about four stories tall, and constructed entirely of uniform yellow lego blocks. Shame I didn't bring my camera, not many shopping centres can boast one of these!
Svolvær Sjøhuscamping in our wake, Skeddadle tour, 2001
The Saddle Skedaddle tour I joined in 1991 left the Sjøhus by boat after breakfast in June 1991 to avoid the busy E10 route out of Svolvær, and headed north-east up the island chain towards Melbu. We have decided to go in the opposite direction while the weather is good, and to use the Hurtigruten to travel up the islands when the stable high pressure system breaks down, thus ensuring in theory at least that we can sit out the bad weather from the observation lounge of a big ferry rather than being stuck in it. The cycle route out of Svolvær will take us just a short distance today to Kabelvåg so that I can get a feel for towing P. with a heavily laden touring bike and so that Janet can catch up on her sleep. We eat a huge breakfast - meusli, half a loaf of bread with ubiquitous Norwegian Jordbaer (strawberry) jam, and a pint of tea apiece. Then we repack the bikes and pedal slowly down to the roundabout by the Post Office for the road to Å. Svolvær has a strange, unplanned feel to it ~ the vague one-way system leads one to intersections where the road you are on terminates in a steep ramp or set of set of steps up to the road that you want to join, which contributes to the charm of the place unless you are pushing a fully loaded bike and trailer up the last bit.
The cyclepath to Kabelvåg is wide and well made, but has some steep climbs and descents; often it sweeps down under the E10 through a little cycle tunnel before soaring up a bank on the other side to rejoin the road 100 metres further on. We appreciate being out of the traffic though, and are making reasonable progress. It is about 18° C today, there's a gentle breeze blowing, and the sky is an azure blue. P. didn't stop talking until we rolled into Kabelvåg for an ice cream in the square. Lots of tourists here, and a smartly dressed Russian student with a case containing Russian dolls for us to buy to help fund his University education. Fortunately he could appreciate that we had enough on the bikes without a delicately hand-painted set of nesting wooden dolls...
After the ice cream we pedal the remaining 1.5 km down the finger of rock behind Kabelvåg to the excellent Rorbuhotel and move into Hut #30, which is very pleasantly decorated with wood panelling throughout and a beautifully tiled bathroom. P. is impressed with the large colour TV but is disappointed to discover that Norwegian television is both boring and incomprehensible. Two bedrooms upstairs with sensible heavy curtains and draught-free windows for the winter months. Janet takes to one of these for a long good kip after lunch, while P. and I set off to explore the museums of Storvågan, which he loves!
Nyvågar Robuhotel with Vagakallen, 942m, beyond
Storvågan has a sheltered bay which has housed a large fishing community for centuries; it is one of the earliest settlements on the Lofotens, dating back to the Stone Age. Domestic remains and house ruins found by archeologists suggest that it was the first settlement in Northern Norway. By 1900 it boasted an imposing wooden mansion for the local merchant (who controlled the sale of stockfish) and dozens of smaller shacks for the fishermen and boat builders. The large building has been carefully restored. Inside, it is sumptuously decorated - the original Chinese wallpaper has survived in several rooms, and much of thel fine furniture from the 1870's is still in place. The contrast in lifestyle between that of the landowner and of the fisher families around him is very stark; their turf-roofed huts of heavy timber are very rude by comparison. The workshops around the big house have also been preserved, and house an interesting set of exhibits explaining cod fishing and life in the area over the last 1000 years.
When P. and I return from the museum Janet is still asleep, so we pedal into town to do some shopping for supper. We buy some fresh shrimps and a bottle of pasta sauce, and meet the family from Oslo on their bikes who are just about to visit the Gallerie Espolin. On our return to the hotel I also find Sandros' landrover with the Saddle Skedaddle trailer attached - sure enough his team are booked in for the night, having started from Moskenes on Friday. They are heading north, which is probably just as well for us, since they'd grab all the accommodation en route. Given the size of the area and the season we were bound to meet up sooner or later. This year's party is mostly from the UK and they are a friendly bunch.
The weather is still perfect here - barometer high, not a cloud in the sky. In the evening we show Janet the parts of the museum that are still accessible after locking up time, and explore the boat sheds and restored wooden houses dotted around the peninsular, following a winding footpath up to the headland . Afterwards we watch a bit of telly and read a story together for P. before bed at 10pm.
Woken by Sandros rather than gulls this morning. Bright sunshine outside, but it is only 00:20 - some Skedaddlers are getting ready for a "midnight walk" which involves much clumping up and down stairs in the adjoining hut and moving of heavy things in the Landrover, which is parked under our window. We get to sleep again about an hour later.
Breakfast in the hotel was a real treat, lots of fresh fruit, warmed rolls, and hot coffee. Said a brief good morning to Sandros, who got in at 04:20, but fortunately without waking us up. We pack and then move heavy furniture around in the hut until we hear people stirring next door.
We check out at 9 AM and rejoin the cycle path beside the E10 heading west. The cycle path ends just before Kalle and the turn-off to Kallestrand, which we'd earmarked as our lunch stop earlier. The road is unsealed and in a bad way, which makes for slippery cycling with the trailerbike attached. There's a sjøhus-cum-hostel in Kalle which I hadn't spotted before, but it seems to closed for repairs today so we forgo the idea of pancakes with jam (which they advertised on a sign a kilometre or two before Kalle) for a picnic on the beach at Kallestrand. The beach is flanked by an impressive vertical wall of rock perhaps 800 metres tall, looking as promising as Idwal slabs in terms of climbing. The beach also has a campsite behind it, fairly primitive but sporting several tents and camper vans. There are composting toilets in a block to the side, and a useful standpipe with potable water for our lunchtime meal of bread dunked in Knorr vegetable soup with added pasta, which is cooked on the stove in the shelter of some large boulders on the sand. The beach itself is of the immaculate white sandy variety, with very shallow water stretching out for a kilometre into the bay, better for paddling than for swimming - not surprisingly, the water is freezing cold even though it looks very inviting. We play on the beach for an hour or two until we feel a stronger breeze building up and notice that the afternoon is becoming hazy and overcast. One of the joys of this kind of holiday for me is the feeling that you are right out in the open air, and that there is no warm vehicle to return to if the weather deteriorates - it really is a matter of making the most of the sunshine and being prepared for the eventual rain when it arrives. It doesn't look imminent, but there are mares' tails in the sky now, so a change for the worse is on the way. While I am studying the clouds I am also chasing P., and momentary inattention causes me to stub my bare foot against a large rasp-like rock, which takes the skin off my little toe, owww!!
P. on Kalle beach
We pack up and wheel the bikes back onto the road at 2 pm. Our next challenge is riding on the busy E10 without the safety of a cycle track, and then making it through the tunnel under the Rørvikskardet, a saddle between two moderately size mountains blocking off the dale we are in from the coast. The old road contours up the side of the saddle and over the top, but is only just passable now on a mountain bike. The E10 dives underneath the rock and climbs for nearly a kilometre underground before popping out at the top of the lake that provides fresh water to Henningsvær, which lies about 12 Km further on. After attaching all of our flashing LED lights and headtorches, we pedal furiously up into the mouth of the tunnel. Actually this one isn't so bad - cold and damp, but dimly lit, with the sound of rushing water behind the plastic sheets that line it drowned out by the roar of approaching traffic as we scoot up the inside of the hill to pop out into the sunshine beyond.
Rörvika from R816 to Henningsvær
Although it is still sunny, I see as we freewheel down the hill to the turn-off for the R816 that the cloud is rolling down the side of the mountains behind Valberg and Horn on Vestvågøy, the next island beyond this one and eight or nine kilometres away across the sparkling water. The wind gets progressively stronger as we cycle along the narrow 816, and we soon have to stop to don waterproof jackets and mitts. To my surprise P. doesn't seem to be at all put out by the chill, and is still pedalling furiously (his trailer bike has only one gear). The road winds constantly, and is only just wide enough for a coach in places, resulting in frequent meetings with cars and the odd motorhome on blind corners - unlike most of the other small roads in the islands, this one sees considerable tourist traffic since the town around the corner is one of the scenic highlights of the island of Vågan.
Chris Heyman on the R816, July 2001
I last travelled along this road four years ago, stopping for a brew-up on the shore and taking pictures of the group as they caught up with me. Our guide to the area was the late, sadly missed Chris Heyman, who seems to have pioneered the idea of guided cycling in the Lofotens, as well as mapping much of the North Sea Cycle Route in Norway. Chris introduced me to the idea that a Brompton could be an ideal partner for lightweight cycle touring, and gave me copies of the routes he was working on for the NTO, which was a generous gift.
Just outside Henningsvær we meet a weatherbeaten French couple on mountain bikes; Bridget is a teacher on a two-month tour of Norway, her parter Alain works in the aerospace industry in Toulouse, and sports a wonderful white fiberglass trailer complete with a tricolor flag behind his bike. He explains that he's built it with the help of friends at an aircraft factory, and demonstrates its unique two-bladed propstand to us. They are mostly camping, and are impressed with the fact that we can camp and tow a five year old too.
We arrive in Henningsvær just an hour before the first raindrops, after a tough climb over the hooped bridge in the wind, which is now blowing even more strongly. The Bryggehotel is just after the bridge, and stands on stilts over the harbour water. We feel somewhat out of place on the fashionable ground floor, but the reception staff are fine about us padding backwards and forwards with panniers and drybags over our shoulders. The room itself is a little unusual though and doesn't seem to have been used much this summer, judging from its musty smell.
Henningsvær - the Bryggehotel is at the far end of the harbour
We decide to make the most of the deteriorating afternoon weather with a walk around the little town, which is famous for the play of light on the water, and for its climbing club. This sports a decent cafe where we eat an afternoon tea of "iscake" (frozen vanilla icecream on a shortbread base) with coffee and hot chocolate on the deck outside, followed a couple of hours later by a really good lamb stew with rice indoors in the warm. Climbers have returned from a hard day's schooling in time for the evening meal and provide some local colour (Stein P. Aasheim: "...en underlig hybrid av en engelsk pub, nepalsk tea house, fortausrestaurant i Nice og base camp på Everest"). I notice that few of them are wearing items from the climbing shop opposite the clubhouse, which is run by a quiet Nepali man in his forties who sells gear at outrageous prices (Patagonia polyester trousers from 990 kr). I toy with the idea of buying the English language climbing guide to the Lofotens but I can't think where I'd put this hardback book on the bike tomorrow morning.
The rain starts pelting down while we are eating dinner; fortunately the hotel is only 150 metres away and we have our waterproofs with us. Janet sorts out a second room (free!) for herself and P., who was alarmed at the climb to the gallery above us. I am soon tucked up in bed, dozing off to the sound of rain on the window ... and the wind moaning in the gaps around the frame.
Henningsvær, seen from the air, May 1996 ©Michael Haferkamp
The sound of rain drumming on the felt roof of the hotel wakes me at 07:40. From the window it looks like a fire hose is being played onto the streets outside. We dress and eat breakfast together deep in thought. Today is marked out for a fairly long ride to Rolvsfjord on Vestvågøy, which is very scenic in fine weather but offers few if any places to get out of the rain. I can see that we'll be soaked within minutes if we try to ride through this, but we really don't want to spend the day indoors. I am also feeling duty bound to come up with an alternative form of transport for Janet and P. to demonstrate that a cycling holiday here doesn't have to be spoilt by foul weather. I'm probably going to regret this, but it looks like a hire car is going to be needed to cover today and tomorrow until the storm blows itself out - on the plus side, this might enable us to visit the Viking museum at Borg which until now I've never visited (because it lies on the busy and less scenic E10 route down the centre of Vestvågøy). The staff ring around and locate a car at Nordvik Toyota in Svolvær, which I may able to get to if I catch the morning bus ~ which stops at the bridge in about two minutes' time! I run out into the wall of water with my raincoat over my head, clutching my driving license and mobile phone, and just manage to flag it down as it speeds past. The driver takes me as far as the junction with the main road (the E10) at Rørvika, where I change to another bus for the thirty minute trip to Svolvær. While we wait for it, the driver helpfully draws me a small map of the town, pointing out the garage I'm going to collect the car from.
By mid-morning I have done another food shop in the large Co-Op, bought a replacement mobile phone charger in the town's small electrical store, and acquired a green Toyota RAV4, which is deemed sufficiently large for portage of three bicycles and a small mountain of gear. It is still raining heavily as I drive slowly back to Henningsvær. The local speed limit seems to be 80 Km/hour (out of town) which is quite a novelty, being just under 50 mph - but it compensates for driving something twice the size of my Smart car, with left hand drive and a manual gearbox, plus heavily fogged up windows!
Back in Henningsvær, it takes time to find the best way to jam everything into the car without hurting it. The wind keeps blowing the heavy rear door shut on me. Finally the tangle of bikes inside resembles a partially dismantled section of the Eiffel tower, one rear seat is out on the ground, and P. is being threaded through the bicycles so that he can take up position in the rear of the vehicle for the trip. I am glum because I envisage us solving the immediate problem but lumbering ourselves with this unnecessary steel behemoth. And the scenery looks much more mundane from behind the windscreen; I want to be out there with the water running down my face.
At one pm we pull up at Brustranda Camping at Rolvsfjord for the key to Hut 4. There are many large luxurious-looking huts, but ours is not among them. We find it on the edge of the site, looking rather forlorn in a row of lesser huts, each with a large four-wheel drive vehicle parked outside it. Inside, it is rather cold and damp with a rusty fan heater under the table and two 40 watt bulbs. We set about making hot soup and cheese sandwiches for lunch, warming the place a little with the single hotplate. Still, it has a fridge and running water in the kitchen sink, and looks brighter with a colourful sarong draped over the table.
We spend the afternoon at Borg, visiting the Lofotr Viking Museum, which strikes a good balance between being authentic and informative. The main building is based on excavations of a large iron-age Viking longhouse on the site. Some 80 metres long, it looks a bit like a giant woodlouse as we approach it, its silver shingles glistening in the drizzle. The building is divided internally into several long rooms with plenty of carved scrollwork and smoke winding up into the roof space from a large open fire. Several friendly Viking folk are standing around in woolen tunics to explain craftwork exhibits to their visitors. They even have a collection of helmets and swords for P. to try on. The rain lifts, encouraging us to walk over more of the site, down to a lake on the other side of the hill, where the museum's boathouse and smithy stand alongside an impressive reconstruction of the Gokstad viking ship.
On Lofotr, the Gokstad ship reconstruction
After waffles in the cafe, we are gently shooed out at 6 pm when the museum closes for the night. I fancy the idea of unrolling my sleeping bag by the fireside in the Chieftain's House, but this would be imposing on their hospitality, so instead we drive carefully back to our cold cabin for an unusual meal of baked beans, jam sandwiches, and rubbery "varm polse"... then a couple of games of cards and bed. Before turning out the light I resolve to get up early and return the car to its owners, whatever the weather tomorrow.
I wake up spontaneously at about ten to five; it is gusty and drizzly outside with low cloud hanging in the valley, 9°C, but sunshine later on perhaps. Janet is stretched out on the floor asleep on her Thermarest matress, presumably the bunk wasn't as comfortable as it looked. I make a pint of tea and drink it whilst munching bread and honey on the porch, then it's into the car and down to Ballstad with the bicycles, which are unceremoniously locked to a telegraph pole near the rorbu we've booked for tonight. I drive back to Brustranda for a more leisurely breakfast, and we clear out the cabin and move our bags down to Ballstad before 11:00.
King cod jaws are larger than your head at Sjøstrand Rorbuer
Sjøstrand Rorbuer turns out to be a good pick. The owners, Maryanne and Børge, live in the large yellow house behind the rorbu; she greets us very warmly. The rorbu is on a wooden dock by the sea, and has a fine view. Downstairs there's a comfortable living room/kitchen with and a door to the hall and bathroom at one end. Upstairs there are two brightly decorated bedrooms with a curtain in the doorway between them. Børge is working in a large fishing shed just outside the door; the outside walls sport some huge dried cod heads and there are large baskets of lines with wicked-looking hooks on them on the dock, ready for action. He's obviously in his element - inside there are a couple of framed photos of the famous day in April 2003 when he and his guests on the "Kaptain Storm" landed a cod weighing 33.9 kilos - 1.40 m. long, 94cm around the belly - a new European record!
We split up at this point - Janet and P. head off for the local supermarket whilst I drive off to Svolvær, pausing only to lock my own bike up in Leknes, so that I can catch a bus back to Leknes after dropping off the car, and then cycle from there to Ballstad later on. Without wasting too much time in Svolvær, I stock up on ... more cheddar cheese ... and locate a completely waterproof poncho for P. at the Aladdin's cave of a sportshop on Storgatta. Torgatta (a carpark/square about 50m behind the big red building opposite the town square) is where the bus leaves from, and the journey back to Leknes costs 110 kr. As a small reward for getting rid of the car, I haggle with the student running the gift shop in Leknes bus station and pay 50 kr for a pair of sea mittens for P., just the right size for him for the next year or two. I pedal into Ballstad about an hour later, vastly relieved to have got rid of the car and glowing from the sprint up the low range of hills that separates the two settlements. After an enjoyable meal of chicken and vegetable stew over rice at 7pm, P. and I play at getting his small Batman figure to cross the room on a small pulley and a "rope" culled from the sewing kit. All turn in at 10 pm, blocking the windows as best we can with a spare duvet.
The clouds clear while we sleep, and I wake up for some reason at three in the morning to a flawless view - Ballstad is spread around its bay in a horseshoe, and right now the orange and pink early morning sky is reflected perfectly in the flat calm water, perfectly still and quiet. The other side of the bay is dominated by a massive boatyard shed, which would be a an eyesore but for the mural on it, which is a faithful reproduction of the horizon beyond it at sunrise on a day like today.
Early morning light at Ballstad
We wake up again at eight in the morning and slowly pack - no particular hurry because today we are catching the bicycle ferry from Ballstad to Nusfjord in order to avoid the tunnel under the Nappstraumen which links Vestvågøy to Flakstad, the next island in the chain. The Nappstraumen tunnel is open to cyclists, but I've used it several times before and I know it will be busy and a bit frightening for P. if we have to ride through it. The bicycle ferry is an unknown quantity, however.
The ferry is due to leave at 13:00 but for some reason we are looking for it by the big boatshed in the centre of town at quarter to one; no-one seems to have heard of it here. After a quick check in the travel notes I wrote before leaving the UK, we pedal rapidly back down the road past Marianne's house following the signs for Havets Helter (a restaurant and bar next to Kræmmervika Rorbuer, which is where the boat will depart from).
Waiting for the bicycle ferry
The ferry turns out to be a small but robust fiberglass-decked fishing boat piloted by Knut, an affable red-bearded man in red overalls. The boat could probably take six, and sets out with a minimum of four passengers usually. We are joined at the last minute by another cyclist, a superfit policeman from Trondheim, who is the spitting image of Jürgen Prochnow. He's very entertaining and points out sea eagle nests to me as we crash through the waves on our way to Nusfjord. The water is choppy as we head out of the bay, and waves roll and boil on all sides while Janet and I hang tight and try to keep on our feet. To my amazement P. is happy to sit indoors with Knut in the tiny cockpit, wreathed in diesel exhaust fumes and tobacco smoke, despite the rolling motion of the boat and the obvious lack of a horizon to look at in there.
Nusfjord is situated in a narrow cleft in the cliffs that line the southern side of Flakstadoya, the next island in the achipeligo.
It doesn't reveal itself until one is right on top of it. I've fished from a rowing boat here on a previous trip and I'm aware that the currents are strong and treacherous in this area - it wouldn't do for the motor to pack up! Of course I'd forgotten also that access to the quayside would be more of a challenge on arrival. I hear Janet sucking her teeth as we arrive - the dock here is 12' up from the deck and access to it is by an outward-leaning iron ladder - which looks sturdy but very slippery. Clearly we don't want P. to be first up there, because at 5 he's still liable to wander off and stray too close to the edge of a long drop into the water - still this is a climb he'll have to do on his own, since I can't boost him up there! Fortunately our new-found cycling friend out of the boat like a shot, and is strong enough to haul the bikes up after him with a little help from Knut and me below. I manage the climb fairly promptly without making a fool of myself, and haul P. up the last bit by his wrists a moment later. Phew!
Knut helps passengers onto the ferry at Nusfjord for the return trip to Ballstad
Nusfjord is an idyllic fishing village, probably the best preserved of its kind in Norway (no new buildings since its listing in 1975 as a pilot conservation project with three other settlements in Norway). There's a small souvenir shop here that sells tins, bread, and fresh milk. The three of us retire to the only place to eat in Nusfjord, the Oriana Kro seafood restaurant, now run by Rica Hotels (who also manage the rorbu accommodation). I know this place rates a mention in Sophie Grigson's sea food cookbook "Fish", but it isn't intimidating. It's a snug little ground-floor place seemingly hollowed out of solid rock on the other side of the quay to our landing point, ideal on a day like today when rain is threatening and its getting cold and windy. We find we have lots to talk about while our fish soup is being prepared, which takes the edge off the price of eating out here (which is astronomical, 284 kr for soup for two, with sausage and chips for P.)! After our brief meal we say our goodbyes, buy a pint of milk for breakfast, and wobble off out of Nusfjord, climbing away up the winding road alongside the imaginatively named Storvatnet lake, under the huge rock buttress of Stjerntinden 3000' above us. Happily P. seems to relish the climbing and seems to be doing half the work for me, despite the low cloud and the wind. We rejoin the E19 at the end of a deep bay, and on this side of the island the rain finally catches up with us. We take a break in Flakstad, where there is a very unusual wooden church built in 1780, with anonion-domed cupola. It is tied down with heavy steel hawsers - legend has it that it ended up here after floating across the sea after a particularly wild storm.
The church is locked, so we brew up a cup of tea and eat half a bar of chocolate in the lee of the dry stone wall. As we are putting away the kettle we hear a snatch of music on the wind - something that sounds like the hurdy-gurdy theme tune of The Magic Roundabout. What is it, and where on earth is it coming from? There's hardly any houses here, and it seems unlikely that they are playing it just for us. Finally a large van with a loudspeaker on top appears on the road about 500 yards away, and after a bit the driver plays his tune again. Could it possibly be - an ice cream seller? P. is not about to let the opportunity to buy one slip away, despite the cold and the wet, and we set off in hot pursuit. Surprisingly, we do manage to overhaul the van in Ramberg, the next village down the coast ... but unless we have an extraordinary appetite or a chest freezer we are out of luck, because the van driver is selling to homeowners with the latter, and the minimum delivery is a case of forty.
After Ramberg the rain starts to fall more heavily, so it's really a case of pulling our hoods further over our heads and plugging on until we arrive at the soaring concrete bridge separating us from our destination for the night, Fredvang. Just as well traffic is so light in the Lofoten islands, because I have to contour from side to side to climb up the ramp of the bridge. The bridge itself looks like a vast alien artifact plumped down in the middle of the raw elemental landscape, and the gale is making an impressive moaning sound as it streams around the structure. More prosaically, Fredvang is just on the other side, and we thankfully lean the bikes up against the stout wall of the Lydersen Rorbuer a few minutes later at 18:30. It's at times like this when I'm very grateful for the dry bags and indoor accommodation, because although superficially everything looks soaked through, we will be in dry warm clothes in a few minutes.
Fredvang strikes me as being a tough place to market to the average holidaymaker. The hamlet is tiny, and has only recently been connected to the road system. There's a young lad of about eight playing with a broken child's bicycle outside the building, and I wish him good evening gravely. He looks a bit tongue tied, but when I ask him in English where he's from I get "Selly Oaks" back in a broad Brummy accent, so I'm not the great British pioneer I've been pretending to be! I get the bags off our bikes and into the building just ahead of a vast influx of French students who have apparently walked around the island today - they'll be grabbing all the spare rooms here tonight! Miraculously we've been given a nice cosy room to ourselves, complete with a cooker, fridge, and a large dining table, so after rapidly taking stock of the situation we retire to our room and give them the run of the communal kitchen next door. It turns out that they are hoping to dine off cockles and whelks collected during their marathon beach walk - given the size of the party, I hope they have a fallback plan...
The place reminds me more than a little of a field study center my school used to go to. The building is decorated in a utilitarian 1950's style with brown and olive paint, and most of the fixtures and fittings seem to have been by the builders. Decor notwithstanding, it is warm and dry indoors and we are happy to round off the day with a massive Tuna Surprise with sultana custard and a pint of tea each to follow. And despite my misgivings, the French students are fairly quiet next door and don't keep us awake all night.
homecycling The Arctic Cycle Tour, 2005Week 2
Text and images unless otherwise attributed © Jerry Webb 2005
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