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In Norway: August 2011 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

IN NORWAY: AUGUST 2011 
Or 'MagBaz go Caravanning'

Margaret and Barry Williamson
August 2011

Continued from: IN NORWAY: JULY 2011

Continued at: RETURN TO THE UK: SEPTEMBER 2011

Images of this journey can be found at the following locations on this website:

In the UK 2011                   In Denmark 2011                   In Norway 2011

03_Lofotens_in_Context.jpg
Norway in Perspective

Norway_C_MBT_D.jpg
Map of our Route North to the Lofoten Isalnds and Narvik

AUGUST 2011

Sjobakken Fiske-Camping, Ytre Levang – 42 miles
Open 1May to 30 Sept, see www.fiske-camping.no. Price charged (cards OK) 185 NK per day including electricity, WiFi and showers. (A week is charged as 6 nights, but only if you book and pay for a week on arrival – and you already know about this deal.)

Ever north on rd 17, the Kystriksveien, which took us past the Alstahaug church/Petter Dass Museum at 7 miles. A mile later Belsvag Farm was signed off the road (a historic farm, the 17th C residence of the first Bishop in these parts). It has cabins and a small campsite, better suited to tents (we had difficulty turning the caravan round when we went to check it out).

Rd 17 continues up the coast of the Alstenfjord, under the lee of the Seven Sisters mountains (De syv sostre) range rising majestically on our right. We soon passed two car parks for walkers and there are marked trails up to and between the summits (routes available from Tourist Info in Sandnessjoen). Four of the Sisters reach over 1000 m, the tallest being 1072 m/3,538 ft. At 12 miles, Steiro Camping, next to an airstrip, has an excellent view of the Seven Sisters and the coastal shipping lane.

Another 7 miles to a roundabout (civilisation!), from which we stayed on rd 17, bypassing the busy port of Sandnessjoen. Ferries run from here to the offshore islands of Donna and Lokta, and the coastal Hurtigruten ferry calls daily in each direction. The new Kiwi supermarket by the roundabout was actually open (Sunday morning and a pleasant 19ΊC). They had no bread and the bananas were brown but some good DVD films were on offer (especially for Margaret, with George Clooney, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant to watch!)

At 22 miles we crossed the elegant Helgelandsbrua cable-stayed suspension bridge (1065m long and free of charge), spanning the entrance to the Leirfjord. It links the island of Alstenoya to the mainland and marks the boundary between the boroughs of Alstahaug and Leirfjord. The geography of this Norwegian coast is such a complex mingling of islands, peninsulas, fjords, inlets and sounds, linked by bridges and ferries, that we hardly knew whether we were on island or mainland – all stunningly beautiful.

This area is an Elk migration route (regular warnings and a large bronze statue) but we saw none. Leland, at 29 miles, is the main settlement in Leirfjord, with a School Museum and a good shopping centre (Co-op, cafe, post office, hairdresser, health centre/dentist), though the shops observed Sunday closing.

At Levang ferry terminal, 10 miles later, we had just missed the 11.10 am departure for Nesna (25 mins away). As the next boat was at 12.20 we decided to check out a campsite we could see across a small inlet to the west, which had been signed 2 miles back off rd 17. A narrow and hilly gravel track led 2 km (just over a mile) to a delightfully situated fishing camp on a small dairy farm, sloping down to the shore.

Over the past 10 years, Ole and Rigmor Otting have developed the well-equipped fishermen's cabins and huts into a small campsite, with a collection of farming and fishing memorabilia for decoration. They have a regular international clientele, as we discovered on joining campers from Germany, Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway – even a Mexican, with her Norwegian husband.

It was a good place for a few days' stay. With a wonderful view of Ranafjord, we could watch the ever-changing Atlantic weather (from sea mist and hail storm creating a rainbow over the fjord, to campers sun-bathing and swimming in its waters); the regular coming and going of the Nesna ferry (first dep 6 am, last arrival midnight), and the many fisher-folk with rods or small boats.

From the site, there is a short, marked walk to a hilltop, looking out to offshore islands as far as Lovund, famous for its puffins. We did see plenty of gulls and oyster catchers, squabbling over nesting boxes round the shore, and spotted a white-tailed sea eagle over the fjord, dwarfing the seagulls. There were also white wagtails and the ubiquitous sparrows. Sad to hear recently that an avian pox has hit sparrows and tits in England.

The roads here are quiet and ideal for cycling, if you like hills! A mile before the Levang ferry terminal, road 808 turns off and runs north-east for 17 km to Bardal, then another 7 km until it terminates at yet another ferry at Leirvika – total 24 km/15 miles each way from rd 17. It sounded like an ideal afternoon's cycle ride, with the promise of a cafe in Bardal.

Well, it was a good ride (total 54 km from camp) though somewhat strenuous – especially the last section after Bardal, climbing high through forest before dropping back to sea level, only to repeat the ascent returning. Bardal, the only settlement along the quiet route (in fact, just off it and downhill), has a few houses and a church.

The popular cafe there is inside the restored quayside warehouse, Wangbrygga, dating back to 1870. It offers pre-booked accommodation in 19thC bedrooms, a shop museum and a wealth of antiques and photographs of old Bardal, once a thriving fishing village. The cafe only opens in summer, on Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sundays till 6 pm. Luckily, it was Sunday and we enjoyed home-made strawberry cakes and coffee on our way back. So good was it that we repeated the ride the following Friday, timing it to take in the set lunch on the way back. For 150 NK each we had the best Halibut ever (locally caught and freshly cooked to order) - huge portions served with a leek and cream sauce, new potatoes, carrots and green salad; jugs of water and coffee included. Memorable!

An even tougher cycle ride (total 52 km) began by driving the Sprinter van 10 miles south to the Co-op shopping centre in Leland (nearest shop to our campsite). After plundering the store for currant tea-cakes and a roast chicken, we left the van there and cycled a minor (but sealed) road that followed the south edge of the Leirfjord peninsula along the Meisfjord, then turned up the western edge, terminating at Fagervika. Again, it was surprisingly hilly, up and down the whole way, through cattle and sheep farming country with an off-shore fish farm. Between the farms were second-homes with neat gardens, their owners battling nature and wild flowers (aka 'weeds') with a variety of lawn mowers – pushing them, riding on them, even remotely controlling electronic models! There were no services along this road – just a bus shelter, where we sheltered from the wind to eat our lunch, and a pair of war memorials commemorating 2 US airmen and 2 Norwegian sailors, all lost nearby.

Just 4 more souls sacrificed in WW2.

Aldersund Motel & Camping, Lia, nr Kilboghamn – 55 miles (with 1 ferry)
Open all year, see www.aldersundcamping.no. Price charged (cards OK) 200 NK per day including electricity, WiFi and showers.

Just 3 miles on rd 17 to Levang ferry for a 25-minute crossing to Nesna on the trusty M/F Petter Dass (which was out of service for a time a couple of nights ago, after we heard it making strange noises!)

The small town of Nesna, with ferries to surrounding islands, is also one of the 34 ports of call for the Hurtigruten coastal ferry (www.hurtigruten.com) on its way to and from the Russian border to Bergen. Rd 17 continued ever-north, past the large Nesna Holiday Centre (camping and motel with N Norway's largest waterslide!) We stopped to shop at a large busy Co-op.

At 17 miles the road began to twist and climb. The trees dwindled to short spindly birches as we reached 1,100 ft/333 m before dropping steeply to a short tunnel at 24 miles, which exited at sea level. Near the summit we passed a couple working hard on a tandem (she, unusually, in front), then a pair of cyclists from New Zealand - of whom more later.

At a junction at 28 miles our rd 17 turned west, while rd 12 leads east for 22 miles to Mo i Rana (a former steel-working city on the E6). Another tunnel, 3 miles later, was over a mile in length. We lunched in a large rest area at 38 miles, 3 miles before the next tunnel (almost 2 miles long). We thought of the cyclists, with bad tunnel memories of our own! There are 25 tunnels of various lengths along rd 17, mostly unavoidable for those cycling - a full list at the back of the 'Kystriksveien Travel Guide', the essential booklet with ferry timetables and a wealth of information (free, in several languages, found on ferries and at tourist offices, campsites, etc).

Stokkvagen at 46 miles has a small harbour with ferries to islands (including the puffin archipelago of Lovund). One mile later we passed Gronsvik Coastal Fortress, another German relic from WW2 that has been restored for tourists, its exhibition open mid-June to 20 August (it's a short season up here). Unwilling to pay 50 NK each to see this, we continued, past a scenic layby and along the coast of Alder Sound towards Kilboghamn (and our next ferry – for the 1-hr voyage across the Arctic Circle).

At 55 miles, just after a souvenir shop on the left and 10 miles before Kilboghamn, a motel/restaurant/cabins appeared on the right. To our surprise (not in any of the guides), it had a large empty camping field with new electricity/water points above the motel. There are no cooking facilities (to encourage use of the cafe?) but one of the cabins is open for washing up and there are free showers and WiFi.

We were joined later by a pair of Danish caravans and – more interestingly – by the cyclists we'd passed earlier, who pitched their tents. The Dutch tandemists had ridden from Oslo airport, with a flight booked back from Bodo; the New Zealanders, father and adult daughter, began riding from Bergen and were aiming for Tromso – all were intent on cycling through the Lofotens, which we also hope to do.

Furoy Camping, Foroy, Halsa – 28 miles (with 2 ferries)
Open 1 May-15 Sept, see www.furoycamp.no. Price charged (cards OK) 220 NK per day including electricity. WiFi 20 NK per 24 hrs. Showers 5 NK for 3 mins.

Rd 17 is distinctly narrower now: single track with passing places, reminding us of the Scottish Highlands. At Kilboghamn, 10 miles along, we waited for the 10.30 am ferry to Jektvik – the first of the day (this being Sunday, the 8.30 am did not run and the next was at noon). We were joined by the 4 cyclists we met yesterday. Boats also cross from here to Nordnesoy island via other islets. A campsite (Polar Camping) was signed 3 km beyond the ferry port.

It was a magnificent day for crossing the Arctic Circle - warm enough to stay out on deck under a clear blue sky, though there was a comfortable cafe and lounge. The 1-hour voyage passed quickly, talking to the cyclists, drinking coffee and taking photos – especially of the shoreline globe marking the Polar Circle (66Ί 33ʹ 44ʺ), about half way across. We were now in Arctic waters!

On landing at Jektvik, rd 17 immediately climbed away, then ran through a short tunnel before the longer (3.2 km/2 miles) Straumdal Tunnel, 7 miles after Jektvik. The next ferry, 20 miles later, was our last on rd 17, a short 10-minute crossing from Agskardet to Foroy. Again, the Sunday service was irregular and we waited for the 12.30 pm boat, along with the cyclists and other vehicles from the previous ferry. An enterprising student in a home-made booth sold waffles with jam or coffee from a Thermos to the queue.

Disembarking at Foroy quay, the village of Halsa (with shops and fuel) lies 2 miles east along rd 17. We turned west for Furoy (= Fir-tree Island) Camping, less than a mile away on Holandsfjord overlooking the ferry. This campsite is not among the best in Norway, being downwind of the nearby fish processing plant and run to extort every last Krone from campers. The (small) washing machine costs 60 NK, compared with previous sites charging 20, 30 or at the most 40 NK, and the men's showers had no cubicles or privacy, despite charging for the privilege.

The camp's position, though, right by the ferry and with a view of the nearby Svartisen Glacier, makes it popular with both drivers and cyclists. The Dutch and New Zealand pairs soon rode in, to join a charming French couple (students from Paris, cycling Trondheim to the Lofoten Islands before flying home from Bodo). We also talked to a pair from Italy riding south, having started from Bodo airport and who had already toured the popular Lofotens.

After lunch we left our caravan and drove the Sprinter east along rd 17 for a closer look at Europe's  lowest and mainland Norway's second largest glacier. After 7 miles, a layby gave an excellent view straight across the fiord to the snout of the Engebreen arm of the Svartisen, which almost reaches sea level. A mile later, the friendly Tourist Centre at Holand has information, souvenirs and coffee, while its large car park allows free overnighting, complete with toilets, water and dump.

From there we walked down the path to a lower car park by a tiny landing stage, to watch the small passenger boat 'Isprins' (Ice Prince) make the hourly 10-minute crossing of the Holandsfjord (28 May to 4 Sept, 120 NK pp return). Once across, passengers can tramp along a gravel track for 1 km to the Svartisen Cafe, then climb a further 2 km (at least) and climb some rocks to view the tip of the glacial tongue. Those intrepids who want a longer guided glacier walk (800 NK pp for a minimum party of 4) should visit www.rocksnrivers.no and book at least a day ahead.

We had actually crossed to see the Svartisen in the summer of 1994, during our very first motorhome tour of Europe. There was neither Visitor Centre nor organised ferry then - we were taken over by a local boatman in the early morning for an independent and solitary walk to the ice itself. Now we were shocked to see how far the glacier had retreated in the intervening 17 years, so we decided to stay with our magical ice-blue memories rather than revisit in the company of a gaggle of tourists.

On a second day at Furoy Camping, we had a 40 mile cycle ride along the splendid minor road to Vassdalsvik ferry (32 km) and back. This road turns off rd 17 in Halsa and climbs high above Bjaerangfjord before dropping down to sea level and following the south and north shores of that fjord to tiny Enga, after 16 miles. Here we ate our lunch at a picnic table, accompanied by truly awful coffee from the Co-op machine, before riding the last 6 miles to the ferry. To our surprise 6 familiar cyclists (French, Dutch and NZ), who we had waved off several hours earlier, were gathered at the waiting room. Their ferry to Ornes (to avoid the 8-km long Svartisen Tunnel on rd 17, which bans cyclists) was not due until 2.25 pm – the first since 6.30 am!

We sat talking and brewing tea until the boat came, then turned back to the campsite. It was lovely having intelligent conversation with professional graduates in English (and French). The New Zealanders were the first native English speakers we've met in Norway: father, a keen sailor and retired Auckland University lecturer, and daughter, who teaches English in New York.

Before leaving Furoy, we had a peaceful stroll following a marked trail and board-walk up the hillside behind the campsite (about 2 km each way). The sign suggested Iron Age graves and mounds, of which we saw no trace, but there was a good view over the fjord entrance, across to the glacier and out to sea.

Kjellingstraumen Fjordcamp, Kjelling – 70 miles
Open all year. See www.kjellingstraumen.no. Price charged (cash only) 200 NK per day including electricity and WiFi. Showers 20 NK (untimed – honesty box).

With a stop to shop at the ICA in Halsa, we continued east along rd 17, pausing for lunch-with-glacier-view in the layby 7 miles along. We soon passed the Holand Tourist Centre, then the log-cabin Svartis Restaurant at Sneland 4 miles later. The road turned north just before the entrance to the Svartis Tunnel at 15 miles – the longest tunnel on rd 17 (7.6 km or almost 5 miles) and closed to cyclists or pedestrians. Apparently cyclists still risk this, but as a Dutch rider was killed in there last year we strongly advise the safer (and shorter) recommended route, taking the ferry from Vassdalsvik to Ornes (see yesterday).

The Svartis was rapidly followed by a pair of shorter tunnels before reaching Glomfjord, an industrial hydro-electric town, where the road turned west along yet another fjord. Ornes, further up the coast at 34 miles, is a prettier town, a port of call for the Hurtigruten and for island ferries.

We then checked out the next 2 campsites on rd 17. The small Reipa Camping, 5 miles after Ornes, looked cared for but was deserted (Reception open at 3 pm). Moving on, Mevik Camping 7 miles later was far from cared for (the scruffiest we'd seen in Norway, albeit the cheapest).

Continuing, just past a left turn for the bridge to Sandhornoya island, there was a short tunnel at 69 miles and then a right turn signed 1 km to Kjellingstraumen Fjordcamp, which we took. It's a simple site overlooking the water, mainly cabins and static caravans and hiring out fishing boats, but with homely facilities and a friendly owner who showed us his 230-year-old traditional Norwegian house (built of wood, naturally). We did some overdue laundry (40 NK in the honesty box), hung it between the trees and planned a cycle ride to Sandhornoya island if the weather held.  

Listening to BBC Radio whilst catching up with writing and emails, the news moves from one disaster to the next. 'Eton schoolboy killed by polar bear in Svalbard' evoked equal (if not more) sympathy for the bear, which was shot dead by an expedition leader. 'It might have had cubs, poor things' said Margaret. Much more horrific are the widespread outbreaks of street violence and robbery by mindless mobs in England's cities. And the Pound is still weaker than the terminally sick Euro. How and where will it all end?

Elvegard Camping, Saltstraumen – 21 miles
Open 1 May-Mid Sept, see www.elvegaard-camping.no. Price charged (cards OK) 225 NK per day including electricity, WiFi and showers.

As the weather turned wet for a couple of days, we moved on to Saltstraumen, just 20 miles north – and our last camp on the Kystriksveien coastal road that we've followed since Overhalla, over 2 weeks ago.

Leaving Kjellingstraumen, rd 17 crossed the graceful Kjellingstraum Bru (bridge), climbed to 700 ft over the next 8 miles, then descended to sea level at Tuv 12 miles later. After crossing another bridge there is a large Co-op store at the junction of a minor road forking left, signed 1 km to Elvegard Camping, which we followed. Rd 17 continues into Saltstraumen itself, over the famous Saltstraum Brua bridge above the maelstrom. There is a second campsite (Pluscamp Saltstraumen) across this bridge and off to the left.

Elvegard Camping is excellent - a grassy site on the shore of the Saltenfjord, to the seaward side of the bridge, it's popular for fishing and has a good view of the maelstrom. Like all our Norwegian campsites so far, it is nowhere near full, even in mid-August, with plenty of space and vacant cabins. Imagine camping in mid-summer (or almost any time) in Britain without needing to plan and book ahead!!

We went down to the water's edge, a 5-minute walk, to watch the maelstrom current flowing out to sea at its climax (5.20 pm today – the campsite office has a supply of Tide Tables for the whole year). Claiming to be the world's strongest tidal current, it occurs every 6 hours (twice in and twice out), when some 400 million cubic metres of water flow through the 150 m wide strait (beneath the bridge) between Saltenfjord and Skjerstadfjord. We were somewhat underwhelmed by the small whirlpools but very impressed at the enormous number of gulls and other fishers (humans included). The plankton-rich waters attract cod, halibut, pollock and smaller coalfish (black and dubbed 'catfood') and we watched as anglers on the bank made it look easy to fill their buckets, while gulls swooped with equal success. This area is also known for the white-tail sea eagles that join the feast.

Next day the drizzle and low cloud had given way to a clear blue sky above the crisp outline of surrounding peaks. Advised that the incoming tidal current was more spectacular, and best seen from the high arch of the Saltstraum Brua, we duly cycled to the centre of the bridge to join a few others for the 11.54 am performance. The gulls, which nest on a tiny mid-stream island, were again out in force and the eddying whirlpools surged below us. An inflatable craft carrying a few intrepid punters on a 'Saltstraum Rafting Safari' insisted on jetting through our photographs, disturbing the maelstrom's intriguing patterns.

Riding on, the Saltstraumen Maelstrom Centre had died, the exhibition rooms and cafe locked, leaving its great concrete monstrosity as a relic, on the left immediately after the bridge. There was plenty of parking space there for caravans and motorhomes, free in the day and signed as 150 NK overnight (10 pm – 8 am), though whether anyone collects the fee we couldn't say. With the Centre closed, there were no facilities.

We cycled along a footpath behind the Centre to a monument overlooking the strait. The adjacent Saltstraumen Hotel/Restaurant also had free parking, with a 4-hour limit. From there we returned to the main road (17), via Pluscamp Saltstraumen Camping, which is slightly more expensive than Elvegard (unless you can take advantage of the 8th day free offer) and wide open to the road with no security. The village also has an old church next to a little museum/cafe, which we passed as we returned to the bridge and home (total 5 miles).

The good weather held for a longer (20 miles return) cycle ride after lunch. We followed the extremely quiet minor road that runs west from the campsite along the Straumoya peninsula, through easy hills and coastal heathland, past scattered farms and the hamlet of Seines, until the bitumen turned to gravel and petered out. The highlight of this pleasant ride was provided by a pair of Elks that stood in the road and looked at us before vanishing into the low forest of birch, rowan and spruce. From a distance they looked like donkeys or small horses but the long faces and slender legs were soon unmistakeable. Our campsite offers a nightly 'Elk Safari' at 10 pm by minibus (150 NK per person for less than an hour) and we guess this is where they come.

On a fine Sunday we used the Sprinter van to carry the bikes 23 miles south down rd 17, in order to cycle on Sandhornoya island. Parking the van outside a motel and cafe just before the bridge we crossed to the island, then rode 18 miles to the end of the road at Horsdal ferry. The route was north up the Nordfjord coast to Finnset, then a climb (to 500 ft/150 m) across to the seaward side of the island. Continuing west, we had a picnic in a disused quarry before turning south to Horsdal. About 2 miles before the ferry there is a turning to Hustad Camping on the shore. We'd seen just a couple of motorhomes on the road earlier and assumed they came from there.

The ferry only takes 10 minutes to cross from Horsdal to Sund on the mainland but the next was due at 5.30 pm – over 3 hours' wait! It had been a quiet, if strenuous, ride and we happily turned to cycle the 18 miles back. After 4 miles we turned off to a small marina, tempted by a sign that the Spar supermarket/cafe there was open and imagining a peaceful coffee by the water. To our surprise (and shock) there was the detritus of a 'Folk Fest' and a large parking area full of motorhomes etc (70 NK per night, plus 30 NK electricity). The Spar cafe had a Sunday lunch buffet, heaving with campers and yachties fighting over the last of the prawns. We bought coffees and surveyed the scene, which included a moored whaling ship (complete with harpoon in the prow). A sign on its lookout tower advertised Whale Meat for sale and we imagined the sickening scene of a whale hunt (Norway continues to hunt Minke Whales, in defiance of the international moratorium on whaling).

Cycling back to the Sprinter van was not as peaceful as the outward ride, since many motorhomes and caravans (all Norwegian registered) left the rally and pushed past us on the narrow twisting road. One double-axle extra-wide extra-long caravan in particular came dangerously close, pulling in too early. We feel Norway should not promote cycling until its drivers learn how to pass cyclists safely – and yet every campsite has bikes for hire. Please, please give us space on the road and only overtake when the way ahead is clear enough to pull well out! Back at the van, we found the cafe open and took our seats for the very best burger, chips and salad meal in a long time. The price included all the iced water and coffee you could drink (a lot!) and chocolates, and it was well worth the wait. Fast food it wasn't!

A final excursion by van was into the busy port of Bodo, 20 miles away. Driving north we passed a 20 NK automatic toll at Godoystraumen after 6 miles, where cyclists bound for Bodo were directed onto the old road to avoid a pair of short tunnels on the new road ahead. At 8 miles both routes met rd 80 at Loding, the terminus of rd 17 (the 670 km/419 miles Kystriksveien from Steinkjer). We turned west for Bodo, past Loding's excellent motorhome/caravan dealer. Its accessory department supplied a door catch we needed and we shopped at the Rema supermarket over the road.

We didn't stop in Bodo (a commercial and transport centre with railway, airport, ferries to the Lofotens and other islands, and Hurtigruten quay), as all parking near the centre was metered at 17 NK/hour. Heavily bombed during WW2, it has few historic buildings left. We did drive north up the coast on rd 834 (which ends at Festvag at yet another ferry), past a seaside campsite at Geitvagen about 7 miles after Bodo. Turning off a few miles later, on a short narrow road over a hill, we dropped to a free car park by the white sandy shore at Mjelle, looking across to Landegode island. We shared this spot (but not our coffee) with a few windswept sheep. What a contrast with Bodo!

Kobbvattn Camping, Kobbvatnet – 77 miles
Open July & August. Price charged (cards OK) 220 NK per day including electricity. Showers 15 NK(!) No internet or WiFi.

The last leg of rd 17 (the 670 km/419 miles Kystriksveien from Steinkjer) took us north from Saltstraumen. The cycle route to Bodo (popular for its airport and the Lofoten ferry) turned onto the old road to avoid a pair of short tunnels after 6 miles on the new road, prefaced by a 20 NK automatic toll at Godoystraumen. At 8 miles both routes met rd 80 at Loding to turn left for Bodo or, in our case now, right for Fauske.

At 33 miles we passed a sign for Lundhogda Camping a mile before the centre of Fauske, where we met road E6, the Arctic Highway running the length of Norway and only completed in the 1980s. Rd 17 had provided an alternative since Steinkjer but now we had no choice, joining the narrow highway 100 km (some 60 miles) north of its intersection with the Polar Circle.

Heading north, a rest area 2 miles later displayed a map showing that it was the halfway point along E6 - 1336 km (835 miles) in each direction, to Kirkenes up on the Russian frontier or to Sarpsborg, south of Oslo on the Swedish border. Roughly Land's End to John o' Groats either way! It was a good place for a lunch break, as rain began to pour.

The E6 wound its lonely way up the country, round fjords, past quarries (Fauske is famous for its salmon-pink marble) and through 5 miles' worth of short tunnels (all free and well lit). Campsite signs appeared regularly, eg at Sommarset overlooking the Leirfjord, near a Russian war memorial. The Germans treated Russian and Yugoslav Prisoners of War very brutally in northern Norway, using them as slave labour to build defences, roads and railways – the Japanese were not alone in ignoring the Geneva Convention.

At 70 miles we paused in a layby at Kjelvik, 600 ft/180 m above the Leirfjord, for a short uphill walk in a light drizzle to an old croft (small turf-roofed farm, all built of wood on common land). The last crofter left as recently as 1967, when there was still no running water, electricity or E6 road. The only access was by boat, down on the fjord, or a rugged footpath to Sommarset! The place is open as a museum (with entry fee) only from 20 June–15 August and was now locked up, though peering through the windows we saw the simplest of furnishings with blacksmith's tools and spinning wheel for wool. How quickly Norway has developed from subsistence to over-affluence.

E6 continued through a tunnel to Sorfjordmo, 2 miles on, where there's a hotel/restaurant. Then 2 miles (and another short tunnel) to a fuel station and parking area, opposite the left turn for Elvkroken and Styrkesnes. Any cyclist riding north up the E6 needs to take this left turn (signed as the cycle route) and detour round a minor road, rejoining E6 at Morsvikbotn. This appears crazy – firstly, it's 30 km round, compared with 17 km on E6; secondly, it involves a climb to over 500 ft and later a short tunnel. We later discovered the reason – continuing up E6, you reach 780 ft before the steeply descending 3.6 km/2.25 mile long Kobbskar Tunnel just before Morsvikbotn, which is closed to cyclists (but there's no warning of this until the entrance to that tunnel!).

Driving on, we faced yet another 2 km-tunnel before turning right at a camping sign off E6, 3 miles later, down a lane to the dammed fjord at Kobbvatnet. The Kobbskar Tunnel could wait for another day.

It's a lovely quiet place, across the water from a silent hydro-electric power station: in fact we're the only campers, with the static caravans and cabins unoccupied. We settled in for an afternoon's reading as rain poured and low clouds descended. It was good to be internet-free rather than with free internet, enjoying some music and film (Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash – a heady mixture).

The weather changed overnight, as it so frequently does up here, and next morning we cycled the minor road along the north side of the Leirfjord to Styrkesnes (16 miles each way from the fuel station on E6, where we left the van). The first 6 miles included a steep climb inland from the fjord (gradient 10% to 540 ft/165 m). Then the 'alternative E6 cycle route' turned right for Horndal and Morsvikbotn, whereas we continued along the increasingly empty road towards its end at Styrkesnes.

The maps were misleading – far from being a straight run along the fjord, the narrow but sealed lane rolled up and down before another serious ascent to 770 ft/235 m shortly before Styrkesnes! We had a brew-up at the lone lonely picnic table at the top of that last climb, then returned the way we came, seeing little merit in dropping sharply to sea level only to have to climb 770 ft again, in addition to the 540 ft pass we couldn't avoid! The total climb for the day amounted to over 2,000 ft (over 600 m) and that was enough. A very satisfying ride, with virtually no traffic, a sea-eagle circling over the mountains and the constant view of the sheer rock faces towering above the far side of the Leirfjord.

Back at the campsite, as soon as we'd made a meal the weather closed in again, strong winds bringing more rain. What a lucky break we'd had.

Tysfjord Turistsenter, Storjord, nr Bognes – 58 miles
Open all year. Price charged (cards OK) 200 NK per day including electricity, WiFi and showers. Even the washing machine and drying room were free!

North up E6, steadily climbing for 3 miles to the Kobbskar Tunnel (closed to pedestrians and cyclists). Entering it at 782 ft/237 m, we dropped sharply over 600 ft, passing Morsvikbotn Camping a mile after the exit at sea level. Cyclists must avoid this steep, straight and narrow tunnel by a lengthy detour (see previous entry above).

Our road soon climbed again, reaching 1,200 ft/365 m before descending once more to sea level. It was Sunday morning, the road very quiet with just an occasional tourist coach, or a long distance bus on the Narvik-Fauske-Bodo run (with, pleasingly, a cycle carrier mounted on the back!)

After 26 miles, at 270 ft/80 m, we turned left onto rd 835 signed 'Helleristninger' – not a village, but a Stone Age site. Almost immediately there is a huge rest area (ideal overnighting spot with WC, dump point and 2 hook-ups – apparently free) with a board describing the Polished Rock Art a short walk away. A footpath led to the Sagelva River, over a little bridge and along, to stand facing the pale etched silhouette of a pair of life-size Reindeer cut into the dark rocky bank above the river. A sign claimed they were about 9,000 years old, dating back to shortly after the last Ice Age, though no evidence was cited. Whatever their age, they were charming and it was a pleasant stroll, despite the drizzle. The river, now managed in a hydro-electric scheme on its way down to Sagfjord, was previously much wilder and faster flowing and we wondered how and why Stone Age people had managed to work on this almost sheer rock?

Back on E6, we passed Tommerneset Camping a mile further on, before a short tunnel that exited on Sagfjord, beautifully still with a single fishing boat sitting in its own reflection. Then another climb to 700 ft/212 m, crowned with a Ski Centre at 46 miles. We had our first view of the jagged peaks of the Lofoten Islands before the 3-mile descent through spindly birch forest to sea level at Ulvsvag.  

Here rd 81 turns west to Skutvik, from where a ferry crosses to Svolvaer in the Lofotens, taking 2 hours. Ulvsvag Camping is at the road junction behind a cafe (price 230 NK inc elec, with WiFi only in the cafe). We'd decided on the shorter (one hour) passage from Bognes to Lodingen in the islands of Vesteralen, the northern continuation of the archipelago, and so continued to the Tysford Turistsenter (motel/restaurant and camping), 3 miles before the Bognes ferry.

This proved a good choice, camping on an empty (if bumpy) grassy area by the fjord next to a post saying we were at 71Ί N (not quite; more like 68 and a bit!). We were in time to enjoy the set Sunday Lunch (roast pork, gravy, vegetables and salad), served as usual with all the iced water and coffee we could drink. And we made good use of the free laundry.

Later we drove 5 km down to Bognes quay to confirm ferry times for tomorrow. Boats not only depart for Lodingen in the Vesteralen (1 hour) but also to cross to Skarberget for the Narvik-bound E6 (25 mins).

On the way back to camp we turned off for 3 km along the lane to Leiknes, on seeing a now familiar sign 'Helleristninger'! This time we had to scramble uphill on a marked track through woods and over rock to see more of the Polished Rock Art from the Stone Age. A lovely pair of swans were clearly etched on bare horizontal rock, then the rough path led to a huge jumble of faint animal silhouettes on the main rock face, with Elk, Deer and even an Orca (Killer Whale), all life size, some drawn on top of others. Mysterious, with a superb view of the mountains above and seascape below.

Karingsvatn Turistsenter, Lodingen, Vesteralen islands – 7 miles (+ ferry)
Open all year. Price charged (cards OK) 200 NK per day including electricity and showers. No internet or WiFi.

Whilst in the supermarket next to Tysfjord Turistsenter (which didn't open till 10 am), a convoy of Swedish trucks carrying the Lindstrom Tivoli fun-fair rumbled past on its way to Bognes. We followed them for 3.5 miles to the quay, where they filled 3 of the 4 lanes for the 10.45 am ferry to Lodingen. As the only campervan/caravan, we waited along with a few cars and luckily the crew allowed us all on, leaving half the travelling fair to wait an hour for the next boat.

The fare depended simply on vehicle length, so we paid 654 NK for the 8 to 10 metre category (with Senior rate passenger) – more expensive for us than ferries on the rd 17 Coastal Route, where car + caravan up to 10 metre just cost double the car rate (less than motorhomes, of whatever length).

After a smooth one-hour crossing to the Vesteralens, we landed at Lodingen in a steady downpour and drove north on rd 85 for 2 miles to the junction with E10 – the highway that runs the length of the Lofoten and Vesteralen islands and provides a ferry-free route to the mainland, meeting E6 north of Narvik. Here we turned west, stopping before long at the first campsite, on the waterside behind a cafe, as rain poured. This 'Turistsenter' was fairly scruffy, in need of some reinvestment, but it was quiet (in fact, empty) with adequate facilities and a good view.

After lunch we left the caravan and drove on, climbing to 540 ft/164 m before turning left on the narrow rd 837 for about 24 miles to the southernmost point of the Lodingen peninsula at Offersoy. A small shop with fuel was open but the campsite and cafe at the end of the road were closed. The season is over, schools had re-opened on 15 August and Norwegians are back at work! A row of 5 new holiday cottages, each with its own motorboat, overlooked the peaceful harbour, with not a soul in sight.

Back at the campsite, as the mist descended and enveloped us, it was a good night to watch a film!

Sandvika Fjord & Sjohus Camping, Kabelvag, Lofoten islands – 65 miles
Open mid-April to 30 September, see http://visitlofoten.as/item/sandvika-sjocamping-2.html. Price charged (cards OK) 215 NK per day for small camper/caravan including electricity and WiFi. Showers 10 NK for 5 mins (and sometimes cold!) Extra 40 NK charge for vans over 6.6 metres!!

Another wet day, as we drove north for 9 miles to Gullesfjordbotn (the next campsite), where the new section of the E10, the Lofast, turns west along the southern edge of the Moysalen National Park on a ferry-free (and toll-free) route to Fiskebol. It's an impressive highway, with several bridges and a total of 8 miles inside tunnels, making it much easier to reach the Lofotens by car. Cyclists would be well advised to avoid it by taking the old road 85 from  Gullesfjordbotn to Melbu, then the short ferry to Fiskebol.

Along the Lofast the first tunnel, at 13 miles, was 4 miles/6 km long – entered at 375 ft/115 m and exiting at sea level. This was followed by 2 bridges and 3 short tunnels before another bridge at 27 miles over the Raft Sound (off which is the famous Troll Fjord). After 9 miles with 2 more short tunnels, a 2 mile/3.3 km undersea tunnel dropped steeply before climbing to its exit at Fiskebol – we had reached the Lofotens. There was a layby before the right turn to the Melbu ferry, where we stopped for coffee and watched a pair of young women backpackers thumb a lift.

The E10 from here is an older and narrower road – more or less the only road – twisting its way between the many craggy islets stretching to A (that's the name of a fishing hamlet) at the foot of the archipelago. We continued south, reaching the busy port of Svolvaer at 57 miles. Here there is fuel, a shopping mall, supermarkets, a 2-hr ferry to the mainland at Skutvik, boat trips to Troll Fjord and several modern hotels and restaurants.

We checked the nearest campsite, Lofoten Feriesenter (Holiday Centre), signed a mile or so north of Svolvaer town centre along narrow streets. It was empty, Reception closed and uninviting with a phone number to ring. We left.

Back on E10 we turned left after 4 miles, just past the smaller town of Kabelvag, down a lane which led less than a mile to a pair of campsites beautifully situated on the water. Both are NAF and ACSI-listed. The first, Orsvagvaer, looked OK (220 NK with free showers) but the WiFi only worked inside Reception. We settled on the second site, larger and better equipped, though more expensive. This proved to be an excellent base from which to tour the Lofotens by bicycle and/or van, without towing the caravan any further along the narrow E10 (or even narrower side roads).

IN THE LOFOTEN ISLANDS

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Lofoten Islands in Perspective
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Map of our Route North to the Lofoten Isalnds and Narvik
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Map of our Route to and around the Lofoten Islands
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The Lofoten Islands in Relief

Around the Lofotens (from Sandvika Fjord & Sjohus Camping, Kabelvag)

We rode the cycle path 3 miles east alongside E10 to Kabelvag, with a few shops and a cosy pub/restaurant on the wharf. Its Storvagan area - the oldest settlement in the Lofotens and the first chartered town in Northern Norway – has 3 paying attractions: an Aquarium (see the fish or watch them fed to the seals!), an artist's gallery and the Lofoten Museum in the historic manor house. Visit www.lofotakvariet.no and www.lofotmuseet.no for more.

Fishing has been the lifeblood of these islands for centuries, as shoals of Cod come down from the Barents Sea from January to March each year to spawn in the comparatively warmer Gulf Stream waters. This winter occupation supplemented summer farming for the hardy islanders, as well as attracting fishermen from outside, who needed seasonal accommodation, provided since the Middle Ages by the traditional 'Rorbu' (rowing cabin). The Vagan Church at Kabelvag, known as the Cathedral of the Lofotens, is the second largest wooden Kirk in Norway, built in 1898 to seat a 1,200- strong congregation of visiting fishermen. The Cod was traditionally preserved without salt by air-drying in the unique crisp climate on large wooden racks, still seen by every harbour. The resulting Stockfish (Torrfisk), a local staple, is exported to Mediterranean countries and especially popular in Italy (since its introduction by a Venetian merchant, shipwrecked in the Lofotens in 1432, so the story goes!) And it was a pharmacist from the Lofotens who first bottled and marketed Cod Liver Oil (of awful memory) in 1854.

The cycle path continues north-east from Kabelvag to Svolvaer (15 miles return from camp). Here we found a privately-run War Museum (www.lofotenkrigmus.no) near the Hurtigrute Quay. 'Magic Ice', in the nearby former fish-freezing plant, houses a bar with ice sculptures (and entry fee). Of more interest perhaps is the adjacent Svolvaer Bobilcamp (motorhome/caravan parking area) charging 25 NK per hour (minimum 2 hrs) or 250 NK per night. This included hook-up, water, dump and WC/showers – more expensive than the campsites but right in the town centre. Perhaps it would be useful for 2 hrs to recharge batteries and fill/empty tanks. You can also park free of charge (maximum 3 hrs) at the large car park by the Co-op mall.

Six miles west of Kabelvag, a minor road turns off the E10 to twist for another 5 miles along the shoreline past a tiny cove of white sand, ending in a pair of new bridges across to the active fishing village of Henningsvaer on its islet. There is a large free car park with toilets, a picturesque harbour, a couple of everyday shops, a tourist souvenir shop with a range of books and calendars, and a popular cafe at the Climbing School. It was simply good to wander among the wooden warehouses. 'Engelskmannsbrygga' (Englishman's Wharf) is the studio of local artists and we watched a glass-blower and a potter at work

Our longest drive was to Ε at the tip of the archipelago (about 190 miles return). The E10 ran south-west, past the Henningsvaer turn, then a Bobilcamp (motorhomes only, 120 NK + 40 NK hook-up) at 8 miles. After another 7 miles, with 2 bridges linking islands, we turned left onto rd 815 which twists round the coast providing an alternative to E10 as far as Leknes. The 815 was narrower, level and extremely quiet – a better route for cyclists. A boat rental place 8 miles along advertised 'Caravan Parking' at 100 NK.  At Kongsjorda, 5 miles further at the head of a fjord, there was fuel and camping and wandering sheep. A short detour looped round to Stamsund at 34 miles, a port which is the northbound Hurtigrute's first call after Bodo. It had fuel, a shop or two and a Youth Hostel but no camping and little interest. We rejoined rd 815 via the tiny fishing hamlet of Steine and 5 miles later, 50 miles from our start, we met the E10 again in Leknes (a real town, with 3 roundabouts!) We continued on the highway, via the submarine Nappstraum Tunnel (over a mile or 1.8 km long) after 5 miles, to the turning for Nusfjord a 65 miles. This minor road led 4 miles south, walled in by towering crags of bare rock, until it ended abruptly in a pair of free car parks overlooking the minute fishing village pinned to a tiny harbour below.

We ate our picnic looking down on a few tourists who had paid the entry fee (!) to wander round the place. Visit www.nusfjord.no to see what we missed! Back on E10, we followed the highway's sinuous route through a pair of north-facing villages with white sandy coves. Flakstad at 77 miles has an onion-dome church built from driftwood in 1780, a small campsite (closed since 1st August!) and a good rest area for a walk on Skagsanden Beach. Ramberg, 2 miles later, is larger with bank, shops and campsite (open). At Hamnoy, a working fishing harbour at 91 miles, a free car park was signed for motorhomes (with water and dump). A mile later a bridge crossed to Sakrisoy and Reine on our final island, with yet more fishing boats and empty Cod drying racks. We didn't pause at the Doll Museum or the fishmonger advertising Hval Biff (Whale Meat). Keen to reach our goal, we headed past Moskenes and through tiny Tind to Ε, with a large free car park literally at the end of the road. We'd driven exactly 100 miles.

The Fishing Village Museum of Ε, a short walk from the car park, is just that – a museum – and it was all but closed (on 24 August). The restaurant and accommodation huts (sorry, Rorbus) were locked and deserted. At the old bakery (working since 1844 and advertising bread and cinnamon buns baked in the original oven), we asked a woman mopping the floor when it opened – 'Next year' she said. A souvenir shop sold tickets to visit the collection of wooden buildings (cod liver oil factory, smithy, boat sheds etc) for 60 NK per person, but warned us they were closing in less than 30 minutes, so little point. We asked where we could get a cup of coffee – 'Back along E10 in Moskenes or Reine'. Hard to believe they depend on tourism! It had been an interesting drive to a disappointing finale.

Turning back, Tind (2 miles) had a shop and a tiny Telephone Museum. A mile later we turned off into Moskenes and found a cafe by the ferry port (3-hour crossing to Bodo). Moskenes Bobilcamp was signed up a rough track. Refreshed, we followed E10 directly back to Leknes, at 136 miles, and continued on the highway (rather than rd 815). At Borg, 9 miles later, there is a Viking Museum next to a reconstruction of Scandinavia's largest Viking Longhouse, on the site of its foundations uncovered by a farmer's plough. We parked and had a brief look (at the outside – it had closed at 4 pm). At Alstad, 8 miles later, the Lofoten Turistsenter offered a cafe, B&B, cabins and camping but it looked closed.

Then we saw a lone cyclist, standing at a bus stop and hitching. It was Edwin's lucky day, as we managed to fit his bike in the back of the Sprinter and squeeze him in the cab. He was a Dutch (and English) speaking Belgian who had hired the bike for a day from the Lofoten Feriesenter (Holiday Centre) in Svolvaer. After cycling to the Viking Museum, he was on the way back when the saddle broke off -  and when he rang the campsite they just suggested he caught a bus back (the next one being over 2 hours' wait!) A cautionary tale for anyone thinking of renting a bike – ask about their breakdown cover! We drove Edwin back to his tent and were rewarded with a lengthy and very interesting discourse on Belgium's current problems. Working in Francophile Brussels, he was very frustrated with both the dominance of French in the country and the growing number of immigrants in the capital. It was good to talk to an intelligent West European. We finally reached our own campsite after a 194 mile round trip, for a late supper.

A good circular cycle ride took us round the small island of Gimsoy. Parking the Sprinter at Sundklakk (14 miles west of our campsite along E10), we rode 2 miles back on E10, then north on the minor road that runs round Gimsoy. After the Lofotens' only Golf Club at Hovsund (with a cafe – we just bought coffee and ate a picnic, but the lunches looked reasonable), the next 5 miles were unsurfaced (though firm) for half of the way back. The whole 21-mile route was a delight, the only traffic being an odd car going to play Golf.

From Sundklakk, we drove another 15 miles along E10 before turning north for 5 miles along another lane that ended at Eggum. Here you can park just before a cattle grid and walk for 10 minutes along a track by the shore to an old stone watchtower, housing a small seasonal cafe and toilets - or you can put 20 NK in the honesty box and drive to it! The windswept field by the tower advertised Camping (with tap) for 100 NK per night (pay at the cafe, which closes the last weekend in August).

Our campsite near Kabelvag was well placed for short walks with superb view, it had reliable free WiFi and was quiet except at the weekend. Margaret made two complaints – the facilities were rather sordid (not cleaned during the week we stayed); and the showers were sometimes tepid, despite paying 10 NK per 5 minutes. This literally paid off, resulting in an unexpected 20% discount when we paid - much appreciated!

We also appreciated a gift of Herring and Cod, presented to us by a couple from North Wales who were on a climbing holiday. We were only sorry that we met them in a rush as they left for Sweden, and didn't get their names. The first native British we'd met in 3 months and we hadn't even realised, as they were in a Scandinavian hire car. Thank you for 3 good meals!

From the Lofotens to Vesteralen

Andoy Friluftssenter (Outdoor Centre), Buksnesfjord, Vesteralen islands – 97 miles
Open all year, see www.andoy-friluftssenter.no.  Price charged (cards OK) 220 NK per day including electricity, WiFi and showers.

We left the Lofotens after 25 miles along E10 to Fiskebol, where the 2-mile underwater tunnel leads to Vesteralen. A chill mist hung over the peaks (less jagged now), though the sky was clear out at sea. We retraced our route along the impressive new Lofast highway (another 6 miles of tunnels and several bridges) to Gullesfjordbotn, at 55 miles.

Here we turned north on rd 85, alarmingly narrow for the next 10 miles to Langvassbukt, then wider as it turned north-east and through a long tunnel. Lunch in a rest area overlooking Sigerfjord at 71 miles, 4 miles before Strand and the bridge over to Sortland, Vesteralen's commercial centre. We didn't cross it, but continued north on rd 82. We passed Sortland Caravans (dealer, repairs and accessories – worth noting!), then Forfjord Camping at 91 miles (closed).

Andoy Friluftssenter, 6 miles later, was very much open, with a gourmet restaurant (Russian chef), comfortable accommodation and a small campsite (mainly static caravans) behind. There is no kitchen or laundry for campers but the new services building (toilet, showers and wash-up sinks) is immaculate and heated. Our host, Nigel from Northern England, told of local walks on the fells, where they gather precious Cloudberries for specialities in the restaurant (sadly the season is over - and the lunch buffet beyond our budget!) We asked about the plentiful red berries, larger than Lingenberries and Blueberries, which clothe the moors. They were dismissed as Scrub Berries: non-poisonous but tasteless.

This campsite made an excellent base for exploring Andoya, a long narrow island culminating in Andenes at the northern tip of Vesteralen. Andoya is quite different from the rest of Vesteralen and the Lofotens, fairly flat apart from low mountains along the western shore, with vast tracts of marshy moorland and peaty bogs (the peat still cut and dried for selling to garden centres). Indeed, the gentle scenery was reminiscent of Ireland. It's excellent for cycling, as the roads are quiet with no steep climbs or tunnels. Cyclists can use this route on their way to/from Tromso, taking the seasonal ferry between Andenes and Gryllefjord on the island of Senja, which only runs from the end of May until the last weekend in August, taking 1 hr 40 mins. See www.senjafergene.no. There is also a small airport at Andenes, if you miss it! Senja is linked to mainland Norway by either bridge or ferry.

We began by driving a 92-mile circuit of Andoya, following rd 82 up the flat east coast to Andenes and returning on the quieter west coast road 976, rightly designated a National Tourist Route. From our camp it was 6 miles north to the bridge which arches over to Risoyhamn and Andoya island. Another 5 miles up rd 82, we paused at a parking area signed for an 'Iron Age' site (a term vaguely used in Norway to mean 'Viking', any time from a century or so BC to the Early Middle Ages!) It was a short board-walk to some bumps in the field, the site of 14 huts circled round a courtyard and described as a Chieftain's military headquarters. A mile later the village of Ase had a small museum, where we might have learnt more – but only between 5-7 pm on a summer Sunday! The only place of any size as we continued north was Dverberg at 21 miles, with a cafe (closed) and a Co-op.

Turning off at 36 miles into Andenes, we passed the basic campsite (closing early September) on a field between the road and the shore. Along the next 2 miles there are 3 supermarkets, fuel and a hotel, leading into a remote but working town of 5,000 hardy souls. Following the signs for 'Tourist Info' and 'Whale Safari', we found a free parking area near these 2 sites and walked round the jumble of harbourside buildings. A souvenir shop, cafe and lighthouse (working since 1859 and open to climb in the summer) were all closed, as was the Polar Museum. The Tourist Office was open, staffed by a very friendly young woman from Brazil who gave us plenty of leaflets and information. 'When do you close for winter?' - 'Tomorrow' (1st September)! The adjoining Northern Lights Centre (entry 40 NK) was also open for one last day.

Andenes is a base for whale-watching trips (www.whalesafari.com), run from the Norwegian Whale Centre. They go out daily, weather permitting, from 25 May to 15 September (the season for Sperm Whale, who come to feast on squid in these waters). The new Whale Centre has a cafe, gift shop and exhibition/slide show (entry to the latter 100 NK, but included if taking the 830 NK pp boat trip!). Those wishing to see whales should phone after 8.30 am to check, then arrive to check in by 9.45 am. The fare included tea, coffee, biscuits and vegetable soup, though we'd heard from German friends who went in July that all the passengers were sea-sick and they met only one whale. We thanked Reception for the information and moved on.

Returning down the west coast of Andoya on rd 976 was a delight, along rock-strewn shores with sandy coves, backed by wooded mountain slopes. We passed Andoya Rocket Range (not open to the public) before the cosy little village of Bleik, 5 miles south of Andenes, its wooden houses, shop and school clustered unusually close together between shore and moorland. The campsite (closed) was by the beach – 1.5 miles of white sand (Bleik being Old Norse for 'white' or 'light'). The 500 ft/160 m tall pyramid of Bleik Island, close off-shore, is the breeding ground for 150,000 Puffins and boat trips sail from Bleik, taking 90 minutes to view these and other sea birds (350 NK pp), from the beginning of June to mid-August. We were sorry to have missed that. See www.puffinsafari.com.

The next tiny settlement, Stave, 9 miles later, has a campsite with natural outdoor hot pools (38 C), open mid-May to mid-August. It also offers 'Seal Safaris' in the season, which is over. The word 'Safari' seems a bit over-used, this far from East Africa!

Along the rest of this stunningly peaceful coastline we saw more sheep than people. The few holiday houses were closed up, with just an occasional farm showing signs of life. The small fishing harbour of Nordmela, 10 miles on, had a shop and a rest area with tables and water. In Bo, 8 miles further south, the Marmelkroken Cafe and Rooms was firmly closed. Then we saw the sign for another 'Iron Age' farm and parked to walk a country mile into woodland in the lee of the mountains. Here there had been a Viking settlement and graves, though we could only identify one burial mound.

On the way back to Risoyhamn (a Hurtigrute port with a small shop), we noted a good parking place behind Bjornskinn church, shortly before the junction with rd 82 and 10 miles north of our campsite. This proved a good place to leave the van for 2 circular cycle rides over the next 2 days.

SEPTEMBER 2011

Cycling Andoya in Norway's Vesteralen

Cycle Ride 1 (45 km/28 miles) from Bjornskinn was anticlockwise round the small peninsula with Skjoldehamn (the only village) at its southern tip. An easy ride, despite 4 miles of dirt road followed by 4 miles of stony track (4WD only) down the west side from Aknes to Sandnes. Eating our sandwiches on the steps of the 19thC white wood church in Skjoldehamn, we met a local retired seaman, Odmund Pettersen (proudly aged 81). With a remarkable recall of English learnt at sea 50 years ago, he told us about his life, growing up here in a family of 7 children with little schooling, the Germans arriving when he was 10. He described himself as a rich and happy man – lovely, coming from this dignified figure in a rusty van and worn-out clothes. Only the second Norwegian who has expressed such contentment to us (the first being the manager of Alesund's  Volsdalen Camp back in May!)

Cycle Ride 2 (55 km/34 miles) from Bjornskinn was north up rd 82 past the 'Viking Fort' to Ase, where we turned west on a minor road across the island. This threaded an easy route along a valley between the hills, with a slight back wind under a sunny sky - perfect conditions for a glorious ride. Meeting rd 976 at the coast at Nordmela, we had a brew-up by the lighthouse, then continued the ride via Bo, past the 'Iron Age Farm' and back to the waiting van at Bjornskinn.  

Haersletta Camping, Traeldal, Mainland Norway – 129 miles
Open 10 May-20 Sept, see www.narvikherslettacamping.no. Price charged (cash only) 200 NK per day including electricity. Showers 10 NK for 5 mins. No internet/WiFi.

On a wonderful sunny Saturday (can this be September in the Arctic North?) we reluctantly returned to mainland Norway after 2 weeks in the Lofoten and Vesteralen islands. If the Lofotens had been a slight disappointment (both the weather and the tourist hype), the Vesteralen were a delight, especially for the walker or cyclist.

We retracked on rd 82 past Sortland bridge (23 miles), then rd 85 to Gullesfjordbotn (at 41 miles), where the waterside campsite was open. Here we joined the wider E10, climbing to 550 ft/165 m before dropping to sea level. At 53 miles (2 miles before Lodingen ferry) our E10 turned north, following the shore of Tjeldsund, the Sound separating Vesteralen from the mainland. Lunch in full sunshine at the next rest area, by a memorial to the crew and passengers of a flight from Tromso to Bodo, all killed when the plane crashed into a foggy mountainside in 1947.

Still heading north on E10 (King Olav's Way), the campsite overlooking the Sound at Sandtorgholmen Hotel at 76 miles was open. At 83 miles the Tjeldsundbru suspension bridge carried us over to Steinsland on the mainland, with a busy cafe and rest area. There was no toll - in fact, no tolls on any bridge or tunnel in the Lofoten/Vesteralen islands. E10 continued east on its busy way to meet E6 in Bjerkvik at 119 miles. Turning south here on E6/E10 we reached a small campsite 10 miles later, at the point where the 2 roads divide. E6 continues to Narvik, 11 miles away, while E10 turns off for the Swedish border. Decision time!

Taking a rest day, we drove along E6 and over a suspension bridge into Narvik on its deep sheltered fjord, important as an ice-free harbour for the export of iron-ore ever since the railway from the mines of Kiruna in Swedish Lapland opened in 1903. Control of the port was vital to the Germans in WW2 to halt iron supplies to the Allies, resulting in the (mainly naval) Battle of Narvik. This raged from April 1940, involving British, Norwegian, French, Polish and Dutch ships and troops. The ravaged town was finally surrendered to the Germans in June 1940, remaining occupied until the end of the war. The story is well told in Narvik's Red Cross War Museum (closed Sundays, but we've visited before). It is also told in the town's twin cemeteries, where we paid our respects at a flower-decked Polish monument, a French memorial with a few graves, the Commonwealth War Graves section (men of the Royal Navy and Air Force, their personal inscriptions immaculately maintained, as ever) and finally an area of German war graves with severe granite crosses. We never fail to be moved at the immensity of loss and its geographical extent – from Northern Norway to Australia.

On the way back, we called to check out ACSI-listed Narvik Camping (on E6 a mile north of the town). Very quiet (closing on 12 September), with a low-season charge of 200 NK including electric. They do have WiFi but at considerable extra cost (eg 20 NK for 2 hrs or 80 NK for 24 hrs). As at our Haersletta Camping, showers cost 10 NK – and both offered no privacy at all for changing in a communal area.

Continued at: RETURN TO THE UK: SEPTEMBER 2011