Today I give to you the amazing Lofoten – islands to come to and get lost, a place to be alone and a place to discover – all at one spot in Northern Norway.
I arrived here to discover the beautiful landscapes but what actually happened to me here was far more, the exclusivity of this place makes you wonder what place you’re occupying in this world, the function you are truly destined for.
A Rainy Arrival
I arrived to Lofoten cutting through fog and rain which looked like it would last forever. This place is amazing when the sun is shining but come the rain and you can just as well spend you entire holiday indoors which is in case you live in a tent means you’ll watch your entire movie collection before it’s dry enough to roam again.
My first destination was a camp site near Ramberg, a place with a beautiful sandy beach which I could only see in its sunny glory a couple of weeks. My initial impression of Lofoten was not great.
Why do people come here? Because it’s a unique place where you can hike tops of rocky mountains without having to climb the first 3000 meters – most of the mountain is underwater and when you go up your 700 metre peak you spend most of that distance in a landscape that reminds me of very high altitudes in the Alps. Here thought it starts straight from the bottom!
The island chain itself is stunning, wherever you look you can see rough edges of mountain chains, sometime on a sunny day you will see a glacier on the other side of the fjord in continental Norway near Bodo.
I caught up with Anett, a German lady who travelled in her amazing VW California, she introduced me to a bunch of absolutely crazy Germans… the Germans that completed the image of a special kind of people that can only be found in that part of Europe -the caravan builders.
The Germans and Their Amazing “Wohnmobile”!
There are so many interesting people here, most of those you’ll meet would be tourists or locals running tourism-aligned businesses. People from all over Europe and less so rest of the world arrive by planes and hired cars but the interesting group are those who have arrived in their caravans or motor homes. Especially – you guessed it – the Germans!
Many Germans are born with a raging desire to conquer the world, they spend first half of their lives working hard to build the most amazing hard-core mobile home and the other half travelling with their family. The social statuses of those people are so diverse that I can make a sweeping statement which is likely to be true for the entire country – the Germans are born travellers.
Teachers, doctors, corporate people, downshifters, people with old inherited money – all united by the love for huge wheels of their Unimogs, Mercedeses, Iveco trucks and God knows what else that they manage to convert into a motor home.
Interestingly enough, there is a law in German motoring that exempts motor homes form emission regulations and taxes motor homes differently to other road vehicles. You gessed where I am going? That’s right – if you can sleep and stand up in your car it’s no longer a car – it’s a motor home and you can have a 12-litre military IVECO truck that you don’t need to pay as much tax for as you would otherwise, so here we go!
And kudos to the Germans for that, for putting their ingenuity into those amazing trucks, showing the rest of the world who owns the roads and who can build a German car out of a garden shed and use it to drive their families to the Arctics!
The Viking Festival
On my first day at Lofoten I managed to sneak to a Viking festival and it was an event absolutely worth seeing. I normally shy away form such events as they look fake and really are more of a show than a real traditional festival as I’d imagine it. But this festival was different.
I went there for the final closing day to see whole families of people enjoying following traditions of their ancestors, it was not commercial – it really has been that time to enjoy being “more” than just a day job person. Women were wearing traditional dresses and looked unbelievably attractive, I don’t know what’s that about traditional clothes that makes women wearing them look so beautiful I would not say for the men so those if you girls reading this – you tell me.
They all have day jobs but are members of local clubs such as archery or local viking traditions and handcraft clubs where they are keeping traditions and make stuff that they sell at festivals like this but you can feel that it’s not done for the sake of money, it’s something else.
There I met Hallvard – a bloke who looked like a real viking and I believe really was a viking, next to him was a beautiful and quiet lady Kim who was sewing a traditional dress, all were so quiet, relaxed and friendly. Kim asked me about the Sami hat I was wearing and in return told me about the special knitting style of Finns and Vikings at a time.
Those people were real in doing unreal things, I really enjoyed their company and I wish them all the best in their amazing hobbies!
The festival on its last day was more of a real viking village rather than a market stall or a festival, people got together to finally celebrate the end of the touristy part of things and relax. Some baked traditional pancakes which are, yes, you guessed it, not much different from the normal ones you’re making on your Delonghi gas hob but hey, these guys burn wood and use the mother of all utensils!
Some chatted away next to fires, everyone looked happily tired. It all looked like a good day’s night and I charged myself with positive emotions for the rest of my stay at Lofoten.
Vestre Nesland to Nusfjord
Having checked out from my first stop camp site at Lofoten I did a two hour hike from Vestre Nesland to Nusfjord which is I would say not a hike I’d recommend spending your time doing but it’s definitely worth to see Nusfjord – a small fishing town with boats and fish drying racks, no good cafes or shops here but it’s really beautiful and you get to see a film on importance of fishing industry for the place, it’s a little graphic for the vegans among you but others should be okay:)
After the movie we’ve enjoyed a little museum which must have been made by the community.
They collected key features and elements that went along the fishing industry of the days long gone. The beautiful floating glass balls wrapped in hand-knitted nets used to keep edges of fishing nets afloat.
We hiked across rough and rocky banks of the fjord, the most interesting parts of which were in the beginning and in the end of the walk. The “sheepses” looked at us with a question in their eyes, they don’t run away from you here like the do in England, they just stand there and watch, you could kick one if you wanted to:)
The town itself is a beautiful small harbour full of little fishing boats… and seagulls!
On the way back I collected my phone which stood atop of a hill overseeing Vestre Nesland recording a timelapse of clouds above and slow life below.
Å – A Bakery Town
It was time to say goodbye and Anette went here way and I went mine – to the South.
Cross every bridge and tunnel of Lofoten islands chain and you will arrive to Å a small town living up to its small name. But it is full of picturequities – beautiful wooden boats moored on the fjord:
But it is also known for the most amazing bakery in Norway where they still use wood as fuel for baking the amazingly tasty and expensive pastries. Maybe it’s the proximity of mountains that makes these pastries so yummy or maybe it’s the fact they each one of them will set you back over 3 Euro:)
But it’s worth it, its very tasty and the coffee there is good too! But buy more than you think you need because outside you will be greeted by sparrows which are totally unafraid and will easily deprive you of any bread you have for them…
And most importantly, Å is a home for the coolest outdoor collection of model ships I’ve ever seen!
Reinebringen and the Height 666
I’m standing at the Reinebringen, actually, further up at a 666m peak sticking straight out of the sea, a naked mountain that you won’t see anywhere below 3500m and yet here, you do the challenging hike straight from the bottom, from the first steps up the steep rocky face of the cliff you know this is not something that anyone can do.
When I reached the first peak I realised that some things are more challenging than what you’d think but then came the other peak, just 80 meters higher… and 45 minutes away, then another one, another 100 meters and more than an hour’s hike…. and then… you stop. You are now alone!
There are no trails, no dotted line on the map, no French tourists showing off with their Quechua hiking gear… just you and the Mountain. It is suddenly very quiet, so quiet that you’re afraid to make a sound, you’re standing there on the edge of a cliff thinking that you are the only one now who’s responsible for anything you do from now on. No one would come to help you if you fell… but no one tell you not to make a step further either!
And this is the key – you are the only one responsible for you every next step in life, whoever tell you you can not do it is a fake self-proclaimed God, it is those people who should never be listened to. I would never be standing here if I read the signs saying that it’s dangerous and not recommended. Who are they to tell me that? I can make my own call and turn back any time I want, same with life – why should I listen to trisk-averse lunatics or corporate slaves who dictate to me how I should live my life. Only man-made objects may be guarded and have limited access to them – items of natural origin and people can not and must not be contained and have access to them restricted. Those who think otherwise will never climb this unnamed peak. The magic and challenging metre 666.
This peak was the first mountain that made me seriously scared for my dear life, it’s that place where you know that if a trail point “that way” it does not mean that it was deemed safe by a regulated hiking society or anything like that… that only means that a few daring chaps like yourself have chosen to take that route and it is exactly like it is in life – nothing that does not present a risk or that leads to a place where everyone else can easily go will bring you anywhere interesting. And most importantly it won’t bring you anywhere you will feel that you’re fulfilling your purpose. It’s a simple rule.
And when I was coming back from the mountain, late in the evening I felt frost on my skin and I realised that I have become… “more”. Or “uber” as Germans would say (and sing in their anthem not so long ago:) I have definitely become “more” than my own self, I have conquered my fears, my habits, my physical weakness at the face of a great strength of nature. It did not make me any less venerable so falling off that cliff would hurt equally as bad before or after the hike but something has changed in my body and my perception of reality at this stage.
I no longer felt cold or hunger, I saw my body from the “outside”, from an elevated point, I could feel exactly how my body was using carbs to produce energy to kep itself warm, I did not feel cold or hungry, I only felt how much time I had food left for, I could control my body’s fears of being cold and hungry – two major dangers when you’re outdoors. Maybe this is part of what people call “enlightenment”, in which case it’s a surprisingly simple and yet a different to attain state of mind. We are dominated by the fears that our own bodies induce, we have evolved this way because those who did not fear hunger starved to death and did not live to these days but over time the fear for our own selves has dominated our lives more and more, we became manically dependent on the habit of feeling fed, warm and comfortable and this habit slowly turned us into unhappy people.
What I’ve grown to realise in Lofoten and the trip prior to me arriving here is that it’s not being fed that makes us feel happy, in fact there Finns have a proverb that basically says that “Happiness is a place between times of little and plenty” and I think they are right.
You can never be happy if you do same routine every day and the temperature in your car is always set to 21.5. No. Today it rains and it’s cold and you feel sad, you can’t do certain things and it’s supposed to be that way because tomorrow the sun will come out and make you happy, it won’t be able to fulfil its purpose if you managed to abstract yourself from weather. Remember – you are sad for a reason, that reason being is that you need to feel sad sometimes and the answer to that is not to make yourself feel less sad today – it is in finding happiness tomorrow.
Kvalvik to Kvalvika – and the Hidden Beaches of Lofoten
Next day I did I spend licking my wounds, writing these words and the day after I decided to endure on a simple hike to Kvalvik – a hidden beach in the south of Lofoten islands and most importantly – take a shower afterwards!
It’s hard to find a place to take a shower in Lofoten if you aren’t staying at a camp site or a hotel so I had to go t o a camp site where I had a good relationship with the bloke running it. Not that that made the shower free – you just can’t take it otherwise.
Let me tell you what a shower at a Lofoten camp site looks like:
- You can’t have it if you aren’t staying at the site
- There is a coin machine that dispenses somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes of personal hygene goodness for every 10NOK – if you don’t have 10 NOK crowns – you’re walking back dirty.
- The only other option is washing yourself at the sea which depending on the time of the year may be cold… very cold.
But first came the beaches!
Lofotens are full of beautiful hidden beaches. There are no roads you could take there so you’d have to hike carrying all you need with you. When you arrive you are rewarded by amazing views of untouched nature: shallow ocean waters splash on the beautiful light sandy beaches. I had that feeling of… exclusivity that I described you when I was taking about Reinebringen. The feeling of having taken a path that only selected few have endured.
Kvalvik isn’t just a pretty beach, it isn’t only a gate to the ocean – it is an asylum of ice-loving surfers, a place that bears the story of a surfer who used drift wood to build a shelter under a massive stone on the beach, he managed to have lived there for over six months surfing. You really need to come to Lofoten in mid-Autumn to know what an achievement he has done.
There are carcasses of sea gulls and other birds scattered across the beach which really makes you wonder about the value and fragility of life.
I went to Kvalvik then to Kvalvika (the two are connected by a tiny trail) and then across the mountain valley to a small village of Markelva from which there was another hour and a half of walking to my car… a five hour hike after all:)
In Markelva I noticed a car with a Russian registration plate, I nodded my head and continued my hour’s walk towards Sebastian. The significance of that Russian car will show in the rest of my story about Southern Lofoten.
That night I spent in Ramberg, enjoying the feeling clean after a 4.5 minutes long hot shower! The skies were beautifully stitched with yellow and purple clouds which as it later turned out brought 5 hours of rain the morning after.
Coming back to Reine next afternoon after what must have been an endless morning rain which kept me in my car reading a book about geological expeditions looking for traces of gold in Northern Russia I stopped at a place with a table and a nice view to make some food and it is there where I noticed the same car from the “40” region of Russia – that’s where I met Andrey.
He was a quiet young man in his late 20s completely in love with Norway and especially Lofoten. In his day to day life he could not be further away from being exposed to Scandinavia but in his heart he loved it.
Let me explain to you what is so special about that guy. Andrey is the last viking. A true follower of this lost and dying European world. He knows what is “true”… he is, I would say, on the right side of the truth. Few of us are these days, we adjust our principles to the situation in order to fare better off in the society… no so much Andrey.
With Andrey we went to Munken and Veroy – a beautiful island south of A.
Munken is a local peak just opposite the hight 666 that I’ve already told you about. They are almost the same height with Munken being a 797 but you can’t actually get to the very top pf Munken without climbing gear and skills so we can call them even.
Munken on the other hand is a long hike that exhausts you not through its complexity but its longevity, it’s a long and wet path up… and down… and then up again. En-route you will walk passed a hut that belongs to the Norwegian Hikers’ association – it’s a club that builds these huts across the country and is the club you wanna be a member of. Why? Because if you missed the good old day of building societies in the UK this is as close as it get to being part of something great! It’s like if AA had huts all across the country that you could stay in!
They build huts, shelters, stuff them with emergency food, gas canisters, everything you need in the mountains. If you are a member then you will enjoy hiking as never before! I’m not a member that’s why I have to carry my teapot with me all the time:)
Speaking of the teapot, upon arrival I made tea atop of the mountain, a tradition which is now strong in me. You get best tea after you carried the teapot, water and wood up the mountain and then you don’t have to carry it back:)
We arrived to our camp late in the evening, caught a sea bass, chopped wood for the fire to fry him…
all at around 11pm having woken up a girl who was trying to get a good night’s sleep and who had to spend the night by the fire just because she did not have a chance of falling asleep anyway:) I’m sorry, Johanne, you’ve been a great company and the gift from you we discovered in the morning!
Just before going to bed that night I looked up in the night sky and saw what I knew straight away was Aurora Borealis! The Northern lights I finally saw, the Northern Lights for which Liz and I went to Svalbard but which despite the right weather we have not seen!
The Northern Lights in all their magnificence, despite the bright August sky, despite the wrong angle to the sun… the locals don’t even expect to see them in this time of the year!
And yet, I was still standing there absolutely silent admiring the fading stripe on the dark-blue sky. I shouted: “Andrey, the Northern Lights!!!” and it’s then when we started running around with our cameras. I took a few lousy photos but that no longer mattered – I achieved the purpose of my trip – I understood something, something I needed this trip for and something that would not have come to me if not for the lights and the mountains.
I knew this journey was over. It has come to its purposeful end.
And yes, the travel will continue and I will go and see more things but the journey… the journey ends here and a new one begins, one with goals, hard work but all that hard work will now be done for a very worthy reason!
The Next Day was going to start early, we were going to the Verøy island!
Sorland village as seen from the mountains of Veroy
Værøy is a municipality and an island south of Lofoten island chain and it it part of Lofoten. A magnificent place which to me will be remembered through just one thing – it’s got a mountain chain in the middle of the island and is oriented in such a way that you get the sun in the village of Sørland in such a way that during the day the village is basking in the sun but come early evening – you’d need to be on the other side of the mountain to continue enjoying it!
The big-mouthed ferry collected us at Moskenes and slowly advanced towards Værøy, it’s there where I first appreciated the beauty of Lofoten islands. Seen from aside they look like a wood saw with their sharp irregular peaks with clouds hiding between them.
This place must produce super humans – people who walk across a 450m ridge to continue drinking their beer just because the sun had moved there!
We wanted to hike the mountain atop of which there was a NATO object and then continue along the ridge of the mountain towards its other peaks and after having missed our chance to hitch-hike all the way in a comfy Unimog which was bringing supplies to the station we continued on foot along the steepest slope we could find. An hour and a half later we were at the top overseeing the old village which is what it’s all started from and which is now abandoned.
The water wasn’t blue… it was a shade of jade, you’d think it’s the Caribbean islands.
Having had a tea this time made by Andrey we moved on and checked in at the next peak just 40 minutes later. We really wanted to go and visit the old village but it looked too far away and we were unable to find a trail to get down the mountain so we had a long break at a local peak.
All this time we could see massive eagles circling above us, their wingspan must have been over two meters wide, they seemingly never had to use their wings catching rising hot air thermals. What magnificent birds they are!
I could not stop admiring nature being so near me and the feeling that wild things don’t try to run away the second they notice my presence – no, they just look at you and get on with what they were up to before and then you think that yes, they are the ones in charge here, you are just a little human being and for now they’re not interested.
We arrived back to the village, bought two cans of beer each that completely knocked us off our feet and we spent the evening scavenging for items that the sea brought ashore at the harbour, there was so much space everywhere, so much space to just run around and have fun!
But the sun quickly hid behind the mountain followed by the beer-drinking locals and we headed back towards the big-mouthed ferry. That evening the moon took the relay stick from the Northern Lights having shown us the true magnificence of its full body.
Andrey snatched a great photo of a fishing boat in moonshine and I was quietly admiring the sun setting behind Lofotens where we were heading.
Henningsvær and the Heimoya Island
We shook hands with Andrey who went on his non-stop 2400km way back to Moscow and I stayed. I felt like having a few “local” days which basically means staying at a town writing this blog and enjoying small walks as opposed to conquering the mountains.
The nearest town was Henningsvær – a small but amazingly beautiful fishermen’s village and unlike many touristy towns it was full of youths! Yes, it was time to mingle with the young.
Yes, back are hipster cafes with REAL hipsters! I mean these boys had beards long before it’s become a trend and they can get a 10-kilo cod out of water no problem at all… and kill it! tell me if I missed any of the skills London’s hipsters are capable of!
But if you think that the hipster-most Cafe has WiFi then think again – they have beer that costs 99 NOK…. 99 fucking NOK!!! This is over 10 Euro! But they don’t have WiFi so I’m writhing this from a magic cafe where there aren’t any bearded men but there are beautiful women making candles and believe me you wanna read about that too!
Henningsvær lives fishing, it is a few islands large with the main one, Heimoya hasting the town and the rest being fishermen’s base camps. Such a beautiful place though – the beauty of it is in the fact that it’s not been built (rebuilt) like this for the sake of tourists, far from that – it’s a living town with everything you can see and touch here being REAL and being USED for what it was originally intended for.
Fishing boats are fishing boats, the fish processing factory is… a fish processing factory and so on and so forth! Brilliant! I guess they have not yet discovered that they could turn this whole place into an expensive and pointless museum for rich old German tourists amd make more money that way.
I stayed in a tent for a few nights, what a horrible place to sleep. I thought sleeping in the car was bad but the tent was even worse. The place is in the winds at all time and hell yeah if it rains as well the tent just gives up. This is a place where you realise that there are reasons why “good” tents cost you big bucks!
I also hiked the local peak – Festvågtinden is 541m high and if you choose to go there then in less than an hour you’ll see a beautiful chain of islands below you, just do it, don’t ask:)
Lysstoperiet – The Candle-Making Cafe
There is a cafe in the streets of Henningsvær, walk in and you may mistaken it for a candle shop because it is one! In fact – the candle shop is where it was all started by Line Marie.
…Started as a getaway project, something to break away from a vicious circle of daily routine and which has grown into an amazing coffee shop where, if you’re lucky, you can see candles being made. You can of course buy anything you see on the walls which will put you face to face with the choice of choosing the colour you want and here it’s not easy… not at all!
Nothing is as cool as having freshly-made candles on the walls – all for you to admire, buy or secretly touch when no one is looking:)
In the middle of the shop is Benta – a very serious-looking young lady who’s pouring hot wax into moulds, cutting wicks, dong it all as if it’s her second nature. All that chaos at the background is her world and she knows every square inch of it by heart! I’m sure I could switch the lights off for a while and when the light returned to this room she’d be making candles as if nothing had happened!
Step outside and yet again it looks like any other cafe, a cafe with a hidden candle-lover’s paradise!
I left the cafe, it was time for me to move back up North and see the rest of the islands.
P.S. Dry Stock Fish
No story about Lofoten is complete without mentioning their prime industry – dried Cod!
Economically Lofoten is a collection of family-owned businesses scattered across the islands all doing the same thing for hundreds of years – fishing cod – local stock fish. They set for the sea in Feb-March throw their lines in and they pull out 50 million kilograms of it each year!
The fish is dried in the open air – heads and tails separately, the tails then end up on the European market (Portugal) and the heads sail for Africa where in some countries they are a historical delicacy and are used to make soup. I believe thy mainly ship those to Nigeria.
This year some heads did not sell and I could see them still hanging on drying racks near the town of Moskenes.
The drying racks take tremendous space, they can be seen everywhere here and I can only imagine just how beautiful this place is in March when all fish is out.
I believe fishing brings loads of cash to local businesses, you can buy it in supermarkets here and boy does it cost! 8 or so Euro for a small packet of dried protein, I guess fishing is no worse then investment banking here so next time your boss says that you should feel privileged to work for the firm, keep in mind that there are fishermen in Lofoten who are most likely much better off not having a boss like that;)
I find their connection to fish fascinating, it’s somewhat so primordial, so basic and yet you see that you can be very well off doing what your farther and their fathers have been doing for years before you.
(Serge Fog, 7-23 Aug 2016)