Scenic Norway at its Best
We arrived in Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands on a bright July evening. After an informative dinner with Mr Asbjørnsen, head of the local tourist association, we sit on the quayside and dangle our feet. The sun disappears behind the towering, pointed peaks but doesn’t set. It never sets at this time of year. It shines on the mountains in the distance, creating a magical atmosphere. The mountains almost look like a film set and if we had been watching this on TV, we would probably have thought some technical trickery had been used. Special effects. But no. It’s real and breathtakingly beautiful. This is the Lofoten Islands: the most unspoiled, stunning scenery in Norway.
The islands rise majestically from the sea to a height of almost 1,000 metres. The mountains are separated by swathes of green and the water’s edge is fringed with white sandy beaches. The water is green and clear and the views are awe-inspiring.
History, Fishing and Art
As arranged, we meet Mr Asbjørnsen in the lobby the following morning. Our hire car won’t be ready until lunchtime, so Mr Asbjørnsen, with typical North Norwegian hospitality and generosity, offers to show us around in his own car.
Our first port of call is the Lofoten Islands Cathedral in Kabelvåg. The yellow church was completed in 1898. It seats 1,200 and is the largest wooden church in North Norway. Our next excursion is an important one: a tour of the museums. The Lofoten Museum, the Lofoten Aquarium and Gallery Espolin, which features the work of artist Kaare Espolin Johnson, are all close by.
The Lofoten Islands’ fame had already started to grow by the year 900. At about this time, rumours of the fantastic winter cod fishing in the islands began to spread. People sailed for days and weeks in small open boats to make the most of the unrivalled fishing opportunities. All these visiting fishermen needed accommodation and at the beginning of the 12th century, King Øystein ordered the building of many fisherman’s cabins.
At the Lofoten Museum, the islands’ history is presented in pictures and exhibitions of equipment, fishing tackle, boathouses and traditional boats. At the Lofoten Aquarium, you can observe fish and marine creatures native to the seas around the islands. Across the road from the aquarium is the gallery, featuring Espolin’s famous and characteristic paintings of Lofoten scenes.
Eggum Fishing Station
After a short drive, we arrive at Eggum. We are immediately captivated by the tiny fishing station far out on one of the northern peninsulas of Vestvågøy Island. The village is savaged by sea and wind all year round, yet people still choose to live here. Even a major rockslide a few years ago wasn’t enough to scare away the people who live at the foot of the imposing mountain. Holiday makers in mobile homes have found their way here, but the local population would like the entire area to be turned into a nature reserve.
We walk along the water’s edge and soon come across a modern sculpture. Strange. This is part of the ‘Skulpturlandskap Nordland’ sculpture project. Five out of six of the municipalities in Lofoten are involved in the project. The idea behind it is that a piece of art creates a different space by its presence, explains our local guide. The project has certainly created a debate about modern art in the Lofoten Islands and there is no doubt that the sculpture emphasises its surroundings and gives them a new dimension. It’s up to the local people to discover whether this is a positive or negative experience.
We drive on. Suddenly a very modern church appears on the horizon and then we arrive in Borg shortly after.
The Viking Museum
In 1982, a local farmer at Borg dug up some potsherds and soon after the archaeologists arrived. It quickly became clear that this was a major find. The farmstead of one of the most powerful chieftains of the Viking era was discovered. Today, an impressive reconstruction of the chieftain’s home stands on the site, just as it looked in the 9th century, Mr Asbjørnsen tells us.
This is the only chieftain’s dwelling dating from the Viking era to be found in Norway. You can feel the history of the place all around you as you enter the half-darkness of the 83 metre long, 9 metre high building. A reconstruction of the Gokstad Viking ship is moored nearby and in good weather, trips are arranged on board the famous ship. An excursion into Borg is a must for tourists eager to find out more about the Lofoten Islands.
We spend the rest of the day visiting several villages. The schools are small white wooden buildings with one or two classrooms and there is a single shop in each village, selling everything from milk to inflatable boats. It feels like we’ve travelled many years back in time. On the way home we drive past a beach which is a favourite with surfers and finally stop for a chat with the men at Lofoten’s only golf course. We don’t need to try taking a shot to realise that playing golf here is different to playing golf anywhere else. Strong winds mean that working out your shots is tricky and it takes some time to get to grips with the conditions here. We don’t have time to do that now — we are tired and hungry. We have been on the road for more than 10 hours. It will take us much longer to fully take in everything we experienced on our trip…