Where do you start a trip? Where better than at A. Or A (with a very small O above the A) to be more precise. Pronounced half way between Ah! and Oh, A lies at the southern tip of the wonderful Lofoten Islands. At 68 degrees north, the Lofoten Islands sit above the Arctic circle but don't let that put you off taking your favourite two wheeled machine for a spin around its twisty narrow lanes. Thanks to the Gulf Stream the weather on the Lofoten Islands is comparable to Northern Scotland. Average summer temperatures sit around 12 degrees although, when the sun is out, it can be much warmer. As I rode south towards A my winter gloves were packed away in my pannier and the warn Arctic sun was beating down on both of us.
A is a preserved fishing village, a living testament to the life blood of these islands: fish – cod to be precise. Each spring millions of tonnes of cod are caught in the surrounding waters and dried on racks on land. The main part of the fish is sold across Norway and Europe and the dried heads are sent off to Nigeria where they are made into soup.
We had an interesting walk around the small village and then out onto the cliffs beyond A where we could see the forty or so miles across to mainland Norway. Returning to the bike we set off up the E10 to see what the Lofoten Islands had in store.
|The view beyond'A'|
Our aim was only to go about fifty miles that afternoon but even that was optimistic as every bend in the road revealed new views and we kept stopping in lay-bys to just drink in the scenery. Off to our left razor sharp dark mountains towered over us, sweeping down to green pastures with cattle and sheep. Across the road to the right, green turned to grey and rusty red as the dark rocks were covered in seaweed which almost glowed in the bright mid afternoon sun. The icy, clear blue water looked inviting but I kept my focus on the tarmac and followed its snake like route along the coast.
“Time for a cup of tea!” I heard Tracy's call from behind. More a plea than a question but I wondered what the chances were of finding tea. Norwegians seem to drink a lot of coffee, and hot chocolate but didn't always offer tea.
Two minutes later we approached a small village, Ramberg, and amazingly saw a sign which read 'Tourist Information, Coffee and Tea'. We pulled in.
Hendrick, who ran the shop, insisted that we had large mugs of tea and offered us his box of Twinnings.
“I used to work on the ships, you know,” he said in excellent English. “I have spent many good times in England. I think the first time I went was in 1962. We love English T.V. in Norway. Do you know Mr. Bean?”
“Yes, of course,” I replied.
“And Heart Beat. That is my favourite. Help yourself to the tea and I hope you have a lovely time in the Lofoten Islands. I live in that red house over there. If you have any problems or worries while you are here, please come and see me. I will help.”
From Hendrick's shop we only got into second gear and had to stop again. The beach at Ramberg was a picture postcard white which wouldn't have looked out of place in the Caribbean. We had to remind ourselves that we were in the Arctic.
The road on from Ramberg was wonderful. Cruising along at 60 k/ph we weaved our way along the shoreline, the sea on one side and the imposing mountains on the other. Mile after mile we wended our way up and down, in and out, passing small villages then open countryside; the late afternoon sun casting long shadows across the road. At Leknes we turned off the main E10 and headed for the east coast and followed a sign to a small campsite on the shore.
Camping in Norway may not be cheap but the facilities are always first rate and the sites are usually situated in stunning scenery. Today was no exception. There was a campers' kitchen and sitting area, coffee shop and clean shower and toilet blocks. And, as always seemed to be the case in Norway, free internet access. We booked in for two nights. We stayed for three.
|Packed and ready to leave|
Unburdened of luggage and full panniers the bike felt light and alive the following day as Tracy and I set off for a day's exploring. Our first stop was at Borg where an 83 metre long Viking building had been unearthed and a faithful reconstruction formed the centre piece of the Lofoten Viking Museum. We'd arrived during the annual Viking festival and the place was alive with long bearded men wielding axes and sticks. Now, when I think Viking, I must admit, I often think pillaging and fighting but there is more to the average Viking than just that. I was amazed to discover that at the height of Viking society, in the ninth and tenth centuries women were afforded much more power and authority than their Anglo-Saxon sisters. Viking women could divorce and had a sizeable say in legal matters and ceremonial rituals. Until, the voice in my audio-guide headset whispered, Christianity arrived.
|Tracy made me...I didn't want to - honest.|
We walked down to the shore line where a fully fitted replica Viking ship was about to set sail. There were Viking stalls selling honey mead, leather goods, knives and trinkets. Viking women wove and Viking men fought. Everyone was eating meat. Us Vege Anglo-Saxons; we just quietly watched, and munched on the salad we'd bought at the supermarket.
From Borg we took a minor road out to Eggum and the views just got better and better. Twisting our way around the coast, the paved road finally ran out and we paid a £1 toll to take a gravel track a further kilometre out to the an old World War Two site. In 1944 the Nazi's had built a radar station here to monitor traffic coming out of Murmansk in Russia. Little of it was left but the walk along the cliffs made the journey worthwhile passing a bizarre sculpture of a human head looking out to sea. With not a cloud in the sky it was hot work walking along in biking gear and I just couldn't believe that I was getting hot and sweaty in the Arctic.
The following day we took full advantage of the excellent weather and headed for the beach. Taking some minor roads off the main E10 we rode down twisty country lanes, past farms and empty fields until we reached some deserted beaches. The Lofoten Islands have some beautiful sandy beaches on the western coasts, including, according to The Times, Europe's most romantic beach!
|Europe's most romantic beach|
Time had caught up with us and we had to leave the Lofoten island to return to mainland Norway. We'd made the conscious decision to stop when we were having fun and not rush up to Nordkapp. Consequentially we now didn't have time to get up to the top and back down to the UK so, with a rueful glance north at Harstad we turned south for the first time on this trip and headed for Sweden.
|This is the furthest north we got.|
|Looking north - maybe next time...|
Nordkapp will have to wait.