North Cape or bust - the Norwegian Saga

What a difference a day makes. The whole of Norway was basking under Mediterranean skies - except Bergen which had cloud down to 200ft - not quite fog but almost in the cloud, dank and grey. 

Of all the days for this to happen this was the best as the brakes on the plane needed to be fixed. I left Amanda running her empire from her hotel bedroom and went to the airport to see what I could do. The next two hours were spent hanging over the edge of the rear compartment in the plane trying to adjust a brake cable with an iPhone torch and instructions from my mechanic in England. What became apparent was that this wasn't an adjustment problem but a fault with the brake pump - well beyond my paygrade. Enter Petter, who Amanda had found somewhere. He is a bear of a man - at least 6ft 6" and, amazingly, a competitor in the world microlight championships: he must have weighed more than the plane. In between building houses and other meetings that day he promised me he would fix it - and he was one of those people whose assurances you don't doubt. In compensation for a dullish day we ate ourselves into the harbour on shellfish.

The next day looked like offering more of the same but the forecast was optimistic and as the morning progressed the sun came out and Bergen was transformed again. 

Why can't I fly like this?

The forecast for the rest of the week was excellent so we agreed that we would try to get to the North Cape as soon as possible to take advantage of the weather and then make a leisurely progress south again having perhaps spotted the some lovely places on the way up. Alesund was affected by fog so we decided to go straight, via the Sognefjiord, to Trondheim over the mountains. The mountains are rarely over 6000ft which is only 2000ft higher than Ben Nevis: hardly extreme flying....or so we (I) naively thought. We had to go over the cloud to clear some early high ground and had the surreal view of a radio mast appearing above it.

The Norwegian Fjords have been described beyond cliche so I won't add to the collection.

What they do have crossing them are power lines, some of them at over 3000ft. They are marked on the chart but quite impossible to see - other than the pylons on either side. The mountains themselves turned out to be something else because, though they are not high by alpine standards, they are just shy of the arctic circle, precipitous and home to vast glaciers - and nothing else - no one, nowhere.

 It is a vast and awe inspiring wilderness of turquoise melt water lakes, scraped-bare rocks and snowfields that were almost blinding in the afternoon sunshine.

And, being Norway, this utter wilderness is sliced into by fjords often sixty miles from the open sea. 

It was something of a relief as we left the glaciers behind, the fjords got wider and there were fields and houses along the foreshore. This became positively pastoral as we approached Trondheim which is surrounded by barley fields, pasture and hills as opposed to precipitous mountains. Think Inverness.

Trondheim is the third city of Norway which only has a population of five million. The whole population of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland barely makes twenty-five million. It is a city though, with a magnificent cathedral which is a basilica to St Olav who was an 11th century King of Norway.

Reading about his life and his record on the butchery front, it is clear that the bar for canonisation has been raised. However life must have been pretty violent and unpredictable as even the Archbishop four centuries later felt he had to build himself a fortress on an island nearby. 

Trondheim is a nice enough place but, Iike much of Norway, it has suffered from many fires over the centuries and the attention of the Luftwaffe during the war. It was Freshers' Week and marauding packs of adolescents added to the jollity of nations.

The next day was again fine so the plan was a long leg up the coast, crossing the Arctic Circle and then an seventy mile sea crossing to Vaeroy, which is not quite the southernmost of the Lofoten Islands. The idea was a picnic lunch and a long walk before the final leg to Tromso. As we sat on the tarmac, the tower told us that we needed to think again as the airfield on Vaeroy was no longer operational. We went for Leknes on the next island up. Beyond Trondeim there is a change in the landscape - more barren and wild but still  populated - we presumed in most cases by holiday houses and those involved in fishing. Even though we were getting far north, the whole coast is warmed by the Gulf Stream so is always ice free. Murmansk in Russia is the same - though Archangel further along in the Barents Sea is not so blessed. It is a coast of contrasts - glaciers on top of  the mountains along the coast....

....and islands that could be in the South Pacific. 

This is twenty miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Long before we left the mainland coast we could clearly see the jagged outline of the Lofoeten Islands over seventy statute miles away - this distance of London to Salisbury. 

The sea was inky calm and the afternoon sun gave it the appearance of fractured ice.

Leknes turned out to be utilitarian to say the least. It made Kyle of Lochalsh seem like a rock n'roll city so we drank up our coffee in the mini mall and said our goodbyes.

Rock n' roll city - not

The gallant little plane celebrating its second crossing of the arctic circle in a year. The laundry over the fuselage is our dry suits that weren't very dry after two hours in a warm cockpit....

The Lofotens are Hobbit land: jagged peaks form what looks like an impenetrable wall from seaward...

but on closer acquaintance it is threaded with narrow fjords on which are some lovely, brightly painted houses. 

We passed over one village, Henningsvar, which we are going to for couple of days - if we can get away today. As we approached Tromso the scenery began to change again, still magnificent, but more like the West Coast of Scotland than Mordor.

Tromso is our favourite Norwegian city so far. It was once described as the Paris of the North - which would fall foul of the Trades Description Act - but is an attractive town, sorry, city, as it has a cathedral...

....and has bustle and busy harbour. 

At these latitudes it hardly gets dark and we enjoyed wondering around the bars and restaurants.

I don't know whether Oslo is the same, but the average age seems to be about thirty. Maybe the winters kill off anybody older.

The final leg to the North Cape took about two hours. There are some fishing villages but no agriculture at this latitude and the mountains are bare stones with beautiful berries, lichen, blueberry and hardy plants close up - but no trees. A ferry and packet boat runs round the cape and the settlements around it - but not in winter. It is quite somewhere to live. 

The North Cape is the most northerly point of Europe 

except that...er....its not. That honour actually belongs to the Knivskjellodden peninsula that is next door and in line with the end of the wing. Nordkap is better marketing though as who would ever be able to pronounce Kniv.....?
Actually the North Cape is actually an island and the futhest point of mainland Europe is the Kinnerodden peninsula about twenty miles further east - and which doesn't even have road to it.


Our final destination that day was Mehamn - just to the left of Kinneroden which, despite being the most northern settlement in Europe has an airport - like all the airports in Norway fully manned with a firetruck and control tower even though it can't have more than one movement a day. Ours was the only one yesterday.

Final for 17 Mehamn.

Mehamn turns out to be a great little place. We are staying in a guest house owned by a South African and his Swiss wife who have lived a life of remarkable adventure and hardship.

They arrived here in winter and set off to walk from Mehamn to the bottom of Greece over three years. This is their route 

And they did this through two winters living in tents. They returned to Mehamn to live and after working in fish factories and living in a camper van - it gets down to minus 30 here - they bought their house and campaign for conservation causes. Lovely people.

We had a  walk yesterday in the hills around in shirtsleeves and shorts and sunshine (for which I suffered when the wind dropped and the mozzies awoke) but today we have been looking out over low cloud and rain - a bad combination with mountains and aviation.

We have just been to an Indian restaurant (we were the only customers) and were persuaded by the charming Bangaldeshi waiter (who is married to a Polish woman) to eat fried cod's tongues. If you get the chance - don't. When Amanda asked for something fancy - like a salad - he said 'this is the end of the world'.  Quite.

The road to the end of the world 



North Cape or bust

North Cape or bust
Flying is more about intentions than realisations: too much depends on weather and never more so than when you want to go north - in our cas...
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