Monday, 29 July 2013

The Lofoten Islands and the E17 Coastal Route

Arrival at Fiskebol on the Lofoten Island of Austvagoyby ferry from Melbu on Langoya (one of the Vesteralen Islands) was on a grey afternoon with low cloud obscuring the tops but things improved the following day as I walked a stiff section of coastline from Eggum before heading round to Nusfjord - a wonderfully situated traditional fishing village with brightly painted huts, a former cod liver oil factory and another good walk round the craggy coastline.
From near Flakstad a walk over a steep ridge followed by the descent to Kvalvika beach was undertaken in perfect conditions and the bay an absolute gem - a few people had pitched tents enjoying the 'allesmannsratte' that permits wild camping almost anywhere in Norway and which people very much appreciate so undertake responsibly as regards litter and nuisance value.
The islands are linked by tunnels and bridges all dominated by the 160km long Lofotenveggen mountain chain which provide a remarkably craggy backdrop to the many hamlets and bays. Down at 'A' (at last an easy name to pronounce) I skirted the south shore of Lake Agvatnet before climbing steeply to the ridge that offered superb views back down to A and out to the wild west coast. 

With the weather conditions now perfect I enjoyed a couple more days exploring the many delights of this straggly chain including Henningsvaer another pretty village with many rorbuer (former fishermens' huts) available for rent and a diversion down to Digermulen where one of the large Hurtigruten ships was powering majestically through the Raftsunde. In the mornings a sea fog filled the fjords leaving the bridges to rise ghostlike beneath sun drenched mountains - all very picturesque.
However with the halfway point of this trip fast approaching I headed inland and round to Narvik with its huge iron ore processing terminal and then followed a dramatic section of the E6 to Fauske. The amazing road climbed steep passes, followed idyllic coastline and utilised many long tunnels and one ferry crossing to bring me to the start of the E17 coastal route (the Kystriksveien) which will take me the 800 or so kilometres down to Trondheim. It mixes and matches roads, bridges, tunnels and 7 ferry crossings and has linked a number of previously very isolated communities with the wider world. 
The good weather encouraged me to free camp every night - hence the long gap between blogs - and I was making use of the tinned and dried goods from home topped up by fresh fruit and veg from the odd larger village. Between Jetvik and Kilbogham whilst on the ferry we crossed the Arctic Circle (marked by a steel globe on the shore) which marked for me the end of 3 weeks within its 'confines'. The van had also clocked up 280,000 miles that day and the trip had reached its halfway point so the day was full of mini milestones - closer examination of the labels in a shop in Ornes had revealed a miscalculation of mine over the price of Guinness as it is in fact only 99p a can but I resisted the temptation to indulge as with 6 weeks on the wagon behind me it could only hurt.
After a night by the sea in Glomfjord the long dark Svartistunnel led out on to high plateau where the Svartisen glacier could be seen - its lower edge drops to only 170m ASL - the lowest glacial arm in mainland Europe and reminded me of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers in NZ's South Island which also drop almost to sea level.
The whole coastline had been superb and the innumerable off shore islands beckoned so at Nesna I decided to take the ferry over to Tomma where I found the perfect free camping on a beach on the west side of the island. Here I saw my first sunset in a month as now being outside the Arctic Circle things would slowly revert to normal, although in fact it only set for an hour and it never actually went dark. The main purpose of my visit was to climb the 922m Tomskjevelen  mountain reached by starting at sea level near Forsland. A steep pull up to lake was followed by another section across rocky outcrops and amongst blueberries and stunted birch trees to reach about 2000' at which point I realised I had mislaid my camera (sounds familiar). Backtracking to the van met no success so I set off again trying to follow my route but with no paths to stick to it all seemed rather pointless. Then amazingly 500' below where I had turned round I came across the shiny blue case - if anybody ever does lose a needle in a haystack I'm your man - and feeling somewhat reinvigorated tackled the remaining 1500' to the summit. From here the north east face of the mountain dropped a sheer 2000' to the the approach slopes and then the superb coastline with its turquoise bays, tiny huts and golden beaches.
Hundreds of islands glinted across the water in this area known as Helgeland which receives no coverage at all in my Rough Guide - a major omission - and will be well worth returning to.
A hundred miles away across in mainland Norway - probably nearer the main inland route the E6 and Mo I Rana where the even higher mountains of the Norwegian/Swedish border lay- I could see that there was a huge storm breaking so decided to head back down arriving at the van after a tiring but exhilarating 7 hours on the go. I had the beach to myself again and enjoyed a peaceful night before today picking up the E17 again with 2 ferries down to Sandnessjoen. The remnants of the storm passed by and after a week of wild camping I have booked in on a lovely coastal site to do some laundry, deal with emails and update this blog. If the connection is up to it there are phone calls to be made as well before I head south to Trondheim with a couple more islands and some good summits to look forward to. By connecting one of my jump leads to the aerial I can occasionally boost reception sufficiently to get Radio 4 which is a bonus but when I have a wifi connection I have been downloading dozens of podcasts to listen to enabling me to keep abreast of news and current affairs.

Anyway whilst my meanderings can be clocked here this time there is a bonus of two sets of photos - the Lofoten Islands here and the northern part of the E17 coastal highway here

Some time this week I will have to spend an hour spannering under the van as an oil change is due and I will have to find a chemist for some aspirin as I am about to run out - in fact all my pills will run out just as I return home so a GP appt. will need to be made before  I head to Brecon for this year's Brecon Beast event - if you can help out then please set aside the weekend of the 7/8th of September for some fun and games.

Longer term readers of the blog will recall my involvement with a new bothy project in Mid Wales - great progress has been made since the helicopter drop : these pictures give an idea of the achievements made - a superb effort on many fronts. Well done guys - I will soon be back to choose the curtain fabrics!

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