Stockfish and Chips Anyone? Journey up the Norwegian Coast

Written by Jane Critchley
(A highly commended runner-up entry in the Travel and Water Writing Competition.)

My first lasting impression of Norway featured enormous, orange flowering jellyfish in Stavanger harbour. My second was MS Lofoten. Now the oldest of the Hurtigruten fleet, except at the time, 1968, it was pretty young, maybe only four years old.

MS Lofoten
MS Lofoten

We met the boat in Bergen. I was thirteen and with my family, was going to chug in and out of the Norwegian coastline almost as far as the Russian border. Norwegian geography means that travelling by water is not only easier but essential.

Sharing the boat were Norwegians moving from one point to another and supplies for isolated towns and villages on our route. We watched the cargo being hoisted aboard with cranes and then we were off. First stop Ålesund.

Some stops were brief, barely more than fifteen minutes while others afforded the opportunity to explore and visit and view and admire. My black and white photos do nothing to display the beauty of the mountains, their blue green splendour reflected in the fjords. What luck that my geography project for the autumn term was on landforms. Hanging valleys and glaciers to die for.

I was struck by the wooden houses with grass covered roofs and racks strung with fishing nets drying in the wind. Fish of course is a staple food in Norway and stockfish in particular produced from spawning cod. My holiday diary tells me that I loved the cheeses and the chips!

Visiting isolated towns and villages
Visiting isolated towns and villages

To reach the Lofoten Islands we had to cross open sea and it was at this point that the lack of fin stabilisers became apparent! The archipelago is sometimes called the Lofoten Wall as the mountains are so close together. The temperature was dropping and the blue green gave way to white peaks.

Crossing the Arctic Circle was celebrated by the arrival of Father Neptune who made sure we remembered the event by pouring ice cold water down the back of our necks. There was a metal globe attached to a small rock to remind us of our latitude.

Tromsø, the capital of northern Norway, is proud of its museum commemorating polar exploration and Roald Amundsen who in 1926 became the first person to have reached both poles. We continued north on our own expedition and left the boat for an overland trip to Nordkapp. The bus stopped on a snow covered road to pick up two Lapp people who stood in the fading light. Later they left the bus in an equally lonely place. The only other signs of life were the reindeer already growing their white winter coats.

Stockfish on drying racks
Stockfish drying on racks

Our turning point was Kirkenes, a hundred miles north-west of Murmansk. On the return we stopped at places we had passed only at night. Hammerfest, the northernmost town in the world. Harstadt on the island of Hinnøy and Stokmarkness home of the Hurtigruten company. The Raftsund Channel was exciting with barely five feet of space on each side. The excitement was because the boat had to turn round at the end. I am guessing after all these years that the channel had widened out by then!

In Trondheim we, so the diary tells me, went up a hill to look at a view. I imagine that view was magnificent. The folk museum boasts houses and farms which have been moved from their original sites in the countryside. The souvenirs made from seal skin and reindeer antlers would perhaps not be acceptable these days.

Go by boat to see Norway!
Go by boat to see Norway!

Back to Bergen where we started. Up another hill for another view. This one I do remember. We reached the top in a cable car. Actually it was more of a mountain than a hill and one of seven surrounding the town. Bergen spread out beneath us bathed by a brilliant blue sea.

Norway for me meant mountains and waterfalls. Wooden houses and ultra modern architecture. But most of all water. The life force providing sustenance and transport. Go by boat! It’s the only way to see Norway.

POSTED 4th August 2016 by STE Web Editor STEVE HANSON on behalf of JANE CRITCHLEY. The photographs were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.