Tag Archives: Honningsvåg

Honningsvåg and Departure

Anna and I visited the small Nordkapp Museum on the afternoon of our last day in Honningsvåg. It concentrated mostly on relatively recent history, though it was fascinating to see that being close to the ocean meant that trade routes here allowed this distant arctic region to be colonised early as the ice from the last ice age retreated, long before other regions which nowadays would be considered as hubs for movement and trade.

There were one or two snippets about women, which interested me on a personal level. I am always fascinated by pioneering women. For example this small plaque celebrates the first local paper on Magerøya, which the notice tells us, was written by two ladies.

Witchcraft in the village of Kjelvik seems to have been more strongly ranged against men than women though. Interesting as in other parts of the world, it seems to have been women (and particularly older women) who were targeted.

There was a large exhibition about the war and its after effects. I was aware that the far northern regions of Norway were devastated at the end of the war when the Nazis retreated, and I had wondered whether Honningsvåg was so far away and so remote that it might have escaped being burned to the ground. It seems that it was not. Of course that makes sense. In these days, where road and air travel tend to dominate (at least in my mind) it requires a complete adjustment to understand that in both near and more distant history, boat travel was one of the most significant ways of transporting people and goods. This was especially true around Norway, but also as it connects more distant parts of the world. Of course many goods continue to be transported by boat, but it doesn’t predominate in the news unless something goes wrong. But any harbour town must have been particularly useful to any invading forces, and therefore at risk.

It seems all of Honningsvåg was burned with the exception of the church, which I regret not visiting. The rebuilding effort was rapid. Some had fled to caves in the hills, others returned from evacuation to start again, and those who did so apparently slept in the church.

There was also a filmed interview with a man who had been born in Finnkongkeila, which was a busy Sami fishing village to the east of Magerøya. It too was razed in 1944, but due to the lack of road access, and because of the steep slopes that lay behind it with the high landslide risk, the Norwegian authorities decided it would not be rebuilt. The idea of having the place, where you had lived your whole life just disappear, burned and then gradually overtaken by nature, is so alien that I can scarcely imagine it. Here’s a photograph of Finnkongkeila before it disappeared.

We also read a lot about the local fishing industry and the related trade in dried fish. I was interested to find out that though stockfish is dried and exported in huge quantities, the local dish is actually boknafisk, which is only semi-dried. I had noticed it on the menu in the restaurant we had eaten in the night before, and so of course I had to go back and try it. It was really very good.

I was going to write that our holiday disaster struck the next morning, but given what I’ve written about so far, I shall temper it to say that a mild bump in the road reared its head the next day. I had heard coughing from more than one other guest during breakfast the previous two mornings at the hotel. So it should perhaps not have come as a surprise when Andrew came to us first thing and told us he had a sore throat and perhaps the beginnings of a cough. I confess I wasn’t too much worried about his health (he’s been a school throughout the pandemic and we’ve been through several rounds of colds) but I was concerned about the logistics. Hotels in Norway are not cheap, and the idea of stopping and getting a test locally, then waiting for the results was not appealing. We were due to check out anyway, and so Anna and I went down to breakfast (and took Andrew up some very tasty chocolate croissants). We discussed the situation afterwards. Andrew was already feeling a bit better, and there was still a chance he was suffering only from a flare-up of his allergies and so we decided to head down to Alta to the cabin we had booked there, and then reassess the situation.

It was only three hours or so, but I was rather sad to be leaving Magerøya so soon. Andrew seemed to be feeling better and we stopped once or twice on the way to get some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Triar went for a run on a little beach at Repvåg, where I found these two very weathered benches under the sullen sky.

And then we were back into the amazing slate-dominated landscape with its weathered stones, its disconcertingly angles layers jutting towards the sky .

The cabin in Alta was tolerably comfortable. It had a small TV tuned to the National Geographic channel with a sign that sternly informed us that we mustn’t touch the settings. By nightfall, it was obvious Andrew’s cough was not a resurgence of allergies, but definitely something more, and so we decided that we should try and get a test the next day, then find out whether we would be permitted to drive home, or should wait in the cabin until we got the results.

Friday then, was rather sad. We had arranged to have two nights in Alta as there were things we wanted to do there. Our neighbours had recommended the bathing park and I very much wanted to go and see the famous rock paintings and carvings. Instead, Andrew slept for much of the day, while Anna and I sat on poorly padded wooden benches and watched a series of documentaries about aeroplane crash investigations, airport drug smuggling and some rather Top Gearesque programmes about a man who refurbishes classic cars. The wifi was awful, so other pastimes were not really possible. I had hoped to write a blog update, but that wasn’t really possible. Anna and I did take Triar out for a walk in the (fungi-filled) woods, alongside a sortie to the shops and to a local takeaway but that was the extent of our day in Alta.

I was impressed with Alta’s coronavirus test station. Our local version involves going into an old school building, where masks are not compulsory, and standing in a queue of blue dots set two metres apart. I’ve long thought it must be a wonderful hub of infection as everyone who has a cold is meant to get tested. In Alta there’s a drive through tent outside the health centre and drive through we did, shouting replies to the man in protective clothing as Triar barked in Andrew’s ear from the back of the car. We asked about travel and he told us that so long as Andrew stayed isolated in the car and wasn’t too unwell, there was no reason not to head home the next day.

And so abandoning our possible plans for a last night in Vollan or possibly Tromsø (fortunately I had nothing booked as I was sure we would find something and wanted to keep things flexible) we made a run for home last Saturday. It was a six hour drive, and though we stopped to buy food and drinks from garages, we were not really able to take much of a break on the way. We stopped a few times to look at the scenery, which was dominated in part by the sheer numbers of berries growing on the ground and on the trees, and in part by the weather, which was mostly good overhead, but with glimpses of cloud capped mountain tops and distant rain-filled valleys.

I arrived home feeling tired with a rather dry throat. I was still hopeful that this might have been due to a long drive and the car’s air-conditioning, but I woke up on Sunday with a raging cold that has seen me spending most of this week in bed. Andrew’s Covid test was negative, as was mine, but I was definitely not able to go back to work. I’m still coughing away as I write this and feeling fragile, but I will try to work (from home) tomorrow and hopefully things will gradually return to normal. Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed the journey to the north with me. Next time we venture north I’d like to take more time to explore Alta and Magerøya, and perhaps go on a detour to Hammerfest and Karashok. There’s still so much of northern Norway left to explore!

Magerøya and the North Cape

Slightly belatedly, I’m going to take you though the last days of our adventure in two instalments.

There’s something of a controversy over the North Cape (Nordkapp), which in truly Norwegian style, is unfolding gradually. Scandic, who owns many hotels in Norway, invested heavily in a visitor centre right up on the cape where they have sub-leased the land from the municipality. It boasts a wide-screen video system, an underground tunnel with exhibitions about Nordkapp’s history, a coffee shop, conference facilities and a restaurant that seats two hundred and fifty people.

However, rather than charging people to go into the centre itself, for many years Scandic had set fees for the car park outside that were widely considered to be unreasonably high. Presumably this was more lucrative than taking payment only from those who wanted to go in and see the exhibition. Had it been a 50-100kr charge for a car ( a little under £5-10 or a little over 5-10 US$) with an additional fee for going into the centre, I should imagine it would have gone unremarked, but it seems that for a long time, the so-called parking charge also covered entry to the visitor centre and started at a much more painful 260kr (back in 2017) for the car and driver, plus a 40kr charge for each additional passenger.

This caused a divide in the local community. On the one hand, the centre created a great many jobs for local people. On the other, charging excessively to stay outside and look at the scenery comes into conflict with the Norwegian “friluftsloven,” which is the state law that guarantees public access to public lands, which Norwegians justifiably value very highly.

It was only in July this year that a complicated court case ruled that Scandic could for now, no longer charge parking fees for those visiting the cape. The downside for us is that they are now charging 260kr per adult to go in the centre. I discussed this with Anna and Andrew on the day we arrived in Honningsvåg. The centre sounded good to me and I half felt that having come all this way, it would be exciting to have the full experience, so though the price was steep, had they both wanted to go, we would have done. But somewhat to my surprise, they both felt quite strongly that Scandic had behaved in a way that was against what Norway stand for. Both of them said that they would be happy to visit the cape without going into the centre.

I proposed an evening visit, once the centre was closed. I wasn’t sure whether there would still be pressure to buy tickets on arrival, so though the sun would be below the horizon, we decided to go around ten in the evening.

It was a beautiful drive, though the road is precipitous in places. I was glad it was dry and though the temperature on the tops was a chilly 3°C there was no chance of ice. We stopped to admire the sunset as we approached the cape itself.

I was amazed, as we arrived at Nordkapp, to see how many camper vans were parked there. Other travel sites had warned that there might be crowds, but the days of the midnight sun were past for this year and I had wondered whether it might be quiet, but the vans were lined up along the edges of the car park, taking advantage of the wonderful views of the sea and coastline to the east.

There’s something of an irony over the battles for Nordkapp. The view above shows the Knivskjellodden peninsular. If you look carefully at the map, it stretches a little further north than Nordkapp itself. Nordkapp is where the road ends, whereas to get to Knivskjellodden you have to hike 5km. We had considered it, but as I was the only one who’d brought my walking boots, we had decided against it. Still, the globe monument at Nordkapp was a great photo opportunity and it really did feel very much like the end of a journey to look out over the Barents Sea to the northern horizon.

On the drive to and from Honningvåg to the cape, we had noticed a few side roads and we decided that the next day, we would explore them. And so after a pleasant meal under the striking artwork in the Arctic Hotel breakfast room, we set out to explore.

We drove north west out of Honningsvåg until we came to a junction just after a huge bend in the road. The first thing we noticed as we descended the steep road down to Kamøyvær was the massed seagulls on the cliffside and along the roof of a building above an inlet where there was a fish farm.

The village itself was like something out of a fairy tale. A row of brightly painted boats lay in the quiet waters of the harbour and colourful wooden houses were scattered around the bay.

As I stood taking photos, Anna quietly nudged me. From behind the building in the photo, a herd of reindeer were emerging. They carried on getting closer and closer and I thought they would peel off up the hill, but to my amazement, they carried on coming towards us, right into the centre of the village and, to my delight, cantered right past. One or two of them stopped to graze in the space between the houses.

We watched them wander off and then feeling cheerful, climbed back in the car to drive on to the next side road. This time, we turned left off the main E69, heading towards the more distant Gjesvær on the western side of Magerøya. It was a longer road and took us over rather barren moorland, where we stopped to let Triar out for a bit of a wander. I’m not sure whether it was the freshness of the air he was enjoying, or if it was the scent of distant reindeer on the wind, but he seemed to be very cheerful.

Anna lifted him up, and I took a photo of them together against the wonderful blue and green backdrop.

Feeling happy to have taken such a pleasing shot, I thought it would be nice to get a picture of Andrew, so I asked him to take Anna’s place and this is what I got.

Fortunately, as Triar has been taught from his earliest days that being held up in odd positions usually means food, he was unfazed.

We carried on, down past rocky outcrops and ruffled lakes and came out on a plateau that looked out over Gjesvær and the islands beyond. Sadly we had no food. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic here?

One thing we noticed as we headed down each of the side roads was that there was a barrier at each end which can be closed in winter when the snows come. Though it looks benign in the August sunshine, the island must be a very different place in winter.

We had coffee and ice creams at the little bird sanctuary building in Gjesvær, and then drove on to our third and final destination, Skarsvåg. There we found another picturesque harbour and, somewhat to our surprise, a small factory, behind which was piled huge bags of sea salt, presumably all ready to be shipped off to wherever they are processed and sold.

And so, our whistle-stop tour of the island complete, we set off back to Honningsvåg and the hotel, where Andrew stayed in and Anna and I went off on a visit to the little museum that stood on the dockside. But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Northerly: Days Two and Three

We drove on from the campsite at Brennfjell and paused briefly to get in contact with Birgit. I had intended to organise a visit, but the last weeks before we set out had been so full that I’d forgotten. Luckily she was in and we called in for coffee and a tour round the animals, which included a new puppy, some new pigs and this gorgeous foal.

Heading north from Storslett, the sky was grey as we drove up onto Kvænangsfjellet. This section of the E6 road is often closed in winter. Its austere beauty was enhanced by the clouds which swathed the mountains and we stopped for photos, just as the road began to drop back down towards the sea.

I hadn’t managed to find accommodation for the night in Alta, but after a couple of unsuccessful queries in hotels, we managed to find a very cosy cabin at Solvang Camping, a little north of the city. This was a more modern version of Norwegian camping: a single room with a bunk bed and a sofa bed, where we sat and watched the movie Bølgen while eating leftover pizza and chocolate chip cookies. Having slept soundly, we rose the next morning and set off towards Nordkapp.

The scenery changed again as we drove along the coastline. Jutting cliffs overhung the road, grey slate layers, unevenly weathered, sometimes slanting at crazy angles against the sky.

I had expected a bridge over to the island of Magerøya, but instead there was a seven kilometer tunnel, dropping to 212m deep, under Magerøy Sound. The scenery here was different again: a tundra like landscape, bereft of trees. Streams tumbled down steep mountainsides and rocky pools lay in the hollows. And though the journey had been beautiful, it was a relief to arrive in Honningvåg and check into the hotel.

After resting for a while, we took Triar for a walk. He had been very patient in the car, but the scent of reindeer woke him up. They are everywhere on Magerøya. Wonderful to see.