The skies over our patch of Andøya island were already clearing when we got up this morning. The silvery beach beckoned but we wanted to be off and after filling up with water from the tap provided at the back of the community centre we were back on the narrow road which links the tiny fishing villages on the west coast. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of fishing from these places now, but the houses are neat and brightly painted, some with turf roofs. At Vågraet we turned left, back towards the mountains which had been shadowing us at a distance, and soon we were crossing the steep bridge to Hinnøya Linasuolo which is part of the Vesterålen chain. Suddenly we were in the mountains again, skirting the sea, but with great ragged rock walls looming over us, snow still gleaming white in the crevices.
At Sortland we ignored the satnav’s insistance that we turn right onto another island, and kept on a road that the police were about to close off. They had already tied the tape to a lamp post but we nipped through before they were ready to walk across and tie it off at the other side. It turns out that a big cycle race – the Arctic Circle Race – was about to get going on this road and we passed knots of cycle fans on camping chairs waiting for the race to get under way. Some had viking helmets and big Norwegian flags which they waved at us as we went by, all smiles and happy anticipation.
One of the local cyclists was clearly called “Thor” and there were banners for him and messages spray painted on the road. We pulled in at a petrol
station and nearly got trapped by the police again as they began to seal off the exit road, but they let us through when we said we were heading south.
We drove up through a wide glacial valley on a road which the satnav insisted did not exist, and of course not all that long ago it didn’t but it is a gorgeous route now, winding up through the mountains before finally being swallowed by them in a six kilometer tunnel. Another tunnel
took us under the mouth of a fjord to Fiskebøl at the top of the Lofotens. There we branched off onto a white road and after a few kilometers we stopped at a beach for lunch on a tiny island now linked to the shore by a rocky breakwater. It was sprinkled with bits of crab and sea urchins smashed by hungry gulls.
We had gravadlax and dill mustard sandwiches and watched the ferries pass by. The sun was beaming down and it was utterly peaceful. The sea looked so inviting that Tom and I paddled in the shallows, and after some mild shrieking, Philippa actually swam in it.
Its quite hard to take in the scale of the beauty here – and even harder to describe it. Every village is a perfect encapsulation of what you imagine a Norwegian fishing village to be, with small, weatherbeaten wooden houses in bright colours looking modestly over azure waters with mountains of green and grey rearing up behind them. Turn a corner and you see a line of these sharp pointed giants marching off into the distance, and the sun sparkling on the sea. This goes on for mile after mile and is utterly tranquil.
We went to the Fiskekrogan restaurant on the waterside and treated ourselves to a feast. It is part of the Arctic Food Association which prides itself on using local ingredients and serving dishes which are rooted in the region. But oh, so deliciously. T and I shared some sashimi salmon and halibut which came with seaweed salad and and extraordinarily tasty avocado icecream to take the edge off the wasabi. T and I tried to pretend that it was merely pleasant to stop P diving in, but to no avail… Mind you, her fish soup was terrific too. She and T then both had cod, and so did I, but mine was a take on a traditional Lofoten meal, using semi-dried cod, with potatoes and pea puree. I was a little apprehensive about what “semi-dried” might do to piece of fish but apart from making it perhaps a little firmer than usual it had a satisfying depth of flavour and the buttery sauce it came with was both light and deeply naughty at the same time.
We strolled around the town and could have stayed the night where we were parked but decided to leave rather than become surrounded by arriving buses and cars as we were having breakfast. So back along the winding road and across a bridge to little Gimsøya island. The mountains around us were gathering white fur wraps of cloud, and on some it was spilling over the top like a frozen avalanche. All were lit brilliantly by the sun as it sidled gently towards the horizon. The tiny road we were on passed by small farms and wound slightly inland.
We turned left towards Vik by the sea, and then turned left again on an unmarked road which ended at a couple of large wooden racks for drying cod. Between them, against a large tarn is a flat grassy space which is where we are now, watching the sky turn a deep pink over the sea on the other side. Quite a day and if the sun never comes out again on this holiday, this is how I will remember Norway.