***  NORWAY  2014   -  WEEKS 10~11  ***

This week's Photo Gallery  Flora and fauna of Arctic Norway Bottom of Page Return to Norway Index Page

CAMPING IN NORWAY 2014 - Tromsø Fjord (site of Tirpitz sinking), NW Fjords coastline of Finmark, Midnight Sun at Nordkapp, the Barents Sea fishing ports of Kjøllefjord and Berlevåg, Varanger Fjord, Kirkenes, Russian border at Grense Jakobselv:

Having crossed from the island of Senja at Finnsnes, we made our way inland to resume our northward journey on the E6 highway, our principle route up through Norway from which we had diverted out to Skutvik for our progression up the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelago. Beyond Lake Takvatnet, the road gained height across the vast fell-land upland to begin the long, sweeping descent to the inner reaches of Balsfjord at Nordkjosbotn, where E6 continued north towards Skibotn signed for Kilpisjärvi in NW Finland; we turned left onto the busy E8 towards Tromsø along the north shore of Balsfjord. The northward skyline was dominated by a panorama of high mountains all covered with far more snow than when we had passed this way last year from Narvik (see left). Turning NW past the sharply pointed massif of Svartnestinden, the road descended to the innermost head of Ramfjord at Sørbotn where we turned off into Ramfjord Camping, our base for this year's visit to Tromsø.

Click on 6 highlighted areas of map for
details of
Finmark and Nordkapp

Hospitable Ramfjord Camping:  we were greeted amiably at reception by an easy-going gent standing in for the owner whom we had met when we stayed here on our last visit to Tromsø 2 years ago. This hospitable and peaceful campsite is superbly located on the shore of Ramfjord, and this year the surrounding mountains still had a significantly greater covering of snow (see left). Tromsø's spring had been late this year with heavy snow falling as late as May. The evening sun declined down the length of the fjord and finally disappeared behind a northern shoulder of the mountains, rising in the early hours further around to the SE to light the shapely sculpted and snow-covered peaks behind us. It truly was a glorious setting. Low cloud gathered later in the morning, masking the surrounding peaks for our day in camp. Today Paul telephoned Sulland AS, the VW agent in Tromsø, to check that the replacement glass for George's damaged wing mirror had been received and to arrange for fitting while we were in the city tomorrow. The man in the parts department confirmed that he had the mirror-glass in front of him and understood about the right-hand drive specification. VW's excellent service seemed to have stood the test! Late in the afternoon, the sun finally broke through to give a warm, still and sunny evening, with the late sun streaming down the length of the fjord (Photo 1 - 11-00pm sun at Ramfjord Camping), but the arrival of warmer weather had also awoken this year's midges.

A busy day in Tromsø:  on a gloriously peaceful morning with bright sun lighting the surrounding mountains, we set off early for our busy day in Tromsø (see our 2013 visit to Tromsø). The city is built across Tromsøya Island which is set in the wide Tromsø Fjord channel, and a 30km drive brought us to the city outskirts looking towards the main bridge which spans the fjord (see right). Heading for the VW garage on the far side of the city by the airport, our sat-nav guided us over the bridge and unexpectedly into one of the long tunnels which burrow under Tromsø. We emerged 2 kms across on the far side, guided faultlessly to Sulland AS garage. In the showroom, surrounded by new VW Golfs, we asked for the parts department where the package with George's new mirror glass was produced. Still concerned about possible confusion over right- and left-hand drive vehicles, we waited anxiously while the VW records were checked. Thankfully all was well, and a mechanic fitted the glass before we could finish our coffee. The VW service had worked to perfection, and with thanks to the garage staff, we were on our way again. After a provisions stock-up at the supermarket opposite, we set the sat-nav for the day's next mission, to find the site of the 1944 sinking of the German battleship Tirpitz just off the islet of Håkøya in the Tromsø Fjord channel between the city and island of Kvaløya (see detailed map of Tromsø).

Site of sinking of German battleship Tirpitz:  the route took us past the airport and across the high-arching bridge which links the Tromsø city island over the far channel of the fjord to the larger island of Kvaløya, an area of Tromsø's more affluent suburbs. We crossed the bridge and continued for some 6kms around Kvaløya to the small harbour of Eidkjosen. Just beyond a minor turning led across a narrow pontoon bridge onto the islet of Håkøya, and a couple of kms around its SE shore-line we could look down onto one of the flooded bomb craters of the 12 November 1944 RAF raid which finally sank the Tirpitz. 200m further by an old wooden barn, a sign pointed along a footpath to 'Tirpitz Memorial'. We parked by the barn and under the trees found the memorial stele made from part of Tirpitz's steel armour plating (see left). A pathway led down to the shore-line where a pontoon, left over from the post-war salvaging operations remained symbolising the Tirpitz mooring (Photo 2 - Tirpitz Memorial and sinking site).

Attacks on Tirpitz at Kåfjord:  from 1943 until late 1944, Tirpitz had been based at Kåfjord off Altafjord, but had been severely damaged by the September 1943 X-craft attacks (Operation Source) despite losses and capture of the midget submarine crews. The Germans brought repair crews north who worked for 6 months at Kåfjord throughout the winter of 1943~44 to repair the damage and make Tirpitz seaworthy again. By March 1944 all repairs possible without dry-dock facilities had been completed, but in April 1944 Fleet Air Arm Barracuda dive-bombers under Operation Tungsten flying from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious attacked Tirpitz as the battleship was about to weigh anchor to begin sea-trials at Altafjord. The bombing accuracy caused major casualties and severe damage, wrecking the 6 months of repair work and needing a further 3 months at Kåfjord to make good the damage. As Tirpitz was preparing for post-repairs works sea trials, Fleet Air Arm carrier-borne Barracudas attacked again in July and August under Operations Goodwood, and although poor weather and cloud cover denied significant success, the battleship was further damaged. Inexplicably, feuding between the German navy and Luftwaffe had denied Tirpitz fighter cover enabling the air attacks to succeed without undue losses. Tirpitz was again attacked at Kåfjord by RAF 617 Squadron, flying first to Yagodnik near Archangel in Soviet Russia and attacking from there on 15 September 1944 under Operation Paravane, (Lancaster Easy Elsie's first operational mission) using the new 12,000lb deep penetration Tallboy bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. Despite bad weather and smoke cover obscuring the target, Tirpitz was severely damaged, rendering her virtually useless as a seaworthy fighting ship and in need of major repair.

Tirpitz's withdrawal and sinking at Tromsø Fjord:  by late 1944 the Soviet Red Army advance into Finmark and the German scorched earth retreat made it necessary to withdraw Tirpitz from Altafjord and abandon the Kåfjord naval base. Still badly damaged, the battleship withdrew south under its own reduced steam at 8 knots rather than her former full power of over 30 knots, to be berthed at a shallow mooring off Håkøya. Here, no longer fit for sea service, she was to be used as a floating gun battery to cover the German evacuation from Tromsø. But this brought the battleship just within flying range of Lossimouth for modified Lancasters stripped of their rear and upper turrets and fitted with additional fuel tanks. On 28 October 1944, Lancasters of 617 and 9 Squadrons attacked Tirpitz at Tromsø under Operation Obviate, but cloud cover foiled the attack saving Tirpitz from damage. It was on this mission that Easy Elsie was severely damaged by flak in making a desperate bombing run, and crash-landed near to Porjus in neutral Sweden (see our 2013 visit to the crash site). 617 and 9 Squadrons again flew to attack Tirpitz on 12 November 1944 under Operation Catechism led by Wing Commander Willie Tait, the last chance before winter polar darkness would have denied daylight bombing opportunity. 29 Tallboys were dropped with great precision, and in 9 minutes of bombing 2 direct hits and several near-misses caused terminal damage to Tirpitz; within minutes she had keeled over and sank in the shallow waters off Håkøya with the loss of over 900 of her 1,700 crew. After over 2 years of costly efforts, Tirpitz was finally sunk. Between 1949 and 1957, the wrecked battleship was cut up by a salvage company which had paid the Norwegian government the bargain price of 1000,000 NOK (£10,000) for the scrap steel.

Our visit to Tirpitz's sinking site:  and here we stood by the memorial made from a section of Tirpitz's steel armour plating (see above left and right), looking down to the shingle shore-line across the shallow channel where Tirpitz had been moored and sunk, and on the far side of the fjord the city of Tromsø spread across the hillside with the spire of the cathedral just visible (see above left) (Photo 3 - Tirpitz sinking site). Looking south along the fjord towards the skyline of snowy mountains, today the sky was clear and sun bright as on the morning of 12 November 1944. We could imagine the RAF Lancasters beginning their bombing run several miles up the fjord at between 12,500 and 16,000 feet, and releasing their Tallboys despite the intense flak from Tirpitz's guns and shore batteries. From the sinking site, 2 of the flooded bomb craters from Tallboy near-misses were still visible in the shallows along the fjord shore-line (see left) (Photo 4 - Shore-side Tallboy crater). We walked along the shingle, disturbing nesting oystercatchers which went striding across the shore 'peeping' frantically. Scrambling up the grassy embankment in the morning sunshine to photograph the bomb craters, we disturbed redshanks nesting in the pasture's long grass. These flew around and perched on fence posts with their alarm calls, the first of so much spectacular wildlife we photographed over the next 2 weeks of travels around Finmark, and included as a photo-gallery of Flora and fauna of Arctic Norway. After 2 years of tracking down the German battleship's various Norwegian berthing sites and the crash site of one of the RAF Lancasters which had attacked her, we had finally made it on such a bright morning to the site of Tirpitz's sinking here at Håkøya.

Tromsø University Botanic Gardens:  back across Kvaløya's bridge, we followed the overland route past Tromsø's airport and around the northern side of the city to find the University's free entry Botanic Gardens, described as the world's northernmost botanic gardens. Set on a rocky hillside looking over the city towards a skyline of snow-covered mountains, the gardens are arranged into regional and species sections displaying Arctic and Alpine plants from across the Northern Hemisphere (Photo 5 - Tromsø Botanic Gardens). We wanted particularly to see the collection of Norwegian Arctic plants to help identify those we may find in the wilds, but the gardens also displayed specimens from as far afield as Northern America, the Caucasus and Himalayas. One notable specimen was the startling Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopsis 'Lingholm' (Photo 6 - Himalayan Blue Poppy). The cleverly laid-out rocky hillocks enable visitors to scramble in amongst the plants for close access to all the specimens, and the collection was impressively large (see right and left), but as so often was let down by haphazard and neglected labelling.

Tromsø Defence Museum:  our last stop in today's visit to Tromsø was to the Tromsø Forsvars Museum (Defence Museum). But to reach this we first had to extricate ourselves from the warren of tunnels under the city. Re-crossing the main bridge leading past the Arctic Cathedral, we turned into a side road some 4kms back along the northern shore of the fjord. Here we found the conserved remains of a WW2 German naval battery overlooking the fjord and housing the museum which describes the German retreat from Finmark over the winter of 1944~45. The need for mooring for the naval evacuation of some 120,000 troops from Tromsø saved the city from being destroyed by the German scorched earth policy which destroyed all other towns, ports and villages across the rest of Finmark. The museum is staffed by volunteers and on the day of our visit, only the section in a former ammunition bunker which displayed memorabilia, photographs and documents about Tirpitz's sinking at Tromsø was open. After a brief look, we returned for a final night at Ramfjord Camping; tomorrow we should begin the long drive north on E6 into Finmark, initially taking the 2 ferries across Lyngen Fjord.

Lyngen Fjord ferry crossings:  on a disappointingly overcast morning, we drove Route 91 along the Storelva and Breidvikelva valley down to the ferry dock at Breivikeidet just as the ferry was drawing in. It was an even more gloomy morning than the crossing last year and what should have been the magnificent panorama of the Lyngen Alps was masked in dark, low cloud. The first ferry brought us across Ullsfjord (see left) to the tiny farming hamlet of Svensby where we joined the convoy of cars to drive the 20kms along the fjord valley which forms the only gap in the lengthy and hugely impressive chain of the Lyngen Alps. Just over the low watershed at the far end which almost divides the peninsula, we dropped down to the ferry dock at Lyngseidet where the onward ferry across Lyngfjord to Olderdalen was waiting. Despite the chill weather and gloomy covering of cloud, and with the wind buffeting the ferry as it passed into the rougher grey fjord waters beyond the projecting headland, the views from the upper deck of the magnificent spectacle of the Lyngen Alps and the mountains ahead surrounding Kåfjord were as commanding as ever (see right) (Photo 7 - Lyngfjord ferry).

North on E6 around the fjord coast:  once ashore at Olderdalen, we headed north on Route E6 along the fjord coastline, with the crenulated crests of the Lyngen Alps skyline buried in dense, grey cloud masking what would have been a glorious panorama across the fjord. We paused for a sandwich stop at the Ulvøya ferry dock, looking out along the cloud-covered parade of the Lyngen Alps which ran the length of Lyngenfjord. Behind us the bulky mass of Ulvøya island rose over 1000m directly from the narrow Rotsund channel. Over a high shoulder of land beyond Rotsundelva, we paused for provisions at the larger village of Storslett which serves as a service centre for this part of the west coast. The terrain now became wilder over further high land and along Straumfjord past Fosselv where the waterfalls on the high mountain cliffs were scarcely visible in the now even gloomier weather. E6 now began the long, grinding height gain to cross the Kvænangstinden fells. The view-points on the broad plateau, which looked across at what would in fine weather have been the magnificent panorama of mountains and fjord but today a featureless grey, gloomy monochrome, were inevitably befouled by swarms of Norwegian mega-buses. Passing herds of reindeer grazing the fell-sides looking across to Kvænangsfjord, we wound down the long descent to cross the sandy inner reaches of Sørstraumen bay with its high bridge. After another long climb over the next shoulder with more reindeer grazing the fell-side and twin reindeer and elk warning signs lining the road, we crossed the surging white-water Storelva river to descend into Burfjord. A lesson for the future was to shop at the well-stocked Co-op store here rather than in Storslett.

Arctic Fjord Camping:  up at Storeng, we reached the turning to a small campsite set on the headland which we had used when we had last passed this way south 2 years ago. We had such happy memories of our 2012 stay at ANSI-Turistservice Camping, a wonderfully hospitable campsite with magnificent views looking across towards the Kvænangstinden crested skyline. We believed however that since 2012 the campsite had closed, and had often wondered what had happened to the then owners, Willy and Nelly Simonsen; so delightful had been the welcome they had given to us that the campsite had always been nostalgically known to us as 'Willy's Place'. Needing a campsite for tonight, but fully expecting the site now to be in a state of semi-dereliction, we turned off to investigate. In fact we found the campsite open with new owners, and now renamed Arctic Fjord Camping. The price was a very reasonable all-inclusive 210 NOK including wi-fi, and even better it was just as we remembered it from 2 years ago. The breathtaking view from the lushly turfed camping area looking out directly over Kvænangsfjord and the distant crested skyline of Kvænangstinden was exactly as recalled from our 2012 stay, except today the distant horizon of mountainous tops was shrouded by murky grey cloud (Photo 8 - Arctic Fjord Camping). We happily settled in revelling in this exceptional setting and despite the gloomy weather, enjoyed a barbecue (see right); but there would be no glorious Kvænangsfjord sunset tonight. We asked the new owners about the Simonsens: it seemed that Nelly had been ill and the campsite had become too much for Willy to manage single-handed. We were pleased to learn however that they had now retired and still lived in a cottage locally at Storeng, and 'Willy's Place' (as it will always be known to us) was now enjoying a revival under its new owners and new name.

North to Tirpitz's 1943~44 anchorage at Kåfjord:  although the forecast for the weekend when we planned to reach Nordkapp looked promising, here at Storeng the following morning rain poured down with the entire fjord and surrounding mountains entirely enveloped in dense, grey rain-cloud. Around the northern loop of lane and almost at the junction rejoining the E6, we found the Simensons' cottage with their bobil parked at the side; in passing we wished this charming couple well for their retirement, and turned onto E6 to continue our northward journey (click on Map 2 at head of page for our route). Passing Alteidet on the climb over the watershed, the low cloud and driving rain made the fell-land terrain seem gloomier than ever. Just beyond the North Troms~Finmark regional boundary, the road dropped down to the head of Langfjord which, with low tide, bare mud flats and gloomy low cloud, looked so dismal. Around Langfjordbotn we began the long drive along the northern shore of the fjord. Unlike 2 years ago however, when clear skies and bright sun had given us sweeping views down the length of Langfjord, today in poor visibility the mountains were simply greyed out, their tops hidden in rain cloud. With the snow melts and 24 hours of continuous rain, all the becks descending the mountain sides were running in spate. This newly upgraded stretch of E6 enabled good progress, and we rounded the pointed tip of Isnestoften to turn south along the shore of the main body of Altafjord. Although part of the road improvements had been completed, including a new 800m tunnel, E6 here was narrower, and beyond Tolvik major road works were still in progress with diggers gouging out sides of the mountain and piles of rock debris lining the narrow E6. Work was even more extensive as we topped the shoulder of land leading over to the inner recess of Kåfjord, but from a road-side vantage point there ahead was Tirpitz's 1943~44 anchorage lair at Kåfjord just north of the 2 projections of land, Strømnes on the northern side and the long peninsula of Langstrømnes opposite (see WW2 aerial photo above left). This was a view redolent of history, the scene of the unbelievably brave midget-submarine attack which caused so much damage to Tirpitz. But today the scene had changed from when we were here 2 years ago (see our 2012 log): now the single-pier suspension bridge spanning the fjord at its narrowest point between the 2 opposing spits of land had been completed. In today's gloomy weather, it was a dismal grey scene looking along Kåfjord to what had been Tirpitz's anchorage from 1943~44, now backed by the new Kåfjordbrua (Photo 9 - Tirpitz's Kåfjord anchorage). We turned off just before the re-routed E6 swung round onto the new bridge, and continued south along the road's former route, pausing by the Strømnes peninsula from where we could look down along the length of the bridge with the E6 at the far end disappearing into a new tunnel cut through the scree-covered sheer mountain face opposite (see left). The memorial tablet to the X-craft crews, placed here in the early 1990s by a British sub-aqua team who had explored the site of the attack, now lay neglected among the undergrowth. A little further at Kåfjord village, the official memorial to the midget-submarine crews lost in the September 1943 raid stood in the church yard (see above right).

North to Alta and over the Finmarksvidda to  Olderfjord:  we crossed the new Kåfjord Bridge and entered the tunnel on the far side which cut through the mountainous headland enclosing Kåfjord. Toll charges were to be expected for the new E6 route, but perhaps with the amount of traffic, costs had been cleared in the 18 months since the new route had opened, and we re-joined E6's former route around the eastern shore of Altafjord to pass the rock engravings site and on into the outskirts of Alta. What is a dreary town due to its 1944 destruction by the retreating Germans was today made even drearier by the overcast weather. Passing through, we began the long and gruelling ascent up Stokkedalen onto the vast tundra wastes of the Finmarksvidda plateau. With just the tarmac ribbon of E6 stretching its lonely way across this barren, empty wasteland, it was in gloomy weather an even more dramatically stark vista than normal. With just an occasional Sámi settlement along the roadside, this vast 1000 feet high tundra plateau stretched away in all directions to distant horizons (see right), largely uninhabited except for a few nomadic Sámi reindeer herders. Today even the reindeer were absent as we crossed the plateau, mile after lonely mile of empty road, to begin the long descent of Repparfjorddalen. Earlier on the southern side ascent, the birches were just coming into leaf and seemed undamaged by Autumnal Moth caterpillar defoliation. But here on the northern descent, damage to the birches, which we had seen on our southwards crossing of the plateau 2 years ago, was far more extensive and on many of the trees terminal. The blackened birch trunks stood bare of leaves, defoliated by caterpillar infestation and clearly dead, while a few other trees survived with just a few new leaves. It was a truly depressing scene of utter devastation with whole areas of birches along the wide, rapidly-flowing Repparfjordelva river looking blackened and dead (see left). Following the river down the lower reaches of its valley, we reached the road junction at Skaidi and followed E6 NE down to its junction with E69 on Porsanger Fjord at Olderfjord. Despite its fjord-side setting, Russenes Camping here at Olderfjord is a depressingly overcrowded place at the best of times, and being on the Nordkapp route is now even more over-infested with camping-cars travelling in convoys. Being by nature solitary travellers who seek peace to enjoy our surroundings, we were in two minds about staying here; but rather than hasten on closer to Nordkapp, we decided to brave it out at Olderfjord despite the overwhelming presence of a huge convoy of French camping-cars. The pollutant noise from these wretched people was simply mindboggling, but we found a secluded corner at the far end knowing that come early evening they would all disappear into their over-sized white-boxes-on-wheels to watch brainless soap-operas on their TVs. And so it of course turned out and we were left in peace to enjoy our evening looking out across Porsanger Fjord.

E69 north to Repvåg:  the following morning dawned bright and clear and we were able to sit out for a fjord-side breakfast on a gloriously warm and sunny morning looking out across Porsanger Fjord's sparkling waters (see above right). We set off northwards with E69 winding its way along the shore-line and around bays, passing fishing hamlets to approach the 3km long Skarvberg Tunnel (see left). We had memories of this tunnel being unduly narrow and ill-lit but today, perhaps hardened by experience of single-track tunnels on Lofoten back-lanes, we passed through without concern. Even the narrow road seemed in better condition than 2 years ago with improved side-protection along the rocky shore-line with its weather-worn outcrops of upended slate. The road wound along the craggy coastline, around headlands, in and out of tunnels (see right) (Photo 10 - Emerging from Skarvberg Tunnel), eventually reaching the turning for Repvåg. We branched off around to the wooden former fishing-station where we had enjoyed such a memorable stay 2 years ago (see below left) (see our 2012 log). This lovely place looked the same, but rumours of new owners proved well-founded: the Russians had moved in. Whether or not local fishermen still landed their catch of king crabs here was uncertain but the crates had all gone. Wishing to keep our happy recollections unsullied by progress, we returned to E69 to continue north.

Undersea tunnel to Magerøya and the northern port of Honningsvåg:  inland across flatter moorland and around the bay at the fishing hamlet of Kåfjord, we approached the 6.87km long Nordkapp undersea which connects the Norwegian mainland to the northern island of Magerøya, dropping at a gradient of 9% to a depth of 212m at its central point. We paused at the tunnel's southern portal for photos (see below right) before descending steeply under the Magerøy Sound to emerge almost 7kms later on Magerøya. Around the bay where tankers from the Barents Sea oil and gas rigs were moored, a second tunnel brought us out by the turning for the northern port of Honningsvåg. The north-bound Hurtigrute should have departed at 2-45pm; it was now 3-30 and M/S Kong Harald was still in port. We drove through the town up to the church to look down over the town and port but in fact the Hurtigrute, although making smoke, showed no signs of moving away from the dock. Perhaps problems were delaying departure but we could wait no longer. We took our photos looking out over the fishing harbour (Photo 11 - Hurtigrute at Honningsvåg), and after a provisions stock-up at the Rema 1000 supermarket, rejoined E69 for the final drive up towards Nordkapp.

Anticipated Midnight Sun Nordkapp ending in cloudy disappointment:  leaving Honningsvåg, E69 began climbing steeply in long, sweeping bends, passing much more residual snow than 2 years ago, up onto Magerøya's broad, flat fell-land plateau where reindeer grazed among the snow patches. Just before the start of the descent to the Skarsvåg turning, we paused at the viewpoint for photos of the horn outcrop on Nordkapp's eastern cliffs and the magnificent westward cliffs of Knivskjellodden, Europe's true northernmost point. From the Skarsvåg junction the climb up to Nordkapp and across the plateau fell-land brought us to the entry barriers to Nordkapp-Hallen. Well familiar with the world's northernmost rip-off operated by the Rica Hotel chain, and the counter rip-off described in the log of our 2012 visit, we demanded the 160 NOK admission price; this year the lad issued tickets without comment. From a distance the parking area was a solid mass of camping-cars, but we managed to find a quiet corner albeit far from the cliff edge, and along with another VW we settled in (see left). It was by now 5-00pm, and with the sun shining brightly we wandered over to the NW fence for early photos along the line of the cliffs towards the Globe monument (Photo 12 - Nordkapp Globe monument), and across to the Knivskjellodden peninsula, Europe' true northernmost point, silhouetted against the evening western sun (see below left) (Photo 13 - Knivskjellodden peninsula); we also photographed the Mountain Avens flourishing on Nordkapp's plateau, and the sun flaring out above the cliff-top globe (see right). Back over to George we prepared supper, brimming with confidence that the clear sky would guarantee us the perfect Nordkapp Midnight Sun tonight. As the sun began its long, slow decline around to the northern quarter of the still clear sky, the tour buses began rolling in by the score, but by 11-00pm cloud began to gather. To our supreme disappointment, by midnight the sun declined into a solid bank of impenetrable cloud. With little optimism, we scoured the northern sky for any possible lifting or breaks in the cloud but to no avail; our hopes of a Nordkapp Midnight Sun were dashed. We walked over to the globe at 1-00am/true midnight but by then the sun was buried in the mass of dark cloud with just a hint of salmon pink to reveal its presence (Photo 14 - Midnight Sun hidden in cloud). And to make matters worse, a huge digger had begun noisily shovelling up the heap of gravel by our camping area as a convoy of quarry trucks delivered more gravel from the port of Honningsvåg for the digger to pile up. Despite protests, the digger driver insisted he would work on through the night; it was 'not his problem' - no it was ours. Having paid rip-off expense to camp here, we faced a double whammy: no Midnight Sun and now no sleep!

A sunny day at Nordkapp 71° 10' 21" N:  the following morning when the swarms of camping-cars began leaving, we moved over to a vacated space on the western rim of the Nordkapp plateau looking directly across to the Knivskjellodden peninsula (see below right). The high sun was now unbelievably hot, shining in a perfectly clear sky as we sat out for lunch looking out across to the clear western horizon beyond the Knivskjellodden crags. Norway's Meteorological Institute was still forecasting fully clear overnight sun, but after last night's disappointment we kept scouring the northern sector of the sky for any trace of cloud. All however looked good and we remained quietly optimistic for tonight. In such surrealistic heat wave conditions, we could not resist the temptation to light the barbecue (Photo 15 - Nordkapp BBQ), and sat out lightly dressed for supper in our quiet camping spot on the plateau rim enjoying the warm evening sunshine (see below left). Despite the rowdy hullaballoo from the rank-upon-rank of parked camping-cars across the plateau top, we were tonight fortunate to have quiet neighbours; it was from the civilised Danish couple alongside us that we learnt that the ruthlessly commercial DFDS shipping line were planning to close down the Harwich~Esbjerg ferry service, the only remaining North Sea route and our life-line to Scandinavia (Photo 16 - Supper on Nordkapp plateau).

We sat out all evening in these sublime conditions, constantly watching the sky for any hint of cloud but all remained clear. Taking a compass bearing on the declining sun at 11-00pm gave 330°, leaving the remaining 30° to magnetic north to be traversed by the sun in the next 2 hours to reach 360° at true midnight (1-00am). At 11-45pm clock time we walked over to the NW cliff-top fence where just a handful of the more discerning Midnight Sun fellow photographers were similarly watching the northern horizon. In contrast, the massed camping-car brigades gathered in rowdy groups or inside watching their mindless TVs seemed totally oblivious to both their surroundings and the miraculous natural event about to occur. Why do they all congregate here in their 1000s just to make a nuisance with their noise and overt materialism? Similarly the tour buses in their scores disgorged their passengers who had paid a fortune to be transported here, only to mill around aimlessly at Nordkapp-Hallen with bored-looking indifference. And at 11-50pm the coach drivers started up their engines and herded the passengers back aboard to drive away. So having at great expense come here supposedly to see the Midnight Sun at Nordkapp, they were not able to witness the event even at clock midnight; gullible souls to acquiesce in such monumental rip-off.

Patience rewarded - the perfect Midnight Sun at Nordkapp:  we took up our position along the north-western fence almost alone, and approaching clock-midnight the sun was still declining in a clear northern sky. We took our photos from alongside the cliff-top fence, with the sun suspended high above the horizon, its long golden trail streaking across the still waters of the Barents Sea. It was truly a spectacle of a life-time, particularly on such a clear evening without a breath of breeze; the air was still and warm and even in just light sweaters, we were more than comfortable. Such was the exhilaration that time simply drifted by, and at true midnight (1-00am) we were still taking our silhouetted photos against the sun (see right) (Photo 17 - Nordkapp Midnight Sun). At this middle stage of Nordkapp's Midnight Sun period here at 71° 10' 21" N, lasting 6 weeks from 12 May to 1 July, the sun at true midnight was still remarkably high above the horizon, thankfully still free of any cloud intrusion and lighting Nordkapp's 1,000 feet high cliff face (Photo 18 - Midnight Sun lighting Nordkapp cliffs) (see left). The line of the northern horizon glowed a salmon-pink colour in this uncanny Midnight sunlight with Nordkapp's cliff-top Globe monument silhouetted against it (Photo 19 - Nordkapp's silhouetted Globe monument). We moved around to photograph the Midnight Sun shining high over the Nordkapp headland (see right) (Photo 20 - Midnight Sun above Nordkapp) and sun's flare behind the Globe monument (Photo 21 - Midnight Sun over Globe monument), and by the time we finally returned to George at gone 2-00am, the sun was unmistakably already on the rise and its light visibly assuming a morning brightness.

Final day at Nordkapp and gathering sea-mist:  the following morning with the Arctic air still balmy, we sat outside again for a late breakfast in remarkably scorching sun without even sweaters (Photo 22 - Breakfast at Nordkapp). It was impossible to imagine that 2 years ago camped at almost this very spot on the western brim of the Nordkapp plateau, we had been swathed in multiple layers of Arctic gear and still shivering! Today, despite being camped at Europe's northernmost latitude, we actually changed out of Arctic gear, hoping not prematurely. We walked around the plateau's cliff-tops towards Knivskjellodden (see left) for a final time (Photo 23 - Nordkapp cliffs and Knivskjellodden), and watched as a bank of sea-mist visibly advanced from the north at sea level towards the foot of the cliffs below obscuring the northern horizon. Looking westwards towards Knivskjellodden, wraiths of mist wafted into the gullies around the cliffs (see right) as a bank of cloud moved in from seaward progressively enveloping the tip of the peninsula (Photo 24 - Sea-mist in Nordkapp gullies). Peering across towards the Globe, sea-mist was swirling around the foot of the 1,000 feet high cliffs with the sun creating a rainbow effect (Photo 25- Sea mist on Nordkapp cliffs); had we not been so high above the mist we may have experienced Brocken Spectre haloed self-shadows on the mist's upper surface. Back over to George, we packed and departed from Nordkapp for the last time. Admission costs to the Nordkapp-Hallen parking area, and a cliff-top now unacceptably over-crowded with the very worst kind of rowdy tourists here for all the wrong reasons, mean that we shall never return. After all we had this year achieved the spectacle of a perfect Midnight Sun over the Nordkapp plateau: perfection can never be bettered.

Re-visit to Kirkeporten Camping:  sea-mist was advancing along the sides of valleys as we drove back down to Skarsvåg junction, passing a few reindeer standing on patches of residual snow, to turn off to Kirkeporten Camping, the welcoming, family-run campsite where we had stayed on our 2012 visit to Nordkapp. We again received hospitable welcome, but by the time we were settled at Kirkeporten on the terrace overlooking Storvatnet lake (Photo 26 - Kirkeporten Camping) (see left), misty cloud had engulfed the entire valley masking out the sun; a northerly breeze made the air feel strangely chill given we were still in T-shirts from earlier. After having been sat out for breakfast in hot sun on the Nordkapp cliff-top, now with all-enveloping mist filling the valley and northerly wind shiveringly chill, we sat inside George with the heater on to prepare supper. We wondered if those camped on the Nordkapp plateau were still enjoying warm sunshine high above the level of the mist which now filled the valleys. Facilities here at Kirkeporten were some of the best of the trip with comfy common/dining room, good wi-fi signal, reasonably equipped kitchen/wash-up and heated showers with unlimited hot water, most welcome after 2 nights' wild-camping up at Nordkapp.

Journey south to Lakselv and Ifjord:  the following day as we departed to begin our drive south, we paused to photograph the sign by the vegbom listing the times of winter traffic-convoys to follow the snow plough over the fell-top to Honningsvåg (see right). The hot sun of the past 48 hours had melted much of the residual snow across the Magerøya plateau, and we passed the convoy of tour-buses bringing the morning Hurtigrute passengers for their Nordkapp outing as we began the steep descent to Honningsvåg. Emerging from the 7km long Nordkapp undersea tunnel, we headed south beyond the Repvåg turning in soft hazy sun light. A long line of sea-mist still clung to the coastline along the length of Porsanger Fjord, partly covering the huge whale-back cliff ahead through which the road tunnelled (Photo 27 - Porsanger Fjord shore-line road). Around a deep bay with its raised beach and through a short tunnel, the E69 road passed around a sharp headland under the overhanging slatey cliffs, and began the rising approach to the formidable-looking mountainous barrier ahead with the tiny tunnel-mouth at its foot. We passed a lone cyclist as he struggled up the gradient towards the Skarvberg Tunnel, and took the sharp turn into the gloom of the tunnel's mouth (see left). Through the 3km length of the tunnel and passing a herd of reindeer grazing the road-side (see below right), we continued down the coast towards Olderfjord to re-join the E6 coming in from Alta and Hammerfest.

The E6 around the southern shore of Porsanger Fjord for the 80km drive to Lakselv was better surfaced and we were able to make faster going, but not for long. A slow-moving convoy of asphalting trucks and tankers slowed our progress and, unable to pass, we crawled at a frustrating pace the rest of the way to Lakselv, winding a slow-moving way along the narrow coast road, around bays and across headlands past Stabbursnes. Streams of caravans and camping buses heading north had to pull onto the verge to allow the monster convoy of trucks to pass, and we eventually crawled into Lakselv to stock up with provisions and diesel.

At Lakselv the main E6 headed south towards Karasjok, taking we hoped all the slow lorries and tourist traffic with it, while we turned off eastwards onto Route 98. This more narrow but well-surfaced cross-country road, now almost free of traffic other than the occasional local car, headed its lonely way along the eastern shore of Porsanger Fjord. The rough scrubland was interspersed with headlands of bare, barren stone-fields where all traces of vegetation had been scoured away by flood waters. Several major watercourses descended from the vast and totally uninhabited Laksefjordvidda fell-land interior which stretched away for huge distances, cut through by the Tana River forming the border with Northern Finland. Route 98 continued north along the fjord-side, swinging inland to cross another major watercourse on a trestle-bridge to reach the hamlet of Bøselv with its Co-op store and filling station. The lonely road turned NE into the vast hinterland, gaining height gradually through birch-covered fell-land to reach a parking area by the Silfar Canyon. Although we still had a long drive ahead, we paused here, as much for the richness of the wild flora recalled from our last visit 2 years ago as for the geological phenomenon of its canyon carved through the limestone bedrock by the Bissojohka river which flowed down from its huge inland gathering area (see right) (Photo 28 - Silfar Canyon). We followed the pathway up to the brink of the canyon, spending as much time photographing the flora as the surging river (see left).

We continued the long drive, gaining further height onto the immense openness of the plateau top; on a sunny afternoon, this was indeed an awe-inspiring sight with the birch-covered fell-land and stone-fields bare of vegetation stretching away to distant horizons. We drove on mile after endless mile across the scarily vast plateau passing little traffic, with not even a reindeer for company. Beyond the watershed we began the long descent with the rivers now draining eastwards down towards the inner reaches of Laksefjord, to reach the scattered settlement of Kunes. Here by the roadside we pulled into Kunes Camping as a possible campsite for tonight. The camping area was huge and featureless, facilities were minimal and price was OTT; to cap it all, the owner's surly and take-it-or-leave-it attitude evoked an unprintable response, the gist of which was that he knew what he could do with his over-expensive prices. The irony was that this campsite was included in the ACSI listing which insisted that Kunes was inspected every year by a certain Mrs van der Holst-Spit, who clearly was a Dutch lady of little perception: to give implied recognition to such a bleak, cheerless and over-priced campsite with minimal facilities, not even a kitchen/wash-up, and an owner with a major attitude problem, spoke volumes about the meaningless value of the ACSI campsite listing; we departed towards Ifjord, and rest our case.

The road was now narrow, winding around the inner recesses of the fjord-botn towered over by craggy cliffs. We followed the local bus with its characteristic cargo hold at the rear (see left) until this turned off into one of the hamlets of the lower Lebesby commune, and continued on to the road junction at Ifjord. The little café-camping here although basic was at least welcoming and good value; we had stayed 2 years ago when in very wet weather the camping area had been a muddy quagmire. It was by now almost 6-30pm after today's long drive and, fearing the restricted camping area would be full, we booked in at 210 NOK/night and found a pleasant corner among the birch groves lower down. After the recent fine weather, there was no mud this year, just swarms of flies, but the Bagon soon dealt with these as we settled in. A couple of other VWs arrived making this a very select, albeit fly-ridden, little camping area among the birches (see right) (Photo 29 - Ifjord Camping), and we woke to a sunny morning for breakfast under the birches despite the flies. Ifjord Camping is an unpretentious little place with a basic charm and even more basic facilities, but better this than submit to rudeness and excessive prices at Kunes.

North over the Slettfjord plateau to Hopseidet:  we headed north on Route 888 which winds around the shore-line of Ifjord then alongside the main Laksefjord to Lebesby. The village gives its name to the entire commune of Lebesby whose territory covers the wholly uninhabited peninsula of Sværholthalvøya, the equally uninhabited hinterland of Laksefjordvidda which we had crossed yesterday, and the western half of the sparsely populated Nordkinnhalvøya, with the isolated settlement of Kjøllefjord as its commercial and administrative centre where we were heading today. The population of the little port of Kjøllefjord is 1,300, and that of the entire commune can be little more. Rounding the shore of the long inlet of Bekkarfjord, we reached the tiny hamlet of that name, where a large parking area and waiting room stood by the vegbom for the scheduled winter convoy runs behind the snowploughs across Nordkinn. This pass over the Slettfjell plateau to Hopseidet is one of Norway's toughest stretches of road during the snows of winter when storms rage along Finmark's Barents Sea coast. The steep, winding climb up onto the plateau begins immediately beyond Bekkarfjord, gaining height above the tree line onto the bare, exposed open fell-top. Route 888 gained more height, eventually to emerge onto the broad watershed plateau-top of Slettfjell from where waters drained on one side south and westwards into Store Torskefjord and on the other north and westwards into Mårøyfjord. This bare lunar landscape of stone-fields extended across the horizon-bound plateau, studded with small lakes and large residual snowfields, with the lonely tarmac ribbon of Route 888 undulating its sweeping course across it, the only feature breaking up the monotonous extent of this stony wilderness (see above left). We had first crossed the Slettfjell plateau in summer 2012 when dismally bleak, grey weather gave this wilderness an even more formidable appearance. Today at least, with bright sunshine lighting the snow and stone-fields and a blue sky giving lakes a brilliant azure sheen, the stony wilderness gained an illusional charm (see above right). We paused to eat our sandwiches by a parking area looking out across the limitless expanse of stone-fields, areas of snow and cobalt-blue lakes. In such weather, it was a starkly alluring landscape (Photo 30 - Slettfjell plateau). As the waters draining from lakes gathered pace into more defined watercourses beginning their descent from the plateau-top (see left), we also began the long, increasingly steep descent into a narrow defile to round onto the Hopseidet isthmus, formed by the long westward arm of Eidsfjord and an eastern inlet of Hopsfjord. This cleavage in the peninsula is still bridged at the eastern end, but only just, by a narrow neck of land which the road crosses at Hopseidet (see right). How long before this narrow land-bridge is eroded away and the 2 fjords link up to sever Nordkinn-halvøya (literally half-island) into a fully-fledged Nordkinn-øya? We paused at Hopseidet to photograph this geological oddity, where at the nearby village of Breidvik yet another German wartime atrocity had been committed in the closing days of WW2 with the pointless and unpunished murder of civilians 2 days before the May 1945 capitulation.

Over Nordkinnhalvøya plateau to Mehamn and Kjøllefjord:  the road rises steeply on the far side of the Hopseidet isthmus, climbing up onto the less severe plateau of Nordkinnhalvøya; here we paused to watch a golden plover perform its antics in the road directly in front of us to distract attention from its nearby ground-nesting mate. Lakes were bounded by cornices of deep, compacted snow, giving the appearance of mini-glaciers calving snow-bergs into the water (see left). Across the plateau-top, we continued ahead down to the Barents Sea northerly port of Mehamn, and in the outskirts of the town the graveyard was illuminated by streetlights for funerals in polar winter darkness. After a brief re-visit to Mehamn, we turned back uphill to the road junction and branched off onto Route 894 across another stretch of exposed road protected by snow fences, and began the long descent to Oksfjord to approach Kjøllefjord on the western coast.

Camping at Kjøllefjord pier:  we had first visited Kjøllefjord in 2012 (see our 2012 log) when we had used the small camping aire on the pier run by the municipality. Today we drove straight around to the pier and secured a pitch by the stone breakwater, before walking back into the little town in the warm afternoon sunshine to potter in the shops along the main street of Strandveien. Along at the far end, alongside the graveyard with its fishermen's memorial, a cruciform raised area marked all that remains of Kjøllefjord's small, original church built in 1738 and destroyed by the barbaric German occupiers in late 1944 along with the rest of the village and fishing port (see right), a fate shared by every settlement across the breadth of Finmark. How do the Norwegians, who suffered so badly during WW2 at the hands of Germans, tolerate the arrogant behaviour of latter-day Germans returning here as tourists? We walked back through the town and called in at the TIC to pay for our camping at the pier, and were greeted by a young Swiss girl; she spoke fluent English from her time in Canada and was now studying tourism at a Swiss university and doing a vac job working here in the TIC at Kjøllefjord. She really was a credit to the town with her naturally welcoming smile, charming personality and detailed knowledge about the locality which she readily shared. Since our last visit, facilities at the pier camping aire had been improved now with showers and WC as well as the power supply. With its perfect location overlooking the Hurtigrute quay and fishing harbour, this now made a camping area of which Kjøllefjord could rightly be proud (Photo 31- Kjøllefjord's pier camping aire).

The Hurtigrute at Kjøllefjord:  back around at the pier we completed settling into the quay-side camping aire, and with the time now approaching 5-00pm, the north-bound Hurtigrute was due at Kjøllefjord. We clambered up onto the breakwater, and in the distance M/S Nordkapp was just entering the bay and passing the Finnkirka Rocks (Photo 32 - Hurtigrute passing Finnkirka Rocks). The ship announced its arrival with a single blast of its horn which echoed around the bay, and swung around to dock by our camping spot at the Hurtigrute quay (Photo 33 - Hurtigrute docking at Kjøllefjord). We walked over to the quay where passengers disembarking here at Kjøllefjord were unloading their luggage, including a pet cat in its basket, and cruise-passengers were boarding a bus for a tour of the local sights. The fork lift trucks busily got to work unloading freight. Clearly all the isolated settlement's basic living needs were still delivered by Hurtigrute as they had been for over 100 years: pallet-loads of bananas, melons, flowers, kitchen and toilet rolls, bottles of coke, disposable nappies - you name it and there it was being unloaded by the bundle by the fork-lift trucks (Photo 34 - Unloading daily supplies). It was a wonderful scene of bustling but haphazard industry, with all the supplies for the Kjøllefjord supermarkets being unloaded, and local people baling up their goods for onward transportation by the coastal steamer. The boat was due to depart at 5-15pm but at 6-15 it was still in port. The bus load of passengers eventually arrived back and re-boarded, lines were released, the horn sounded, and M/S Nordkapp eased from her berth to curve gracefully out across the bay (see above right). We stood at the end of the breakwater near our camping spot and waved farewell to the passengers on the high deck as the Hurtigrute passed and swung around beyond the Finnkirka Rocks at the outer mouth of Kjøllefjord bay.

Late sun across Kjøllefjord bay and the overnight Hurtigrute:  we sat in the evening sunshine to enjoy our supper at our quay-side camp (see above left) as fishing boats from Kjøllefjord chugged back and forth (see above left). The sun declined its way across the width of the bay trailing its golden tail across the water before finally disappearing behind the northern headland which enclosed Kjøllefjord bay (Photo 35 - Evening sun over Kjøllefjord bay). In the half-light of a summer's night, we had to wake at 2-45am to greet the south-bound Hurtigrute. M/S Nordlys entered the bay and sailed around into the harbour to dock at her berth by our camp; 20 minutes later from the end of the breakwater, having watched her departure out past the Finnkirka Rocks, the ship just catching the first morning light as she sailed out to sea from the fjord (see above left), we returned to bed. Today in such perfect weather had been one of the trip's most memorably enjoyable day; camped in this peaceful setting on the pier, there was no doubt that for us this isolated but thriving little settlement of Kjøllefjord will always be a Very Special Place.

Route 98 over deserted fells to Tana Bru:  with a final farewell to Kjøllefjord we returned over the Nordkinnhalvøya fells, all the watercourses running with snow-melt which sparkled in the bright morning sunlight. Across the Hopseidet isthmus we re-crossed Slettfjord plateau with the road's tarmac ribbon stretching ahead over the broad vista of stone and boulder fields and the sun picking out every small lake and brightening what would otherwise be a desolate wilderness. Across the plateau top, the road curved around the green head of Torskedalen dropping below the tree-line to begin the winding descent to Bekkarfjord. We paused for lunch at a fjord-side lay-by looking out across the clear waters to the distant snow-covered mountainous skyline of the uninhabited Sværholthalvøya peninsula, and drove the final 30kms down to Ifjord with the narrow lane winding around slatey-rock headlands along the shore of Laksefjord. Re-joining Route 98 at Ifjord, we turned east hoping that the road construction works which had delayed us when we passed this way 2 years ago were now complete. The road, now well-surfaced with side protection, steadily gained height passing several isolated Sámi settlements, and flattened onto the broad fell-land plateau which stretched away to distant brown-green horizons. The rock through which the new road was cut had a distinctive maroon colour, recalled from the maroon mud which had covered the unsurfaced, incomplete road when we crossed these fells 2 years ago. Making good progress across this featureless fell-land wilderness, our hopes were high that the new road had been completed all the way to Tana Bru. But no: three quarters of the way across the plateau, the tarmac ended. We reached an area of road construction, the only passable way through being a track-way of dusty, unsurfaced compacted gravel. Weaving a way through this chaos of road-works and raising clouds of dust, we eventually regained poorly surfaced tarmac on a single-track road, to begin the long and winding descent to the inner reaches of Tanafjord. For the next 30 kms we bumped along endlessly on the worst surfaced narrow road around fjord inlets and over fell-scape headlands until eventually reaching the larger settlement of Rustefjelbma on the shore of the wide, sandy Tana River. Here we finally turned south on a better road along the birch-lined river down to Tana Bru.

Route 890 to Berlevåg:  after a fill-up with diesel at Tana Bru, we crossed the narrow suspension bridge over the Tana River (see above right) and following the signs for Berlevåg and Båtsfjord, we turned north again for the 30km drive along the river's eastern bank. Here the terrain was initially softer, the road passing through valley farmland and lined with birch groves, with views across the broad, shallow river flowing slowly over sand-banks. Further north, craggy cliffs towered over the road, today's bright sunlight giving the rock a more benign tone than the last time we passed this way when in dull weather these cliffs looked ominously threatening. Rounding the point beyond the final stretch of the Tana estuary, we passed through the small village of Leirpollen to reach the vegbom marking the start of the long ascent onto the 326m high Kongsfjordfjell plateau (see above left). The well-surfaced road gained height steadily up onto the fell-land which, although featureless and stretching away into the misty distance, at least here was greener and less stony than the Slettfjord plateau crossed earlier. Across the fell-top we reached the Gednje road junction where Route 891 continued ahead to Båtsfjord; we turned off towards Berlevåg across further fell-land reaching the point where the gathering waters channelled into an increasingly broad and fast-flowing watercourse cutting its way down into Kongsfjorddalen. The road and river now dropped steeply into a narrowing defile to reach the sea at Vesterbotn, and over a headland we reached the attractive little fishing port of Kongsfjord. Route 890 wound around the sandy bay of Risfjord and along the increasingly craggy shoreline, weaving through rocky headlands with their jagged upturned slatey strata and the short tunnel cut through the point (see above right). Around the sandy bay of Sandfjord with its backing of severe mountain cliffs (see right), reindeer scampered alongside us (see above left) as we approached Berlevåg lighthouse (see left), Mountain Avens flourished along the road-side, and a young fox prowled the shore-line. On a sunny afternoon there was so much to see along this wild Barents Sea coastline.

Berlevåg Pensonjat-Camping and the port of Berlevåg:  approaching Berlevåg, we turned off by the tetrapod monument around to Berlevåg Pensonjat-Camping where we had stayed on our first visit 2 years ago (see our 2012 log). As always, the Berlevåg campsite owner greeted us with a warmly friendly welcome, and insisted on helping us find a pitch looking out across to the harbour mole and Hurtigrute quay. Although weary after today's 360km drive, we walked down into the town to buy provisions at the Spar. Despite of, or perhaps because of its isolated setting out here on the Barents Sea coast, Berlevåg is a tight-knit, self-sufficient community; the sea still provides Berlevåg's major source of livelihood with fishing and fishing-support industries the town's major employers. The town is clustered around the inner harbour with its moored fishing boats, fish-processing factories and boat-repair yards, as can be seen on the Berlevåg Commune's web site. See also the Berlevåg harbour web cam, although during the winter months polar darkness will of course deny much of a view. It's a thriving community with a lively social life as can be witnessed in the Neptune pub along the harbour front. But the town is best known for the Berlevåg Men's Choir (Berlevåg Mannsangforening), made famous by Knut Erik Jensen's 2001 film Heftig og Begeistret (Cool and Crazy), based around members of the choir; this beautifully made film is available from Amazon and makes for nostalgic viewing as well as the choir's wonderful music.

Press <start> to hear the choir singing
Song of Finmark

Sorry your browser cannot play the music, but hope you enjoy our travelogue about Finmark

North- and south-bound Hurtigrute liners passing at Berlevåg and a final Midnight Sun:  Berlevåg is the only port along the Hurtigrute's route around the coast of Norway where the north- and south-bound liners can be seen passing one another. After supper that evening we walked over to the slatey headland just beyond the campsite at 9-45pm in time to see the north-bound ship approaching in the distance. M/S Finmarken turned into the entrance to Berlevåg's mole, swinging around within the outer harbour to dock at the Hurtigrute quay. 20 minutes later she pulled away as the south-bound M/S Nordkapp appeared at the gap in the mole, the same ship as we had watched yesterday unloading its cargo at Kjøllefjord and departing northward towards Mehamn. In the meantime she had journeyed around to Kirkenes and now was beginning the south-bound leg of her voyage all the way back to Bergen. The 2 ships passed, one departing, the other arriving at the entrance to the outer mole, with mutual sounding of horns (see above right) (Photo 36 - Hurtigrute liners crossing at Berlevåg). M/S Nordkapp swung around into the harbour catching broad-side-on the glowing light of the full evening sun from the western sky (Photo 37 - Evening sun on Hurtigrute).

Midnight Sun over Berlevåg:  an hour later we returned to the headland to witness the clock-time Midnight Sun shining along the horizon above Berlevåg. This evening the sky had a misty haziness and although the sun was clear with no cloud, our photos had a golden orange glow (Photo 38 - Midnight Sun over Berlevåg) (see left and right). Despite the midges swarming around our heads, we went back over to the headland to take more photos at 1-00am (true midnight) since tonight would be the final opportunity this year to see the Midnight Sun in Norway. By the time we were back over at George to turn in after another late night, the wind had whipped up, having turned through 90° to be blowing strongly from the west.

A day around Berlevåg's fishing harbour:  last night's wind change signalled the forecast change in the settled weather pattern, and we woke to a heavily overcast sky and chill temperature for our day in Berlevåg; the sunny spell we had enjoyed over the past week had come to an end. After a morning in camp, we walked around the fishing harbour (Photo 39 - Berlevåg fishing harbour) (see right) and tried to buy fish at one of the fish-processing plants, but by this stage of the day all of today's catch had been packed and dispatched; we should have to return in the morning. Along Storgata (Main St) we turned off around Sjøgata (Sea St) to explore the northern arm of the harbour mole. Berlevåg harbour's outer mole which protects the haven from invasive Arctic storms, was constructed using huge reinforced-concrete interlocking tetrapods; because of its importance as the durable solution to the harbour mole's construction, the tetrapod has become Berlevåg's unofficial emblem. A track led past the remains of a tramway cut through the slatey rock which had been used to carry stone from the inland quarries for earlier construction of the mole, before tetrapods finally enabled storm-proof construction of the outer harbour wall in the 1960s. We walked out along the northern mole to examine its structure: even those sections constructed of reinforced concrete showed wear and tear damage caused by fearsome winter storm lashing from the Barents Sea. Parts of the wall had been repaired with huge chunks of rock set neatly in place like some modern Cyclopean wall, while the outer section of the mole was constructed of tetrapods dropped randomly into place, their concrete legs interlocking to give a storm resistant structure to the mole (Photo 40 - Berlevåg's tetrapod harbour mole). From the outer end of the mole, it was just short distance across the harbour entrance to where we were stood last evening watching the Hurtigrute and Midnight Sun; we could also look back towards the town with Berlevåg church up on the hill-side (see left). Back round into the town, we passed the Sangernes Hus (The Singers' House), headquarters of the Berlevåg Men's Choir, watching to see if we recognised any passing elderly gent from the film Heftig og Begeistret. Berlevåg's war memorial next to the building commemorated local men who died at the hands of the Germans in the slave labour camp at Kirkenes. A sign by the inner fishing harbour forbade Snø-tømming (Snow tipping), an Arctic anti-social practice in a small community.

Future of the Hurtigrute service and significance for isolated coastal communities:  we cooked our supper in the campsite's excellent kitchen and by the time we had eaten, it was approaching 9-45pm, time for this evening's arrival of the north-bound Hurtigrute. Our past experience was that you could set your watch by the Hurtigrute's punctuality, but this year we had seen examples of late departures. Tonight M/S Polarlys swung into the outer harbour at 10-30pm (see left), 30 minutes late, and quickly unloaded at the quay as the south-bound steamer M/S Finmarken on its return from Kirkenes waited at mole's entrance gap. The 2 ship's passed with the usual fanfare of horns, but in tonight's grey gloom there would be no golden glow as the steamers turned in the harbour. The following morning we took the opportunity to ask the campsite owner about rumours of the Hurtigrute Company's financial difficulties and threats of reducing the coastal steamer service from daily to 3 times a week. This apparently was a continuous concern, more so recently with the company's bean counters using the threat of service reduction in their political bargaining over the annual government subsidy. For small, remote communities like Berlevåg, this was a cause of major concern if the steamer service called less frequently. Not only were they dependent on the Hurtigrute for freight delivery and tourism, but also financially from the harbour fees paid each time the Hurtigrute docked. The Commune sets its annual budget on the assumption of reliable income from harbour dues; but with increased frequency, reasons are found for the steamer not to call, eg timetable delays or adverse weather, meaning reduced income for the Commune. Berlevåg's fish processing plants now use road transport for exporting millions of tons annually of cod, haddock and halibut across Europe. The Hurtigrute Company has invested heavily in new ships, targeting its business on the cruise market which has not developed as expected, and is now losing money. Other major maritime carriers and the tax-paying Norwegian public resent the fact that Hurtigrute receives huge public-funded subsidies to deliver a service which it is now increasingly failing to deliver. Despite its traditional image, Hurtigrute is now facing an uncertain future with major implications for Norway's isolated coastal communities.

This had been another happy stay at the excellent Berlevåg Pensonjat-Camping and we had gained further new insights into the tough life here on the outer limits of the Barents Sea. Berlevåg is indeed another of our Very Special Places, and it was with great reluctance that we packed to depart the following morning to begin today's long drive, bidding farewell to Berlevåg as we passed the symbolic tetrapod memorial (see left).

A fishy souvenir from Berlevåg:  before leaving however, we called in at the fish processing factory of Berle Fisk down at the harbour side, to see if we could buy a cod. The place was a hive of activity with today's catch being unloaded from a boat at the quay and a fork-lift truck transferring crates brimming full of fish (see right). The owner was busily negotiating a sale on his mobile phone: 'Yes, I can deliver a load of haddock today'. We explained our request to buy just one fish, and learning we were English, he explained he was speaking to one of his customers in Hull; cod and haddock caught today Saturday off Berlevåg would be on sale in Humberside (formerly UK's foremost fishing port!) by next Thursday, delivered by refrigerated truck. He led us into a small quay-side warehouse where fish were being graded and packed, and picked out a large haddock for us - a present from Berlevåg, he said grandly, refusing to take any payment (Photo 41 - Berlevåg haddock). His accent indicated he was French; Ludovic Besnard was from Rennes in Brittany, and with his business partner now ran a fish export business here in Berlevåg. We thanked him profusely for his generosity, and wishing him continued success, packed our haddock to set off on today's long drive to the Varanger Fjord and Vadsø.

Return over the fells to Tana Bru:  back along the coast road past the lighthouse, the road was again littered with fragments of sea urchin shells from gulls cracking them open for their tasty flesh; we were more concerned about the risk of puncture! Past the little port of Kongsfjord and up Kongsfjorddalen to the road junction at Gednje, we diverted for a brief re-visit to Båtsfjord. Across the barren stone-fields of the 358m high Båtsfjordfjell still with much residual deep snow in watercourse gullies and smaller pools still frozen and snow-covered, we descended to the small industrial port of Båtsfjord. The place has such a down-at-heel air compared with Berlevåg, with grubby looking freighters filling the docks and engineering plants lining the waterfront. We shopped at the Rema supermarket but there was little else to detain us here, and we began the long re-ascent to cross the high fells again. With little traffic, we made good progress back to Gednje across the greener fell-land for the descent past the tree-line towards the Tana estuary at Leirpollen for the final 50kms along the Tana valley to Tana Bru (see above left) (Photo 42 - Tana Bru).

Varanger Fjord, Vadsø and Vestre Jakobselv Camping:  along at Skiippagurra, where the road to Nuorgam across the Finnish border branched off, we continued ahead on E6/E75 over the fell-land watershed. Here the birches again were severely damaged by Autumnal Moth caterpillar defoliation with significant areas of dead, blacked trees. Down to Varangerbotn, we continued eastwards along the north shore of Varanger Fjord, the sun now bright and the clear sky giving the fjord a warm blue colour. 30kms along we reached Vestre Jakobselv with its fish-drying A-frames now standing empty along the fjord-side. Before turning off to the campsite, we continued along for a brief re-visit to Vadsø (see our 2012 log). The town was quiet at 5-30pm on a Saturday afternoon, and after a walk over on the island to the old air-ship mast which still stood as a reminder of Vadsø's early 20th century association with Polar exploration, we returned to Vestre Jakobselv and turned off at the church to the campsite. As on our last visit in 2012, we received a warmly hospitable welcome from the owners of this excellent campsite at Vestre Jakobselv; the charge was still a very reasonable 200 NOK/night including showers and sauna, wi-fi and free use of the washing/drying machine which we put to immediate use. To our surprise, the camping area was almost empty and we settled in (see above right) to relax with an early evening beer in the bright sunshine. But duty called: the Happy Haddock, our fishy gift from Berlevåg, lurked in its bag awaiting the filleting knife. Fortunately, being a popular salmon fishing campsite, Vestre Jakobselv has a fish-gutting bench and sink among its facilities, so armed with an array of knives, Paul took the haddock over for filleting (Photo 43 - The Happy Haddock). But unlike cod, haddock does not yield readily to the filleting knife; it was more a case of butchery than skilful filleting, but despite the swarming midges, Paul managed to extract the hefty backbone and slice the fish into 4 sizeable fillets, hosing down the bench of the messy debris. 2 of the fillets were prepared for cooking this evening, and the others bagged up for the fridge for tomorrow's supper. Poached in Hollandaise sauce, the haddock was delicious (see left), with happy memories of our stay at Berlevåg and the enterprising and generous Breton fish merchant at Berle Fisk with his company's apt motto Sjømat som begeistrer (Seafood with enthusiasm).

Mortensnes nature reserve at Varanger Fjord:  with just a 2 hour drive around to Kirkenes the following day, we had time for a walk around the Mortensnes nature reserve hoping to see some of wealth of Varanger flora and bird-life seen when we were last here 2 years ago. The low fell-land overlooking the grey Varanger Fjord was closely cropped by sheep but among the Crowberry and Juniper ground cover we found Dwarf Cornel, Chickweed Wintergreen and Mountain Avens, and down by the fjord shore-line today's floral highlight, small Cloudberry plants with their early, unripe fruits just forming (see left). A chill wind was blowing off Varanger Fjord as we headed back, and here we found tiny Twin-flowers timidly sheltering among the rocky out-crops, Common Wintergreen in globular pearly-pink bud, insectivorous Butterworts, Alpine Bartsia, Lingonberry flowers and a small patch of Bearberry with large unripe fruits. A Northern Wheatear stood 'bobbing' on a high rock demanding our attention with its sharp 'chak-chak' alarm call (see above right), and higher up a Lapwing trotted across the flat fell-side making its 'pee-wit' cry. Along to Nesseby we turned off down to the church which stands prominently out on the isolated peninsula, one of the few Finmark churches to have survived WW2 German barbarism. Out along the peninsula we hoped to see Red-necked Phalaropes, a summer visitor to the ponds here. There was one lone Phalarope swimming out on the algae infested pond, and Ringed Plovers were wading and pecking out on the mud flats (see right). It had been a rewarding morning of Arctic wild-life watching here at Varanger.

Kirkenes and its indifferent campsite:  We returned to Varangerbotn and followed E6 around the end of the fjord and out along the southern shore. With little traffic we were able to make good progress but grey, misty conditions denied any distant views across the fjord. Beyond Gamvik the road turned inland cutting through bare, craggy rock across grandly mountainous terrain and passing lakes filling narrow valleys. Around the Bugøyfjord bay, E6 crossed fell-land scrub but the birches here were even more caterpillar damaged with large areas of dead, blackened trees. The road descended to Neiden where, after a pause at the Skoltefossen waterfalls by the road junction with Route 893 (which we should follow later into Finland), we continued on E6 along the shore of Neidenfjord. Gaining height over the plateau-top past Kirkenes airfield and military base, we descended to Kirkenes Maggdalen Camping. Our recollections of this unimpressive campsite were not at all favourable: a large, featureless and overcrowded gravelled camping area, limited and grubby facilities, over-expensive prices and indifferent attitude from the owners; nothing had changed in the 2 years since we had last been here. Unfortunately being the only campsite close to Kirkenes, there is no other choice: despite our reservations we were forced to stay, and were greeted in an offensively offhand manner by the girl at reception.

Kirkenes and its dependence on cross-border trade with Russia: glad to be leaving the following morning, we drove into Kirkenes which we had first visited 2 years ago (see our 2012 log). We had been surprised then how close relations were between northern Arctic Norwegian communities such as Kirkenes and Vardø with Russia whose border is just 12 kms away. The imposition of sanctions against Russia, resulting from Putin's aggressive stance against westward-leaning Ukraine and illegal occupation of the Crimea, is of course is supported by Norway, a NATO member whose former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg is now NATO Secretary-General. A BBC report of October 2014 however cited resentment felt by the Norwegian northern townships at their national government's support for EU sanctions and their impact on cross-border trade with Russia on which they now depend economically. Having parked by the Sør Varanger municipal offices opposite the Russian consulate, we walked along Dr Wesselsgate (all the street names in Kirkenes are dual language Norwegian and Cyrillic-Russian - see left) to buy a detailed map of the Pasvik Valley at the bookshop. The jovial gent in the TIC at Torget told us more about the re-opening of the Bjørnevatn iron ore mines by an Australian concern: whose money was behind this venture was a mystery, but local rumour reported it was Russian or Chinese financed. It still however provided some 500 jobs, but these days labour shortages in Kirkenes with its aging population meant that many workers were attracted here from Finland, Sweden and the Baltic States by the high wages. The same was true for employment of doctors and nurses in the local hospital. Down at the waterfront, a number of new commercial enterprises had developed over the last 2 years, perhaps an indication of Kirkenes' buoyant economy even if this was dependent on cross-border trade with neighbouring Russia. A group of Russian trawlers was moored at the docks, attracted to Kirkenes by the better price they could get here for their catch than at their home port of Murmansk (see above right). Bulk iron ore ships were also being loaded at the docks with ore brought from the Bjørnevatn mines by convoys of lorries. The Hurtigrute quay along at the far end represented the symbolic northern terminus of the E6, the national highway which we had followed northwards for much of its way up the length of Norway from Oslo. Passengers loaded with shopping bags were scurrying back to re-board M/S Richard With, which was waiting to depart southward from the Hurtigrute's coastal route's northern terminus (see above left). Earlier we had seen this vessel departing from Sortland on the Vesterålen island of Langøya.

The Russian border at Grense Jakobselv:  leaving Kirkenes, we turned off eastwards on E105 following signs for Murmansk towards the Russian border (see left). On the roadside by the Pasvikelva bridge we again photographed specimens of Moor-king (Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum) (Photo 44 - Moor-king), recalling this as the only location we had ever seen this rare, brashly coloured yellow and purple, snap-dragon flower. This new section of road, developed between Kirkenes and the Russian border at Storskog to encourage cross-border trade, had been completed from the chaos of 2 years ago, and a short distance along we paused to photograph a lone reindeer grazing roadside vegetation (see right) (Photo 45 - Grazing reindeer). Reaching the Storskog border-crossing, we paused for photographs by the sign (Photo 46 - Russian border) at what is the only legal land border crossing from Norway to Russia, and then turned off onto Route 886, the minor road leading out to Grense Jakobselv.

The border zone at Grense Jakobselv on the Barents Sea:  we bumped along the poorly surfaced lane alongside Jarfjord and past farmsteads to the valley's main village of Tarnet. Just beyond the winter-closure vegbom, the lane began the climb up onto Jarfjordfjell, described on a sign as 'Norges eldste fjell' (Norway's oldest fell). Whatever the authenticity of this claim, even in this afternoon's bright sunlight this was certainly some of the wildest terrain we had crossed, the only sign of life being the few fishing shacks along the lakes. Closed between October and April, this wild stretch of road to Grense Jakobselv is only accessible in winter by snow-mobile. Past a fearsomely craggy line of mountains, the bumpy road rounded a large lake and over a shoulder began the descent to the insignificant Jakobselva river which forms the border between Northern Norway and Russia. Residual Cold War neuroses still abound here, doubtless compounded by Putin's aggressive support for Eastern Ukrainian rebels and Norway's vigilance over its Schengen border. The frontier line along the centre of the Jakobselva steam is marked by mutually opposing pairs of border marker-posts, yellow on the Norwegian side (see right) and maroon/green on the Russian bank. Descending to the river, we passed the Norwegian military border-patrol post guarding the border zone, with its information panels giving dire warning of the severe penalties for infringement, deliberate or otherwise, of the many forbidden activities including long-lens photography of Russian military installations. Passing summer cabins we followed the unsurfaced lane for the final 10kms alongside the river and border-line, and paused at one of the border-markers, rather more nervously this year given heightened international tensions with Russia, to photograph the opposing pairs of border posts with a Russian military watch-tower on the hill opposite (Photo 47 - Border marker-posts). Across in the trees on the Russian bank you could just make out traces of the former electric fence from the period of the Cold War.

Continuing along to Grense Jakobselv, we paused to look across the river's sandy estuary (see above left) towards a more ominous Russian surveillance station up on the hillside festooned with radio aerials and radar scanner. The mid-19th century Oscar II Chapel set alongside the lane was this year covered with scaffolding for repair works; the chapel dates from more relaxed days, pre-Stalin, pre-Putin, when its presence alone was thought sufficient to deter Russian intrusion. Along at the road's end, the parking area was almost empty and we were able to park by the jetty to photograph the sun sparkling across the Barents Sea against the dark mountainous backdrop (Photo 48 - Barents Sea) (see left). Cormorants flitted across the bay as we clambered up onto the headland's flat rocks and close-cropped turf to scan the peaceful blue Barents Sea for any sign of the Beluga Whales seen on our last visit 2 years ago; but none were visible today. The headland was covered with purple Sea Pea flowers, Roseroot and Stitchwort, and beautiful Grass of Parnassus still in bud. We spent time photographing the wild flora and seascape, and drinking in the salty sea air at this wonderfully peaceful and remote setting, ever conscious that just across the sandy estuary the eyes of Russian border guards may be observing us through powerful binoculars. With mutual suspicion however they also were being scanned by the presence of a NATO radar station high on the hill above us (see above right).

Here on the Russian border at Grense Jakobselv, we had reached the furthest distant point of our 2014 travels. We should now begin the long return journey south, passing initially through NE Finland at Ivalo, Inari, Karigasniemi and Enontekiö, through Northern Sweden at Karesuando and Kiruna, and back into Northern Norway at Narvik to pick up the E6 highway again. But first we should divert into the Pasvik valley, that remote and curiously anomalous southward projecting salient of Norwegian territory, wedged between the Russian Oblast of Murmansk on the Petsamo peninsula near the metal smelting town of Nikel forcibly purloined from Finland by Stalin's USSR in 1944 because of its mineral wealth, and the remote NE area of Finland around Lake Inarijärvi. But all of that is for our next edition, to be published shortly.

Next edition to be published quite soon

Sheila and Paul

Published:  10 December 2014

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