|*** FINLAND 2012 - WEEKS 10~12 ***|
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CAMPING IN FINLAND and LAPLAND 2012 - Finnish Lapland, Kirkenes, Varanger Fjord and the River Teno/Tana borderlands of Arctic Norway (Finmark) :
There is a refreshing sense of nostalgic reminiscence in writing up this continuing retrospective account of our summer 2012 travels in Lapland in the depths of a gloomy British winter ....
Before heading north towards Finland's northern border and crossing into Arctic Norway, we diverted SW from Inari for a day's walking in the Lemmenjoki National Park which covers a huge area of pristine forest wilderness stretching across Northern Lapland towards NW Norway. 30 kms along the Lemmenjoki valley with its distant vistas of high fell country, a single-track lane brought us to the remote reindeer herding settlement of Njurkulahti. From the parking area, a way-marked nature trail led alongside the fenced area of the local Sámi Reindeer Association which grazes some 9,000 animals in the northern Lemmenjoki forests. Passing through delightful forests where the pines were hung with bearded lichen on which the reindeer feed, the path led steeply up onto a startlingly impressive esker-ridge the embankment sides falling some 150 feet down to the river (Photo 1 - Glacial esker-ridge in Lemmenjoki National Park).
As we threaded our way along the narrow crest of the esker, we startled a reindeer which rushed off into the forest. Descending the far end of the ridge, the path circled back undulating past kettle-holes formed where sediment had built up around huge melting blocks of ice left by the retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. Valleys sides were graced by tiny delicate Twin-flowers growing in profusion along the banks of a dry stream bed (Photo 2 - Twin-flowers), and the return path passed through a virgin forest of 400 year old pines. Dodging the reindeer along the approach lane (see left), we returned to Inari to continue our northward journey to Kaamanen. Here we were welcomed with smiling hospitality at the Jokitörm Hostel-Camping by the couple who for 15 years have kept this delightful campsite; it was established here on the banks of the Kaamasjoki by her father whose ingenious wood carvings still grace the site, including a crocodile carved from the trunk of a dead pine tree. That evening, after an apposite and filling supper of reindeer stew, we sat on the river bank looking out across the fells with another unhampered view of the clear western sky and the Midnight Sun.
Throughout Finnish Lapland we had seen such an unparalleled wealth of fascinating wild flora that we have published with this edition a separate gallery of our wild flora photographs: the Wild Flora of Finnish Lapland
The following morning, we turned north-east onto the narrow but well-surfaced Route 971 heading towards the Norwegian border and the northernmost port of Kirkenes (see left). Passing alongside the spreading Lake Inari, mile after lonely mile of empty pine and birch wilderness, small lakes and barren boulder fields, we eventually approached the settlement of Sevittijárvi. The village was founded in 1949 to relocate Skolt Sámi displaced when the Soviets forcibly annexed the mineral-rich Petsamo peninsula after WW2. The Skolts had the choice of remaining in USSR in the Kola peninsula where they had lived a semi-nomadic life-style for generations, fishing and herding their reindeer, or being relocated to Finland; the majority chose to up and move. But along with all the disruptive traumas of war, they faced prejudice from local Finnish Sámi seeming so alien with their unintelligible Russian-sounding language. The Finnish government eventually funded construction of homes, school and church at Sevittijárvi in this remote corner on the shores of Lake Inari where they could rebuild their lives. Some 300 Skolt Sámi live there now although the population is aging as the younger generation move away in search of work or more attractive city life; reindeer herding and lake fishing are still the predominant occupations.
Reaching Sevittijárvi, or Če'vetjäu'rr as it is written in Skolt Sámi (see left), we parked by the church to visit the Perinnetalo Skolt Sámi museum, located in one of the original wooden housing units built to re-house the Skolts in 1952. We were greeted by a delightful local lady who talked with us with open frankness about the difficulties of life here for the displaced families and the area's isolated remoteness and lack of opportunities; the road from Inari which we had taken was only tarmaced in 1970 and a photo showed it as a rutted mud track before that. Many of the Skolts no longer speak their native language and even fewer can write it, although Skolt is now taught in the local school with encouragement to keep alive old traditions. The museum's display panels told the tragically moving story of the Skolts' enforced upheaval from their traditional homelands and resettlement around Nellim and Sevittijárvi in NE Finland; displays of photos and memorabilia illustrated traditional life-style following their migrating reindeer herds and their winter Lapp villages. The Skolt Sámi had originally been Christianised by Russian Orthodox monks, and they had brought their Orthodox faith with them on being forcibly relocated in NE Finland. Just along the lane was the Orthodox wooden church built with the new village in 1952 (Photo 3 - Orthodox church of St Triphon at Sevittijárvi). The iconostasis included the icon of the church's patron saint St Triphon whose festival is celebrated by the Skolts in August (Photo 4 - Iconostasis at Sevittijárvi Orthodox church) and the churchyard was filled with grave-mounds marked with 2-barred Orthodox crosses and covered with richly growing lichen as if cultivated (Photo 5 - Lichen-covered Orthodox graves in Sevittijárvi churchyard). We now understood the notice on the church gate asking visitors to close the gate; reindeer would have a feast in here! Individual graves echoed the Skolts' poignant history: born in Petsamo (now Russia) 1909, died in Ivalo 2004. Saddened by the emotive experience of visiting Sevittijárvi and learning something of lives and a whole culture disrupted by war, we drove on northwards amid this magnificent boulder-strewn lakeland landscape (Photo 6 - Lakeland landscape and reindeer at Jääjärvi), passing another dual-language signpost at Jääjärvi with its curious Skolt equivalent name Jiốŋŋjäu'rr (see left).
20 kms on and we reached Näätämö, the last Finnish village before the Norwegian border, nothing more than a couple of mini-markets and a filling station doing a brisk cross-border trade with Norwegians seeking better prices than in their own country. As might be expected in a Skolt Sámi settlement, a small herd of reindeer was browsing around the car park (Photo 7 - Reindeer herd at Näätämö village). Facing Norwegian food prices for the next 5 weeks, we also stocked up before leaving Finland. Just beyond we paused briefly at the Finnish~Norwegian frontier, nothing more than a reindeer-proof fence and cattle grid to prevent cross-border reindeer transit, before we ourselves crossed into Finmark (see right). Across the open border, the nature of the terrain changed with dramatic suddenness becoming more open scrub-covered fell land with scarcely a tree in sight. The road followed the fast-flowing Neiden River and at the junction with the main trans-Finmark Route E6, the wide river dropped with dramatic bravura over the magnificent waterfalls of Skoltefossen (Photo 8 - Skoltefossen waterfalls at Neiden). Our original plan had been to stay here at Neiden but finding no campsite, we pressed on towards Kirkenes. Around the shores of the broad Neidenfjorden with its sweeping vistas of high, rocky and bleakly treeless fells, even on a sunny afternoon the landscape seemed so alien; we were already missing Finland's enclosed pine forests. Over high headlands, we turned into Kirkenes Camping Maggdalen, thankful that it was open after today's long drive. The owners were welcoming but prices were over-inflated and the gravelled camping area bleakly cheerless, overcrowded and over-noisy, so different from Finland's peaceful campsites.
Norway's Meteorological Institute weather forecast (simply enter the town/city name in the search box) proved invaluable during our stay in Arctic Norway, and enabled us to coincide forecast rain with a well-needed day in camp to catch up with mundane jobs and writing. The following day's bright and sunny weather was however perfect for exploring Norway's far north-easterly border areas with neighbouring Russia out at the remote settlement of Grense Jaobselv. Across the Pasvikelva River which flows from Inari Lake out to the Barents Sea and following road signs to Murmansk, we took Route E105 towards the border-control point at Storskog/Boris Gleb, the only land border crossing point between Norway and Russia 16kms from Kirkenes. Road improvements were in progress to encourage increased cross-border trade following closure of the iron ore mines on which Kirkenes' economy previously had depended. Although pedestrian traffic was forbidden within the border-crossing area, we were able to take our photos by the 'End of Schengen' sign (Photo 9 - Norway's border-crossing into Russia at Boris Gleb). Turning off onto the narrow and roughly tarmaced Route 886, we threaded our way along the shores of Jarfjorden passing a surprising number of isolated farmsteads and the school at Jarfjord village which serves these isolated communities. From the appropriately named settlement of Vintervallen, the onwards single-track lane, closed October~April and only accessible by snow-mobile, crossed the final 30 kms of spectacularly wild fell-scape before dropping down to the Jakobselv stream which forms the final border strip between Norway and Russia. Here warning signs listed penalties for illicit photography and the severity of border surveillance made it sound a forbidding place (see right).
The final 10kms of now unsurfaced lane led alongside the stream where the frontier was marked by regular border posts, yellow on the Norwegian bank and red/green on the far Russian side. We pulled in by an opposing pair of border posts, overlooked by a Russian watchtower on the opposite hillside. Risking a surreptitious photo, we imagined high-powered binoculars (or worse!) trained on us viewing suspiciously our intruding camera lens (Photo 10 - Russian watchtower overlooking border-markers at Grense Jakobselv); it was a truly eerie image, redolent of Cold War xenophobia. The lane continued along a broad, flat valley hemmed in on both sides of the border by craggy cliffs to emerge by the coast at the tiny settlement of Grense Jakobselv where the stream discharges into the Barents Sea. High on the fell-side above the settlement stands the oddly incongruous neo-Gothic King Oskar II's Chapel (see left) built in 1869 as a non-aggressive deterrent for Russian vessels fishing illegally in Norwegian waters. Nowadays a Russian watchtower above the beach surveys the border, matched by a Norwegian NATO observation post high on the cliffs above the little harbour, the 2 nations peering and radar-scanning each other with their surveyance equipment in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion. Alongside the chapel the small and peaceful graveyard contains Norwegian, Russian and Sámi burials with both Lutheran and Orthodox headstones and crosses. The road ends at the tiny fishing anchorage of Grense Jakobselv (Photo 11 - Grense Jakobselv with Russia on far side of bay). Under today's largely clear sky, the Arctic Ocean looked an azure blue and deceptively peaceful, and viewed from the stone jetty, the western sun sparkled across the sound silhouetting the outline of craggy headlands (Photo 12 - Barents Sea from Grense Jakobselv fishing anchorage ). From the flat rocks of the eastward facing coastline, the sun also lit the broad sandy beaches by the mouth of the Jakobselv stream which marked the border, and some distance out in the Barents Sea white Beluga whales bobbed up from the ocean. Closer at hand among the turf of the shoreline we found beautiful specimens of Arctic Grass of Parnassus flowers (Photo 13 - Arctic Grass of Parnassus). We had been so fortunate to enjoy the Arctic setting of the Barents Sea shoreline in the far borderlands outpost of Grense Jakobselv in such calm weather.
The fine weather continued for our day in the port of Kirkenes, the northern terminus of the Hurtigruten coastal steamers whose 12 boats combine to provide a daily service in both directions from Bergen to Kirkenes, calling in at 35 ports on the 6 day voyage around the Norwegian coast. Not only is the Hurtigruten (literally 'Express Journey') a popular tourist cruise on this magnificent route, more significantly it has for more than a century provided an essential year-round delivery lifeline of both freight, essential supplies, mail and passengers, linking all the isolated coastal communities at which it calls as we were to witness later in our Arctic Norway travels; sea access is simply so much more practicable than the extended journey by road to the distant settlements around Norway's northern coast. You can hop from port to port: prices are not cheap, but bicycles travel free. Visit the Hurtigruten web site for details. We were to see much of the Hurtigruten over the next 4 weeks, but today at Kirkenes docks, we had our first sighting as one of the Hurtigruten vessels, M/S Finnmarken, awaited its passengers who drifted back with their bags of souvenirs to begin the southward cruise (Photo 14 - Southbound Hurtigruten M/S Finnmarken leaving Kirkenes). Around the other side of the docks, quays were lined with Russian trawlers which get better prices for their catch here than at Murmansk or Archangel. Reflecting Kirkenes' borderlands position, the number of Russian ships moored at the docks and Russian voices heard in the town, all the street names and signs were in dual language - Norwegian and Cyrillic-Russian (see below).
The Sřr-Varanger region with the ice-free port of Kirkenes as its main town was jointly occupied by Norway and Russia until 1926 when the current borders between these 2 countries and Finland were agreed. In 1906 iron ore had been discovered at nearby Bjřrnvatn, and Kirkenes grew wealthy from the extraction and smelting of iron by the A/S Sydvaranger Company, supplying steel for munitions in WW1. Early in WW2 the Germans fortified Kirkenes to seize the iron ore mines and the ice-free port with its strategic position close to Murmansk through which the Allies were supplying USSR with war materials. Over 100,000 German troops garrisoned the town which became the target of constant Russian bombing raids; after Malta, Kirkenes was the most heavily bombed place in WW2 with over 320 air raids. The civilian population took shelter in bunkers under the town and in mine tunnels. The German attempt to invade USSR from the north to capture Murmansk stalled in the Arctic winter of 1941 leading to an exhausting war of attrition with 1000s killed in the freezing temperatures. In October 1944 the Red Army 'liberated' what was left of the town after the retreating Germans had torched any buildings not already destroyed by Soviet bombing. Rebuilt after the war with US Marshall Plan aid, Kirkenes continued to supply iron and steel to much of Europe, growing prosperous again until the mines became economically unviable and closed in 1996 threatening the future of this remote and once prosperous community which is now trying to re-establish its economy through cross-border trade with post-communist Russia.
On a bright sunny morning, Kirkenes seemed a surrealistically lively little town and we walked along its main street. At the central square we found the library to consult their free internet for the weather forecast; a monument in the centre of the square commemorated the town's womenfolk's efforts to survive wartime bombing (see left). Beyond the Andersgrotta wartime air raid shelter, now open as a tourist attraction, a more grotesque memorial statue recalled the Red Army's October 1944 liberation of Kirkenes. Positioned at the highest point of the town overlooking the port, the military statue's plinth was decorated with a wreathe in the red-white-blue colours of the Russian Federation (see right). From here at the crest of the hill, we watched today's south-bound Hurtigruten depart from Kirkenes port to begin its long voyage back around the Norwegian coast to Bergen. Back down through the town, we called in at Kirkenes' trim modern Lutheran church built in 1959 to replace that destroyed in WW2 (Photo 15 - Kirkenes' 1959 Lutheran Church). By the lake on the outskirts of the town, we had to visit Kirkenes' major attraction the Sřr-Varanger Grenseland (Borderland) Museum which is dedicated to the history of the region, its iron-ore mining industry and its people. The main exhibition gives emphasis to the impact wartime bombing, with multi-lingual texts describing local peoples' moving recollections of the horrific events. The centrepiece was a Soviet Ilyushin 'Sturmovik ground attack fighter-bomber, the terrifying aircraft which had led the Soviet attacks on German-occupied Kirkenes. This particular plane had crash-landed in a nearby lake, was recovered in the 1980s and presented by the Russian restorers to the museum (Photo 16 - Soviet Ilyushin Sturmovik fighter-bomber at Kirkenes Borderlands Museum). Upstairs the exhibition on the Sydvaranger mining industry around which Kirkenes' economy had flourished was haphazardly arranged with no English commentary, with the disappointing result that we learnt little of this key aspect of the town's history. Before leaving Kirkenes, we returned to the dockland area where modern supermarkets had developed on land formerly occupied by demolished mining industry buildings; this was our first experience of food shopping since entering Norway, and after 3 months' familiarity with Finnish, it meant relearning food terms and brand names.
Before setting off from Kirkenes on the next stage of our journey, we wanted to make a foray into the Pasvik valley, the curious narrow salient of Norway which projects southwards wedged between Finland and Russia. The narrow Route 885 was busy with quarry trucks hauling waste rock from the endless spoil-heaps which still surround the former mining town of Bjřrnvatn for shipping away as road building aggregate. There was little to see of the former iron ore mines except the spoil heaps and rusting machinery. The poorly surfaced lane continued along the Pasvik valley alongside the River Pasvikelv which forms the border with Russia. After some 50kms through increasingly Finland-like pine forests we reached the turning for Hřyde 96, a prominent hill which had during the Cold War been the site of a NATO watch-tower for monitoring the neighbouring USSR. From this lookout point, we gazed through binoculars with a mixture of fascination and abhorrence across the forests and border-river at the distant bleak Russian mineral mining town of Nikel. This area was the Petsamo peninsula, forcibly annexed from Finland by the Soviets after WW2 to exploit the mineral deposits; it was from this region that the Skolt Sámi had been displaced. Through binoculars we could make out row upon row of dismal tower blocks and smelting works whose chimneys belched out dense pollutant which hung as a smog over this remote town, connected to mother Russia by a single railway line (Photo 17 - Soviet mineral-smelting town of Nikel).
Finally leaving the Kirkenes region, we returned westwards past Neiden, making good progress along the main Route E6 across scrub-covered empty hills with wide vistas to the south and west across the vast distances of bleak and cheerless fell-scape. Keeping pace with the Kirkenes~Varangerbotn service bus which stopped at each isolated farmstead, we passed along the southern shore of the Varanger Fjorden inlet, looking out over the wide body of water to the distant north shore where we should camp tonight. The road rounded the far end of the fjord to reach the surprisingly large and scattered settlement of Varangerbotn where the Co-op mini-market and filling station clustered around the milestone road junction where the E6 joined the main east~west E75 road (Photo 18 - Meeting of roads at Varangerbotn looking along Varangerfjorden). Setting off along the fjord's north shore, we passed a number of red-painted wooden dwellings scattered along the shoreline many flying the Sámi flag as on the masthead of this edition. This was a truly glorious view looking along the fjord to the villages of Nyborg and Nesseby where the white church stood prominently on the spit of land (see left). The road hugged the shoreline with the jagged fellside rocks rising to the left, and westward the afternoon sun amid dramatic clouds sparkling along the waters of the fjord. After 30 kms we passed the fjord-side wooden fish-drying frames on the approach to the large village of Vestre Jakobselv set at the mouth of the Jakobselv River which drains much of the bleak vidda fell-land of northern Varanger. Just beyond the modern church (built post-war to replace yet another victim of German barbarism), a side lane led along to the welcoming campsite which is popular with Finns here to fish salmon in the local river. The helpful hospitality, reasonable prices, free washing/drying machine and wi-fi very much commend the campsite.
Vestre Jakobselv has a sizeable fishing harbour enclosed by a mole where the river's estuary flows into the fjord (Photo 19 - Fishing harbour at Vestre Jakobselv). Here the local fishing fleet was moored and an old wooden boat propped up on the harbour side (see right). But of greater interest were the wooden net-drying frames and huge wooden fish-hanging racks stretched out along the shoreline (see left). Although most of the catch is now taken to Vadsř for freezing, in the spring time torske (cod) and sarthe are still hung on the racks to dry in the sun and wind in the traditional manner; we recalled hearing dried fish hanging on such racks clattering in the wind in Iceland many years ago.
The following morning we drove along to the fishing village of Mortenses (Ceavccageadgi in Norrthern Sámi) where a way-marked trail leads across the fjord-side headland past the remains of prehistoric dwellings which have been excavated. This unique site contains evidence of continuous human settlement from around 8~6,000 BC in the millennia following the end of the Ice Age by nomadic hunter-gatherers right through to later Sámi pastoralists-fishermen and the present day fishing village in the sheltered nearby cove. Buffeted by the bitterly chill wind blowing along the fjord's grey waters, we walked the trail around the bleakly chill headland among excavated remains of dwellings, stone-tools manufacturing sites, sacrificial stones, chamber-tombs and reconstructed Sámi fishermen's turf dwellings. But of equal interest was the array of Arctic wild flora which covered the hillside: flourishing clumps of insectivorous Butterwort with their beautiful mauve flowers (see left), tiny twin-flowers, Northern Grass of Parnassus, Arctic Harebells, Juniper scrub its berries still unripe, and our first sightings of Cloudberry fruits with the unripe newly forming red berries (see right); how we were looking forward to August to taste the ripe orange berries of this unique northern fruit.
We spent the afternoon a short distance east at Finmark's administrative centre, Vadsř which like other towns in Northern Norway had been rebuilt after WW2 following total destruction by retreating Germans. The result is a rather blandly featureless centre and outskirts filled with light industry, modern supermarkets and car showrooms. The TIC was manned by charactersome lad who admitted to having learnt his faultless Americanese-English by watching TV movies but gave us a detailed history of Vadsř, most particularly its location as the 1920s staging point for polar exploration by airship. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (who beat Scott to the South Pole) and Italian military engineer Umberto Nobile had set off in 1926 from Vadsř in the airship Norge and successfully flew across the North Pole to reach Alaska. Rivalry between Amundsen and Nobile led to an Italian follow-up Polar expedition 2 years later in the airship Italia which crashed in Svalbard. Nobile was believed killed and Amundsen, to prove he was the more capable explorer, launched a rescue expedition; his aircraft crashed killing Amundsen who became a Norwegian national martyr-hero. The TIC lad also told us the history of 19th immigration to Finmark of Finnish settlers fleeing starvation at home; many of Vadsř's population trace their ancestry to 19th Kven immigrants as the Finns were called. The only point of interest in the modern town of Vadsř was the Innvandrer memorial to Kven immigrant settlers and that was inaccessible due to road works. We therefore walked down to the fishing harbour (see left) before crossing to the offshore island where the Hurtigruten calls each day southbound from Kirkenes to see the surviving mast (luft-skipsmasta) to which the Polar exploration airships were moored (see right). On an isolated headland across the coastal grassland, the 35m high airship mast still stands like a modern oilrig and as we stood examining the memorial plaque recording the historical flights, a modern-day plane emerged from the murky cloud to land at Vadsř's airfield up on the hill.
Beyond Vadsř we began the 80km long and lonely drive around Varanger Fjord's northern shoreline to Vardř (see map above); the gusty northerly side wind buffeted our camper as we passed the tiny fishing settlements of Salttjern, Krampenes and Komagvćr, and near to isolated farms a quaint road sign warned of the dual hazards of straying sheep and reindeer (see left). The nature of the terrain again changed dramatically as we crossed into the Arctic climate zone where annual average temperatures are less than 10°C. The narrow exposed road wound around a series of broad bays where the wind drove surf onto the flat foreshore; a parallel line of raised beach with its cliff backdrop marked an ancient shoreline, and above this the dreary, treeless, grey-green monotone of the Arctic tundra stretched away into the bleak interior. Darkly ominous cloud made the vidda tundra plateau look cold and forbidding. Beyond the large fishing village of Kiberg, the road swung north for the final 12 kms towards Vardř passing the hill of Domen with its jagged rock pinnacles overlooking the cold, grey Barents Sea. Despite the heavily overcast weather conditions, we decided to attempt the 40km lane around the NE coast to the tiny semi-abandoned former fishing settlement of Hamningberg unsure of the state of the road. Uncertainly we set off, passing the vegbom which closes the road from October~April during winter snow. Beyond this point the lane narrowed to less than a single vehicle's width but with tarmaced surface, lined and gravelled edges and frequent passing places, dropping down to a broad sweeping bay. Beyond here the narrow ribbon of tarmac threaded its way through a series of headlands, each a chaos of jagged upright pillars of upended rock strata, rounding tight corners through this lunar landscape (see left below). This tundra-scape presented a geological text book come to life with raised beaches from earlier aeons of coastline as the landmass uplifted relieved of the weight of ice from the Ice Age glaciers' retreat. Gullies in the grim, black, north-facing tundra cliffs still showed large areas of last winter's snow. Uncertainly we threaded our way through this hell-scape of jagged rocks, and rounding another bay where wind-driven surf lashed onto the beach, we crossed the final stretch of tundra to approach the lane's end at Hamningberg; here the final obstacle - a small herd of reindeer blocking our way (Photo 20 - Reindeer blocking the lane approaching Hamningberg).
Hamningberg had once been a thriving fishing village, the only place to have been saved from devastation by German scorched earth barbarism in 1944 by its very remoteness. As a working village however, its death knell came in 1964 when the Norwegian government refused financial help to enlarge the harbour for larger fishing boats. The village was abandoned and its picturesque wooden cottages now serve only as holiday homes. Kitted up fully against the chill wind, we walked over towards the settlement as more reindeer scampered by. The red-painted cottages looked homely in this wild, isolated environment, more so with the familiar sight of a baby's buggy parked outside (Photo 21 - Former fishing village of Hamningberg). As we stood looking out across the bay, where breakers were driven onto the rocky shoreline by the wind from the grey Barents Sea (see right), an Arctic Fox in its summer ginger markings wandered cheekily along the beach (Photo 22 - Arctic Fox at Hamningberg). Clearly today's summer residents at Hamningberg are not a God-fearing bunch since the old wooden church was well barred and bolted (see left). We walked back along through the village to begin the drive back to Vardř, and as usual what had been a slow and uncertain drive out, with experience seemed less foreboding on the return journey. We wound slowly around the jagged rocky headlands, picking up speed where we had a clear view of the narrow lane ahead against the spectacular backdrop of black tundra cliffs and surf-washed bays (Photo 23 - Narrow lane around rocky headlands Hamningberg~Vardř). Within an hour we were back at the turning for Vardř, a town which makes up for its lack of interest by investing itself with a host of superlatives: Norway's oldest and most easterly town, the first to be awarded municipal status in 1789. Largely destroyed in WW2, Vardř was redeveloped in the 1950s across 2 offshore islands connected to the main land by Northern Europe's first undersea tunnel. The Hurtigruten calls at Vardř on its northbound voyage to Kirkenes, which must be the highlight of day for this weather-beaten little fishing port with its end-of-world feel. Between times, nothing much else seems to happen apart from a handful of tourists who make the long drive here mainly to see the Vardřhus Festning, the town's mid-18th century toy-town fortress. Even the Vardř Museum is long closed. Another more infamous aspect of Vardř's history however was the 17th century penchant for burning old ladies on the pretext of involvement in witchcraft: at a time when the practice of herbal medicine and fortune-telling in isolated communities became a target for church-inspired scape-goating in the extreme outposts of Finmark, some 80 women were burnt alive in Vardř for allegedly communing with the devil in their coven on Domen Hill. The current Queen of Norway recently unveiled an apologetic memorial for these acts of supreme barbarism.
Entering the pipe-like undersea tunnel entrance (see left), we crossed into Vardř town in search of the quay-side TIC just as Hurtigruten was departing, but after a brief circuit of the town, there seemed little to detain us here in this bleak and cheerless place with little shelter from the chilling Arctic wind. It was an easy decision therefore to return along the Fjord to more sheltered Vestre Jakobselv for our last night's camp in the Varanger area. After our journey to the outer limits, we settled back into the campsite on a dark and gloomy evening with a bitterly cold northerly wind and freezing rain buffeting our camper, thankful for the warmth of fan heater, reindeer stew supper and full thermals.
Before finally leaving Varanger, we returned through Vadsř to visit the small peninsula of Ekkerřy with its fishing hamlet curving around the bay. At the far end of the causeway we parked by the sheds and jetty of the former fish and shrimp packing factory which now houses a small museum devoted to the fishing industry which grew up in Eastern Finmark and 19th century Finnish/Kven colonisation of the Kola/Petsamo Peninsula. Sponsored by the Imperial Russian government, the settlers initially thrived on farming and fishing in this Arctic wilderness. The new port of Murmansk was founded in 1915 connected by railway to the body of Russia, but the settlers came under increased restrictions after the 1917 communist revolution; many Finnish colonists emigrated to USA, and after WW2 USSR forcibly annexed Petsamo cutting off Finnish access to the ice-free port on the Barents Sea. This admirable little museum at Ekkerřy, welcoming and free-entry, gives an insightful history of this obscure and little known region of Petsamo and is well worth a visit. But this was not our main reason for coming out to Ekkerřy. A muddy side lane led to a parking area and a path out to Ekkerřy's Nature Reserve on the south cliff; during the March~August breeding season, some 30,000 pairs of Kittiwakes nest on the cliff ledges (Photo 24 - Kittiwakes nesting on cliff face at Ekkerřy). The birds leave in August after the new young are reared to spend the winter months living on the open sea. In driving rain, we plodged out below the cliffs where the eroded rock strata provided broad ledges for the Kittiwakes to nest. The entire cliff face was covered with nests and this year's young birds perching on the ledges sheltering from the driving wind and rain (see left), and 1000s more adult birds swirled around bringing back beaks full of fish to the nests, taking off again in swirling flocks with their screeching cries (see right). From the shore below, we had a perfect ringside view of this magnificent spectacle.
We now returned westwards along the north shore of Varanger Fjord which had been a sheltered home for us for several days in what passed for summer in this severe environment. Today the south shore of the fjord was scarcely visible in the misty rain clouds as we passed through Varangerbotn. The E6/75 rose over dismally dark fell land where the low birch scrub all showed the devastating damage caused by the Epirrita autumnata moth which defoliates huge areas of Lapland birch trees leaving them blackened as if by fire. Over the watershed, we began the descent to the valley of the broad River Tana (Teno in Finnish) which flows northward into the Barents Sea; for over 250kms it forms Finland's northern border with Norway between Karasjok and Nuorgam and our plans were to spend the next week exploring this border area. Beyond Skippagurra, we crossed the Tana on the wide suspension bridge at Tana Bru and turned back south-westwards on the river's north bank along the line of the border. Along this stretch, the river flowed sluggishly over sand banks, not looking at all like the salmon river of its reputation. 10kms further, beyond a pleasant riverside campsite, the river narrows at a sharp bend forming the white-water Storfossen rapids. In pouring rain we pulled in to photograph the river from a vantage point through rain-spattered camera lens (see left). The road continued westwards along the Norwegian side of the border for some 30kms through farming country backed by dark wooded fells to reach the only bridge across the Teno along this stretch crossing to the Finnish side at Utsjoki. The wide suspension bridge (see right), only built in 1993, links Utsjoki to Norway transforming what was once a dead-end village at the northern tip of Finland's Route 4 into a cross-border shopping centre for Norwegians seeking better prices for fuel and food at Utsjoki's mini-markets/filling stations just across the bridge beyond the customs post. Losing an hour with the time zone change crossing back into Finland, we switched back to euros from Norwegian kroner, and took the opportunity to stock up with provisions before finding Utsjoki Lapinkylä Camping. Utsjoki campsite's peaceful fell-land setting and heated facilities partly made up for its unwelcoming reception, expensive prices and lack of wi-fi, but it was another chill evening camped here at the very top of Finland.
The following morning, we continued westwards along the River Teno this time on Route 970 on the southern, Finnish side of the border. The view along the wide river towards the distant scrub-covered fells was magnificent still with significant amounts of snow, but again this morning obscured by misty rain (see let). Lappish fishing boats sped upstream against the current, and fishing cabins lined the river's bank. The valley widened with pastureland covering the flatter valley bottom as we approached the Finnish border village of Karigasniemi, clearly a major service centre for the outlying farms. Reaching the road junction with Route 92 coming up from Kaamanen, we turned north to re-cross the Norwegian border regaining the hour lost yesterday. In gloomy drizzle, we drove the 16kms alongside the meandering tributary river to reach Karasjok, where roads radiated out from the village centre north eventually to Nordkapp, NE along the Tana's north bank back towards Tana Bru, and SW to Kautokeino, all places we should experience later. At such a major cross-roads, Karasjok is an inevitable tourist trap where at the TIC-cum-over-priced-tourist-boutique, the glamorously dressed dolly-birds in pseudo Sámi costumes knew little about Karasjok and could answer few of our questions. It seems one of life's unfathomable laws that TIC staff generally reflect the demands of their regular clientele: at Karasjok, tourists swarming from their buses expected nothing and got even less by way of information. The campsite at Karasjok has been kept by the Halonen family since 1963 and the beautifully cropped turf of the flat camping area overlooking the river valley shows the care that has been lavished on it. Each evening during summer, a wood fire is lit in the huge Lavvu Sámi tent for guests to sit around on reindeer skin-covered benches. We grilled our supper sausages on sharpened birch branches over the fire, reminiscing with a group of Czechs who were also camping there, as smoke from the fire drifted upwards through the hole in the Lavvu tent's roof (Photo 25 - Grilling supper in Karasjok Camping's Lavvu Sámi tent).
After all the wretchedly cold and wet weather of the last few days, the following morning sun was bright enabling us to breakfast outside; up here in the Arctic weather and temperature seemed so critically dependent on wind direction and with the wind today in the south, the air was unexpectedly warmer. Despite swarms of midges, we took a day in camp to catch up with washing and make use of the campsite's wi-fi. Karasjok is home to the Norwegian Sámi Parliament, the Sámidiggi, and having visited the Finnish equivalent in Inari, we wanted the chance to understand the degree of devolved self-government which the Sámi enjoyed in Norway. The origins of the Sámidiggi go back to the 1970s when the Norwegian State Parliament, the Storting, resolved to build a dam on the Alta-Kautokeino River which would flood the valley inundating the settlement of Masi and traditional Sámi lands. This provoked widespread environmentalist protests and aroused the Sámi to take collective action to protect their interests. Following prolonged protests and civil disobedience, a legal decision ruled in favour of the dam but in modified scale. The important result however was an awakening of Sámi awareness of their unique status as an indigenous people. A Sámi Rights Commission led to an act of the State Parliament to establish the Sámidiggi which opened in 1989. The Norwegian Sámi Parliament has no legislative powers but has the statutory right to be consulted by the Storting on any matter affecting the Sámi people; its authority is limited to matters relating to Sámi culture, language, education, health and social matters, and environmental protection. The State Parliament makes an annual financial award from which the Sámidiggi decides its priorities for budgetary expenditure. There are 39 members elected from the 7 constituencies covering the whole of Norway for a 4 year term. Eligibility for voting rights is open to those who declare themselves Sámi with Sámi as their native language or with Sámi parentage. At present there are just under 14,000 registered on the Norwegian electoral role. The Sámidiggi was opened by Norway's King Harold V in 2000 with a semi-circular building housing the national Sámi library and parliamentary administration, and alongside the Lavvu-shaped amphitheatre where plenary sessions are held 5 times each year (Photo 26 - Norwegian Sámi Parliament (Sámidiggi)). The chamber is backed by a large etched metal engraving representing the concentric circles of a Lappi encampment (Photo 27 - Plenary chamber of the Sámi Parliament). The young Sámi guide, a student at Bergen University, answered our questions with admirable frankness about relations between the State Parliament and the purely consultative Sámidiggi. Again we had the privileged opportunity to discuss openly and to understand more about the contentious issues for the Norwegian Sámi - fishing rights, mineral rights and the environmental impact of mining. Interestingly there are the beginnings of a nationalistic backlash against what is seen as the over-extended powers given to the so-called indigenous peoples of Norway.
Before leaving Karasjok, we called in at the Co-op supermarket for a provisions stock-up and queued at the check-out behind a local lady wearing Sámi costume and red bonnet. Just across the Karasjoki bridge, the old church at Karasjok had been the only building left standing in October 1944 by the German scorched earth destruction, and now stands proudly in its large open churchyard with a war memorial recording the names of WW2 dead from the town. Leaving Karasjok, we re-crossed into Finland for a night's camp in the border village of Karigasniemi. Camping Tenorinne is set on terraced ledges above the border river, here called the Inarijoki before the confluence with the Karasjoki flowing in from Norway, when the merged rivers become the Tana/Teno which we had been following this week. This is another wonderfully hospitable campsite which has been kept by the Lehtosalo family since 1966 and again their hard work showed: one of the finest campsites we had stayed at in the whole of Finland with very reasonable charges, a beautiful location, laundry, free site-wide wi-fi, and a homely kitchen-cum-common with terrace looking out across the river towards the setting sun over the wooded hills of Norway (see right). What more could you ask for (Photo 28 - Evening barbecue at ). After supper, we walked down to the river, where twin-flowers grew in profusion by the embankment steps, to photograph the evening sun and fisherman standing the river casting their lines (Photo 29 - Evening sun over River Teno/Tana).
Leaving Karigasniemi, we had a long drive to return across the high fells on Route 92 to Kaamanen where we had started 2 weeks ago; this time we should turn north from there on Route 4 back to Utsjoki to complete our River Teno/Tana borderlands circuit and camp at Nuorgam, Finland's most northerly point. Soon after leaving Karigasniemi, we slowed to pass yet more reindeer ambling along the main road (Photo 30 - Reindeer ambling along Route 92). Route 92 rises steeply out of the Teno valley and cuts a straight course across the high, scrub-covered cheerless tundra fell-scape (Photo 31 - Route 92's straight course across scrub-covered tundra). These high fells form the watershed between the Teno and Utsjoki river drainage areas and part way across we passed the isolated small campsite of Muotkan Ruoktu set by a fast-running watercourse, clearly a popular fishing spot. The road descended steeply to the junction at Kaamanen where we paused to pay our respects at the Lapland War Memorial which takes the form of a battle-scarred piece of armour-plating (see left). The Finnish inscription commemorates the heroic contribution of the Finnish light infantry battalions who advanced 400kms from the south on foot to drive the Germans from Lapland; the English translation reads: the battles of the light infantrymen in the wilds of Lapland were brought to an end in Kaamanen, Inari, at the end of October 1944 - 774 killed, 262 missing, 2,904 wounded We turned northwards on Route 4 for the 90km drive across the tundra plateau towards Utsjoki; with a good road and little traffic, we made good progress across the endless empty tundra fell-scape which stretched away largely treeless to distant horizons. Part way across we reached the series of elongated lakes of the Utsjoki river system which flowed northwards cutting through a steeply sided and densely wooded valley before merging with the Teno at Utsjoki village where we had camped a week ago. Just before the village, the road passes the Utsjoki Church Hut area on the shores of Lake Mantojärvi. The original wooden church of St Ulrika had been built here in 1700, and replaced in 1850 by the present church set high on the hillside overlooking the lake. Sámis travelled from far-flung communities to Utsjoki for market days, tax collection and to attend church, often arriving a day earlier needing somewhere to stay. A collection of wooden log-cabins accumulated on the shore of the lake as accommodation for church-goers from distant settlements; families built their own huts which were in use until the 1940s. 13 of the huts have been preserved along the lake shore opposite the church and are now maintained by a cooperative and by Utsjoki municipality (see right). If you are passing this way, pause briefly to see this surviving aspect of Lapland's social history.
After another call at Utsjoki's supermarket for food and fuel, we turned eastward for the final section of our Teno/Tana circuit along the Finnish bank of the river on Route 970 to Nuorgam. This road gave more open views of the wide and sand-banked Teno than from the northern bank which we had driven a week ago. Nuorgam spread along the south bank of the river is the most northerly village in Finland with the majority of the 200 inhabitants being Sámi. At the far end of the village, an insignificant monument marks the Finland~Norway borderline and the EU's northernmost point, at latitude 70° 05' N, longitude 27° 58' E (Photo 32 - EU's northernmost point at Nuorgam). For us, this was a significant point: we had now travelled from Hanko in the farthest south of Finland to Nuorgam in the farthest north, a journey of 3,000kms, and here we were closer to the North Pole than to London. Having enjoyed such an excellent campsite at Hanko in the south, we were looking forward to staying tonight a similarly memorable campsite; it was, but for the wrong reason! We were greeted at Nuorgam Lomakeskus Camping with the most surly, sour-faced and offensively off-hand non-welcome ever encountered in 45 years of camping; and to add insult to injury, this rudeness was matched by the most expensive prices in Finland and unprecedentedly, no discount for our Scandinavian Camping Card. The setting on the Teno's riverbank looking across to the fells on Norway on the far bank was delightful (see left), but the owner's uncouth manners made this a place to be avoided at all costs - take note.
We had now completed our circuit of Finland's northern borderlands and tomorrow would head north into Arctic Norway with our road leading ultimately to Nordkapp. But that's a story for our next edition in 3 weeks time; join us then.
Next edition to be published in 3 weeks