***  FINLAND  2012   -  WEEKS 14~15  ***

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CAMPING IN ARCTIC NORWAY 2012 - Hammerfest, Alta Fjord, NW Norwegian Fjords, return to Finland at Kilpisjärvi, and back into Norway at Kautokeino:

Turning west from Olderfjord, Route E6 gained height steadily across the birch-scrub covered fells and descended steeply to the small settlement of Skáidi which clustered around the road junction; before continuing south to Alta, we turned off westwards along the shores of Repparfjorden towards Norway's northernmost town of Hammerfest. Red-painted farmsteads along the loch were lit by a bright morning sun, with herds of reindeer scampering along the road. Beyond the small harbour of Kvalsund, we crossed the suspension bridge (see left) spanning the wide sound separating Kvaløya, the island on whose west coast Hammerfest is located, from the mainland (click on map right for details). A sign by the bridge alerted drivers that Kvaløya was a reindeer-herding area.

Click on 3 areas of map for details of Arctic Norwegian Fjords,
Kilpisjärvi in NW Finland and Kautokeino

Across the bridge, the road swung left and immediately entered a 2km long tunnel newly cut through the headland, leaving the old road as a cycle path around the shore-side. An alarming road-sign at the tunnel-entrance warned of the risk of reindeer in the tunnel (see left); we edged through looking ultra-cautiously for stray reindeer in the darkness! Safely through the tunnel, the road continued around the coast and across headlands; with red-painted farms set against the blue waters of the sound and the distant views of snow-covered mountains on the skyline of Seiland lit by the bright sun, this glorious setting began to resemble classic views of Norwegian fjord-land, with frequent herds of reindeer trotting along the road (Photo 1 - Reindeer along shore-side road to Hammerfest). Beyond Hammerfest's industrial suburbs, where a gas-tanker ship with its bulbous pressure tanks was anchored out in the bay (see below right), we passed the polar bear statue on the town's outskirts (see below left), and drove down to park by the quayside.

Hammerfest has long been an important fishing, shipping and Arctic hunting port, its harbour being ice-free all year round and protected on the landward side by a horseshoe ring of hills. The town proudly boasts of being the first in Europe to have electric lighting installed in 1890, but was completely destroyed in late 1944 by the retreating Germans, needing a total post-war reconstruction of homes and port. Its modern economy is based on being the export terminal for the off-shore Snøhvit oil and gas rigs in the Barents Sea with reserves expected to last 25 years. The morning Hurtigruten liner M/S Polarys was just departing, and we stood by the quay for our final view this trip of the coastal shipping service on which the remote settlements of northern Norway depend, and which we had observed at several of such isolated ports (Photo 2 - Hurtigruten coastal liner, departing Hammerfest).

The fluently English-speaking lad in the TIC gave us a helpful run-down on what we should see in and around the town, assuring us that on Sundays, parking in the central square by the Rådhus was free. Hammerfest's principal feature was the Gjenreisnings Museet, the Museum of Reconstruction, which documents in thoughtfully sensitive detail the gruelling hardships endured by the inhabitants of Finmark during the 1944 German retreat in the face of the Red Army. The Germans enforced a general evacuation of the entire civilian population from the region's towns, villages, farms and harbours, and systematically torched every house, building, school, church, fishing boat, telegraph pole, baby pram, anything that could be used by the advancing Allies. Hitler issued an order to his troops that 'Compassion for the population is out of place', not that such a directive was needed to empower German innate barbarism. Most of Norway's civilians were evacuated south, refugees in their own country, but 1000s evaded the German round-up, finding shelter where they could in caves, under boats or in turf huts during the bitter winter of 1944~45 until after the capitulation in May 1945, with many dying of cold or malnutrition. The Museum's commentary was in partial English translation, and a film showed the horrors suffered by the civilian population, the destruction of homes, farms, and boats, and the restoration of the post-capitulation Norwegian government. The museum also showed details of the post-war period of reconstruction, when amid shortages of building materials for the task of rebuilding an entire society, the idealistically-minded post-war left-wing government attempted with evangelical zeal to manage a centrally planned reconstruction programme, directing all aspects of daily life in terms of standardised patterns of health, welfare and education. The resultant over-bloated and ineffective bureaucracy was despised by the local population; the centralised regeneration process was abandoned in 1948 and control passed back to the municipalities. The Hammerfest Museum of Reconstruction is truly worthy of a visit, giving a truly gruelling understanding of the war's impact on Finmark's civilian population, and a critical account of post-war political mismanagement of the task of reconstruction.

Given the bright, sunny weather, we had been urged not to miss the opportunity to climb the path which zigzagged up the cliff face behind the town centre onto Salen Hill for the panoramic views across the harbour. A brisk 15 minute walk up the steep path brought us out to a viewpoint on the plateau top: from here we could look out across the town and full sweep of its sheltered horseshoe-shaped bay, with the sea a sparkling blue reflecting the almost clear sky. To one side of the town, the modern church stood out, built in 1961 to replace that destroyed by the Germans (see above left) (Photo 3 - Hammerfest town and bay). Around the bay, brightly coloured houses were scattered randomly across the hillsides, and fishing boats were moored in the harbour below us. Further out across the bay, oil storage tanks stood in rows glistening in the sunlight, and a flame flared up from the tower of the gas storage terminal on the far side of the harbour (Photo 4 - Hammerfest oil and gas storage terminal). With such a bright sun and dramatic cloud-scape, this was a truly glorious vision of Hammerfest, and information panels provided details of the Barents Sea oil and gas exploitation which brought the town its modern-day wealth.

Back down in the town, we walked up to the town's cemetery opposite the church where the small wooden grave-yard chapel built in 1937 had been the only building to survive the 1944 ravages and had provided shelter to Hammerfest's returning citizens during the winter of 1944~45 before reconstruction had begun (see left). Around the far side of Hammerfest bay by the peninsula of Fuglenes, a small marble obelisk commemorates an obscure but scientifically significant 19th century achievement which accurately plotted the arc of the global meridian, enabling precise geodetic calculation of the earth's size and shape. Newton had been the first to suggest that the earth was not a perfect sphere but was flattened at the polar extremes and as 18th century technical innovation led to improved surveying and mapping and the development of more accurate navigational instruments, it became more important to determine the earth's equatorial radius and polar flattening with greater precision. The Russian astronomer Friedrich Struve organised a major project lasting from 1816~55 entailing international cooperation between the scientific authorities of Norway, Sweden and Russia: a series of measuring stations was set up along the longitudinal line of meridian from Hammerfest in the north to Ismail on the Black Sea in Ukraine, at each of which the earth's radius and polar flattening was computed by triangulation, leading to what is now referred to as the Struve Geodetic Arc in honour of the project's instigator. We drove round the harbour to find the monument set up on the headland overlooking Hammerfest bay (see right) (Photo 5 - Struve Geodetic Monument) at the far northern point of the line of Struve's measuring stations where information panels attempted to explain the abstruse mathematics of the global calculations; it was clearly a brilliant piece of scientific enquiry still of significance in today's GPS dominated world for accurate mapping and navigation. So when the question about Struve's geodetic research next comes up in your local pub quiz, you'll be glad you read this account.

Back into the town, we found Hammerfest's campsite by the small lake of Storvannet just above the town. The campsite was welcoming and its setting was pleasant on the lake's grassy shore, but totally overwhelmed by a massive building encircling the head of the valley like a huge dam filled with windows peering down onto the campsite; we later learnt that it was simply an apartment block. We settled in by the lake side to cook supper with the evening growing chill as the sun dipped towards a gap in the surrounding hills to give a flaring sunset over-topped by attractive cloud lit by the after-glow (Photo 6 - Setting sun over Storvannet).

The following morning brought heavily overcast weather, with the sea murky grey and misty rain clouds obscuring the horizon across the bay over Seiland island as we drove back around Kvaløya's coast to re-cross the bridge to the mainland. Back to the road junction at Skáidi, we turned south onto Route E6 again, gaining height gradually up the wide valley of Repparfjordalen. The birch trees along the river's banks were blackened, their leaves stripped by the destructive Epirrita autumnata moth. The bleak, cheerless plateau of the Finmarksvidda stretched away to endless distant horizons with not a tree or other landmark in sight other than the occasional Sámi farmstead of shacks and pickup; in today's grey gloom, it was a grim vista, mile after mile of endless featureless marshy wilderness (see left). Soon after leaving Skáidi, the sign had said the main E6 road across the high vidda was open but in freezing winters, this must be a fearsome route. Beyond the high point of Sennalandet, the road began the long descent of Stokkedalen with the valley narrowing as we passed the tree-line, winding around sweeping bends as we lost height eventually to reach the coast at Rafsbotn where we could look out across the wide waters of the Altafjorden and its backdrop of snowy mountains on the western horizon. The road wound around the coast to enter the extended urban area of Alta, a truly unwelcome return to so-called civilisation with heavy traffic and frequent speed cameras. We turned off onto Route 93 to find Alta's 3 campsites, clustered at Øvre (Upper) Alta along the River Altelva whose proposed damming in the 1970s had provoked the Sámi environmental protests. With the endless flow of tourist traffic heading for Nordkapp along Route E6, the 3 campsites at Alta clearly operate a cartel charging extortionate prices with little to choose between them. We selected the cheapest of the 3, Wisløff Camping whose non-negotiable 260 NOK/night was the most expensive we had paid even in Norway, and settled in on the flat turf among the huts; at least their wi-fi enabled us to consult the weather forecast which showed improved conditions. The sky cleared to give a sunny evening, full of promise for the next few days, and the following morning we were even able to sit outside for breakfast in wonderfully peaceful warm sunshine (see right).

Our plan was to camp a second night at Alta in order to visit the World Heritage registered prehistoric rock-art museum along the shores of Alta Fjord a short distance along E6 at Hjemneluft. The rock-art was first discovered at Altafjord in 1973 with more than 6,000 images engraved or painted on the bed rock, created by Palaeolithic and Neolithic nomadic hunters and fishers and believed to be associated with their religious rituals and beliefs in a spiritual world. The main motifs are human figures hunting with spears or bows and arrows or fishing standing in boats; various fauna are depicted such as reindeer, bears, sea birds and fishes. The remarkable factor is that this fjord coastal location remained in use as a regular meeting or cult centre by these nomadic peoples for continuous period of 5,000 years. The rock-art has been dated by relation to post-glacial land uplift and covers this entire period, the earliest being from around 5,000 BC and the latest around 200 AD, spread over several areas of the flat hard grey sandstone bedrock. Each period of engraving was created at shore level, and as the land rose and newer smooth rock beds progressively appeared, these were used for later engravings leaving the older panels high above the modern shore-line. Two circuits of board-walks radiate out from the museum above the vegetation-covered shore-line of the fjord past the exposed panels of incised rock-art (Photo 7 - Board-walk for access to Alta Fjord rock-art). Some 600m west of the museum, the oldest panels of artwork engraved in the exposed bed-rock can be seen alongside the board-walk, between 6,000 and 4,000 years old, now 26m above current sea-shore but created when this was close to sea-level. The figures, originally incised by shallow engraving on the flat bed-rock, had during the 1980s been coloured in with red paint to make them more distinguishable. This practice has raised much controversy since there is no evidence to suggest the original engravings were augmented with paintwork, and some of the paint is now being removed.

We followed the board-walks around past these oldest panels which showed hunters with spears and arrows (see above left), reindeer being herded into corrals and bears being driven from their dens. The next group of engravings from around 3~2,000 BC depicted geese, a cormorant holding its wings out to dry, humans holding sea birds by the neck, and hunters with spears standing in boats fitted with elk figure-heads on their prows (Photo 8 - Alta prehistoric rock-art showing hunters in boats). The intricate detail was clear to see. But for us there was an unexpected additional interest: Cloudberries were growing in profusion in the damp soil alongside the board-walk and the plants were covered with large, ripening fruit with some already orange and ready to eat, our first experience of these delicious Nordic sweet berries (see right). Further around, we reached the second board-walk past more panels of the engraved pre-historic rock-art, closer now to the modern shore-line and therefore younger. The first panels showed lines of reindeer, 2 of whom were evidently pregnant with young in their bellies (Photo 9 - Alta prehistoric rock-art showing pregnant reindeer), a hunter depicted killing a bear with a spear, and boats carrying human figures. The final batch of panels down by the modern shore-line were the latest from around 100 AD showing outlines of fishes and more human figures standing in boats with ornamental prow and stern-posts. Another carving appeared to show snow-shoes, but the most interesting portrayed a human wearing skis (see left). Archaeologists working on the site told us that further as yet unexposed engravings exist under the vegetation and lichen which cover the bed-rock. It is however truly remarkable that this prehistoric art-work has survived the effects of weathering and erosion over a period of 6,000 years, to give an unprecedented insight into the practices and beliefs of a human culture that had flourished in these northern lands for such a long period with little change in the style of their ritualistic art-work. For more on the prehistoric rock-art of Alta Fjord, visit the Alta Museum web site

After another unduly expensive night at Wisløff Camping, we re-stocked with provisions and more of the delicious frozen salmon steaks at the Remo supermarket in Alta before continuing south on the busy Route E6. The road turned inland to descend steeply to the head of Kåfjord, a narrow inlet off the main Alta Fjord, which had been the hideaway from 1943~44 of the German battleship Tirpitz. Our first stop today was the small museum opened here at Kåfjord in 2005 where local historian, Even Blomkvist has personally gathered a remarkable collection of artefacts, memorabilia and photographs relating to the history of the Tirpitz, and the attacks by aircraft and midget-submarine leading to its eventual sinking. Tirpitz was the Kriegsmarine's biggest battleship of WW2, launched in 1939 to attack Allied shipping in the North Atlantic. From Spring 1943, she was moved to Kåfjord at what was the biggest German naval base where over 20,000 troops were stationed, a constant threat to the Arctic convoys supplying USSR. Hitler was paranoid about Tirpitz's vulnerability to sinking by Royal Navy capital ships and in fact she made only 3 offensive operations: 2 attacks on convoys were curtailed and the only time the battleship ever fired her huge guns was in a minor attack on a Svalbard weather station. Tirpitz remained hidden away at Kåfjord protected by anti-submarine and torpedo nets with anti-aircraft guns positioned on the surrounding mountains. Her lurking presence however remained a threat and determined efforts were made to sink her despite the degree of protective cover. With Kåfjord beyond the range of even Lancaster bombers, Operation Source was planned to attack Tirpitz with X-Craft midget submarines released from their towing submarines out in Alta Fjord. X6 and X7 penetrated the steel netting and planted their explosive charges under the battleship. Both crews were captured, but Tirpitz was severely damaged by the explosions and it took the Germans 6 months to make her seaworthy again. By April 1944 she was again a threat to Arctic convoys and in September Soviet cooperation was eventually gained for RAF Lancasters to refuel near Archangel. Tirpitz was successfully attacked, causing extensive damage which could not be repaired at Kåfjord, and she was moved further south to Tromsø. Now within flying range from UK, Operation Catechism was flown by RAF Lancasters carrying Barnes Wallis' Tallboy bombs, and Tirpitz was sunk in Tromsø Fjord killing 1,700 of her crew. She lay on the sea bed until the early 1950s when a Norwegian salvage company bought her for scrap for just 120,000 NOK.

We reached the small museum where Mr Blomkvist took us around his treasure trove of exhibits telling Tirpitz's story, the attack by midget-submarines and the bravery of local people who supplied intelligence to London at great personal risk: visit the Tirpitz Museum web site. The visit concluded with an old BBC documentary about Tirpitz with commentary by Ludovic Kennedy. Just along the road in the graveyard of Kåfjord church, we found the tribute memorial to the X-craft crews killed in the attack on Tirpitz. Just beyond, where a new bridge for the E6 was being constructed across the natural spit of land at the end of Kåfjord, we paused to look down on the now peaceful fjord where 70 years ago the mighty battleship had stood at anchor sheltered in the inner recesses of the Alta Fjord, protected by the surrounding mountains and screened by steel torpedo nets and minefields. It was an awe-inspiring moment, just to stand at this very spot with mind cast back to 1943~44 imagining the busy scene with the battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst at anchor out in the fjord (Photo 10 - Kåfjord where German battleship Tirpitz was anchored 1943~44).

The onward E6 hugged the shore-line of Alta Fjord with distant views across the water to the snowy peaks of Seiland, eventually rounding the narrow point of Isnestoften to turn SW into the mouth of the long, narrow Langfjord, lined on both sides with high spectacular mountains. The already widened road enabled faster progress along the shore of Langfjord, pausing frequently to photograph the magnificent views along the fjord lit by bright afternoon sunshine. Approaching Langfjordbotn, the road swung around the shallow end of the loch and here we found one of our options for tonight's campsite, Altafjord Camping. Its position was ideal set on a high terrace looking directly along the length of Langfjorden, but enquiries at reception showed that extortionate prices were not confined to Alta: thank you but no thank you, was our curt response. And 12 kms further, just over the watershed dividing the provinces of Finmark and Troms, we found 2 other delightful small campsites, the first at Alteidet, the second even better at the tiny farming hamlet of Storeng, ANSI-Turistservice Camping set in a beautiful meadow overlooking Kvænangsfjorden. We were welcomed with graceful hospitality by ANSI Camping's owner Mr Willy Simonsen, who charged us a very modest nightly rate, and from the lushly grassed camping-terrace, the view looking across the fjord to the distant snow-covered, crenellated mountain ridge of Kvænangstinden extending along the skyline was simply breathtaking (see left). Here was the perfect location for our much-needed day-in-camp tomorrow. As we cooked supper of delicious Norwegian salmon steaks simmered in fish soup, the peacefulness of this magnificent setting was tangible; each glance at the Kvænangstinden mountainous view over the fjord evoked the sigh of 'Wow' (Photo 11 - View across fjord to Kvænangstinden ridge). The late afternoon sun dipped casting a silver streak across the water and silhouetting the craggy line of glaciated peaks on the southern horizon (Photo 12 - Late afternoon sun over Kvænangsfjord). And after the sun had set behind the hill enclosing the fjord, its afterglow cast an eerie orange glow over the veil of cloud which spilled over Kvænangstinden's monumental ridgeline (see above right) (Photo 13 - Sunset afterglow on cloud spilling over Kvænangstinden ridge).

We woke to another wonderfully peaceful morning with a mantle of cloud touching Kvænangstinden's ridgeline on the distant horizon , and in warm sunshine we were able to sit out for breakfast fully to appreciate this magnificent mountainous spectacle reflected in the still water of the fjord (Photo 14 - Breakfast at ANSI Camping overlooking Kvænangsfjord). The sun remained clear all day and through binoculars we were able to pick out detail of the glaciers which adorned the peaks of Kvænangstinden. We have camped in such fine spots over many years, but without doubt ANSI Camping at Storeng was one of the most joyously remarkable; the distinguishing features of such a first class campsite are the regret and reluctance to leave and the lasting memories you take with you. Before continuing south, we arranged an excursion by boat to the foot of the Øksfjordjøkelen glacier which tumbles down from the mountains at the northern end of the fjord. This meant returning to Alteidet and taking a single-track lane over high land down to Saltnes on Jøkelfjorden. From here at the lane's end, we had the first distant views of the glacier whose ice-cliffs spilled over the lip of the fell top with melt-water dropping to a lower ice-tongue above the fjord. From the Saltnes landing-stage the small inflatable boat sped along the length of the fjord with high craggy cliffs narrowing around us on both sides as we slowed to approach the foot of the glacier (see right). The lower ice-tongue was quite small at this time of year, with the waterfall from the higher glacier lip dropping down to emerge from under the ice in a roaring cascade Through binoculars, we could see the brilliant turquoise blue ice-cliffs and tangled morass of ice-pinnacles nudging over the glacier's higher lip overwhelmingly 800m above us (Photo 15 - Øksfjordjøkelen glacier viewed from fjord). From immediately below, we were only seeing the leading edge of the Øksfjordjøkelen which spreads across the 1,200 high fells for over 40 square kms, Norway's 9th largest glacier, Europe's only glacier to 'calve' directly into the sea (Photo 16 - Øksfjordjøkelen glacier spilling over 2,000 feet cliffs). As we sat watching from the boat, a shower of ice fragments tumbled off the ice-shelf crashing down over the higher rocks. As the stationary boat wallowed below the glacier, it was an eerie sensation both to hear and feel the cold air descending from the overhanging lip of the ice-cliffs 2,000 feet above, with the spray from the cascades filling the air as we photographed the lower ice-tongue at close quarters (see left). As the boat picked up speed for the return, we could look back at the cliffs enclosing the head of the fjord with the ice-fall gradually receding into the distance; it had been an exhilarating if expensive experience seeing the huge glacier from fjord level (Photo 17 - Boat trip to foot of Øksfjordjøkelen glacier).

With a departing view of Kvænangstinden's distant ridgeline from the lane back over to Alteidet (see left), and a provisions re-stock at Burfjord's supermarket, we resumed our journey south along Route E6. The road gain significant height above the tree-line over rocky terrain passing the side-valley of Burfjorddalen, where a road-sign warned of the twin hazards of both elk and reindeer (see right). Dropping down to another inlet of the all-spreading Kvænangsfjord, the road shelved around to climb fearsomely across the broad shoulder of Kvænangstinden with the mighty cliffs of this mountainous peninsula towering above. With the increasing levels of traffic as we moved closer to Tromsø however, there was little chance to glance around at the magnificent scenery. From this high shoulder, E6 descended in steeply sweeping bends to the shores of Oksfjorden and along the shoreline to the narrow inlet of Straumfjord, and Fosselv Camping, a small fjord-side campsite of which we had high hopes. Some campsites however manage to give offence without even trying, and this was one of them: we were greeted with totally indifferent and unsmiling non-welcome from an employee who clearly felt secure in his job. The camping area was spread along the foreshore, but the bright sun of earlier had been replaced by silvery grey clouds whose streaky outline was reflected in the still water of the shallow inlet. We should stay one night in order to climb up to Fosselv waterfall in the morning before moving on to find a more congenially welcoming campsite.

The following morning, with low cloud still clinging determinedly to the fells with drizzly rain in the air, we left George at the campsite and set off up the path opposite heading for the spectacular Fosselv waterfall higher up the fellside. Low misty cloud obscured the route but the path up though birch scrub was lined with lusciously juicy bilberries and many of the wild flora which had accompanied our Arctic travels. The path gained height alongside the water course which tumbled down from the waterfall, out above the tree line onto a stony plateau. Ahead we now had a clear view of Fosselv waterfall which tumbled over the cliff-top to drop some 64m into a dark, gloomy basin within an enclosed craggy corrie. We advanced higher across the now pathless steep fellside, and from this precarious position took our rain-streaked photographs of the falls as sheep with tinkling bells grazed around us (Photo 18 - Fosselv waterfalls). Regaining surer ground we retraced our path down through the birch woods to the shore-line with distant views across the fjord obscured by low cloud (see left).

Resuming our journey southwards, Route E6 undulated over high peninsulas down to the larger village of Storslett with its bank and supermarket. Around the shore of Reisafjorden, the E6 climbed in steep, sweeping curves over another high, rocky shoulder and in gloomy drizzle began the equally steep descent down to Rotsundet, the narrow channel which separated the huge whaleback bulk of Uløya island. This murky and cheerless mass of bare granite rose sheer from the sound like the keel of a capsized ship, 3,000 feet from its waterline to its gloomy heights. It was an utterly fearsome sight standing just off the coast across the narrow waters of Rotsundet. We followed a sign inland over a rickety bridge suitable for trolls to make their home, to Rotsundelva Camping, a straightforward campsite where the we received a warm welcome from the lady owner. The weather was still heavily overcast, and with mid-August approaching this was the duskiest evening of the trip so far; the permanently light days were now gone for 2012.

The following morning brought brighter weather with the sun beginning to burn the cloud off of Uløya's granite heights. We paused at the jetty of Rotsundelva, where the small ferry was waiting to cross to Hamnes, the tiny settlement at the southern tip of Uløya and Klauvnes at the northern end; the rest of Uløya is uninhabited, not so much an island as a sheer-sided mountainous hulk sticking up from the sea (see left). The small anchorage was lit by bright morning sunshine against a backdrop of the spectacular Alpine panorama of Lyngenfjord's jagged, glaciated mountains (Photo 19 - Rotsundelva to Uløya ferry against Lyngen Alps backdrop). From where Rotundselvsund merged into the wider Lyngenfjord, the E6 gave a grandstand view (see right) across the fjord of the Lyngen Alps truly titanic skyline of peaks and glaciers (Photo 20 - Lyngen Alps and Koppangsbreen glacier). The road hugged the shore-line and wound around headlands to enter the side-valley of Kåfjord and reach the larger settlement of Olderdalen, over-topped by shapely mountains. We now had the 40km drive along both sides of Kåfjord's long and narrow inlet, but the views along the length of the fjord were indeed spectacular: the southern side was enclosed by a massive mountainous wall, dark and forbidding in gloomy shade. Mighty hanging valleys were sculpted from the massif as if by a titanic ice-cream scoop, and melt-waters from unseen glaciers higher in the mountainous interior poured over the lip of the hanging valleys to plunge in 2,000 feet cascades down the murky face of the bulky mountain (Photo 21 - Hanging valleys and glacial melt-water on Kåfjord's massif). Rounding the head of the valley, we turned along the southern shore again hugging the shore-line, the road shelved into or tunnelled through the mountainous face, overshadowed by the cliffs seen from the opposite side of the fjord. From this shore-line we could see the Olderdalen ferry crossing the double width of Kåfjord and Lyngenfjord, looking tiny and insignificant against the Alpine backdrop of the Lyngen jagged massif with the Kjosbreen glacier standing out clearly against a conical Matterhorn peak (see right).

Rounding the pointed headland at Odden, the E6 swung south for the final 25kms down to Skibotn along the eastern shore of Storfjord, the southern extension of the mighty 150km long Lyngenfjord (see map at head of page). Again we paused several times to photograph Storfjord's glaciated mountainous backdrop. Ahead on the approach to Skibotn, huge domed mountains dominated the skyline to the south overtopping the bay, with hanging valleys sculpted from the upper reaches of the massif and waterfalls tumbling the full height of the sheer face into the lower valley. We paused at Skibotn's little harbour where its fishing boats were moored (see below left), and a short distance further reached Skibotn NAF Camping set along the shore of the fjord. The higher terraces were filled with statics, but down at the fjord-side was a perfect, flat grassy terrace looking out across the loch to the line of glaciated Lyngen Alps on the far shore with the domed peaks rising up behind at the head of the valley. Despite the brisk breeze blowing across the fjord, Skibotn's other camping options could not rival this magnificent setting and mountainous backdrop (see right below), and we gladly settled in and brewed tea, looking forward to our day in camp tomorrow (Photo 22 - Skibotn Camping on shore of Storfjord against backdrop of Lyngen Alps).

We woke to a bright morning with the clouds just breaking and the emerging sun picking out detail of the peaks and glaciers which filled Lyngebdalen across the far side of Storfjord, with occasional fishing boats from Skibotn's harbour chugging across the fjord; what better view from your breakfast table could you ask for in all the world (Photo 23 - Fjord-side breakfast at Skibotn Camping). The tide in the shallow fjord receded fully during the morning revealing mud flats and using George as a hide, we were able to watch Oyster Catchers, Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers and Redshanks. Later as the fjord filled again with the returning tide, the mountainous backdrop was reflected in the still waters of the loch (Photo 24 - Alpine reflections in Storfjord) and through binoculars we were able to pick out ice-cliffs and snow cornices on the Alpine peaks across the fjord. Blessed with such gloriously peaceful and sunny weather, Skibotn had to rank as yet another 'finest camp settings ever'. Late afternoon the sun moved round and back-lit the grasses growing along the fjord-side (Photo 25 - Fjord-side grasses lit by afternoon sun). The evening was warm but as the declining sun with a climactic flare finally disappeared behind the mountain massif, the temperature tangibly dropped and we were forced inside to cook supper (Photo 26 - Setting sun across Storfjord). With the on-coming dusk, a salmon-pink after-glow lit the still surface of the fjord silhouetting the mountains against the darkening sky and the lights of distant settlements on the far side of the fjord twinkled in the gloom (see left below). It was a perfect climax to a truly remarkable day in camp in this magnificent fjord-side setting.

Leaving Skibotn with a host of happy memories, we turned off onto Route E8 heading towards Kilpisjärvi on the Finland's NW border (see map at head of page). The wooded lower valley of Skibotndalen was enclosed on both sides with craggy cliffs some fringed with snow; this was a monumental landscape although the winding narrow road gave little opportunity for glancing around as we advanced up the valley. The weather was still fine and our plan was to stop off at the Lulledalen Nature Trail, marked by an insignificant sign marked 'Tursti' (meaning hike or trail) pointing to a parking area along a side track part way up the valley. The information panel at the start of the 2.4km nature trail claimed that 8 species of wild orchids grew here, but as we expected by mid-August these were over. The path climbed steeply onto a 100m high ridge where we found bushy plants of Lady Slipper Orchids seen by us earlier in the Oulanka National Park in Eastern Finland (Lady Slipper Orchids); but by now only the shrivelled remains of this spectacular flower were left, recognisable by their distinctive shape (see right). Nearby were specimens of the more modest Creeping Lady's Tresses Orchid; it was here also that we found our first newly-forming unripe Lingonberries (see below left), having been seeing the flowers almost all of the trip. Back to the road, we continued up the valley to where the Rovijokossen waterfalls cascaded over precipitous rocks into the river canyon. From here, Route E8 rose in sweeping bends above the tree-line to a stony tundra plateau, barren and forbidding even in bright sunshine; a sign announced Galggogobba - 542m above sea level, and the terrain certainly looked as hellish as the name suggested. Shortly beyond here, we finally reached the Finnish border and paused to celebrate our temporary return to our original host country (Photo 27 - Re-crossing the border into NW Finland near).

Moving forward on a now better road in Finland, we began passing reindeer again as a sign warned we were re-entering reindeer herding territory, and 5 kms further reached the Kilpisjärvi Retkeil-keskus (Hiking Centre), our campsite for the next couple of nights. At reception, we were faced again with Finnish sounding so unfamiliar after 5 comfortable weeks of Norwegian. The camping area was terraced up the hillside on the lower slopes of Saana, Finland's highest mountain at 1000m, whose craggy cliffs towered above. It was rather like camping in a dusty building site with powered pitches spaced between the now deserted winter huts, some with snow-mobiles parked outside. It was certainly not the most attractive of settings but the views looked out across Lake Kilpisjärvi and the surrounding fells of the Swedish border. The sun was still bright and temperature a remarkable 23°C in the shade, and soon after we had pitched, a familiar trit-trot sound announced a small herd of reindeer scampering through the campsite (see below right) (Photo 28 - Reindeer grazing the campsite at Kilpisjärvi ). The sun moved round and its line of descent meant it would set around 10-00pm over the rounded peak of Malla fell, and as always at this time of year, the moment it dipped below the horizon, the temperature fell quickly. But 10 minutes later, the sun's flaring orb re-appeared from the steeply sloping right hand edge of Malla's summit and it began to shine again for a further 15 minutes before setting a second time below the fell's lower slopes; 2 sunsets in one evening was something of a record!

The following day dawned clear and bright again but with the rocky bulk of Saana towering above us, George remained in shade until 9-30am when the sun finally cleared the mountain skyline (see left). Our plan for today was to catch the 2-00pm boat across Lake Kilpisjärvi, for the fell-land trek to the meeting point of the 3 borders of Norway, Finland and Sweden. This spot is marked by a stone monument, the Treriksröset (Three Countries Cairn), originally erected in 1897 by the governments of Norway and Imperial Russia (which at that time governed the Grand Duchy of Finland); Sweden could not agree on a boundary commission with Norway and erected its own monument in 1901. Norway separated from Sweden to become an independent state in 1905, and the current Three Countries Cairn was erected in 1926, 9 years after Finland's independence. The Treriksröset marks the northernmost point of Sweden and westernmost point of mainland Finland (the most westerly point is actually an Åland Islands skerry). From the landing stage just below the campsite, the boat Malla set off to cross the lake with puff-ball clouds and blue sky reflected in the waters (Photo 29 - The boat Malla waiting to cross Lake Kilpisjärvi), taking 30 minutes to reach the far shore at the point just into Swedish territory where the stream marking the Swedish~Finnish border entered the lake. We now had 2 hours for the 6km round trek to the 3 borders meeting point, and set off apace on a fell-land track along the Swedish bank of the stream. It took us ¾ hour to cover the outward 3 kms to reach a small lake at the end of which we found the 1901 Swedish memorial. The 1926 monument was 300m further set on an islet in Lake Goldajärvi and reached by a board-walk. It certainly was not the most elegant of monuments, being an ungainly concrete conical object painted Swedish yellow with the board-walk extending around it. The monument's setting however more than made up for its unattractive appearance: looking across the board-walk, the conical stone reflected in the lake was backed by a magnificent panorama of snow-capped peaks on the distant Norwegian sky-line (Photo 30 - Three Borders Monument). Back on the shore, we DEET-ed up against the midges for the return walk to the boat.

The sky had darkened over from earlier and ominous storm clouds over Sweden threatened a drastic change in the weather as we re-crossed Lake Kilpisjärvi. Reaching the landing-stage, we hot-footed it up the hill back to camp before the storm broke. The sky darkened even further from the NW and we just caught the edge of a squally storm blowing up over Norway. The reindeer came trotting through the campsite again this evening, their hooves clattering along the roadways.

Leaving Kilpisjärvi the following morning, we had a long 250km drive the length of Finland's barren and largely uninhabited NW extension, to reach Enontekiö and turn north again to re-cross into Norway for a stay at Kautokeino (see map at head of page). Beyond Kilpisjärvi village, just a few hotels, supermarket and filling station, the land was clearly reindeer herding country, and we had to slow several times to avoid reindeer as they wandered across the road. The onward Route 21 followed the shore of Lake Kilpisjärvi and ran alongside the meandering Künkämaalva River which formed the Finnish~Swedish border. This was a lonely road passing nothing but a handful of tiny Sámi hamlets, little more than a small huddle of huts, sometimes undulating over a series of blind summits, other times a dead straight line into the distance as far as the eye could see. The terrain was barren and scrub-covered tundra with stone-fields alongside the river. Even on a dazzling sunny morning it was a bleak and cheerless panorama stretching away grey-green to distant horizons, broken only by a few low rounded fells, a most un-Finnish landscape. There was little traffic apart from the occasional heavy truck heading the opposite way towards Norway. As we approached the settlement of Kaaresuvanto, the terrain became more wooded and the surrounding fells flatter; the road crossed the major Lätäseno watercourse which drains these northern fells of Finland's NW arm to flow onward joined by many tributaries eventually into the Bothnian Gulf at Tornio. Reaching the road junction at Kaaresuvanto, we diverted briefly across the river which formed the open border with Sweden to spend a few moments in the Northern Swedish town of Karesuando; perhaps this and yesterday's 6 km trek in Swedish territory was where the seeds of next year's trip were sown.

Re-crossing into Finland still following the line of the Swedish border, the terrain became increasingly wooded with spruce and birch forests as we turned off onto Route 93 towards Enontekiö. The pine forests through which we passed became more familiarly Finnish, but the birch which lined the road were now beginning to show the first golden-orange tinges of autumn, what the Finns call Ruska; the year was moving on. Reaching Enontekiö, we followed Route 93 north towards the Norwegian border with the terrain reverting to tundra scrub, a desolate, empty landscape extending to distant horizons. Reaching the outskirts of Kautokeino, we found Arctic Motel-Camping, a delightfully welcoming and straightforward campsite with close-cropped turf camping area and a Sámi lavvu-tent for social gatherings around an evening camp-fire. We booked in at reception and, despite our first language problems of the trip (the family's first language was Sámi), we learnt that our visit would coincide with a Sámi wedding at Kautokeino church. Many Sámi from far afield would be gathering for the wedding, all wearing their traditional Sámi outfits. Before settling in, we drove into town to try to find out the wedding's time tomorrow.

Traditionally the Norwegian Northern Sámi had lived a nomadic reindeer-herding life-style, and Kautokeino had formed the main winter siida-encampment with the herds grazing lichen on the surrounding tundra fells; as the weather warmed, they migrated with their reindeer to the coast for summer grazing. The invention of snow-mobiles brought an end to this nomadic life; the draughty lavvu-tents were no longer needed as temporary dwellings and could be turned to more profitable usage selling tacky souvenirs to tourists. The Sámi could now settle in more comfortable housing estates at Kautokeino, still a useful supply base but rather a functional township straggling over the hillside along Route 93. Most of the town's 2,000 inhabitants still speak Sámi as their first language, but only 25% of these still make their living from reindeer herding; in winter however there are over 100,000 animals grazing the tundra slopes over the largely uninhabited 10,000 square kms of Kautokeino's commune. We found the church but that was locked today; at the Co-op in the centre, we could buy cloudberry jam, but no one could tell us the time of tomorrow's wedding, not even the elderly lady queuing at the till in her Sámi costume (see above right). The TIC seemed itself to be nomadic and when we finally did track it down, they could not tell us. We wondered if this was a feature of Sámi weddings: with nomadic guests bringing their reindeer across vast distances of tundra, you simply could not be precise about such mundane things as time; just turn up on Friday and there'll be a wedding. Or perhaps it was a closely-kept Sámi secret, not to be revealed to outsiders by this closed community even though we ourselves lived a nomadic life-style like them. We settled in at Arctic Motel-Camping and that evening learnt more about reindeer-herding from the campsite owner as we sat around the birch-wood fire in the lavvu-tent (see left).

The following afternoon we walked up to Kautokeino church which was now open, the Norwegian and Sámi flags fluttering in the breeze, and from the church warden we learnt that the wedding would be at 4-00pm; the secret was out! The red-brown wooden church, built in 1958 to replace that destroyed in WW2 barbarian occupiers, had a plain interior decorated in the Sámi colours of red, green, blue and gold, with some fixtures salvaged from the original 1701 church. Several elderly ladies arrived in their full Sámi costumes: red bonnets, fringed shawls, flared blue skirts; on their feet they wore sturdy leather shoes with upturned pointed toe-caps and decorated with pop-poms, with colourful bindings around their ankles. Another lady arrived, too frail-looking to be driving her battered Transit van, and joined the others on the church porch (see right). More families began arriving, greeting and photographing one another, with much self-conscious adjustment of their colourful costumes; clearly their full dress-uniforms were only worn for special occasions. The womenfolk were all wearing their gold and silver jewellery medallions, and the men wore blue and red jerkins with square collar and decorative belts; a few wore red upright hats topped a blue tri-corn attachment. Children stood with their mothers in family groups wearing miniature versions of the costumes. The car park was filling but everyone waited outside on the church steps for the bridal party to arrive. Eyes turned to watch the bridal procession walking up the drive with the bride and groom in the centre dressed in their finery, and the church's bells began to sound adding to the excitement. The guests all filed into the church, and the bridal pair followed to be seated in the chancel. We stood in the open doorway, looking into the sea of red and blue Sámi costumes and bonnets which filled the church (Photo 31 - Sámi wedding at Kautokeino church). The wedding service was long and solemnly Lutheran with the priest speaking in Sámi, little Sámi boys ran around, and crying babies were carried out by Sámi dads. The newly weds led the procession out of the church and with their immediate family, all stood in a group on the church steps for photographs, the bride and groom standing in the centre smiling to their guests (Photo 32 - Sámi bride and Groom). Everyone lined up to congratulate the newly weds; we walked down the drive to pick bilberries for supper, as you would after a Sámi wedding, and returned to camp. It had been a fortuitously engaging day seeing not just a few but a whole tribe of Sámi dressed in their Sunday best; we should take with us from Kautokeino a treasure trove of colourful memories and wish the newly weds well, with our inclusion of a  Sámi wedding photo gallery

The following morning, we set off to drive south back to the Finnish border. Join us again shortly to share the continuing journey as we begin our 1,000 mile drive down through the length of Finland with many more interesting experiences still to come.

Next edition to be published in 2 weeks

Sheila and Paul

Published:  22 January 2013


This week's Photo Gallery
Sámi wedding photo gallery
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Music this week: Halling frå Telmark
(Wedding Dance from Telmark)

Played on the langeleik by Olav Snortheim

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