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      July 2014 > Let the adventure begin...

Let the adventure begin...

Leaving its home port on a dull morning with little promise of the drama to come, our boat began to head northwards, carefully picking its way in and out of the myriad small islands, shoals and rocky outcrops scattered haphazardly along a deeply-indented coastline.

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

Determined not to miss a single second of the trip, I headed for the bow eagerly anticipating what I knew would be some breathtaking views, bracing myself against the growing breeze as the boat began to pick up speed. And I didn’t have to wait long to be awed by the scenery – around every headland I saw beaches of white sand, where scarlet-billed oyster-catchers, arctic terns and common gulls fed in the shallows as the tide receded; red-painted wooden houses in green meadows framed by forests which rose to stark granite peaks; and distant lines of jagged mountains enticing us ever onwards.

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

I suppose I could have settled in the heated lounge area with other passengers, sheltered from the icy wind that was whipping off the Arctic Ocean, but there was so much to see and experience from the deck that, suitably wrapped, I was determined to brave the elements, come what may. Unquestionably the right decision, as this surely has to be one of the most exciting ferry journeys anywhere in Europe, if not the world – a thrilling three-hour voyage up the coast from the town of Bødo in north-west Norway to Svolvær, the capital of the Lofoten Islands.

The boat is a sleek catamaran, the MS Salten, a Hurtigbåter (‘express boat’) built in 2003 for the Torghatten Nord line, based in Tromsø. Operating throughout northern Norway, such boats provide essential links between the fishing and crofting communities of the remote islands and isolated parts of the mainland – as well as giving tourists fast and easy access to these remarkable places.

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

Today’s passengers are a mix of tourists and locals. I meet Chris from Holland, a seasoned traveller heading to the islands for a two-week cycling holiday. We chat on deck, shouting to be heard above the sound of the powerful twin engines at the stern, yet unable to speak at all on the front – it’s cold and the wind whips through my jacket, my trousers flapping wildly as we press on. I spot a sea eagle, perched upon a rocky islet watching us cruise by, while screeching gulls and terns wheel overhead. Where deeper channels allow, the boat picks up speed – the throbbing of the engines vibrating through our bodies, and the salty spray soaking our smiling faces. If you like being on the water, this is great fun!

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

The speed is tempered as we pass beneath a high arching bridge linking one small island to the mainland at Bogøya, and when we enter small harbours where friends and relatives eagerly wait to greet returning loved ones, while caped cyclists with bulging panniers and young back-packers prepare to hop on board.

The crew are about as laid-back a group of seamen as you’re ever likely to meet and my request to visit them on the bridge is warmly welcomed by the youthful-looking Captain Bjørn Harald Dahl. It’s like entering someone’s front room – four comfy leather armchairs face a huge panoramic window beneath which banks of computer screens show in great detail the exact position of the boat, the depth of water, the speed, the engine performance, like the latest computer game, but for grown-ups.

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

They guide the boat in and out of many tiny harbours along the route, barely seeming to stop in some, yet safely delivering their cargo, before moving on to the next port of call. Brennsund, Helnessund, Nordskot, Holkestad, Bogøya and Skutvik – tiny outposts eagerly awaiting the arrival of the express boat. They do have schedule to keep but they don’t let it get in the way of providing a personal service as I soon found out.

On one recent trip, I was told, the crew noticed a blip on the radar directly ahead. They slowed the boat and inched it forward until they could see what was causing a possible delay to the way ahead. The crew were somewhat surprised to see a young moose swimming across the strait between a small island and the mainland. It was making good headway, so in order not to alarm the animal, the captain stopped the boat and invited the bemused passengers on deck to witness this unusual occurrence. This sort of behaviour (by the captain, not the moose!) is not rare.

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

Indeed, the following day at our red-painted wooden cottage, I heard tell how two Inntravellers that very day had mistakenly disembarked from the ferry on the island of Skrova instead of staying on until Svolvær (an easy mistake to make, especially when one’s whole being is focused wholly on absorbing such mesmeric scenery.) On discovering their error, they asked the harbour master in Skrova for his advice, expecting to be told that the next boat would not arrive until the following morning. No such thing. He simply telephoned the ferry – and it turned round without hesitation and came back to pick them up! Now, is it just me or do you find that quite a heart-warming story? Indeed, where else would you find such a personal service like that? Not ‘ferry’ many places, I warrant...

A final surge across the open sea from the Skutvik on the mainland via the island of Brettesnes, a foaming wake in its wake, and MS Salten docks in Svolvær, capital of one of the most dramatic and beautiful archipelagos in the world, where a whole new adventure is about to begin...

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

... but more about that later.

[All photographs: Peter R Williamson]

Posted: 18/07/2014 14:02:57 by | with 2 comments
Filed under: islands, landscapes, Norway, transport, travel

Andy Montgomery
Great story about the ferry going back for passengers - I can't see that happening many places! Amazing scenery and great pics :)
30/07/2014 16:00:39

Looking forward to the next installment. What scenery!
23/07/2014 11:22:42

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