The Lofoten Life – turning 40, 68 degrees north

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Have you heard of the Lofoten islands? Thanks to a friend at work, I found out about this incredible place in Norway, and it sounded like the perfect place to celebrate my husband Michael’s big ’40’ birthday! It’s as far north as we’ve ever been, at 68 degrees north of the Arctic circle. We were a little late for the midnight sun, and a little early for the northern lights, but it was still magnificent and some of the most beautiful natural scenery I’ve seen in my life!

One of my friends asked when she saw where we were on the map, “Are you sure you’re far enough off the grid”?! It does look to be in the middle of nowhere, is pretty isolated, and you have to wonder what anyone choosing to live in the more remote parts is escaping from, but despite this, there was still Wifi available almost everywhere. I even got a phone call on top of one of the mountains from none other than Fittleworth, my ostomy delivery company, wanting to know if I needed to put in my monthly ostomy order!! The population of all the Lofoten islands is 24,500, but many of the villages only have a few hundred at most (some only a handful). In the summer there must be as many tourists as locals!

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We flew into Harstad/Narvick airport in Evenes and hired a car. The night we arrived was pouring with rain, but we were lucky to have some decent weather over our 9 nights. We spent a night near the airport before driving to the south western most point of the archipelago, Å which is rather suitably the equivalent of Z (the last letter) in the Norwegian alphabet and happens to have the BEST damn kanelsnurr (cinnamon rolls) on Lofoten!

We booked Airbnbs and based ourselves in Sorvagen for 4 nights to explore the island of Moskenesoy first, then headed back east, broke things up with a night in Leknes, before ending with 3 nights in Henningsvaer (on the island of Austvagoy).

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The Lofoten islands are an archipelago made up of 4 or 5 main islands, plus countless other smaller islands, joined by many bridges and tunnels. The total length of the archipelago is only 175 kilometres and there is one main road (the E10) that takes you from one end to the other, with the broad, deep Vesterålsfjorden separating it from the Norwegian mainland (which you can often see silhouetted across the waters). Whilst 175km doesn’t seem long, it takes a lot longer than you’d think to drive the length of the islands, a) because the roads can be quite narrow and windy so the speed limit is low b) you often get stuck behind a campervan but mainly c) because you are continuously stopping to take in another amazing view or photo opportunity, and taking every possible detour off the main road to another spectacular site!!

As the Lonely Planet says, “the beauty of this place is simply staggering”. Around every corner we turned we couldn’t believe the backdrop that lay before us. It just kept getting better and better. And it kept changing. Depending on the weather or the time of day, the light and the colours would give the landscapes a completely different feel. Lofoten is all about the scenery – alpine-like peaks (some still with patches of snow in August), craggy cliffs, sheer mountains towering above sandy beaches with some of the most turquoise coloured waters I’ve seen, expansive sheltered bays, coastal tracks and headlands, picturesque little fishing villages, fjords, cod drying racks, and of course the traditional little red rorbuers (fisher’s huts).

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It’s a very outdoorsy place, and although neither Mikey or I are the fittest of people we are always up for a challenge and adventure, so we were determined to do a few hikes. We were a little daunted as we’d heard the Norwegian standard of hiking difficulty was a little above our usual level, and what they rated easy was probably closer to our moderate or hard. We decided to start out easy and work our way up. We ended up doing around 7 different walks, from hiking up 500+ metre mountains, and what felt like almost vertical rocky cliff faces, to much tamer and less elevated walks between beautiful beaches walled in by mountainous sheep topped ridges! I am astounded how high the sheep get without toppling down! I am so glad we gave the slightly more difficult hikes a go (we did a few ranked “moderate” but didn’t dare try the “hard”), because they were definitely highlights of the trip, in particular Ryten and Kvalvika beach, Roren and Yttersand beach, and the hike up Nippen overlooking Henningsvaer. At a few points we asked ourselves what on earth we were doing and wondered how the hell we were going to get back down, but the views from the top were well worth the effort, and the feeling of accomplishment felt pretty damn good once we did make it back to sea level!

The photos really don’t do the place justice. The combination of mountains and the turquoise blue sea was truly beautiful. It was normal to be a bit nervous about my bag, particularly given we went on 3-4 hour hikes and there weren’t any toilets on route. True to form, my little guy behaved brilliantly! I was a little conscious of not eating too much before heading out or whilst on the hikes, but I wasn’t stupid about it (I had to eat after all!). Whilst there were a few semi uncomfortable moments, and I burped my bag to let out the gassy air on numerous occasions mid walk, all in all it was perfectly fine.

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Apart from the driving and hiking and eating cinnamon rolls (we figured we’d earnt them!), we visited many of the small little atmospheric fishing villages like Nusfjord, and the artsy ones like Vikten (for some reason glass blowing is a big thing in Lofoten), plus stopped at some fabulous look out points and sculptures as part of Artscape Nordland (“an international art project that aims to bring art to people where they live, art museums being few and far apart in the sparsely populated county of Nordland”). Even the rest stops are impressive, like Akkarvikodden (don’t ask me to pronounce all these names!) which has a toilet block designed to look like the surrounding mountains!

Eating is normally a big part of our travels (I am lucky that I can basically eat anything with my ostomy). Although Norway in general is expensive, even by London standards, we had kitchens everywhere we stayed, so we were able to self-cater most nights and take picnic sandwiches on our hikes, plus we bought some duty-free alcohol. A 500ml beer at a restaurant or bar is around NOK 900 (approx. 9 GBP)! Even groceries are quite pricey, but still cheaper than eating out all the time. We had 2 dinners out (including Michael’s birthday meal) and a couple of lunches – mostly seafood. We ate a LOT of traditional stock fish and smoked salmon – yum! We tried a tiny bit of smoked whale on offer at a deli counter (couldn’t bring ourselves to actually order it), and some dried reindeer (like jerky – really strong, not to our taste). Michael kept saying he was going to try seagull eggs, but never did!

Henningsvaer, nicknamed the ‘Venice of Lofoten’ due to it being spread over several small islands, is where we spent our last few nights including Mikey’s birthday night. The day of Michael’s actual birthday it rained heavily most of the day, so we decided to go to the Viking museum and festival (Mikey got to throw a few axes and sit in the chieftans chair!), and we had a lovely seafood dinner at Lofotmat, before pondering getting old at the world’s most fantastically located football field! We’d booked a kayak tour for the next morning but as it was blowing a gale and still pouring with rain when we went to bed that night, we weren’t holding our breath. The next morning, we woke to blue skies and clear, calm waters – near perfect conditions for kayaking, and spent 3 hours out paddling around the waters and islands of Henninsvaer – another highlight. If anyone ever tries to tell you that you can’t go on adventures and hikes and do all these incredible things with an ostomy, prove them wrong!!!

Lofoten is like nowhere else we’ve been. Dramatic, rugged, and astoundingly scenic. We enjoyed getting outdoors and challenging ourselves on hikes, but also relaxed, and slowed down from our regular London life pace, taking it all in and breathing the fresh, fresh air. A very memorable holiday – happy birthday Mikey! Now it’s time to start thinking about where to go for my 40th next year!!! Eeek!!

Laura x

For more info on travel to Lofoten I recommend: http://www.68north.com/

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