At 68 degrees north, a sublime archipelago lies alongside the coast of Norway. Here, in the Arctic Circle, Lofoten is a land of mountainous fjords and open seas. I have been to Lofoten twice. The first time we explored the fjords in a RIB boat, exposed to the elements during the dark polar night of December. Our days were short. The sun never rose, instead each day brought us four hours of twilight. The second time was more conventional, by car in the deep snow and bitter cold of early February.
We left Reine in the dark, towards the maelstrom through which we would sail to Hell. Soon the snow began to fall. Sitting at the front of the boat, in the cold waters of the Norwegian Sea, it pounded my forehead. Through five layers of winter clothing, I felt the chill in my bones.
There is no road to Hell, a long-abandoned fishing village on the southern tip of Moskenesøya. There’s nowhere to land a boat either. Instead our skipper, Lars, skilfully held the boat against the rocks.
Relieved to see land, we gathered our belongings and clambered ashore. We huddled as a storm blew through, covering us with fresh snow. In its wake, the ground beneath us had frozen.
Over the following days, the fjords became our domain, on the sea and on land. It’s impossible to escape the majestic fjords of Lofoten, doubly so when your only means of transportation is the sea itself.
Towering above, their height emphasised by the perspective of their closeness, it’s hard to describe the sheer, almost vertical faces that rise straight from the water. Djupfjorden, Forsfjorden and Reinefjord all made their delights clear.
But Vorfjorden kept its best secret hidden from those only passing through. We navigated to the very top of the fjord, carefully landing the boat in shallow water. We’d heard there was a lake here. Climbing to the top of a small ridge we found ourselves silenced by the stillness, the cold waters of Festhælvatnet before us.
But the fjords are not untouched by man. Nestled deep in Kjerkfjorden are the settlements of Kirkefjord and Rostad, which are only populated in summer and only accessible by boat. Life here relies on a local ferry that brings post and supplies, but there was no ferry to Rostad that day. We tied our boat to the pier, climbed up a ladder and passed the postboxes, each labelled with the name of a local family.
Once again we wandered in silence, but this time exploring the telltale signs of man rather than nature.
When we went to Bunes, a larger settlement at the top Bunesfjord, we did take the ferry. Our icy walk from the centre of Reine to the harbour was as treacherous as what was to come. Sailing in the pitch black we stood on the deck, moving inside when it became too cold. It was still dark when we got to Bunes; we passed the time in a small wooden hut by the pier while we waited for first light.
When the sun finally reached its high point just under the horizon, we started our walk along the frozen paths through the village, thick ice crunching under the spikes on our boots. The streetlights were all on, as were some of the lights in the houses, but there was no-one there.
Just past the village, we reached the top of a ridge and looked down at the beach that was our destination. To get there, we had to carefully make our way down the other side of the ridge, which was steep and layered with snow and ice. At the bottom, the entire beach was frozen solid.
All too quickly the light started to fade and we headed back the way we had come, over the snowy ridge and along the icy paths. By the time we got back to the top of the fjord, it was already dark.
We huddled once more in the wooden hut by the pier and waited for the ferry to return, just hoping that we hadn’t missed it. As we had been that morning, we were the only passengers on board and thankful that the boat was warm.
Our December adventure might have been over, but I knew that in two short months I was going to return.
The beach was frozen solid.
February was colder than December. Much colder, despite the longer days. Those longer days brought with them a new kind of light. Brighter, crisper and more colourful, yet still somehow retaining the softness of winter in the far north.
From our base in the fisherman’s cottages of Hamnøy, on the edge of Moskenesøya, we spent our days exploring the islands of Lofoten. Flakstadøya, the next island to the east, was our road to the rest of the archipelago. It was in Flakstadøya that we found the beach at Ramberg. Surrounded by mountains, the white, sandy beach of Jusnesvika bay was instead white from ice and snow.
The roads were also white with snow. An unbroken, compacted layer gave the studs on our tyres something to bite into as we searched for our next destination. Yet somehow, no matter how still the weather when we stopped, every time we got out of the car we were hit by a gust of wind that blew the snow in our faces.
How could it not be worth it? Alone with this unyielding landscape, seeing it at its very best.
Haukland & Uttakleiv
On one journey across Moskenesøya and Flakstadøya, we saw winds blowing snow from the mountains in the warm afternoon light. Realising this was a fleeting moment, we stopped the car, quickly grabbed our cameras and ran towards the light. Just seconds later we had to turn our backs to the mountain in front of us, bracing ourselves as we were battered by the spindrift.
Our destination was the beach at Uttakleiv, on the northern coast of Vestvågøya. We made countless journeys to Uttakleiv, surely one of the best beaches in Lofoten. Each time we believed the conditions would be just right and each time things just didn’t quite work. Eventually, they did and our persistence paid off. Uttakleiv’s location on the northeastern coast made it perfect for a winter sunset, though the northerly gales did make it rather cold!
The nearby beach at Haukland couldn't have been more different. A white sandy beach, protected on both sides by headlands, it stood in stark contrast to the wild seas and granite slabs at Uttakleiv. Yet once again it was the frozen rock, not the sandy beach, that held my attention.
we made countless journeys, Eventually the conditions were right.
Uttakleiv was not our only habitual destination. We also made several visits to the small village at Fredvang, on Moskenesøya. Just south of the village, the banks of Selfjord were lined with large slabs of rock. Overcast skies cast a soft light, drawing us to the patina beneath our feet.
To the north of Fredvang, we found the beach at Yttersand, which became my favourite place in Lofoten. Here, low lying clouds left the beach and its surrounding mountains encompassed in a subdued drama. A single break in the clouds and a spot of light over the mountains showed us the real colour of the sea. We watched as the light appeared once more, this time a reflection of the mountains illuminating the rippled sand.
As we left Fredvang, just before the two cantilever bridges that form its only connection to the rest of Norway, we stopped at the side of the road. I stood looking at the frozen water, towards the tiny island of Skjeppholmen. It was here that our journey would end. In perfect stillness. In silence. In Lofoten.