Monday, 2nd January. We’re due in to Bergen at 14.45. Suitcases to be made available for handlers by 09.00, cabins vacated by 10.00. I was in Deck 8’s panoramic lounge by 09.30, and it filled quite quickly. I was too late to get a window seat.
I spent most of the time knitting, and was fascinated when this big rock came into view straight ahead. (Most passengers didn’t seem to notice it.)
On my tablet, I watched on Hurtigruten’s own tracker app. From this I could see that this large rock was in fact two large rocks.
On my phone, I followed on Google Maps. For much of the voyage this had been pretty inaccurate, often placing us on land by a few kilometres from where we were. GPS is less reliable towards the north because no satellite travels directly overhead. Thank goodness the ship’s navigation systems were more reliable than this!
Sometimes I watched on both.
Why was I watching so closely? Well, apart from the fact that I just like maps, like some others I was a little concerned that if we were late into Bergen it could mean missed flights. Mine was for 17.25. Some had a flight at 17.05. (To cut to the end of the story, the boat pulled in dead on time. Once through airport formalities, I had only 20 minutes in hand in the event, due to a couple of other hiccups. Whether those due on the 17.05 flight made it I don’t know. I had left my travel arrangements to Hurtigruten, London. Other passengers had anticipated problems and had booked a night’s accommodation in Bergen. Perhaps another time… )
Meanwhile, just enjoy the views, I told myself. It had been dark on the first evening as we sailed northwards through this scenery. I watched the sun rising, and, before we reached Bergen, start to fall.
It was time for a final turn round Deck 9, in the open air.
But for the cold, I could have stayed there for ever.
Picnic lunch from elements picked up at breakfast, though a meal was available in the restaurant from 11.30 to 13.00.
I’ve been home three weeks, and have so enjoyed reliving such a great trip as I’ve prepared these posts, sad to have come to their end. And I have a great longing, which started even on the boat, to repeat it at a time when the skies will be lighter for much longer, but while there is still a chance to see the Northern Lights. Spring? Or autumn? Nice dilemma. I’m inclining towards October 2024 …
PS Two articles on Norway which appeared in The Guardian recently:
We were noticeably moving south. It was getting light much earlier. This was the view from my cabin window at 09.15.
It was New Year’s Day, and that was presumably the reason there were no excursions on offer, since local guides and other bodies will have wanted to use it to recover from the night before. Also, the stop at Trondheim was only for an hour, where, had we not extended our stay at Rørvik the night before, we would have stayed much longer.
I didn’t go to a talk on ‘ice ages, glaciers and climate’ at 10.45, because we had arrived at …
… at 10.30, and I wanted to take pictures outside, including casting off. Firstly from Deck 6, forward starboard,
… where, to my delight, I had a first! I had never seen an eider duck before. This is a male.
From the same spot, but looking over my right shoulder.
Continuing round the boat, anti-clockwise.
More wildlife! Hooded crows scavenging from a waste container, which I saw being reloaded on board a few minutes later. (In the UK, hooded crows are only found in N and W Scotland, N Ireland and on the Isle of Man.)
Behind us – the Richard With! The boat that had led J and me astray (have to blame something) when we were previously in Trondheim! Only this time she was at the Hurtigruten terminal, not several miles/kilometres away.
I went up to the open part of Deck 9.
We moved off.
In this next video, in the distance, the other side of the fjord, can be seen a very large building, sunlit on one side. That is the Kornsilo building where we had found ourselves, lured by the Richard With, when we had been lost in Trondheim eight days previously.
I repaired to the panoramic lounge, deck 8. I had spent almost no time there during the voyage.
This video was taken from ‘upstairs’ of the double-decker lounge.
Lunch was in a very (sideways) sunlit dining room – what a change!
There I took the opportunity to consult fellow passengers on how to find boarding cards on a phone once you’d downloaded them – not something I’d never had to do before, always printing them out at home beforehand.
I spent a quiet afternoon in my cabin, except for the last English-language briefing, and started sorting out my packing.
We overtook this boat. The only name I could see on it was ‘M-35-A’ and I’ve been unable to find anything out about it. It’s in Hurtigruten colours, but is that significant? Are those colours unique to Hurtigruten?
The following morning, this would be the last time Heinz would invite us out on deck.
It had occurred to me that, given that the skies were so clear, there just might be a chance of seeing the Northern Lights again that evening. Sure enough, at at 20.45, the dulcet tones of ‘Onchel Heinz’ came over the intercom – and I was just stepping into the shower. I just could not face layering up again…
We crossed back over the Arctic Circle, 66’33″N, at 8.45, but I didn’t go on up on deck this time. An hour later we were invited to go up for the appropriate ceremony.
As we had been told in the previous day’s briefing, this time there was to be no ice down the back. Each would be invited – no compulsion of course – to take a spoonful of cod liver oil. And we could keep the spoon from which it was served. “If you want more spoons… [you can buy some more in the shop? Oh no] … you’ll have to drink more cod liver oil!”
Excursion Manager Heinz and hotel manager Sigmund played out a scenario of how this would make us all roaringly strong. No hardship, I thought, I’d had to drink masses of the stuff as a child.
It was Sigmund who served me. The spoon was/is of an excellent quality – but I didn’t need any more. Instead I availed myself of the excellent hot chocolate being served in the adjacent Polar Bar, in a metal mug also to keep, which got rid of the unpleasant taste left in my mouth
I didn’t go to a talk on ‘Norwegian fairytales, myths and legends’. And I stayed in my cabin during a brief stop at Sandnessjøen.
But I did go onto deck 6 to try to take photos and a video of the Seven Sisters, ‘female trolls turned to stone’, about which we had been told in the previous day’s briefing. But as the PA announcement said, today they were rather shy, scarcely visible here behind the low-lying hills, because of low cloud.
The English-language briefing was at 14.15. At 15.00 we would be stopping at Bronnøysund for a couple of hours where there was the chance to go on a flat walk with Heinz, or to ‘visit the salmon‘. While I don’t eat meat, I do eat fish, including farmed, but I had no desire to see the farming operation. The walk promised to be a gentle one, so I had booked on to it. It would be on the green (in summer) part of the town, which was comprised of several islands.
On the other hand it would be dark, and because the weather was unseasonably warm – it should have been below freezing at this time of year – underfoot it would be rather slushy at times.
Indeed, there was melted ice on top of solid ice at times. We were all obliged to wear what they called ‘spikes’. I had bought some Yaktrax with me, but I was not sure that they would serve for all the surfaces we were to walk on, so I accepted the team’s offer of a loan. I felt totally secure with what I later found were also Yaktrax, the Diamond Grip version. Mine were the Walk version. (The guy in front of me kept losing his, with me picking them up, as he didn’t even realise they had gone. He was OK once Heinz had shown him that he should make sure they came well up the sides of his boots!)
The walk was partly in the town and partly through forest. As the forest part was on a Nordic walking track, it was pretty well lit all the way. Heinz was full of anecdotes and information about Bronnøysund and life in Norway generally. He loves talking, and I should have loved to have asked many supplementary questions, but we had to get back to that boat!
The walk ended at this church, the agreed meeting point with the coach with the salmon visit people, which was to take us back to our temporary home.
At 19.30 I didn’t, for obvious reasons, go to watch King Harald V’s new year speech on one of the public television screens.
A five-course meal was served at the special New Years’ Eve dinner, and fortunately the portions ranged from tiny to medium, which meant one could really enjoy every one of them, right to the end.
At 22.00 we were invited to take a book we had bought from the shop to be signed by the main managers of the ship. I wondered whether my very modest purchase of this wonderful little paperback book was not a little too modest, but I saw that people were offering just postcards, or even leaflets, to be signed, so I hesitated no longer.
23.30. Heinz, Sigmund, and two others poured champagne in the Polar Bar. (There were about 450 passengers on board.)
At 21.00 we had arrived at a town called Rørvik, where normally the stop would have been for just 30 minutes. But it was celebrated for its New Year firework displays, from private houses that is, not a municipal show. So we were staying on until 00.30. The time would be caught up by a shorter stay at Trondheim.
The town’s display started gently, a few minutes before the turn of the year.
And then things went mad!
I understand that some didn’t retire to their cabins a for quite a while. I turned in around 00.30.
On Friday 30th December, three busfuls of passengers got off at 08.00 at Harstad to take a drive through the lovely Vesterålen islands, and to meet up again with MS Trollfjord two stops further on, at Sortland at 12.30. At that time, I was due to get off there for a bus ride to Stokmarknes in order to have a decent amount of time in the Hurtigruten Museum before reboarding the boat there at 15.00. I had a late breakfast as I didn’t know that I’d get any lunch, and took away with me the means to make a cheese sandwich and an apple.
The day before we had been told we would, hopefully, pass along the Risøyrenna, the 4.8 kilometre Risøy Channel.
It had been dredged and opened in 1922 to allow the Hurtigruten ships through, giving them access to its eponymous stop, and other places on the Lofoten Islands. It was narrow, and part of a beautiful passage. The channel was 7 metres deep, our boat having a draught of 5.5.
At 10.10 we were invited up to deck 9 to observe our passage through.
When I arrived:
I missed most of the opening English introduction, but did catch that we were hovering to see whether it was going to be safe to go through, given the very strong winds. Heinz then embarked on a long spiel in German.
After a minute or so I saw and felt that the boat was making an about-turn of 180 degrees. Heinz broke into English to explain that the captain had decided that the very strong winds meant that, especially with so little difference between the boat’s draught and the depth of the channel, it would not be safe to proceed. We would go straight to Svolvær, arriving at 12.55, via Harstad, missing out Risøyrenna, Sortland, and Stokmarknes. And this also meant we would not be seeing the entrance to the beautiful Trollfjord, after which the ship was named. But here’s an account (subject to permission) I’ve just found by, apparently, a North American, of their passage through the channel in 2014 at a different time of year.
A screen map showed us to be on our way back to Harstad.
We had to go there to pick up the turned-back passengers who had left for the Vesterålen excursions, and to deposit those ‘ordinary’ passengers who were due to leave the ship at one of the three ports now being missed. They would be bussed to their destinations. Later in the afternoon it was announced we would not be calling at Svolvær, but would go straight to Bodø, missing out Stamsund as well, arriving at 22.00.
All these changes meant that the trip to the Hurtigruten museum on which I was booked would not happen, nor for others, from Svolvær, three hours of horse-riding, nor another fishing village visit, nor an evening trek.
Back at Harstad, it was time for a twilight tour around the promenade deck, 6, before I returned to my cabin and had my picnic lunch. When going round deck 6, I always started on the starboard side and worked anticlockwise.
The English-language daily briefing was bought forward 45 minutes, to 14.15.
We would be crossing back over the Arctic Circle tomorrow.
Hege sought to reassure those of us who had been on the northwards journey that there would be no ice down the backs the following day, instead we would be invited to take a dose of …
A short presentation about life on the ship followed. It’s a good job there was no space for questions – I would have had far too many.
A film taking us around the lower decks was fascinating.
I can’t remember why I went up to deck 8, but for the Nth time I saw progress on the two jigsaws. One had been completed. I saw two people on the very final morning desperately trying to get the last 50 or so pieces in position before disembarkation.
At 16.30 an additional talk was programmed, the history of Hurtigruten, a sort-of replacement for the visit to the museum. It has been interesting to learn that ‘hurtigruten’ was sort-of lower case, an idea, an integral and essential part of Norwegian culture, less the name of a company, more a description of the journey. It means ‘express route’. It has been exploited by many companies over the years, but at its heart is Richard With’s initiative. The Hurtigruten Group finally came together in 2006. (Additional information from Wikipedia, inter alia.)
The afternoon was scattered with exchanges of emails with my French friend, Christine, I knew she would be following the ship’s progress on an interactive map, MS Trollfjord being ‘TF’, which, at the time of writing, is at the northernmost tip of Norway, on her second full trip since the one being described here. At the least Christine would be puzzled when she saw it way off the appointed route, so I kept her up to date with the various tergervisations. (There was also a mystery of a missing ship which apparently was going to be waiting for us a Bodø, but wasn’t and disappeared from the map, but that was never solved.)
Some time in the evening, it was announced that because of the extremely strong winds, the ship was now travelling more slowly, and we would not arrive at Bodø until 23.00. That was still 3.5 hours earlier than the official schedule. I have to say, other than feeling the gales up on deck 9 in the morning, I was very little aware of the winds. Perhaps the occasional need to steady oneself when walking around the ship, but that was all.
For some people, Day 8 started at 01.20. They had left the boat at Mehamn and rejoined at at Kjøllefjord at 03.25, having travelled some of the distance between the two by snow-scooter. I was not among them. The first announcement most of us heard was to explain a delay – we had taken on 130 tons of fish during the night at one of the stops! (Some reckoned that they could see the boat listing, but given the overall tonnage of the boat, I couldn’t – and didn’t – see that it made any difference.)
We were still at the very ‘top’ of Norway. This was taken just before 11.00.
The only lengthy stop that day was at Hammerfest, around 11.15. This claims to be the northernmost town – or was it city? – in the world. So does Honningsvåg. It seems that both can be true since one is technically a city and the other a town. This I found out when, cussedly, I said privately to ‘Onchel’ (pronounced ‘Onkle’) Heinz that I had visited the town of Longyearbyen on Svalbard, way, way to the north of mainland Norway. Ah, but that, being very small, was neither a town nor a city. OK.
The options here were: – to take a very short walk from the boat,
in order to see this;
or to take a bus to see it, then visit the town and its surroundings, including the Museum of Reconstruction of Finnmark and the Northern Troms regions;
or to go on a mountain hike.
Or of course to stay on the boat, which the majority did. I had booked on the second.
The monument was to mark the Struve Geodetic Arc, which started at Hammerfest and ended at the Black Sea. This was a chain of triangulations carried out between 1816 and 1855, which helped to establish the exact size and shape of the planet.
We were taken to a high viewpoint of the harbour, passing a much enlarged former Sami dwelling.
As we were taken back to the town centre, I grabbed a few photos from the bus.
Our whistle-stop tour of the museum provided a very natural and just as sobering sequel to the visit to the bomb shelter in Kirkenes the day before. It picked up from the scorched earth policy of the retreating Germans in 1944, and covered the plight of refugees in their own country, and subsequent reconstruction of their homes and other buildings. Much of it was text and most of the rest was old photos. With little time to read and study I just hastily grabbed images to read later. Here are some.
And we were rushed on, back to the boat.
I reflected on the words of the Norwegian boatowner over breakfast a couple of days earlier, who had said that Norwegians remembered the war. And I also noted the different approaches of our local guides: the passion of that of the previous day in Kirkenes, for whom the period had been lived experience, compared with the matter-of-factness of this day’s guide, half his age, for whom all this was history. (That Norwegian referendum on whether to join what became the EU had been back in 1972, with 53.5% against membership and 46.5% in favour. They had another, I have just read, in 1994. On an 88.6% turnout, 52% were against, 48% for – no, I’ve not got my referendum results muddled. The Wikipedia article suggests that it’s fishing which for many Norwegians is a great obstacle to EU membership.)
At 15.45 we had a talk on:
with its painful reminder that the British expedition under Scott had been ill-equipped and very under-experienced compared with the Norwegian Amundsen. Indeed it’s amazing just how much Scott achieved in the circumstances.
Later in the afternoon was the English-language briefing for the next day, but how the next day panned out is a completely different story.
We would be pulling in to Tromsø at 23.45 that evening , for a nearly two-hour stay. A concert in the ‘Arctic Cathedral’ I had walked to on the way ‘up’ had originally been scheduled, to which I had much looked forward. But there was to be no concert there that night, instead another being scheduled at a theatre/cultural centre. A little bird indicated to me that the music would not be up to much. I would have coped with this just to see the inside of the church at midnight, but I decided against in the circumstances. I was tucked up in bed and fast asleep as those who went left and came back. Feedback the next day was that my choice had been a good one.
At 09.00 I was normally having breakfast. But on Day 7, along with many others, I had to be ready to disembark at that time. In the next 15 minutes, six excursions were to be underway, everyone sorted into their different buses on the quay, and another bus would be taking those passengers leaving the ship permanently to the airport. In addition to the excursion I was to do, people were variously: visiting a snow hotel, going dog-sledding, having a ‘King Crab Adventure’, hiking with the expedition team, and riding snow scooters.
The trip I was doing was a historical/political one, taking in a WWII bomb shelter, the Russian border, and a beautiful view.
Kirkenes is further east than both St Petersburg and Istanbul. It is the nearest town to the Russian border. The role of Kirkenes in WWII, second most bombed town in Europe after Valletta, is described here, as the Germans, who had occupied Kirkenes almost unopposed in June 1940, tried to take Russian Murmansk, 200 kilometres away. (They didn’t get further than halfway there.) The bombing was by the Soviet Union, resisting the German advance. The Russians were greeted with open arms as they liberated Kirkenes on 25th October 1944, and, as our guide kept emphasising, relations have been most cordial with the local Russians ever since, across the border which had been fully open until very recently. Recently, that is since Putin invaded Ukraine. Now the inhabitants of the town were very, very afraid.
Our visit was to the Andersgrotta bomb shelter in the centre of the town. Our guide, born in 1940, while not recalling much of the war but growing up in its aftermath, was passionate about his town’s history.
After showing us a short film – we sat on ranked benches with blankets he provided from a chest – in English with German subtitles, he spoke for some 10 minutes in English, followed by the same length of time in German, about the town’s experiences during and after the war. He felt that the Norwegian government had ignored the needs of north Norway – Finnmark – for reconstruction, and said that only in the 1980s did the town receive a royal visit and apology for neglect. He emphasised several times the cordial relations between the townspeople and the Russian, and indeed the many other nationalities living there, including an influx of Syrian refugees who had entered the country via the Russian border in 2015. (Imagine the desperation.)
He said that books about Norway in the war ignored the experience of the north of the country. He himself had sought to make up for that by writing a short book, translated into three languages. I regret not buying it. I have now read the whole of the Wikipedia entry on the German occupation of Norway, from which this is an extract, ‘By the end of the war, German occupation had reduced Norway’s GDP by 45% – more than any other occupied country. In addition to this came the physical and patrimonial ravages of the war itself. In Finnmark, these were considerably important, as large areas were destroyed as a result of the scorched earth policy that the Germans had pursued during their retreat. Moreover, many towns and settlements were damaged or destroyed by bombing and fighting.’
It was good to be outside again.
We now drove for some 15/20 minutes from Kirkenes to the Russian border. We were entering a different kind of vegetation, the taiga forest. I took these photos through the bus’s window. It’s interesting how the human eye accustoms itself to different light conditions, as it really didn’t seem this dark.
We got out of the bus, and were told we could go anywhere – except beyond the gateposts (though I noticed one or two did, just, with no ill consequences).
This sled appeared from I-don’t-know-where, and unfortunately I felt obliged to accept, when offered, a very short ride on it. Not short enough for me – I felt most insecure. And I’d have preferred anyway to walk on that lovely crunchy snow. The ride was to a solitary shop, which was as unattractive as most gift shops are.
By the shop was tethered this husky, and a jar of treats, which our guide dipped into – for the dog that is.
The main road signs in the area were in Cyrillic letters as well as Roman.
We were driven back towards Kirkenes, and arrived at a viewpoint over the town.
My camera zoomed, MS Trollfjord takes centre stage again.
Today’s English language briefing, mentioning excursions for the next three days, was at 14.30. Telling us again about the walk to the Vauban-style fortress at Vardø was a bit a question of left hand and right hand. The timing would already have been tight, but this scoot had already been cancelled by the rather late departure of the boat from Kirkenes. This was again due to the non-arrival on time of some passengers, but in no way was it their fault this time. Two planes bringing passengers has been late arriving at Kirkenes Airport. The boat had waited for one, but could not wait for the second, ‘so those passengers have not joined us yet’. That was the last we heard about them – presumably they were bussed to a later port.
At Hammerfest it would be possible to see this monument to the Struve Geodesic Arc, about which more in the next post.
The trip to the Hurtigruten Museum would happen on Day 9. This slide is of SS (DS in Norwegian) Irma, a Hurtigruten steamship on the coastal route, and controversially torpedoed in 1944, between Bergen and Trondheim. It received a memorial in 2002, seemingly another very belated acknowledgment by the Norwegian government of wartime suffering.
Around 10.00, we were invited to go up on to deck 9 as the ship passed through a narrow strait, the Magerøysund, on its way to our next port of call, Honningsvåg, where three excursions were due to set off.
We then learned that all three excursions had had to be cancelled. The authorities in Honningsvåg had closed the main road north out of the town as being too dangerous because of weather. So neither my trip to the North Cape, (the northernmost spot in Norway at 71° N), nor another to a fishing village, nor a hike with the expedition team were able to take place.
The ship was to remain at the port for three-and-a-half hours, from 11.00 to 14.30. So there was plenty of time for a walk within the small town. It was rather enjoyable, in effect a horseshoe walk round the harbour, out by an upper road, and back via a lower, in still air.
This was the furthest point of the walk, and where one could look straight out to sea. I must quote from an excellent little Hurtigruten book about the voyage and its stopping places. “In the spring, the Norwegian Army’s landing craft transport around 3,800 reindeer over Magerøy Strait to their summer pastures on Magerøy Island. However, during the autumn, when it is time for the reindeer to return to the snow-clad plains of Karasjok, the animals and their calves, born at the end of May/beginning of June, swim across the 1,800 m wide strait.” That must be quite a sight! (It is – I’ve just found this video. Sound on for Sami-inspired music.)
It was much darker than this video suggests. As came to the end of my swivel, I was concerned that I might have captured the couple in full embrace, but it turns out they were taking a selfie – and I can well understand why, with that backdrop.
I turned back.
Within this view…
… was this. Fishers preparing to go out for the night?
When I got back to the boat, I found that playing on a loop was a series of pictures of what those of us disappointed in our attempt to get to the North Cape might have seen.
I’ve been studying my globe to see what other parts of the world are at 71°N: the north coasts of Alaska and Russia, some of the northernmost islands of Canada, halfway up Greenland. All pretty well uninhabitable. How fortunate the Norwegians are in having the Gulf Stream flow past!
At 15.00 came a talk on…
by Hege, of the expedition team, including some anecdotes about her grandfather’s farmhouse. No top secrets were revealed.
The English speakers’ briefing for the following day was at 17.30. Meanwhile those hoping to leave the boat at Kjøllefjord for a scooter safari, rejoining it at Mehamn two hours later, had been disappointed, as bad weather meant that the first port had been bypassed.
Fingers crossed that the several excursions from Kirkenes would take place. More than 100 passengers would be leaving there, and about 80 joining.
There would be a 15-minute stop at Vardø during the night, and a rather longer one, after turnaround at Kirkenes, late afternoon, when those of us who wished to could walk to the Vauban-style fortress. The town had been of strategic importance for centuries, and the domes had been part of NATO’s early warning system (and presumably still are).
We were also given a preview of a trip to come on Day 9, a visit to the Hurtigruten Museum at Stokmarknes, on which I was already booked and to which I was much looking forward.
The Northern Lights appeared again that evening, but afforded me no great photo.
Happily this was, in all respects, a quieter day than the previous one. Indeed, you would scarcely have known it was Christmas Day, except that the female members of staff were again in glitterised versions of national costume (which had slightly diminished the effect of bad cop’s reprimand the day before).
Around 07.35 we were invited to the top deck to observe the crossing of the Arctic Circle. Given that it was dark, and that we were on a moving boat, this was the best I could do for a picture of the monument, despite the fact that a bright beam from the ship was directed at it.
The vast self-service breakfast counter catered for all nationalities, and more I suspect. I had settled by now to a daily bowl of muesli with fresh fruit salad, and a boiled egg. Two tanks of eggs bubbled away in hot water, hard-boiled kept, according to its thermometer, at 54 degrees C, and soft-boiled at 48 degrees. As they say, you learn something every day. Egg cooking temperatures is not something I would have expected to learn on a Norwegian cruise.
I shared a table for that breakfast with a long-retired Norwegian. He told me, in his very broken English, that he owned 18 ships, that his two sons ran the business in Bergen, that he had lost his wife to dementia eight years previously, and that he did this cruise every Christmas. Why on a Hurtigruten boat, I asked, not on one of his own? Because his boats did not cater for passengers. I think I believe him on all details. He wasn’t the only person I met who who repeated the experience every year at this time. We talked a little about Norway being a rule-taker in the EU without being a rule-maker, but his English was not up to a deep conversation on the matter. I just got from him that the Norwegians had difficulty in forgetting the war. (And my goodness was I going to learn in the following days how much they had suffered.)
When the boat stopped at Ørnes for 10 minutes, I walked round deck 6.
And took a couple of short videos as we moved off.
At 10.30 it was time for the Arctic Circle ceremony, but only after a prize-giving. During the previous day’s briefing, Heinz had invited us to estimate the exact time we would cross the Arctic Circle, entries to be in by 22.00. (My guess was way out.) The winner was presented by the captain with a flag that had been flying on the boat. (There were too many people in the way for me to get a decent picture of it when it was unfurled.) He had been just 18 seconds off. When asked how he was able to be so accurate, he replied that he felt he was a bit of a cheat as he was an experienced mariner.
There was no way I was going to take part in the Arctic Circle ceremony, despite the small glass of spirits which would be given to participants as a reward afterwards. Before I had set off, a Norwegian-English friend had told me what it was: an ice cube down the back. Here’s J’s instinctive reaction after he had undergone it.
I had another fascinating conversation at lunch, with H, the Indian doctor from ‘our’ table. He had a wonderful tale to tell of his ambition to learn English from a very young age, bribing his older brother to take him to a library in a town some was miles from his village so that he could go to a library, in due course refusing to follow his family’s business ambition for him, but training to be a doctor, making a wonderful marriage, arranged by his parents because he had been unable to find a wife for himself, (a condition of his family’s support to emigrate to the US), then practising all his life as a doctor in New York, where he still lived. His wife had not been well enough to accompany him on the cruise. His sole ambition was to see the Northern Lights and once that had happened he was happy.
At 14.00 the ship stopped at Bodø – minus 2° C. Because it was Christmas, there were only two excursions happening – normally there would have been perhaps half a dozen. These two were a hike with the expedition team, and a sightseeing tour of the town including the nearby Saltstrømmen Maelstrom . I had not booked for either, and I was even a little nervous, after the previous day, of stepping of the boat during the two-hour stay, so I contented myself with another stroll around deck 6 in the Arctic twilight.
At 16.00 local time I was able to listen in my cabin to our new King’s Christmas message, live on BBC Radio 4.
The English-language briefing at 17.00 told us something about…
… where we would be the following day for four hours, and the single excursion which would be available this Boxing Day, a husky tour. There was then a presentation on the ‘Northern Lights, Myths and Legends’, plus some tips about seeing and photographing them. Apparently if you are not sure as to whether what you can see is just a cloud or the Lights, point your camera at it and they will show green if they are the latter. So all those wonderfully coloured pictures you see are only best photographically. The tip was to be useful the next day.
We had a stop for one hour at Svolvær at 21.15. I overcame my reluctance to leave the security of the ship, and was so glad I did. My short walk in the snow was magical.
I have managed in the previous pictures to remove the most of the yellowness that my camera added to the snow, but have been unable to do so for this brief video.
Saturday, 17th September. My day in Fort William. Jon and Angela dropped both their guests at the railway/bus station, David for his bus to Inverness Airport, me to walk the short distance to the pedestrianised High Street, where my very modest hotel – about which no more will be said – was to be found. It was too early to check in, but I was able to leave my luggage there.
I had thought to take a boat trip on Loch Linnhe, but the facts that: it was once more pretty chilly; that I had done two boat trips in the previous few days; and that I was unlikely to see much wildlife without expert eyes, decided me not to. I wandered up and down the High Street, and first called in at WH Smith to buy a little replacement notebook for my next wildlife /photographic outing. I was delighted also to find a regional map covering the area we had been ranging. I had been trying to make sense from a map at Glenloy Lodge where we had been, but had succeeded only in the broadest of detail. Much of the location detail I have given in the last six blogs has been thanks to that map. I had been noting names, but had often not been really sure of where we were. It has all made sense since with the aid of that map (of which there is a photo of part in the first of this series of posts).
I also called in at Mountain Warehouse to buy some inner liner gloves, so useful not only for added warmth, but for taking photos with frozen fingers, when warmer gloves do not permit enough sensitivity. (I had had to do some emergency and very bad darning in the ones I had bought with me, now binned.) I also came away with a ‘folding sit mat’, to the existence of which Jon had introduced me.
I had had a recommendation for a vegan café from Angela, but having had a coffee and a pastry at another café, I had no need of lunch, and sadly the vegan one would not be open in the evening.
I walked up and down the High Street, and didn’t fail to call in at the shop I had been told about, opposite my hotel, where I was able to by some of that bottled bog myrtle scent I had coveted on Thursday. The Highland Soap Company believes it is the only enterprise to make bog myrtle products and I came away with two large bars of soap. (It does other scents as well.)
Fort William High Street is mainly lined with shops selling outdoor activity and Highland tourist souvenir goods, some cafes, and not much else. But it does have the West Highland Museum, which Angela had very firmly recommended me to visit. And indeed it was excellent, and pulled together so much of what I had seen during the week.
The rest of this post consists almost entirely of photos I took there.
The first room was about those commandoes who had trained in the Spean Bridge area, and whose commemorative monument we had seen on the Sunday.
Room 2 was called ‘Local history’.
Room 3 was natural history, geology, and a film about Ben Nevis’s creation.
Room 8 (don’t ask) included military history.
I was delighted to see an old map of the area between Lochs Arkaig, Eil and Lochy, with Glen Loy not far off the centre. This is part of that map. I reckon that Glenloy Lodge (build circa 1930!) was within the area marked ‘Strone’.
Room 4 was small and contained exhibits on archaeology and mountaineering. Room 5 was also very small and had some Victorian costume in it.
Room 6 was a separate room which required payment of a small fee to see. (The rest of the museum was free.) I was happy to pay the extra to see a small exhibition devoted to the Jacobite rebellion, when Prince Charles Edward Stuart, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ and grandson of James II (and VII of Scotland) sought to claim the throne of Great Britain which he believed was rightfully his.
Simon Lord Lovat was one of the rebels, having previously been a supporter of the House of Hanover. He was tried in the 11th-13th century Westminster Hall, and condemned to death.
My own thoughts, on that Saturday, two days before her funeral, were of our late monarch currently lying in state in that very hall, which had seen so much history, (and where in January 1965 Winston Churchill had laid similarly, the last to do so, and when I had had the privilege of paying my respects.)
‘This simplified family tree should help you untangle the various relationships between the various monarchs.’ Indeed. In order: James I (and VI of Scotland), Charles I, Charles II, James II (and VII of Scotland), William of Orange and Mary II (who themselves were cousins), Anne, and George I.
This was fascinating. A shiny cylinder, and some blobby paint around it, turns into a secret portrait if you look at the cylinder from a certain angle.
Room 7 was Highland life.
Finally, there was a film which explained the bronze statue of the Ford Model T car outside. In 1911, such a car had been driven to the top of Ben Nevis and down again. The descent had been filmed, and here were extracts.
Immediately outside was a cinema with a substantial, waiter serviced, café. I had a hazelnut-flavoured coffee, and then went just back over the road to my hôtel, from where I emerged a few hours later to have a pizza in that same café, which projected old black and white films onto the wall, including a full one about that Model T’s descent from the top of Ben Nevis.
A civilized rising time the next day, a gentle wander to the bus station (and a sandwich bought in the Morrison’s there) and a splendid bus journey back down Glencoe, Rannoch Moor and Loch Lomond to Glasgow Airport. Again, I did not listen to the podcasts I had to hand, and just revelled in the scenery for three hours. With no sun, there were fewer reflections, and I was able to grab these photos of the Loch.
Even if Jon and Angela will no longer be in business, I am already daydreaming plans for a return visit to the area, perhaps next year…
Friday, 16th September, last wildlife day. Out before breakfast, for nearly two hours! We had two hopes: to see black grouse lekking, and to see otters. For the first, we drove through Fort William and just out the other side, to the south I think. When we got to the lekking ground, at first light, the first thing I saw through my binoculars was a jogger climbing a stile at its edge. “Well, that’s put paid to that, then”, said Jon. We hung around a bit to see if any grouse that had been frightened off would come back, but they didn’t.
We moved back through Fort William to the mouth of the River Lochy, (which joins the junction of Lochs Linnhe and Eil at which the town is built) parked in a small industrial estate, and walked through it to the river, with instructions to be very quiet, and not stand too close to the edge of the bank, because the otters were likely in their dens below our feet.
The view at that time of the (very cold!) morning was gorgeous.
Sadly we saw no otter, but did, in the early morning dimness, and over the other side, see goosander,
swans, (plus hooded crow and pigeon),
and a couple of white-tailed eagles, which was an unexpected pleasure.
It was good to get back to Glenloy Lodge for a warming breakfast.
For the rest of the day, it was much warmer than it had been earlier in the week. Not hot, but pleasantly warm, especially in the sun. Today’s main outing again took us on the very first part of the Road to the Isles, that is along the north side of Loch Eil, then back along its southern side, then south along the western side of the upper part of Loch Linnhe.
From the southern side of Loch Eil, we again saw The Jacobite, aka Harry Potter’s train, passing along the northern side.
Around midday, we left the van for a walk up Stronchreggan, off Loch Linnhe.
The others got very excited to see this, an azure hawker. It is only found in the West Highlands. And according to my book, this was pretty late for it to be about.
This, on the other hand, was just a common hawker…
The moon was going down…
Unconnected with that, we had to turn round and make our way back to the van, not least to have some lunch. But I held back, so reluctant was I to tear myself away from the magnificent view, and just being – warm what’s more – in such wild splendour. I took large breaths to try to take it in.
We moved further down Loch Linnhe,
and went for another walk, this time along the Cona Glen.
David was very keen to find a Scotch argus butterfly. As we were about to turn round, Jon and Angela found one for him, and caught it in their net. It was very near the end of its active life, but at least it was a Scotch argus.
A final look at Ben Nevis, and it was time for home. We returned via the Corran Ferry.
A pine marten decided to oblige before dinner, while there was still some reasonable light for photos.
The wildlife trip was over, but not my holiday. Because of transport timings, I had to remain in the area for another day, so stayed in Fort William on the second Saturday night. The last post in this series will recount a very different day, yet one with some links to the previous six.