Jet up to Arctic Circle then Slow Train Back Down to Oslo
It was a last minute decision. Sitting in the Brigstow Lounge on a Sunday morning I fired up the web connection and checked NSB trains for the Nordlands. Prices were reasonable, timings were perfect. A few more queries and I had a route mapped out. Some phone calls to family in the target locations and a big beaming smile to discover people were around and up for a visit.
What started as a whim quickly came to have significant meaning.
-  A chance to connect with people who are family, important for me since death of parents.
-  To do what I stated I would do, two years ago, when I was last in Norway and discovered the incredible Vikgården coffee shop and village store in Mosjøen – I told myself I would “have to come back and spend a couple days writing here.” This is what I did.
-  To repeat the solo train journey to the Arctic Circle I did when I was 18 (1988). This is the first time I had travelled solo through Norway since then: usually with friends or family. I even loaded up the same albums I had on my Sony Walkman Cassette player back then: Pink Floyd “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”, Thomas Dolby “This Flat Earth” and Yello “Flag”.
So, one Wednesday morning I was sitting at the head of Bristol harbour, watching seagulls fly between metal columns and early morning sun reflect off the water. I wasn’t going to see the night (darkness) for a whole week. The journey ahead was, coach to London, fly to Oslo, hold position in the airport for 2 hours then board internal flight to Bodø in the Arctic Circle. Furthest point of my journey. Then slow train from Fauske (near Bodø) through snow-capped mountains to Mosjøen, crossing the Arctic Circle on the way. 3 nights / 4 days there, then 14 hour train ride down to Oslo – using a sleeping car from 11pm for 7 am arrival.
In a way a very short trip but the whole experience lasted for a deliciously protracted period of time.
Here’s some photos and words to give you a flavour.
Scene of many memories of family gatherings through the 1970s and 1980s. But Fauske has really suffered in the same way that many small towns in Norway have. Large shopping complexes draining the life force and spirit of the original town centre. For me though it was all about spending a couple days with one of my cousins, flobbing around, enjoying downtime, visiting a few other relatives (cabin by the fjord) and driving 30 minutes to the small coastal town of Rognan for burgers (amazing burgers). I was actually really lucky to get a full blast of time there as Bodø airport had been closed due to bad weather 10 minutes before I landed, opened briefly, and then closed again 30 minutes after I landed.
Train journey from Fauske to Mosjøen
I have been daydreaming of this journey for 27 years. And here I am, climbing aboard the 13:11 hrs train departing Fauske. My cousin Arve drove alongside the train for a bit, the road running parallel, the two of us holding up fists to windows and displaying thumbs-up. Superheros of the North! Then I am solo and riding into the mountains. The snow surrounds the tracks. Wooden tunnels built like long wooden sheds protect the train from the worst sections but there is plenty of time spent out in the open vistas – a beautiful journey, sunlight and blue sky contrasting against the snow and black rock.
CROSSING THE POLAR CIRCLE:
This is the marker that tells you you’re leaving the Arctic Circle:
Here’s the same location in 1970, with me and my mother:
At the same time I am playing the three albums I brought along specifically for this moment (4 hours of spectacular nostalgia and scenery). It really was incredible.
Then something new.
Stopping in Mosjøen .
My cousin Kenn-Ole was waiting for me at the station (Kenn-Ole designed the Yellow Dawn rulebook cover and logo back in 2007).
I jumped into the car and we blasted out of town along the E6. He’d arranged a packed few days and we were rushing to get the ferry at Sandnessjøen to cross over to a series of islands, part of the Helgeland region located on the coast just south of the Arctic circle, on the western edge of the Saltfjellet mountain range.
Fate was watching over us that evening. We were unable to get on the ferry, and good luck we didn’t as technical issues left many people stranded that night. We went back the following day and had an amazing time on the islands. Meanwhile, driving back from Sandnessjøen we crossed Helgelandsbrua, a cable bridge that crosses the Leirfjorden between the mainland and the island Alsta in Nordland county. This bridge makes you catch your breath. Engineering beauty. I asked Kenn-Ole to stop so we could spend some time walking over it and take photos.
The next few days were very special. This wasn’t just about being on a trip, being on holiday so to speak. This was about fulfilling a promise I made to myself 2 years ago. To come back here and do something: spend a day in Vikgården, writing. But also it was about soaking up the family vibrations. Being with people who have known me my entire life: my cousin Kenn-Ole came to live with my parents in England whilst studying art, when my mother was in her late 20s and I was just a baby.
Here we are 42 years later. A very, very good feeling.
And Mosjøen is lovely.
A glimpse of home. One of the reasons to visit Mosjøen, apart from getting to spend time with family was to spend time in Sjøgata area – a historic part of the town. This includes the Fru Haugans Hotel, the oldest hotel within North Norway. Dating back to 1794. Some rooms are furnished with historic Norwegian style including this small snug area which made me stop and stare because it’s just as my mother would have decorated parts of the house I grew up in. I went back there a couple of times to just sit and soak up the atmosphere and a feeling of a home that is no longer in my life.
Got the ferry from Sandnessjøen across to Bjorn then drove up the Fv186 through Glein to Donnesfjell. Again, we were fortunate not to have gotten across the previous night. Instead, today, the weather and the views were perfect: meant to be!
View from Donnesfjell. The road winds tigthly up a steep slope and then pops out in front of the quaint red painted cabin that contains a cafe. These are the views and the camera simply can’t do it justice. These images contain a view of Lovund Island, which reminds me a lot of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park (California), with a glimpse of Træna in the background. You can charter boats to sail you from Mosjøen to visit these islands (there are 17,000 of them in the area) and stay in a cabin for a few nights. Maybe something for another trip!
Dønnes kirke. Coming down the hill from Donnesfjell we get aerial glimpses of this incredible church, out here in the middle of nowhere. It dates from the 1200s. Part of the Viking days.
Vikgården is one of the main reasons for coming on this trip and stopping in Mosjøen.
Train journey from Mosjøen to Oslo
It was late afternoon when I reboarded the train. 6 hours or so to Trondheim before climbing about the sleeper train to Oslo at 11pm. I had bought a compartment. Two bunks. I climbed up onto the top bunk, clicked shut the safety belt and settled down to sleep. The train pulled away and I felt the surge of acceleration pass through the length of my body. And then the rattle, rock and roll of the train clattering along the tracks and quietly pulling into sleeping towns to pick up a passenger here and there. Fantastic. I got into Oslo at 7 a.m. feeling utterly relaxed and refreshed. Too early to go to my aunt and uncle’s house, the sun was shining and the morning was lovely, so grabbed a takeaway coffee and went for an epic walk through downtown Oslo. Found some lovely streets and locations that I’ve never experienced before, because I am always just passing through or being escorted by one family member or another. This was a chance to explore the city on my own and I loved it. I discovered a side of Oslo I’ve never felt before.
Memorable moments after this:
- Going for a walk with my uncle in an area called Langhus, stepping away from the small bit of urban development around the train station and abruptly finding myself in deep, open countryside – Norwegian style. Gorgeous and evocative.
- BBQ on the new veranda built by one of my cousins at his house, overlooking the waters of Lillestrøm and late night beers playing catch up. And recreating a photograph taken of us two together Christmas 1981 when we were both 11. Rather amusing results.
- Arriving at my aunt and uncle’s house in the morning to be greeted by them and ushered to the table where there was a full spread of Norwegian breakfast. Oh serious yum yum.
- Final hours in Norway. Early morning train into Oslo centre. Finding the Opera House and climbing up over the roof to enjoy the fantastic architecture and great views.
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