Storekorsnes and Oksfjord

The Norway of my imagination survives at its distant edges. It is an imagination fed by a too brief holiday in the early sixties when the sun perpetually shone, the snow-capped mountains reflected a clear bright light and the fjords were a deep dark blue. I found it again these last few days, at Storekorsnes and Oksfjord.

Both are situated at the end of long and winding roads and both survive not because of their tarmac connections but because of their proximity to the sea. Storekorsnes is a small fishing village and Oksfjord a thriving ferry port – it is the sea that feeds them.

Like many of the coastal towns and villages, the routes to them include long deep tunnels, some descending far enough to burrow beneath the seabed. The route to Oksfjord includes a particularly unpleasant 4km example – a single lane with irregular passing places, it is roughly hewn, dimly lit and damp throughout. It has more in common with Telford’s canal tunnels than anything designed for motorised transport. Emerging back into a bright Norwegian light is a welcome and remarkable contrast; from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye.

Views from ... On the road to ... On the road to ... On the road to ... On the road to ... The road in the sky ... The perfect location ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ... The harbour ...

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Anticyclonic gloom …

According to our local BBC weatherman, Paul Mooney, we are suffering from ‘an anticyclonic gloom – cloud trapped under a high pressure with nowhere to go’.  In short, these are very dull days, none more so than today. This morning found us along the Military Road near Brunton Bank and Wall. In the past I would have left the bulky SLR at home and traveled light but the Fuji X100s is so compact with no lenses to carry/switch and such a delight to handle it would be stupid to leave it behind – it is techno-jewelry.

Inevitably something unexpected always pops up – today it was one proud tree, alone on a hill, not seeing the sun going down; and a gin gang.  With the help of Photoshop and OnOne you could be fooled into thinking the sun was shining – it wasn’t:

Tree on the hill ...Farm buildings ...

(click on the images to enlarge)

To Kirkenes …

… and no further, from we here were heading south and back towards the light; I miss this dark place of snow, ice and the Merry Dancers. This is my diary entry from Christmas Day:

At 10:00am there is light on the horizon but the sun does not rise. The temperature is -20c and falling – everything crackles: the snow under your feet; the cars on white dusty roads; the air. A slight breeze makes your eyes ache and fingers stiffen in the search for the shutter release on an ice-cold camera. It is the perfect setting for a Christmas Day but it is strange nonetheless. By 11:30am the light on the horizon is beginning to fade; Kirkenes is returning to the dark. In truth, it does not really feel like one special day, just another in a series; Christmas started when the snow arrived in Trondheim.

All of these far northern towns have a certain similarity, particularly when seen by artificial light – life goes on despite the raw cold, the snow and the dark. There is industry and a sense of purpose which tourist destinations lack. The architecture is bright, clean, new and purposeful. It is the Alaska of my imagination.

On ship we have been celebrating Christmas since yesterday, Christmas Eve being the day of celebration and gift-giving for the Norwegians. There is no turkey but there is reindeer which is at odds with the story of Rudolph – it tastes good all the same.  In the evening there is a service on the upper deck which I am dragged to like the reluctant schoolboy. It is entertaining – there is competitive carol singing as we are encouraged to sing in our own language – the Dutch tenor wins :D.  This is followed by the story of Jesus in the ‘manga’ at which point we get a fit of the giggles. A joyous occasion, I am glad I did not miss it.

On Christmas Eve the northern lights appear again, right on cue.

Russian ships ... The mothers monument ... MS Finnmarken ... The road to Murmansk ... Finnmarken ... MS Finnmarken ... Near the harbour ... Ropes ... Spirits on the water ... Northern lights at ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ...

The frozen boy is a detail from a monument to the mothers of Kirkenes.
The northern lights images have been pushed to within an inch of their lives – the first shows mist rising from the cold cold sea, the lights from a distant town and the aurora on the horizon.

Sehnsucht …

“Nowhere is the drama of dark and light played out more starkly than in the north”
George Mackay Brown

Days 5 and 6: There was a pattern to the days – while the light lasted, standing on the ice and snow encrusted upper deck, we watched the majestic waters and mountains of the Norwegian coast unfold like an IMAX movie; Slartibartfast’s finest work.

The sun never rose from behind the mountains but cowered beneath the visible horizon spreading a pink/blue glow which would begin to fade almost as soon as it arrived.

Approaching the next port, the streetlights would be on and the quays lit by an orange glow. Once off ship, a walk around the town would be in snow covered, near night such that all our memories have a dream-like quality.  I am left with nothing but a deep desire to return. It is the equivalent of my impractical but intense desire to live in the wilds of Scotland’s northwest; the Germans have a word for it – sehnsucht.

Approaching Honningsvag ...Approaching ...Approaching Honningsvag ...

Honningsvag ...

The harbour at Honningsvag ...

The images were taken in and around Honningsvåg. In the freezing temperatures the decks were quiet much of the time except at night when the northern lights put on a show. The swimming pool was always quiet – I was never tempted!

Aboard Finnmarken ... Approaching Honningsvag ...

Winter solstice …

Day 4:  On this, the shortest day, the heavy weather shifted to the west and the skies to the north became less threatening:

South of Ornes ...

In the morning, two hours behind schedule, Finnmarken sounded three long blasts on the ships horn as she eased into the Arctic Circle at 66°34′. A few miles on, she broke the silence again as a sister ship headed south into the light and we headed further north into the dark. In this part of the world, the winter solstice was actually timed at 12:03 am on 22nd December i.e. when the Sun was exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.

Ships that pass ...

It was no coincidence that I was reading George Mackay Brown’s A Time to Keep – short stories set in the Orkneys, they describe a culture that had strong parallels with remote Norwegian fishing communities. The Orkney bars were populated with the crews of Norwegian whalers and the older stories speak of Viking raiders.

The tale of Check Harra, a man who could not resist gambling with the fifty two cards, contains this short passage which describes his time living among the Indians of North America:

He was lord of an area as big as Britain, a white wilderness with here and there a reindeer herd on the move and at night the splendour of the Merry Dancers, swathes of heavy yellow silk swirling and rustling in the Arctic sky.

That night the Merry Dancers were wearing green:

North Lights ...
Northern lights ...

The images were taken with a hand-held Fuji X100s pushed to ISO 25600 – better results could be achieved at lower ISO settings and a longer exposure on a tripod but, not from a moving ship – the stars streak (and don’t forget to remove the UV filter). There will be more to come.

Travel theme: Arches

For years I have taken Hexham Abbey for granted but recently I have been paying it more attention – I have been inside at least three times this year which, for an irreligious chap like me, is quite good going. It really is a magnificent building supported by countless arches – an earlier post contains a video which captures it perfectly – A day in the light of Hexham Abbey.

From the Hexham Local History Society:  Hexham is dominated by Hexham Abbey. Originally the church of Hexham Priory, founded by Bishop Wilfrid in 674 A.D. The current church largely dates from c.1170–1250, in the Early English Gothic style of architecture. The choir, north and south transepts and the cloisters, where canons studied and meditated, date from this period. The east end was rebuilt in 1860 and the nave in 1904.

Arches Arches Arches

The images were taken with the faithful Fuji X100s, hand-held in poor light, without flash and pushed to ISO 6400 but you would never know – click on the images to see what I mean.

Basilique Notre Dame du Roncier

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist.  The locals were wrong – summer had not arrived in Southern Brittany or at least not on the permanent basis they suggested.  A day in Josselin was spent dodging monsoon-like showers beneath a Primark umbrella designed to collapse after just one.

In an earlier post (Perfect Day) I observed that it is good to remember old friends (it was Jim Clark – my first and last real hero). To be carved in marble must be one of the ultimate accolades and a first class ticket to eternal remembrance – this is Marguerite de Rohan lying next to her other half, Olivier de Clisson, in Basilique Notre Dame du Roncier, Josselin.

Marguerite

But there is a twist – imagine spending eternity with this little chap nibbling at your feet:

How much is that doggy...