Norway in November – Nordkapp

April 5, 2016

Day 6 of my voyage on the Lofoten

The English seafarers of the sixteenth century were amazing people of great courage. Even so, how surprising that they reached so far into the Arctic Circle.  So Nordkapp has been known for centuries.  Surveyed in 1553 by the captain of the Edward Bonaventure, North Cape is the northernmost point in Europe – or so they thought at the time.  In fact the real northernmost point is close by: the neighbouring Knivskjellodden point, a little to the west, actually extends 1,457 metres (4,780 feet) further to the north.  From Nordkapp, one can look out over the Barents Sea, a name remembered from that childhood fascination with names and facts, and a part of the Arctic Ocean: a name to conjure with.

Nordkapp – a snowy, bleakly beautiful headland that the sea and the winds and storms have roughed out of solid rock -marked with a globe.

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Volcanic cliffs jutting into the sea – with an image of the world standing proud.


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To the West, the slightly more northerly point.

At last we have found good snow in this remarkably mild winter of 2015.

But who would want to quibble, after all. Between the two points there are scary crevasses – don’t worry: there was a good fence between me and those cliffs. The sunset light you see here, gently altering, lasted from well before midday onwards through the short afternoon. Pinks and apricots are the light palette of the sky, above this harsh rock and snow.

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The cliff has jagged inlets – mini-fjords, I guess – dramatic in their abruptness.


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We all took one another’s photos by the globe.  It seemed like the right thing to do.


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On the steps of the North Cape globe: a pair of sandals and a message.

The sandals speak to me directly – I can’t help listening to them – they ask me to take them further on their journey around the world – I wonder whether anyone else will feel that responsibility. . . .  and I leave them there.   For now.

I wonder how far they have come.  Remember the gnomes in Amélie? who sent all those postcards?  It felt like that.

travelling gnome

Given that I’m inclined to address inanimate objects anyway (and emphatically not in a twee way) I knew that it was me they were speaking to.  But, for Pete’s sake, I’m on holiday: fresh responsibility is the last thing I want.  Maybe someone else will adopt them, and I’ll be off their hook.

It’s getting colder, and a low inviting building might offer coffee.

2015-11-16 11.31.40

Sunrise. Or is it sunset?

In fact, inside there is a sophisticated visitor centre, with good coffee and a café; displays about Arctic bird life;  a kind of son et lumière response to the changing seasons of the Arctic Circle;  a film of the Northern Lights (which last I missed – ran out of time).  Perhaps I’m not going to see any Northern Lights at all – but I don’t mind that.  I know better than to set up great big goals for myself.

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Inside the visitor centre: someone has a sense of humour.

I ran out of time then because I was transfixed by simplicity: a narrative series of posters on a wall – the story of the naval Battle of Murmansk.  They call them the Arctic Convoys here, but for some reason I know them as the Murmansk Convoys. The Arctic Convoys and the sea battle when the Scharnhorst was sunk with nearly all hands.  I was moved to tears, reading it, and thought of my father.  How he cared about it all so much and tried to tell us the detail, even in the sixties.  How little I grasped then, or bothered to grasp, back in the day.  But now the terrible story, the awful courage and the dark, cold deaths – I weep for them all, long gone.   Here, at Nordkapp on a clear calm day, it was suddenly poignantly easy to imagine those big fierce vessels in the black dark in a force ten gale, violently and blindly beating towards one another through huge waves, with their appalling firepower and blazing hellish explosions.  When the Scharnhorst went down into those terrifying December seas, only 36 men were saved out of her entire crew of nearly 2,000.

Shaken by maps and facts, I heard the call go out for the bus, so I seized the last moments, as I always will.  This time I lumbered out, crunching the snow, and salvaged those sandals from the steps of the globe: the image of a unified and generous world.

Day six held much, much more – I’ll continue it next time.


Poetry Chain 3

April 2, 2016

Next came a poem from my lovely daughter, and after that, one from her friend who lives in France.  Kate reads this one to her little boy, but it is really for all ages.


Made a boat
from sticks and cloth –
put it on the water
to see it float.
Go boat, go boat
sail across that sea.
Go boat
and sail on back to me.
It’s sea and sky all the way over
my boat flies out across the water
but always comes on back to me.
It’s a good boat
go boat.
She’s a sail boat
my boat.
Go boat, go boat
sail across that sea.
Go boat
and sail on back to me.

Michael Rosen.

It reminds me of – it answers, perhaps – the Alexandria poem, with a loss that is recovered.  The boat is let go willingly, and comes back again in that satisfying, enclosing circle  – the embrace – of the last line.  Might that be because it was released with pleasure and grace?  Perhaps because the poem came from my daughter, and my grandson, I begin to think about the ways in which one’s children go out, go free, and then somehow return, changed and yet the same.


The next poem was in French, and, kindly, my daughter’s friend didn’t translate it for me.

Vert, orange, rouge
les feux sont des fruits,
des coeurs qui scintillent,
des yeux qui s’allument
au coin de ma rue.
dans les soirs de brume,
les feux sont des songes
au bout des trottoirs.

Pierre Gamarra, “Les feux”, La ville en poésie.

Coincidentally, another French poem came in that same day – this time I was glad of the translation, as then I could retro-fit the English back onto the French and find unusual ideas.


L’huître, de la grosseur d’un galet moyen, est d’une apparence plus rugueuse, d’une couleur moins unie, brillamment blanchâtre. C’est un monde opiniâtrement clos. Pourtant on peut l’ouvrir : il faut alors la tenir au creux d’un torchon, se servir d’un couteau ébréché et peu franc, s’y reprendre à plusieurs fois. Les doigts curieux s’y coupent, s’y cassent les ongles : c’est un travail grossier. Les coups qu’on lui porte marquent son enveloppe de ronds blancs, d’une sorte de halos.
A l’intérieur l’on trouve tout un monde, à boire et à manger : sous un firmament (à proprement parler) de nacre, les cieux d’en dessus s’affaissent sur les cieux d’en dessous, pour ne plus former qu’une mare, un sachet visqueux et verdâtre, qui flue et reflue à l’odeur et à la vue, frangé d’une dentelle noirâtre sur les bords.
Parfois très rare une formule perle à leur gosier de nacre, d’où l’on trouve aussitôt à s’orner.

Francis Ponge – Le parti pris des choses (1942)

The Oyster
The oyster, the size of an average rock, is rougher in appearance, less uniform in colour, brilliantly pale. It’s a world obstinately closed-off. However, you can open it: to do so, you have to cup it in a rag, and employ a dull, perforated blade, and go at it several times. In doing so, curious fingers get cut, nails broken: it’s a dirty job. The blows you rain down upon it mark the casing with white rings, like halos.
Inside you find a whole world, to eat and drink: under a firmament (to be precise) of nacre, heavens above give way to heavens below, to create no more than a puddle, an oily olive-tinged squelch, that ebbs and flows, the smell and the sight, fringed along the edges in black lace.
On very rare occasions, scree collects in its lustrous throat. Those who find this immediately decorate themselves with it.

I suppose it’s the crustacean theme, but I find myself thinking of that film ‘The Lobster’ which I saw recently.  Human beings displaying aspects of an animal nature – a specific animal’s nature.  That intersection of the human, the stereotypical view of a creature (our projection, if you like) and the reality of the creature’s existence – seems to me to illuminate all three.

So far, no further poems.  Perhaps that’s my lot?  And what a marvellous lot they are. Thank you, world, for these gifts.

Poetry Chain 2

March 29, 2016

A feature of this chain is that you don’t get poems from friends, but from the friends of friends.  (Given that you – and they – have had to find twenty people to BCC, they won’t necessarily be really close friends-of-friends.)
Last night I received a clutch from Italy – someone has kindly chosen poems in English for me.  Or can it be that Europeans now use English so readily that this just feels normal?  She sent me one in Italian, as well, which will be a useful exercise.  Reading it aloud is wonderful, even if you don’t speak Italian.

Dear Jill,
I could not make my mind up so I am sending you a few of my favourite poems instead of just one!
All the best,
W. Shakespeare Sonnet 23
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart,
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharg’d with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
Sonnet 15
When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment;
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and check’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory:
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.



Dall’immagine tesa
vigilo l’istante
con imminenza di attesa –
e non aspetto nessuno:
nell’ombra accesa
spio il campanello
che impercettibile spande
un polline di suono –
e non aspetto nessuno:
fra quattro mura
stupefatte di spazio
più che un deserto
non aspetto nessuno.
Ma deve venire,
verrà, se resisto
a sbocciare non visto,
verrà d’improvviso,
quando meno l’avverto.
Verrà quasi perdono
di quanto fa morire,
verrà a farmi certo
del suo e mio tesoro,
verrà come ristoro
delle mie e sue pene,
verrà, forse già viene
il suo bisbiglio.
C. Rebora  Dall’immagine tesa (1920)

The Poetry Chain

March 27, 2016

Not many people like chain emails, but I received one that really made me want to take it on.  I just had to find a poem and send it to the person at the top of a two-person list.  Then copy and paste the email into a BCC list of twenty friends.  So far – totally innocuous.  I did the sums: I’ll get four hundred poems back (or is it twenty?).  Anyway, I really like the idea of being sent some poems that I might not have seen before, so I cheerfully set off to choose a poem for Dave (name at the top of the list, husband of a good friend – should be easy).  Half a day later I finally settled on a bit of ‘Lycidas’.  Then I had two emails from friends telling me they don’t like chain emails.  Heart sinks.  Then a lovely email from Crete – and an even more lovely poem by Cavafy to go with it.

The God Abandons Antony
At midnight, when suddenly you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive – don’t mourn them uselessly:
as one long prepared, and full of courage,
say goodbye to her, to Alexandria who is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and full of courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion,
but not with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen – your final pleasure – to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

Constantine P. Cavafy —
It makes me think of all our Alexandrias – all the things that we say goodbye to, as we grow up, or grow old.  I think of today’s conversation, when we talked about how to find out what we are acquiring, as we leave other things behind.  How childhood loses spontaneity and cuddliness, moving to the teenager’s clearer sense of self and of protectiveness and personal space; how adults and parents lose independence but gain pride in responsibility; how now, as we age beyond that, we lose jobs and status but gain in dignity and a relaxedness about our place in the world.  Not everybody in the same way, of course, and all of us a different speeds.  Some age into anger, I suppose, while others mellow into insight and a willingness to explore.
Next comes an email from someone who sends a poem but doesn’t plan to join the chain.  (Now I guess I’ll get seventeen times twenty – at most – but one mustn’t be churlish.  That’s still a terrific number of poems.)

“As it is Easter Day, how about the second ‘Burnt Norton’ lyric?” – said my husband’s friend.

Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us?  After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.


Do you all think as I do?  (I think: Why have I let it be so long since I last read Eliot?)  Thank you to the ether, and the banality of the internet for giving me this moment of stillness and transcendence.  Thank you to the moment when I went forward with the poetry chain (now my poetry chain), though I could so easily have turned away and clicked ‘delete’.

I hope there will be more poems to post here, over the next few days and weeks.

North Cape – Day Six

December 12, 2015
Iron grey sea and sky: warm gold ship

Iron grey sea and sky: warm gold ship

In the night we stop, with the usual screeching and grinding, at Hammerfest: at 70 North, plus a bit, it is the northernmost city in the world.  I wake much later to see the wharf at Havøysund: ‘We call it Hawaii – sund,’ the Tour Guide jokes.  He’s good: he says it as if he’s never said it before, and what’s more it’s an idea that sticks, and is really helpful with the pronunciation.

Havoysund = Havaiisnd

Havoysund = Havaiisnd


a pale dawn is breaking

a pale dawn is breaking


street lights, dawn and painted houses

street lights, dawn and painted houses


more painted houses

more painted houses


- and the ship's lights -

– and the ship’s lights –


- by the cold pier. Damp, and slushy rather than icy, though, and not much snow here

– by the cold pier. Damp, and slushy rather than icy, though.  There’s not much snow here.

Lunch is early as we will be going to the North Cape from Honningsvåand need to be back promptly for the 2.45 departure.  Lofoten has a schedule to keep, expectations to meet.  Some people leave the ship here and take a coach connection over to Kirkenes for their flight back; others are taking a different coach to see a fishing village: Skarsvåg.

the crane comes out, and the cargo is unloaded

the crane comes out, and the cargo is unloaded

So this is where the Christmas trees were going

So this is where the Christmas trees were going

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We head off to the coaches - under a bare rocky mountain. A few trees have been cultivated up there.

We head off to the coaches – under a bare rocky mountain – still looks like a Bund cake with its sprinkling of icing sugar snow.  A few trees have been cultivated up there- but maybe they’re just not big enough to cut yet.

Nordkapp - North Cape.

Nordkapp – North Cape  – Nope: this isn’t it.  Just the word, not the thing itself.

Nordkapp.  A wonder that defies words.  Nothing daunted, I will have a go at it in my next post.

The map can be found back at: – or click on the word map.

Day Five closes: on the MS Lofoten

December 11, 2015

A pale day.  Low, pale grey cloud, a pale shine on the sea.  Only a thin line of darker land lies between cloud and sea.  These are the colours dogs are supposed to see.  On the fore-deck we are transporting Christmas trees still: surprising in their intense, rich green.  In this pale wide world, how startling, how precise and welcome they look.  Maybe I can forgive this ritual execution, after all.

Thrum, thrum.  Everywhere on the boat comes that soothing deep heartbeat of the huge engines.  I feel that nothing can ever go wrong while they are beating.  Through the heavy doors to the interior, spectacularly out of place in this iron landscape, a glowing nugget of gold-brown warmth.

Things are under control.

Very tired.  Hard to find a place to be alone.

Day 5 – Finnsnes and the Gisund Bridge; Tromsø and the unmentionable Huskies

December 7, 2015

We stopped at a couple of places in the night – I could hear strange rattling, screaming and grinding sounds from my cabin, but I decided that we were most unlikely to be sinking, and went back to sleep till breakfast.
A steadily changing readout near the upper lounge shows the bearing (the white line) and the planned route (the dotted red line). It also shows the speed in knots, as the water pounds behind us.

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Norway has so many lovely bridges across sounds, across fjords – lots of places.  This is one of the finest.

a distant view of the Gisund Bridge from the ship

A distant view of the Gisund Bridge from the ship.  I liked placing that delicate tracery next to the lumping steel in this image – a trick of perspective, of course.


Two large dark birds - but what are they? Cormorants abound around there.

Two large dark birds – but what are they? Cormorants abound around there.

Running across smooth sea into Finnsnes.

Running across smooth sea into Finnsnes just after eleven am: the sky is pinker, and the Lofoten is as punctual as you could possibly imagine.

A short half hour in Finnsnes gives all of us passengers the chance for a quick walk on the dock, while the loading and unloading takes place.

Cargo waiting for loading. it's raining in Finnsnes

Cargo waiting for loading. It’s raining in Finnsnes with a fine drizzle.

Those little lamps in the windows are characteristic of many Norwegian houses.  I asked one guide what it was about, and he told me that it harks back to old times, when a person out in the open in winter would freeze to death unless they saw a light, a haven.  Nobody would turn a stranger from their door.  Still, today, the custom of keeping lighted windows persists even in the cities and towns.

Huge tractor tyres line the wharves as fenders - this is what makes the screaming, dragging noise, as the ship comes alongside. Clamking occurs in those places where the anchor goes down. (I didn't see that happen.)

Huge tractor tyres line the wharves as fenders – this is what makes the screaming, dragging noise, as the ship comes alongside. Clanking occurs in those places where the anchor goes down. (I didn’t see that happen.)


Here follows one of my little symphonies of adoration for the Lofoten, the most beautiful and wonderful ship for a sea voyage ever.

MS Lofoten

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Bridge, boat, wharf.

Bridge, boat, wharf.


fine lines of the bow.


Bowline, bridge, shore

Bowline, bridge, shore

blue light, portholes, reflection

blue light, portholes, reflection

I believe my cabin is somewhere below that waterline.  I know I can hear the waves and the wash beating past in the night.

we move towards the Gisund Bridge

we move towards the Gisund Bridge

- going -

– going –

-going -

-going –


a strange effect of the evening light - around 2.00pm, approaching Tromsø

evening light on snow and low cloud – around 2.00pm, approaching Tromsø

We have a four hour stop in Tromsø.  (Morten the Tour Guide gives the name impeccably clear pronunciation: the ‘r’ is well rolled, almost a syllable in its own right, the final is ‘er’ as in Bodø.)  

Some of us had booked to see huskies.  It was dark, with icy slush.  Two hundred dogs were kept on short-ish chains in outdoor kennels.  And my God, how it did stink!  These dogs are kept for the sport of sled racing, in which ‘mushers’ try to cover long distances at great speed.  They are not actually Huskies, but a mixture of Alaskan Husky, greyhound, German Pointer, anything that will be both fast and enduring.  Some collie.  It’s not really a breed as it doesn’t breed true, and though I asked, I couldn’t get a proper answer about the principles of the breeding.  This was the moment when my cultural tolerances started to waver.  OK. It’s a different world, harsher climate, where survival is crucial.  OK, Huskies happily bed down in snow. But I still think that a chained up pack of two hundred is problematic.  The photos (for once) look worse than the reality, partly because my camera doesn’t cope very well with low light. We didn’t meet the owner, who is called Tove: bizarrely the same first name as Tove Jansson, the wonderful Finnish writer and creator of the gentle Moomins.

Easier to get a photo of the puppies

Easier to get a photo of the puppies: they were pretty cheerful and friendly – and better lit.

They are fed on fish – hence the unimaginable stink.

some border collie in this one I think

Some border collie in this one, I think.  Very cute.


another pup - they all have names

Another pup – they all have names.  Yes – we did try to smuggle one home.  It would never have worked out.

I don’t think the Moomins would have treated Sorry-oo quite like that, though.  Wait for a later post, where you will see a proper Husky. (Siberian?  Alaskan? – I forget.)

Day 4 – We Cross the Arctic Circle

November 29, 2015

Day 4.   14th November

(My Son Will’s Birthday – I think of him from time to time all through the day)

Each day on board is measured from midnight to midnight, and each evening one can pick up a sheet from the Recepsjon, which tells us the programme for the next day: ports of call; mealtimes; objects of interest on the way and in the towns; excursions and their timings.  MS Lofoten is stunningly punctual – she covers over 4,000 kilometres on each 12-day round trip, arriving strictly on time at every location.  Our collective jaws drop at the thought and we consider our own late trains.  It’s not just in Britain – by now I have befriended quite a few Germans and a couple of Americans – and they, too, are amazed.

By Saturday I have properly discovered how to get myself awake in time for breakfast.  And oh boy!  what a breakfast!  It is a vast smorgasbord involving hot food – sausages (various), eggs (different every day), beans but not as we know them; cereals – muesli, two kinds of hot porridge (plain and fruited).  As well as that there is salad, pickles, cold meats, fish of different kinds every day, several versions of wonderfully fresh bread and breadrolls (they must bake on the ship, working in the small hours) plus pastries.  Oh, and I nearly forgot the range of orange and mysterious fruity drinks; yogurts (fruit and natural); jams and marmalade; several kinds of milk to pour on the cereals; and the healthy wedges of oranges and melons.  At the same time kind waiters circulate with big pots of tea and coffee, endlessly topping up one’s cup.  No wonder the average weight gain on the voyage is said to be 4 kilos (more than half a stone to you and me).  They told us that very jovially several times in the first few days – almost as if they are proud of it.  So, just don’t start me on lunch!  On the dot of ten, they all vanish from our beck and call, and start stacking away the remains of the breakfast: as clear a signal as you’ll ever be given that it’s time to finish up and go.  The white paper napkins for breakfast are everywhere replaced by navy blue paper peaks: the napkins for lunch.  I know enough to scuttle away, smoothly, of course, as befits a conscientiously maintained dignity.

I was even up in time to take a few photos as we came into Ørnes (pronounced Er-ness, with a clear ‘r’ sound). You will have noticed by now what a joy it was to me to collect Norwegian pronunciations and words.  It was a huge help to have the regular tri-lingual announcements over the PA system, first in Norwegian, then in English, then in German, made by the remarkable Tour Guide, Morten Sagen, who I believe was himself Swedish.  With immense precision and politeness, information and advice were delivered in his light, polite voice.  Place names names articulated instructively. First time round, it was all guesswork about the message in Norwegian, then the English, if you missed it in English, chances were you could catch it in German.

Logs and the fork lift device on the fore-deck

Logs and the fork lift device on the fore-deck, heading towards  harbour.



The amazing line of mountains behind the town

An amazing line of mountains behind the town – they make me think of Bund cake, every time.


same mountains, different angle - the light is sunrise, I guess, at around 9.15am

same mountains, different angle – the light is sunrise, I guess, at around 9.15am

I took this photo for the extraordinary pinkish light: still approaching Ornes harbour.

I took this photo for the extraordinary pinkish light: still approaching Ornes harbour.

We pause for just a quarter of an hour at Ørnes.  Long enough to step off the boat for a brisk stroll and a sticky-beak around at the loading process, and then back on again.  Gloriously, it’s Christmas trees that they load onto the fore-deck.  Are we heading for a place where fir trees don’t grow?

The loaded about eight of these, extremely neatly and quickly.

The loaded about eight of these, extremely neatly and quickly.

We crossed the Arctic Circle in the night (well – about 7.30) and the air is detectably sharper.  I do some washing, change into the wonderful lined walking trousers that Sally recommended, and become detectably fresher also.  (This is not destined to last long – wait till I tell you about the huskies!)  On deck, it’s time to start wearing the full kit: winter coat, woolly hat,  gloves and the heavy walking boots.

Three little dark birds with black backs whizz past, close to the sea.  They are smaller than the cormorants: I think they must be razorbills.  Next comes the ‘Arctic Circle Ceremony’ – someone dressed as King Neptune in a scarily grotesque mask comes to tip ice water down people’s backs – a kind of hilarious christening into the Arctic.  People laugh and scream and jump around a lot.  Sorry – not my idea of fun.  I stay well back, and when it all looks like becoming riotous, retreat to the rear lounge.

Tour Guide Morten Sagen, far right, complete with microphone

Tour Guide Morten Sagen, far right, complete with microphone.  Chairs are for the ‘victims’ to sit in.  They did get a shot to drink, after the ice water down their backs.


King Neptune.  I think that's the captain on his right.  Behind him two nice German friends I met much later - she is called Christiane.

King Neptune. I think that’s the captain on his right. Behind him two nice German friends I met much later – she is called Christiane.

Soon after lunch we come into Bodø, capital of Nordland, population 50,000.  (It’s another lovely word to say: Berduh – something like that, maybe between that and Boder). We have two and a half hours here: time enough for a coach trip to see the Maelstrom (this one is called the Saltstraumen).  The tide has to flow through a very narrow passage between two parts of the fjord, so going in and coming out it moves at great speed, and gets tangled up, causing a series of whirlpools.  Very dangerous, but also a very good place to fish: what a combination!

apricot sky and the bridge over Saltstraumen: towards 2.00pm

apricot sky and the bridge over Saltstraumen: towards 2.00pm


sky and mountains

sky and mountains


Saltstraumen in the Arctic light

Saltstraumen in the Arctic light


Saltstraumen again

Saltstraumen again


the stark line of mountains behind the Maelstrom

the magical outline of mountains behind the Maelstrom

Those mountains are amazing: so stark and strong.  Made of stern, ancient stuff.

What the mountains are made of.

What the mountains are made of.


water pounds past - too fast for my camera

water tumbles and flicks past – too fast for my camera


frothing black dark water - we plough across the Vestfjord

frothing black dark water – we set off across the Vestfjord


churning sea - and a glimpse of the polished wooden rail

A glimpse of the polished wooden rail; a churning sea – mesmerising. 

Crossing the Vestfjord involves three hours crossing the open sea – the Lofoten takes on a spacious, gentle rocking, and I’m coming to know what people mean when they say that a ship is alive, that it is like an animal.  A big, gently creaking animal that accommodates its environment.  It fits with the sea, moving with it, using it to move onwards.




Close of day 3 – no photos on the Lofoten

November 27, 2015

Day Three – continued

You can’t photograph the feel of the engines – a thrum and gritty rumble that’s different in the various parts of the ship.  Here in the ‘bar’ (not really a bar – more a cosy lounge towards the stern of the boat) there’s an additional rattle intermittently from the woodwork as something – maybe a window – jars slightly on its fixings.

We’re moving faster, purposefully, and the engine is really working.  It’s a reassuring deep note calling to some place in the body’s core that lies below the heart and above the guts; right at the very bottom of the lungs perhaps.  Something, as they say, visceral, but I want a more primitive word, not that Latinate form.  What pre-industrial sound, I wonder, does it echo from out of our ancestral past?  – And so – and so – here I sit quietly in the bar, feeling the ship, looking out across the cold, late-afternoon sea, still as still here within the broad fjord.  I’m hoping to see orca, but I guess I’m just not clocking up the hours of looking that would earn me that.  Not ‘earn’ – it’s not a transaction – there’s a moral overtone: that would deserve a glimpse.  So I go out on deck, where the water looks a jewelled deep dark green and rather less still.  Fjords are not necessarily so steep, it turns out: they can be wide.  Fjords are full of islands and small rocks that show a dark tip above the surface.  Everything out there looks a bit like a living beast rolling its fin through the water, just for that moment before it’s quite obviously not moving at all.  Another rock.

And so now I am seeing imaginary orcas, turning in the turning waves.  They only occur here and there, for even imaginary orcas are scarce, and difficult to spot.  But I can look at the night-time sea surface and feel happy – they are underneath, they are there.  It’s just that I don’t see them.  In this way, I am well content, and I go back in through the heavy doors, to dinner.

It turns out that I am dining with the white witch of the Corriebrechan: her name is Alison.   Her husband is called Donald.  She has special powers, but she laughs and twinkles so much when she tells me this, that I think she is just teasing.

Alison - the charming Scottish friend from Tarbert

Alison – the charming Scottish friend from Tarbert.  Here she is knitting, as all good witches should. (I took this photo on the last day – so it’s out of sequence here.  One doesn’t take snaps of new acquaintances.)

The evening wears on, and decisions become difficult: coffee? bed? booking a wake-up call?  I go outside, where I love to be on deck, watching the sheer weight of water pushed aside, pushed aside, pushed aside endlessly by the Lofoten, and feeling the fresh, sharp cold.  I want to stay and keep looking but my legs are tired and want to give way, so it’s bed and book time.

A Sea Voyage – Day 2/3 and a Map

November 26, 2015

Evening of Day Two

I’m looking through the window as these mountains darken under a sky still pale blue.  Clouds are mountain-coloured and drifting as we move steadily on, crossing a darkening sea, blue-grey, but still lighter than the mountains.  As the dark comes down I can see a double image – warm gold wood and glowing lights.  My own face – self portrait serious – is coming gradually clearer in the glass.  A row of trivial curtains hangs itself, petty, across the massing outlines, as they become darker, more separate, more other.

Our cosy glow thrums forward, soft, safe, civilised.  Waves of German language wash gently behind me and I can pick out the odd word. “Ratten verlassen das Schiff,” I detect, and they chuckle.  I smile too, into the window, turned away but surely visible.  Moomin hills lump back at me.  No orcas.

– and now our reflected interior is prickled over with Christmas lights, strung for us all unknowing by the mountainside’s houses.  It’s a little early for Christmas, but the shards of light look celebratory.

– Darker yet.  The German speakers emerge as four ghosts sitting behind me – something glitters from a woman’s gesturing arm: she is quiet, emphatic, “Das stimmt aber schon.”  One man draws a huge square in the air; the other speaks little but very deep-voiced.  A second woman, barely visible, says almost nothing.

I should go and Dress for Dinner – playing safe: a little bit smart but not too much.  I overdo it.


Day Three – Trondheim and northwards.

(No photos of Trondheim, and no memory either – maybe I was asleep?)

Dark sea, light sky, lighthouse.

Dark sea, light sky, lighthouse



moving cloud, distant rain

moving cloud, distant rain


Sunset, cloud and sea - half past one in the afternoon

Sunset, cloud and sea – half past two in the afternoon – Kjungskaer Fyr (Lighthouse).

I miss the mussel-tasting in the afternoon – out on deck, watching the sea and the sea birds. Perhaps.

Day 3 ends with Rorvik – by which I am fast asleep.


I think you’ll be needing a map of Norway.  Here we go:

Norway Cruise Map




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