7 days in Northern Norway

Day one: Nordskot

Basking in the constant daylight of northern Norway, Roger Lean-Vercoe spent a week last summer cruising the 250 miles or so from Bodø to Tromsø on board the 48.35 metre motor yacht Grace. Here, in his fascinating diary, he records the highlights of the journey...

Midnight sun has some interesting effects. Landing at Bodø at 11pm, the exhaustion of a six-hour, three-legged flight from the South of France utterly dissolves in the brilliant sunshine. It is a consequence of being at 67 degrees north, well within the Arctic Circle, in summertime. It may seem like madness to leave the warm delights of the Mediterranean in favour of these cold, yacht-free waters, but summer here (May to July) reveals a paradise of strange and ethereal landscapes – and glorious isolation in which to explore them by boat.

Day two: Nordskot to Tranøy

When the sun has not dipped below the horizon since the previous day, the concept of “next morning” doesn’t seem quite valid, so “after breakfast” Grace slips out to sea. The air clarity foreshortens apparent distance and the mountains that appear to be nearby are actually more than 30 miles away.

We head north east, hugging the mainland, before threading our way between the eastern islands of the 120 mile-long Lofoten chain, which arcs out into the Norwegian Sea. Here, the flat water is protected by low islets, known locally as skjærgård or skerries. The area is dotted with pretty little fishing harbours that easily accommodate yachts up to 60 metres in length, usually without payment.

We stop at Nordskot, which attracts hikers in summer and Northern Lights-gazers in winter, then further northwards, at Tranøy, where we stay overnight. A whaling boat is perched atop the sheltered quay and, with a door cut in its hull, has a second life as the village restaurant. Like all these fishing villages, Tranøya is clustered with traditional wooden rorbuer – fishermen’s houses – many balanced precariously between the shoreline and long piles rising from the water.

Day three: Tranøy to Hamn

From Tranøy we go north east across the Vestfjorden towards the distant ridge of blue-tinged mountains – the Lofoten Wall as it is known locally. The string of islands that make up this seemingly solid wall – Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøya, Moskenesøya and, more detached, Værøy and Røst – reach out from the mainland in a curve, like a protective hand shielding the Vestfjorden from the worst extremes of the Arctic winter.

Our 20-mile crossing leads us towards the narrow Tjeldsundet passage – invisible until one closes to within a few miles – that snakes between the Lofoten mountains. As we emerge into the open water of the Vågsfjorden, the solid mass of Senja appears from its blue haze; we continue north, escorted by a pod of porpoises. We take the island’s western coast, open to the North Atlantic winds. This rugged and indented coastline is scenically spectacular and we wind in and out of steep-sided fjords before stopping for the night at the little settlement of Hamn.

Tourism is relatively new to northernmost Norway, but an enthusiastic entrepreneur from Oslo has bought this declining fishing settlement, with its sheltered harbour, and transformed it into a thriving and pretty resort. We walk the bounds of the harbour, gulls wheeling above our heads, and stop at the hotel’s fish restaurant for freshly caught turbot. Still in sunshine at almost midnight, we head to the settlement’s northern headland to view the archipelago of skerries that stretches towards the distant mountains.

Day four: Exploring the Bergsøyan archipelago

Grace’s 6.3 metre Buster tender, sturdily built in aluminium, is ideal for exploring, and six of us head out in brilliant sunshine. We zip through the clear water – the bottom always in sight – from island to island. We picnic, beachcomb, peek at sealife in rock-pools, discover a pristine white beach ground from coral debris and stumble upon kittiwake chicks.

Our sojourn is so long in this bountiful wilderness, in constant daylight, that by the time we return to the tender the tide has turned, it is high and dry, and no amount of muscle will move its 800kg back into the water. The next high tide is at 3am but this poses no problem other than embarrassment. Rescued by the second tender, we return to Grace for dinner, before coming back in the depths of the sunny night to make a successful recovery.

Day five: Bergsøyan archipelago to Sommarøy

We sail once more past the Bergsøyan archipelago, stop at the little settlement of Husøy for lunch and cruise on lazily through more spectacular scenery to Sommarøy, a “frontier” fishing village at the end of a peninsula winding out from Kvaløya Island. We climb to the 290 metre summit on nearby Hillesøya, grateful for the hand-ropes that ease our way. But our recompense is rich: an astounding 360-degree view over sunlit water and skerries to the surrounding mountains.

Day six: Sommarøy to Tromsø

Today is full-on relaxation. We cruise down Malangen Fjord and turn to the east into Straumsfjord, the pathway into Tromsø, the region’s capital. A following breeze means windless decks and in bright sunshine the temperature soars to a balmy 23C. The weather is providing almost unheard-of highs in the 30s, exceeding those in the South of France now. Moored against a quay at the heart of the little city (the second-largest in the Arctic Circle after Murmansk) we step ashore to mingle with the locals, many of whom are enjoying alfresco drinks at the pubs and cafés. There’s plenty to do in this cultured university city, from a cable-car ride to the peak of Fjellheisen mountain, visits to museums and nightly concerts in the Arctic Cathedral.

Day seven: Tromsø to Havnnes

We continue northwards up the Grøtsundet and into Ullsfjorden, towards one of Norway’s most beautiful fjords. Our course is flanked by rugged snow-capped mountains of ever increasing grandeur until, at 70 degrees north, we reach the most northerly point of our cruise. Clouds hide the true majesty of the Lyngenfjord, so we pull in at Havnnes, on the eastern side, where ancient white-painted wooden buildings have been joined by a few holiday homes. It is serene, picturesque and, as we find the next morning when the clouds disperse, well matched with the spectacular mountains and rolling, flower-filled meadows that line the fjord’s shores.

Some might consider an expedition this far north to be a risky venture in terms of its distance from traditional cruising grounds and the possibility of bad weather, but Grace has cruised here for many summers and her owner is adamant that the benefits outweigh the barrier of time and distance.

“Every time we receive guests, my enchantment with this coastline is confirmed by their surprise and enthusiasm,” he says. “Sometimes, at a quiet anchorage, people spontaneously lower their voice to whisper – in awe of the beauty, the space and the silence. Surely this is how yachting was intended, to explore and to have new experiences. This is the best place under the sun.”

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