The room is quiet and dark, from afar you hear singing. Slowly you hear the singing getting closer and closer…

Suddenly the room fills with light. A girl in a long, white gown with a wreath of candles burning on her head enters the room.  Behind her come a procession of people in white carrying, candles in their hands and singing together the Santa Lucia song….

On the 13th December, this Swedish tradition happens everywhere across the country.

In schools, in the town square, in day-care centres, in offices, in old people’s homes, in churches and even at home, parents often get woken up by short Lucia “trains” done by their children.

Lucia-1

I remember when I was fifteen, I was part of six Lucia “parades” that year. First in the morning, my sisters and I woke my parents up with singing and coffee in bed. Then I was part of the school procession  and as I sang in a choir, the choir were the “followers” for the town Lucia, so we went to two old people’s homes, the town square and the last one in the evening in the town church.

Lucia-2

Lucia is a very cosy tradition and one I really miss now when I’m living abroad, but we’ll definitely see the Lucia celebrations in Stockholm on the live broadcast in the office on Lucia morning and drink hot chocolate and eat Lussekatter.

Happy Lucia everyone!

Sofia from The Nature Travels Team

For more information on the Swedish Lucia tradition, please see our previous blog on this subject.

gavle-goat-day

The Yule Goat, or Julbock, is a traditional ornament made out of straw and bound with red ribbons that you will see it in many Swedish homes during the Christmas season. The Julbock is said to have originated from Thor and his two trusty goats and then traditions have subsequently evolved throughout the ages. One tradition involves him playing a supervisory role, overseeing the Christmas preparations are being held properly and neighbours would trick each other by sneaking the goat into each other’s houses to remind them that they are being watched, because the pressure of your mother-in-law visiting wasn’t stressful enough! More recently the Julbock is now thought to attract presents by placing it under the Christmas tree.

The most famous Yule Goat can be found in the town of Gävle. In 1966, the tradition started of building a giant version of the straw goat in the centre of the town in Castle Square. However, in the first year at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the goat was burnt to a crisp and since then almost every year the Gävle Goat succumbs to some sort of misfortune. The poor thing only has only a 45% survival rate of it still standing by Christmas!

gavle-goat-snow

Over the years, the town has put many things in place to help the Gävlebocken survive until the New Year but even covering the straw goat with a flame resistant coating didn’t slow down Father Christmas and a gingerbread man setting him alight by shooting flaming arrows at him. However, going up in smoke isn’t the only thing he has to worry about. In the past the goat has collapsed after being sabotaged on a couple of occasions including after being crashed into by a Volvo. One year a helicopter even swooped down into Castle Square in an attempt to kidnap him!

Only escaping destruction a small number of times has without a doubt made the goat famous and people now place bets as to how long the goat will survive. I should probably mention that burning the goat is actually an illegal act and not welcomed by most citizens of Gävle, as one American found out when he attempted to burn the goat down after assuming he was following a Swedish tradition but ended up with jail time instead. A couple of years ago the police were on the case when someone posted a photo online of 4 tattooed ankles displaying the burning Gävlebocken but that wasn’t proof enough.

gavle-goat-burnt

Will this be a year the Gävle Goat survives? In the hope to deter potential vandals, this year the town is relocating their taxi rank into the square in order to bring more people into it. He will be set in position from 30th November and you can follow his twitter, blog, instagram and even his webcam to check on his progress or whether a calamity has occurred!

 

Sofia from Nature Travels joined our Husky Mountain Expedition in Lapland in March 2014.

It was going to be an eight day experience with six days’ dog sledding. There were six of us, me, two brothers from Belgium, a Swiss couple, Laura the dog handler from the kennel and Marcus, our guide.
The day after we arrived, we packed all the equipment, people, dogs and sleds into the trucks before we were ready to drive up to the mountains.

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Once in the beginning of the mountain range, it was time to leave the cars behind and head off into the mountains by sled. For the first day we stayed in the lowland forest, and it wasn’t until the second day we started climbing. Both the second and third days there was a lot of uphill and when you added the work around the cabins in the evening, we all slept early those nights.

It is not only the dog sledding one needs energy for when on a dog sled tour of this kind. Every night when we reached a camp, we first set up the stake-out line for the dogs and then unharnessed the dogs and attached them to the line. Then we carried all our equipment to the cabins and went to fetch water from the lakes to be able to start to heat all the water we need to be able to feed the dogs.

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One of us also chopped the big blocks of dog meat we had with us into smaller pieces so they would defrost more easily once we put them in the hot water. Others went to chop the wood we needed for the evening to heat the cabin and for the sauna (in those cabins which had a sauna).

Then when the water was hot, it was time to feed all the 30 dogs we had with us and at the same time dig holes for them in the snow to protect them against the Arctic wind.

All the cabins along the route are used mostly by hikers in the summer and ski tourers in winter. We had mostly a separate little cabin to ourselves or at least a bedroom for just our group. All the cabins have a host, who runs a little store and makes sure that everybody that comes knows where the wood, water, etc is. Some of the cabins had sauna and connecting washing rooms, where you can wash yourself with hot water that has been heated on top of the sauna radiator. So on the days we had sauna we tried to have a wash and get clean before dinner, times in the sauna were allocated by gender.

Our last two days we got clear blue skies and sunshine and sledding on mostly downhill and flat and I could hear myself saying to myself, “This is what living life is about! This is quality of life!”

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Best regards
Sofia, The Nature Travels team

You can find out more information on the Husky Mountain Expedition in Lapland and see our full range of dogsled tours in Sweden and Norway on our website.

You can also read another account of the Husky Mountain tour here

 

Bob from Nature Travels travelled to Gothenburg and Bohuslän in West Sweden for 5 days in September 2014, and came home with a suntan!

Any opportunity to travel to the beautiful coastal region of Bohuslän in West Sweden is always welcome, so despite a brutally early start of 2am to catch the bus from Dorset up to Heathrow, I arrived at Gothenburg Landvetter airport feeling buoyant and optimistic for the days ahead.

The trip started well with a chat with the world’s friendliest taxi driver on the short ride into town, during which we skipped through subjects as diverse as English football (he was a Man Utd. supporter), his original home of Montenegro and the Swedish welfare system. He dropped me off at the Clarion Hotel Post right opposite the station, an imposing but nicely-converted hotel in the old city Post Office building which retains much of its original charm.

fish-church

The first 24 hours were eat-eat-eat, as we sampled the fantastic herring at Gabriel’s in the “Fish Church” (Feskekôrka), the traditional welcoming atmosphere of Styrsö Pensionat (I loved the cardamom-flavoured meringue!), a little oasis of calm on the island of Styrsö just a short boat ride from the city, and a delicious veggie risotto at Palace.

herring-at-gabriels

We attempted to burn off just a little of our excess calorific intake with a kayak tour of the city under the guidance of the lovely Ulrika from Point 65, though didn’t make much of a dent.

starter-at-styrso-pensionat

Kayaking is a great way to see Gothenburg – from gliding along beside the battleship and submarine floating museums to exploring the canal running through the city centre.

kayak-gothenburg-warships

Getting to drive a lovely old Volvo around town on the “Time Travel Sightseeing Tour” was also great and reminded me of my old Morris Traveller!

old-volvo

Next day it was out of the city and north to the coastal region of Bohuslän, where we spent the next four days glorying in some fantastic late summer sunshine. Barely a cloud in the sky for days, temperatures into the 20s and the sunlight painting beautiful shadows and reflections on the granite and gneiss formations of the coastline.

cardamom-meringue

The water and its rich bounty of seafood were an ever-present companion during our time at the coast – sumptuous lunches of freshly-caught crayfish and cod-related fish varieties, consumed at leisure while watching the ever-changing tapestry of coastal life.

fjallbacka

We explored the coastal towns of Strömstad and Smögen, very popular in the summer especially with Norwegian visitors, and the beautiful small village of Fjällbacka, home to and setting for the crime novels of Camilla Läckberg, now one of the world’s top-selling authors (we even met Camilla’s mum!).

smogen-2

No trip to West Sweden would be complete without a visit to the stunning islands of the west coast archipelago. The Koster Islands, Sweden’s first Marine National Park, are great for exploring by bike, provided free at the harbour and making it easy to get to the lovely café and organic garden at Kosters Trädgården.

koster-tradgard

We also liked the new network of “snorkelled” (snorkelling trails), self-guided underwater information boards linked by a rope trail to teach visitors about the rich marine life of the area.

styrso

The Weather Islands (“Väderöarna”), Sweden’s most westerly point, have a real “frontier” atmosphere and make a great base for kayaking day trips, where you can end the day’s paddling with a warm welcome at the comfortable guest house and a hot tub on the jetty!

weather-islands

While West Sweden itself is rich in wildlife, from harbour seals to seabirds, the endangered species breeding centre at Nordens Ark provided a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Sweden’s harder-to-see animals from elsewhere in the country, including the mysterious wolf and charismatic wolverine.

tiger

The centre focuses on endangered species from outside Sweden too, and we had wonderful views of the Amur tigers and (a special treat for me) a chance to get unbelievably close to the snow leopards (never felt a snow leopard breathing in my face before – wonderful!) while learning about the valuable work of the centre from head guide, Pelle.

snow-leopard

After squeezing in a short hike along the varied shoreline of Bohus-Malmön (the very last section of the the 3-day IceBug Experience walking/running event, taking place for the first time this year), our last little adventure was a kayak tour from the town of Lysekil, well-placed to offer great kayaking right from the shore – we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the gorgeous smooth rocks and islands which pepper the coastline before returning to land for fresh mussel soup! And just before the bus left, a lightning tour of Havets Hus, a small but very interesting aquarium focussing on local marine species, including a rare blue lobster!

Then all too soon it was time to head south once more to Gothenburg for our journey home. I dozed on the plane with my mind full of impressions and snapshots from the trip – the tang of the salty air, the slap of the waves on the side of my kayak, the succulent softness and rich flavours of the fish and seafood, and the seemingly endless sunshine glinting off the rocks.

smogen

The Boshuslän region has its own very special atmosphere and its proximity to Gothenburg makes it very easy to discover. One of the real attractions of the area is that it offers something for everyone – if you want challenging, world-class sea kayaking with wild camping on your own deserted island, it’s there in abundance. If you just want to chill out with a bowl of crayfish soup and a glass of wine and watch the sun go down, you can do that too!

Nature Travels offers a number of activities in the Bohuslän area, including self-guided sea kayaking, guided sea kayaking (including tours in the Fjällbacka, Koster and Weather Islands regions) and self-guided hiking.

Bob from the Nature Travels team gets to grips with his first Via Ferrata on a tour to Fjord Norway in July 2014:

My wife, Sofia, and other Director here at Nature Travels, has a t-shirt from a recent 24-hour running event with the slogan “Life Begins at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone.” I have a t-shirt with the slogan “You Can Never Have Too Many Guitars”. I like my Comfort Zone – it’s warm, safe and, well, comfortable – and I find life goes on inside it very nicely most of the time, thank you.

But I also have to grudgingly admit that whenever I find myself outside its cosy borders, whether by fair means or foul, these end up being some of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my life, and (apart from a 32 mile walk along the Dorset Coast Path last Sunday from which I still have the blisters) I have my time with Nature Travels to thank for many of them – canoeing in the pathless wilderness of Rogen in north-west Sweden, dog sledding along the King’s Trail in the far north of Lapland, and, on this occasion, hanging off the side of a cliff slowly losing feeling in one arm while desperately fumbling with some tangled carabiners with the other.

I’d come to Fjord Norway on a trip investigating new experiences for the Nature Travels portfolio – we have been slowly adding new options in Norway for the last couple of seasons and I was keen to research some additional possibilities for summer (our summer options currently include Sailing the Norwegian Coast and Nordic Yurt Camp in Hardanger). We found ourselves in the stunning Sunnmøre Alps area, where within striking distance of the lovely regional capital Ålesund there are several of Norway’s most spectacular natural areas, including the beautiful Geirangerfjord, on which we’d spent a glorious early morning the day before kayaking around the base of the Seven Sisters waterfall in the stillness before the cruise ships arrive.

I’d been to the Sunnmøre area before, in winter for off-piste skiing and ski touring, but hadn’t had an opportunity to try summer activities in the area. It was with a mix of excitement and trepidation that I saw that a newly-opened Via Ferrata, in the small village of Loen, was on the list of things we’d be doing. For the uninitiated, Via Ferrata (“iron ways”) were found originally in the alps, and basically allow non-climbers without technical skills the chance to access climbing areas that would normally require you to be a “proper” climber. As Wikipedia puts it, “via ferrata allow otherwise dangerous routes to be undertaken without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing or need for climbing equipment”.

One or two points have steps to assist

Running the length of the route is a steel cable, fastened every 3m or so into the rock. Participants climb with two points of attachment to the cable, sliding the carabiners along as you climb. When you reach a fastening point, you unclip one, attach it to the other side, then unclip the other and reattach. In this way you are always anchored to the cable by at least one point and, if you do slip, the maximum distance you could fall would be the 3m down to the next clip point (this would undoubtedly hurt, but is better than the alternative). This is foolproof, though not it seems tour-operator-proof. At one point I looked down (and during one of the steepest sections too) to find myself, to my surprise, holding both my carabiners in my hand. Oops. Still, momentary lapses of reason and muppetry-attacks aside, it’s foolproof.

After the bridge - the last push

After a carb-loading breakfast, we walked across the road from our hotel to the climbing centre, where a group of around 40 were assembling, collecting harnesses, shoes, gloves, and generally looking active and healthy. As a newly-opened route, the clientele so far is almost exclusively Norwegian, and with the odd exception (i.e. me), most people looked worryingly like they knew what they were doing – a sea of bronzed Scandinavian muscles, taught and rippling in the morning sun, and that infuriating glow of health and vitality so common to these parts. There were also a couple of children – two girls aged just 10 or so, but as all Norwegians are able to climb, ski, sail and paraglide seemingly before they are on solid food, this didn’t make me feel any better.

In our little group of four were myself, Tove from the tourist board, and two tour operators in Holland, Sabine and Maiike. Tove certainly sported an impressive climbing pedigree – her father had first-ascented the nearby Trollveggen in the 1960s, an absurdly steep and precipitous cliff that we’d visited the day before, so I was keen not to let the side down.

The trip was scheduled to take all day and, as Norway was in the grips of a ridiculously hot summer, where it had been close to 30 degrees for several weeks, the guides were sensibly insistent that we wouldn’t be rushing and there was no timetable for getting back. After an introduction to the technique, safety talk and a check that we were all carrying enough water (at least 3 litres each for the day), we were off.

Walk up to start

Physically, the hardest part of the day was the hour-long initial trudge up a steep forest path in the blazing sun to where the via ferrata begins. Once at the base, things settled into a stop-start routine, ensuring that the climber before you has cleared the section above before you begin.

Up we go, into the wide blue yonder

The rhythm of the day was oddly meditative and gently hypnotic – bum out, arms straight, feet flat, climb, unclip, clip on, unclip, clip on, gather your safety lines, and off you go again. Despite nursing a bit of a cold which was sapping my energy, I found myself enjoying it all right from the start. Some of the steeper sections required some deep breaths and internal pep-talks, but the views were spectacular, the cameraderie warm and friendly, and the day had a real sense of achievement.

The top! (almost, still smiling)

Towards the top comes one of the highlights of the route – the longest Via Ferrata bridge in Europe, 120m long with a 160m drop. Then you’re over to the other side for a bit more climbing, and finally you’re off the line and out onto the rolling moorland that is the summit of Mt. Hoven at 1010m. From here it’s an hour and a half or so walk down through meadows and forest back to the village, with the springy turf beneath your feet providing a lovely contrast to the hard rock of the rest of the day.

Sabine and Maiike make their way across

The summit of Mt Hoven at 1010m

And so we made it home – 8 hours, 1010m up and down again (starting and ending at sea level), 3 litres of water and probably 5 litres of sweat later. It was universally agreed to have been a great day.

The springy walk down

And who knew it? I may be an adventurer after all….but until the next time, back to the comfort zone…..

Wolves have often been portrayed as the villains of fairy tales and folk lore, but are they really all bad and what should you do if you encounter one whilst walking in the forests of Norway or Sweden.

Where do wolves live?
The main wolf populations are found in Dalarna and Värmland in Sweden and in the bordering areas in south-east Norway

There are thought to be around 350-410 wolves in Norway and Sweden (based on surveys in Winter 2012/2013) with most of these being found in Sweden. Wolves are, in Sweden and Norway, considered an endangered species (though not in other parts of the world). In the past wolves have been entirely eradicated from Sweden and Norway; the current population are thought to be descended from a small Finnish-Russian population.
With such small numbers it is rare that you will come face to face with a wolf however you may see signs (e.g. tracks) or hear them at night; the sound of their howls can carry for over 10km.

What to do if you encounter a wolf
If you do come across a wolf, you will probably find that the wolf backs away from you as soon as you make any noise or speak. If the wolf starts to come towards you or you feel nervous then there are some simple things you can do:

  • Back away slowly and loudly; shout, sing or talk it is not recommended that you scream in a high pitch.
  • Do not run away; this is more likely to make the wolf chase you.
  • Should the wolf start to follow you, stop and try and make yourself seem as big as possible (hold up your arms or backpack etc.). You should also take a step towards (rather than away from) the wolf.
  • If the wolf does attack you kick and hit it as hard as you can (do not play dead)

If you are out walking with your dog and you encounter a wolf you should still follow the above advice however you may find that the presence of your dog makes the wolf less shy. It may even approach you (up to a few meters) however it seems that normally the wolf is mostly interested in the dog and will pay little (if any) attention to the human. If the wolf attacks your dog you should never get in between the wolf and dog; you should take off your dog’s lead (if possible) and throw something at the wolf.

Should you come across a wolf with food, as long as you remain at a distance and do not try to take its food away, there is no evidence to suggest that the wolf will be aggressive towards you.

Life in a pack
Wolves live in packs these can range in size from 2 individuals to 30 or more, in Europe packs usually consist of 2- 7 individuals. These packs usually are made up of an “alpha” male and female pair and their offspring though can sometimes have non related wolves in. The offspring usually leave the pack when aged around 1-2 years though some will stay with their parents for longer. Normally only the “alpha” pair will breed with the rest of the pack helping in the upbringing of the pups (or whelps). The pups (normally 4 -5) are born in a den where they spend the first few weeks of their life. When the pups are born they are both blind and deaf; their eyes open at around 10 -13 days and their sense of hearing is developed by 21 days.

Wolves and humans
Past
In Norse mythologies wolves are often portrayed as being evil. One of the most famous mythological stories is about Fenrir who was the wolf son of Loki and who it was foretold would kill Odin, however the other gods manage to bind him up before he has chance to kill Odin using a special Dwarf made chain (in some tales in is a ribbon) although this was at the cost of Týr’s right hand which Fenrir bit off in his rage at being unable to get free.

Present
Wolves today tend to live in remote areas so that contact with humans is rare and there have been no reported killings of humans by wolves since 1820 and the last reported death was caused by a half tame wolf. You should not feed wolves as this could cause them to associate humans with food leading to them entering into human populated areas more frequently and increasing the chances of humans and wolves coming into contact with each other.

Wolves usually feed on moose, however when food supplies are low or a wolf is starving they may well attack sheep and have been known to attack cows and horses. This leads to much animosity towards wolves from farmers who have had their sheep taken by hungry wolves.

Whilst wolves are shy and it is unlikely that they will attack you should you encounter them you should remember that they are a wild predator and you should not attempt to approach them or touch them even though they may seem friendly.

Our Howling with Wolves experience is a great way to learn more about these wonderful creatures and to spend an evening round the camp fire listening to their howls.

Best regards

The Nature Travels team

In March 2014, Linda from the Nature Travels Team travelling to the Bodø and Harstad regions in the north of Norway to research new products for our portfolio.

Harstad

Where

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harstad is a fairly small yet charming town, 364km² and has around 23,000 inhabitants, approximately 313km north of Bodø, located on Hinnøya , Norway’s largest island. If travelling by car (and ferry) it takes bout 5.5 hours but due to our schedule, we hopped on a quick flight with Wideroe, a journey made all the more swift with the rather inclement weather at the time. Tried ‘n’ tested – they are not wrong when they say these are some of the best pilots in the world!

When visiting Harstad, you really need to take the time to soak in the atmosphere of the town itself. There is a wonderful array of unique little shops to visit, from boutique clothes and funky kitchenware to chocolatiers that make the most scrumptious organic chocolate (my favourite was the strawberry flavour!).

Although the municipality is not huge, what it lacks in size it makes up in location and the abundance of outdoor activities that you can experience: kayaking, hiking and horse riding in the summer to dog sledding, ice climbing and various fun snow activities in the winter months.

If you are looking for a pocket of Scandi-chic – you’ll be sure to find it in Harstad.

First on the list of things to do is visit the Trondenes Pininsula with the Adolf Gun, and it is an almighty big gun believe me! Built by the Germans during WW2, it is the only fully restored fortification and one of the largest land based guns in the world.

photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Take the opportunity to tour round the arms bunker too, it is a fascinating and yet stark reminder of German occupation. We were very fortunate to have had a very knowledgeable guide on the subject (although secretly I do think she reminded me of a Bond villain!). Anyhow.. .moving on…the arsenal of weaponry is quite something and the explanation of how the gunners were able to plot exact targets was quite extraordinary. The very bizarre fact is that the Adolf Gun itself was never actually deployed on active duty, it was of course tested and we understand that there is a 2 minute recoil after each BOMB has been fired. Rumour has it that it was tested sometime after the war, although the most damage ascertained was caused by the reverberation, shattering a neighbours greenhouse, as you can imagine the owner was not amused, but at least it proved that the armoury did still work.

Trondenes was also home to a large Russian Prisoner of War (POW) camp at the latter part of the Second World War. Eerily you’ll be reminded of the terrible history of the camp, 800 or so Russian POWs perished in the horrific conditions within the confines and the majority enslaved by the German military or in areas of the town itself. A memorial remains today erected in 1945 as a reminder of the prisoners and fallen comrades and their plight.

Trondenes Historical Centre invites you to take the opportunity to experience an interactive and informative history of the region, you to gain a little more knowledge and historical facts from the early The Stone Age period although it mainly focuses on the Viking era and the Middle Ages. I particularly enjoyed sampling the local Aquavit and listening to the enchanting music .

Trondenes Church is medieval stone building and the world’s northernmost church, built in the 13th century, it is known for its beautiful surroundings at the water’s edge. Today. Three of the seven original alter cabinets remain in the choir today, these are an important part of the Catholic history and can be viewed today. The surroundings churchyard walls are known to date back to the 11 century, it is also said that the first baptisms took place just across the road from the church in a small lake ‘Laugen’ around the 1000’s.

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

After a few days of the most extraordinary and dramatic weather, we finally found a gap of calmness and jumped on a bus to the port at Harstadbotn to zip out on the rib boat for a couple of hours. We passed by a very special area were the Kittiwakes have chosen as their nesting ground. At first I must admit it just looked like another big rock protruding outof  the ocean, but as we drew closer and the rib curved round the island, we were greeted with the most magnificent chorus (OK, overwhelming squawking racket) which I would say registered into the decibels. A truly awesome sight even for a non-twitcher! A good few thousand birds flitting about their business whilst at the same time defending their young from the predatory white-tailed sea eagles that soared above! Sadly we didn’t spot any whales this time but we know they are there to visit in less stormy weather.

All dressed up and ready to go!

All dressed up and ready to go!

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Harstad is also another destination en-route for the famous Hurtigruten cruise line and daily passenger service. Founded in 1893 and originally a postal and freight service, the route runs on the north west coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. Today the Hurtigruten is a very popular way for visitors to explore Norway’s northern fjords and coastline, hopping on and off on a ‘Port to Port’ ticket, to visit the various areas to enjoy the harbour towns and many land-based activities offered by local companies. We were lucky enough to be invited on the MS Midnatsol, one of the oldest vessels in the fleet, to have a sneaky peek at the ship before the mass of passengers boarded! Behind the scenes, the staff and crew are busy keeping everything clean and literally ship-shape before the guests step aboard for the next leg of their voyage.

Hurtigruten,-Harstad-02

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Northern Norway is a truly stunning part of the Scandinavia to visit, with its dramatic breathtaking scenery and beautiful wildlife and wonderfully friendly locals, not to mention the monumental amount of history, art and culture to get absorbed in and learn about. I adore everything about the area and I’m sure you will too when you visit. Enjoy the freedom ‘Powered by Nature’.

Best wishes – signing out – Linda @ Nature Travels

Nature Travels does not currently offer experiences in the Bodø/Harstad region, but further north in Norway we offer a range of possibilities for dog sledding and ski touring in Finnmark, while to the south lie our Nordic Yurt Camp in Hardanger and Sailing the Norwegian Coast experiences.

During mid March I travelled Norway as part of a familiarisation visit, in particular the Nordland region of Bodø and Harstad. Not so much of an action adventure trip but more of a cultural and historical education, visiting places of interest en route and of course being treated to wonderful Nordic hospitality and food…Oh my goodness those scrumptious waffles!

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Part: 1 – Bodø

A bit about Bodø:
Bodø municipality is named after the old Bodøgård farm (Old Norse: Boðvin), since the town was built on its ground. The first element might be boði which means “sunken rock” or “skerry” and the last element is vin which means “meadow” or “pasture”. The last element may have been misunderstood as øy which means “island” (and written with the Danish language form ø).

In 1816 it was established as a township, there was a bit of British smuggling in 1818 but we delve too deeply into the “Bodø Affair”. The 1860’s saw the start of the big herring fisheries boom and in 1940 on the 27th May it was reduced to rubble in just over a couple of hours, the fate of the German Bombers in WW2.

Today Bodø has grown to a population of around 47000, with many students wishing to study in the region (over 4500), primarily with Armed Forces, health services and trade, transport, travel and tourism.
Bodø is renowned for being one of Norway’s windiest cities (everyone talks about the weather) Average mid summer daytime temperature is around 13.6˚ C and during January it averages around -2.1˚ C. You can enjoy the Midnight sun from 2 June – 10 July and the Polar nights from 15th – 29th December.

Where is Bodø?
Bodø is situated just north of the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway. A flight from Oslo to Bodø only takes one hour and 20 minutes (distance around 90km), and the airport is located 2 kilometres from the town centre. Yes you can actually walk for the airport into town if you choose.

bodo-map

Places of interest that we visited on our whistle stop visit.

The Saltstraumen
The Saltstraumen (comes from Salten which is the district and Straum meaning “stream”) is the World’s strongest maelstrom. Situated just south of Bodø in Nordeland region of Norway, it is a powerful tidal current that occurs every 6 hours, over 400 cubic meters of water travelling at speeds of up to 20 knots, surges through a 150km wide strait for 3km between Saltenfjord and the Skjerstadfjord.

The Saltstraumen is incredibly important and rich in biodiversity both above and below the water. The tidal current creates whirlpools if up to 10m wide and 4-5 m deep, this in turn creates rich oxygenated water providing a paradise for a variety of marine creatures and cultures. Giant shoals of fish, (Cod and Pollock are common) all kinds of shells, corals and crustaceans are but a few of its riches. Orca whales a have also been sighted in the area too! The Saltstraumen has been nominated as a marine nature reserve.

Saltstraumen1Photo by Pieter Stander

Many seabirds spend the winter feeding in the area, these include the eider and white-tailed eagles and can be present in fairly large numbers.

sea-eagleSea Eagle

The Saltstraumen is known worldwide for amongst the fishing fraternity and is also a keen spot for divers wishing to float along with the current and enjoy its natural beauty.

The newly opened Saltstraumen Experience Centre situated at the foot of the bridge and offers a very informative introduction movie about the phenomenon know as The Northern Lights, I would definitely recommend a visit to enjoy a waffle or two while you watch the whirlpools!

waffles1Hmmmmmm…. Lovely waffles!

 The Aviation Museum:
Norsk Luftfartsmuseum is the Norwegian national museum of aviation. The museum is located in Bodø in a building shaped like a giant propeller, and covers military and civil aviation history. The museum is spread over roughly 10,000 square metres of floor space. The exhibitions at the museum are the result of a co-operation between Norsk Luftfartsmuseum, the Norwegian Air Force Museum and the AVINOR Museum. The museum was opened in 1994.

Personal snippets:
Firstly, you cannot fail to be impressed by the initial architecture that presents you as you approach the museum and the fact that there is a full size spitfire greeting you at the entrance. Once inside we were greeted by our wonderful host and guide who was a wealth of knowledge and information, what she didn’t know just wasn’t worth knowing. This is definitely a mecca for aviation buffs, it is truly remarkable the scale and variety of aircraft on displayed, one of my favourites was the story of the infamous black Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Maybe the highlight was the red arrow flight simulator, Elky also joined the group for a virtual flying display in 3D – epic!

Spitfire3Spitfire

elky-flyElky gets his wings!

Bodøgaard – Art Gallery
Bodøgaard presents Northern Norway’s biggest private collection of art and cultural artefacts, including works by Oscar Bodøgaard (1923-2011), Ingrid and Harald Bodøgaard, and other artists from or associated with northern Scandinavia. It also has a unique icon and ethnographic collection.

Personal snippets:
Oscar, in his mid teens discovered an interest in art and in particular started collecting Russian religious art pieces and later developed into a great artist himself and is renowned for his masterful canvases depicting the aurora and hues of the midnight sun. You will find much of this amazing collection in a dedicated room within the gallery. During our visit we admired some wonderful modernistic styles and art pieces implementing various mediums, one of my favourites would have to have been the ingenious bottle tops in bubble wrap wall hangs along with the array of folded shopping bags creating remarkable colour collages – a vision of recycling. Outside revealed master thought provoking sculptures, whilst a visit to the cellar room revealed a whole different collection of memorabilia through the ages – a true Aladdin’s cave of history.

bodgard-sculptureSculpture

An evening at a Sami Camp:
Heading out of town we bussed to the Sami camp for evening in a ‘slightly smokey’ Lavvu (Tipi) but first we made a stop to see the Reindeer at their dwellings in the field close by. The weather was beginning to close in with a truly snowy element and an icy feel to the nose, nevertheless we tromped down the slope to the pen with our head torches shining brightly. I do wonder what the Reindeer thought of this human convey plodding towards them with lights on full beam. We were introduced to Angel’ the orphan reindeer whom the Sami sisters (our hosts for the evening) rescued! There was truly weather change at this point – there was a blizzard comin’ in.

reindeer1

Eating Out:
Lunch:
Bryggerrkai (Brewery Pier)
A Danish menu with the most amazing fish buffet – you gotta try the herring in this neck of the woods, it would be rude not to and it is of course what this region thrived on in it’s early years! Very tasty flavours I might add – great alternative menu too.

Dinner:
We had the pleasure of dining at Restaurant Smak  Wow!!! This is a gastronomic gem for a foodies. Five superb courses created with locally sourced ingredients where the menu changes weekly, has friendly professional service, with style and perfection on a plate. A very special place as a treat, priced to match but totally worth it… My mouth is watering just thinking about it… Scrumptious culinary delights! Thank you Espen and Eva-Linda for being such wonderful hosts – our group enjoyed a fabulous evening!

Part 2 about Harstad to follow….. In the meantime, watch out for the Bodø Troll!!!

troll-face1

 

Linda

Nature Travels Team

 

Icelandics in snow

Icelandic Horses are not large in stature (around 12-14 hands in height), they may resemble a slightly oversized Shetland pony in appearance, however, these wonderful equines are indeed and most definitely to be referred to as a horse rather than a pony (horse on short legs), especially in their native homeland!

Icelandic horses noses
They arrived in Iceland during the 9th century via the Vikings and have played a major part within the history and culture of Iceland ever since. They are a hardy, stocky equine and have adapted very well to their sometimes harsh and unforgiving environment. They make up the very tapestry of the land and can be seen grazing in herds during most of the year. 

vikings

Most significantly the native Icelandic Horse is a very much preserved and ancient breed and a prized part of Iceland’s heritage and was largely helped by the ban placed on importing any foreign horses into the country set in the 13th century. Still in place today, this has continued to keep the breed pure and of course free from equine diseases.

horses in water

We love them because…
These endearing chunky little chaps have larger than life characters and an abundance of free flowing mane and tail, they traditionally have a rather short neck and sloping hindquarters. Stocky, hardy and very sure footed, naturally they are extremely woolly in the winter months to cope with the Icelandic winters, however, when the spring arrives, their coats begins to change and reveal a wonderful shiny summer attire in a variety of colours.

There’s an old Icelandic saying – “A Good Horse Has No Colour”

horses2

The Icelandic Horse has grown in popularity worldwide and many have indeed been exported to different countries not least of course here in the UK. Today in the UK, the IHSGB (Icelandic Horse Society of Great Britain) which was founded in 1986, provides a host of help and information for enthusiasts (http://ihsgb.co.uk).

flags

Renowned for their good nature and versatility and ideal for the novice rider to experienced rider, they are the most comfortable of equine transport, this is largely due to their unique extra gait the “tolt”.

What is this “tolt” thing I hear you say?
Of course the Icelandic Horse can do the norm of walk, trot, canter and gallop, but they are of course they are very much known for their “tolting” gait. This movement is a 4 time beat (same footfalls as a normal walking gait) but can excel to a much greater speed such as that of the average cantering horse. This free flowing movement is actually very comfortable as there is no moment of suspension in the pace and therefore less bouncy

icelandic grey

Personally I have been very lucky to expereince riding Icelandics on my various travels over the years and I would never need asking twice if the opportunity came round again, they are extraordinary little horses. If you (like me) love everything that is horsey, then I can highly recommend that you should tick this off your horse riding bucket list!!!

You can experience spending time with Icelandic Horses (among other breeds) with one of our wonderful equestrian getaways in beautiful Sweden, for details please see our ‘Horse Riding’ category:

I hope you enjoyed this mini equiblog, do let me know your thoughts – we love feedback. We would love to hear about your adventures too!

Best regards

Linda

The Nature Travels Team

 

 

Finnmark in Northern Norway is an area larger than the whole of Denmark but with only about 72,000 inhabitants. We, a group of 8 tour operators, were invited to spend 5 days enjoying the sights and experiences that Alta and Magerøya (a large island in the northern most part of Finnmark connected to the mainland by an undersea tunnel) has to offer.

 

Day One

Dressed for the cold, in winter overalls complete with balaclava and helmet, we stepped out into the night ready for an evenings snowmobiling, hoping that we might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights but the cloudy skies did not bode well.

All dressed up and ready to go!

All dressed up and ready to go!

 

After a brief instructional talk (push the throttle in slowly to start, take your thumb off the throttle to slow down, use the handlebars to steer etc.) we set off in a long line following our guide into the dark; our way lit only by our headlights and the (very) occasional star. At first we went slowly to allow everyone to get used to driving the snow mobiles (which was a good thing as it was harder than I thought it would be to accelerate up a hill and turn whilst attempting not to hit any hidden bumps!) then as the group grew in confidence and the trees thinned we started to speed up and were soon racing through the night the wind whipping in our faces chilling the parts which were not covered by our balaclava.

We would occasionally stop to make sure that we were all still together and that no one had been left behind; on one of these stops (in the middle of nowhere on a frozen lake) our guide pointed to the sky at a cloud that had a slightly green colouring to it and told us that it looked like there might be some Northern Lights that night if the cloud ever cleared. For some of us this was our first (albeit not that impressive) sighting of the Northern lights!

After snowmobiling and with all the excitement (and the travelling) of the day we were all pretty tired and ready for our beds. Which as we were staying in the Igloo hotel were, like the room and building itself, made of ice. The rooms were almost completely silent, due to the sound cancelling nature of ice, and were a cool -4oC but as we were provided with 2 sleeping bags (one to sleep in and one to use as a blanket) which were suitable for use down to temperature of -30o so it was surprisingly toasty during the night!

 

Day Two

After breakfast (where the choice ranged from toast to fish to waffles and everything in between), we set off for our days dog sledding trip.

We were going to be trying both a small sled (one between two) with 4 dogs and a larger sleds which could take up to 4 passengers with 6 dogs so we could get a taste of what it was like on different sleds. On arrival we were met by Trine our guide and the kennel owner and were provided with snow overalls and winter boots. Outside we were given instructions on how to control the sled and the dos and don’ts of dog sledding (the main “don’t” being taking photos whilst driving the sled). We were given a card with the names (and sizes) of our dog team so that we could find and harness them.

 

Mentos

 

My team were Mentos, Stilla (my lead dogs) Trusti and Tøffen; Trusti could only be harnessed just before we set off as he had a tendency to chew his harness otherwise!

Once the dogs were ready and attached to the sleds we were off (my dogs somewhat unwillingly) and were soon out in the open running on the frozen river. I found remaining balanced on the sled was quite easy, but the turning (by shifting your weight from the centre to side you wanted to turn towards) was a little harder, however I managed to keep the sled upright and neither myself nor my passenger fell off! After a while we swapped so that I became the passenger, which allowed me more time to take in my surroundings and to take photos.

When it was time to swap the larger sled I chose to drive and found that having two extra dogs meant that, even though the sled was larger, you could go a lot faster! All too soon it was time to take our dogs back to the kennels, to un-harness them and take them back to their own individual kennels for a well deserved rest and for us there was time to sit by a camp fire and have a cup of coffee and discuss the dog sled trip.

Following dinner we got into our bus to look for Northern Lights with Trygve who was to be our Northern Lights guide for the evening. After checking the weather (and therefore cloud) report for the surrounding area we decided that the weather looked most promising to the South West. So off we went everyone’s eye glued to the windows ready to shout if we saw any hint of green through the covering of cloud. After a few stops for (what turned out to be) wispy clouds we eventually spotted some stars in a growing clear patch in the sky and then a wisp of green appeared faint at first then growing stronger. We stopped and got out of the bus by this time there were more pale green wisps moving across the sky through the thin covering of cloud. Trygve then set about taking pictures of each of us with the northern lights (using a tripod for stability, an initial to get us in the picture and then a long exposure to get the Northern Lights) for which you had to stand still for about 30secs whilst the picture was taken which is harder to do than it sounds! The picture showed the Northern Lights much better than we could see them with just our eyes, but what we could see of them was still very pretty!

Picture by Glød Explorer

 

Day Three

We departed Alta for Honningsvåg, the northern most town in Norway, principle town if the island of Magerøya and where we would be staying for the next few days. The drive took around 3 hours but the scenery we past thorough was enough to keep us entertained as we drove up and over mountains and then along the coast.

From Honningsvåg we went Gjesvær from where we set sail on a boat trip to see the Bird rock and to sail beyond Nordkapp (North Cape, the most northerly point on mainland Europe). At first despite there being a fairly large swell the sea was pretty calm due to the shelter of the Fjord. We reached Bird rock which was covered in Cormorants that seemed to be black from a far but as we got closer shimmered green and yellow.

Cormorants

Cormorants!

 

As we sailed past bird rock and entered open water the sea became a lot rougher, the bow of the boat seemed to plunge over the tops of high waves coming down on the other side with a crash! I seemed to one of very few who were enjoying the large waves and the rolling of the boat with some members of our group having turned a little green. It was therefore decided that it would probably be best not to go out further to sea where we might see whales but the waves would be a lot larger and instead turned back towards harbour. As we sailed back into harbour with the sun setting and past Bird rock again we were lucky enough to see a pair of Sea-Eagles flying gracefully around the rock.

The sun setting as we returned to Harbour.

The sun setting as we returned to Harbour

 

Day Four

After a morning spent walking around Honningsvåg taking in the sights and visiting the North Cape Museum, we hopped on to our bus to catch the convoy going up to Nordkapp. During the winter the road to Nordkapp is only open at certain times as to get up the road you need to be following a snow plough to make sure the road clear enough to drive on as even with winter tires or chains the road (being so exposed) can quickly become impassable if it starts to snow or the wind is blowing. If the weather is really bad then even the snow plough won’t go up!

Once at the Nordkapp visitor centre, after looking around at the facilities, which includes a chapel, we braved the cold winds and went outside to take in the view from the most northerly point in mainland Europe and have our pictures taken with the famous Nordkapp globe!

The evenings entertainment was a show called Our Northernmost Life performed by a small group of local actors. The musical told the history of the Honningsvåg area from the earliest Sami seasonal inhabitants to what it is like living modern day Honningsvåg and included the infamous Christmas 1974 when local fishermen got a little “exuberant” with foreign fishermen and as dawn broke the next day the town awoke to find the local Police car upside down! The songs were very catchy and as we walked back to our hotel some of us could be heard humming them (I still now on occasion find myself humming them!).

 

Day Five

The Last day of our trip dawned bright and sunny and the morning was spent visiting the fishing villages in the area around Honningsvåg and learning more about the fishing industry and it importance to the area.

 

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful sea views and mountains as we checked in for our (first of three) flight back to England.

 

Best regards

Jayne

The Nature Travels team

Nature Travels currently offers a variety of Dog sledding and Ski- Touring experiences in the Finnmark region duration 5-8 days .

 

 

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Nature Travels is the UK specialist for outdoor experiences in Sweden. Please follow links below for details of our range of holidays in Sweden for independents, families and groups.

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