A taste of Vesteralen
Although we did not get to bed until 0130, as soon as our ship docks at Harstad, we are off and on to a small coach at 0810 for a short tour of Vesteralen rejoining the Lofoten at Sortland by 1300.
The plan is that we will drive across country making various visits on the way and the Lofoten will sail around the islands to meet us at Sortland.
Starting with a tour around Harstad (schools, hospitals, old people’s homes and views) and after some of the most stunning views of the non-dawn
we arrive at Trodneses stone medieval church which is the oldest stone medieval church in northern Norway. It is a gem.
The church used to have a belfry up high but this was taken down
and put into the grounds because it was unsafe.
The original church door has lots of marks carved into it – these are thought to be the official marks of the masons whose stone built the church.
Masons were given their personal mark after a five year apprenticeship and these were cut into the stones they prepared “No one shall wilfully or forcibly change the mark given to him by the guild” German document 1459.
It is not know if the church stones were cut on site or came ready prepared with the marks on them.
The door also has an official length gauge on it – if there was a dispute as to the length of something (cloth for example), then it could be taken to the church door and measured against the gauge handing on the door.
The organ is perfectly sized for the church and the latest organ is in the original organ case.
The pulpit is finely decorated, as is the Altar
All of the above panels will be covered up during Advent which starts. Originally the church had lots of wall paintings dating from its
Roman Catholic origins describing the scripture tales to those who could not read or write. These were over-painted during a strong Lutheran period but a few show through or have been recovered.
Very nearby is the Trodneses Historical Centre
which is an attractive turf roofed building
with a log fire burner in the foyer
and a cafe with the most amazing view of the mountains on the other side of the fjord.
Putting these attractions to one side, it also has a lot of historical information related to the area and a superb example of needle work dated 1500 – an embroidered chasuble – in the above picture is St Anne with an infant Mary on one arm and an infant Jesus on the other.
There are also a lot of printed records related to the area, pictures, stones etc.
Interisland ferries are important and in order to get to our destination,
we take the Gullesfjord ferry
which provides an hourly service across the fjord to a small number of passengers. The low demand for its essential
service does not stop it providing a rather good cafe for passengers on the 30 min trip.
The island we get to is mountainous and during the depths
of winter, the roads are an avalanche risk but we survive and get to Sortland having seen some beautiful but very cold scenery.
As we go over the road bridge at Sortland, the Lofoten passes underneath us giving us a unique photo opportunity. It looks so small when compared with the other ferries we have seen over the past few days.
The Hurtigruten Museum and the headquarters of the Hurtigruten coastal express company is in the somewhat isolated village (population just over 3000) of Stokmarknes. On the way north our ship calls only for 15 minutes because it is the middle of the night but on the way south we get a very short hour on land to see the museum – free to Hurtigruten passengers. The most striking thing you notice as you come into port is a Hurtigruten ship sitting on the quayside – the MS Finnmarken.
About the history of the route, the official journals say:
In 1891, August Kriegsman Gran, the national steamship advisor, came up with the idea of providing an express boat service between Trondheim and Hammerfest. Two steamship companies,“Det Nordenfjeldske Dampskibsselskab” and “Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab”, were offered the route, but turned it down as sailing during the dark and stormy winters was considered impossible.
At this time, only two marine charts existed and there were only 28 lighthouses north of Trondheim. Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab, a relatively young steamship company based in Stokmarknes, took up the challenge. For some time, Captain Richard With and his pilots had been keeping accurate notes on courses, speeds and times taken to sail the route and felt that the service would be viable. Their view was that a compass and a clock were the only navigational aids necessary in the Polar Night.
Having seen how much the ship weaves in and out of fjords, around rocks etc, I am not so sure about the wisdom of travelling with only these few aids!
On 18 May 1893, the government entered into a 4-year contract with Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab, providing the company with the backing for a weekly sailing between Trondheim and Hammerfest during the summer and Trondheim and Tromsø during the winter.There were nine ports of call on the route.
On the morning of 2 July 1893, the steamship ‘Vesteraalen’ left Trondheim for Hammerfest.This started a communications revolution, giving industry and coastal inhabitants better access to the outside world. Letters from Trondheim, which had previously taken up to three weeks to reach Hammerfest during the summer, and five months during the winter, could now be delivered by the Coastal Express in just a few days. Svolvær was reached in 36 hours - and 67 hours after leaving Trondheim, the ship dropped anchor in Hammerfest harbour on 5 July at 03.30 - half an hour early! The ship and its crew were greeted with salutes and cheering all along the coast.
Once Richard With and Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab had shown the way, several shipping companies followed. In 1894, Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab and Det Nordenfjeldske Dampskibsselskab were granted permission to operate ships on the route.The number of ships serving the route constantly increased.
In 1898, Bergen became the southernmost port on the Coastal Express’ route.Vadsø was included on the route in 1907 and Kirkenes in 1914. For a short period, there were weekly sailings from Stavanger but, from 1936 to the present day a Coastal Express has left Bergen daily heading north.This service has only been interrupted by the war.
So we arrived at Stokmarknes and whilst they repaired the ship’s anchor, we went to the Hurtigruten Museum.
I must say that after all of the build up, I found it a tremendous disappointment. The MS Finnmarken which is
parked on the quayside and open for visitors was a barely
lit building site with no signs directing you around it, many unlit staircases and corridors and was of little value for a visit. No doubt when it is finished, it will be worth a visit but at the moment, it is not.
The main museum consists of a number of room tableau (including appropriately a Post Office)
which are quaint to look at and give you a taste of what it was like in the old days plus large amounts of bits and pieces from 119 years of ships and trade. Possibly very interesting to the Hurtigruten fanatic but not very to me.
So the 45 minutes we had on shore here was more than enough and the comment of others about a shortage of time to see all that was there proved untrue for me and certainly a good number of our group (but at least it was free to Hurtigruten travellers).
After our early dinner at Svolvaer which is the capital of the Lofoten Islands, we went out into town for 90 minutes to see a local art gallery (very good but very expensive) and the rather unusual War
Museum nearby (80 NoKr).
This contains an astonishing amount of genuine WWII material mainly related to the Lofoten area.
clumped together in some sort of order
and rarely behind glass.
Above is a recreation of the local Gestapo office
and here we have ammunition, flying gear and much more.
And as we leave this little but important town, we pass a hotel with superb Christmas decoration which ice-like, looks as cold as we feel.