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The Lofoten Islands lie off the coast of Norway, a thin wiggle of mountainous islands that push out into the Norwegian Sea. Joined by a single main highway than runs from Fiskebol in the north to the wonderfully-named town of Å in the south, these dramatic islands are usually visited from the mainland via ferry services from Bodø.
For centuries, these islands have been at the heart of Norwegian fishing. From February to April, the waters here team with cod despite the islands' position within the Arctic Circle, and every spare inch of flat land in the fishing ports are dominated by towering wooden frames of drying cod.
Thanks to the effect of the Gulf Stream, summers in the Lofoten Islands are remarkably mild, and it's perfectly possible to sunbathe on the beaches in the north, or watch seabirds screaming over the cliffs in the south. However, it does rain, a lot, so tourists planning to walk or hike in these spectacular islands needs to take waterproofs - and still be prepared to get wet!
A drive down the main road, the E10 takes the visitor on a journey past towering peaks, dramatic sea cliffs, past ancient fishing villages via bridges that span the sparkling sea to tunnels that dive through mountains and under the sea itself.
Journey's end for many will be Å, an almost impossibly pretty fishing village that sits on the end of the main island group, deceptively peaceful in summer, yet seeming both pioneering and rugged in winter. From here, tourists join island cruises that weave amongst the coastline and fjords, past vast colonies of sea birds and along deep, dark-watered fjords seemingly untouched since the glaciers rolled away centuries ago. Å itself holds on to the tiny strip of land between high mountains and turbulent seas with dogged determination, its old buildings forming part of the Norsk Fiskevaersmuseum, recreating the hard life and fish-dominated lifestyles of 19th century Norwegians.
Inland, the spectacular views and challenging ascents attract both walkers and climbers during the balmy summer days. At Austvågøya, mountaineers climb the challenging ascents like so many multi-coloured insects, all seeking the glorious views at the top that is their sole reward for hours of muscle-knotting effort.
Beyond Å lies the abandoned settlement of Refsvik, a reminder that nature often wins in the battle for survival. And beyond lie to two islands of Vaerøy and Røst, the former a superb green oasis in the middle of unpredictable seas perfect for high sea cliffs walks and puffin-spotting, the latter a flat, marshy island dotted by lakes. Both are famous for their seabird colonies, where dedicated bird watchers lie on their stomachs and gaze into oblivion to spot eiders, gulls, fulmars, gannets, guillemots, and the ever-endearing puffins, previously hunted by locals using specially bred dogs.
© 2009 Kirsty Young
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