Saturday 31 March 2018
Above the Arctic Circle: coastline and maelstrom
Bodø, pronounced variously according to dialect but most often as 'Buda', not to be confused with the hilly side of Hungary's capital, lies 80 km north of the Arctic Circle on the Norwegian coast (trains from Oslo take 24 hours, with a change at Trondheim). It's an architectural mess of a town - it was bombed in the Second World War - with pockets of fascination, friendly people and a superb concert hall and library on the harbour recently constructed as an impressive act of civic pride. I travelled there to hear young violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing, brimming over with musicality in everything she plays and says, in a violin concerto by underrated turn-of-the-century Norwegian composer Hjalmar Borgström; not a masterpiece, but sincere, worth getting to know and a superb lyric showcase for an artist as top-quality as EH. The interview will appear on The Arts Desk to coincide with Graham Rickson's review at the end of April, when the CD is due to be officially released.
Since Bodø's chief attraction is as a base from which to see some of the most stunning nature anywhere, we visitors from the UK and Germany also had a full day's sightseeing itinerary planned for us, much of it under the aegis of hugely likable local Raymond Limstrand Jakobsen, the Voice of Bodø (says I). Had a hint of things to come in the view from my hotel window
as the sun rose on a day typical, I'm told, for this winter in Bodø - usually, as it's served by the Gulf Stream, it doesn't get that cold, but recent months have been stable weather-wise and well below freezing (with a wind-chill factor we were at around minus six in the day).
Raymond drove us first out, past ribbon development of the town which goes on for about ten miles, to Saltstraumen to see what's advertised as the world's largest maelstrom. There's a very big humpbacked bridge, quite an impressive feat of engineering, over the narrow channel which connects the outer Saltfjorden to the Skjerstad Fjord. Bald facts from Wiki: 'Saltstraumen has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world. Up to 400,000,000 cubic metres (520,000,000 cu yd) of sea water forces its way through a 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) long and 150-metre (490 ft) wide strait every six hours. Vortices known as whirlpools or maelstroms up to 10 metres (33 ft) in diameter and 5 metres (16 ft) in depth are formed when the current is at its strongest.' Which is at each day's two high tides, so we were there for the morning one.
First we walked along the shore line,
seeing the whirlpools from various distances
and getting a glimpse of the rich marine flora which goes down to a huge depth
and the birdlife - seagulls co-existing with, what, eider ducks perhaps, on a nearby rock
before walking up to the top of the bridge for some dramatic views down.
After a warming fish soup back at Bodø harbour, two of us joined a group of intrepid seniors fresh off the Hurtigruten coastal boat for a gentle walk along the coastline north of the town. We needed the spikes provided to attach to our walking boots (that took some time to sort out, and of course I put one of mine on the wrong way). The objectives of the two nice guides were to stop and inform us about three features, starting with a little geology down on the first sandy beach facing the impressive mountainous island of Landegode (the Lofotens are behind it, about 100km away, and could be seen from a higher vantage point later in the day). Interesting fact about the island, which I learnt from Raymond - it has forty inhabitants and four children, but there's still a school there for them. Oh enlightened Norway!
Though short, it was an attractive route between three bays, climbing gently to seaside woods
where we had a mini-lecture on Vikings on the supposition that we were standing around burial mounds (not sure if I believe this, sceptic as I am)
and I was more concentrated on the various lichens.
Then it was down again to a second beach with effective ice presence on what might otherwise have been a balmy seaside scene - I think I may have conflated it with the third bay in these pics -
with the sea a temptingly Aegean blue.
Back in Bodø after a warming tea made from a local herb on the coach, we were kindly driven by Raymond up to the local viewpoint - more impressive for seeing Landegode than looking down on the town, which hardly has any outstanding features
and for better views of the inland mountain range.
as well as close acquaintance, on the way up and down, with the icicles that have formed from water seeping out of the rocks broken to make the road.
We came back up here to see the Northern Lights that evening after the concert, and they were impressive in a ghostly kind of way, but not photographable. The nearest I was going to get to the true light show was above my hotel room bed,
and I'm told that on the night of my departure, they suddenly became truly spectacular and continued that way for a whole week. At least we saw them, and became childishly delighted at the sight, unlike the tourists with whom I shared my Reykjavík bay hotel a couple of Januarys back when I was in Iceland for the Dark Music Days Festival. More on the singularities of Bodø on a future post.