Monday, 25 November 2013

Stamsund, Lofoten Islands
- cheerful scenery plus a fabulous arctic beach.

Stamsund, in central Lofoten Islands:

Stamsund is a fishing village located on the southern side of Vestvågøy island, along the Vestfjorden, in Norway's Lofoten archipelago.

Coordinates: 68 ° 08' N, 13 °50' E,
                  170 km above de arctic circle

Population  ~ 1400

Stamsund's pier, from 1845

Presently Stamsund is one of the most precious spots on the fabulous Lofoten Islands, offering breathtaking scenery all around and a colourful ambiance thanks to the careful restoration of the wooden rorbuer, the mostly red houses where fishermen lived. Many of these are now cabins to rent for tourists.

Stamsund's  pier is carefully restored.

Stamsund has one of Lofoten's largest fishing ports, and was early an important center in the local fishing and shipping business.

Main products at Stamsund are fresh and frozen parts of cod, saithe and haddock.

The Aker Seafoods factory (now Havfisk) founded in 1876 is one of Norway´s leading producers and exporters of fish products.

The buildings are concentrated on the eastern side of the peninsula, with steep Steinetind mountain behind.

Stamsund has become a popular tourist destination:

The rorbu-hostel of Stamsund, two old fisherman cabins located on the pier, presently under renovation.


Skjærbrygga is the main restaurant and rorbu, the best in Stamsund.

Stamsund is also known for the popular Nordland Figurteateret, an annual international puppet theatre, and two art galleries - Gallery 2 by Scott Thoe and Ulf M's Atelier.

The village center, with Gallery 2 at left.

Outside 'Ulf M' Atelier

Several hundred meters stone quay was built up and Stamsund Harbour - one of the ports where the Hurtigruten Coastal Steamer arrives.

The Hurtigruten Express service stops twice a day at Stamsund's harbour, southbound from Svolvær and northbound from Bodø.

Hurtigruten ship arriving and mooring at Stamsund at twilight.

The midnight sun here is just a whole-night dim clarity.

Samsund by night.

The midnight sun during the summer months and the northern light during the winter months attract a lot of visitors.

Aurora over Haukland beach

Haukland beach

On the north coast of the island is one of the most amazing spots on the Lofoten.

Haukland beach has a superb wild background, two coves framed by a mountain cirque of exceptional beauty.

Amazing white sand, turquoise blue water... more like a tropical lagoon than the shoreline of the Arctic.

The regular Cove of bright white sand under the Sun, the crystal clear waters, the lush green shores, a feast to the senses.

And to complete the picture, in the background a succession of mountains, peaks and steep ridges. Sumptuous.

It's also quite popular in summer, in spite of the freezing water !

Friday, 15 November 2013

5th Thule expedition:
'Nature is great; but are not men greater ?'

Knud Ramussen 's 5th 'Thule' arctic expedition (1921-1924) was the most ambitious of all, covering most of the territorial extension of the Northwest Passage on dog-pulled sleds.

As he reaches the end of the expedition report in his book Across Arctic America, Knud Rasmussen takes with him his companions of adventure, Anarulunguaq and Miteq, to New York city. They both had lived their whole lives in a continent of ice and sea, knowing only a two dimensional world where the only concern was to hunt the next meal, on land or in water, leading a slow pace of life as nothing more has to be done after eating, the immense world around a white carpet or the iced covered ocean.

Then, there, surprise, amazement and even panic...

'I stood on the roof of a skyscraper looking out over the stony desert of New York. (...) Anarulunguaq stood beside me.

"Ah", sighed Anarulunguaq, "and we used to think nature was the greatest and most wonderful of all ! Yet here we are among mountains and great gulfs and precipices, all made by the work of human hands.(...) Nature is great; but are not men greater ? Those tiny beings we can see down there far below, hurrying this way and that, they live among these stone walls; on a great plain of stones made with hands. Stone and stone and stone. There is no game to be seen anywhere, and yet they manage to live and find the daily food.
Have they then learned of the animals, since they can dig down under the earth like marmots, hang in the air like spiders, fly like the birds and dive under water like the fishes; seemingly masters of all we struggled against ourselves ?

I see things more than my mind can grasp; and the only way to save oneself from madness is to suppose that we have all died suddenly before we knew, and that this is part of another life.

Nature is great; but man is greater still."

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Three norse sailors at 72° 57′ N :
the runic stone from the 13th century found at Kingittorsuaq

In 1434, the Portuguese navigators doubled the dreaded Cape Bojador, just close to home, then they soon connected the Atlantic to the Indian ocean round the Cape of Good Hope and found the route to India ; right, fine, but norse Viking sailors, at least three of them, sailed round cape Farvel (Uummannarsuaq) at 60º N , circumnavigating Greenland by the south end, and reached Kingittorsuaq, a small islet facing the settlement of Upernavik.

And at the time they were yet ... in the Middle Ages (13th century).

That is brave !

They sailed and rowed up to 72° 57′ N. Seventy three degrees north. Something almost unthinkable (The arctic circle is at 63º N).

This was probably the longest distance the Vikings reached northerly bound, in fragile little sail boats (fast though), through an harder Ocean than the South Atlantic - a frozen sea of ice floes and icebergs.

And on they went, until the mythical Helluland told in the Sagas - we know now it was big Baffin Island, already  in North America.

The Viking navigators reached further north than was thought, sailing through the Davis Strait, on the West coast of Greenland.

The late 12th century 'Historia Norvegiae' tells us of one of the first encounters of norse hunters with eskimo people in east Greenland:

'On the other side of Greenland, toward the North, hunters have found some little people whom they call skraeling; (...) they have no iron at all; they use missiles made of walrus tusks and sharp stone for knives.'

The Runestone of Kingittorsuaq dates likely from the mid-13th century. It was found in 1824 at the highest point of the island, a group of three piles of stones (cairns) forming an equilateral triangle.

Kingittorsuaq island is no more than an uninhabited rock in Northwest Greenland, on the banks of the Upernavik fjord, near its estuary's opening to Baffin Bay.

The dating of the runestone has varied between 1135 and 1314. It is an almost flat stone with three lines of the Norse characters. Vikings used these inscriptions for various purposes: a memorial to the dead, the marking of territory, or to describe major events (such as travels).

National Museum, Copenhagen 

In Greenland alone more than 100 runestones were found. Contrary to some beliefs, none of these testimonies of Norse presence was arguably found in American territory.

So, this is how it was: sometime, by the 13th century, three Viking sailors were on Kingittorsuaq by early spring, having most certainly wintered there. And before departing they left a message, a silent testimony on stone, worked with hands burned and calloused from the intense cold.

And the inscription says:

«Erlingur Sigvatsson, Bjarni Thordarson and Enridi Oddsson erected here three cairns on a Saturday before Rogation day»

[25 April, day of St. Mark in the Christian calendar - an important holiday in medieval times]

On Upernavik, I've posted before here