Monday, 11 April 2016

Stokmarknes, Vesterålen, Norway - a 68º N wealthy Thule.

The eastern coast of Norway is one of the probable Ultima Thule sites, meaning the farthest place that the Greek sailor Pytheas reached in his northerly (arctic?) journey around 325 BC. From his and other later accounts, he may have gone as far as 65º to 70º N. I wrote several posts here on the subject, but none on Vesterålen, an achipelago north of the famous and outstandig Lofoten Islands. One of the Vesterålen islands is Hadsel (Hadseløya), a small mountainous and rocky island with two towns and a few hamlets on its coastline. Latitude 68ºN - right on the spot !

The most populated is Stokmarknes, also a tourist destination daily visited by the Hurtigruten Express and because of the wonderful nature landscapes nearby. It's not that easy to access, though - on a small island of an arctic archipelago off the northeastern coast of Norway, and known for its raining weather.

The lush vegetation at 68º N (220 km north of the Arctic Circle) comes as a surprise, but in fact the treeline limit barely touches Norway - just a small northerly treeless patch around the North Cape.

Dalsvatnet, a small lake.

High mountains with deep valleys and lakes between make for a much forested but wild alpine hinterland.

On the southwest coast, the best sandy beaches, small jewels completely off the beaten tracks !


Coordinates: 68° 33′ N, 14° 54′ E
Population: ~ 3700

Stokmarknes sits on the northern coast of Hadseløya. It started mainly as one more fishing village, but is now upgraded to "Hurtigruten's birthplace" town: here in 1881 was established the small Vesterålen Steamship Company, predecessor of Hurtigruten. A museum was built dedicated to the History of the coastal express.

Rorbuer cabins, part of the Crystal Hotel, with a view to the Hurtigruten Museum.

Rødbrygga, the pub and pizzeria where people meet for a drink.

Stay 'al fresco' in summer is a must.

Markedsbrygga, previously a wharf.

Markedsbrygga, the Market Wharf, is now an outdoor clothing shop plus convenience store, café and small theater; also, the local Tourist Office.

Markedsgata is the only shopping street.

'Aktuelle', in a green wooden house, clothing.

Trykkeriet sells anything, from mobiles to houseware, teas and cakes.

'Galleri Apotheket', a collective gallery for local artists.

Glass pottery and ceramics, photography, painting, sculpture and small crafts.

The awarded public Library, good architecture.

Another excelent improvement, the new Vesteralen Hospital (Sikehus).

The Hurtigruten coastal express

A Hurtigruten ship passing under the Hadselbrua (1978), the curved bridge.

If one compares a town like Stokmarknes, in wealthy european Norway, to any town at the same latitude at, say, Alaska, Canada or Siberia, the differences are immediatly obvious. Yes, this is 68º N Arctic, but with all the benefits and comfort of civilization and healthy economy, plus daily ship connections. Remoteness is not a burden here. If you search severe arctic harshness, you must search elsewhere, like Inuvik in the previous post, Point Hope in Alaska, Verkhoyansk in wild Siberia.

Part of Stokmarknes developpment as a lucky arctic town is surely due to the Hurtigruten company.

The Hurtigruten Museum

A waterfront view: the Finnmarken ship-museum, Rødbrygge and Markedsbrygga.

The first coastal express, the steamer 'Vesterålen', sailed in 1893; Stokmarknes was its homeport and home to its founder, Richard With.

The Vesterålen steamship.

For more than 100 years, Hurtigruten has been an integral part of life in northern Norway, tying cities and communities together, carrying goods and people over the nations number one highway: the ocean. The town's pride steamer Finnmarken was taken ashore for the Hurtigruten museum in 1999.

The M/S Finmarken on service.

The radio cabin of the Finnmarken.

The M/S Finnmarken served the express route from 1956 to 1993, and after a definitive pane was given as the world's biggest museum artefact.

But the Vesterålen Cultural Centre is larger than the Museu; it has a modern stage for opera, theatre and concert performances.

What eles? A movie theater? Yes, of course, a regular movie theater, the Kino is also part of the Hurtigruten Hus in Markedsgata:

Hadsel Church

The historic Hadsel Church is located about 5 kilometres east of Stokmarknes, perched on a hill overlooking Hadsel fjord.  The wooden octagonal church building was constructed in 1824, but its altarpiece from 1570 came from an older church. This was once an ecclesiastical centre since the Middle Ages.

The polychrome altarpiece is Dutch (16th century).


Maybe Stokmarknes is a bit far off, too small and often under bad climate. But apparently nothing important is missing, the old is counterbalanced by the modern, town city life is surrounded by nature and landscape. For an arctic little town, it is a rich and attractive one.