Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Arctic Adventure - 2

My Arctic pictures are here.

We were back at the ship shortly after 9.30 a.m., ready for the remaining passengers to have a similar Zodiac Tour. Once they were back on board, the Zodiacs were lifted back onto the ship using a powerful electric crane so that the ship could sail to Hornvika, near the top of the Norwegian mainland. Perhaps you've heard of the North Cape (Nordkapp in Norwegian)? It's credited with being the most northerly point in Europe and a metal sculture representing a globe stands at the top of the 300 metre sheer cliff at this point.

They'd offered the passengers two ways of visiting the Nordkapp - disembark by Zodiac at Hornvika and make the 'strenuous' hike up a zig-zag cliff path to the summit and then along the top of the cliffs to Nordkapp or continue on the ship to Skarvag and catch a bus. Guess which I chose, along with 40-odd other passengers?

Lunch was served from noon for the hikers so that they would be ready to go ashore by Zodiac at 1.30 p.m. Before we'd finished lunch, an announcement was made that the ship was about to pass the Nordkapp so I hastened outside, just in time to recognise the globe sculpture, 300m up and a few ant-like visitors before the sculpture was hidden from view and all we could see was the imposing cliff. A little further on the Horn, a massive, pointed rock sticking out of the cliff was visible. The Horn was revered by the Sami people who populated the area centuries ago and still exist in small numbers as farmers, reindeer herdsmen and souvenir salesmen.

The ship dropped anchor in the bay at Hornvika and Zodiacs went out to prepare the landing site for the hikers. The route was just visible from the ship and it did look a little daunting. The signifiance of the spot is that a road was only built to Nordkapp in 1956. Before this, most visitors arrived by sea at a now-derelict landing stage and then made the climb we were to attempt.

The Zodiacs laned near a large rock on a beach strewn with rounded stones. Near the waterline, large blue towels had been laid on the stones to improve the going but after a few yards you were walking on rounded stones, crossing rusting ironwork (mainly railway rails) and the rotting remains of wooden steps. A new path had been trodden on the grass interspersed with rocks, heading straight up until the gradient steepened, after which it ascending through a series of zig-zags. It was fairly sunny and the cliff was sheltered from the wind, so I quickly found I was rather overdressed and started to overheat. With the occasional breather, I managed to keep going although the numerous damp patches were a bit tricky.

Eventually, the path emerged onto a flat plateau and the road, still a scar on the landscape, was visible with various vehicles passing. We joined the road and walked along it about half a kilometre until we came to a row of four ticket booths of which only one was in use. A herd of fifteen or so reindeer was wandering around the scrub to our left. We ignored the ticket booth and wandered on to a large car park filled with cars, camper vans and a lot of Harley-Davidson motor cycles. Mist was swirling around at this elevation.

The first odd-looking building we came to was marked 'Private House'. Further on was a much larger building which I correctly assumed was the visitor centre, restaurant and souvenir shop. Since visibility seemed to be getting worse, I decided to first find the globe sculpture. Hundreds of Harley Davidson fans, most in leathers, and a few of the motor cycles were swarming around the sculpture in a good-natured photography session. It was all quite surreal.

At ground level, there was a huge souvenir shop with eye-watering prices (but all prices in Norway strike me as eye-watering) and a large cafeteria, polygonal in plan, which would have offered excellent views had it not been misty. Steps then led down a number of floors to toilets, a post office, a cinema and the entrance to a wide tunnel which took you furthner inside the cliffs to a large bar cum performance space looking out to sea.