Thursday, 26 June 2008

The old schoolhouse, Hovden

Hovden is a tiny settlement at the end of a long and winding single-track lane from the crossroads at the center of the Bø commune at Rise. I arrived in a rain squall two hours ago, and it looked for a time as though I'd be camping tonight on a patch of ground next to the village hall, which is situated on some flat land between Hovden's two outstanding white sandy beaches. Which would be ok if there was a washblock and toilet, but the site seems to be without facilities and fairly windswept.

This settlement has been a fishing village since the Iron Age, and is famous for being the place where the Gulf Stream is closest to the Norway coast. It's also a great place to see the Midnight Sun on the horizon as it comes close to touching the waves before it starts to rise again - however the clouds tonight preclude that.

So it seemed like a natural overnight stopping place - the furthest western point settlement in the Vesterålen islands - until I found that the campsite has nothing more than an honesty box (30 kr) and a tap. The chill weather had got to me. So I cycled around until I found a small notice explaining that the old school house could be rented by the week, with a contact number. The lady I rang was in Sortland, but put me on to Gunnar who lives in Hovden - after a brief chat in Norwegian he cycled down from his house to me with the key for the school. I have free run of the upstairs, comprising a kitchen and living room with two divan beds plus a hot shower downstairs next to the schoolroom, now converted to a cafe that opens in the peak season. I must say I feel I've done very well for myself!

Last night I was able to get a room in the Sjølys sjøhus at Vinjesjoen, a squat concrete building that is 90% freezer storage for fish from the boats, and 10% accommodation for the trawler crews during the peak season. Interesting building - very industrial looking with few concessions to interior design, but great big drying cupboards with warm air blowers; I got my washing bone dry in an hour after arriving there. Unfortunately I haven't been taking many pictures of the landscape for the last two days because the weather has been poor enough for the SLR to stay under wraps in an Ortlieb dry bag. Olaf who runs the place is in his late 30's and seems to have worked himself to the bone during the peak fishing season - now he and his crew seem to have plenty of free time. He's off to the Bahamas for two weeks in September with his wife so he can't be doing badly out of it; we chatted for about two hours yesterday and this morning, particularly about the Hurtigruten fleet which is burning a big hole in the company accounts now that the price of fuel has gone through the roof. He has heard rumours that they may cut the daily service to the bone next year, because they just aren't getting the volume of customers for cruises that they need on the legs above Trondheim. He also told me that the newer boats have had some alarming design defects exposed by the winter weather - basically they don't shed water as well as the older designs, and there have been a couple of fairly serious incidents with the Fram and the Nordlys in recent years. These have been kept out of the press, fortunately. He tells me that the smaller M/S Lofoten is currently in Svolvær, so I may try to catch this higher up the coast to get back to Stamsund. He also tells me that spring is very late in the Troms region, and indeed had pictures on his cameraphone showing banks of snow by the roadside on the way to Tromso a few weeks ago. It looks like I may have come a little early for the season this year!

The picture above was taken on the way to Vinjesjoen as I cooked boiled eggs and chicken noodles in a post stand shelter out of the rain, by the way.

The rain and cloud of an hour ago are lifting - I'm off out for a walk along the white sandy beaches here. Everything looks gorgeous in the evening sun, but I know that this is likely to change again in an hour or so.

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