At the end of my long ride north was Lofoten, an island peninsula that has become a worthy pilgrimage for adventurous travellers, photographers and the Instagram generation at large. Sheer mountain sides fall into the raging sea and small island villages cling to the weather-beaten land. I spent my tenth week on the road trying to capture its beauty but left feeling I was missing something...
I had two reasons for visiting Lofoten. Firstly I wanted to spend a week focusing on photography and this seemed like a pretty good place to do just that. Secondly, the remoteness, wild weather and dramatic landscapes of these islands are aspects of nature that put a huge smile on my now very weathered and bearded face.Side note - I've committed to keeping the wildness of my facial hair growth until Istanbul which is still two months away...I will largely let the photos below speak for themselves. But a few interesting points came out of this week that are worth a mention.
I met a lovely couple just off the ferry to Lofoten, Colin and Lucy, who are on a two-year tour of Europe with their dog Tilly. I was amazed at the commitment required to care for a dog on a trip like this alongside all the usual worries about yourself and your equipment. They had a wonderful attitude to their pace of cycling - focusing on enjoying the slow nature of cycling, resting whenever tired and not giving any thought to average daily distances or days required to reach the next stop. After a couple of hours cycling with them I resolved to not moan about the amount of gear I am carrying ever again, or at least until the next mountain range, and give less regard to the number of kilometres i'm doing, except for the big milestones of course. (Like the fact I hit 5,000km this week!)
The next few days were a mixture of very slow cycling and short distances, usually with my head craned upwards to the peaks of the mountains. I did a few small hikes to viewpoints and spent a lot of time behind the camera. Starting from Å, a small village at the end of the main road through the islands, I worked my way via a succession of beautiful and quaint coastal settlements - Reine, Hamnøy, Ramberg, Flakstad, Leknes, Hennigsvær and finally Svolvær.
A big bang
Coming out of Henningssvær I suffered a catastrophic tyre blow out on a bridge on my fifth day. The bang echoed loud enough for several people on the other side to come and investigate. I fish-tailed my now near-uncontrollable bike down to a layby where I shouted an obscenity at no one in particular. An £80 taxi to the next town, a new tube and tyre and a day lost left me pretty down and I decided to call time on Lofoten and head back to the mainland.
A new appreciation for home
The most interesting thing I found about leaving Lofoten early was that I wasn't actually disappointed. I had collected a great set of shots to satisfy my photography urge, but more significantly I realised that this place that had been so hyped up and raved about by everyone I met in Norway did not quite blow my mind as I thought.
Every village I came across I had seen before, in my research, all over Instagram and on every tourist website about Norway. Every time I came to compose a shot I thought "hasn't this been done before?". Every mountain I gazed up wasn't quite enough to make me exclaim out loud "wow!".
This is not to say that Lofoten isn't a place of incredible beauty - it is undeniably dramatic and rugged, full of incredible landscapes and hidden gems. But I did not see anything in Lofoten that I felt was any more beautiful than the rolling valleys of the Brecon Beacons in Wales, the rocky peaks of the Lake district in England or the cloud covered Munros of Scotland.
I was reminded of a drive my uncle Tom took me on back in early June through Glencoe in the West of Scotland, where my jaw dropped and I did exclaim "wow!" out loud. This exclamation was as much at the realisation that I'd planned to visit Norway to see epic mountain landscapes that were in fact on my doorstep already, as the deep green and imposing land masses I was taking in at that moment.
So then, a couple of things I've learned from this detour to Lofoten:
It is probably better to have a looser plan and stumble upon interesting locations serendipitously than set out a schedule based on places I've already seen hundreds of photos of!
For every new experience that makes me smile and feel incredibly fortunate that I am on this trip, there is another that makes me appreciate what I left behind even more.
I probably should have changed my tyres a while ago to avoid the side-wall explosion that cut short my island detour.