On the hour-long Kilboghamn-Jektvik ferry, the route crossed a fjord that felt like open ocean, the far horizon filling with jagged ridges, one after the other, as far as the eye could see. Norway’s favourite literary son, Henrik Ibsen, once described Norway’s high country as “palace piled upon palace”. Here more than ever, I knew what he meant.
Sometime after leaving Kilboghamn, but before the ferry arrived at Jektvik, I crossed the Arctic Circle. To the north of this line, on 21 December, the day’s shortest year, the sun will not rise; on 21 June, it will not set.
Each of the six ferry journeys along the route felt like a rite of passage, none more so than the crossing of the Arctic Circle. A line on the map shouldn’t make a difference, but here the mountains seemed even higher, the ice a deeper shade of blue. There was a certain gravitas too, in the knowledge that the vast Svartisen icecap, one of mainland Norway’s largest, lay hidden from view just beyond the wall of mountains. Glacier tongues swept steeply down from the heights to the shores of cobalt-blue fjords that were themselves carved by glaciers in aeons past; some of the fjords here are more than 1km deep.
The wildly beautiful drive was nearly done. Traffic and noise and roadside buildings gathered on the final approach to Bodø. But one more surprise lay in wait: Saltstraumen, the largest tidal maelstrom on the planet. Looking for all the world like a horizontal waterfall, the 3km-long, 150m-wide Saltstraumen Strait churns with 400 million cubic metres of water every six hours. At its strongest, it resembles a series of giant whirlpools that threatens to suck everything down into unseen depths below the surface of the Earth. This being Norway, there is a bridge over it, and looking down on the surging waters from above, it was hard not to feel a sense of vertigo.
It was almost too much drama for one trip, too much beauty to take in, too much wonder to absorb. Not for the first time, I understood why Joost and Anneke return to drive the Kystriksveien over and over again. I already knew that once was never going to be enough.
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