Crossing the Arctic Circle
According to the county tourist board, “a trip to Nordland is a journey through the wonders of nature. You will be captivated by bright nights and the Midnight Sun in the summer, or the Dark Season and Northern Lights in the winter. You will see the electrifying Saltstraumen, the world’s strongest maelstrom; and Svartisen, Norway’s second largest glacier − and nowhere else in Norway will you find so many caves and grottos.”
Many tourists come to Nordland to cross the Arctic Circle and have themselves photographed in front of the monument that marks the magic boundary, just over 66 degrees North, at the Arctic Circle Centre. The centre is part of Saltfjellet/Svartisen National Park, an expanse of rugged terrain (for experienced hikers only!) between the Swedish border and the great glacier Svartisen. But nothing can beat Lofoten. This elongated island group, stretching far out into the Norwegian Sea, is one of Norway’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting visitors from all over the world with its dramatic scenery and thriving island culture − including, in January, a colourful mass cod-fishing expedition that has become an annual ritual.
On the mainland, the coastal district of Helgeland, from Trøndelag to Bodø, twists and turns through more than 57,000 km (35,400 miles) of shoreline. The rugged scenery, with its countless islands and unique mountain formations − including the extraordinary Stetind, described by one awestruck mountaineer as “a perfect obelisk with sweeping ridges rising straight from the sea” and overwhelmingly voted “Norway’s national mountain” in a radio poll − has given rise to myths and legends which are still very much alive today.
Inevitably, Nordland has inspired a great many artists: in particular, Knut Hamsun, one of Norway’s most famous authors, used it as the setting for many of his novels. The Knut Hamsun Centre in Hamarøy is “situated in a beautiful cultural landscape surrounded by nature that remains virtually as untouched as it was in Hamsun’s time. The centre’s tower offers an impressive view over the realm of Hamsun, the area that inspired the author to write world renowned books like Pan, Growth of the Soil and Wayfarers.”, according to its website.
Many of Nordland’s museums focus on bygone times. Subjects include coastal culture and history, dolls and toys, Sami traditions, fisheries, the Viking Age, and shipping. Through Artscape Nordland, one of Europe’s most exciting art projects, internationally acclaimed artists have erected more than 30 spectacular works throughout the county.
The coast supports a vast range of animal and bird life: depending on the time of year, visitors can expect to spot sea eagles, whales, seals, eider ducks and many more species. Nordland is the cradle of the coastal fisheries with a rich culture and fascinating history. Nordland’s islands − 14,000 of them − offer the experience of innumerable fishing villages in Lofoten and Vesterålen, and networks of small but vital communities stretching well out to sea along the coast of Helgeland.
Simple sightseeing is "an adventure in its own right", the tourist board says, whether that means a relaxing stroll among the wooden buildings of picturesque Sjøgata street in Mosjøen, or island hopping to take in the fishing hamlets of Lofoten. There are also fishing opportunities galore, or guided tours, and plenty of marked hiking trails and rambling paths.
The port of Bodø, the administrative centre of Nordland county and the second largest town in northern Norway, is the obvious gateway to all of these attractions and more − including one of the largest populations of the sea eagle, which can often be observed soaring high above the town or perched on nearby islands.
Visitors should make a determined effort to reach Kjerringøy, a beautifully preserved 19th Century trading post to the north of Bodø, where narrow fjords encircle a mountainous peninsula. At its height, Kjerringøy was one of the wealthiest communities in the county; many of the old buildings are intact, complete with original furnishings.