Demarcating the transition from the rural south to the blustery north is the 900-kilometre-long stretch of Norway that extends from Trondheim to the island-studded coast near Narvik. Easily the biggest town hereabouts is Trondheim, Norway’s third city, a charming place of character and vitality, and a definitive cultural hub for the midriff of the country. The city is readily accessible by train, plane and bus from Oslo, but push on north and you begin to feel far removed from the capital and the more intimate, forested south. Distances between settlements grow ever greater, travelling becomes more of a slog, and as Trøndelag gives way to the province of Nordland the scenery becomes ever wilder and more forbidding – “Arthurian”, thought Evelyn Waugh.
North from the modest little industrial town of Mosjøen and nearby Mo-i-Rana, is the Arctic Circle – one of the principal targets for many travellers – at a point where the cruel and barren scenery seems strikingly appropriate. Beyond the Arctic Circle, the mountains of the interior lead down to a fretted, craggy coastline, and even the towns, the largest of which is the port of Bodø, have a feral quality about them. The iron-ore port of Narvik, in the far north of Nordland, has perhaps the wildest setting of them all, and was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between the Allied and Axis forces in World War II. To the west lies the offshore archipelago that makes up the Vesterålen and Lofoten islands. In the north of the Vesterålen, between Harstad and Andenes, the coastline of this island chain is mauled by massive fjords, whereas to the south, the Lofoten islands are backboned by a mighty and ravishingly beautiful mountain wall – a highlight of any itinerary. Among a handful of idyllic fishing villages in the Lofoten the pick is the tersely named Å, though Henningsvær and Stamsund come a very close second.
As for accommodation, the region has a smattering of strategically located hostels, and all the major towns have at least a couple of hotels, though advance reservations are strongly recommended in the height of the season. In addition, the Lofoten islands offer inexpensive lodgings in scores of atmospheric rorbuer, small huts/cabins once used by fishermen during the fishing season.Read More
Born in 995, Olav Haraldsson followed the traditional life of a Viking chieftain from the tender age of 12, “rousing the steel-storm” as the saga writers put it, from Finland to Ireland. He also served as a mercenary to both the duke of Normandy and King Ethelred of England, and it was during this time that he was converted to Christianity. In 1015, he invaded Norway, defeated his enemies and became king, his military success built upon the support of the more prosperous farmers of the Trøndelag, an emergent class of yeomen who were less capricious than the coastal chieftains of Viking fame. However, Olav’s zealous imposition of Christianity – he ordered the desecration of pagan sites and the execution of those who refused baptism – alienated many of his followers and the bribes of Olav’s rival Knut (Canute), king of England and Denmark, did the rest: Olav’s retainers deserted him, and he was forced into exile in 1028. Two years later, he was back in the Trøndelag, but the army he had raised was far too weak to defeat his enemies, and Olav was killed near Trondheim at the Battle of Stiklestad.
Olav might have lost his kingdom, but the nationwide Church he founded had no intention of losing ground. Needing a local saint to consolidate its position, the Church carefully nurtured the myth of Olav, a process of sanctification assisted by the oppressive rule of Olav’s successor, the “foreigner” Knut. After the Battle of Stiklestad, Olav’s body had been spirited away and buried on the banks of the River Nid at what is today Trondheim. There were rumours of miracles in the vicinity of the grave, and when the bishop arrived to investigate these strange goings-on, he exhumed the body and found it, lo and behold, perfectly uncorrupted. Olav was declared a saint, his body placed in a silver casket and when, in 1066, Olav Kyrre, son of Olav’s half-brother Harald the Fair-Haired, became king of Norway, he ordered work to begin on a grand church to house the remains in appropriate style. Over the years the church was altered and enlarged to accommodate the growing bands of medieval pilgrims; it achieved cathedral status in 1152, when Trondheim became the seat of an archbishopric whose authority extended as far as Orkney and the Isle of Man.