A relatively modern town, NARVIK was established just a century ago as an ice-free port to handle the iron ore brought here by train from the mines in northern Sweden. The town’s first modern settlers were the navvies who built the railway line, the Ofotbanen, to the mines in Kiruna, over the border in Sweden at the end of the nineteenth century – a herculean task now commemorated every March by a week of singing, dancing and drinking, when the locals dress up in period costume. The town grew steadily up until World War II, when it was demolished during ferocious fighting for control of the harbour and its iron-ore supply. Today, the place makes no bones about what is still its main function: the iron-ore docks are immediately conspicuous, slap-bang in the centre of town, the rust-coloured machinery overwhelming much of the waterfront. Yet, for all the mess, the industrial complex is strangely impressive, its cat’s cradle of walkways, conveyor belts, cranes and funnels oddly beguiling and giving the town a frontier, very Arctic, feel. Perhaps inevitably, the rebuilt town centre rather lacks appeal – it’s the sort of place where the main street (Kongens gate) doubles as the highway (E6) – with modern concrete buildings replacing the prewar wooden houses, but it still musters a certain breezy northern charm. Of late, Narvik has had a fair old stab at reinventing itself as an adventure sports centre, becoming a popular destination for skiers, paraglidlers and scuba-divers – and developing a good range of guesthouses to match.
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