North of Trondheim, it’s a long haul up the coast to the next major places of interest: Bodø, the main ferry port for the Lofoten, and the gritty but likeable transport-hub port of Narvik – respectively 720km and 910km distant. Fortunately, there are several pleasant places to stop en route, beginning with Steinkjer and Snåsa in the province of Trøndelag. Steinkjer is a modest little town with a couple of good hotels, Snåsa, a relaxed – and relaxing – village, again with somewhere good to stay. Further north, in Nordland, the next province up, Mosjøen and Mo-i-Rana, two rejigged and revamped former industrial towns, make pleasant pit stops, with Mo-i-Rana serving as a handy starting point for a visit to the Svartisen glacier, crowning the coastal peaks close by. The glacier is on the western rim of the Saltfjellet Nasjonalpark, a wild and windswept mountain plateau that extends east towards the Swedish border. The E6 and the railway cut through the park, giving ready access, but although this is a popular destination for experienced hikers, it’s too fierce an environment for the novice or the lightly equipped.
Given its appeal as a travellers’ totem, and considering the amount of effort it takes to get here, crossing the Arctic Circle, about 80km north of Mo, comes as quite a disappointment. Uninhabited for the most part, the landscape up here is undeniably bleak, and disfigured by a giant building plonked by the roadside that houses an ugly visitors’ centre.
On and around the Arctic Circle and points north – from Mosjøen ito Svalbard – the best Norwegian restaurants are members of the Arctic Menu scheme (warktiskmeny.no), which guarantees top-quality cooking and the use of local ingredients – from meat and fowl through to fish and seal as well as fruit and berries. A booklet, widely available at tourist offices across the north, lists all the participating restaurants, which are regularly monitored for quality and originality. The 45 members brandish a common and much-vaunted logo too – an orange circular icon with two flashes beneath.
Hugging the head of the Ranfjord, MO-I-RANA, or more usually “Mo”, was known in Old Norse records as Móar, or grass lowland. Until World War II, it functioned as a minor port and market town, after which its fortunes, and appearance, were transformed by the construction of a steel plant. The plant dominated proceedings until the 1980s, when there was some economic diversification and the town began to clean itself up: the fjord shore was cleared of its industrial clutter and the E6 re-routed to create the pleasantly spacious, surprisingly leafy town centre of today. A predominantly modern town, Mo is also home to a statue by British sculptor, Antony Gormley, the large and stern-looking figure, Havmannen (Man of the Sea), which gazes determinedly down the fjord. The main reason to come to Mo, however, is as a base for visiting the east side of the Svartisen glacier and for exploring the region’s caves, such as the Grønligrotta, as well as its lakes, fjords and mountains.
Dotted across the province of Nordland are 33 open-air sculptures by some of the world’s leading contemporary sculptors, including Dorothy Cross, Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Inge Mahn. Together these sculptures comprise the Skulpturlandskap (wskulpturlandskap.no) and although many of the sculptures are in remote, even obscure locations, others – like Gormley’s Havmannen in Mo-i-Rana – are more accessible.
Branching off the E6 just beyond Steinkjer, the tortuous Kystriksveien (
rv17.no) – the coastal route along Highway 17 – threads its way up the west coast, linking many villages that could formerly only be reached by sea. This is an obscure and remote corner of the country, but apart from the lovely scenery there’s little of special appeal, and the seven ferry trips that interrupt the 688-kilometre drive north to Bodø (there are no through buses) make it expensive and time-consuming in equal measure. A free booklet describing the route can be obtained at tourist offices throughout the region – including Mo – and it contains all Highway 17’s car-ferry timetables.
Conveniently, the stretch of Highway 17 between Mo-i-Rana and Bodø takes in most of the scenic highlights, can be negotiated in a day, and cuts out five of the ferry trips. To sample this part of the route, drive 35km west from Mo along Highway 12 to the Highway 17 crossroads, from where it’s some 60km north to the Kilboghamn–Jektvik ferry (June–Aug every 1–2hr, Sept–May 3–5 daily Mon–Fri & Sun; 1hr; driver and car 158kr;
hurtigruten.no) and a further 30km to the ferry linking Ågskardet with Forøy (roughly every hour; 10min; driver and car 63kr). On the first ferry you cross the Arctic Circle with great views down and along the beautiful Melfjord, and on the second, after arriving at Forøy, you get a chance to see a westerly arm of the Svartisen glacier, viewed across the slender Holandsfjord.
For an even closer look at the glacier, stop at the information centre in Holand, 12km beyond Forøy, and catch the passenger boat (late May to early Sept Mon–Fri 8am–9pm, Sat & Sun 11am–5.30pm, every 1hr–1hr 30min; 10min; 60kr return;
t99 40 30 00), which zips across the fjord to meet a connecting bus; this travels the kilometre or so up to the Svartisen Turistsenter (
t75 75 11 00,
svartisen.no), from where it’s another 2km to the glacier. The Turistsenter has a café, rents cabins from 990kr a night, and is the base for four-hour guided glacier walks (mid-June to mid-Aug only; prior booking is essential; 600kr).
From Holand, it’s 140km to the Saltstraumen and 30km more to Bodø.