Norway Cruise: Land Of Trolls & The Midnight Sun
A few days after the summer solstice of 1907, a Thai royal emissary sent a postcard home informing the ruling family of the progress of its monarch, King Chulalongkorn, on his European tour. The despatch, from the northerly tip of Norway, stated that His Majesty had arrived at the North Cape and was now “at the very end of the green world”.
Land ends in a defiant vertical gesture at that point, and beyond is the perilous cold sea that streams towards the Arctic. The Thai king would have arrived by boat and then clambered up the North Cape’s steep cliff, where he rested — according to his emissary — in an octahedral pavilion before surveying the view.
Our arrival was a little more sedate; after our ship, P&O Cruises’ Oriana, docked at the nearby port of Honningsvag, we were driven to Europe’s northernmost point. The North Cape is marked by a globe monument and its visitor centre includes a museum that commemorates the visit of King Chulalongkorn.
It was an Englishman who first discovered this rocky outpost on the island of Mageroya, which gets its name from the Sami word makkaravjo meaning “steep, barren coast”. Explorer Richard Chancellor sailed past here in August 1553 on the Edward Bonaventure and charted the position on his map, naming it North Cape.
As we sailed from Southampton on P&O’s two-week Land of the Midnight Sun cruise, we had seen the days gradually grow longer, to the point where the sun seemed to barely dip below the horizon.
At a latitude of 71 degrees north, and well within the Arctic Circle, the terrain around Honningsvag was green, rugged and treeless, and while the climate remained comfortably mild, the mist was prone to creep in unannounced and enshrine the landscape.
Beyond the port reindeer graze on the hillsides, while beneath the waterline lurk the coveted king crab. Introduced by Russia into the Barents Sea, these giant beasts migrated towards Norway and are now a prized catch, although their impact on the marine eco-system remains uncertain.
Skimming across the dark water at 38 knots in an inflatable RIB is one of the more exhilarating ways to reach the king crab pots and enjoy the opportunity to handle these enormous crustaceans.
A Variety Of Stops
On our journey north, Oriana had docked in Stavanger, Flam, Alesund and Norway’s ancient capital of Trondheim, which, with its impressive cathedral, archbishop’s palace and old quarter of small shops, bars and street entertainment, was easy to explore on foot.
We were impressed by Stavanger, Norway’s oil capital complete with Petroleum Museum, particularly as the ship was able to dock in the heart of the old city. We took a smaller vessel along the Lysefjord, a spectacular introduction to Norway’s coastal landscape.
Here, between the sheer sides of the fjord, we encountered waterfalls, seals bobbing their heads above the water and the landmark Pulpit Rock, a flat-topped buttress jutting out above its surface.
Flam was the stepping-off point for the train journey up to the mountain station of Myrdal. Navigating the Sognefjord, Oriana penetrated the inland waterway to reach the Flam railhead.
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One of the world’s great rail masterpieces, the Flam Line is known as the 'Twenty-Twenty railway', not so much for its vision — although who, at the time it was built, could have perceived that it would have its working life prolonged by cruise ships and tour groups — but more because of the bizarre convergence of figures.
The line took 20 years to build, there are 20 tunnels, and it travels for 20.20 kilometres up to Myrdal, stopping at small stations such as Lunden, Hareina and Berekvam, with the road route, rivers and waterfalls crossing it along the way.
The deeper you delve into Norwegian culture the more you become aware of the national obsession with trolls, which is notably intense around the city of Alesund.
Whether you believe in these fictitious creatures or not, the journey into the so-called land of the trolls is worth it just for the descent down the Trollstigen, a mountain road that zigzags into the valley, making 11 hairpin turns and criss-crossing waterfalls.
It continues on to the Troll Wall, the tallest vertical rock face in Europe at around 1,097 metres from base to summit. However, the view is weather dependent as clouds can hover low, even in summer.
The Best Way To Travel
Cruising, I discovered, is an unrivalled way to see Norway, as so much of the country’s infrastructure and history, as well as many of its natural attractions, are located along its coast and in its harbours, remote fishing villages and fjords.
Waking early and watching as the ship slips through the still waters of narrow fjords and Norway’s lush summer landscape is one of the ‘take-home’ memories of a midnight-sun cruise.
With nearly 1,900 passengers and 760 crew members aboard, the adults-only Oriana makes an impressive vantage point from which to take in this panorama.
With a wide selection of shore excursions available during my cruise, I found that it was a case of striking a balance between booking an organised tour and exploring independently.
Some Norwegian ports, Alesund and Bergen included, lend themselves better than others to the latter.
Meanwhile, sea days offered the opportunity to enjoy the ship to the full — whether that meant mastering the subtleties of deck quoits or shuffleboard, attending lectures and activity sessions or simply lazing by the deck pools with a good book.
For the evenings there are excellent restaurants (including Marco Pierre White’s Ocean Grill), concerts and shows, formal black-tie nights and others when the dress code is more relaxed.
The lengthening days of summer allowed us to immerse ourselves in Norway’s attractions as we journeyed towards Honningsvag. At the very top of the country, as we sailed past the North Cape at around midnight, we reflected on how aptly the Thai emissary had captured its essence… we, too, had been to the end of the green world.
This article was written by Mark Nicholls from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.