Norway is famed the world over for dramatic scenery, with high mountains alongside a sometimes surprisingly blue sea. In the span of humankind, most of the region was beneath an ice sheet, kilometres thick, which sliced the tops from mountains, then carried the debris along in rivers of ice to the sea. Some areas in the far north and offshore islands like the Lofotens escaped glaciation, leaving a coastal landscape of jagged peaks.
Those mountains were three times their present height when they were thrown up during the Caledonian Orogeny, the same geological event that created the Scottish Highlands. These high barriers caught all the moisture blown in from the ocean, falling as snow, and quickly built up into a frozen mass enveloping almost the entire landscape. The scouring action of glacial sheets exposed some of the oldest rock on the planet, allowing an insight into earth processes for us today. It also scraped away all traces of life, even the soils and watercourses, as they flowed over Sweden to the sea. On the Norwegian side, the ice flows followed gravity through former valleys, plunging through and digging out the valley floors so they became the deep fjords we know today
Near Alta, on the Arctic ocean coast, there are traces of human activity from over 6,000 years ago, with rock carvings showing hunting and fishing going on beyond the reach of the frozen interior. The precursors of the Sami people could move along the open terrain of the deep north while most of Europe was still engulfed in ice sheets. The mountainous islands we see today are the same mountains where survival skills evolved, of skiing, working with dogs, first following, then herding reindeer over the terrain to which they had become adapted.
As the climate warmed, the glaciers started melting dramatically, raising the sea levels so that the valley glaciers of Norway were now lifted and spread out as they reached the ocean. In this way the Lofoten Islands were by-passed by the last glacial outpouring, and the lofty peaks still remain, with tiny coastal strips and inlets sheltering farming and fishing communities to this day.
Some of the most colourful images of Norway can be found here, with the traditional wooden buildings painted red and white squeezed into the most impossible spaces to give access to the sea and to the land. Mountain walking is not very popular as a summer pastime but snow scooter trails thread through the islands when the boggy areas are frozen overwinter.
Fishing is still an important industry, with the pursuit of cod in the early months of the year. Seafarers from far and wide still crew the trawlers setting out in the darkened dead of winter. Once having recovered this booty, the fish are split, gutted and hung to dry on racks in the wind. Seabirds are prevented from plundering the fish by high levels of salt as preservative. In centuries past, this dried, salted fish was exported as an important food for Catholic Europe when meat was not allowed on fast days.
The landscapes of north Norway today, stretching from Narvik, within the Arctic Circle, straggle even further north, then westwards to the Russian border at Kirkenes in a seemingly endless panoply of beauty. It becomes difficult to imagine that around the next bend, over the looming hill, lies yet another scene of such captivating power and life in the natural world.
#VisitNorway Soon !