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Norway – Lofoten and the Arctic North

25 August 2017

On either side of the ship, sheer rock walls towered upwards to a height of 1100 metres. The distance between the rock and the ship could only have been about the length of a mini cooper, but still the Captain managed to turn us 180 degrees, perfectly framing the magnificence of the Trollfjord. Just a short boat-ride from Svolvaer, the Trollfjord sits just off the Northern Islands of Lofoten and is over 2km long, yet has an entrance only 100m wide. What it lacks in manoeuvrability however, it certainly makes up for in scenery, and it turns out to be the perfect place to watch for sea eagles or just wonder at the scale and beauty of Lofoten's numerous mountain ranges. Even in the height of summer the winter snows still cling to the tops of the highest peaks, a constant reminder that you are nearer the North Pole than London when in Lofoten. If Tolkein didn't base Mordor on the Lofoten Islands, it can only because he never visited.

Welcome to the land of the midnight sun - where it really never does get dark in mid-summer. If you wait up late enough you can watch the sun graze the horizon, a blazing ball of orange, before it immediately starts to rise again. A warren of jagged peaks and remote beaches, the Lofoten Islands are nestled some 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle and their scenery alone has helped to make them one of Norway's most iconic destinations. Up until 2007 the islands themselves were cut off from the rest of Norway and only accessible by ferry or air. It's a different story now though, as a road winds its way down from Narvik through the full length of the island, linking Svolvaer to the historic fishing villages of Nusfjord and Reine further south. Exploration is best by a mixture of ferry and road, and the world famous Hurtigruten ferry makes trips twice a day - once in the afternoon sailing north, and once in the late evening heading south. A mixture of ferry and cruise ship, it offers ocean cruise levels of luxury for those who wish to see Norway by sea.

Crossing from Svolvaer to Bodø, you slowly see the Lofoten peaks get smaller and smaller as you approach one of the most northerly of Norway's cities. Famous for the dramatic tidal forces which create the Saltstraumen Maelstrom, Bodø is also the end of the line for trains travelling upwards from Trondheim and Oslo. It has a lovely harbour and a handful of great restaurants, but mainly it's a transit hub for those taking the train south, going further north to Narvik or across the sea to the Lofoten islands. I was taking the first of these options and heading south. Boarding the daily night train, I left Bodø just after nine at night and arrived into the city of Trondheim just before 8 the next morning. The journey tracks the 452-mile journey down the coast of Norway along the Nordland railway line, and out of your sleeping cabin window you watch the gradual darkening of the skies. If like me the gentle rhythm of the train will soon have you fast asleep on a very comfortable bunk bed. The sleeping cabins come are a comfortable length, dressed with crisp white sheets and each with their own sink and a supply of drinking water. This is not a luxury train, but it's certainly a comfortable one and having spent a week exploring the mountains of the Lofoten Islands, I was happy to let the train take me all the way down to Trondheim.

Trondheim is one of Norway's oldest, largest and most interesting cities. You arrive right in the centre and can spend a day exploring its beautiful wide avenues, perhaps making the journey to its famous Cathedral where Norwegian monarchs have been crowned since the Middle Ages. After the scenic magnificence of the north Trondheim, comes almost as a welcome relief, so much of the old architecture has been preserved and the old quarter of the city, known as Bakklandet, is a great place to end a journey.

Great Rail Journeys do this itinerary in reverse on their new tour, Norway, the Arctic Circle & Lofoten Isles, which also takes in Bergen, the Flåm railway and the fjord area around Geiranger. Whichever direction you travel the scenery is magnificent, and the train a perfect way of seeing it all. The Lofoten Islands are utterly unique, and having time to experience them in all their glory is certainly very special.