Welcome to Sørkjosen – in search of the Northern Lights
Ladies and gentlemen I bring you this post from the deepest darkest reaches of the Arctic Circle. A land of duality – a place where the midnight suns of summer burn in dazzling contrast with the permanent night of Winter – a time when the sun never truly rises above the horizon.
I’m in the country of Fjords, Vikings and Roald Dahl. Norway – a land which has historically changed hands more often than the crumpled fiver in your back pocket. It is a place of unparalleled natural beauty and breathtaking sights. Intermittently ruled by the King of Sweden until the turn of the 20th century. Norway’s historic Swedish overlords dismissed the territory as a ‘barren wasteland’. It was only with the discovery of oil in the late 1950s that the magnitude of this economic faux pas truly hit home.
We arrive into Sørkjosen after a three-hour flight from Oslo. I am immediately struck by the wild primitive views of the Fjord and the dry air of this polar paradise (the significance of which I shall return to later).
Our Accommodation – Lyngen Lodge
From the airport it’s a 20-minute journey to the remote town of Lyngen. It’s here that we set up camp at the luxurious Lyngen Lodge. Situated at a latitude of 69’ North this traditional wooden lodge boasts a staff of knowledgeable adventurists only too happy to share their wisdom. After being warmly welcomed by our hosts we ditch our city overalls for thermal attire and prepare for the main event.
The cavernous living room with its roaring fireplace has a tastefully placed acoustic guitar, which I am reliably informed, was signed by Bryan Adams during his stay at the lodge. Other stand-out features include a very grand head of a Moose-Ox presented to the owner by his mother in law upon the opening of the Lodge in 2008 (Thanks mum, it’s what I’ve always wanted).
We venture out into the cold Artic night full of optimism and apprehension. The northern lights are a notoriously capricious mistress. Scores of eager suitors are regularly ghosted by the elusive Aurora – who upon luring them into spending thousands of pounds and crossing great distances to remote arctic outposts, simply does a no-show.
How to See the Northern Lights?
Historically the Northern lights were considered to be an omen of grave misfortune. In ancient times it was believed that the auroras were a place for those who had suffered violent deaths, been murdered, taken their own lives or been killed in war. The lights were also considered to be a bad omen and a sign of impending war, disaster or plague. In Russia, the Northern lights were curiously associated with ‘Ognenniy Zmey’ the fire dragon and seducer of women.
Somewhat less sensationally, we now know that the lights are the result of a chemical reaction between sun flares (which take approximately three days to reach the Earth) and our planet’s magnetic fields, which push the sun’s particles towards the polar latitudes. One of the greatest factors for seeing the Northern Lights is the weather. The lights dance at a height of between 80-250km above the Earth whereas the highest clouds sit at round 5-10 km above the ground. A clear sky is therefore a must for those wishing to see the lights.
What a lot of people don’t appreciate is that the Northern lights are only partially visible to the naked eye. A camera is required to appreciate the aurora in its full splendor.
Having finished our dessert we are told to proceed to an outdoor area where the lights perform their dance across a moonlight sky. Whilst without a camera lens they can be mistaken for a trail of a jumbo jet or a plume of cigarette smoke, the experience is still humbling. Stood in this vast starlight Arctic hush, it’s impossible not to question your place in the universe. Thoughts turn to loved ones (past and present) and memories of times gone by. We stand lost in thought – paying our respects to the beautiful synergy between our planet and our Sun. It’s little wonder that our ancient predecessors were haunted by this ghostly form. It’s an experience for anyone – from those who have lost a part of themselves to those who want to celebrate the magic our planet has to offer. The lights recalibrate and ground. They appease and sooth. They ignite and re-kindle.
The Other Highlights – Havnnes, Huskies and Nigerian Fishheads
The next day we head over to Eric’s vast estate where we line our stomachs with a hearty lunch in anticipation of a lurching, winding, bumping and tumbling excursion. An exhilarating husky ride through the rugged Norwegian wilderness leaves us dazed. But before we can draw breath, we’re bundled onto a boat headed for the neighbouring island.
Havnnes was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. The island boasts cave markings from 18 century BC – naturally, these are phallic in nature. A visit to the local fishing factory is also a must, providing employment to all 25 inhabitants of the island. Kilos of cod are caught by local fishermen and left to dry for approximately 3 – 6 months. The cold dry air prevents bacteria from forming as the heads of the fish are separated from their bodies and hung up on outdoor wooden racks. I am told that the fish can be eaten up to 25 years after they were originally dried.
The fish-heads are also put to good use given their abundance in nutrients. I was told that during a civil war in Nigeria each country was expected to provide humanitarian aid to the war stricken nation. In a stroke of economic genius Norway chose to send dried fish-heads to the country, which were soon used by locals to prepare stock and a wide range of meals. Most interestingly to this day Nigeria remains a major importer of Norwegian fish heads.
Overall, our trip was spectacular – especially accounting for it only being a four day jaunt. Whilst there are definitely alternatives to Lyngen (including Tromso) dotted all over the Arctic Circle – Lyngen is an unspoilt winter paradise and the choice of activites is second to none. Well worth a visit.
For more snowy adventures visit – Insider’s Guide, St Petersburg
Photography of the Aurora Borealis – Stas Ognev (please do not redistribute without consent)