Motorhome travel: Taking a campervan to the Arctic Circle in Norway
Words by Lois Parker Photos by Alan Parker
When we told friends that we were planning a big trip in our campervan, they were a little surprised to hear that we were hoping to get to Norway’s Arctic Circle, taking six weeks to get there and back again.
We had been to Denmark before, as well as Sweden and Norway, but only as far as Bergen. Norway is such a beautiful country, and especially to keen photographers like us, so we were eager to see more of it.
We used the winter months to plan our trip and, while surfing the internet one rainy day, I came across some information about a coastal tourist route (Kystriksveien) Steinkjer to Bodø, following Norway’s west coast, and acquired the travel guide for Kystriksveien, which was invaluable.
We set off in June with our Auto-Sleeper Warwick XL campervan, known as Wanda, loaded up with enough food to last us for several weeks, as Norway is quite an expensive country for tourists.
Our crossing from Harwich to the Hook of Holland overnight was straightforward, as was our journey through Holland and Germany into Denmark. We decided to miss the traffic and roadworks around Hamburg and use the small ferry to cross the River Elbe at Wischhafen, instead – it still took us two and a half hours queuing for a 20-minute crossing, but was much more pleasant!
After three days of driving we arrived at Frederinockshavn, at the tip of Jutland, Denmark, for our journey across to Gothenburg in Sweden. After a very pleasant night pitched under the trees near to a beach, we set off towards Oslo, which we had explored on a previous trip back in 2017.
We had two very pleasant days pitched beside the river at Drammen Camping recharging our batteries, and celebrating Father’s Day! From Oslo we motored up to Lillehammer, stopping there only briefly, before going up through the countryside towards Trondheim. The views through the windscreen were mind-blowing: lush valleys, rivers, waterfalls, rocks and high plateaux on the snow line. We were constantly stopping to hop about on the rocks and take photographs!
We found a beautiful campsite near to Trondheim, at a ferry port called Flakk. We were able to use the local buses to get into the city easily, unfortunately, in the rain, but we found Nidaros Cathedral very interesting and the old wooden houses very colourful. And the sun came out again later!
After a couple of days, we were on the E6 road again to Steinkjer, where there was a festival about to happen in the university town, and then up towards Mo i Rana. Up until now the weather had been a bit wet and windy at times, but the day we reached the Arctic Circle was sunny and warm with a full blue sky.
The Norwegians have built a centre on the Arctic Circle Line with a small museum, café and shop. Apart from that the area appears very barren, and windswept, with snowdrifts in places, and stone cairns left by visitors. From the top of the hills you can see for miles, but it is a hard, cold beauty.
Of course, at this stage we had to let all our family and friends know that we had made it – so lots of photos were taken and messages sent – it was all quite exciting!
From there we continued to Bodø, which was to be our northernmost point. Unfortunately, the campsite we arrived at was closed because it had gone bankrupt. So on to Saltstraumen just a little further south from Bodø. Here there is an interesting maelstrom in the fjord where it passes underneath the road bridge.
We now started down the 400-mile route named the Kystriksveien that we had discovered during our planning over the winter. This would lead us back down across the islands and through the fjords to Steinkjer, a much prettier way with lots of interesting places to see.
A guidebook helps you to miss nothing. Gildeskål Church was one of our first finds. It is a traditional medieval stone church, dating from the 1100s, with splendid and distinct furnishings from just over 300 hundred years ago. It is only open for about eight weeks every summer and is a real gem.
We now started to use the little ferries on our journey, going on several every day. The local people use them like a bus service! Usually the journey on them was short but the boats were well equipped with comfortable seating and refreshments. One such journey took us to Kilboghamn, where we found the ruins and museum of the Grønsvik Coastal Fort built by prisoners of war, for the Germans, in WW2.
The old buildings were well spread out over a rocky promontory, with the huge gun emplacements in prime positions.
We continued in the rain through the islands and Leirfjord, and over the huge Helgeland Bridge and causeway to Forvika. Here we found an old trading post from 1792, where they now roast coffee beans to their own special flavours. Of course, we had to have coffee and cake while we were there! Namsos was our next stop, and we found this to be a very quiet town, with hardly a soul about on a Saturday morning.
But there is a very good museum, Namdalsmuseet, and we spent an enjoyable few hours with our own enthusiastic guide. Most of the houses and farms in the museum had been brought there in the 1930s, often by floating them down the rivers and fjords. There was also the only hospital museum in Norway, which we found very interesting, if a little gruesome!
The next few days saw us on lots more ferries, with beautiful landscapes, forestry and water and amazing tunnels, including several with roundabouts in them!
The weather had improved and we were enjoying warm sunshine most of the time. It was noticeable that the hours of daylight were much longer, especially near to the Arctic Circle – aptly named Land of the Midnight Sun. As it was cloudy when we were at our furthest point north, we didn’t experience the actual sun at midnight, but it was still broad daylight – plenty light enough to take photographs.
We then came through Trondheim and Molde and around the coastal road to Bergen, to stay at Bratland Camping, just outside the city. Again, we used the trams and buses to explore, going to several museums including the Bergenhus Fortress, which had lots of information about the wartime resistance fighters. The buildings along the Bryggen are fascinating, most of them now being shops or restaurants. And the views from Mount Fløyen, which are achieved by going on the funicular railway, are simply incredible!
From Bergen we travelled down through the cherry and apple orchards, which went on for miles and miles, following the roads east across to Odda, past the massive Låtefoss Waterfall, which we remembered from our previous trip. Again, we were travelling through areas with large amounts of snow lying about either side of the road.
We continued east to a beautiful campsite at Nisser, on the edge of Norway’s third largest lake, where we relaxed and enjoyed a bit of people watching! By now we were experiencing a heatwave that had come across from Europe so Lystang Camping about 60 miles further on was very peaceful, but also very hot.
It was now time to head for our ferry back to Denmark from Langesund – takes about four and a half hours. A good crossing later, we were travelling down the west coast of Jutland. The coastal scenery was so different, very flat with just a few holiday resorts. But we did find an interesting thatched bird hide looking out onto a waterfowl reserve.
A few more campsites saw us crossing the Elbe again in Germany and heading for Apeldoorn in Holland for a few days. We were able to cycle into the town on their wonderful cycle tracks and do our last bits of shopping. From there we had about a two-hour journey, calling at Delft – one of our favourite Dutch towns before travelling to the Hook for our ferry back to England.
This must be one of our most enjoyable and exciting holidays, with the most fantastic scenery and lovely people. Our campervan did very well, and most things went to plan. The important thing being that we achieved what we set out to do.
This feature was originally published in the July 2019 edition of Campervan magazine - click here to buy a digital copy of that issue.