Trip to the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia during the Covid-19 Pandemic – Part 8 – Narvik, Tranoy, Rognan and the blood road

The previous blog covers a tour around the island of Senja with its stunning wild and rugged west, more populated east and forested south.

Day 53: 28 August 2020 – late afternoon we left the Island of Senja and made our way on the Fv855 to the European Route E6 which is the main transport route north-south in Norway (and in many places the only route north-south in Norway). The E6 is generally kept open even in winter, typically only closing about 10 days a year. It also involves a ferry crossing in one place which will be detailed within this blog. Speed limits on this route vary from 30km/hour within built up areas up to 90km/hour; however, the most common speed is 80km/hour which is enforced by speed cameras.

Parking places that we deem suitable are few and far between on the E6; however, we did find an off-road parking place alongside the river Salangsdalselva, which masked off all traffic noise from the E6.

Salangsdalselva River, Norland Couty, Norway
European Route E6 and the Salangsdalselva River, Norland Couty, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 53 since leaving Senja and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 53 Route since leaving Senja

Day 54: 29 August 2020 –  The first stop for the day was at a rest area in front of the Gratangsfjellet hotel which we assume was closed due to the Covid19 pandemic. At the side of the hotel are toilets (WC) available for users of the rest area. We had stopped here on the northwards journey covered in part 5 of this blog series. From the service area we walked circa 2km up the no longer used old E6 road, to where it re-joined E6 at the top of the hill. In places this presented a good view of the Gratagen fjord below and looked very different to the photographs taken on the 16 August.

Gratangsfjellet Hotel, Norland County, Norway
Gratagen Fjord, Norland County, Norway

Ten kilometres south of the Gratangsfjellet hotel, is the county border between Troms og Finnmark and  Norland.

The E6 descends from an altitude of circa 300m down to Rombaken fjord where it is crossed via the 1.5km long Halogaland bridge which was constructed in 2018 and is the second longest bridge span in Norway with a toll charge of 90kr. The picture below was taken from the south side of Rombaken fjord, looking northwards.

Halogaland Bridge on road E6, north of Narvik, Norland County, Norway
Halogaland Bridge on road E6, north of Narvik, Norland County, Norway

Throughout Norway there are either plastic or metal markers to be found in the middle of no-where. The photograph below was taken and run through ‘Google Assistant‘, which advised it to be a land boundary marker.

Norwegian Boundary Post for Land Boundary Demarcation at the Halogaland bridge

The Halogaland bridge almost immediately leads into Narvik. Narvik was formerly a farmstead on the Ofotfjorden, but in the late 1800’s iron ore from the mines in the mountains of Northern Sweden needed to be transported to the coast and the ice-free Northern Norwegian coast was the only practical solution, since the Bothnian Bay (Bottenvika) on the Swedish coast of the Baltic is ice-bound for half the year. In 1902 Narvik was given town status at the same time that the Ofoten Railway Line to the Swedish border was completed. Narvik was also of strategic military importance during World War II and is known for the battles of Narvik.

The E6 runs through Narvik and at the south western point of the town crosses Beisfjorden uses the 375m long Beisfjord Bridge.

Narvik and Beisfjorden, Norland County, Norway
Narvik and Beisfjorden from Ankenes (south side of the fjord) , Norland County, Norway

We did not discover an overnight parking place until reaching Storoya, a small island in the middle of Efjorden. As the crow flies this is some 40km from Narvik. The parking was busy with other motorhomes, which was a reflection to the amount of suitable parking on the E6.

Storoya and Efjorden, Norland County, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 54 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 54 Route

Day 55: 30 August 2020 – Continued from Storoya southwards on the E6. After about 15km reached the ferry port of Skarberget, where to continue on the E6 you need to pick up a ferry to Bognes, which takes circa 25 minutes for the 6.5km journey.

From Bognes travelled just under 20km further south on the E6 to Ulvsvag, where we turned off on county road Fv81, which runs alongside the very attractive Presteidfjorden.

Ulvsvag, Norland County, Norway
Ulvsvag, Norland County, Norway

Turned off onto county road Fv7530, at the village Oppeid, which is the administration centre of Hamaroy Municipality and in 2019 had a population of 547 people.

County Road Fv7530 is 14.3km long and ends at the village of Tranoy. About 5km before the village we discovered excellent off-road parking with fantastic views across Vestfjorden towards the Lofoten Peninsula.

Off-road parking just off Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County, Norway
Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County, Norway
Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County, Norway
View across Vestfjorden to the Lofoten Archipelago from Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County, Norway

Whilst here there was also a rough legged hawk, a golden eagle and several white-tailed eagles soaring above. These were all identifiable via the Merlin Bird ID App

White tailed eagle, Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County
Rough Legged Hawk, Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County, Norway
Rough Legged Hawk, Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County, Norway
Tree Pipit, Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County
Tree Pipit, Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County

There was also a beautiful walk through the forest around a maze of cross-country ski tracks.

Forest cross country ski track walk

The weather had been very good for most of the day, with just a shower in the late evening after which there was a gorgeous sunset over the Lofoten Archipelago.

Sunset over the Lofoten Archipelago from Tranoyvein, Hamaroy, Norland County, Norway

The nights have started to draw in quickly and once the sunlight goes the temperature drops very quickly. Earlier on the trip nights were illuminated 24 hours: however, it is now dark just after 9pm. Last night was the first dark starry night we have encountered, with the north star shining exceedingly bright.

This detour on a spur away from the main European Route E6 was exceptionally beautiful and well worth taking.

The map below shows the route taken on day 55 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 55 Route

Day 56: 31 August 2020 – The day was predominantly dry but cloudy with a strong wind coming off the sea, which started to blow the leaves from the trees – a sign that autumn was on its way (i.e. the fall, for North American readers).

We redid the same forest walk that we did yesterday. The size of the ant-hills are really impressive.

Size of typical Ant Hill
Forest cross country ski track walk with Ant Hill to the right

Whilst walking we found a wild flower that we had not seen before. Using the Flora Incognita App   we identified it as Chiltern Gentian.

Chiltern Gentian

After yesterday’s abundance of raptors, today we did not see one.

We did not depart our parking place until 15:30 hours and explored the very pretty village of Tranoy, which is at the end of the peninsula. After which we headed back and re-joined the E6 heading south. In total we only travelled 1.5 hours total before we parked up in a parking area adjacent to the E6 the opposite side of a road to Hillingspollen fjord. 

Day 56 Overnight Parking

The map below shows the route taken on day 55:

Day 56 Route

Day 57: 1 September 2020 – During a morning walk along Hillingspollen fjord shoreline we heard a tremendous noise similar to a wind turbine. This was in fact the noise from the flapping of wings as a white-tailed eagle took off no more than 30 meters away. The eagle flew directly over a couple of Whooper Swans, making the swans look miniature in comparison to the eagle.

Whooper Swan, Innhavet, Norland County, Norway
Whooper Swans, Innhavet, Norland County, Norway

The first stop for the day was at Innhavet where there is a motorhome service point where drinking water can be replenished and waste water / chemical toilet emptied. There was also a supermarket for groceries.

Continued southwards on the E6 for another 20km until we came upon a Krakmotinden which is a mountain of 924m altitude and is in effect a solid piece of rock.

Krakmotinden (924m), Norland County, Norway

Morsvikfjorden is circa 15km further south, where ther is the village of Morsvikbotn which is some 30km from Innhavet. During World War II there was a prisoner of war camp at Morsvikbotn. Here the mountains were very different since they appeared to be formed from a solid piece of rock.

Morsvikbotn, Norland County, Norway

We turned off the E6 at Sildhopen onto county road Fv7500 which is 25.4km long and loops around re-joining the E6 a little further south. Indeed Fv7500 was formerly part of the old E6 until both the Kobbskar and Middagsfjellet tunnels were built.

County Road Fv7500, Norland County, Norway

Not far down the Fv7500 we parked and took the dogs on a signed walk through the forest. At the start of this walk was a community area that included a shelter, barbecue and cooking area including firewood, pots and pans and a small children’s play area.

Community Area near Sildhopen, Norland County, Norway

The forest walk was probably the most enjoyable forest walk we have ever done, where there was no physical sign of a path and the route was indicated by the occasional trees marked with paint.

The footpath eventually re-joined the road further along, so we returned via road to the motorhome.

We drove a little further south on the Fv2500 where we pulled up at 16:00 hours to enjoy the late afternoon sun. We decided it was so nice we would shower outside – this was indeed a shower with a view!

Shower with a view, South of Sildhopen, Norland County, Norway
South of Sandhagen, Norland County, Norway
South of Sildhopen, Norland County, Norway
South of Sandhagen, Norland County, Norway
South of Sildhopen, Norland County, Norway
South of Sildhopen, Norland County, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 57, which was as the crow flies only 39km from the previous days overnight parking place. The map also illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 57 Route

Day 58: 2 September 2020 – Prior to setting off the dogs were taken a walk in the forest. The image below shows Freya inspecting the Fungi, but gives an indication to its size.

Freya inspecting Fungi

Leirfjorden is a beautiful fjord, circa 17km southwards down county road Fv7500 and is worth visiting for the views. After reaching Leirfjorden it is around 5km before the Fv7500 re-joins the E6.

Road 7500, Leirfjordgard, Leirfjord, Sørfolda fjord, Norland County
Engan, Leirfjord, Norland County, Norway
Engan, Leirfjord, Norland County, Norway

By the E6 just above the southern shore of Leirfjorden is Kjelvik farm which is an old Sami farmstead museum. Unfortunately, this which was closed due to Covid19 pandemic; however, we were welcome to wander around. The farm has its roots back to 1747; however, the last tenant died in 1967 and this is how it has remained. There is no running water or gas and in 1967 all goods needed to come in via the sea, so would be carried 2km up 300m ascent. It was not until 1986 that the E6 was built.

Kjelvik Farm, Norland County, Norway

The floor for some of the buildings was constructed of stone flags raised on a wooden frame, thus keeping the buildings floor above the outside ground level; however, there some quite large holes in the floor. One can only imagine the draught coming through the gaps in the floor during the arctic winter.

Composting Toilet, Kjelvik Farm, Norland County, Norway

That evening we stopped at a service area on the southern edge of the village of Rognan, which in 2018 had a population of 2584 people. In the evening we walked alongside the river Saltelva into Rognan. The river has fame for the quantity of salmon.

The map below shows the route taken on day 58 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 59 Route

Day 59: 3 September 2020 – The morning was spent touring the blood road around Rognan. The Saltdal Bygdetun Museum (folk museum) is built around a farmstead dating 1750 until the end of the nineteenth century and shares the same grounds as the Blood Road Museum, which provides the story of the lives and work of prisoners of war under the German regime from 1942-1945 is presented in a German barracks moved here from Dunderdalen. Thousands of prisoners of war from eastern Europe were sent north to build roads and railways. They suffered inhuman conditions. Many never returned. Unfortunately, both museums were closed to visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but we were free to walk around the grounds and admire the buildings.

One of the worst concentration camps was at Botn. In May 1945 there were circa 9500 POWs in Saltdal divided between 17-18 camps. Of these 7700 were Russian, 1000 Poles & 800 Yugoslavians. Blood road stretches around the fjord bay and it has been estimated that about 13700 Russian and 2370 Yugoslavians died in Norway. Follow these links for further reading on Norway under German occupation especially blood roads and Soviet prisoners of war.

From the museums it is a short journey along the coastal ‘blodvegen’ road eastwards to the E6. Just prior to the E6 there is a memorial to the many Prisoners of War (POW’s) from the Soviet Union, Poland and Yugoslavia that were forced to labour in building the roads and railways in northern Norway. Some 34,000 forced labourers were kept in 54 POW camps.

Yugoslav Memorial, Saltdal, Rognan, Nordland County, Norway
Yugoslav Memorial, Saltdal, Rognan, Nordland County, Norway

A further kilometre further along, there is the village of Botn, where circa 500m up the hill there are 4 second world war places of interest. These are a German war cemetery containing 2742 burials, a Yugoslav war cemetery containing the remains of 1657 POW’s, a memorial for the 111 Soviet POW’s buried in a mass grave and a white cross indicating the site used for the execution of prisoners of war, most of them being Yugoslav.

Location of Memorials, Cemeteries and Museum

From Botn we headed south ascending the Saltfjellet mountain pass (altitude 693m) The following photographs were taken circa three-quarters the way up:

Road E6, Saltfjellet mountain pass, Norland County

The top of Saltfjellet is extremely flat and after travelling 12km from the summit point we reached the Arctic Circle Centre which opened in 1990. Apart from a shop and café, there is also small exhibition plus an array of taxidermy Arctic animals, including polar bear, fox, seal, reindeer, elk, eagle, wolf, wolverine, lynx, otter, brown bear, fox and hare.

E6 Sumit of Saltfjellet mountain pass (693m), Norland County
Arctic Circle Centre on E6 (660m altitude), Norland County, Norway
Arctic Circle Centre on E6 (660m altitude), Norland County, Norway

There were several parking places on top of Saltfjellet; however, we decided not to stay overnight here even though it was glorious and sunny, since the wind had strengthened significantly and as a result it was extremely cold. Hence we continued on, dropping from the summit which resulted in a significant rise in temperature.

As we have found previously in Norway it can take considerable time to find parking places suitable for an overnight stay and unfortunately this was the case on day 59 of our trip. It took circa 3 hours of continuous driving before we found a parking place for the evening that we deemed suitable. This was on county road Fv806.

We had decided for our journey south to try where possible, to avoid the main north-south E6 route and use alternative quieter more minor routes through the centre and eastern side of Norway. Hence why we picked up the Fv806, which was a more windy and narrower alternative to the E6. We parked at the carpark for walkers wanting to visit the potholes of Jettegrytene.

The map below shows the route taken on day 59 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

We left the Arctic Circle with heavy hearts after spending 33 days within it. It was a place  we had always wanted to vist and found that it grossly exceeded our expectations. We will certainly try and visit again!

The next blog will detail the trip southwards taking Duncan and Liz out of Norway and will include the incredible UNESECO world heritage mining town of Roros and the Rondane National Park.

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