Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a travel issue. important – and what it means to you.
Story so far. Last Saturday morning, my wife, Charlotte and I were the only passengers on the Iron Ore railway to the Swedish Arctic from Boden to Kiruna.
After a fun train journey, the mining town of Kiruna proved a shock. The center is being moved building by building 3km away, to a place where underground works will not pose a danger to residents. It was like a ghost town where even the spirits checked. Furthermore, the 2:52pm train to Narvik was cancelled, with no other trains arriving at the Norwegian port that day. There is only one option left: hitchhiking. The E10 motorway was waiting.
Yves is driving a dilapidated Audi, but at least he’s going to Norway. And it turns out he’s a fascinating character: a geologist from Lyon who has moved to the North Pole to help the state mining enterprise find some more iron. He turned just north of Narvik, saying he was keen to get us into the city but tolls (about £15 return) were a hindrance.
Along with the Sven is a smarter vehicle: an electric Ford Mustang. The car plunges straight into Narvik, which is worth exploring a few hours before the 300 late afternoon bus ride across the Lofoten Islands – all cleverly combined by some expensive and wonderful civil engineering .
Giving the equivalent of £30 to a bus driver may seem a bit difficult but (a) this is Norway and (b) the enchanting journey to a place called Rorvik takes almost five hours. And beyond a tunnel under the sea that seems to stretch for miles, the view is breathtaking: the jagged precipice where Europe collides with the Atlantic Ocean, above the Arctic Circle.
A disappointment: the promised bus connection to the fishing village of Henningsvær did not materialize. But Borge did, in his luxurious blue Volvo, welcoming us – and revealing that he had left Oslo to take on the role of running the Joker grocery store in the village.
I wondered: “What do you remember about Oslo?”
Only the airport, he replied, and easy access to southern climates.
I think it will take a long time for the joys of Henningsvær to fade: a picturesque paradise, the most beautiful football field in the world, and a beachside sauna that offers a dip in the waters of the Great Ocean. Atlantic Ocean to cool off. And, for British visitors, a great grocery store to source for picnics. And, on Sunday night, a double rainbow.
The third day of our arctic adventure begins with no clear idea of how to reach our single-letter destination: Å, where the Lofoten Islands come to a desperate conclusion. Two generous Norwegians provided the lift midway through – then a strong arctic wind hit and the generosity receded. Not like us.
After an hour of freezing, a French climber drove to a rock face that suggested 10 minutes and five miles of rest. Miraculously, les Français stepped in again, in the form of Olivier and Marie-Paule. We went to the bitter end together, going “aah” at the beautiful port of Å – and then they drove us to the port to take the ferry to Bodo on the mainland.
The ship looks like a giant lifeboat, which based on weather conditions is a smart idea. It departed and arrived at the perfect time. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Bodo soon, as it’s Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2024. Call me mundane, but in my opinion its top attribute is that you can go. walk from the city center to the airport in about 15 minutes.
Back in Scandinavia’s deep south, Swedish Railways had one more trick up its sleeve: a last-ditch replacement bus ride to Stockholm. Aim to catch four Swedish trains on the adventure, a total of 1.5 (half is the covered abbreviation on the Iron Ore railway).
- Bus replacement rails: 2
- Taxi replaces rails: 1
- Rail replacement hitch: 2
And the organization still owes me a reservation on the ghost train. As hitchhiking proves to be more reliable than trains, Sweden needs to step up its rail game.