We all slept well, although I think Oliver was awakened a couple of times by Howard’s snoring. Welcome to my world!
Before leaving Alta, we decided to check out the museum, which is host to the UNESCO listed Prehistoric Rock Carvings. The carvings date back to the Stone Age, and were inscribed between 2,000 – 7,000 years old. In total there are about 6,000 figures depicted, an exceptional testimony to aspects of life of the hunter-gatherer societies in the Arctic. They were discovered in the 1970s by a father and son who sat down for a rest on a flat rock leading down to the sea whilst walking. The first section of rock paintings has been painted with red pigment not long after they were first discovered, to make it easier to pick out the pictures. I imagine if discovered today, this would not happen, since to my mind anyway, the red paintings takes away some of the authenticity. The painting are mainly of men hunting or fishing in boats, or of animals – mostly reindeer, but also bears, elk and wolves. In addition, the archaeologists also claim to see whales, halibut, cod, salmon and cormorants – they must have a better eye than me!! The second group of carvings were unpainted, and in my opinion, by far the best. In the bright light they were quite hard to pick out, and apparently the best time to view them is later in the day, when the sun casts shadows on the inscriptions. Overall though, it was remarkable to see such a collection of prehistoric art-work.
Leaving Alta, we headed first to Hammerfest, the mainland Europe’s most northernmost town. Historically, Hammerfest was an important way station for shipping, Arctic hunting and fishing. It was set alight by the British in the Napoleonic Wars, and again by the retreating Nazis in 1944 as part of their scorched earth policy, so there are very few old buildings in Hammerfest. The subsequent regeneration resulted in mainly functional utilitarian buildings, rather than anything of beauty. As a result, it is not a particularly attractive fishing port, and the large offshore liquid gas installation does little to enhance it’s appearance. However, we were keen to visit Hammerfest for one particular reason – to visit the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society. Only visitors to Hammerfest itself are entitled to join this quirky society, which donates it’s proceeds to conservation, mainly of Polar Bears, obviously. We couldn’t resist the chance to join this prestigious society, so having looked around the exhibits, we duly signed up!
After a quick look around the town, we tended to agree with Bill Bryson’s summation of the town, and I quote, ‘an agreeable enough town in a thank-you-God-for-not-making-me-live-here sort of way’. We made our way to the campsite that we had searched online, and all agreed that it looked pretty grim. We parked up in the lay-by just outside, and considered our options.
In the end, we decided to head for Nordkapp, three hours drive away.
It was, in fact, the most glorious evening, and what could have been a tedious drive, turned into an absolute pleasure. Once we had turned north onto the road that led up to Nordkapp, the scenery was absolutely magnificent. The landscape transitioned from flattish moorland into spectacular mountains and beautiful little coastal communities, hugging the shoreline in increasingly isolated locations. The evening was sublime, a clear blue sky with a glowing sun, and the most magnificent light. I tried hard to bite my tongue, to stop making Howard pull over every mile or so, and had to resort to taking iPhone photos out of the car window – a photographer’s nightmare.
We arrived at our designated campsite ‘Nordkapp Basecamp’, just before nine o’ clock. It had a lovely situation by a small lake, and the added bonus of a small onsite restaurant. The lovely lady on reception told us that the restaurant was just about to close, but if we ordered quickly the cook would stay on. So we ordered a couple of pizzas and a fish soup, and scuttled off quickly to set up camp.
We were all hungry, and the pizzas tasted delicious. Over dinner, we discussed our plans. In the end, since it was such a gorgeous evening, we opted to drive the five miles or so up to Nordkapp, to witness the midnight sun on the Cape. It transpired to be a brilliant decision, since arriving just after ten thirty, we had enough time to take a few photos of the iconic globe, before watching the sun, still way above the horizon at midnight.
We retreated back to our campsite, and were all tucked up in bed by 1am. All credit to Oliver. He slept outside in a flimsy pop-up tent all night, in the most northerly campsite in the world. Talk about tough parenting – I think this beats the lot!!
It had been the most wonderful day – incredibly full, but absolutely superb. We had achieved one of the key goals of our trip – we had reached Nordkapp, 71 degrees 10 minutes north, and witnessed the midnight sun. Utterly brilliant!!