The Lofoten Islands in Norway are somewhere Andy and I have been longing to travel to for a long time. A few years ago we trekked over 100 miles through Swedish Lapland, and ever since we’ve been eager to go back to Scandinavia. There are so many wonderful places in Norway, but something about the experience of being in the Arctic Circle was so magical last time that we couldn’t resist its charm!
The Lofoten Islands are mostly visited by tourists in summer, but in winter the harsh conditions and short days with just four hours of light mean that it’s mostly only photographers that embark upon the journey. We took three flights, the last of which was a little Dash 8 propeller plane with only a handful of other passengers onboard. Once we’d landed in Leknes, a taxi and finally a bus took us to our accommodation – door to door a journey that took over 24 hours.
As we arrived in the afternoon it was already getting dark, and a storm was blowing in bringing with it gale force winds. Through the night we could hear the wind shrieking around the hut, and could actually feel the hut moving as we lay in bed. As the sun came up the next day (late in the morning, around 10am) it had died down enough for us to venture out for the first time. The village was a treat for the senses – the smell of the sea, the sound of the gulls wheeling overhead and the low rumble of the fishing boats, and the sight of the majestic mountain panorama that surrounded us. Periodically the rain forced us back indoors, but we enjoyed walking, taking photographs of the landscapes, and in general the sense of escapism. We rarely encountered any other people on these excursions, except for occasionally a local passing in a car.
Our accommodation was wonderful and authentic – a lovingly restored 200 year old fishing hut, where the fishermen would have baited their lines, mended their nets, ate and slept. Names were carved on the inside of the wooden walls, and some nets still hung from the high beams. The atmosphere was unlike anything else we’ve experienced – the hut itself stood partially out in the sea on stilts with cod drying underneath. The water could be heard gurgling under our feet, but with the wood burning stove roaring away we were extremely cosy.
The next few days shaped up similarly – making the most of the four or so light hours by walking and shooting, and spending the rest of the time in the cabin editing photos, drinking tea and reading the stack of books I stashed in my suitcase. We came to love the little pops of colour provided by the cabins – in a landscape of blues, whites and greys, the little red and orange huts stood out like little gems at the base of the mountains. One night we ate in a restaurant, where a lady (who was both our waitress and our chef) told us that the islands were only connected by bridges in the 1970s. Everything still feels very unspoilt – apart from the homes, harbours and cod drying racks there was little other sign of human activity where we were staying.
Andy and I have always wanted to see the northern lights together. With the long hours of darkness we knew we had a fair chance in the Lofoten Islands, but with the unpredictability of the weather we had to be lucky to find a gap in the cloud that coincided with a good display. On the third night a clear spell was forecast, so we layered up and ventured out with our tripods. Initially we weren’t completely sure what we were looking at – we could see long streaks in the sky above the low level cloud, but they almost looked like light pollution. After shooting a few long exposures we could see a hint of the famous green, so we stayed out, and slowly the colour and movement became more pronounced. We felt overwhelmed that we had been so lucky, so when it clouded over after an hour or so we headed back inside feeling quite content.
After just an hour or so of sleep Andy woke again, and happened to take a quick look out of the window to see if there was any further sign of a display. This time, huge, violent green swirls flashed across the sky – worlds apart from what we had seen earlier in the night. So (after he struggled for some time to wake me up!) we stumbled out again into the night feeling thoroughly discombobulated, wearing our pyjamas under layers of thermal fleeces and waterproofs. The difference to the first northern lights display we had seen was astonishing – once we were out we could see not only greens, but purples. This time they took the form of vertical rays up into the sky as opposed to indistinguishable sweeps of colour, and they moved rapidly, disappearing and appearing again in seconds. We shot a lot, but also remembered to take some time to just stand still and look up, and we’re so pleased we did. It really took our breath away.
On the second to last day, we woke to a distinctly golden light unlike the greys of other mornings. We geared up quickly and headed out to climb the hill we had been looking out onto all week from the window of our hut. The view was my favourite of the week – from the top it was possible to see our tiny island in context, a little speck in the water surrounded by steep-sided, glacial mountains and fjords. Andy set up his camera on a tripod, walked towards me, and as he did the bright orange sun burned through the clouds as it rose. And then, as I stood there in muddy hiking boots with a camera round my neck, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him!
It turns out Andy had been carrying the ring around in his pocket all week, and had been waiting for the perfect moment to ask me. He only made the decision that this was it a few seconds before he asked. It was one of the most beautiful and surreal moments of my entire life, and somehow perfectly encapsulated us and what we love most. I was in complete shock and was left speechless, but I must have agreed as very quickly I had my great grandmother’s engagement ring on my finger! And to top it all off, on a complete whim he flicked the camera over to film mode and managed to successfully capture the whole proposal – what a precious, wonderful thing to be able to keep and treasure.
So here is a very small selection of photos from our time in the Lofoten Islands. I don’t know if it’s ever truly possible to capture the magic of these places, but as you look through them I hope you can hear the seagulls and smell the ocean.