I love the long summer evenings in Ireland, the days seem to have so much possibility - even if you don't manage to get up too early, you can still fit a mountain in! I had a theory that if only it didn't get dark at all, we could have the longest holiday, really maximise those days off work. So, where better to go than northern Norway in summer, where the sun wouldn't set at all?
Needless to say, my theory proved misguided to say the least. It is brilliant to be able to climb a mountain at 11pm, and we had all the time in the world to find the perfect pitch - so far so good. But it was weird. Weird when the birds will not stop singing. Weird when you are still driving around looking for the perfect camping spot at midnight. Weird when you are boiling up eggs and coffee at 3am because if feels like lunchtime.
So, definitely worth experiencing, but not a solve-all for maximising your annual leave!
We flew into Tromsø and picked up our hire car. Or rather, we tried to, but the office was closed. Even though we weren't late, and even though they had already taken our money. This was already our second attempt at car hire, as the first company emailed me as we were flying out to tell me that they didn't have a car for us after all. They had already taken our money, and would return it in due course. There was another car hire company office (Sixt) still open at the airport, but they had no cars. This was a bit of a disaster, as we had so much camping gear and food for our 10 day wild camping trip, and really didn't have the budget or the inclination for suddenly having to stay in hotels and cities if we ended up without a car! After a bit of looking forlorn and desperate, the lovely man at the Sixt desk managed to change things around a bit and got us a lovely big estate car - way nicer than the ones we'd booked with the other companies, and he didn't even charge us the full price for it! Which was just as well really, since we now had triple car hire on our credit card! So, off we went to stock up the car with groceries, and find our first midnight sun camping spot.
We set off towards Senja and the Lofotens, finding a beautiful spot on our first night near the ferry terminal. It was totally idyllic, and we had a most lovely evening in beautiful weather getting the tent pitched, cooking dinner and reading books by the midnight sun. And then it was bedtime. But the birds had no idea. Even with ear plugs and eye masks, it was impossible to sleep. It was like your body knew you were trying to trick, and sleep would not come until about 5am!
We eventually got used to sleeping through the bird song and brightness, but a few other unexpected things happened too. Our days gradually got longer and longer. 24 hours just didn't seem to suit. At first it was just a matter of having a late dinner, or going for a bit of a hike around 8pm, but over time it became a bit ridiculous, as our body clocks seemed determined to stretch as much as possible out of each day. It became quite normal to be getting stuck into cooking food at 3am, or climb a mountain at 11pm. We can be pretty fussy customers when it comes to finding the perfect pitch - a bit goldilocks. This usually works out well for us, as we get to enjoy some awesome views, and once discovered, we find cracking camp spots that we return to again and again - a bit of effort really pays off. Sometimes it can be a bit stressful as the light begins to fade and the fuss-pots can't settle on any where to set up the tent. In the midnight sun, it just got silly. We did a full loop of the Lofotens, including a walk around a village of rorbuer (fishermen's cabins) at midnight, before finally ending up back where we had started at 3am to set up the tent. And we weren't the only people who went a bit crazy with the possibilities the extra daylight provided - that night we passed a couple out in a convertible red car going for a leisurely spin in the middle of the night. This did have it's advantages, as we were able to wander round little fishing villages, filled with fish drying on racks, and seagulls nesting, and get the place all to ourselves, as it was midnight! And we were able to go hiking into snowy mountainscapes and take our time, with no worries of nightfall descending on us.
It wasn't entirely our fault - part of the problem was that Norway above the arctic circle is much more populated, tourist-y and filled with infrastructure than we expected. Even though there might only be a handful of houses along a road, they seemed to have a summer house, a shed, a house for the ducks near the lake, a house for the bins, and a house for the letter box, which all added up to a feeling of lots of infrastructure. Also, there was invariably a sign stating that camping was "forbuden" (so much for their "Right to Roam"!) We initially tried to solve this problem by driving north, but after a lot of driving, I called into a tourist office to enquire if the houses just kept going all the way north, and the bemused woman who worked there confirmed that, yes, there were houses all the way. On one particular night, we'd been driving for so long, and it was so late, and we couldn't find anywhere to stay, we were pretty desperate, cranky, exhausted and hungry by 3am, when we finally gave up and went and camped out the back of a church yard. It wasn't as creepy as it sounds since it never got dark.
So after all that running around, we finally gave up trying to find the wild Norway with easy but scenic wild car camping of our imagination, and headed back to Senja were we had started our trip. No tourists, no infrastruture, tiny population, beautiful scenery, and a gorgeous camp spot right by the quiet road.. and relax...