Lofoten. One of the greatest places of my life.
I had hoped so beforehand, in the 20 years I dreamed and schemed and tried to work out a way to get myself up here.
Then as the plane descended to land, I felt I was on to something, my face pressed to the window, camera phone snapping deliriously. Craggy mountains plunging steeply into fjörds. Hamlets and patches of pasture tucked at their feet, crooked in the elbow folds of valleys. Tiny shoals of islands, white beaches like apple bites, and the Caribbean cold turquoise water.
But within 24 hours of arriving in Lofoten I was certain: this is one of the greatest places of my life.
I had liaised with Emilie, Swedish blonde and smiling, as we boarded the dinky propeller plane for the last leg of the journey to Lofoten. The planes get smaller and the landscapes get bigger. We had never met, but were here together to make a short film. By the time we landed we were firm friends, brought together by our mutual ‘wows’ and ‘whoops’ out of the plane window.
The hotel had mountains on three sides, cold sea on the other. With 30 minutes to spare before meeting Stian, the third part of our adventure team, I ran to my room, stripped, and hurled on my running clothes. I was like a puppy deliriously chasing his tail, a kid at Christmas unable to choose which treasure to play with first. I just needed to get out there.
In a moment of thinking clearly I realised that, even in my mad state of excitement, I could not scamper up and down a near-vertical 700 metre mountain in half an hour. I forced myself to calm down, to slow down, be patient.
So at 5.30am (4.30 on my UK body clock) my alarm yanked me from sleep and hurled me up that mountain. It was hard: Lofoten is. I gasped and retched as I ran up heather, mud, and granite. But as dawn rose and sunshine slid across the peaks, the sea sat solid and silver and the islands and peaks out there across the bay stood in silhouetted contrast. I stopped running and turned round and round, whooping at the top of my voice, crazed at the sheer abundance of beauty in this day.
I galloped back down the mountain and into one of the seven modern wonders of the world: the hotel buffet breakfast. Then I dived, quite literally, from my hotel room balcony into the freezing ocean – more yelling. Later I was to catch a cod from that balcony (yes: more yelling). And then into the car and out onto the road to at last begin our adventure.
The Northern Lights brew and build until they come upon you like a madness.
“Look, Al, they are starting,” Stian spoke quietly outside my tent. “Come!”
I peered from my sleeping bag. A line of light, like a thread of pale cloud, arched across the sky from dark mountain to dark mountain.
The sky filled, steadily then quickly, and the colours grew. Then suddenly it was everywhere and I was yelling to Emilie’s tent, for she was sick and needed to sleep,
“Emilie! Emilie! I don’t care how ill you are – get out here now!”
For I knew that Emilie loved whooping as much as me, and I was right.
All three of us now, pointing, gasping at the heavens. The colours were spread bright across the sky. All of us shouting now, and staring and pointing and none of us listening. Caught in our own worlds of wonder, out here on a hillside on a dark Artic night. The aurora was galloping now, more like a nightclub or an outdoor laser show than anything you would imagine sedate and graceful Mother Nature to lay on.
Curtains of green, turning purple, darting and swooshing enormous across the stars. Shafts of colour, graceful arcs, giant coffee swirls of green. By now I was just running around and around in the dark, tripping over guy lines, cheering like a football match.
There is one simple and perfect, but sadly overused word, which explains it all: the night was awesome, and I was awestruck, filled with awe.
After two hours, or perhaps it was less than one, the Gods passed on their way, the stars re-captured the blackness, and I fell into my tent, mentally exhausted and trembling with exhilaration. I felt both empty and full. It was one of the most special experiences of my life, and I felt I needed nothing more.
But the rest of the trip was very nice too and we walked and we scrambled among the mountains and we camped by the ocean and we swam in lakes and we baked potatoes in the campfire and we laughed a lot. The End.
Just one last thing… I also cherished a Lofoten hour spent lying on a beanbag in a peaceful cafe – piano music, coffee – reading a good book, with no self-imposed pressure to be elsewhere, no distractions, and the oh-too-rare feeling of being perfectly content and present in that moment.
Wherever I go, there I am. And I’m not there as often as I should be.
Lofoten. One of the greatest places of my life.