Norbotten & Norrland

Our route from Umeå to Luleå, Luleå gammalstad, Boden Tree Hotel, Kiruna, Abisko National Park and the fantastic scenery along the E10, Narvik, the very different scenery along the E6, Hamarøy and Hamsunsenteret, Bodø, Røkland, Svartisen, through Tärnaby and Hemavan to Vilhelmina and back to Umeå.


Well. Just over a month ago, at the beginning of June and the end of term, my family and I set out on a loop from Umeå that crossed the Arctic Circle, continued north into the topmost regions of Norway, followed fjords south to the – relative – darkness of Sweden’s subarctic interior, across the country and back to Umeå. In eight days we covered over two thousand kilometres and spent more than twenty four hours in the car but were richly rewarded for our efforts.

Dense roadside forest gently undulated its way to more sparsely planted terrain promising mountains on the horizon; from here, we seemed to climb into winter itself as we made the ascent into the mountain range separating Sweden and Norway. We were soon moving through the previously distant snow-capped mountains and as we rose higher the landscape grew colder: soon we were passing (and paddling in) partially frozen lakes and snow lay beside the road in ever growing piles.


Once the border had been crossed and we started the descent into Norway, winding fjords and lower altitudes heralded a thaw: in less than an hour we had returned to verdant summer foliage. Mountains rose regularly on every side, broken only by serpentine strips of water behind which more sheer rock would loom. Roads clung to rock faces, tunnels drove through mountains’ cores, and both were occasionally substituted by ferries where impassable terrain rendered them impossible.


As we turned south we passed through larger settlements, minor trading stations turned major ports vital to the transportation of petroleum and iron ore. Leaving the Polar Circle brought us out on a high plateau where the surrounding mountains had kept winter hostage: lower down, rivers fed by the gradually increasing meltwater flowed in great torrents beside the road, racing cars to the fjords and ocean beyond. The descent inverted as we rose again to re-enter Sweden, following their beautiful lake district and winding down into forest and, eventually, back to Umeå.


Highlights along the way included all the indigenous wildlife spotted through the car window (elk twice, reindeers thrice, eurasian storks innumerable) and whilst walking (a dozen arctic hares) the exquisite UNESCO protected Gammelstad near Luleå; Boden’s Tree Hotel; Hamarøy’s tidal fjord and the Steven Holl designed Hamsunsenteret commemorating the town’s most famous (and controversial) son, Nobel Prize winning author Knut Hamsun; Svartisen glacier near Mo i Rana and last, but by no means least, Älgens Hus i Bjurholm where it was possible not just to view elk at close quarters but even get close enough to feed and stroke them or tussle with their calves!


I’m now back in the UK and excited to spend the summer here in a variety of vaguely architectural pursuits from the AA’s SummerMake to a couple of CAT courses in sustainability to prepare me for the final year of my MArch. To all those with richer social lives, more time on their hands and any passion for music I highly recommend Zalando’s Festivalguide as a great pan-European reference tool for finding out all about the summer festivals.


Contributing to this blog has been a wonderful experience and much needed motivation for me to record my experiences: thank you to SI for that opportunity. To everyone spending the next few months in Sweden, glad sommar och vi ses!


Part of the spectacular interior of Luleå kryk.

The Gammelstad site is the world’s most extensive and best preserved example of a kyrkstad (church town) with over 400 ‘church cottages’ gathered around a medieval stone church.

The mirrored cube of the Tree Hotel disappears into the sky and blends with the trees and mountains.

An emboldened alpine hare that hopped past our cabin in Kiruna.
Photograph courtesy of Natalie Bourchier,

A less courageous alpine or tundra hare in more natural surroundings.
Photograph courtesy of Natalie Bourchier,

Climbing to cross the border between Sweden and Norway we found Torneträsk lake still thawing. The pieces of ice clinked together with every disturbance, beautifully so when walked through…
Photograph courtesy of Natalie Bourchier,

A hytt with berg background as the road winds impossibly beside fjords.
Photograph courtesy of Natalie Bourchier,

Hamsunsenteret i Hamarøy was designed by the prize-winning architect Steven Holl to commemorate the life and work of Knut Hamsun. Still considered a highly controversial figure because of his political affiliations, the centre makes no attempt to hide or excuse his support of Nazi occupation but, like the characters in his work and the man himself, using the “building as a body with invisible forces that fight each other.”
Photograph courtesy of Natalie Bourchier,

The rift in the cladding of Hamsunsenteret.

Clad like a sauna or bastu, this balcony of the Hamsunsenteret frames views of the distant mountains in a private enclosure.
Photograph courtesy of Natalie Bourchier,

“We’re all on the way to a land that we’ll reach in good time.”
On Overgrown Paths, 1949

The sun puts in a brief appearance at Nordnes Camp i Røkland.

Nordland Nasjonalparksenter, with its green roof, boasts Norway’s longest timber structure in the shingle clad gallery on the left.

A panoramic photograph of the park caps this internal activity area.

A freestanding extension, this timber structure provides a viewing platform for visitors to look out onto the mountainside.

Driving south from Røkland, snow quickly reappears on the mountainside.

The Luonosjåhkå river thunders down from Saltfjellveien, swollen by rain and meltwater.

A timber footbridge suspended over Luonosjåhkå. The occasional surge would splash against the substructure…

Climbing toward Saltfjellveien, snow stops capping distant peaks and starts piling up on the roadside.

A hytt in Saltfjellveien provides ample contrast to remind one how large and unoccupied the landscape.

Saltfjellveien, the wintery plateau to which one must climb to recross the Polar Circle.

Even in mid-June, snow sits metres thick on the landscape.

Polarsirkelsenteret i Saltfjellveien.

Rounding the bend from the glacier, Svartisvatnet – the ice blue, glacier fed lake below – appears from behind the bare rock.

The very edge of Svartisen.

The frozen pools directly below Svartisen.

A small group of reindeer still bearing their winter coat spotted from the roadside.

One of Sweden’s most popular ski resorts in winter, Tärnaby looked very different under the summer sun.

Vilhelmina is not a cosmopolitan metropolis: it is a small town with a pleasant church that celebrates the quiet it achieves by being quite so far from anything. None of this detracts in any way from the view.

Älgens Hus i Bjurholm provides an incredible chance to get up close to the magnificent moose (though technically they are eurasian elk rather than moose – they sport smaller antlers than their North American cousins).

Elk calves, three week olds whom guests could feed and…

…cuddle. Though this little one was a little boisterous and did enjoy trying to push people over.