Top of the World
Feeling on top of the world
This tour takes place within three locations, all of which provide dramatic backdrops for some spectacular landscape photography as well as the flora and fauna of the Norwegian Palearctic.
We start our global circumnavigation at the top of the world, well almost, on the Norwegian archipelago, Svalbard. This remote series of islands emerge majestically from the chilled waters of the Arctic Ocean in rugged ice-carved splendor.
Despite its northerly, (71̊ – 84̊ north), and frozen location, Svalbard is not as cold as some places at the same high latitude. The fabulous, stark drama of the landscape is the result of successive ice age glaciers ploughing deep, steep-sided valleys through a sedimentary covered metamorphic rock base. In fact, even today 60% of the land is covered in ice.
As these valleys were inundated by the sea following glacial retreat, fjords, that coastal feature so typical of Norway, were created. They lend beauty to the drama of the mountains that tower above them.
From April to October, the midnight sun provides an extended growing period for the ground hugging plant life that ekes out a spartan existence on the remaining exposed rocky surfaces. For those who have never experienced the midnight sun, the phenomenon of rising in the middle of the night and finding it light outside is an experience in itself.
The archipelago is home to several terrestrial mammal species but is more widely renowned for the rich bird and marine mammal diversity. Anyone who has ever been a wildlife watcher knows that wildlife is not always compliant with ones wishes to see it. We are hoping to see Polar Bears, Walruses, Reindeer, Arctic Fox, with luck several seal species and maybe some whales.
A great many bird species migrate to these high latitudes for summer breeding. The activity is most intense around the water where large numbers of duck, geese, waders, gulls, terns, auks and puffins can be found.
The dramatic scenery continues as we move a little further south, yet still north of the arctic circle, and find ourselves on the Lofoten Islands. Here we find a spectacular series of mountains chiseled from metamorphic rock on the north west coast of Norway. If you want photographs of awesome mountains reflected in the water of deep blue fjords, then Lofoten is the place. Just as with Svalbard, the location is mild given its northerly latitude.
The sea is teeming with fish which again attracts many migratory bird species which spend the summer and breed here. The area boasts a highest population of White-tailed Sea Eagles and it is not uncommon to see these magnificent raptors on the boat trips.
Unlike Svalbard, the Lofoten Islands do have some trees and bushes and therefore have a higher number of smaller terrestrial birds as well as the coastal species.
To be here is to be absorbed in that overwhelming sense of remoteness and beauty, to be at one with nature. The air is fresh, the water is clean, and the food is good. You will feel alive.
Land of the Vikings
On the final stage of this tour we head down to Western Norway, fjordland. Ask anyone to describe this amazing country and this location would probably fit that description.
There is no escaping the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you in this part of the world. Once more ice age glaciers literally ground huge steep-sided valleys directly from the landmass. The oceans filled the valleys when the ice had retreated and gave us this awesome landscape.
The area is filled with ghosts of the past. Stare down from a mountaintop into the glassy surface below and you can almost see the elegant form of a Viking ship, sail unfurled, and it’s bow slicing through the water. These days boats and ferries are quite often the only means by which to travel in the area.
The area is home to several of the stave churches, their elaborate wooden architecture having survived centuries harsh climate.
We arrive by train down the Flam Valley, one of the most famous and picturesque train journeys in the world. It is an amazing experience descending such a steep gradient from the top of the plateau, through many tunnels and finally arriving at sea-level.
.Despite the stunning, almost vertical aspect of the mountain sides, there are many trails through the forests lining the fjord that will afford us ample opportunity to savor the rich fauna and flora they contain. Fungi in particular make fascinating macro subjects.