I wake up to sunrise poking through the clouds over mountains on the horizon. Breakfast, and then more photography outside. We pass under a bridge whose type seems to be common in these parts, connecting various islands and bridging fjords. I spend a few hours writing up my blog and sorting out my photos from yesterday. I need to get these on Facebook just in case my laptop, camera and SD cards spontaneously explode, taking the once-in-a-lifetime shots with them. This is no chore, though, as I relax against another snowy scrolling backdrop.
I watch a short video of North Cape – the most northern point in mainland Europe – as it’s an excursion I’ve booked tomorrow. It’s a famous point visited by thousands every year, but judging by footage of gale force winds and rain, coupled with Nan’s description “…wind was so strong that I daren’t face it but went backwards” I might not enjoy it so much if conditions aren’t good!
Tromso comes up, where I am to disembark and go dog sledging. I won’t have time to go round the town, which is a shame because they call it the Paris of the Arctic Circle, with apparently interesting architecture. I really wanted to see the oddly-shaped “toast rack” cathedral – so it was with delight that it came into clear view as we got nearer. Some good zoomed photos later, I’m ready to go.
The bus will take about forty minutes to get to the dogs, so we wind our way through the town and countryside. We enter a tunnel, and to my utter shock find we have to slow down inside it to navigate a roundabout! Various branching tunnels can be seen, and we continue through this strange orange underworld for a few miles before emerging again. Lakes and rivers pass, dotted with ships and houses. Finally, we arrive in what seems the middle of nowhere.
We see a couple of Sami (indigenous people) wigwams and dozens of hutches for the huskies stretching out in the snow. The sounds of barks fills the chilly air and we head in to suit up. Our guide is a pretty English girl with what seems to be a great enthusiasm for the dogs. She takes us into the wigwam, serves us coffee and chocolate cake while explaining the history of the dogs, the people and this place. We discover that the dogs are nearly all mixed breeds – Alaskan, Siberian, local, English pointers and others. Some types are faster, some have longer endurance, so a mix gets the best of both. The intelligent ones lead from the front, the stronger pulls at the back. The owners participate in races, with some success. Teams of twelve would lead us around the hills.
We go to meet the dogs, but unfortunately the French woman behind me slips and (I’m later told) breaks her ankle after slipping on the steps. The guide gets out some puppies and lets us hold them, trying to get them used to people. The mother looks on, unworried at this regular occurrence. The adult dogs are by their hutches on long chains, but they excitedly greet us, tails wagging, jumping up. I pet a few and they seem to enjoy it. Being a cat man myself, I apologise quietly to Tom and Geri; I’m sure they’d disown me if they saw this.
Night is very much falling now, and the dusk is producing long shadows. The first group are back, and the teams of dogs bark impatiently, waiting for the next round. We are taken to our sledges, and I join the French woman’s son, Silva(?), who was told by her to carry on while she is taken to hospital. My Ixus, eager to recover from yesterday’s embarrassing failure to capture anything last night is ready to redeem itself with some video footage, so I hold it ready for the off. Moments later, howls and barking ceasing, we’re off…
Wahoo! I’m being transported through open fields as the driver behind me shines his torch ahead, lighting the huskies’ way ahead. The snow sparkles on either side, before plunging into darkness in the void beyond. Only the sound of the sledge runners sledge sliding on the snow can be heard, as tree branches rush by, inches away from our sides. Here come the bumps! Up, down, even some air time as it starts to resemble a roller coaster! Each bump is met with varying degrees of exclamations from us both as again and again we fly along behind the running huskies. Over the hill, and the lights of a nearby town glow in the distance as we take a sharp left. One team is in front of us, but the rest are behind, and occasionally you hear the barks of other dogs in the distance. We’re going at some speed, and at times we land awkwardly – could we be tipped out? The path is more of a track, so there is no veering off course, but we’re being thrown all over the place now. On and on we go. I’m really doing this – dog sledging in the Arctic Circle. How many people can say this, I wonder? I feel so free, so glad I came on this trip, trying new things. Another story to tell.
A good fifteen minutes in, and I’m starting to feel the cold. I haven’t moved position in all this time and my feet are being to freeze, so when the hutches of the base come into sight I’m almost glad, despite this enjoyment. By the time we pull up, I’m just about done. I shake hands with the driver and head off back to the coach.
Back at the ship, I head up top again and capture the cathedral all lit up, before going to dinner. Another good three-course meal; the food here really is excellent. We stop at another town, Skjervoy and take some long exposures of car trails. I watch boy racers below spin in the snowy quayside before speeding off, obviously more akin to these conditions that we are back home. I stay up on deck to wait for the lights, as conditions look really good. We all look around for while, until I turn and spot a faint glow behind me, “Is that something?” I say to my photographer friend and suddenly we’re chasing the lights again.
A couple of hours later, I head back in, slightly disappointed. The lights tonight were not a patch on yesterday’s – a faint glow that grew and faded in intensity as time went by. I struggled to capture anything significant, forced to crouch in the cold holding still for up to forty seconds. My friend is having some success due to the tripod, much to his delight and relief. His turn to trump me. Lucy from Barnsley, thick with northern accent, joins us, cooing at the green bands appearing on his screen. It’s a shame it wasn’t a better display, but it makes yesterday even sweeter. I go to bed tired, but once again looking forward to the next day.