Scandinavia by Train: 5 – The long haul to the Arctic Circle

We needed to stock up with supplies in Bergen, for the long two-day haul up the coast of Norway to Trondheim and then past the Arctic Circle to Bodø and beyond. We found a small shop called Makka that billed itself as the “cheapest supermarket in town”, containing a wild jumble of all kinds of useful items. We stocked up with enough food for several days, as we would be on the train for a long time without access to shops.

We have been pooling our food and cooking together, which is nice, but the others eat like birds and I found myself permanently hungry on my share, so I also stocked up a separate bag of my own supplies.

We had run out of fuel for our Trangia stoves, which run on purple-stained methylated spirit. It took us til the shop was almost closed before Julia discovered that the Scandinavian equivalent rødsprit is stained red instead instead of purple.

Oslo to Trondheim

One feature of Scandinavian trains is that it is really difficult to avoid seat reservations if you want to travel any distance at all. Before boarding the Trondheim train in Oslo, I attempted to buy reservations for Julia and myself, but the office was closed. We could still use our tickets, but the problem is that there is no way of telling, once on the train, which seats are reserved and which not.

In the event, Dave and Sammy got lucky and happened to choose seats that remained un-reserved for the entire journey, but the rest of us kept getting bumped by the conductor, as passengers with reservations boarded throughout the day. Eventually, as night fell and the train rumbled on, we gave up on seats altogether and lay down in the corridor by the toilets.

Just as we drifted off into sleep, there was a loud clunking noise as some extra carriages were added to the front of the train. No sooner had we drifted off again, snug in our sleeping bags, when the conductor woke us up and took us to some unoccupied seats in the new section. I’m sure that he thought he was doing us a favour, but these weren’t comfortable long-distance compartment seats, they were very hard and fixed and intended for commuting. The upholstery was thick with dust, and smelled strongly of cigarette smoke.

Things were made worse by the sunlight streaming in through the windows most of the night, because we were closing in now on the Arctic Circle. I wrapped a headband around my eyes, and tried to settle.

When I awoke and removed the headband, Julia and Conway had disappeared. We were approaching Trondheim, so I collected our things, and looked around for Julia’s boots, which she had left next to mine under a seat. They weren’t there. I got up and searched, eventually finding them on a floor-level rack next to some luggage. I bent to pick them up, and was very surprised when the luggage sat up and wished me a good morning. Julia had found a cosy dark burrow to sleep in.

Conway was on the next rack down, his only complaint being that a lady kept trying to wake him up in order to put her luggage away.

Trondheim emerged in a light drizzle of rain, and we disembarked and took shelter in the station cafe, drinking coffee and tea out of tiny cups while we waited for our connection. From what we had seen from the train, the town appeared to be largely a trading gateway for rail, road and sea. Certainly the people that we saw hurrying back and forth along the platforms seemed determined to get somewhere else.

Across the Arctic Circle

As I climbed aboard the train from Trondheim to Bodø, I became aware of an unmistakeable aroma, so my first step was to hole up in one of the toilet cubicles and have a wash and a shave. Opening my wash-bag, I mused that I would henceforth be in no danger from sepsis if I cut myself shaving, brushing my teeth, or even wiping my bottom, because all of my bathroom supplies were liberally coated with antiseptic ointment which had exploded from its tube.

Once more seated, smelling considerably more fragrant and without a hint of bacterial activity, I broke my fast on sausage-and-cheese sandwiches washed down with full-cream milk. This latter caused some amusement among us, because as we compared cartons it became clear that the symbol for “full cream milk” was a stylised strawberry (or, Dave insisted, a red clover), whereas the symbol for “skimmed milk” appeared to be a purple buttercup (which Dave averred to be a pink, or possibly a carnation).

And so we passed the time, because the journey was long, and even when we emerged from the rain, there wasn’t much to look at beyond pastures and lakes, a few trees, and – occasionally in the distance – the glimpse of some mountains. On the other hand, I couldn’t help reflecting that although this long-haul was a little dull, it was nothing compared with my recent experience of another long-haul, the infamous Belgrade-Athens Express. Today we had nothing to complain about; ample provisions, functioning toilets, and nobody was vomiting in the corridors. A very civilised country, is Norway.

Musing happily, I drifted off to sleep for a few hours, and when I awoke I found that the landscape had changed dramatically. The trees – both deciduous and coniferous – had shrunk markedly, and were spaced out, separated by expanses of exposed bed-rock. On the horizon, treeless mountain-tops loomed. We got into a discussion about whether the strongly demarcated tree-line that we could see was caused more by the latitude or by the altitude. It passed the time.

The tracks detoured inland around a fjord at Mo i Rana, but then continued North until a line of pyramidal cairns came into view, marching across the countryside, each topped by a spheroidal metal frame. At 17:38 on July 9th, we crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time.


Detraining in Bodø on a Sunday afternoon when all the shops and cafes were closed, we wasted little time in hoisting our back-packs and hiking out of town, looking for somewhere to sleep. We pitched our tents in the first available spot, a little square of marshland that – it soon became clear – was directly under the flight path for Bodø airport.

We dined on bolognese and rice pudding, and woke to a beautiful morning disturbed only by the thunder of aero engines.

Close to our campsite was a little wooden church with an onion tower, which we explored before striking camp. From the outside, Bodin Church is a simple brick and wood construction with a leaded spire. Most of the interior is starkly plain, painted white with a pine planking barrel vault ceiling, but there were also a highly decorated pulpit covered with oil paintings, an incredible carved and gilded wooden altar, and enormous brass candelabras.

At the time, we couldn’t work out if it had been designed that way or if it had been formed from the relics of older buildings, but I later discovered that the interior genuinely derives from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a beautiful find to begin our day.

2 thoughts on “Scandinavia by Train: 5 – The long haul to the Arctic Circle”

  1. Couple of things that I remember were (a) discovering pineapple burgers in Bergen and (b) waking to bright sunshine in Bodø and realising it was still 2 o’clock in the f***ing morning…

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