When I got off the bus at a little village at the end of the route, a clean, white Scandinavian Kirk with crisp timber verticals and crowned with a stark iron vane was there to greet me. The bus arriving is a major event in Kjerringøy, Crone's Island. Passengers headed for their four wheel drive pickups and saloons, a few people shuffed in and out of the local store. I just seemed to watch as the time passed in the rain.
I was on my own now, rain continued falling, and I started hunting. Hunting for water, for ground on which to make my encampment, and for some sign that I was not intruding or unwelcome.
The latter didn't take long. On the road a stocky genial man wearing a blue sailors cap greeted me in Norwegian. I'm ashamed to say, nothing of what I've learnt in the last couple of weeks seems to have stuck. I just don't have the ear for it. But his English was good, we talked for a while about the current social scene in Kjerringøy (pron. as 'ksharring-gøy - ø being like the 'er' of doubt) Given the current lack of pub in the place, social interactions round here take place in people's houses.
A little while later and I'm at the coast, having made my way through the surprisingly boggy mosses that sit like fur rugs on the rock flooring. I find a beautiful spot that isn't waterlogged, where the shore is close and the mountains remote, but feel a touch suspicious on noticing the fawn and maroon strings of bubblewrap seaweed sprinkled about the place. In my moments of indecision, I see a man working land a hundred yards away and make for him as he tills for potatoes.
I wish Hugh Grant hadn't done such a bloody good job of charicaturing the awkward Englishman, as its moments like this that I'm sent into paroxysms of self- reflexive parody. He didn't speak English well, which was lucky, as it meant I would need to gesticulate my questions, somewhat absurdly, about the state and prospects of the tide.
'High two morning'
That told me what I needed to know. My charming grassy spot was not a wise choice. I would move on.
It was raining harder now.
'You why here.'
I took this as a question.
'Mountains. I love the wilderness, you just don't get landscapes like this in England.. and I love the sea, and really it wasn't too far at all...'
I trailed off. He looked incredulous. He had stopped digging. He looked at the thick layers of grey and dark grey cloud that littered the sky overhead.
'Not weather good here. Why here, you?'
'Oh, its fine, you know, I like the rain, um, its the elements isn't it, makes you feel alive...'
He seemed shocked that anyone would come here out of choice, out of season, out of love. I changed the subject, didn't want to keep him any longer in the rain he seemed to abhor. We swapped names, Stennor, and I, and I took my leave. When I looked back, he was leaning on his hoe, looking after me, as if I was some kind of apparition, still, incredulous.
Eventually I found the spot, on a half island, which I could just reach because the tide was low. Sea one side, wild western shores and a trail of tiny islands just out to sea, great angular, irregular peaks inland. Yet further inland, ice topped mountains, calling. A bay so full with amber seaweeds, a green beach for a handful of residents' little timber boathouses, the opportunity to bravely ford a fast flowing mountain stream. What more could I wish for...
I made my rice and miso soup, water chestnuts floating, with a side salad of sea vegetables, cucumber and spring onion strips, artfully arranged in two rectangular aluminium trays, shiny and matt, with Strandtinden overlooking the proceedings, gathering and rupturing the clouds.
Two days journey, years of yearning, and here I was at last, on the top of the world, tired and worn but holding a hot plate of food. That night was a test of character, the rain drenching and clattering, the wind running in off the North Atlantic in bursts and gusts. I hung on for dear life and worked with considerable layers of anxiety. More natural shelter might have been a good idea. I mused on how happy I was on the quest to find a place like this, and how perversely unhappy to actually be there.
Midday Saturday the weather abated and I could leave camp. I walked mossy foothills and met small welcome trees waving leaves, photographed flocks of geese in formation, dried my sodden waterproofs in the guest rays of the sun. In the middle of nowhere on the Tarnvik road the breezy silence was made melodic by the most incongrous ice cream van I've ever seen, strolling past. I stood at 67°33" aside Strandtinden, paid homage and turned south for the first time in days or years.
My camp was still there. I stayed out for as long as possible to savour the place. Tomorrow morning I would walk to the village at low tide to get the morning bus. I packed as much possble, and slept early after dark, waking to drink in the yellow sun dawning over the gray mountain in a pure, cold blue sky. Oh, North, this is just the first kiss in our beautiful love affair. x