img_2519Feeling quite sentimental, I’ve admired the 300m cliff to the west: A promontory pushes down flat into the Barents Sea. That’s the REAL northernmost point of continental Europe. I am standing at the touristy North Cape, fully aware of the missing mile.

The 18-km Knivskjellodden round walk has just made it onto my bucket list. If weather is getting better, or am I matched with clothing adequate to harsh arctic conditions, that is. Making it to the North Cape is good enough for this trip. Besides, a third location was recently appointed as the true northernmost point of Europe (it’s located on the European mainland whereas the North Cape is located on an island off the mainland) but it doesn’t bother me much. All three of them are pretty far north…

Starting at our camping cottage in Skarsvåg, we took the road to the treeless North Cape plateau. Mosses and lichens cover eroded rocks up there and add some color to the otherwise bleak landscape. Here and there, a group of reindeers brave the weather conditions too harsh and inhospitable for people to inhabit. The entrance gates to the North Cape appears in front of us – about 30€ are due per person when you arrive by car. According to the locals, the North Cape is a National Park and therefore free of charge to its visitors but they declare that the hefty admission fee is for the car park and entrance to the North Cape Hall which awaits visitors with a souvenir store, a coffee shop, a movie presentation about life on Magerøya, a chapel and various art exhibitions. Rumor is that you don’t pay if you prove that you restrict your visit to the outside area. We didn’t give it a try since the admission fee was expected. Besides, the ticket is good for 48 hours and we had planned multiple visit so that we can experience the North Cape in different weather and tourist crown conditions.

Upon our arrival, we were welcomed with howling wind, biting temperatures, and an uninviting drizzle. Officially, the temperature showed as just above the freezing point but it felt well below zero. Without much hesitation, we moved inside the North Cape Hall and watched an interesting movie about the four seasons on Magerøya. The exhibition explained that the North Cape was already recognized and named as such in 1553 – it was an English navigator Richard Chanellor (or Steven Borough, depending on which source you consult) who was trying to find a northeast passage to China. During the following centuries the whale and sea hunting business flourished up there in the cold, both by companies from different nations, as well as by the sparse population that inhabited the Finnmark and particularly Magerøya

The first tourist ascent of the North Cape plateau is attributed to the Italian priest Francesco Negri in 1664 as he went north to explore how the people live and survive in the harsh northern climate. In quick succession, others followed suit: Kings, princesses, heads of state and the well-heeled. There was no road before 1956, and the travellers had to ascend the steep zigzag path from Hornvika Bay which itself was only reached by boat. Children from the surrounding fishing villages earned candy and trinkets by helpfully accompanying these expeditions and dragging up their luggage. Speaking of roads: Since 1999, a tunnel from the mainland to the island Magerøya replaces the long ferry ride from Kåfjord to Honnigsvåg which was the route I’ve taken on my previous trip in 1995. Quite an engineering marvel, the tunnel is about 7 km long and reaches 212 m below sea level at its lowest point.

During the 48 hours ticket validity, we visited the North Cape three times. We experienced it during sun, wind, storm, rain and snow, completely flooded with coach tourists, and completely empty. A huge steel-pipe globe serves as a recognizable symbol and is the most popular photo subject around – particularly remarkable as a silhouette against the setting sun shrouded in dramatic clouds. To enjoy a moment of real personal reflection, things are a bit too hectic at the North Cape Plateau – such sentiments are more likely to be had at Knivskjellodden after a 9 km downhill hike (and the insight that there are 9km to walk back uphill).

It’s not a real achievement to reach the North Cape by car, bus and RV – I assign this honour to the cyclists who endure the inhospitable wind and weather conditions of the Arctic Plateau to achieve their dream. Whether they start their trip in central Europe, in Lakselv or Honnigsvåg, the roads up north are steep and stormy, and rain and snow are a realisty even in mid-June. Just for the record: I would never think about doing this. Our trip in a VW Multivan was absolutely fine :-)

Here are some photos:

Here is the North Cape Wikipedia web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Cape,_Norway.

Here are two official North Cape web sites:  http://www.visitnordkapp.net und http://www.visitnorway.com/en.

Here is a link to the official panoramic movie that’s shown at the North Cape theater: http://vimeo.com/37411975.

Here is a link to the Panorama Webcam (a snapshot is taken every 15 minutes): http://nordkapp.livecam360.com/.

Here is a story about Knivskjellodden: http://www.gonomad.com/1077-northernmost-exposure-norway-s-knivskjellodden.