It rained steadily through the night, but by around 10 it had stopped and I was able to crawl out into a chilly, grey world. I breakfasted and washed up. The rain had brought bigger waves with it, and washing-up in the sea from the rocky shore was a dance of death with the waves. A dance which my left foot lost! I packed up and cycled off.
I had camped just a few miles from Moskenes and soon arrived in the small port. A few houses clustered around a small rocky bay it is not a large place. Nonetheless, the buildings around the ferry terminal itself included a shop and cafe, and after checking the ferry times I had an early lunch in the cafe.
Moskenes, though, is not the end of the road, which continues for another 3 miles to the delightfully named village of Å. It would have been worth going on there just to be able to say I'd been (and to guard against the possibility that I might find somewhere called B to visit later in life!), but Å is also a large open air museum to the way of life which has existed in the islands for centuries.
The road ends abruptly - a last short tunnel and you tumble out into a car park. There is no more road in the main Lofoten islands. A headland provided fine, if misty, views south - the island itself continues for another 5 miles or so of sheer cliffs (you can understand why they didn't build the road any further), and there are the outlying islands, famous for their bird colonies, of Værøy and Røst before the island chain itself ends. Having looked, I wandered down to the village.
Cod, which mature in the Barents sea to the north even of here, come south to spawn every winter. The largest shoals congregate in the Vestfjorden, the area of sea between the mainland and the sheltering wall of the Lofoten islands. Following the fish, for hundreds of years, have come fishermen, a few of whom would live permanently on the Lofoten islands but many more who would sail there from mainland villages to live there for the couple of months as winter turned to spring while the cod were there. Many of the buildings in Å have been preserved as they would have been around the turn of the century, when this seasonal fishery was at its height.
I was lucky enough to arrive just as an English speaking guided tour was leaving. We started by being shown the process by which most fish were preserved. The windy, cool climate of the Lofotens is ideal for drying, and it is this way, by being hung on the wooden racks that adorn the sea shore beside all the villages, that most of the catch is dealt with. The dried fish, "Stockfish", is then largely exported, mainly to Italy and Africa. That deals with the bodies, but there is more of a cod that can be used than just the bodies. The heads had their tongues removed - seemingly a delicacy - and were then also dried to be ground down into fish meal. That left only the offal, and we were taken round the building in which they used to make cod liver oil. The oil is extracted simply be heating, and we saw various refinements of the process to produce the purest cod liver oil. It was in the last century that a Norwegian chemist, apparently prompted by tales of long lived and healthy cod liver oil producers, investigated the oil scientifically. The tales were perhaps substantiated, the oil being rich in vitamins A and D and also in that most fashionable form of consuming cholesterol, Omega 3 fatty acids. This led to the vogue in the first half of this century - still publicized through children's stories written around that time - of taking cod liver oil regularly for "medicinal purposes". We were able to try some as we looked around. It was actually remarkably tasteless (perhaps compared to the many fishy odours which otherwise pervaded the place!) but if anything tasted of the oil I wax my walking boots with! Actually, this is not too surprising - boot oil, along with lamp oil, were its main functions long before any medicinal purposes were discovered.
The boathouse contained many of the original fishing boats. These were very like traditional "Viking ships", double ended open boats with a central mast. 20 to 30 feet long, they were worked by a crew of 5 or 6. Although they looked quite sea kindly, with no deep keel and, as far as I could see, no leeboards, I very much doubt they could make appreciable progress to windward. I would not have like to have been stuck downwind of the islands in a rising gale, and indeed I believe it was a high risk occupation.
Finally, we saw the traditional "Rorbu", a wooden hut on stilts, in which the fishermen lived and slept. Most striking were the wooden shelves above the stove on which they slept. They were not long enough to sleep stretched out, but the Lofoten fishermen would not have done so anyway, believing that if you slept with straight legs you would let your soul escape from your body in the night, and never wake up. A superstition which perhaps reflects the high mortality among them.
My tour was excellently timed, finishing so that I could cycle back to Moskenes and arrive just as the ferry was docking. This was a functional car ferry, much less comfortable than the Hurtigrute and I spent half the journey on deck watching the Lofotenveggen retreat behind us before retreating myself from the cold below deck.
Arriving in Bodø about 7, I had a 6 hour wait for the Hurtigrute at 1am. After a leisurely cycle round the town I picked a restaurant - they all seemed to be pizza based! - and settled down for a slow paced meal. Thanks to "Peppe's Pizza" for not objecting to me spending an hour and a half over coffee! By then it was about 11, and I cycled back to the docks. A well equipped toilet and washroom provided the venue for a much need wash and change into a more respectable set of clothes before I settled down to wait the remaining hour outside. It was overcast, but not cold now the breeze had dropped. As two Germans with whom I was waiting commented, although almost 1am it was as light as on a rainy afternoon back home. "Who can we ring up and tell `Its one in the morning and still light!'" they wondered. Its an odd feeling. The boat was late. Indeed, my two German friends (who were meeting someone, not embarking) had given up once, when I called them back, pointing, as the boat slowly came round the corner! Finally, about two, I put my bike in the hold, bought a ticket and gratefully spread my sleeping bag on a settee in the lounge. I was on my way home.