S-mit­ten with a cool break in Tromsø

Sarah Mar­shall vis­its the north­ern city in Norway where rein­deers and husky dogs pro­vide the best way of get­ting around

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GLOBETROTTING -

BOLD stripes, neat zigzags and in­tri­cate petal pat­terns: a va­ri­ety of de­signs dec­o­rate the many pairs of mit­tens hang­ing in a dis­play cab­i­net at Tromsø Univer­sity Mu­seum.

For a place where the tem­per­a­ture can drop be­low freez­ing for a large chunk of the year, an ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing ther­mal ac­ces­sories does seem ap­pro­pri­ate. Yet I dis­cover the pieces of hand­made handwear bear a greater cul­tural rel­e­vance.

De­signed by in­dige­nous Sami peo­ple, one-time no­mads who herded rein­deer across Rus­sia, Fin­land, Swe­den and Norway, th­ese bright mo­tifs were used to de­fine so­cial groups, a bit like knit­ted iden­tity cards. While other cul­tures were fight­ing for land rights, the Sami were seem­ingly weav­ing a woollen so­cial net­work for a na­tion that has never known any na­tional bor­ders.

Even to­day, many Sami peo­ple pre­fer not to pledge al­le­giance to one po­lit­i­cal flag, defin­ing their home as La­p­land, a ter­ri­tory that arches across north­ern Scan­di­navia. But as I trudge through the sludgy, icy streets of Nor­we­gian city Tromsø, it’s hard to de­ter­mine who the orig­i­nal bona fide res­i­dents re­ally are.

Con­cen­trated mainly on the is­land of Trom­soya, linked by bridges to the main­land, the ‘cap­i­tal of the Arc­tic’ is sur­rounded by wildlife-rich fjords and jagged moun­tain ranges. Well­po­si­tioned be­neath the aurora belt, it at­tracts thou­sands of tourists ev­ery year, with prim­i­tive mit­tens in­creas­ingly be­ing sub­sti­tuted by high-tech NorthFace gloves.

Thanks to di­rect flight con­nec­tions with the UK, it’s eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, and within a mat­ter of hours, vis­i­tors can be glimps­ing the aurora in wild wood­land set­tings, or com­mand­ing a pack of huskies through moon­lit, snow-steeped val­leys.

I meet our guide, Alexan­der, a film-maker from the Nether­lands who makes ends meet by lead­ing North­ern Lights tours dur­ing the win­ter sea­son. As we drive into the wilder­ness, city lights fade be­hind us and steel street lamps are re­placed by bolt up­right pine trees, lined up like sol­diers on pa­rade.

Head­ing to­wards the Swedish bor­der, we drive an hour and a half south­east of Tromsø to Camp Tamok, a Sami-run ac­tiv­ity cen­tre where peo­ple can en­joy tra­di­tional Lap­pish hos­pi­tal­ity.

When I ar­rive, our hosts, Rua and his wife Caran, are us­ing metal shov­els to clear snow from the en­trance to their lavvu (a typ­i­cal Sami tipi once used as a mo­bile dwelling). Overnight, almost two me­tres of snow has fallen, cre­at­ing the kind of pris­tine white land­scape ev­ery child dreams of wak­ing up to on Christ­mas Day.

Long, thin ici­cles hang like dag­gers from the door­ways of wooden cab­ins, look­ing de­cep­tively sharper than the blade made from rein­deer horn, which swings ca­su­ally from Rua’s waist.

He proudly claims he car­ries the blade with him at all times, although he does ad­mit to leav­ing it at home if col­lect­ing guests from the air­port, after once be­ing slapped with a hefty fine.

Seven years ago, Rua gave up his job in a plas­tics fac­tory to pur­sue a Sami life­style herd­ing rein­deer and sup­ple­ment­ing his in­come through tourism. “I used to come home from the fac­tory and fall asleep in front of the TV ev­ery day,” he tells me. “But now I have more en­ergy to play with the chil­dren. I’ll never go back.”

In prepa­ra­tion for a sleigh ride around the camp, Rua gath­ers his herd of rein­deer by en­tic­ing them with bun­dles of soft, spongy lichens. We sit on wooden sleds while Caran har­nesses the an­i­mals and pulls them through the thick snow with the ease of tug­ging a toy train. An ir­re­sistibly blank can­vas lies ahead of us, with lit­tle dis­tinc­tion be­tween land and sky.

The en­joy­ably slow am­ble is gen­tle prepa­ra­tion for a moon­lit husky ride we have planned later that evening.

Sixty-three Alaskan dogs live in the ken­nels at Camp Tamok, all with ex­ces­sive en­ergy to ex­pend. As I lean over their pen, two pup­pies bark fran­ti­cally, try­ing their best to chew my woollen hat.

In com­pe­ti­tions, the dogs can reach up to 30mph, but I’m re­lieved to learn they go at half that pace when tourists are mush­ing. Guided only by starlight, we race through the for­est, weav­ing be­tween tree trunks like a slalom skier. A par­tic­u­larly feisty fe­male leads my charge, bit­ing the ear of a neigh­bour­ing male in an at­tempt to make him run faster.

Even in ur­ban ar­eas, nat­u­ral plea­sures are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, as I re­alise on a morn­ing hike above Tromsø. I take the Fjell­heisen cable car to Storsteinen Moun­tain, where blind­ing rays of sun­shine bounce from the di­a­mond-stud­ded land­scape and not a sin­gle cloud is trou­bling the blue sky.

Imag­in­ing where a path might be, I climb up­wards, sink­ing to my knees in fresh snow.

Mak­ing the most of good weather, the whole city is out­doors – from fam­i­lies car­ry­ing Ther­mos flasks, to cou­ples cross-coun­try ski­ing and awestruck tourists won­der­ing if this re­ally is how Nor­we­gians get to spend ev­ery Sun­day af­ter­noon.

Re­gard­less of age and na­tion­al­ity, ev­ery­one seems to be­long here. I don’t need to study their gloves or mit­tens to dis­cern that – the smiles on their faces tell me enough.

Sarah hik­ing in the hills above Lyn­gs­fjord Ad­ven­ture Camp Tamoc in Norway

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.