An Arctic Circle rail journey from Norway to Sweden
In January 2018 I undertook my third trip on the Ofoten Line from Narvik, deep inside the Arctic Circle in Norway.
The line runs 43 kilometres from the Narvik to Riksgränsen on the Norway/Sweden border where the line continues through Northern Sweden as the Ore Line via Kiruna and Gällivare to Luleå.
Construction of the Ofoten Line started in 1898 to join with the Ore Line from Riksgränsen to Kiruna. It was completed in 1902, allowing iron ore from mines in Kiruna to be transported to the ice-free Port of Narvik (the relatively shallow Baltic Sea that borders Sweden freezes in Winter, whilst the Arctic Ocean off Norway stays warmer due to the Gulf Stream).
Fully laden, each iron ore train weighs in at an incredible 1,800 tonnes! You can watch one reversing by clicking ORE.
I first learned about the railway line as a schoolboy during geography lessons and so enthralled was I that I vowed to travel the tracks one day in the future.
My first experience of it was in 1989 and then again in 1992, both times continuing on to Luleå. The latest trip was with with Mrs Wilbur with whom I undertook a journey from Narvik to Abisko in Sweden, a trip of 90 minutes each way.
The start of the journey is awesome as you follow Ofotfjord (scene for several naval battles during WWII). The whole fjord is 78 kilometres long and the train traverses its boundary for a fair few of them. The feast for your eyes also includes the shimmering gigantic Frostisen glacier.
You can follow some of the journey by clicking FJORD.
Being January, the whole landscape was a Winter wonderland. We just stared out of the window in awe at the sight. At one stage I stood at the back of the Swedish run train to watch the snowy tracks disappearing behind us. Click SNOW to take a look.
The border between Norway and Sweden was actually inside a tunnel with huge national flags hung side by side inside to mark the exact spot. Crossing into Sweden was great news as this meant the train bistro could open to serve us coffee.
We arrived at the Winter sports & national park resort of Abisko right on time. The small unmanned station contained a single guy polishing his skis and he gave us directions to the tourist hotel (STF ABISKO TURISTSTATION) where we were to stay for the next four hours eating, drinking and reading.
I also spent quite a bit of time outside in the -15 temperatures in the hope of seeing an iron ore train thundering past. I was to be frustrated as annoyingly one did go past whilst I was back in the hotel.
I raced outside to see it, but just about caught the tail end only. Yet another near miss on my travels! Unfortunately the iron ore trains do not run to a timetable as I found out.
At least I had the compensation of spotting two very nice huskies sat in the snow and some views of the frozen lake in the national park.
Shock and horror our return train was 30 minutes late so we paced up and down the snowy platform for a while to pass time, which seemed to run very slowly going by the large station clock.
Eventually our transport did arrive and we returned in darkness to reflect on another beautiful day in Scandinavia.
No sooner had we returned to our snug Airbnb accommodation than my phone rang. It was Kiki, a chap that I had sent an email two days previously to enquire about a Northern Light tour in the mountains above Narvik.
He had been skiing in Italy hence his late response, but said we could go that evening as there was a fair chance of a sighting. It was now 7pm and after a quick chat with Mrs Wilbur we agreed to meet at 10.
Kiki greeted us warmly three hours later and we immediately started the uphill drive towards the local ski run. We drove for ten minutes before coming to a halt just below a steep path. “Have you been snowshoeing before?” we were asked. A slightly puzzling question that we both answered in the emphatic negative before enquiring why he wanted to know.
Unbeknown to me I had of course booked a snowshoeing trek! Oh well, when in Rome! We were soon strapped into our shoes. At least they were modern looking attire unlike the two tennis rackets I had immediately imagined.
We were soon shuffling up the path and thankfully seemed to get the hang of it fairly quickly. Mrs Wilbur did have one tumble, but thankfully all she had was a damp backside for her misadventure!
Round and round we went, across a frozen lake, between trees and frozen waterfalls. Great exercise no doubt, but not a whiff of anything ethereal. The views of Narvik all lit up were fabulous, but with no green swirls to embellish the scene we were to be left generally disappointed.
After a couple of hours we gave up and returned to the car. Kiki drove us higher to his mountain lodge where there was an outside chance of a Aurora sighting. We partook of baked cinnamon cakes and hot blackcurrant drink, but still the green spirit refused to reveal her majesty and we were to left to rue another missed opportunity.
We got to bed at one, needing to be up again around 7 to catch the bus for our last big journey of the trip – five hours to Tromsø. Again the scenery en-route was most spectacular. Read and view it by clicking Tromsø.
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