The bus journey from the Finnish border would take 90-minutes and flew past despite the frequent stops, the small settlements acting as brief interruptions from the golden forest and lichen covered rock.
We soon found our hotel and then took to the Baltic coastline. Luleå in Norbotten County is a key export centre for Swedish iron ore that makes its its way to the port from the mining regions of Gällivare and Kiruna. More of them later.
Despite the resident ice breakers, the sea does become impenetrable due to ice for several months of the year. This led to the building of the Ofoten train line to the ice-free port of Narvik in Norway. More of that later too.
Luleå in October did not have a lot in the way of excitement, though we did enjoy a burger and beer at the Bishop’s Arms in town. Talking of burgers, the local chain has a very memorable name.
A short bus ride out of town stands the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gammelstad, Sweden’s best preserved church town (kyrkstad).
Kyrkstads were once common in Lutheran Sweden. Dominated by an imposing church (named Nederluleå Church in this example), they acted as pilgrim sites, with all housing owned by the Church and rented out to pilgrims, many of whom may have walked hundreds of kilometres to get there, for the duration of their short stay only.
The once modest wooden dwellings are now privately owned and much more comfortable than they had been in the 15th to 17th Centuries when they and the church were built. Now benefiting from running water and central heating for a start.
Journey to Gällivare
Our next destination would take us away from the coast north to the iron ore mining town of Gällivare. This was the start of one of our trip highlights following the length of the Iron Ore Line, or so we thought.
We boarded our morning train full of anticipation. Our train would go the full length to Narvik, a journey of eight-hours and 473 km, with our leg scheduled for three-hours.
The line is dominated by the 8,600-tonne ore freight trains operated by Malmtrafik, but despite hanging out at the station for an hour, we did not view one thundering through.
We soon found ourselves in Boden, where we waited and waited. Then came the dreaded announcement, “the line ahead is blocked, please leave the train for a replacement bus which will arrive in 30-minutes at the front of the station.”
So its not just in the UK that this happens! We reluctantly peeled ourselves away from our comfortable seats and followed the line of chuntering passengers.
At least we got to see the front as well as the rail side of the rather Asian looking station building.
I will continue with part three shortly. Please subscribe below to ensure that you do not miss my account of the rest of the trip.