Walking in the Arctic: My Trip in a Nutshell
By Adriane Berg
When you think of the Arctic Circle you may not imagine an ideal place to walk. But, it can be in the summer and even more fascinating in the winter (especially with a husky at your side.)
Our trip (my husband and I) took over one month. This description is much compressed and features only the walks. What it proves is that walking can be part of any journey. Whether a dedicated trek or intermittent day walks, the rewards are infinite.
My walking journey started a world away from the Arctic Circle in the Cotswold area of England. Starting in Chipping Camden, I could take short stints on the famous Cotswold Way. Romantic towns like Stowe on the Wold, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Broadway, and Merton on the Marsh, reward you with pastoral scenes, local fetes and manor houses.
Foottrails, an English walking tour group has many Cotswold walking tours to suit everyone's tastes and preferences. For a non-commercial site check out the National Trails website which I used for independent walking..
Next, I continued on to Harrogate, England by car, where I attended the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. Harrogate is a perfect center for walks throughout Yorkshire. Footpaths and public walk ways bring you to the historic sites and iconic villages.
It’s amazing how much a two mile walk from Harrogate to the great English gardens of Harlow Carr can pack in. You will encounter flocks of sheep, broad meadows and woodlands, with fairy doors sprinkled among the path’s foliage by school children for their friends to find in delight.
Once you get to the gardens there are miles of flower filled trails. I met a little girl with her parents along the route. She was dressed as a fairy. I said, “I have heard there are fairies; but, this is the first time I actually saw one.” And I meant it.
If you are a fan of the Midsomer Murder series on the BBC, you will enjoy the walk to several of the TVs recognizable sites on the Midsomer Route. It is all well chronicled in free walking maps of the areas. For example, the town of Hensley on Thames has a wonderful walking tour of the "Causton" area. Also see the suggestions from Explore Midsomer, which provides a driving tour with links to many walking routes.
Whether you drive or walk in Midsomer, stop for tea in a church. The local ladies are top notch at Victoria Sponge baking. Victoria Sponge is white layer cake with a history. Try it yourself with this NY Times recipe, then bow down to the church ladies. There is nothing like sipping real English tea laid on a hand-knitted doily, while looking out the window at a thatched roof or at pictures of the Victor and his wife.
From Midsomer we drove to the Port of Tilbury, England. We were ready to board the Marco Polo, the ship that would transport us to the Arctic. We stopped first at the neoliths of the Orkney Islands, the most Northerly part of Scotland; to me more impressive than Stonehenge. The hikers get the thrill of walking back in time to take a peek into the real lives of the world’s first farmers.
The WalkHighlands website has some great walks of these fascinating islands. The Orkney Islands Council has a good website for walking on the islands, as well. My husband Stu loved these islands, and walked for miles for the first time. I suspect he strongly identified with Stone Age Man. Although he claims his identification was with the Viking explorers who left messages in the Runic language on cave walls.
Once leaving the Orkneys we sailed to Norway to start in Trondheim, a cosmopolitan city with top urban amenities. Yet, only a twenty-five-minute tram ride away from center city you find the Bymarka, a lake with wooded walking trails, hikes and wild life of the near North. For a quick start on your Bymarka walking adventure check out the Explore Norway site.
From Trondheim it is still a good 1100 km to Tromso, the start if the Arctic. From what the Norwegians call the “Paris of Norway,” take a cable car to the hiking venue above the city. I met up with long distance walkers camping and hiking in the area. NerdNomads is a good place to get trail information.
A day later by sea we arrive in at Honinsvag for a stop at the North Capp, the most northerly place in Europe and well within the Arctic Circle. Here you see the markers for the International Walking trails, which were carved out of the Arctic in only 2013. For a full array of Northern Norway walks, look at the NorthNorge site.
Walking in the Arctic is other worldly. Yes, it is as sparse in habitation as you may imagine. And EVERYONE is a walker. The terrain is rocky or flat tundra with miles of flat grass. The sea surrounds you and as you get ever higher the sky explodes with rainbows. In summer it stays light until midnight and later, so your walks are multiplied.
The air is cool; but, temperate. You can climb to more frigid heights; but, in winter you need special gear. On a different trip in Lapland, I learned the importance of the husky, not only to pull a sled through the tundra; but, as a walking companion. In this trip, many walkers attached a husky to their belt as they walked together with the dog as a guide.
Our Arctic Adventure ends in Russia, with Murmansk its most northerly city and Archangel. To walk anywhere in Russia you first need a visa to visit the country. I strongly suggest you use an adventure guide. Because of the short time and the immense number of sights to see, we sadly did not hit the trails. We were surrounded by the history of WW11, the Cold War and a perspective truly from the other side of the world, and the other side of history. If you have any interest in the Arctic Convoys, collaboration between the Russia, England, Norway and the US that was seminal in saving us all from the Nazi rule, you need to go. For my husband and me, both of Russian ancestry, we felt right at home in a very foreign land.