Trip to the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia during the Covid-19 Pandemic – Part 7 – The Stunning Island of Senja

The previous blog covers the journey along the northern border of Finland to Karosjohka where the Sami people have their parliament and  then onto the island of Kvaloya where there is Hammerfest, the world’s most northern city. From Kvaloya, the blog continues with the journey southwards to Finnsnes which is the gateway to the Gisund Bridge which leads to the island of Senja.

The Gisund Bridge taken from the mainland, with the island of Senja at the other side of the Sound.

Senja is Norway’s second largest island outside of the Svalbard archipelago with a landscape that varies greatly from east to west, hence the island is often called a ‘Norway in miniature’. In summary it has a rugged stunning mountainous western coast that faces the Atlantic Ocean. The western and northern coastline contains numerous narrow fjords and sheltered bays that contain colourful fishing villages, with 700-800m high rocky-mountains with sharp ridges rising from the ocean. The central part of Senja is mountainous with forest at lower levels; whilst the mainland facing eastern coast has lush green meadows and valleys interlaced with small lakes.

Norway in its entirety is wondrously beautiful, but for Duncan and Liz there were two places that especially stood out. Senja being one, whilst the other was the Nordkinn peninsula detailed in part 5 of this blog series.

Day 48: 23 August 2020 – The morning journey from Lyngen Fjord to Finnsnes was covered under the previous blog.

Crossing the Gisund Bridge, we arrived at the village Silsand on the island of Senja, which is now considered a suburb of Finnsnes.

Turned right onto the Fv861 almost immediately after crossing onto the island, since we had  decided to take an anticlockwise direction trip around Senja. This road heads northwards tracking the eastern coast of Senja. This eastern coastline has numerous small villages segregated with a mix of forest and agricultural land; with detached properties dotted near the road in a manner that it is rare that you unable to see a dwelling.

Parked up for the day at a car parking place just before the junction between Mefjordbotn (Fv862) and Fjordgard (Fv7884). Clouds were starting to form so Duncan decided to make the best of the dry weather and take to the mountains with Freya in order to take some photographs, whilst Liz did a much lower level walk with Storm.

Duncan and Freya headed up Barden. This involves a climb up a saddle (circa 240m altitude) between Barden (659m) to the north-west and Grytetippen (885m) to the north-east. The footpath up is marked but in places extremely wet with water up to the ankles. The views from this col were breath-taking.

Øyfjorden, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Øyfjorden taken from Col between Barden (659m) and Grytetippen (885m), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Northern Inuit, Barden (659m), Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Freya (Northern Inuit), Grytetippen (885m) and Keipen (936m), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Barden (659m) in cloud with Mefjord (left) and Oyfjord (right), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Ascending Barden (659m) in cloud with Mefjorden (left) and Oyfjorden (right), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Barden (659m), Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Barden (659m) in the distance on the Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Northern Inuit on Barden (659m), Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Freya (Northern Inuit) on Barden (659m) overlooking Mefjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Mefjorden (left) and Øyfjorden (right) from Barden (659m), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Mefjorden (left) and Øyfjorden (right) from Barden (659m), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Footpath in red to Barden and Grytetippen from entrance to Ornfjord tunnel
Ascent of Barden, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Keipan (660m) when ascending Barden (659m), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
View south of Barden (659m), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Barden (659m) with Mefjorden (left) and Øyfjorden (right), Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Descending Barden the view of the col with the Ornfjordtunnelen exit below, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Øyfjorden, Isle of Senja, Finnmark County, Norway
Øyfjorden, Isle of Senja, Finnmark County, Norway

The walk up Barden not only provided excellent views but the increasing cloud added a dimension to the photographs. The cloud thickened so on the descent visibility reduced to circa 30m and heavy rain started before Duncan and Freya could return to the motorhome.

The map below shows the route taken on day 48 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 48 Route on Senja

Day 49: 24 August 2020 – Today was a day of a lot less travel, where we explored Oyfjorden i.e. the eastward (right) fjord seen in yesterday’s photographs taken from Barden. Unfortunately, it was damp with low cloud otherwise it would have presented a fantastic photographic opportunity.

Oyfjorden and Keipan (660m), Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Oyfjorden and Keipan (660m) taken from across the fjord at Fjordgard, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Oyfjord has two fishing villages, Fjordgard and Husoy. Previously there were three other small settlements on the west coast of Oyfjord, but these have been abandoned. These were Tofta, Øyfjordvær and Breivika.

Fjordgård lies beneath steep mountains and lies on the west shore of the fjord Ornfjorden, which is an arm that branches off of the main Øyfjorden. Fjordgard is accessible by road using county road Fv7884 which is 4.2km long and has 3 tunnels on it: Fjordgard pipe tunnel (171m), Fjordgard tunnel (2284m), and the Ornfjord tunnel (870m). In 2001 the village had a published population of 213 people. There is parking and toilets just to the north of the village where the road terminates.

Fjordgardtunnelen, to Fjordgard, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Fjordgardtunnelen, to Fjordgard, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Oyfjorden and Fjordgard village, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Oyfjorden and Fjordgard village, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Fjordgard village, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Husoy is at the east side of Oyfjorden and is concentrated on a small island (with the same name) connected to Senja by a 250m long causeway. Husoy became a settlement in the 1950’s and in 2017 had a population of 285 people and has since started to overspill onto the mainland of Senja.

Husoy, in Oyfjorden taken from across the fjord at Fjordgard, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Husoy is accessible via the 11.7km long Fv7886 and has two tunnels on it: Riven tunnel (935m) and Fjellsenden tunnel (765m). From the county road Fv862 the road rises from sea level to 200m in altitude when it enters Fjellsenden tunnel, after which it rises to 280m before entering the Riven tunnel after which it descends down to Husoy over a distance of a couple of kilometers. This provides a great view looking down onto Husoy.

Island of Husoy, in Oyfjorden, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Island of Husoy, in Oyfjorden, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 49 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 49 Route

Day 50: 25 August 2020 – The day was dry but unfortunately there was a low cloud hiding the mountain tops.

Travelled the southern side of Mefjorden on Fv7868 to the end of the road at Mefjordvaer, which is a fishing village that had 171 inhabitants in 2017.  The village is offered protection from the Atlantic weather by the small mountain Knuten (110m altitude) which is to the northwest under which there is a sheltered harbour.

The total length of Fv7868 is only 5.8km and passes Senjahopen, which is a fishing village with a good natural harbour and had 305 inhabitants in 2017. The majority of the working population work in fishing, fish farming or fish processing and it is one of the most important fishing villages on Senja. There is also a motorhome service point where drinking water can be replenished / waste water and toilet emptied.

We pulled up for a long break between Mefjordvaer and Senjahopen in a hope that the cloud may lift thus providing an opportunity for reasonable photographs, but unfortunately the cloud remained. Whilst waiting we encountered otters and a reasonably small sized raptor which initially, we thought was female Eurasian Kestrel; however, the Merlin Bird Identification App suggested it to be an Immature Female Merlin (Falco Columbarius).

Eurasian Otter, Mefjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Eurasian Otter, Mefjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Knowing from yesterday’s walk-up Barden that the scenery was stunning and the inability to fully see it due to the low cloud was somewhat frustrating for Duncan and Liz as they back tracked down Mefjorden until they picked up the Fv862 which in a southerly direction almost immediately enters the 2.1km long 6m wide Geitskar tunnel (aka Goat Tunnel).  The tunnel takes you through to a small valley circa 1.5km long before reaching the head of Ersfjorden where there is a beautiful beach, free camping facility with picnic tables and campfire sites and a toilet (WC) with outside cold-water shower facility. The village of Ersfjord is a settlement in the innermost part of Ersfjorden and in 2015 had a population of 40 people.

About 2.5 km further along the Fv862 (in an anticlockwise direction) is the Tungeneset viewpoint, which is at the tip of a peninsula between Ersfjorden and Steinfjorden. Here there is parking with a modern toilet (WC), along with a wooden walkway down onto the gently sloping rocks that offer a fantastic view of not only both fjords but also the Atlantic Ocean along with the Okshornan is a mountain range which towers over Ersfjorden.

Okshornan mountain range and Ersfjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Okshornan mountain range and Ersfjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Steinfjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

At the head of Steinsfjorden is Steinfjord, which is a fishing village with a population of 25 people in 2015. From Steinfjord we passed through the 1.3km long Steinfjord tunnel which took us to Bergsfjorden which has the settlement of Skaland on its northern shore. In 2017 Skaland had 198 inhabitants with its main industry being graphite mining and processing.

Leaving Bergsfjorden, county road Fv862 climbs sharply with a couple of hairpin bends on the incline. At the second incline there is a viewpoint over Bergsfjorden. It was from this viewpoint that I captured a photograph of a Female Eurasian Kestrel perched on a power cable.

Female Eurasion Kestrel, Bergsfjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Female Eurasion Kestrel, Bergsfjorden, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Our next and final destination for the day was a small roadside parking place alongside Straumsbotn fjord. To get here we had to go through the 1.9km long Skaland tunnel which climbed from 180m altitude at the entrance to 300m at the exit after which there was a long descent to the fjord.

It was whilst we were parked that we noticed what looked like a wooden stake sticking up from a small distant islet in the middle of the fjord some 400m away. On viewing this with binoculars we found that it was actually a white-tailed eagle. The camera mounted with a 150-600mm ultra-telephoto zoom lens was duly set up on a tripod and over a 35-minute period a series of photographs and video taken. According to Gurumaps Pro App the islet was a distance of circa 400m away!

The picture below also has a hooded crow stood just to the right of the eagle. This gives an indication as to the size of this massive raptor!

White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle with Hooded Crow (to right of the eagle) and Common Tern flying, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
The island in the middle of the fjord is where the White Tailed Eagle was perched, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
View towards the mouth of Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Black Hooded Crow, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 50 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 50 Route

Day 51: 26 August 2020 – Using county road Fv86 we headed west to explore Gryllefjorden and Torskefjorden.

The first stop was at a motorhome service point at Finnsæter, where fresh water could be replenished and both waste water and chemical toilet could be emptied. This service point is next to the Senja Troll Park. Throughout our tour in Norway the facilities for touring motorhomes have been excellent as demonstrated in the photograph below:

Motorhome Service Point at Finnsæter, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

A little further on from Finnsæter the photograph below was taken in a north-northeast direction across Bergfjorden towards Skaland. When zooming in on this image it is possible to identify the church at Skaland plus to its right and ascending the mountain can be seen the graphite mines.

Skaland and Bergsfjorden, Senja Island, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

We continued on county road Fv86 past the holiday village of Hamn which is predominantly constructed on a very small island linked by a bridge.

Hamn and Bergsfjorden, Senja Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Hamn and Bergsfjorden, Senja Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

From Hamn county road Fv86 heads in a southerly direction leaving Bergsfjorden behind and slowly begins to ascend towards Gryllefjorden. Here we parked for lunch just at the entrance of the 850m long Ballesvikskaret tunnel, which was opened in December 2013. Prior to the tunnel being opened the old road climbed up 160m to a col between the mountain peaks of Jesla (548m) and Smatindan (490m). The old road was blocked off to traffic, so we took the opportunity to walk up the road to the Ballesvikskaret col. This disused roadway had suffered numerous rockslides as demonstrated in the photograph below:

During this walk a few photographs were taken including a Eurasian Kestrel in flight.

Jesla (548m) from the summit of the Ballesvikskaret Col, Senja Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Ballesvika, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

At the exit of the Ballesvikskaret tunnel there is a bridge that carries you over Gryllefjorden. If you continue further out of the fjord you arrive at the fishing village of Gryllefjord, that in 2020 had 382 inhabitants, which is a decline from the 1300 people in the 1970’s due to a reduction in fishing. In summer there is a ferry from the village to Andenes on the Island of Andoy in Vesteralen.

Gryllefjorden and Ballesvikskaret tunnel, Senja Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Gryllefjorden and Ballesvikskaret tunnel, Senja Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
Gryllefjorden, Senja Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Gryllefjorden, Senja Island, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

From Gryllefjorden, we ascended via a number of hairpin bends to another col, before descending down to village of Torsken (population 202 people in 2017) and Torskefjorden, which was the end of the road.

We then had to backtrack the way we came and decided to end the day parking at the same place where had started off from in the morning along the shoreline of Straumsbotn fjord.

Whilst walking the dogs along the coastline, we encountered a couple of white-tailed eagles sat on rocks that protruded from the fjord.

White Tailed Eagles, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagles, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway
White Tailed Eagle, Straumsbotn Fjord, Isle of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 51 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 51 Route

Day 52: 27 August 2020 – Awoke to rain so was in no rush to set off. Whilst having breakfast we watched a white-tailed eagle fly down the fjord, then perch itself on a rock on the opposite shore. We could never tire of these incredible raptors!

Today we travelled to Grunnfarnes which is on a peninsula south of Torsken and is accessible via the 35km long Fv7862 which has 3 tunnels on it i.e. Kaperskar (598m long), Silfjordura (1.5km long) and Grundfarnestunnelen (595m long).

The Fv7862 gradually climbs from 30m to an altitude of 367m where it enters the Kaperskar Tunnel. The view when exiting the tunnel is a surprise:

Near Sifjord, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Near Sifjord, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

From the Kaperskar tunnel the road gently descends before dropping steeply through 6 hairpin bends before dropping down to Silford. The view of Sifjorden whilst descending was stunning.

Sifjord, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway - ...behind every picture, there is a story...
Sifjord, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

At the head of Sifjorden, the road splits into two, with the right fork leading to Grunnfarnes and the left fork to Flakstadvåg and Selfjorden – we visited both.  The Grunnfarnes tunnel had no lighting, was full of potholes and was leaking water – by far the worst tunnel we have been through; however, work was ongoing to improve it. On exiting this tunnel we were presented with the view of Grunnfarnes and its associated fjord.

Grunnfarnes, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Grunnfarnes had a population of 76 people in 2015 and like many Norwegian villages has a communal picnic area with a barbecue, with wood also provided for burning. Also at the end of the road was a very large fish drying area for the stockfish.

On our return journey we stopped at the summit of county road Fv7862 (367m) just after the Kaperskar tunnel so that the dogs could be walked. It was somewhat colder than we had previously encountered and this was compounded when it started to rain. At 630m altitude the rain and wind were biting cold!

Summit of county road Fv7862
Motorhome parked at Kaperskar (367m), Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

The map below shows the route taken on day 52 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 52 Route

Day 53: 28 August 2020 – Today we toured some of the southerly parts of the Island of Senja. To access the south, we used county road Fv7856 which is only 6.3km long and is an unsurfaced road.

Fv7856 runs between Svanelvmoen and Øverbotn, Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Fv7856 picked up the much better surfaced Fv8600 which runs along the southern coast.  Here the mountains were less dramatic, it was forested, there were far more dwellings, with the occasional grass field cut into the forest.

The south coast off the Fv8600 Island of Senja, Troms og Finnmark, Norway

Since the scenery was less dramatic than we had seen, it was decided to return back to the mainland.

The map below shows the route taken on day 53 and illustrates where the photographs have been taken:

Day 53 Route

Senja has been a truly fantastic experience with a vast contrast between the wild and rugged west to the more populated east and forested south. Indeed, both Duncan and Liz fell in love with the western coast which was extremely quiet, provided fantastic views and had an abundance of raptors.  

Senja certainly lives up to title ‘Norway in Miniature’ and for a traveller on a limited timeframe, we would recommend the island since it does give a taste of many other parts of Norway and with a rugged western coast from a photographer’s perspective can certainly match if not exceed the opportunity given in the Lofotens. There were also many walks and unlike much of Norway, there was parking generally available at the start of these walks.

Although dry it was a shame that the visibility was not better from a photographic perspective. It is certainly a place that Duncan and Liz would love to re-visit sometime in the future and spend considerably more time exploring.

The next blog will detail the trip southwards taking Duncan and Liz out of the Arctic Circle. Places visited within this blog include Narvik, Tranoy, Rognan and the blood road.

Further blogs will follow covering the journey back south down through Norway using as many central / easterly roads as possible including the UNESECO world heritage mining town of Roros and the Rondane National Park. After which the journey back to the UK through Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

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