HURTIGRUTE PHOTO GALLERY SEVEN
Title photo: Nordenfjeldske's Håkon Jarl leaving Trondheim in June 1975.
This and the next two photo galleries take the form of an imaginary trip on the Hurtigrute and the Svalbard Express in the mid-1970s. Imaginary, since this will be a one-way voyage from Newcastle Tyne Commission Quay to the ice barrier, just beyond 80 degrees north, rather than a return trip. Before we embark, I must make an observation (not an excuse, mind you!) concerning the quality of the photos. In 1974 I had just acquired my first 35 mm camera, a secondhand Yashica, for the (then) princely sum of 24 GBP. This stalwart, 100 % manual machine has served me well for 33 years, although at present the wind-on mechanism appears to be jammed (just as well that I have a miniature digital box of tricks as a back-up, purchased only hours before the failure happened . . .) However, when I bought the Yashica, I did not know that it had chronic problems with the wire linking the shutter trigger with the shutter itself - the wire was either fragile or rusting. It had to be replaced twice, once in 1975 (after my second trip to Norway) and again in 1982. The 1982 repair job was by far the better one - it has lasted for 25 years! Now, not only did that mechanism play up in 1974 and 1975, but it appears that the shutter speed was not what the dials around the lens were telling me it should be, as well. I was constantly under-exposing the film - a mixture of a very grotty 50 ASA product by a company which had a very short life (note the blue horizontal lines at the top of some of the photos), and standard Kodak 25 ASA, which is what most folk used in those days. With transparencies underexposing is not too great a problem if one is throwing them onto a large screen using a pretty powerful projector. Nor, surprisingly, is it a real handicap if one wants to make prints of the slides. Some reproduced quite adequately as black and white illustrations in Coastal Express. The snag comes when scanning. Most slides I took in later years scan quite satisfactorily (perhaps an indication that, after three decades, I was becoming familiar with what the Yashica was, and was not capable of doing). The quality of the Norwegian ones is, to put it modestly, somewhat variable. Those taken in Svalbard scan most disappointingly. The underexposure is evident in the fact that I successfully but unintentionally 'froze' the flapping wings of seagulls with only the minimum of blurring. Quite a feat with 25 ASA film!
Since we have to start somewhere, let us do so at Tyne Commission Quay, Newcastle, in August 1974, as Bergenske's Leda is nudged stern-first into position by tugs. We turned in the river before berthing - this is a view over the afterdeck. TCQ was quite unrecogniable when I last arrived there (from Kristiansand, on a DFDS car ferry) in September 2002; I much prefer the 1974 version.
While Leda offered the fastest service to and from Bergen, the leisurely way to Norway in the mid-1970s was on board Fred. Olsen's deceptively youthful looking Braemar, which sailed from TCQ at 15.30 on Saturdays, called at Kristiansand from 16.00 to 17.30 on Sundays (time for a quick run ashore), and then, as dusk fell, pointed her bows in towards Arendal and weaved her way slowly between Tromøy and the mainland for a couple of hours, before heading out to sea again. It was a lovely way to start (or finish) a holiday, and a magnificent introduction to Norway. Even in those days there were individuals and town councils in Britain who scorned the flying of the Union Flag, and it was wonderful to see its Norwegian counterpart proudly fluttering from flagpoles in almost each and every garden in the villages on Tromøy. Braemar is seen here at Kristiansand in June 1975.
Kristiansand was the home for many years of Saltens Dampskibsselskab's former flagship Salten, renamed Sjøkurs, and practically unchanged in appearance operating as a training ship. Here she is in views from 1974 (note those blue lines!) and 1975.
Braemar arrived in Oslo at 07.00 on Monday mornings. 1975 was her final year, and I am very glad I was able to enjoy two crossings on her. My only regret is that I never managed a wintertime trip, under really rough conditions. Even in summer, with a heavy swell coming into the Skagerak from the North Sea and Atlantic, round the top of Scotland, she was a lively and fast roller when the sea was on her quarter! The Oslo view below is of the attractive local motorship Prinsen.
In 1974 I caught a bus to Oslo Øst station, in plenty of time for the 10.05 daytime train to Bergen. This was another experience - revolving, reclining seats in the spacious ssecond class open saloon carriages. Far superior to anything I had ever travelled on in Britain, and of course spotlessly clean. There was even a flask of water with a stack of paper cups on each end bulkhead of the saloon. Apparently the provision of revolving seats - all adjusted by the train staff to face in the direction of travel prior to the start of each journey - has nothing to do with passengers disliking sitting with their 'backs to the engine' or wanting the best possible view of approaching scenery. According to the Norwegian company which manufactures these seats, it was an NSB design specification aimed to reduce nausea among travellers using the country's sinuous railways.
It was a leisurely journey; a roundabout full-day trip through the rolling farmlands and forests of Buskerud to Hønefoss, then the long, gradual ascent of Hallingdalen - a trifle monotonous in places, until we had passed the ski resort of Geilo and reached the tree-line - and the snow-line, too.
Then, of course, things became much more exciting. As it climbed towards the 1,222-metre summit at Finse, the line started winding in and out of snowsheds and tunnels, and the weather, which had been fine further east, started to look a little menacing, too. The really dramatic scenery began after Finse, on the long, steep descent to Myrdal and Voss. The photo below was taken in June 1975 in Moldadalen - the course of the line on the left above the frozen lake can be seen - not very clearly- in the background. I soon became adept at taking photos between the catenary masts, telegraph poles and rail joints! When I made this journey overnight (both ways) in early March 1986 while researching Coastal Express and Steamers of the Fjords, I recall waking up occasionally to see nothing but white walls either side of the train.
Myrdal, altitude 867 metres, is the junction for the amazing branch line to Flåm, which descends to fjord level in just 20 kilometres, on gradients as steep as 1 in 18. Construction started in 1923, but the line was not opened until 1 August 1940, by which time Norway had been under German occupation for a couple of months. Steam locomotives were used until electrification was completed in November 1944. Total cost of the line was 26.5 million kroner. Almost from the start it was a tourist attraction, and by the mid-1970s the trains were equipped with public address, over which a very competent commentary was given in Norwegian, English and German. Stops were also made so that passengers could take photos - the first one in an avalanche shelter between two tunnels!
The second stop on the descent to Flåm was at a platform on a short viaduct spanning a waterfall.
And the view below, down Aurlandsfjorden (June 1975), is what greeted one in fine weather upon arrival at Flåm.
Very sensibly, the Norwegian Tourist Board encouraged (and I would hope still encourages) visitors to explore the country using public transport rather than organised coach tours. Far more folkelig, and in addition it benefits the local economy. One of the most popular circular tours from Bergen was marketed as 'Norway in a Nutshell', and embraced Sognefjorden and either Flåm or Gudvangen. The latter village lies at the head of Nærøyfjorden, seen below from the deck of one of Fylkesbaatane's car ferries when I was en route 'overland' from Florø to Kristiansand (via Kaupanger and Gudvangen) in July 1975. Note the seagulls (or are they fjordgulls?) over a hundred kilometres inland from the open sea, their wings duly 'frozen' in mid-flap as I once again under-expose the film.
From Gudvangen, up the thirteen hairpins of the Stalheim pass (the local bus operator, Voss-Stalheim-Gudvangen Automobillag, charged an eight-kilometre supplement for traversing this section of road, now by-passed by a base tunnel), and into far gentler scenery in the vicinity of Voss.
From Voss there was a 27.5 km branch line to Granvin, in Hardanger. This line had a relatively short life, being opened on 30 March 1935 and closed around half a century later. Voss station is at an altitude of 57 metres, and from there the line, to all intents and purposes a roadside tramway, climbed at 1 in 25 to a 257-metre summit at Flatlundsmo. When I first travelled on it in 1974, I was a little disappointed by the scenery on this first stretch - and by the fact that we were keeping so close to the main road. What came next more than made up for this! While the road dropped to Granvinvatnet and Granvinfjorden by means of a series of hairpins beneath towering cliffs, the railway went underground and plunged at 1 in 22.5 to fjord level through a chain of long, unlined tunnels. On that first trip, in pouring rain, the train crew very kindly invited me to ride in the cab of the electric railcar on the way back up to Voss. Photography was out of the question - by then the weather was filthy!
The view below was taken at Utne during my Florø to Kristiansand trip in 1975. On that occasion, I travelled from Voss down to Kvanndal by bus to catch the ferry, en route to my overnight stop at Odda, where the youth hostel was a longish way (and a steep climb, too) from the town centre.
On the ferry from Kvanndal to Utne and Kinsarvik in July 1975. It was here that I 'rescued' a 'souvenir' Hardanger Sunnhordlandske dinner plate from under one of the seats on deck. It now has pride of place in our corner cabinet in the lounge . . . and I am sure the catering staff on board the ferry never missed it.
Between Voss and Bergen the railway from Oslo runs at lake and fjord level. This view was taken in June 1975 somwhere between Voss and Evanger. Two fishermen are just visible in the centre foreground. The proprietor of the youth hostel near Voss always asked his departing guests where they were travelling to, and told them which side of the train to sit on to enjoy the best scenery. From Voss to Oslo on the right, from Voss to Bergen on the left.
The sort of electric train commonly found on local services in the 1970s, a three-car Class 67 EMU built by NEBB/Skabo between 1953 and 1955. This photo was taken by Ivor Ireland in June 1972, and the location is probably Voss.
And so at last to Bergen. A 1975 view of one of the old quarters of the city. Definitely a traffic-free zone!
Bergens Sjøfartsmuseum has excellent research facilities, as I discovered during my March 1986 trip (the photo archives were housed in an upper room where the temperature, I am certain, was only just above freezing, but one does not notice the cold when one is investigating a topic one loves). But on my 1974 visit I was more interested in the exhibits. This is a model of Bergenske's Venus, built in 1931 for Bergen to Newcastle services.
In July 1974 I spent one night in Bergen, prior to catching the northbound Hurtigrute the following evening. After the rain which had accompanied me on the final part of my journey from Oslo the previous day, I was pleasantly surprised by what greeted me on the Tuesday morning. At the Bibelskolen hotel I indulged in the first Norwegian breakfast of my life, and even though buffet breakfasts are now the norm in many hotels right across Europe, I still reckon there is little to beat the traditional Norwegian start to the day. The foreign imitations are often a pale shadow of the genuine article. Over the meal I got into conversation with an American couple who had booked on the Hurtigrute, but had left the ship at Ålesund, following a rough crossing of Stadhavet. I looked forward to the following morning with interest - one of the features of the service which had least appealed to me was the publicity given in the tourist brochures that much of the route lies within sheltered waters!
My morning's wanderings took me up the network of footpaths which scale Fløyen, the most modest of the seven mountains that surround Bergen. Before I had ascended very far, I found myself passing bushes bearing the fattest, juiciest bilberries I had seen in my life - what a feast they were, too! Bilberries are one of the very few fruit I enjoy raw, though they are even better baked into a pie with fresh cream . . . and I bet that if one could collect them in sufficient quantity (back-breaking work) they would make a delicious home-made wine.
The view below was taken from part-way up Fløyen. In the foreground is Vågen, with the training ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl prominent halfway along the south side. Kristofer Lehmkuhl was Bergenske's director between 1908 and 1935, and was responsible for transforming the company from a mainly coastal operator into a major player on the European scene - and further afield as well. The Nattrute motorship Sandnes can be seen opposite on the north side, while Bergenske's Leda is at the innermost end of Skoltegrunnskaien. The large island of Askøy stands clear on the far side of Byfjorden, with the shower clouds brewing out over the North Sea (something would have been wrong if the rain had not come . . .). On the far left is Puddefjorden, with Laksevåg, Bergen's shipbuilding suburb, just visible beyond.
A closer view of Statsraad Lehmkuhl.
Looking from the south side of Vågen across to Skoltegrunnskaien, where Leda is berthed, awaiting an afternoon departure to Newcastle. One of the Fylkesbaatane cargo motorships - Hornelen, Gula or Alden - is just visible on the far left. Contrast these views of an almost empty Vågen with the postcards from the early 1900s in the Nattrute article or my Steamers of the Fjords website . . . I had come half a century too late!
A close-up look at the lovely Leda, in her final year with Bergenske. Lovely to behold she might have been, but on board she was definitely showing her years far more than Braemar was, and she was begging a facelift. I travelled second class in an eight-berth cabin (fully occupied) with two washbasins and the battery of loos and showers somewhere down the corridor. Inside, Leda was cavernous rather than cosy, and her darkly panelled first class lounges were somewhat gloomy rather than elegant. Braemar definitely had the edge there - and she was one-class, to boot. But Leda was fast, and she was an excellent sea-boat. It was her turbines, and their fuel consumption, which brought about her end, soon after Yom Kippur and the startling events of the winter of 1973/4, when we were all made aware of the fact that oil is a finite resource (how short our memories were . . .) The next time I saw her, in June 1975, she was serving as a hostel for oil rig workers at Stavanger.
In 1974 the Hurtigrute fleet consisted of thirteen motorships, built between 1949 and 1964, and if anything, this was the post-war 'golden era' for the service, even though by the mid-1970s the vessels built in Italy and Denmark between 1949 and 1952 were definitely starting to show their age. One of my favourites, because she looks just like a Hurtigrute motorship should look like, is Nordenfjeldske's Håkon Jarl, seen here over at Festningskaien in June 1972, the photo taken by Ivor Ireland.
A hot summer afternoon in Bergen in August 1974. Not a cloud in sight! I took this photo of Nordenfjeldske's Harald Jarl and Bergenske's Midnatsol from the deck of Leda, which was awaiting departure for Newcastle. Earlier in the afternoon I had been up on Fløyen again, this time using the funicular, and to be quite honest after nearly three weeks in Norway I was in two minds over whether to return to England. I very nearly missed the boat on purpose! I still had thirteen more years to endure in dear, mundane old Blighty before we took that never to be regretted step and moved to 'green' Spain.
Another excellent photograph by Ivor Ireland, this time of Stavangerske's magnificent Kong Olav of 1964.
Dawn arrival at Bergen on board Nordenfjeldske's Harald Jarl returning from Svalbard in August 1974. As was said in the Hurtigrute brochures of the 1970s, the holiday was over, but the memories were just beginning. Those memories have remained with me ever since - one of the reasons which prompted me to develop this part of the Coastal Express website.
Back to June 1972, and here is Bergenske's Midnatsol of 1949 arriving at Bergen. The photo was taken by Ivor Ireland.
A 23.00 departure from Bergen on the Tuesday, on board Bergenske's Polarlys. It was just getting dark. To my surprise we swung to port into the southwestern arm of Byfjorden, then up the west side of Askøy. I am not sure how well I slept that night. My cabin, a two-berth second class one, was located on the shelter deck, aft. The noise and vibration from the huge single screw was quite impressive. The living quarters were decidedly cramped, even compared with what I was used to on CalMac ferries in the Western Isles, or on the P&O (formerly North of Scotland Steamship Company) vessels which served Orkney and Shetland. Certainly no room to swing a kitten, never mind a cat. But cabins are places for sleeping in. One spends the day on deck, and in Norway in summer the days are long, though they might by chilly at times. I must have been in the arms of Morpheus when we called at Florø. This next photo was taken there in July 1975, when I left Finnmarken after a voyage south from Hammerfest.
Åndalsnes has never been a Hurtigrute port, though nowadays in summer the ships manage a side-trip to Geiranger. In my novel The Long Coast I made this town, served by rail by a very scenic branch from Dombås since 1924, the northern terminus of Det Vestlandske Dampskibsselskab's domestic coastal service from Stavanger, operated first by the small Ålfotbre, and later by the magnificent Svartdalsbre, built in 1927 in the hope that the company might be elected as a candidate to operate on the Hurtigrute.
In the mid-1970s one met some unlikely ships in unlikely places. Shaw Savill Line's Southern Cross of 1955 was spending her twilight years cruising under the name of Calypso, and was at Åndalsnes in late June 1975. A latter-day 'floating hotel', and not at all folkelig.
Certainly not into her twilight years was this graceful Russian liner (don't ask me what her name was - in any case it was displayed in Cyrillic) which was crossing Hudstadvika, southbound, while we were en route from Molde to Kristiansund on the Wednesday evening. As you can see, I did not get my wish for lively weather, although there was a reasonable swell running on Stadhavet earlier in the day!
The approach to Kristiansund.
Kristiansund is situated on islands, with a road bridge link to the mainland. This high viaduct starts off on a left-hand curve, and climbs very steeply to provide sufficient headroom for shipping. It was one bridge on which I definitely suffered the effects of vertigo. This is the view southwestwards from part-way up, at sunset. Presumably the panorama from the top was even more inpressive. I did not bother to find out.