Kirkenes is a long way north. I mean a LONG way north. For those of you in London, it’s WAY beyond the M4. Even the Watford Gap is a comparative nip to the shops.
For those of you have ventured a little further upwards, you may have seen the motorway signs on the M6 for THE NORTH which traditionally stop at Preston. And yet, to the Scots this is still, at best, the Midlands.
Even if I drove from my house in Leicestershire, past Preston and then twice as far again to Aberdeen, I’d only be a quarter of the way to Kirkenes. That’s because Kirkenes is perched on the northern most coast of Norway.
Kirkenes is RIDICULOUSLY far north – 69.72 degrees north – another 17 degree angled slice of the earth’s circle from home. Further north than Morocco is south.
The coast of Norway meanders endlessly north, leaving the Arctic Circle (at 66.67 degrees) a long way behind. Then it wraps its protective arm eastwards around the heads of Sweden and Finland. Finally, it pokes the left shoulder of Russia, as if to say – “don’t come any closer, and keep your hands off my Nordic friends.”
Kirkenes is a town of 3000 people at the very tip of that poking finger, just 5 miles shy of the Russian border and 25 miles east of Finland. Which means bizarrely you can travel west and add an hour to the clock.
Due north of Kirkenes is nothing but thousands of miles of sea until you cross the north pole and continue in a straight line back down south into Alaska.
I love geography. I loved geography at school. I loved it so much I took a degree in geography. I have travelled around the world as much as possible since, to see the geography I had only read about as a student. I work in the Nordics and have been to Oslo many times. But in all of my travelling life, the furthest north I have been is cold, arid and tree-less Reykjavik. Kirkenes is another 400 miles further north.
My wife and I are heading there now – from where we will sail back west and south for 6 days on a cruise ship, playing footsie with the beautiful Norwegian coastline. The travel advice was to pack thermals – woolly socks and woolly underwear. As they say in Norway – the weather is not a problem, it’s just people being “inappropriately dressed”. Woolly socks and underwear are – perhaps surprisingly – classified as “appropriately dressed”
Funnily enough, we came across some nicely presented woolly socks at a southern England National Trust shop last week, whilst we were looking for a “thin lilac scarf” for my mother-in-law. She is not travelling with us, it would be too risky with a thin scarf like that, even if we had found one.
But we had found woolly socks, so we asked the ladies behind the till whether they sold woolly underwear to match. We were out of luck. Apparently there is not much call for woolly underpants in Northamptonshire, not even amongst the country folk and aristocracy.
So we have settled for packing multiple layers of normal clothes. Two pairs of socks, two jumpers, two pairs of undies etc will work just as well – and without the risk of itching.
Right now we are flying due north out of Oslo. It is 7pm and sunny. We climbed aboard in single layer T-shirts. My wife is still too hot and we have both our Scandinavian Airlines ventilation nozzles wide open and aimed at her head. She should enjoy the heat whilst she still can. Hopefully our suitcases full of our extra layers are safely stowed in the hold.
They should be. As we transferred from Oslo international to domestic and scanned our boarding passes, two very grainy pictures of suitcases appeared on a small screen. We were asked us to identify them.
It was pretty hard to tell. It’s easy enough to pick out your own suitcases on the luggage carousel – much more difficult in a one inch blurry thumbnail. Yes, they were square and vaguely the right colour. But that was hardly conclusive.
I said “yes” anyway – wary of the consequences otherwise. The thought of being so far north without all those essential clothing layers – not to mention toothbrushes, contact lenses, dental floss and our emergency chocolate bars, was a risk too far. If it turned out to be a suitcase of mistaken identity – at least we would have someone else’s luggage. And maybe some of those elusive woolly undergarments.
Also, rather strangely, we had to go through security again – even though the only place we could have been since we last went through security was on the plane, oh and through Manchester T1 airside shopping emporium. Okay – well maybe they just can’t be too careful. Let’s blame Brexit. Or Eurovision.
When we land it will still be light – and when we go to bed it will still be light. And when we wake up in the middle of the night, guess what – it will still be light. 24 hours of daylight. That is all due to the 23 degree angle of the earth and being north of the arctic circle. More geography. I love it. Bring on the ice-bergs and polar landscape.
We have just stepped off the plane. As we walk across the tarmac at 69.72 degrees north, It is cool, but it’s doesn’t feel very Arctic. I slip on a thin jumper. When we get on the bus, my wife pulls off her extra later fleece. She is too hot again. The digital thermometer shows IN 22 degrees and OUT 10 degrees. We are grateful we didn’t fall for that woolly undergarments ruse.