by Trevor Boult
Unique to the coastline of Norway a remarkable daily ferry service operates year-round, the coastal express, Hurtigruten. Bergen is proud to be its southern terminus and far beyond the Arctic Circle, around North Cape and close to the Russian border, Kirkenes is its northern counterpart. Between these two extremities, a special family of ships provides the coastal population with a reliable highway of enviable record.
The centenary of the Hurtigruten occurred over twenty years ago. At that time, the elder statesman and symbol of the finest traditions of the service was Polarlys – Polar Light which had travelled the route for over forty years. At any one time half the fleet was northbound, the remainder heading south, a double crescent to link 35 ports with an ever-essential service.
Among the countless islands, fjords and parade of coastal mountains, each day on Polarlys was punctuated by pauses, often at tiny settlements such as Torvik, where 10 minutes was the allotted call, or substantial Trondheim, where the bliss of several hours allowed a breather in the precision of maintaining an exacting schedule. Keeping it, in all seasons, seemed a miraculous feat, a constant challenge to the workload of the two watchkeeping officers on duty at any one time.
At each ‘port’ local people boarded or disembarked, commuters bearing chattels, rucksacks, skis, paint tins, car tyres. Pets took comfort-stops, mail was collected, vehicles and staple products expertly handled from the hold. It was a colourful, ever-changing spectacle of real life, one that has long been sought by discerning travellers on what has also been called ‘the world’s most beautiful voyage.’
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