The constant daylight in Sommarøy may mean a few sleepless nights, but this scenic village in Arctic Norway offers a wonderful lightness of being
I stood alone on the mountain and pinched myself hard, then put my sunglasses back on. The view was billboard stuff – almost too broad and glossy to be true.
Around me lay a blanket of green Arctic hills and mirror-calm fjords. The sun blazed above the water. Wild flowers nodded drowsily in the breeze and, far below, a tiny trawler eased into the bay, haloed by sea birds. This was quite something. It was Norway, it was beautiful and – the real clincher – it was half-past midnight.
I don’t generally climb mountains at night, but then I don’t generally find myself at 70-730 degrees; north in midsummer. I had come to Sommarøy, a small fishing village deep in the Arctic Circle, and so had the sun. It had been in the sky for at least a fortnight before I’d arrived and would be hanging around for some considerable time after I’d left.
The height of midnight sun season in Arctic Norway is a time of year when darkness, or even duskiness, is an alien concept. To call it disorientating would be an understatement. Ever popped to the loo at 3am and had to stagger along a corridor blinded by daylight? It’s one of those moments that stick with you.
Just 450 people live in Sommarøy. Their livelihoods centre on herring and pleasure-trippers. The name means ‘summer island’, and it’s charmingly apt.
When I’d stepped off the near-empty bus from Tromsø, the only major town within a ten-hour radius, it had been early evening. The hills and mountains were green and swathed in light. Low, neat houses sat quietly below sunny slopes and gulls cawed across a baby-blue sky. There had been no other sign of life.
But it was the air itself that had really struck me. The light and colours were impossibly fresh and vivid. It was as though they’d passed through some sort of celestial filter. To breathe in and gaze around was to be a long way from the UK. By 11pm that first evening I’d wandered up the mountain above the village, butterflies around my feet and beer in my backpack. By midnight I’d realised I never really wanted to come down again.
“You get used to it after a while,” said Kjell-Ove the next morning. “We develop thicker eyelids,” he added, with a wink. He’d had more sleep than me. My brain still thought it was yesterday. Kjell-Ove had lived in Sommarøy all his life and currently doubled as the hotel owner and fire chief.
As if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, he was also hiring me a boat. Now I’m no sailor, but it turns out there aren’t many instructions involved with small fishing craft. If you pull this, you’ll go faster. If you turn this, you’ll head over there. Simple. I puttered off into the Arctic morning, excited.
It took only a few minutes to reach open water, where the hills and beaches tapered out into the Norwegian Sea. If I’d carried on in a straight line – and had a spare fortnight – it was next stop Greenland.
The day was calm, the swell was placid and the freedom was intoxicating. The top of Europe felt gloriously isolated. I spent the day skirting the coastline, whooping at the views and sailing in big circles for the hell of it.
Two or three times a flock of puffins bobbed by, their beaks bright; further out there were sea eagles, swooping broad and brown over craggy islands. I sailed into a wide fjord and turned off the engine, relishing the cool air and silent landscape over a surprisingly expensive apple. It all made me feel very small, but in a good way.
In the evening I sat in a hot tub watching the sun playing on the sea, then scampered out to plunge into a far-too-cold lake. Locals say it’s good for the constitution. I took their word for it and felt wildly alive.
As the ‘night’ wore on I found simple heaven in a halibut dinner (food miles: around 75 metres) and went out walking again. Being in touch with nature can so often sound like some hippy platitude, but there’s something genuinely stirring about being surrounded by so much light and calm and letting it all seep in. It’s said that peace and reflection are the keys to contentment. If there’s truth in that, passage to Sommarøy should be prescribed on the NHS.