Haukland Beach is deserted, there’s not a cloud in the sky, no wind, and it’s a pleasant 17C, allowing us to walk around in T-shirts. Our kids have gone further and are down to their swimming trunks, in a stream that runs down to an ocean that’s warm enough to paddle in. We’re enjoying the classic family beach holiday, with a single twist — this is not the Caribbean, not even Cornwall, but Norway’s Lofoten Islands.
The islands are positioned off the far northwest coast of Norway, and for us the trip represents the completion of a circle. My wife brought me here before we had kids and we were both struck by the extraordinary landscapes of this archipelago. When it comes to physical beauty, I’d place the Lofoten Islands in my top three destinations in the world. Travelling around this island chain involves traversing bridges that arch like a cat’s back, and driving or walking through narrow, thrilling tunnels that emerge by the edge of vast fjords or below classically geometric mountains.
We’d arrived that morning, sailing into port on MS Polarlys, the Hurtigruten coastal steamer that chugs its way up and down the crenulated Norwegian coastline, all the way to Russia. We’d waited for the ship in the sunshine at the quayside in the town of Bodø; its arrival heralded by two ear-shattering blasts of its funnel. A four-hour hop had followed across what are often playful waters to the Lofoten Islands. But today, it was 24C on the paved quayside and all very surreal: in between gawping at the approaching wall of jagged peaks that make up Lofoten, I’d made sure the kids weren’t drowning in an open-air hot tub at the stern of the boat.
On our visit to Haukland in 1999, we’d come across a beach volleyball net on these same sands. It, or its descendent, is still standing and we punch a football back and forward across it. I walk around the peninsula with our daughter, Hannah, to the hidden village of Utakleiv. It takes a couple of hours, and we follow a ledge just above the sea that hugs the base of the mountain. We pick up sea urchins tossed over the rocks by the Arctic Ocean. We’re overlooked by another aesthetically pleasing mountain, which rises in a straight line at an angle of 50 degrees. Its ridgeline, over 1,300ft above the sea, is little wider than a gymnast’s beam.
I decide we should take a short cut across a field to reach the beach where my two sons are still playing in the stream. An electric fence runs along its side. In the UK, you usually need to tap an electric fence three times before it activates its low-voltage deterrent. I discover that in Norway just two nudges are required. We take the longer, circuitous route to the beach, sticking to the path. I learn something about my daughter too: at the age of nine, she’s still young enough, just, to laugh with me, rather than at me.