Røst, on the extreme edge of Lofoten, is home to a million seabirds—and a few humans

Away from it all

Røst

Photo: David Nikel
Above: You are never far from the water on Røst, an area best explored on foot or by bicycle.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

You wouldn’t expect anyone to live on less than 4 square miles of land located more than 60 miles away from the Norwegian mainland. Yet 500 people do exactly that year-round, and that number swells to around 2,000 during the late winter fishing season.

The reason the islands are home to such a thriving community dates back to 1431. Italian traders who became stranded after a shipwreck were eventually found by local fishermen. One thing led to another, and fish began to be exported to Italy. The legacy is clear to see with a festival and a bar/restaurant both named after Pietro Querini, the Venetian captain. When I was eating breakfast, an Italian businessman was deep in conversation with some locals at the very next table, so it seems the trade is very much still alive.

Ever since moving to Norway seven years ago, this tiny archipelago has been on my bucket list, but I needed a reason to go there. Agreeing with my editor that it should be included in the second edition of Moon Norway was that reason!

Getting to Røst is half the fun, whichever of the two methods you choose. Norway’s domestic airline Widerøe flies one of its tiny Dash propeller planes to and from Røst by way of Bodø on the mainland and Leknes on Lofoten. The airport is so small you can walk into “downtown” Røst in just 15 minutes. The other alternative is to take the daily ferry from Bodø. This is the only option if you have a car, and it is cheaper, although it takes significantly longer than flying. But that’s more than enough about how to get there. Let’s look at why you should go.

Røst

Photo: David Nikel
The old stone church can no longer seat any of the islands’ population, having been demolished once the new wooden one was built.

If the thought of relaxing on an island away from the stresses of everyday life isn’t enough, then how about the remarkable nature and wildlife? Even though the population of Atlantic puffins has been in decline, the number of puffins and other seabirds remain incredibly high. To see the puffins and some of the other rare birdlife, you’ll need to take a sightseeing tour out to the bird cliffs to the southwest of the main island.

If you don’t want to shell out for the trip, a walk around the nature reserve is a good second best. If you’re lucky, you’ll see—or more likely hear, since their call is truly distinctive—eider ducks, another rare species to call the islands their home.

The nature reserve covers most of the west of Røstlandet, the main island. Although the area is extremely flat, the ground is boggy, and some of the trails are accessible only at low tide.

There’s plenty to see by sticking to the roads, too. Walking is absolutely possible, but cycling is popular and bikes can be rented from the Røst Bryggehotell. There aren’t many cars on the island, so cycling is safe and easy.

Røst

Photo: David Nikel
The new church can seat half the islands’ population.

The most striking building is the white wooden church that stands on the main north-south road where it meets the road to the airport. Striking because it can hold more than half the population of Røst! Princess Elisabeth of the Netherlands donated the triptych (three-panel painting) in the current church. Some 500 years ago, she met a storm on her voyage to Copenhagen where she was to marry. She felt divine intervention helped her to survive, and thus, she donated triptychs to five churches along the coast of Norway as a token of gratitude.

The islanders have had several churches over the years, and the ruins of another are well worth the short hike from the roadside. It’s a rare example of a rural stone church, built to better withstand storms from the open ocean. Despite it lying in ruins today, it did indeed survive the storms. Once the new wooden church was built, this one was demolished by royal decree.

But what you’ll remember most from walking around Røst are the wooden fish racks. As in Lofoten, they are used to dry the fish caught in the late winter and early spring in the chilly ocean air. In the summer, the empty racks around every corner are a constant reminder of what makes these islands tick. One of the hiking trails through the nature reserve even passes underneath some of the racks!

Sooner or later you’ll start to see beyond the simple architecture of the residential homes and spot a few things that make life here, well, livable. Relatively large municipal offices, a health center, a school, a smart new indoor sports arena, outdoor sports pitches, a couple of galleries, a supermarket open six days a week, and a few bars and restaurants were among the places I noted.

I even saw a couple places for sale and after a quick check on Finn, Norway’s marketplace for pretty much everything, I was shocked to see how cheap they were. Even the biggest, a three-bedroom detached property in good condition, was under a million kroner. That’s only a splash over $100,000. There are obviously challenges to living in such a place, but I absolutely see the attraction.

Røst isn’t somewhere I’d recommend seeing on your first visit to Norway, but if you’re traveling through Lofoten, it’s worth considering as an overnight stop, especially if you’re interested in bird-watching or simply disconnecting and enjoying the quiet life.

 
David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.

This article originally appeared in the September 7, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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