Letter from Europe

North Cape (Norway)

Issue no. 2006/28

Summary

The experience of driving through the world's longest road tunnel is one to remember. At over 24 km long (more than 15 miles), the Lærdalstunnelen linking Aurland and Lærdal in western Norway is more than twice as long as the Mont Blanc Tunnel that dives under the Alps to provide a road link between France and Italy.

Dear fellow travellers

The experience of driving through the world's longest road tunnel is one to remember. At over 24 km long (more than 15 miles), the Lærdalstunnelen linking Aurland and Lærdal in western Norway is more than twice as long as the Mont Blanc Tunnel that dives under the Alps to provide a road link between France and Italy. The Norwegian tunnel is a remarkable piece of engineering, to be sure, but also an experiment in human psychology. When the notion of a direct road link drilled under Hornsnipa mountain was first mooted, there were sceptics who argued that driver fatigue and disorientation would take its toll in such a long tunnel. So in the realisation of this grand project, the designers have taken great care to provide visual interest for motorists. The entrance is little different from many other tunnel portals. But venture on for some engaging use of lighting as giant cavernous chambers at six kilometre intervals each simulate an arrival back in daylight. False dawns perhaps, but welcome interludes in a twenty minute drive that turns out to be as interesting as any in Europe. And all for the price of a couple of litres of petrol, for the Lærdalstunnelen is happily toll free.

North Cape (Norway)

The Lærdalstunnelen provides a reliable all-weather route from Bergen to Oslo. Much further north in Norway, way up on the country's north coast, the North Cape Tunnel (Nordkapptunnelen) serves a very different purpose. So besieged was the little island of Magerøya by tourists intent on visiting North Cape that the authorities decided it would be best to link the island to the mainland by an undersea tunnel. Quite why so many visitors flock to North Cape is a continuing source of wonderment to hidden europe, because the rocky headland at the northern tip of Magerøya can lay claim to no geographical records whatsoever - except plausibly the highest density of tacky and overpriced souvenir shops to be found anywhere within the Arctic Circle. But thousands visit each year, dutifully paying lip service to North Cape's claim to be the most northerly point in Europe. It isn't a cheap excursion to drive through the Nordkapptunnelen to reach the unexceptional bit of coast that calls itself North Cape. The tolls stack up - for a car with two adults - to over 65 EUR return. Have all these visitors never heard of Spitsbergen (Svalbard) or not noticed that Kinnarodden Point on Cape Nordkinn is actually the most northerly point in mainland Europe?

What we learn perhaps from all this is that as travellers we are sometimes keen to take the soft option. North Cape can easily be reached by car, so it suits many visitors to defer to the collective delusion that North Cape holds some sort of record. In Britain, Land's End and John O'Groats are widely cited as the southernmost and northernmost points on the British mainland. A cursory glance at any decent map will reveal that both are impostors. The true record holders on the British mainland are Lizard Point and Dunnet Head respectively. But that doesn't deter the crowds from heading for Land's End and John O'Groats. They are points which can be 'packaged' as extremities, places where candy floss and overpriced fudge can be retailed to a travelling public that dearly loves to claim a record or two - notwithstanding some strong cartographic evidence to the contrary.

If you found this issue of hidden europe e-news if interest, then you might enjoy our article 'cardinal points' published in hidden europe 2 (May 2005).

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

Related note

The Italia expedition

The Italia left its Milan base in mid April, under the command of Umberto Nobile. Destination: the North Pole. In late May, the pioneer aviators reached their goal. But luck was not on their side. Returning south towards Spitsbergen, the Italia was damaged in a storm and plunged onto the pack ice.

Related article

Svalbard links

For travellers with their ice axes and crampons at the ready, Svalbard (Spitsbergen) is about to come a whole lot closer, with a Norwegian budget airlines offering flights in 2008 to the Arctic archipelago.