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Lofoten’s winter heart

Lofoten, a mighty barrier of peaks that shoulder the brunt of the Arctic weather while dominating the rich and impossibly deep Vestfjorden to their south. For centuries the interconnected islands of Lofoten have hosted the annual skrei fisheries, which to this day account for a significant percentage of Norway’s economy. Melissa Davies gives us a glimpse of life on these islands.

industrial heart
Every winter the Lofoten withdraws back into its industrial heart
Entire villages are populated by AirBnB rentals while mountain tops are being closed off due to overcrowding. The Lofoten are being overwhelmed yet their unique geography and thrilling adventure opportunities continue to seduce. Islanders have little choice but to get on board. 
Trails cut into the mountains by Nepalese Sherpas are buried making most hiking routes impassable but for a hardy few, the iron grey slopes provide a vantage point from which to understand the fragmented layout of land here
With a new year and the imminent arrival of the sun, boats flock to the ancient fisheries just behind the migrating shoals of skrei
Tourists are deterred by darkness, Arctic winds and unpredictable ferry schedules
Heavy snow and frozen bays are unusual on these islands where the gulf stream traditionally kept winters mild. Migrating cod, known as skrei, are coming later and in smaller numbers making the fishing season more challenging and more uncomfortable.
While roads connect all but the most distant of the Lofoten islands, travel by land is arduous and seaways remain essential to the economy, as in much of Norway
dried fish
Spring weather will determine the flavour and quality of the dried fish (Tørrfisk). By June these hjell will be the skeletal backdrop to a thousand holiday snaps but for now, only the smell is overwhelming. 
Tørrfisk is classified into 20 categories according to quality. The person who categorises the dried fish is called a Vraker.
highest quality fish
The highest quality fish goes to Italy where demand continues to cement the historic relationship between islanders and ancestors of the Italian sailors they rescued over 500 years ago
How many seasons must pass for the sublime to become the mundane? Most fishermen come alone now, on their own boats, to villages that used to swell every spring. Their children attended school here for those months until they were old enough to cut cod tongues.
On reaching Flakstadøya and Moskenesøya, the most westerly of the Lofoten islands, great fins of rock rear out the fjord. It’s here that the most isolated villages echo painfully with the absence of former skrei fleets.
Withdrawal: Lofoten’s winter heart