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Southern Norway, overground and underwater


The weather was anything but promising. I had arrived, accompanied by Miriam and Angela, at Kristiansand in early afternoon, after a two-hour flight from Stansted with Wideroe airline. From there, we were driven by our guides, Pal and Jonas, through showery rain along the south Norwegian coast to Lista lighthouse, that was to be our base for the next three nights. Our accommodation consisted of one of two comfortable, spacious apartments in what had once been the home of the assistant lighthouse keeper. The early mist of the following morning soon cleared to give the sun full reign, though a cool wind continued to blow.

Lista lighthouse

The rocky coast of this southernmost stretch of Norway was one of the most dangerous during the days of sail. In a single year, 1781, no fewer than eight ships ran aground here. In 1836, the first lighthouse was built at Lista. Two more were added in 1853, making this the largest lighthouse station in the world. Twenty years later, improved technology made the additional buildings redundant and they were demolished. The foundations remain visible, while the granite blocks of one were used in the construction of a sea wall.

Lista lighthouse southern norway

The lighthouse, like most others today, is automatic, while the buildings have been transformed into an information and exhibition centre, a meteorological station, a bird ringing laboratory and a bird observatory. The lighthouse itself is open to the public each day. Its 137-step ascent brings one to a platform below the light, from which one can survey the jagged coastline and enormous hinterland boulder field that was laid down by the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age.

This stretch of coastline, and a collection of inland pools and reedbeds constitute a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. They also make up one of the finest birdwatching sites in Norway, with some 341 species recorded. Indeed, a group of bird ringers, led by Ruben from Spain and Paulina from Mexico had been busy since 4am , catching small birds, mainly willow warblers, in a set of strategically placed mist nets, weighing, sexing, ringing and recording them before releasing them to continue their northerly migrations.

Lindesnes lighthouse

Driving 30 kilometres south-east of Lista, though somewhat farther by road, we reached Norway’s almost southerly tip, a rocky headland crowned by the country’s southernmost lighthouse. Everything here was in complete contrast to Lista. The building, at 16 metres in height, is more squat, but standing on a granite dome 50 metres above the waves, its light reaches 33 kilometres out to sea.

Lindesnes lighthouse, southern Norway

After a lunch of open sandwiches in the visitor centre and museum, we climbed the rocky steps to the lighthouse and a very dramatic view over the countless inlets, islets and craggy promontories that slid precipitously into the sea. On an adjacent hill stood the well-preserved plinth of an earlier, coal-powered lighthouse. A more distant top was crowned by a memorial to the sinking, by the RAF in 1942, of the MS Palatia, with the loss of 900 Russian prisoners of war. During World War II, the strategic peninsula was heavily fortified by the occupying Germans, and the signs remain in the tunnels, trenches and gun emplacements that cut into the granite bedrock.

UNDER

About 15 kilometres north-east of Lindesnes lighthouse, we came to a most incongruous structure, with the appearance of having slid at an angle into the sea. In fact this is what had happened, but deliberately so. The building had been towed into position, filled with water to sink it, then bolted to the sea bed before being drained. Opened in March 2019, UNDER is the only underwater restaurant in Europe and with a floor area of 495 square metres, the largest in the world. We were met by Astri, who led us downstairs to the restaurant, where the chefs were busy preparing the evening’s dinner.

Underwater restaurant, Norwegian coast

“The menu,” she informed us, “is a surprise for the guests, and depends upon what is taken from the sea each day. The vegetables are locally sourced and various seaweeds provide the basis for many of the desserts.” She gave us some sweet-tasting fragments of seaweed to try out. “The restaurant caters for sixty guests, most of whom will want to sit near the glass wall that looks out into the sea. It feels as if you are looking at an aquarium, but in fact it is the opposite. We are enclosed, while the fish swim up to the window to observe us.”

The water was somewhat cloudy, so we could not see as far as the sixty metres that Astri said was often possible. Nevertheless, fish of various sizes swam past, a starfish rested among the weeds and a comb jellyfish mesmerised us, its cilia shimmering like a mini-rainbow.

Kvasfossen Salmon Centre

We now turned inland and drove about thirty kilometres north to a deep gorge of the Lygna river, down which thundered the 20-metre-high Kvas waterfall. In the past, this had limited the distance the salmon could penetrate to possible spawning grounds. In 2014, an artificial salmon ladder, made up of 46 pools rising past the fall over a distance of 220 metres, was completed through a tunnel in the mountain. This allows the salmon to bypass the waterfall and so travel a further 35 kilometres upriver.

From the impressive visitor centre, we descended into the cool tunnel, from the roof of which water dripped, and followed this to a cavern that enclosed what looked like a huge aquarium. In fact it was Pool 14 of the ladder, and an angular construction containing four large windows through which we could watch salmon smoult swimming in the bubbling water. We carried on to the exit, which opened out onto the foot of the waterfall, up which even the strongest salmon would have been unlikely to pass.

Returning to the visitor centre, we walked up the road for a short distance and across a footbridge that rested on an enormous boulder that itself bridged the chasm. From there, we looked directly over the waterfall and the entrance of the salmon ladder. Spray from crashing waters rose around us, yet despite the damp and noise, a grey wagtail hopped, unconcerned, about the rocks at the foot of the cataract.

Useful links
https://www.wideroe.no/en
https://www.visitnorway.com/places-to-go/southern-norway/

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