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Amateur Dramatics Under the Midnight Sun

Harry Cox // Photography by Deborah Panes

The first day was a step into the unknown as our map coverage began about 20 miles into the start of our route. A superficial study of Google Earth revealed that we would need to walk upstream from the mouth of a river, a mile or so from where we disembarked from the overnight train from Oslo, until we reached a large lake. This would signify that we had ‘reached the map’.
The best plans are often the most simple; so too are the most foolhardy. From its inception in the gloomy corner of a south London pub, the plan to make a coast-to-coast crossing of Northern Scandinavia on foot appeared practically flawless. Over the coming weeks this certainty was reinforced as maps were sourced and analysed with a heady optimism. This was fuelled in equal measure by the prospect of an escape from the clutches of our respective working routines, and by the beers which accompanied our evening ‘planning meetings’. Cursory calculations on Google Earth informed us that success would depend on us being able to cover roughly 20 miles a day for 13 days. We would have to take as direct a line as possible and the absence of any paths was embraced as an indicator that this was a genuine ‘expedition’.

The prospect of completing said mileage appeared all the more achievable given that the sun would not set for the duration of our time, and this would enable us to put in some ‘long shifts’ if required. Bolstered by this, and the rather bizarre logic which suggested that if Eddie Izzard could run 43 marathons in 51 days, we should have no trouble with 20 miles per day for 13 days, we boarded a plane to Oslo, quietly confident of success. Standing with my back to the northern Norwegian coast, gazing at the heavily-forested slopes rising to snow specked ridges, I felt my confidence drop a notch. Of course I made no mention of this to my three companions and we set off making remarks about the significance of our undertaking – of course these would have proved particularly tedious for anyone unfortunate enough to overhear them.

The first day was a step into the unknown as our map coverage began about 20 miles into the start of our route. A superficial study of Google Earth revealed that we would need to walk upstream from the mouth of a river, a mile or so from where we disembarked from the overnight train from Oslo, until we reached a large lake. This would signify that we had ‘reached the map’. What was less clear on the screen was the fact that the river entered a steep-sided gorge, after just a few miles, and within which it seemed likely that we would become trapped. Consequently the decision was taken to cut our losses and make our way out of the valley before it was too late. This involved a particularly steep ascent of around 800m, mostly through thick vegetation and under a blazingly hot sun. To encumber the task further, we were weighed down by a week’s worth of provisions mainly consisting of disturbingly dense, and by this stage sweaty, malt loaf.

ScandinaviaScandinaviaScandinaviaCamping in the Scandinavia wilderness
Given the nature of our employment, fitness levels had been a matter of considerable concern and in an effort to remedy the situation we had taken to playing some five-a-side football once a week. This had resulted in a spate of semi-serious injuries which threatened to curtail our plan before it had even got off the ground. The decision was therefore taken to focus on arriving at the start point in one piece and great emphasis was placed on a spirit of gritty amateurish determination which we hoped would act as a worthy replacement. By the evening of the first day it was clear that this spirit was under threat and we made camp resigned to the fact that we would ‘reach the map’ the following day.

The remainder of the week involved long marches across a swathe of wilderness criss-crossed with the tracks of Elk, who we were lucky to see from time to time. The landscape seemed more akin to the tundra of Northern Alaska than Europe, and we circled vast lakes, forded numerous rivers and crossed from Norway into Sweden in the process. We also swam, as often as was practical, in ice cold water in an attempt to escape the burning sun which seemed forever directly overhead; we were later told by several local Swedes that the weather we experienced during our trip was freakishly hot. We encountered only a handful of hardy solitary fishermen, in various states of undress, seemingly oblivious to the mosquitoes which hunted us at every turn. We had been warned about the dangers of the Scandinavian midge, but little could have prepared us for their numbers and persistency. Larger than their Scottish counterpart they were capable of delivering a vast number of bites in a short space of time and these required great strength of mind to ignore. In the evenings, we would light fires and huddle in the smoke in an attempt to deter our diminutive tormentors. This approach proved unsuccessful and the fires were to a large extent pointless, given the sun was still high in the sky, but it satisfied the primitive need to make a fire when camping in the wild and boosted morale. Primeval needs were also satisfied by the whittling of fishing rods from the saplings of the mountain birches which carpeted the steep sides of the valleys. One night a catch of four fish, by the manliest member of our group, made a welcome addition to our less than varied diet of malt loaf, nuts and oats.

It became clear early on that we were unlikely to reach our first resupply point which we had hoped to reach after 8 days in the wilderness. A combination of pride and stubbornness meant that this fact was left unspoken for at least a day after it had become clear, but eventually the decision was taken to veer south to a road we had earmarked as our ‘emergency evacuation option’. As it was our food ran out the day we reached the road, and our unsuccessful attempts to hitch-hike meant we were forced to trudge along the tarmac for a few more miles until we reached a petrol station. This experience resulted in less than favourable characteristics being assigned to the entire Swedish population – a viewpoint which took some time to rectify. Once at the filling station we were relieved to discover the existence of a local post/passenger bus. Faced with the complications of re-joining our ‘route’ further on we made our way to the Swedish coast for some much needed rest which chiefly involved sleeping, scratching our bites and an impromptu visit to a heavy metal festival under the midnight sun.
Harry is most at ease with his life in a rucksack in the middle of nowhere.
To date, the pursuit of this scenario has included traverses of the major European mountain ranges on foot, a canoeing expedition through the hinterland of Sierra Leone and a trans-Africa overland drive in an aged Land Rover.

Deborah is a photographer, Dorset born and London based. Her rural upbringing developed in her a love of the outdoors, which in turn has matured into a passion for travel and her work intimately records the nuances of each new adventure. To see what she’s been up to go to