Norway – Hammerfest, The World’s Northernmost Town

These ledges underfoot are part of an island which reaches off eastward (left) for about ten miles to a channel separating it from the mainland.

The dull, foggy appearance of the place as we see it today is due to a drizzling rain, such as tourists find here too frequently for their comfort. However, here, as at Tromso and Svolvaer, the same warm ocean currents that help cause the frequent rains, also serve to keep the winters mild. This harbor below the hill never freezes. Vessels can go in and out all winter long.

That street alongside the harbor skirts the bay all the way around ; the principal business is naturally transacted there in the neighborhood of the over-fragrant warehouses, full of fish, and even more highly perfumed establishments, where cod-liver oil is boiled down for the export trade. A good many whaling vessels, both Norwegian and foreign, put in here for supplies on their way to farther Arctic waters—around Spitzbergen and elsewhere. That is the Lutheran church whose spire we see over in the south-ern quarter of the town. In Vincent’s Norsk, Lapp and Finn, you can read an account of a Lapp wedding which the author witnessed there (or rather in an earlier church on the same site). The Catholic Church for foreign sailors is out of range. In 1890 two-thirds of Hammerfest were destroyed by fire, the perpetual menace to property in Norway’s timber-built northern towns, where fires and lights must necessarily be in use so large a part of the year. There is, however, plenty of capital and energy here, and the place has been rebuilt in even better shape than before. Between two and three thousand people have permanent homes here, almost everybody being connected in some way with seafaring trades.

This rocky pasture where the goats are industriously nibbling for their living, looks barren after one has seen the fertile valleys of the southern provinces, yet even here grasses and mosses persistently grow on the never-ceasing invitation of the summer sun. Saxifrage and other wild flowers bloom in odd nooks and crannies of the rocks, inaccessible to hungry goats, and, for a few short weeks each year, gay butterflies float airily over this hillside, just as if the icy waste of the Polar Seas were all a myth of the geographers.

Farther and farther still our journey reaches to-wards the polar extremity of Europe. It is peculiarly difficult for a passenger on one of the summer excursion steamers to get the proper amount of sleep, for daylight is continuous, and everybody seems to lose count of the time, so that some people are talking and moving about the boat at all hours of the twenty-four. Besides, there is always something to see, either a picturesque shore-line, a leaping dolphin, a shoal of porpoises at play, or some marvellous color effect in sky and sea. The vessel ploughs on and on through the Arctic waters, until at last that happens which happened to the mediaeval sailor in Long-fellow’s verses:—

“And then up rose before me, Upon the water’s edge, The huge and haggard shape Of that unknown North Cape Whose form is like a wedge,”