Whoever sets foot on Røst will only have the mighty ocean on all sides. On the other hand you get around on your feet or bicycle, distances are short and the highest point is 11 metres above sea level.
The geography of Røst
The area of Lofoten and Vesterålen in Northern Norway is partly connected to the mainland. Some parts are archipelagos and at the southernmost, most remote part, we find Røst.
Røst is a municipality consisting of 365 islands, islets and reefs, a number which is hardly coincidental. The size varies widely, from the smallest skerries to the largest island of Røstlandet. It is the latter we will get familiar with in this article. We will have a look at the large and majestic bird cliffs further out in the archipelago in the next article.
This article was first published in Norwegian on “Sandalsand på norsk”.
Aerial view of the approach to Røst. You see the house with the pier?
If you are as lucky as we were flying in from Lofoten in the north in good weather, you will find yourself fascinated by the very the large number of islands – perhaps especially when they appear in low tide as shown on the picture above.
Only a few of the islands are inhabited all year round, and some former permanent houses have been converted into holiday homes. People live on the island of Røstlandet. The nearest islands are connected to the main island through landfills or breakwaters, whereas the others are only reached by boat.
The climate of Røst is distinctly coastal with wind and rain. Temperature is relatively constant throughout the year, and when we were there a few days in July, there was a decent normal temperature of 11-12 degrees C. No one expects more, and the evening we arrived there was no wind, only a beautiful midnight sun. In January the average temperature stays three degrees above zero.
Røst covers 11.2 square kilometres and has a population of approximately 600.
Stockfish on pallets. Røst has huge amounts of them. Year after year. Century after century.
The Lofoten fisheries
The main impression for a visitor moving more than a few centimetres on Røstlandet is all the fish racks around, in thousands. They are used to hang fish up to dry during the cod fishing season from the end of January.
Secondly we find along the quays a number of large industrial halls. These are drying halls where the dried fish is taken in for storage even longer, and slowly empties as the fish is exported. Most of the stockfish from Røst ends on dinner tables in Italy, we were told in one of the halls.
Mile after mile after mile. On Røst, it’s about the racks (“hjell”) for hanging up fish to dry.
Cod fishing with its wide array of fishing boats and fishermen from near and far continues till April / May. Then comes the birds, which have spent the winter in inhospitable waters and now come in to nest on the bird cliffs. They remain here until autumn before nature again settles down, and the people of Røst goes into hibernation. Collecting eggs on the bird cliffs no longer works as a supplement to their earnings, only the fishing community survives. And in recent times, tourism during the summer months.
Scattered around the island we find residential houses of a relatively modest standard, most from the decades after WW2. We found very few older buildings, only a barn or two. Moreover, there seems to be a scarce amount of agriculture, with few livestock and farm buildings around.
A typical house with outbuilding on Røst
Røst offers the old trading post of Brygga from the late 1800’s. The municipality is planning on developing the place with more buildings with time. Currently, Alidastua, a small cottage once belonging to a woman has been included. Read the municipal brochure here: Røst – Handelsstedet Brygga (pdf in Norwegian).
The main house of Brygga belonged to the Kristiansen family and it was the grandest on Røst. The family acquired a considerable property on Røst, they built seasonal houses used by fishermen (“rorbu”), a community centre, besides running a post office and providing a quay for coastal steamers. The founder Jacob became involved in political activity too, and was in 1910 honoured with the King’s Medal of Merit in silver. However, we should note that the Northern Norway system of squires was relatively unknown at Røst, here people for the most part owned their own property.
The main house at the trading post called Brygga
Centrally situated on Røstlandet we find the municipal offices, a health centre, the school, an indoor sports arena and the church. The school seems to have a strong maintenance backlog. The same happened to the church just a few years after its inauguration in 1900.
Fixes and improvements have been ongoing at the church up to the present time. Today, it appears to be both elegant in design and well maintained. Unfortunately we did not get into it to admire its jewel, a triptych from 1520. It is said that the church altar cupboard has stood inside five different churches in Røst, over the centuries. The other churches either burned or were blown away by storms. Legend has it that the cabinet once blew 150 meters away without being damaged.
In front of the church we find a large memorial stone with the inscription: “Lord hear my prayer and let my cry come to you. Memorial to deceased fishermen from Røst. Erected by Røst Fishing Women Association in 1984”. It is said that the island’s cemeteries contain mostly women. The men died fishing and were thus never laid to rest.
Let us take a trip to the cemeteries.
Clocktower at the oldest cemetery, with the newest behind.
The nearest is less than one kilometre from the church and is the oldest of the two we visited. It has a rugged, weathered grey tower standing inside the graveyard. The other is just beyond and is the one currently used. Here we find another spire, of a later date and painted red.
We did not walk around on the graves looking for male names on the tombstones, but it strikes me that it was not only fishing that took the lives of men on Røst. In spring the men would take their boats out to the bird cliffs to pick eggs. They lowered themselves down the steep rock walls, while women and children remained at home. Of course it was risky and double misfortune befell the family who lost its husband and father in this way.
Egg collecting was a dangerous and daring deal. It is said that if somebody died in the seabird colonies it was counted as suicide and therefore they could not be buried in the common cemetery. (Røst municipality guidebook)
Nature trails in Røst
The municipality has made a simple map and descriptions of three nature trails you can follow. Read their brochure here: Røst – Nature Trails (With text also in English.)
The longest (3.5 km) goes to Øran, an area to the west with low altitude, shallow beaches and some stone fences left from the days when they used to hold sheep. Remains from an old church are found here as well. This hike is only to be taken on high tide, not to risk any hours involuntary waiting outside the lagoon.
The second (1.5 km) goes to Ånnhammaren, a landmark and viewpoint (10 m.), with wetland and a rich bird life.
The ruin of the stone church
The shortest is 0.5 km and goes to Old church, an old ruin of a church on the plains not far from the airport. There is an easy path to a very fascinating ruin.
This church was built in stone in 1839 to stand against the storm, but it could not stand up against an almost explosive population growth on Røst in the latter part of the 1800s, so it was replaced already in 1900 by the church that is in use today. There was a sacristy and choir built in 1883, but only the outer walls are left today. Supposedly this is the only one of all Linstow churches (the white-painted 19th century churches found all over Norway) which was built in stone.
The church ruin in itself provides great photo ops, and the location here on the grassy land with the sea a few hundred metres beyond is brilliant.
Accommodation, eating and some more
We stayed our three nights this summer at Røst Bryggehotell and were satisfied with it. The room was great, the food superb and the service friendly. There are more accommodation options. As the photo collection at the bottom shows some people had even hung up their tents on a fish rack.
Imagine: Some actually leave Røst. Well, this group from Switzerland took the ferry.
If you want to eat well, you can do it at Røst Bryggehotell. It is also possible to have a meal at Kulwant, Qverini or Skomværkora. The two last mentioned are the places to go to enjoy an evening drink. Food and other things can be purchased at the Joker supermarket.
A few cultural activities should be mentioned: At the Bryggehotellet we find a gallery with images from Røst taken by photographer Jan Erik Wessel. Drop by the old log house in the summer when the photographer is present. Further to be mentioned is the Querini opera which has been staged several times and the Puffin Festival which has become an annual festival around midsummer.
Of nature experiences there are boat trips further out in the archipelago, one of which is presented in the next article here on Sandalsand.
We thoroughly appreciated our few days in Røst. It was exciting to come here, almost exotic, and people were very pleasant and hospitable. Røst should definitely be on the wish list of anybody who wants to get to know the beautiful country of Norway.
The map below can be zoomed in and out for those who want to know how Røst is, and get a feel of the islands.
To Røst from the outside world one comes with Widerøe airlines from Leknes and Bodø, or by ferry with ports of call at Moskenes – Værøy – Røst and Bodø.
There is one taxi and one private bus on Røstlandet, on call, but no regular public service. Besides that your own feet and cycling are the means of transportation. The locals use cars to and from the store and each other. We rented bicycles at the Bryggehotellet. It proved to be an excellent means of transport for those who will check out all roads on Røstlandet – it can be done in a few hours of relaxed cycling.
The tourist Information on Røst is found in a kiosk where the ferry docks, but we also found that the municipal administration was helpful with brochures. There is little tourist information about Røst available online, very little unfortunately – and just about nothing in English. Brochures from the municipality show signs of being copied up a few times. These have been scanned by Sandalsand and placed as links in this article for the benefit of others. Here are two more: Map with major landmarks and brochure about Røst.
Note that a visit in the 21st century is not the first. The first people on Røst came here in the Bronze Age 3,000 years ago, but the most famous is probably Pietro Querini and his Venetian crew in the 1400s. Read also about our boat trip to the wonderful bird cliffs and about the dramatic bird death that has taken place over the past decades.
Below are more photos. Click on the thumbnails to see them in full size, and then browse through them.