Dronningruta in Øksnes

In Norwegian by Anne Margrete Torseter

The hiking trail was waymarked with red letter Ts by the Trekking Association in 1992. Stø is both the starting and ending point and forms a circular path along the mountain range. You can also follow a T-marked side path departing from the main trail and down to Nyksund.

Stø is an active fishing village on the northern tip of Langøya, Norway’s third largest island, and belongs to Øksnes municipality in Vesterålen.

The main route is 15 km, and 6 hours is usually estimated from start to finish on guided tours led by the Trekking Association. This includes food breaks and other small ones just to take in the impressive views. Due to its location on the northern end of the Langøya island, you can enjoy the view of the sea throughout almost the whole length of the path, even from the mountains. Down in the valley, the sunlight is reflected in the freshwater lakes.

The usual starting point is at the end of the road in Stø, where you will find a parking area and an information board about Dronningruta. From there you walk for an hour along the sea in a mostly flat terrain. Along the way you will pass an idyllic sandy beach, the evidence of a longhouse from the Viking Age, an impressive pebble beach, and a great lean-to shelter/”gapahuk” (built by volunteers in 2012). In the final part of the first section of the trail, 20 meters of planks were laid out on the path in 2007, as the ever-increasing number of hikers had made the trail extra muddy.


Photo: Halvard Kr. Toften

Photo: Halvard Kr. Toften

Just before the path leads you up to the mountains, you walk along a distinctive moraine, with the sea below to the right and a fishing lake to the left. This is the mouth of the valley Langvaddalen, where a few private cabins are located. The stream exiting the lake is easy to cross by stepping on the rocks. It is worth noting that there is no more running water to find after this point.

From the bottom of the valley and up to the mountain pass, the trail has been placed diagonally through the only stretch of forest. When you reach the mountain pass, the trail splits into two. From here, the mentioned side path goes down to Nyksunddalen. A couple of years ago, the Trekking Association waymarked a new path from the pass and down the valley. The great number of hikers throughout years had led to substantial erosion of the landscape where the old one was located. This side path leads onto the main road towards Nyksund and can also be used as a starting point for Dronningruta. There you can find an information board about the hiking trail, and a small parking area. To walk from the pass and down to the car road takes about half an hour.

For the hiker who prefers to continue along the main path from the pass, follow the red Ts up the mountain side until you reach a wide moorland; Sløykmarkheia (also called Nyksundheia). The section of the path between the pass and the moorland is the steepest of the whole trail, and you might want to use your arms to support yourself in the climb. At this point you will have a view down to two valleys. The amount of people using the trail has made it gradually erode into the terrain and created a greater height difference than originally was the case. Halfway to the top, the trail joins in on an old sheep track with views down on the Langvaddalen valley. Here the slope is quite steep, so the Trekking Association have fitted a rope on a section of the path where some hikers have felt unsafe.

After Sløykmarkheia you will reach Finngamheia. Both are easy hills to cross. The highest point of Dronningruta is on top of Finngamheia at 448 meters above sea level. In other words, you will not be very high above the sea, but it seems higher due to the wide view in many directions and of the never-ending sea.

When starting the descent from Finngamheia you will cross a low pass where you will get a view of the Langvaddalen valley, before continuing along the slope of Sørkulen (517 m.a.s.l.). It is also possible to take a detour over the top of Sørkulen instead of following the waymarked path over the slope. After passing Sørkulen, you will be turning north and follow the mountain range while facing the sea and Stø. To the right you can see Gavlfjorden towards Andøya, and down in other valleys and fishing lakes. The rolling mountain range, consisting of Kjølen, Kjølheia og Gjuraheia, leads you in the direction of Stø. The old path used daily by workers at the radar station on Valaksla (built in 1961), is the last descent of Dronningruta. The watchmen originally used the path all year around. Back then they had help of a handrail made out of chains. Today, there is an asphalted road and tunnel (completed in 1993) through the mountain and leading to the now automated station. You reach the car road in Stø about 200 meters before its end, and where you started walking earlier in the day.

Pars of the waymarked trail follows an old walking and transportation route between Stø and Nyksund. Until 1939, the children in Nyksund had to go all the way to boarding school in Stø for tuition. They were among the regular users of the trail.

Higher up in the mountains, the path sometimes follows sheep tracks. However, the hiker should pay attention to whether it is waymarked with red Ts. One will encounter many sheep tracks that are not part of our trail.

Her Majesty Queen Sonja completed the hiking trail for the first time in 1994, and the people of Øksnes did not hesitate to name it after her; the Queen’s Route – Dronningruta. The name has stuck ever since.

Photo: Halvard Kr. Toften

Photo: Reidar Bertelsen, 2016.

The cultural heritage trail

Av Reidar Bertelsen, professor i arkeologi

By Reidar Bertelsen, Professor of Archeology

Dronningruta is one of the most used hiking trails in Vesterålen. The combination of the section of the route running along the shore from Stø to Nyksund, and the one over the rolling mountains on the way back to Stø, creates a powerful experience of mountains meeting the sea. When the weather is good, one can enjoy the view of the Great Sea and the northern part of Vesterålen. I have yet to meet anyone who is not overwhelmed by the sight. In addition to seeing the wilderness of nature up-close, one gets close contact with the paradoxical lushness caused by the age of the mountains and the erosion occurring during the Ice Age. The power of the sea and of the weather after the ice ages have also left distinct traces. This is enough to produce an abundant and unforgettable experience.

The terrain also offers additional astounding experiences for the observant hiker. Others have been here before us and left their marks. It is especially the northern part of the trail along the shore, from Stø to Vargnesset south of Skipssanden where the landscape is rich in cultural heritage. The area was deserted after the Black Death, giving nature 670 years to remove the traces of any settlement. Consequently, they are not very clear and easy to identify for the untrained eye. Although hundreds of years have passed since the last people lived here, it is surprising how long of a time period these cultural heritage sites cover. The oldest remains of houses may date back as far as to the Older Stone Age, and it is likely to believe that people have been living here until the Middle Age, perhaps for 8-9,000 years.

If you start the trail leaving from Valen near Stø Campervan Park (Stø Bobilcamp), you can catch sight of a small burial mound on a hillock about 70 metres to the left of the trail just after you start walking. The burial mound is slightly damaged, but it seems unpillaged, as is usual with graves from pagan times. However, there is probably nothing of value to be found due to a thousand years of rain and air flowing through. It is difficult to establish whether the burial sites are from the Viking Age or from an earlier Iron Age era. Nonetheless, it still illustrates a distinctive feature of pre-Christian religion in Northern Norway. The deceased has been laid to rest in a location with a good view and the burial site was visible from the sea, before it was overgrown.

300 meters further along the path, you can see a small oval house ruin. It is located about 3x2m below the trail, where the land slopes down to sea level towards the northwest. 150 meters further along you can see a small cluster of three house ruins on the flat about 80 meters west of the trail. Between the first and the latter three house ruins, there is a natural landing place in a gap in the smooth rock slopes leading down to the sea. This feature is called Melkarstøa (roughly translated to “milking landing place”), probably because people from Stø came rowing here to milk their cows on pasture. The landing place is presumably the most important explanation for why the four house ruins can be found so close by. If steered by a skilled fisherman, a slender boat could quickly get out on sea and safely back again. The location of the house ruins gives us a clear indication of what the earliest people who came to this area lived off. Seals, whales, fish and seabirds have been the most important sources of nutrition, and there is hardly any stretch of sea along the Norwegian coast richer than right here. However, at the same time, the area is highly exposed for the harsh climate, leading to the assumption that only a few days during the winter were suitable for using the boat. None of the sites with house ruins have been examined formally, making us guess which time period it dates back to; the Stone Age seems the most likely.

Photo: Reidar Bertelsen, 2016.

Photo: May Britt Helgesen

A bit further along the trail, you reach Skipssandhågen which offers a good reason to stop and take in the views of the Skipssanden beach. On the upper edge of the beautiful sandy beach, you can observe how the sea has gradually taken bites into the landscape. This edge has moved further and further inwards over the years I have wandered here. Additionally, rockfalls and streams of melt water have dug deep wounds into the raised beach. The erosion has shown that there have been settlements along the entire length of the raised beach. Visible spots of charcoal and ash have been found several places, and a great part of the rocks stemming from the rockfalls are firecracked. They were used both to heat water in leather bags and to cook fish or meat in cooking pits. These settlements are not examined or dated by archaeologists, but they are certainly prehistoric. Despite being protected by law, the remains will be completely gone in not too many years. Climate change and sea level rise are the main sinners responsible for this.

Furthest south of the bay, where the trail reaches the pebble beach, lies a group of cultural heritage sites that are far better preserved. If you stop and turn your gaze downhill, you can see a slight hollow in the pebble beach. These are traces of a landing place which has hardly been used in the last 6-700 years. As a result, it is almost filled with stones carried by the sea. On the other side of the trail you can see a depression in the terrain; a boat-house plot. If you walk up to the grassy hilltop above the boat-house ruin, you are on top of a mound consisting of the remnants of a settlement located on the same site for hundreds of years. Beneath the sod lies the remains of houses and waste from humans and animals from at least five hundred years of continuous settlement. Charcoal from the surface of the mound is radiocarbon dated to the mid-1300s, i.e. roughly the time of the Black Death. The Norwegian term “gårdshaug”, directly translated into “farm mound”, is inadequate to describe the mound found here, because it implies the type of settlement was a farm. The occupiers lived to a greater extent off food from the sea, but did also have livestock like cattle, sheep and goats. They might even have had pigs. Historical literature refers to such households as “fiskerbønder” or “fisher-farmers”. However, this is also misleading, since the wife often carried out the farming whilst the husband took on the fishing. “Boplasshaug”, or “settlement mound” in English, is a more suitable term to describe such cultural heritage sites. This mound is small, only about 40 metres across, but it is well preserved. During spring and early summer, it is particularly visible because the vegetation here is lusher and turns green well before the surrounding areas. This is due to the fact that at least the first metre of the top-soil of the mound is rich and nutritious.

Just south of the settlement mound, we can find three oval house ruins. These are probably remnants of turf huts, but we cannot say whether the remnants and the settlement mound date back to the same time. On the hillside above these remnants, lies large blocks of stone transported by rockfalls from the mountain. One of these stone blocks (about 3 metres high) is cleaved in two. It is located about 100 meters south of the settlement mound. Those who lived here hundreds of years ago had little insight into Quaternary science, and this stone block must have appeared as proof of the existence of a creature with enormous powers. Such blocks have often been places of sacrifice for those who wanted to be on good terms with the violent powers of nature. We have no evidence that this stone block was a place of sacrifice, so we can only wonder and imagine that those who lived out here probably had a particular need to be on good terms with the nature.

Photo: Reidar Bertelsen, 2016.

Photo: Reidar Bertelsen, 2016.

When you follow the trail from the settlement mound and onto Vargnesset, you will arrive at the last of the cultural heritage sites I will mention here. At the raised beach, at a distance of about 170 metres from the landing place at the south end of Skipssanden beach, you can see the traces of two long houses, both about 20 metres long and 4-5 metres wide. This was a common house type during the Iron Age in Northern Norway. The houses overlap one another to some extent, which means they cannot have been in use at the same time; the latest must have been built when the first had decayed. This is a good example of the first stages in the developmental process of a settlement mound. A peculiarity is that the newest house is conjoined with a boat-house which is at a right angle down to the shore. There are no clear traces of a landing place, but there must have been one here. Charcoal from the newest of the houses is radiocarbon dated to the Viking Age. Just south of the houses is a burial mound, and there are the remains of a mound on the hilltop north of the houses. Down in the shore south of the houses, there is a spring which provided access to freshwater all year round. This settlement was first described by a Danish archaeologist, Jørgen Slettebo, who worked for Tromsø University Museum in 1955. Many other experts have studied the site in the following years, because it is a good example of a fisher-farmer settlement (“fiskerbondeboplass”) in the Iron Age. A conjoined house and boat-house is nevertheless a rarity.


These cultural heritage sites are easy to overlook if you are do not know what to look for. If you are lucky enough to identify them, they can give an informative insight into the living conditions for people in the distant past. Once you have spotted these traces, the landscape will change from appearing as wild nature to a cultural landscape with evidence of how rich the nature was for those who took on the hardships of catching food from the mighty sea. The technology was simpler than the one we have today, and we can ask ourselves whether we would have coped with a life under such conditions.

The cultural heritage sites are exposed to attrition, both from nature itself and from us who use the areas. Be careful and avoid causing further damage. Vandalism is punishable by the Cultural Heritage Act, but do not let it prevent you from being astonished by the traces of those who have been here before us.

The cultural heritage sites of Skipssanden are important because they give us a deeper insight into a way of life which seems a bit strange to us, even though there is a clear connection to the foundation of the community in Øksnes today. There are also many interesting traces of historical settlements spread across other parts of Dronningruta. We will get back to these another time.

Photo: Halvard Kr. Toften

Photo: Halvard Kr. Toften

A changing landscape

In the period between about 16,000 and 6,000 before present (BP), the sea was below the current sea level. At about 10,000 BP (when the first people came here), the shore was over 20 metres lower than today. Consequently, most traces are today covered by the sea. In the period 6,000-3,000 BP, the sea was higher than the current level, up to 5 metres. After this, it has been rather similar to today’s level. However, now the sea rises again.