Norway // Trondheim to the Lofoten islands //

Staying in a rorbu or sjøhus

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All across Lofoten, rorbuer (fishermen’s shacks) are rented out to tourists for both overnight stays and longer periods. The name rorbu is derived from ror, “to row” and bu, literally “dwelling” – and some older islanders still ask “Will you row this winter?”, meaning “Will you go fishing this winter?” Rorbuer date back to the twelfth century, when King Øystein ordered the first of them to be built round the Lofoten coastline to provide shelter for visiting fishermen who had previously been obliged to sleep under their upturned boats. Traditionally, rorbuer were built on the shore, often on poles sticking out of the sea, and usually coloured with a red paint based on cod-liver oil. They consisted of two sections, a sleeping and eating room and a smaller storage area.

At the peak of the fisheries in the 1930s, some 30,000 men were accommodated in rorbuer, but during the 1960s fishing boats became more comfortable and since then many fishermen have preferred to sleep aboard. Most of the original rorbuer disappeared years ago, and, although a few have survived, visitors today are much more likely to stay in a modern version, mostly prefabricated units churned out by the dozen with the tourist trade in mind. At their best, they are comfortable and cosy seashore cabins, sometimes a well-planned conversion of an original rorbu with bunk beds and wood-fired stoves; at their worst, they are little better than prefabricated hutches in the middle of nowhere. Most have space for between four and six guests and the charge for a hut averages around 1000kr per night – though some can cost as little as 600kr, while others rise to around 2500kr. Similar rates are charged for the islands’ sjøhus (literally sea-houses), originally the large quayside halls where the catch was processed and the workers slept. Most of the original sjøhus have been cleverly converted into attractive apartments with self-catering facilities, a few into dormitory-style accommodation – and again, as with the rorbuer, the quality varies enormously. A full list of rorbuer and sjøhus is given in the Lofoten Info-Guide, a free pamphlet that you can pick up at any local tourist office and on
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lofoten.info.

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