Saturday 11th June 2016
I’ve mentioned the history of the Bishop’s Arms pubs in my article on their pub in Gävle, so there’s no need to go over it again. This Kiruna pub is very notable as it is the most northerly in their estate, being 145 km (90 miles) above the Arctic Circle. I arrived in this extremely remote town, population 18,000, at about 14.00 by train. Saturday is a good day to visit as the pub is open at 12.00.
Kiruna is quite an unusual town in many respects, not least is the fact that it won’t remain in its present form for much longer, see below. It owes its whole present existence to the iron ore mining business which dominates the town, both in employment and physically. The town’s name is derived from the language of the Sami people, a race that can prove their habitation of this region for almost 6,000 years. Some are still in the area and pursue their traditional nomadic life herding reindeer, groups of which were seen from the train.
The modern town was established in 1900 following the commencement of the exploitation of the iron ore deposits in the area.
Mining was already taking place at Malmberget near Gällivare to the south of Kiruna. It was exported eastwards along the Malmbanen railway, opened in March 1888, to the port of Luleå on the Baltic Sea coast. However, this was fraught as the port is icebound from December to May.
The railway was extended northwards from Gällivare to Kiruna in October 1899. The final piece of the railway jigsaw was put in place in November 1902 when it was extended from Kiruna north-westwards to the Norwegian port of Narvik whose Atlantic Ocean waters are warmed by the Gulf Stream and as a consequence are ice-free throughout the year.
A monumental change is afoot as the government-owned EKAB mining company want to excavate ore from under the town centre and over the next ten years they will move it three kilometres to the east. The process has already started as the railway from the south now loops around the mine workings and enters a new passenger station from the north which is two kilometres from the old one. Whether the railway will eventually run to the new town centre has yet to be decided, yet it should be part of the deal.
I was in Kiruna with Patrick and the following day we made the train journey to Narvik for a few Norwegian beers. It took just under three hours each way and the descent from the Swedish border down to the port, alongside a fjord was spectacular, see photo above right. There was still snow by the track side and there were some spectacular horseshoe curves negotiated.
We were on the overnight train from Stockholm and en route we passed the only other passenger train, a daytime Inter-City from Narvik to Luleå.
However, there were plenty of ore trains passed on the way. These consist of 68 hopper wagons of ore and the train weight is 8,500 tons, these are Western Europe’s heaviest trains. Two massive electric locomotives each of 7,200 hp haul them.
Near the Norwegian border we reached the most northerly point of Western Europe’s railway system.
However it is not the most northern line in Europe (and the world). This honour (?) falls on the station of the town of Nikel in Russia and believe me, you really don’t want to visit it. It is twinned with Armageddon.
It’s also a mining town yet far grimmer than Kiruna and I’ve been there. It’s not so far from Kiruna and is just 7 km from Norway. The pollution from the Nickel mine is horrendous, see photographs. Left is a train in the station and in the background is the mine’s processing plant. Right is a photograph from the same spot on the platform looking out to what is left of the old town. There’s now a new town further away from the plant.
Unbelievable there is a railway that goes even further north to Pechenga, the nuclear submarine base where the “Kursk” sank, well off bounds for travellers like us. Sorry about this digression but I’ll never get another chance to show these photographs which were also taken in the month of June. Back in Kiruna we checked into our hotel, noting that it had a bar with some interesting small brewery’s bottled beers.
Then it was over to the Bishop’s Arms around the corner. This branch is a little unusual as it has a hotel above, part of the Elite chain but named the Bishop’s Arms Hotel. The two-storied building is quite modern but once inside we were in “Olde England” as expected. There are some loose tables and chairs inside the door and this is where we settled, meeting Steve from Dudley. The bar counter is on the right of the room with booths occupying most of the rest of the pub although there is small covered terrace. There is also a library of books and an open fire place.
The keg beer range was more or less the same as that in the Gävle outlet although I noticed that here they sold Krušovice Lager from the Czech Republic and Adnam’s Ghost Ship. There were also a couple of beers from the Gottlands Bryggerei of Visby, Gotland. Sorry about not being as precise as normal but the pub’s bar area was extremely crowded whenever we visited.
Now the vexing problem of the hand pumps. I became suspicious back in Gävle when the four beers served via this method were the following: a) Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Pale Ale; b) Well’s Young’s Double Chocolate Stout; c) Newcastle Brown Ale; and d) Fuller’s Montana Red Rye Ale. So, a) is available in cask and keg, b) c) and d) are only available on draught in kegs.
Here in Kiruna the choice was a) and d) plus Greene King Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA, also only supplied in kegs for draught dispense. I noticed that when my half litre of Montana Red was served the pump handle was held down until the glass was half full and then repeated. So, what’s this all about? I asked how it was pumped and the barman said it was by air pressure.
This is not definitive, but I believe these are keg beers that are extracted by an air pressure pump similar to those used in Scotland and the Euston Tap in London for cask beers. Somehow the CO2 in the keg dissipates giving a loose impression of drinking a real ale.
So, please take no notice of comments you may read on a well-known beer ratings site that state this is cask beer, it is not and cannot be, as most of these beers are not available in that form. I can say it is just slightly preferable to the other, more gassier choices.
So there you are, an English-style pub in Lapland. As there is not much else in Kiruna, apart from a very ugly hole in the ground, should you ever be in the town you will be visiting the Bishop’s Arms.
There is an overnight train from Stockholm to Narvik via Kiruna and vice versa. Also a day train from Luleå to Narvik via the town. There is also a local train to Luleå starting at Kiruna.
There is a regional airport and there is also one in Narvik.
Additionally from Narvik you can catch a bus to Bodø which is served by the excellent daily Hurtigruten ferry service that traverses the entire Norwegian coast down to Bergen. It continues in the summer northwards to the islands of Svalbard (Spitsbergen). This is the home of Polar Bears, Artic Foxes, Lemmings and Walrus. From Bodø you can also catch a train to most other towns and cities in Norway.
The Bishop’s Arms is in the centre of this compact town, you won’t miss it.