Norwegians are calling it “wild camping” this summer, to describe cases where tourists park their motor homes or set up tents in places where they can avoid fees and use facilities for free. Campers spotted in graveyards on scenic Lofoten have set off protests from residents and the tourist industry alike.
“It’s downright audacious and utterly lacking in respect,” one Lofoten resident claimed on national TV, after seeing two tents set up conveniently close to the public restroom at a church’s graveyard at Reine, the scenic community at the southwestern edge of the mountainous Lofoten archipelago. “Wild camping has become a big problem.”
Campground owners have earlier complained about the drivers of expensive motor homes who use their facilities but then drive off without paying, to find some place where they can park for free intead of paying a fee that’s the equivalent of around 20 euros. The practice has caught some Norwegian campgrounds by surprise, since camping vans often must pay for septic disposal and other services abroad as well, and a much weaker Norwegian krone has made currency exchange rates the most favourable for foreign tourists in years.
Now Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) is reporting about campers with tents who’ve been found spending the night in local cemeteries. Local resident Tore Holmen said he was visiting the grave of his father in the churchyard at Reine when he came upon two tents set up nearby, inside the graveyard area itself.
“That’s just not acceptable,” he told NRK. “It shouldn’t be necessary to post a ‘no camping’ sign at a churchyard.”
Campers washing amidst graves
Another tent was set up just next to the church itself, prompting protests from local resident Nina Larsen. “I’ve heard from several people that they’ve seen campers use the cemetery’s water faucets (installed for the use of those planting flowers at gravesites) to wash themselves in the morning,” Larsen said. “I live right near the church, and have seen tents set up there many times.”
She also counted no less than 18 tents set up at Munkhaugen, a popular outdoor recreation area in Reine. “I thought to myself, ‘where will all these people wash, deposit their trash or go to the toilet?'” Larsen told NRK. “Wild camping is a problem on Lofoten. People are taking advantage of friluftsloven (the national law that allows public access and camping just about anywhere in Norway).”
There are restrictions, however, including bans on camping too close to a private residence and on camping for consecutive nights. “Many foreign campers perhaps think they can set up a tent anywhere,” Elisabeth Dreyer of the local tourism promotion agency Visit Lofoten told NRK. She can understand that local residents are upset by campers and tourists who lack respect and consideration.
“We of course don’t want to discourage tourism, it’s important for the region,” Dreyer said, “but we can’t come in conflict with the local residents either.” She’s proposing a form of “camping police” for the area, who could guide tourists to acceptable areas where they can spend the night. “We have to do something, because there shouldn’t be a need for folks to camp in churchyards or people’s gardens,” she said.