And so I ventured forth in Norway and what an adventure it has been. From snow capped rocky peaks to sunlit coastal roads, I have loved many serenely spectacular moments. Norway is a country that has both shocked and awed me - I just wasn’t expecting it to be this good. As I sit here with a small, dark coffee, desperately trying to give a one-use plastic teaspoon additional purpose by taking advantage of the free refills, I look forward to recanting some of the highlights of last week. Be warned – this Norway instalment comes in two parts as I’ve written too much and it was that good!
Without an old school/walking friend who lives Norway I might never have had so much adventure. Many thanks go to David Wade for his recommendations and a Saturday evening drink in Rosendal after I left Oslo. Several of his enlightened reflections on Norway and Norwegian life make it into the prose below – as a result, any point you disagree with must therefore be his ;) (cheers David!)
By taking advantage of David’s company (on a weekend of hiking and glacier-walking himself) I found myself on the west coast of Norway – prime fjord territory. If you ever have the pleasure of going to Norway, it is the west coast that you must visit. And to think I could have missed Norway at it’s best in my eagerness to travel north. The detour to Rosendal pulled me to all the right places. It is here I had my best day while journeying so far.
One word epitomises this great day: Trolltunga – troll’s tongue.
Trolltunga is a precipice peeking precariously high over a mountain lake. I feel only the photo below serves to show its beauty and craziness. To get to this wonderful spot you can either hike an 11km route that’s tough at the beginning and smoother on top of the ridge or take the far more vertical route via ferrata (metal rungs sunk into cliff faces climbed with harness and karabiners). I opted for the pleasurable hard work of the climb plus 16km bike and then hike to the top. So while many of you were prepping for a Monday morning workday, a collection of would-be tongue jumpers and some wonderful guides, Sol and Phillipa (from Trolltungactive) met in eager anticipation of a great day. Each of them deserves a name check for this wonderful excursion - thank you to Andre, Bron & Rik, Matt & Shaz, Leanda & Martin, Winnie, Pablo and Wil for one hell of a memorable day. An even bigger thanks goes to Sol and Phillippa for their expert guiding, jovial banter and general warmth – you guys were awesome :)
The team on top of Trolltunga
The biking along the lake was fast and fun leading us to a reasonable hike up an old riverbed to the bottom of Himmelstigen (the name for this via ferrata climb). The way up was certainly jaw-dropping as you peaked back to look where you’d come from while hanging from some bent metal attached to sheer rock walls. It’s definitely not for everyone; although I believe everyone has the physical capacity to make the climb. On getting to the top, it’s just a little further to hike to the famous jutting rock. Inevitably with a place so popular there was a fair queue to have your moment - it’s well ordered and everyone gets there in the end. The queue is perhaps the worst part as you watch others stumble dangerously close and question whether the rock will snap just as it’s your turn. It won’t – they routinely measure it to check anyway! The picture was certainly worth it and more importantly the fun that was had getting there and back will never be forgotten in my mind with new friends made and smiles shared. The jump into a glacier pool towards the end was wonderful at soothing sore muscles and the beer at the bottom rewarded a great days adventuring.
A few words on Norway generally now – in summary, Norway is very well set up for tourism. There is a wonderful series of roads called the Tourist Routes – 18 in fact. These encompass some of the most beautiful parts of Norway from North to South and I would recommend doing at least one if you visit. I had the pleasure of doing 6 – Hardanger, Aurlandsfjellet, Sognefjellet, Helgelandskysten, Geiranger-Trollstigen and Lofoten.
One of many amazing waterfalls in Norway - this one near Rosendal
Aurlandsfjellet was originally a construction road for the world’s longest tunnel (24.5km) and I would avoid the tunnel for the long route over the top every time. The Norwegians are ace tunnel builders - in fact you could say it’s a national pastime with several tunnels seemingly built just because they could, not because they needed them. Missing the world’s longest tunnel is no great shakes as there are hoards of others and many almost as long to travel. The pass you travel is otherworldly as the land is almost untouched and the curves, bends and sweeps are a delight to drive.
Helgelandskysten is also called the Atlantic road: over 400km of asphalt running up the coast of Norway. It used to be the main route north until a new arterial route was carved into the central country. I’d definitely built this up to be a great road to drive and was slightly disappointed on completing it. I fear it may be best by bicycle, as good stretches didn’t reveal anything better than I’d already seen; all at the cost of 6 ferries and a lot of driving - a car means you just go too fast! Driving anywhere fast in Norway takes a while and is surprising difficult as the maximum speed limit is 90 kph and that’s only for small sections. Needless to say it’s a while well spent.
Helgelandskysten and the islands are scattered with random painted bicycles everywhere
In terms of the other routes: Hardanger was my entrance to the Fjords and set me up so perfectly I couldn’t believe it; Sognefjellet takes you from fjord level to 1,434 metres (can you believe Pico made it and that’s where we camped one evening); Geiranger-Trollstigen was lovely and culminates in a crazy section of twisting roads which unfortunately was shrouded in cloud making the driving very slow indeed; and Lofoten – well that’s deserves its own little section in the next post!
Saying all of this, it often appears to me that everything is set up for the benefit of Norwegians and sometimes it is an unwelcome occurrence that foreigner’s benefit from it. I may be entirely doing a disservice here. Don’t expect lots of carefree smiles (except from my wonderful Trolltunga guides) as the Norwegian people can often appear standoff-ish. What I would say (and this applies to all Scandinavians so far) is that putting the effort in to make them smile is one of the most rewarding activities I’ve been able to do repeatedly. They are also epicly trusting and this is particularly exhibited by the national hut and hiking trail system. This is something that I also had the benefit of experiencing with joy…
Wednesday bought a drive down from the Sognefjellet mountain stay over. I’d seen a Frenchman cycle to the summit of the tourist road the previous day and he appeared wearing a grey singlet and not a drop of sweat on him – I’d been sweating just driving up the route for tens of kilometre. Dropping down to civilisation, I drove past some hitchhikers. Little did I realise that stopping and turning back would elicit a truly exceptional journey and my first experience of a Norwegian hut.
My hitchhikers were Cai and Caleb: two backpackers from Portland, Oregon looking for adventure and hiking their way across Europe. These two beauties were my first ever hitchhikers and what a treat they were. From very similar music tastes to their encyclopaedic podcast knowledge we got along famously. They were just after a lift to Geiranger and we lunched there – after telling them about the tourist roads they were keen to continue on with me to Trollstigen: the infamous twisting troll ladder mountain road. Alas, it was totally clouded up. In fact at points we could only see 10 metres in front. However, just being there still took our breath away and the troll tourism en route delighted us too.
Cai, Caleb and Me
Having reached the end of the road, none of us knew what to do. What we did have was a DNT (Norway’s Trekking Association) map and key. It may sound a bit Biff and Chip but these were excellent things to have.
To explain: in Norway (and other countries) there is an excellent system of trust based hiking huts. You sign-up, get a key for a deposit of 100 NOK (roughly £10) and then hike to a hut. When I say hut, there’s variety – some are fully staffed mansions with food, hostel style, and others are entirely unmanned shacks. You pay a fee for every night you’re there and for whatever you use.
So we went and found a hut!
The tourist map covers hiking trails all over Norway and has all the huts marked. We picked out one called Skorgedalsbu. It was up a track with a toll (weirdest setup ever) and we didn’t know what we would find, which is certainly part of the attraction. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe our luck. An unmanned, fully equipped 6-bedroom lodge with a view and we had it all to ourselves. What followed was an epic food/beer shop, a tasty vegetarian curry and an evening of tunes and chat in the conservatory – a truly special evening. Even better was that it was followed by a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and freshly picked mountain blueberries. We even met a British parented, Norwegian born man named Glen Miller on the way down who smiled heartily and directed us onto Molde. It was sad to part ways but I’ll never forget our special hut evening.
From here it was the up Atlantic road to the North and Polarsirklene (the Arctic Circle). It’s quite easy to declare last week as a driving week. With only one day of no driving, Pico and I had covered over 4000 miles in total and we sat well into the Arctic Circle. This was an objective from the outset and one that has been welcomed with pleasure but without fanfare - I almost missed it as I consumed a thick no-froth cappuccino on one of many ferry journeys we completed!
Just you wait for Norway Part 2 :)
Sunset on the final ferry finishing the Atlantic road
Friday 19th August – Kongsberg, Norway
Saturday 20th August – Rosendal, Norway
Sunday 21st August – Trolltunga (Skjeggedal), Norway
Monday 22nd August – Trolltunga (Skjeggedal), Norway
Tuesday 23rd August – Sognefjellet tourist road mountain peak, Norway
Wednesday 24th August – Skorgedalsbu tourist hut, Norway
Thursday 25th August – Holm, Norway
Friday 26th August – Nesna, Norway