The view was beautiful: blue sea, with glittering patches of drift-ice, and straight ahead the mountains… sharp-pointed peaks with snow on their upper flanks, rather as if the top 4,000 feet of the Alps had been cut off and transplanted in the Arctic Ocean.
– Julian Huxley
It has been a much longer time than anticipated since my last post – partially down to internet connections, and partially because we just have not stopped! Since leaving Oslo, we have driven right around the coast of Norway: south through Kristiansand, round to Stavanger and Bergen, up through the Lofoten Islands and all the way to Nord Kapp!
Norway is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is crazy expensive, but every few minutes you find yourself exclaiming ‘wow, thats beautiful’, so I guess I can just about forgive the price tags.
I think that instead of catching you up on every detail of the last 4 weeks, I shall do my Norway Top 10.
Flekkefjord Bicycle Railway
Starting off with a less well known activity – the bicycle railway. It is literally a bike that has been adapted to fit across an old, disused railway track that you can cycle from one station to the next and back again. The total trip is 34km (17km each way) and takes you through tunnels, over bridges, past waterfalls and through the land. The tunnels are not for the faint hearted (wimps like me): they are dark, not just a little bit, they are totally pitch black in places as there are no lights at all! The money raised from the cycle railway is put towards preserving and improving the hundred year old railway line.
Sverd I Fjell
I love a monument, and who wouldn’t love a massive trio of swords plunging into the rocks next to the North Sea? It is rather dramatic, and I feel a good moody sky would set it off a treat. The monument commemorates the Battle of Hafrsfjord in 872, where Harald Fairhair unified all of Norway under one crown. Although the notion of the battle leading to the unification may be a simplification, as in realty the process is believed to have taken many years, the story has become legend and ultimately led to this pretty bad ass site.
You might not know the name, but you have probably seen the pictures. Preikestolen is one of the most famous places in Norway. The cliff top, also known as Pulpit rock due to its shape, stands 604m above the fjord below. Refreshingly, there are no barriers detracting from what nature has to offer (the Norwegian Government have said that they “cannot fence in all nature in this country”) so it is possible to dangle your legs off the edge if you so desire. Personally, I felt sick just watching other people on the edge.
The hike up doesn’t sound tough – just under 4km in distance and around 400m ascent, classed as easy to medium difficulty – but what they didn’t tell you was that there are points you have to scramble up streams and waterfalls, and that there are some bottle necks that will slow you down. The tourist board recommend 1-3 hours for the hike up, which is reasonable, although if you stop for lots of pictures, to swim in the lake or if you are caught in rain, this time could be a lot longer. But once you are up there, it really is a stunning.
What trip around Norway would be complete without some time in Bergen? Cute, old-world charm, wooden buildings, and a general laid back feel make Bergen a prime spot for many trips. As the ‘Gateway to the Fjords’ Bergen is also in a prime location for anyone wanting to visit the crystal clear waters or take part in water sports activities. Our visit to Bergen was brief, but enjoyable. It is a place that has always been on my ‘to visit’ list, and it didn’t disappoint – although, sadly like many tourist locatons, it did feel a bit to ‘touristy’! I’ve been told that Trondheim has a similar feel, but as it is less popular, has a slightly more authentic feel.
It probably isn’t a surprise to find out that I love history and I love architecture. Urnes is the oldest stave church in Norway, with sections dating back to 1130. The wooden carvings are sublime, and it is possible to see the different build stages within the tiny church. To get to the church, you must first take a ferry across the fjord, and then head up the hill – we did not realise quite how close the church was to the ferry terminal, so took our van with us. With hindsight, we should have left the van and paid for two pedestrians to cross, as this would have been a lot cheaper.
Polarsirkelen (the Arctic Circle)
Crossing into the Arctic Circle is something special. I know that logically it is just a bit more northerly than I was, but I still imagine it to be desolate, uninviting and for there to be a permanent layer of snow on the ground. This is not remotely the case. The trees continued (and they could give New England a run for its Fall colours), the mosses were still green, the temperature was not significantly different to the rest of the country; and yet that moment, knowing you are officially ‘in the north’ is special.
If you drive up the Arctic Highway, there is a large building with the latitude painted on the roof. There are monuments and a field of rock piles, and many people write their names on a rock to join the hundreds of others there before. I guess, I love this moment because even though those people aren’t there, you feel connected through the stones.
Just wow. The islands are beautiful and the landscape is insane; this is my new place of perfection. With cute fishing towns, white sandy beaches, Viking history and hikes galore, this island chain are an ideal destination. Even though they are located within the arctic circle, we still found people surfing in the coves and wild camping throughout. We preferred the southern end of Lofoten as it was generally more old-world.
Lofoten was also the first place we saw the Northern Lights, so that makes it pretty special. It is possible to drive onto and all the way down the islands, or there are several ferry routes (but check times before you go as they drop to only once or twice a day throughout autumn and winter) We caught the ferry at Bodø – which isn’t the most interesting of towns, although the maelstrom just south of the town is the worlds biggest, and is utterly insane (although the pictures do not do it any justice)
Alta Rock Carvings
More history – this time we are talking 6000 year old art. The rock carvings do vary in age from 2000 to 6200 years old, and there are definite stylistic differences as time goes on. There are many images of local wildlife – bears, reindeer, elk, birds fish – and many of humans, boats and also the worlds oldest representation of a fence.
In the 1980’s, it was decided that the carvings should be painted over, partially to make them clearer, but also because it was thought that this would have been the practise when the carvings were originally made. Since that time, it has been established that there is no evidence that the carvings would have been painted – since they are carvings, not paintings to begin with, and since there is no evidence anywhere else on similar to even suggest that paint would have been applied. Consequently, Alta museum are in the process of removing the paint, although this is a long process as the carvings need to be protected as they are cleared.
Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society
Polar bears are cool. Fact. And in Hammerfest, it is possible to join the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society. OK, it isn’t like a Blue Peter badge. I can’t get into places for free, or really do anything with it. But I am now a lifetime member, and am invited to the yearly AGM. Although I probably won’t ever go because it is in January, and I imagine it is rather chilly in Hammerfest in January. But I’m still a member. And polar bears are still cool. Therefore this was totally worthwhile.
Nord Kapp and Knivskjelodden
Nord Kapp: the most northerly point in mainland Europe. Or is it? OK, it’s not, that’s well known. It was originally thought to be, and it is the most northerly point that is accessible by road. Plus it has the museum and the big globe, which does make for some beautiful pictures. We were also lucky enough to see the Northern Lights two nights running whilst staying at Nord Kapp, so it is pretty awesome here. To reach the actual most northerly point, Knivskelodden (you can see it from Nord Kapp!) you have to drive back down the road 3.5miles, then hike 5.5miles, but when you get there you do feel a very nice sense of achievement! Until you remember that it is another 5.5 miles back. Waterproof boots are highly recommended as the ground does get rather boggy in places – especially in the Autumn when we were there.
Have you been to Norway? What would be in your top 10?