Norway – “It’s nice here mate” – Part 1

A nice early train to Manchester Airport. I preferred to snooze rather than start the ball rolling on my book. The last Hemingway I read had nearly consumed the whole holiday. Norwegian is a fantastic airline. The seats are more spacious, the boarding relaxed and I got my first glace at the Norwegian populace. They look noticeably healthier than the last fuselage sample I took – a Ryan Air flight to Barcelona.

A really short flight saw us coming into land in Stavanger airport. The fertile, green fields went right into the sea. The farms and tracks looked quite English, but the whole area was rather small and surrounded menacingly by a serrated curtain of mountains. As the plane banked it revealed that these mountains were not a dividing range but the beginning of the rest of Norway – the white, snow topped rock continued to protrude in gradually fainter rows as far as the eye could see.

The airport was spacious, featured large chess sets in the waiting area and free shoe shine machines. We were quickly on a bus that went out to Sandnes – the second largest town in the area. There we rather easily picked up the map and meths that we needed and headed to the bus station. Meths was about £8 per litre. We thought we might need more than a litre for a week, but definitely wouldn’t need more than two. We went for the two bottles. It would be heavier but cooking wouldn’t have to be so regimented.

Just a few hours from landing and we were at Lauvik, a small ferry port with the next ferry arriving. They do ferries like we do a free bar at a wedding – with enthusiastic haste. The cars piled on, the gates were shut and we were moving before I could even find my apple. We powered across flat, glass like water, the large hills getting larger as we got nearer. The ferry was unloaded and I was still eating my apple.

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Bus from the airport to Sandness was roughly £4. Bus from Sandness to Lauvik was roughly £5, ferry across to Tau roughly £3 and bus to Forsand another £3. Our wallets gradually fell to the very bottom of our bags – the opportunity to spend was over for a while.

We started walking up the trail past a band of sun browned, blond haired children from the village who were splashing in the clear water of the lake that lined the bottom of the steep sided valley. It was hot. Much hotter than expected. I’d seen the pictures of Miss Norway skiing in a bikini in my Dorling Kindersly Children’s Encyclopedia and it is true. It was very hot.

In the most classic tourist fashion I took a photo of the first large boulder that I saw. As the road twisted and turned, heading up deeper into the fjord the boulders got larger and larger and the photographs less frequent. What a place.

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We were heading for a place in Nedreidane marked as a campground on the map. There were not very many kilometers to cover and even with the overstuffed burdens on our shoulders it would not have taken very long on a Lake District motorway path. Even a boggy Pennine path would have been easier going. The trail was very overgrown, littered with large, rough boulders and regularly dissected by fast flowing, steep sided mountain streams. The foliage pulled on our poles and shunted us off balance and it was very hot. Tired and unimpressed by the potential difficulty that lay ahead, the campground couldn’t come soon enough. We reached the little blue symbol on the map as the light was fading and the wind picking up. There was clearly no campsite and it looked like there never had been. After walking for hours through an abandoned wilderness, bursting with excellent secluded camping spots we had arrived in a small village, with the sun setting and only large front gardens or steep rocks to camp on.  I’ll admit, I was worried about mutiny.

We knocked on the door of yet another friendly Norwegian who shared our sentiment about the sort of map that marked a phantom campsite and told us we would be fine for the night on a the edge of a farmstead by a gushing river. The wind really picked up. The tent pitched well enough and the sausage and rice was fantastic. It appeared it would never really get dark enough up there to see romantic starlight but the jagged horizon was plenty to look at. The silhouettes of the silver birches were bent parallel to the ground with each warm blast of wind.  Jack slept hard and immediately. I was worried that the tent would buckle under the mounting pressure exerted by the strangest, gustiest wind I had ever experienced.

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No matter how long and uncomfortable the night, the morning always comes. So far anyway. The sun came up early. We packed up the tent in the strange warm wind and set off up the road. We decided to refrain from any more tough trails for as long as we could and took a newly built, beautifully engineered road up into the higher ground. We saw no cars.

Passing another non existent campsite on the map we found a nice spot for breakfast by an ice cold river. Porridge eating was done quietly as we reflected on the rugged, otherworldly landscape. Turning to each other to interrupt the white noise of the water to say “it’s nice here mate”.

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At the top we saw our first people of the day, a couple of Norwegian engineers working on the electric supply lines that criss-crossed the area. Norway is a mine for hydroelectric power. One of their service huts was a tangled mess of snapped wires and crushed wooden planks. As the sun scorched my already glowing neck and the sweat dripped from my nose it was hard to believe that the once sturdy cabin had succumbed to overloaded snow from earlier in the year. Onwards.

Past a large, deep blue lake with only a boat house and a rather tempting looking rowing boat, over another narrow pass between two ridges and the trail got rougher and rougher. The strong rooted trees and thick, tough heather made placing feet laborious and the constant sharp, gritty boulders were a never ending stream of obstructions. The glaciers had tried their hardest to make our progress slow.

As we joked about ‘Norwegian Kilometers’ we finally emerged into a beautiful open meadow. The immediate foreground was thick green grass and moss with a network of small streams like the veins of an old leaf. From there the eyes were occupied by silver birches, naturally spread out providing shade from the high, six pm, beating sun. Above these trees were grey, shadowed mountains forming a wide bowl, with comedy boulders perched on the rim, asking to be pushed, to make them crash down below. We guessed they had been there for several thousand years. Then we discussed the meaning of the word several as we sporked peanut butter onto our oatcakes.

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The jokes about ‘Norwegian Kilometers’ became more serious when we were caught by two tanned blonde children and their blonde mother who was walking in just her bra and shorts. They were not at all taxed by the walk that had nearly broken us. We realised that the different path they had taken from a different direction was much clearer. It seemed that a bit of topless light mountaineering was the Norwegian equivalent of a trip to Homebase. This main path we joined was much clearer and we, for the first time, made good progress up the steady hill alongside a river. Nowhere near a Lake District motorway or even a Pennine bog trail but much better than the machete warranting path we had previously been on.

I checked the map at a change of direction and Jack lay down on a large rock to catch the sun. Taking my bag off I joined him. Suppressing my infuriating urge to move on and slog away the kilometers was something that the Norwegian sun really helped to to achieve. Yet another ‘Mate – it’s nice here’ and we decided to stay put for the night. It was relatively out of the wind, sheltered, had enough of a flat spot, plenty of firewood and fresh running water. Everything we needed and more. Sunbathe, read, wash, cook, pitch, whisky, stars. It was the stuff from motivational posters and it was happening.

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Camp spot at 03473 65418 Grid Ref on Norwegian maps. Cost £0

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