The campsite had a weekend feel about it this morning with most of the spaces taken. Two big RVs came in while we were having supper last night and parked in the middle of our view of the fjord. Everyone was setting out their camping chairs and socialising and it felt like time for us to move on.
After much plotting over the map last night, we decided to take the route less travelled. It would have been easy to continue on the better known road south from Geiranger to the two famous overlooks (including the pointy one that Tom wants to sit on suspended thousands of feet above the water), but that felt a little too much like heading towards journey’s end. We still have more than a week and so we opted to take the ferry down Geirangerfjord to Hellesylt at the end and peel off towards the western arm of the Jostedalsbreen glacier.
It was yet another gorgeous morning and we filled up with fresh water and went down to the dock to line up for the eleven o’clock
ferry. Once parked, we decamped to the coffee shop under last night’s restaurant and sat in the sun with some caffeine while Tom made large buildings out of a box of lego set in a purpose-built table by the door.
The Geirangerfjord is undoubtably pretty, but there is a sort of cult attached to the place – as though it is the most beautiful place you could ever hope to see. All the guidebooks blow it up to be the “must visit” destination in Norway and judging by the many coaches parked there this morning, and the 122 cruise ships a year that stop here, tourists seem to agree. But P and I both felt that we have seen prettier – and less heralded – places on this trip. There is very little left of the original town and what there is, is now overrun with us tourists. The fjord is lovely, but there are really quite a lot of lovely fjords in Norway.
That said, it was nice to be chugging back down it in the sunshine this morning. A coachload of Japanese tourists had got on with us and rarely have so many lenses been focused on so many waterfalls. The sun was now shining on many of the things that had been in shade when we took the sightseeing boat yesterday and the air was warm – 23 degrees said Thor’s thermometer!
If you don’t want to be dropped off for the hike, I think the ferry is actually a better way of seeing the fjord than the much smaller sightseeing boat. It costs about the same and there is more room to roam around on the ferry. The ferry has a perky recorded commentary, while the one on the tourboat had clearly been done by someone’s English uncle who really didn’t want to do it, and read out all the information in morose, funereal monotone. The ferry also drops you off in Hellesylt for a bit, and it turned out to be a rather nice little place with some historic buildings and a peacefulness to it that Geiranger lacks. So there we go, insider tourism tips from the Magic Bus – take the ferry.
The road from Hellesylt to Hornindal is really God’s Own Country. Pretty farms on rich arable land surrounded by sunny mountains that are friendly rather than overbearing. It was a lovely ride, with the benefit of having almost no traffic on it. Just the other side of Grodås we stopped by the Hornindalsvatnet lake, which is Europe’s deepest at more than half a kilometer. We had lunch at what felt like a small wooded island, though it was still attached to the mainland. I’m sure there is a word for exactly what is, but I don’t know it.
Tom donned swimming trunks and very nearly swam in Europe’s deepest lake, but preferred charging around with a large stick. P made a picnic lunch for us and we sat in the sunshine enjoying the tranquillity of it all.
The road to Stryn follows part of the Faleidfjord which is the most beautiful milky turquoise and studded in places with tiny islands sprouting wizened little trees like scenes from a Japanese print.
At Loen we consulted the tourist info board about the best way to see one of the arms of the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier which grinds and groans over five hundred square kilometers. The turnoff was actually right there; fourteen kilometers down a scary single track road with occasional pulloffs in case you met, say, a large rabbit coming the other way. It really was very narrow, but the cars we met seemed to have done all this before and quickly backed up into spaces to let us pass.
The road followed a glacial lake called the Lovatnet which has a murderous history. In 1905 more than sixty people were killed in the surrounding villages when a large piece of Mount Ramnefjell broke away and fell into the lake causing a forty meter tidalwave. It threw the steamboat “Lodølen”that used to run up and down the lake three hundred meters inland. The survivors rebuilt their homes further from the shore, but in 1936 another huge piece of the mountain fell away, creating a seventy meter tidal wave, which killed more than seventy people. The wrecked Lodølen was thrown another three hundred meters up the mountainside by the force of the wave.
An immaculate memorial garden records the names of those who lost their lives. Only a handful of people live along the lakeside now, though the area below the mountain is now so full of rock that another landslide would be unlikely to produce another tidal wave.
You must pay 50 Krona to proceed further along the road, but it is well worth it, for it leads to a parking area surrounded on all sides by steep rock walls with gushing white waterfalls. At the head of the valley, the glacier looms threateningly, sending a thick finger of blue-grey ice down the rock face. This is the Kjenndalsbreen glacier arm. Waterfalls pour from it and over it, ending up in a furious milky river which is roaring off through the valley.
We walked as close as we could get to the ice before the path became too worn away. It was tantalisingly close, but sometimes knowing when to stop is the sensible option. I’m looking up at the glacier from Thor’s window now and the noise from the huge waterfall behind us sounds like torrential rain. Its a marvellous spot and we are going to stay the night here, all alone amidst this uncontrolled scenery.