We had the glacier to ourselves until about 6.30 this morning when someone on a motorbike roared into the parking lot and shortly after, roared out again. But that’s the price you pay for free camping and the rest of the night was blissfully quiet, apart from the waterfalls chucking many millions of gallons down the mountainside of course. We had breakfast watching the sun creep down the ice, which looked much more blue this morning. We all feel a little cheated about not being able to go right up to the ice itself and had been thinking about taking the turnoff at Bødal where there is another – longer walk to the ice. When we got there though the sign said the road was closed to campervans, so that decided that. We will have another go at getting onto the ice when we get around to the eastern side of Jostedalsbreen in the next few days.
I had been a bit scared about navigating the single track road back to the highway on what I expected to be a busy Saturday morning. Backing up to a passing place on a road that drops off on one side and has rock overhangs threatening the roof on the other, is not a happy experience. But it all turned out fine, and the light along the lake was stunning. We passed what was billed as the “eleventh finest waterfall in the world”, a concept which seemed ridiculous on so many levels… It was terrific mind you; hosing down from an impossible height into the still blue lake. We stopped at pretty much the only waterside cafe on the entire 14k route along the fjord and soaked up the sun while drinking a bottle of Loen apple juice, made from apples grown right there in Loen. There were a couple of other outside tables taken; large local people having heaving platefuls of sunday lunch with fat wedges of apple cake for pudding.
|The scar on the right is where the mountain split
The lake, which was responsible for Norway’s worst natural disasters is about the most peaceful place imaginable; silent, blue-green and glassy on a windless, cloudless day like today.
We reluctantly peeled ourselves off the cafe’s chairs and got back to the main road, retracing our steps to Stryn and beyond that, another lake every bit as stunning as the one we had just left.
We stopped at a roadside pullout with a picnic bench and had fish soup for lunch, looking out across the lake to the village of Flo on the other side. All was peaceful until a coach pulled up and forty people got out to take photos. Many of those treasured holiday snaps will feature a small group of English people in the middle, slurping soup. Then another coach came in and parked behind that one and more people got out and took more photographs. We are very lucky to be able to choose where and when to stop and for how long and what we do next. Its a rare freedom.
Just down the road was the Jostedalsbreen Visitor Centre, where we learned that its actually pronounced YOStedALsbreyan. I knew that. We’ve noticed that in this part of Norway people are friendly and helpful etc, but quite literal. So when you say to the guy at the front desk of the visitor centre “Do you have a film about the glacier?”, referring to the big sign next to him which says they have a film about the glacier, he will say “Yes, we do” and look back at you. So you say “Can we see it?” and he says “Yes” and smiles. There is a pause. THEN you say “Will you show it to us right now in the cinema over there?” which is the right question of course, so he says “Yes!” and leads you to it.
It was rather good and among the many things we learned was that there was no Jostedalsbreen glacier eight thousand years or so ago as it had completely melted, but then it grew again reaching its peak during the “little ice age” of the mid eighteenth century. It advanced so greatly then that farms were demolished by it. We also learned that the skies over the glacier are very rarely cloud free so we have been unbelievably lucky this week. After the film we looked through the small museum which had various stuffed animals of the kind that are reputed to live in Norway. I say reputed because in four weeks and four thousand kilometers we have not seen a single wild mammal other than some musk ox. In all that distance we have passed probably hundreds of specific signs warning us to watch for deer, elk, and reindeer and believe me, we have watched for them, but not a sniff – there is almost no road kill either. The museum’s wolverines were shot by local sheep farmers. I learned that this part of western Norway is thought to have just 250 wolverine, but still there is a hunting season for them because of the threat they pose to sheep. Norway, I think that’s a shame.
The lynx in the museum was shot by mistake in 2003 during an elk hunt. Though really, its quite hard to mistake a lynx for an elk; one looks like a biggish cat, the other is an elderly man driving a tiny car in a parade while wearing a fez. Though possibly you need to be American to know that.
The road to Lom is now fairly fast and involves a tunnel of about ten kilometers which replaced the old Stryn mountain road, hacked out of the rock in the nineteenth century by farmers who wanted to sell their cattle on the other side of the mountain, and by young men who wanted to go to church on the other side of the mountain (translation: “meet girls” ). Happily it is still there and while caravans are banned, we were not. So up we wound over what turned out to be probably the most stunning road we have driven on all holiday. Yes, yes, I’ve said that before but I have been right every time, and this time is no exception.
The slope beneath the road falls away to reveal slim rivers snaking off to the distant lakes and snow-flecked mountains beyond, all glistening and smouldering away under that searing blue sky. Almost at the top we stopped at an overlook for tea, listening to the breeze blow over the mossy boulders.
Then, for some reason best known to ourselves Tom and I set out to climb up to the nearest patch of snow. It turned out to be a stiff, hour-long there and back climb over a big, sharp and steep boulder field. Of course we were properly equipped; I had my deck shoes and Tom his sandals so we were ready for anything. Ahem.
Anyway at the very top of the Stryn Mountain Road, the road slims down to cart-track width and turns to gravel as it winds through a buff brown moonscape filled with glacial lakes. The sun was low in the sky now and behind us lighting up every contour in the hillsides ahead. We looked for places to stop for the night to stretch the journey out, but all too soon (actually 27K) we had rejoined the main road on the other side of the tunnel and were staring at a crashed WW2 German Heinkel, complete with swastica on its tail. It had been shot down in a dogfight with two British Blackburn Skuas which had taken off from the Ark Royal. One of them developed engine failure and also crashed not far away. The British crew made their way to a mountain hut and half an hour later the German crew arrived at the same hut. They agreed to a truce and after realising that the hut was too small for all five of them they walked to the nearest hotel, before eventually going their separate ways. In 1977 the English pilot invited the German pilot to Britain, to talk no doubt, about old times.
The Heinkel was dragged off the frozen lake and into the carpark of an old mountain rest stop which is today the hub of a tiny ski area. We went into their restaurant and discovered that the story of the dogfight and its aftermath has been made into a film with Rupert Grint. There were photos of the filming in March 2011 in a small display about the plane.
We ate heartily! Tom demolished a plate of reindeer stew, Philippa had delicate slivers of mountain trout and I opted for the leg of lamb, and all I can say is that they have very big lambs in this part of the world. It was all good though, served by shy and taciturn ladies who seemed slightly embarrassed about us being there. They smiled as we left though and wished us a pleasant journey.
To where though? We hadn’t really got a goal for this evening, so we half-heartedly aimed for a campsite, but then found a pull-off on a quiet loop road beside a river and parked here for the night instead. We spent a big part of the evening playing “cheat” and it was only after P had quietly won, that Tom said, “Wait a minute, so there are only four of each card???”
Hopefully he won’t take up poker.