Voss has remade itself into a centre for mountain sports and as we had lunch at a great little cafe we watched a couple of people parasail down the mountain. Lunch was excellent – home cooked and nicely presented as always, but for the first time we found ourselves surrounded by English people. We felt undeservedly territorial. Having had Norway more or less to ourselves for the past month it was annoying to be suddenly confronted with hordes of our own countrymen all doing the same thing as us. Humph. They all left before us though so we could sort of pretend that they weren’t there at all. It was reminder though – like the realisation that Bergen is just over 100k away – that we are getting towards the end of this trip. We are spinning it out by taking the slow route though, and we have left the fast E16 to head south to the villages at the eastern end of the Hardangerfjord.
I suppose after yesterday anything would have been an anticlimax, so we took it easy. It was overcast when we got up – for the first time in more than a week. The smart little campground was emptying quickly. We took our time and the three of us used the campsite wifi to post photos on the blog, download the newspaper and research Tomb Raider for Nintendo. Honestly, Philippa is just nuts about that game.
At about 11.30 we realised that we did actually have a ferry to catch and as the tourist season (you’ll remember) is well and truly over, the schedule would probably be more limited. So we upped sticks and got back on the scenic 55 towards the ferry terminal at Hella.
The narrow road hugs the edge of the Sognefjord, with a concrete guardrail on one side and a rock wall on the other, a situation which always makes my pulse race somewhat knowing the speed at which the big trucks take these roads. But the road ends at Hella so after an initial burst of traffic which had just got off the ferry, I had the road to myself for the next thirty kilometers or so.
Its a road which on any other day would have been quite beautiful, but the flat light and misty cloud hid its best features, casting a grey light across the fjord and turning the mountains into ghostly silhouettes. We arrived at Hella exactly as the ferry to Vangsnes was about to leave. We paid the ticket lady, drove on and a minute later the boat was moving. Perfect.
I went up to the top deck as the ferry got underway and met a Honduran biker called Luis. He had rented a motorbike in Oslo and was heading to Bergen and wanted to know how much further it was, as a closed tunnel the day before had forced him to take a beautiful but circuitous route through the mountains and put him a day behind schedule. He was an interesting chap who had flown all over the world to go biking; all through Central and South America of course, as well as China and various European countries. He was as blown away by Norway as we have been. When we were waiting to disembark in Vangsnes I had a quick look on the satnav and discovered it was 179K to Bergen. I called across the car deck to tell him and he came over. We shook hands and wished each other a good journey.
In 1913 Vangsnes was a village with 258 inhabitants and no roads. But on July 31st that year up to ten thousand people including the Norwegian Prime Minister, descended on it for the unveiling of a ten and a half meter, fourteen ton bronze statue of Fridtjof the Viking, mounted on a twelve meter high rock plinth. It was a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm the Second who came to the Sognefjord for a few weeks every year on his yacht and enjoyed reading the Fridtjof Sagas to his guests. It is certainly imposing and makes you wonder how the people of Vangsnes felt about having this colossus towering over their farms on a whim of the Kaiser. Its a wonder too that it wasn’t melted down for scrap when the nazis bombed several local towns thirty years later. But there it remains. And it is something to see in a little place which feels like it still hasn’t got many more than 258 people living there.
Vik, the next town came and went but from there the road started rising sharply up, and up, and up to the Vikafjell Plateau which is described in the Rough Guide as “forbidding”. On an overcast day like this, the lumpy treeless mountains certainly look like they wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. The patches of snow came almost up to the road and at the highest point, where the road is swallowed by a gaping tunnel, we got out to walk nervously along the old road. It follows the very edge of the mountain before it vanishes away, having slipped down the muntainside leaving bits of re-inforced steel barrier clinging rustily to the slope.
Back down on the other side is Voss, which looks quite different from other towns we’ve seen having apparently been largely rebuilt since being bombed in WW2. The 13th century church has stone walls up to two meters thick and survived the bombing. We went to see inside it. The timber ceiling was painted in the 17th century with angels which get more numerous the closer you get to the nave.
We are now just a few K away from Ulvik, at a campsite overlooking one of the skinny fingertips of the fjord. When we arrived, a sign at the office said the campsite was closed for the season, but a Dutchman came out of his little campervan to tell us that if we parked, the owner would come and collect some money from us later. Which indeed he has.
All is quiet. T is drawing, I am writing this from a camp chair looking over the inlet and P has just knocked on Thor’s window to say supper will be ready in two minutes. So we’d better go in.