The sun was in and out, but mostly in and we set a course south to one of Norway’s only baronial estates. It would be a last Thing To Do before finding a ferry to take us back towards Bergen.
It was, of course, a pretty drive winding along the fjord’s edge with all the usual waterfalls boosted by the night’s rain. At one point we actually crossed a bridge over the end of one enormous waterfall that was so close to the road it felt like it shouldn’t actually be there – as if a dam had burst its banks. It all felt distinctly autumnal though, cool and cloudy with patches of sunshine that seemed to know they were fighting a losing battle. Even though its only the end of August, we’ve noticed people getting ready for winter with big sacks of logs being delivered to houses and all the plastic wrapped haybales being pulled in for storage.
The Rosendal manor house was built in the 1660s by a Danish Aristocrat with pretensions. He actually wanted to be a Baron and despite the fact that the King didn’t think his estate was big enough, he managed to get a Baronetcy on the condition that it would only remain in the family’s hands as long as there were male heirs. The house is actually quite modest, and unusually for the region, built of stone as that is what the Danish aristocracy did. All the wood inside is painted to look like marble, including a vast oak spiral staircase that was constructed from a single tree. No photos allowed unfortunately Madam. The most interesting room was the one that had changed the least since the 17th century; its walls covered with French tapestry in dark reds and greens. There was a small bed and we were told that in those days the gentry slept sitting up, scared that the vile humours in their body would seep into their brains if they lay flat at night.
We are in Sundal, a lovely little place which reflects many of our experiences over the past few weeks. The three of us are sitting on a wooden jetty looking out over the Kvinnheradsfjord which is dark and glassy, its surface rippled only by the occasional leaping fish. To the left is a fishing dock with white clapboard buildings and a wooden-hulled fishing boat tied off for the night. To my right, shafts of light from the evening sun are slowly tracking up a steep green mountainside. Behind me, the sun has just lit up the top of a glacier, which is sending a river of blue-grey ice steeply down the mountainside. We really didn’t think we would get this lucky tonight.
Ulvik was just about open but eerily deserted. We got a photocopy of the ferry timetable from the tourist office (“do you have 50 krona for the ink…?) and then got very lost trying to get to Kinsarvik, where the ferry leaves for Utne – one of the prettier villages at the junction of several fjords. Some way down the road out of Ulvik we passed an abandoned ferry terminal and assumed it to be Kinsarvik, so we abandoned our Kinsarvik ferry plans and put Kvanndal into the satnav, which also has a ferry to Utne.
|Deep in a tunnel we discovered the alien mothership|
But then we got sucked into a tunnel and spat out onto a graceful new bridge which after some head-scratching we realised had taken us just up the road from Kinsarvik.
Twenty minutes later we were buying our ticket from the ruddy-faced, twinkly-eyed, grey-mustacheod ferryman:
Utne was indeed a delightful little place, a string of wooden waterfront houses and a white-painted church. We found a carpark with a view to have our last pack of Lofoten’s finest fish soup. Our food supplies are almost gone now and we shall miss that soup!
A short walk from the ferry dock is Utne’s folk museum which had displays of costumes in one hall, including wedding costumes which included head-dresses very similar to those used by the Sami people, which in turn are very similar to those used by Native Americans.
It also had an interesting display of Hardangar Fiddles, which have a second set of strings underneath the usual four and make an unusual, almost accordian-like sound. They also had some extraordinary primitive slim boxes with a single string which were played with a bow, and some long, slim birchwood trumpets used by shephards to communicate from mountain to mountain, and to scare away predators.
There was also a small log cabin from the 1820s owned by one Gunnar Arnfinnson Årkol who was weakened by TB and no longer able to be a crofter. He’d tried all sorts of other occupations including bookkeeping, but discovered eventually that what he was really good at, was painting – and in particular, painting furniture with floral patterns.
He became well known for his skill and his cottage had lots of little pictures on the wooden walls and furniture that he had painted.
As we walked around the buildings the sun began to come out, finally lighting up the Hardangerfjord and its surrounding mountains. It put a spring back in all our steps and we made plans to head down the long sliver of Sornfjord to Odda where there was a reasonable-looking campsite.
It was a perfect drive through the fjord country with pretty little buildings all along the water’s edge of the kind we had just seen in the museum. The sun shining on the opposite bank made the red barns stand out like bright sparks against the green hillside. We passed fields of fruit trees and little stalls selling punnets of plums. It was a grand drive of about 40K down the length of the fjord.
As we drew closer to Odda though the landscape changed. There were two big container ships anchored by an island which was completely full of some kind of production plant. A huge carbide factory was established nearby in 1908 and for a few decades Odda was something of an industrial mecca, but its heydey is long gone and today it has a gritty, ground-down feel overshadowed in parts by the giant concrete remnants of long-gone factories. That said, it still has plenty of characterful clapboard houses and its not hard to imagine Odda making a comeback as one of the more unusual destinations in fjordland.
As soon as we came out of the tunnel mouth we knew we had made the right choice. It was like going through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia, a brilliant stretch of fjord gleaming off into the sunset with mountains crowding in from either side.
The view of the glacier was the icing on the cake and we pulled in and parked up. Its great to end the day feeling uplifted by Norway again.
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.
It rained on and off for much of the night but this morning the clouds were being whittled away by sunshine and the sky was soon completely blue. So the Glacier walk was on! I rang the glacier centre a couple of days ago and found that they had now stopped the group tours in which ten year olds are allowed to go, but if we had a private guide we could all get onto the ice. So, on the basis that this is not something you do every day, we coughed up for the private guide and met him by the lakeside just across from the Nigardsbreen “Nodule”. Our guide book insists that these rivers of ice that curl down the hillside from the Jostedalsbreen glacier above are called “nodules” but its the least convincing name for them imaginable and I haven’t seen the term anywhere else so I’m going to ignore that terminology.
Its a lot bigger close up! Suddenly all those caves and cracks are revealed to be far bigger than people. The ice is a lot less white too. The further to the front the ice, the older it is and the more dust gathers on it.
We all put on our harnesses, and strapped the crampons to our boots. Frånk explained about how to use the ice axes, and how to walk on the crampons: “Its important to trust the crampons – feet flat when walking”. Then he roped us all together and off we went.
Walking on a glacier is such an alien experience. Lower down it is as though it is composed of millions of ice cubes, each about the size of Tom’s fist. It crunches and crackles underfoot as if you were walking on broken glass – or big diamonds.
It was completely thrilling just to take a few steps. The whole glacier is a mass of tunnels and rivulets and streams and rivers running over, through and under it. You never really lose site of running water somewhere over its surface, and of course all around on the slopes of the mountain there are huge waterfalls created by the vast Jostedalsbreen glacier above the relatively small offshoot we were walking on.
Frånk took us to deep blue holes with water crashing into them, echoing down the tunnel and vanishing out of site. We jumped over sinister blue crevasses, and climbed up through cliffs of ice formed by the pressure of the sloping sides of the valley.
Thanks to the crampons it never really felt slippery and P and I would occasionally exchange “can you believe we are really doing this?!” glances.
We climbed out of the crevasses and onto the wide flank of the glacier, looking down onto the lake below, and up onto the ferocious ice cliffs in a narrowing of the valley above us. Frånk said it would be possible to walk through them but would take days.
On the way down we found the bones of an Elk which had befallen the same fate and had popped up about eight years ago on the ice. In fact for the most part the glacier was extremely stable according to Frånk, who said most accidents happened on the rocky walk to the foot of the ice.
The gas ran out last night. That meant the heating died and so did the fridge. We were all wrapped up and warm though and it was cold enough in Thor that I don’t think the contents of the fridge suffered too much. It will chill down again properly once we start driving again and the fridge switches to electrical power. That one gas cylinder has lasted us all the way from day one in Sweden, which is fairly impressive.
Well, after the cold breakfast we set out back onto 55 heading south through the Sognefjell mountains under a morning sky with drifts of cloud and patches of sun. At the hamlet of Turtagrø we stopped and went into a hotel/info centre to try to find a walk recommended to us by a nice older gent at the tourist office in Lom. He was laughing with us about how nice it was travelling around Norway now that all the tourists had gone but then suddenly looked stricken as he realised that we too were tourists. “I am just joking of course” he said nervously. Obviously we are reporting him to the Norwegian tourist board. In what may well be one of his last dealings with a tourist he had told us there was a walk up to an old farm with delicious food near Turtagrø. The lady in Turtagrø looked blank when we asked about it though. I remembered that the farm had been built with stones carried up from the river by the farmer and she knew it instantly: “Fuglested!” she said, or perhaps it was a sneeze, anyway that sounded right and she sent us to the next place ten k down the road called Fortun. As we turned to go out, a trim elderly lady behind me smiled and said “It means fortune”.
It was a nice enough spot and we had our picnic enjoying the gorgeous views down to Lustrafjord at the end of the valley. You can stay in the buildings now and although they were closed up, we found an open door into one and admired the old wooden floors, worn down between the knots. There was no coffee and cake unfortunately as the tourist season is now well and truly over as we were told by a former tourist board employee.
We climbed back into Thor with his fridge now icy cold again and got back on the road, stopping five minutes on at Skjelden on the tip of Lustrafjord. It was too lovely to miss and Tom was determined to swim in the blue water despite the fact that it was utterly freezing. He went in several times though, gasping with the shock of it and coming straight back out onto the warm wood of the pontoon.
On then down 55 and our wild mountain road had now become a gorgeous rural byway, hugging the fjord on a skinny little road that required close attention when people came the other way. It was very pretty, with bright red boats floating in the impossibly turquoise water, and enormous stone barns and ancient clapboard farmhouses on the shore. At Gaupne we turned right and followed a cobalt blue river up towards the Nigardsbreen glacier arm. We are the only occupants of a funny little time-warp campsite just down the road from the glacier centre. The elderly lady who runs it takes only cash and sells trolls next to the cash register which she has clearly knitted herself. First time I’ve seen a knitted cash register.
We are hoping to go onto the glacier tomorrow but rain has been pattering on the roof this evening and we will have to wait and see what the sky is doing when we wake up.
As in “Somewhere, over the rainbow, weigh a pie…”. We have just crossed the highest point on the road from Lom to Sogndal – 1400 meters or so, and have parked in a levelled off area by the road. Across from us is a broad flank of the Jostedalsbreen glacier, shooting white waterfalls into one of the many blue-grey glacial lakes at its feet. Its a grand spot with only the occasional passing car. We’ve been sitting outside in the evening sunshine, nursing the last of our gin and eating cashew nuts. Its not exactly warm out there – the cool breeze off the glacier sees to that – but it is beautiful and very peaceful.
Our morning started much the same way. After breakfast we found the start of a couple of hiking trails and discovered from a noticeboard that we had spent the night in the Breheimen National Park. We had intended to have a twenty minute walk, but there was a 3.5K trail to a natural rock bridge which seemed too good to miss in the warm sunshine. Inevitably, it was steep and we were all puffing after ten minutes, but eventually we came to a small gorge with a giant boulder suspended over the water, wedged between the two sides of the crevice.
|Some of us were more enthusiastic than others about this bridge…|
Tom hopped across and would probably have done handstands on the boulder given half a chance. P and I were a little more circumspect. The path on the other side skirted some ancient farms on land inhabited by farmers for more than a thousand years according to the blurb on the noticeboard. Our twenty minute walk ended up being ninety minutes and was a marvellous start to the day.
In Lom we stopped for lunch in the car park of an ancient stave church. It was lovely from the outside, but inside it was extraordinary; a great stack of carved timber reaching into a dark roof. There were bits of colour here and there and its thought the whole interior could have been painted red. It was built in 1158 and although the community was Christian, they also put dragons heads on the church roof to ward off evil spirits. I love those remnants of ancient beliefs that lingered on in parallel with the new religion.
The docent was a young German guy and as we were the only people in the church we monopolised him. He was terrific, using a torch to point out patches of graffitti written in runes. One phrase was written high on the wall and said something like “I have been higher in this church than anyone else” or the docent said it could also have been “I have done more to this church than anyone else”. He said when the vikings invented runic script it was regarded as magic and only really used to write words on swords or important stones. Later though it became widely used and he said they had found a wooden rod under the church floor in which a man had proposed to a woman in the congregation. He also told us of another stick found in Bergen which simply said “your wife wants you home now”. The first text message?
Lom is also the start of the scenic route south to Sogndal, passing first through countryside and buildings that feel a bit like the Swiss alps, all tiny farms and glossy brown cows. But then the road starts to climb and soon we were in the Big Mountains again with the white wave of the Jostedalsbreen glacier breaking over their high ridges. We stopped a couple of times to get out and soak it all in, despite the chill wind. We stopped too a mile or so back to go up to a patch of snow a couple of hundred meters from the road. P and T had a mini snowball fight.
We had intended to get a bit further tonight but when we saw the big space with a view over to the glacier, we couldnt resist. Its going to be cold tonight; the wind is whistling around Thor and we are almost out of gas for heating so we shall wrap up. Its exciting though to imagine ourselves all alone in this vast mountainscape.