Norway Walking Holiday

walking 2I had just returned from Norway in early December 2013. The weather there was dry cold: minus 10 C and we had been out putting back the cover over the shed roof blown off by the storms of the previous week. Middle of winter can realise minus 30 C.

The UK had got it in the neck as well with a million pounds worth of damage in Scarborough and the tide surge on the east coast flooding places like Whitby all the way down to Boston High Street in Lincolnshire. Denmark, not to be ignored, got the storm as well and it blew out over the North Sea and took itself across the Skagerrak and up into the fjords and the valleys of Southern Norway.

Notodden is 50 miles inland but the open valleys with their lakes, trace their way with their mantle of woodland, an easy hunt for any gale force wind. That mantle of mainly coniferous forest hides a multitude of animals; deer, elk, reindeer, caribou, wild cats and arctic foxes. There had been an attack on sheep on an adjacent farm by lynx the previous week and that had put the huntin’ fraternity on their toes. When walking, tree damage from beaver is common with sizable pine falling across ‘paths’. Well you could call them paths because as you get away from forest roads, there are few of those. Paths are little more than indentations in the undergrowth, formed by animals. You have to pick your way and be very much aware of how the land lies. A map and compass are essentials in the wilder areas.

In a summer past we had taken a picnic up to one of the local lakes. Here you paid a fee to enter private and protected land. Coins in the slot lifted the barrier to let your car through. Norwegian’s seem to look after their facilities. There is little vandalism and road offences; maybe due to zero tolerance to these sorts of crimes. There is some striking graffiti in town; real arty stuff. Like you see from the train as you run into Kings Cross Railway Station in London! The edge of the lake hid an open air shelter quite sizeable but containing all the equipment you would need for a barbeque; even down to brown and red tomato sauce. All the cooking utensils were there, including the cooking oil. You just added your contribution before you left! Picnic benches were also present; well built to last and fall asleep on. Yes, here it was peace and quiet. Surrounded by woodland it was a requirement to ensure the fire was extinguished before you left.

On one of our visits Sue and I had ‘done’ the mountain; Heminigen (1,066 metres) and we covered the Lake Gavlesja next day, at its base, in the back woods of the Lifjell. Later in the week while the girls went shopping I took ‘Toby’ the labrador back up that way to an adjacent mountain Slettlefjell (1,188 metres). I suppose old men like me should not trust fate but there is something enthralling about leaving habitation, the noise of farm vehicles and running water and diving away up into the unknown. You are truly alone there. No trees: just lichen and rocks, the sky and the views! With a total population of less than 5 million in Norway you rarely see people up this high. The sound of birds is left behind. If you are lucky you will hear the sound of the wind but little else to disturb the tarns (small lakes) at a mountain’s highest point.

I remember my daughter Emma describing her lone climb up Mount Fuji, the highest Mountain in Japan at 3,777 metres. Local bus then bullet train from Kyoto took her to the mountain base and then another bus to half way house. Climbing through the evening (with her MP3) and just past midnight she was not alone. She joined the many thousands on the same trek! Arriving at two a.m. she waited until four to see the sunrise; a not to be forgotten experience. A bit like Ben Nevis arriving in the frozen mist with hundreds of others and wondering why the hell we were all up there in the first place!

The views are tremendous from Slettlefjell and Heminigen. You look across country to Gaustatoppen at 1,883 metres, the highest mountain in Telemark and beyond to the snows of the Hardangavidda, one of Norway’s Country Parks: truly a centre for longer journeys on foot. The route up ‘Gausta’ is marked by splashes of red paint. You would never get lost. 30,000 make the pilgrimage each year.

To make things easier the Germans built an internal elevator to the top during the Second World War which is now a tourist attraction. You can see the south coast of Norway and into Sweden from here. About a sixth of the country is laid out before you. There is a toilet at the top but when we arrived on the 2nd June, snow was to the top of the doors. Now that’s what I call a leg crossing exercise!

In the shadow of ‘Gausta’ is the power station which was the subject of a war film ‘The Hero’s of Telemark’. The mystique of this place is well deserved and was the centre for the production of heavy water during the Second World War. Hence the Saboteurs Route that exists up in the mountains that overshadow the town of Rjukan.  Three attempts were made to blow the place up and even the Americans tried to bomb it out of existence. Success was accomplished at the eleventh hour when the train, carrying the heavy water, having been loaded onto the ferry, was sunk in Lake Tinnsja.

Walking in Norway is an exhilarating experience, the air so very clean that lichen hangs in sheets from the trees. Yes, there is plenty of wood with the forests spreading the length of the country. Wood fires burn and heat the majority of houses to a toasty temperature. Just what you need on those mid winter days!

Dave Mitchell.

Yorkshire Landscape Gardens 

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