with tips for cycling & hiking
A short 60 mile drive up the E6 took us to our first stop in Norway. A major section of this road has recently been built and the poor old Sat Nav was terribly confused, as it found itself driving through green fields. I nearly felt sorry for it, but then I remembered the circuitous route it took me from Fjallbacka to pick up the E6.
There were no real border formalities but it is always interesting that you are greeted with the same inane questions. Why are you visiting Norway? Doh can he not see it is a motorhome. Why are you going to Frederikstad? (our first stopover) Where are you going? he asked Julia. Julia never knows where we are going, as she says I just go. It is very difficult not to give flippant answers but I sensibly resisted. A smile later and we were on our way, not as bad as in the USA, where not only are you greeted with inane questions but also a grimace and never ‘have a good trip’.
Our plan was to stay at ‘Frederikstad Motel & Camping’ which has the distinct advantage, that it is only about 400 metres from the town.
The Kongsten Fort, which was a former execution site and was built as an additional defence for the town is literally in the backyard of the motel.
Our plans were thwarted by the fact that they were fully booked, for reasons that soon became evident when we arrived at the town. We were subsequently not disappointed, that we did not stay here, as the units were literally jammed in next to each other.
On arrival in the very picturesque fortified town, with clear evidence of its fortifications, we were greeted by a sailing ship, sailing up the river Glommer, with the crew and passengers and a reception committee on the quayside, all in period costume. We had stumbled across a celebration of the founding of Frederikstad by King Frederick of Denmark in 1567.
The main entrance into the town
A 20 minute drive took us Bevo Camping, a coastal setting and with a pitch overlooking the sea, a much more pleasant experience, than that offered by the campsite in Frederikstad.
With electricity 240 NOK (£27)
With regard to electricity , I carry a simple tester that you plug in to check for reverse polarity and other faults and it registered an earth fault. A quick chat to my Norwegian neighbour who checked it out and reassured me it was fine. That is the beauty of camping as there are always people to help you.
This earth fault was quite common in other sites in Norway ,which appeared very strange, as it looked like the service boxes were earthed.
It was a short hop from Frederikstad to Oslo. We stayed at Bogstad Camping on the outskirts of town, about 9km from the centre and was chosen, because it appeared that transport into town was easy and this proved to be the case, as the number 32 bus stops right outside of the site and takes you into the centre without any changes.
The site sells the passes for the public transport system, about £10 each, for a 24 hour pass, which seems the most cost effective method.
Also you can use it on the trams and ferries.
This was another expensive city centre site, again around the £35 mark and they charged a whopping £10 for electricity and if I had twigged I would have gone non electric. They also charge extra for showers and this really does my head in, can you imagine a hotel charging you extra for taking a shower.
The site was not, however, busy and we were able to choose any pitch and it has a great outlook and you could not fault the facilities, other than my whinge about the showers and with the price they charged for electricity, I wish I had used our own.
If you arrive after 1st June you can stay at Ekeberg Camping which is a summer site and just about within walking distance to the City Centre, but in any case is on a bus route.
We were getting very good at seeing the main sites of the cities in a day and Oslo was no exception. It is a compact city and easily explored on foot. Don’t get me wrong, there is undoubtedly more to see than can be covered in this time but we were doing a taster tour of Scandinavia. Also the weather was absolutely gorgeous and not a day to explore museums.
The transport ticket does allow you to use all the transport systems in town and we took a ferry trip from the harbour at the City Hall (Radhuset)to Bygoynes (museums) just to enjoy a ¾ hour return boat ride on a gloriously hot sunny day.
We also took the No 13 tram back to Lilleaker from the centre, just for variety, before changing to the no 32 bus for the final leg back to the campsite.
Also inJune it does not really get dark until midnight so you have plenty of flexibility to visit.
Oslo Harbour from Akerhus Fort. Other excellent views can be obtained from the roof of the Opera House which you can walk up
Akerhus Fort, which controlled the entance to the harbour,well worth a visit
City Hall viewed from the ferry, it is not more attractive from the front either,it reminds me of City Hall in Norwichbut without the water
The rear of the Royal Palace, the front was a building site as they were repaving it.It was very surreal walking around the palace and being so close to it, not like Buck House.
Café Celsius, apparently one of the trendiest cafes in Scandinavia
We left Oslo and then took the E16 to Honfoss and then road No 7 to Gol and even in rain it was a very attractive journey and took just over 3 hours.
On the road to Gol - mean moody and magnificent- I loved this shot, particularly as it was in such marked contrast to the beautifully sunny day that we had had in Oslo, the day before.
We did not stay here other than for any other reason that it was a stopover for Laerdal and Flam and also had the distinct advantage that it was a “Camping Cheque” site and at under £13 represented exceptional value. The sanitary facilities were superb.
It also is right next to the E16 but do not let this put you off as roads outside the main cities are not busy.
The town is relatively non-descript but had a good supermarket for supplies .The supermarket was of good quality and allowed us to stock up on fresh produce and ok Norway is not cheap but it is possible to shop prudently and pick up bargains.
The surrounding countryside is magnificent and this was to prove a taster for what was to come.
There was a pleasant riverside walk and you pass a very pretty church .
Gol is a superb base for exploring the surrounding countryside which is excellent for walking trails and in the winter is a major ski resort and we could not fault the campsite.
From Gol we took the very scenic route 52 through frozen lakes to pick up the E16 to head towards Flam.
A journey which should have taken us about 2 hours took us over 3 as we stopped to admire the scenery on route 52 and we just had to have a coffee stop.
As with many roads in the country, there was very little traffic and you could drive for miles without seeing anything, though as we approached the E16 and had to descend down a couple of hairpins, I was amazed to find an HGV overtake me, as we approached one of these bends. I am probably making it sound more dramatic than it was, as I was having problems engaging 2nd gear and I had virtually drawn to a stop, but it was still a shock to suddenly see this lorry appear in your mirror.
We made a last minute decision to stop at a Camping Cheque site at Laerdal. We must confess we were attracted by the price as it would only be the equivalent of 15 euros but it did sound attractive in the book.
It was a decision we came not to regret and in fact we stayed an extra day and made the decision to give the planned visit to Bergen a miss. After 3 capital cities and a couple of others, we were all citied out and we just wanted now to enjoy the open country. We are both fonder of the countryside than the cities though we had enjoyed all our city trips to date.
Laerdal is a really attractive small town with a very picturesque camping site with excellent facilities. It has a small old town which is very quaint, a roaring river and its own fjord.
The old town sector
We did an excellent circular walk, called the Hedlers Walk, which took us above the town and then back along the river, just for a couple of hours. Details can be obtained from reception, who were extremely helpful.
We then decided to stay an extra day and we did two cycle rides totalling about 50km. The first took us along the Laerdal fjord, which is a branch of the Sogne fjord, along a small dead end road to the quayside at Resvnes. The total return was about 25km. This is a cracking ride, as the road hugs the fjord all the way and we only came across one car for the whole trip.
The head of the fjord is literally at the top of the campsite.
The second trip takes you to the town and along the river Laerdal, until it reaches the E16, through some delightful countryside, with excellent river views. For the first part of the ride you can follow a track along the river and just after the bridge, which you go over, you then take a quiet country road for the rest of the trip.
The Laerdal Valley
A short hour trip, mostly through tunnels, the longest being the Laerdal Tunnel, at 24km, the longest in Europe took us to Flam.
That day we did nearly 60km in tunnels, though to be fair part of that was as a result of an error on my part and we enjoyed the scenic beauty of a tunnel in both directions.We even ended up doing it again by the busfrom Gudvangen.
We stayed in the campsite at Flam which cost 260NOK(£28.60) per night. It is a picturesque site surrounded by mountains and with good facilities, but annoyingly they charged extra for showers.
Flam is one of the tourist magnets of the Western Fjords primarily because of its railway and the Fjord that it is located on and the cruises from it, up this fjord and down the narrow Naeroy Fjord, a UNESCO world heritage area.
Additionally cruise ships call into the harbour and the large ones appear totally incongruous as they dominate the landscape. I must confess as we observed one of these in the harbour, that it confirmed all my prejudices against cruising.
There are two main tourist attractions, the Flam railway and a cruise down part of the Aurland Fjord and the Naeroy Fjord to Gudvangen. On both trips you will not be alone.
There are numerous operators but we chose to take the scheduled ferry. You can return with them, which will give you a total trip of 4 hours. The alternative is to take the ferry one way and then a scheduled bus back from Gudvanken. The bus departs from the main road, the E16, about 200 metres up from the harbour. We paid 570NOK (£62) for the boat and 76NOK ( £8.40)for the bus. Even the buses take credit cards.
Though these ferries can get busy ,they are probably more intimate than the massive cruise ships that call into Flam
At times it feels that you can touch both sides,how the cruise ships manage it is baffling.
Alongside the fjord you will come across settlements hugging the shoreline.
If you want to avoid the crowds then take the bus to Gudvangen and the boat back, though it may be a more impressive experience to enter the Naeroy Fjord than leave it.
We may have been tempted in hindsight to have done this, as on our trip there was a whole load of Japanese tourists, who spent most of the trip feeding the seagulls and trying to get silly pictures.
The railway was built to connect the harbour and the steam ships that were coming in, with the Bergen to Oslo railway at Myrdal and it is undoubtedly a major engineering achievement, particularly since it did not employ a rack and pinion system, which is so common on the Swiss railways.
The Flam train on the right and the Oslo to Bergen train on the left at Myrdal.
This is considered to be one of the most scenic railway journeys in Europe and we would not argue with this, though in our view to fully appreciate the beauty of the valley you need to walk it or at least part of it and pick up the train at a mid-station. With regard to the ticket that you will need, then you have no option but to get a return ticket, which cost us 760NOK. (£84).
We were recommended to walk the first part from Myrdal to Berekvam, which should take just over 2 hours. It is not a difficult walk. An alternative is to get the train at Blomheller, which is about ½ hour before Berekvam.
There is nothing more satisfying than flagging a train down to get on it, though we had a mild panic when the door would not open but this was quickly resolved by the guard who opens it from the inside.
The first part of the walk is steep, down the Rallarvegan, which is a series of 21 hairpin bends down the old construction track but then it flattens out as it follows the valley floor.
The commentary on the train will point out the Rallarvegan when you go up.
A popular pastime is to cycle down but unless you are an experienced mountain bike cyclist I would walk down the Rallarvegan. The gravel road was heavily rutted and degraded, though it may be possible that it is repaired by the summer. Once you are down the 21 hairpins it is plain sailing down to Flam.
An alternative view of part of the Rallervegan,as you walk down.
We were also advised by a local on the train that May was a great time to walk down, as in the summer you tend to get plagued by the cyclists coming down.
The cost of taking your bike up is 10NOK cheaper than a return train ticket..
An alternative experience is to cycle up the old road from Flam to Myrdal. The first part is easy but after Flam church it does tend to climb a bit before flattening out again. There is no point trying to climb the Rallarvegan.
Flam church is a must see. It is situated in the old centre of Flam and dates back to 1670 and has some wonderful wall paintings. It is about a mile along the valley from Flam and is an easy walk or cycle, though there is a tourist train that appears to run when the cruise ships come in.
A visit to the church can be combined with a walk to the Brekkefossen waterfall, about a half hour climb from the road on the other side of the river (you can return to Flam on this road). The waterfall is impressive and you can enjoy magnificent views of the valley from the waterfall.
Flam and its cruise ships from the Brekkefossen waterfall.
You can also cycle for about 3km around the fjord until the cycle path runs out as it joins the E16.
Full details of all of these suggestions and others can be obtained from the tourist office.
We pulled in here on route to Preistokollen from Flam as it was situated on a fjord, Sor Fjord, which is a branch of the Hardanger Fjord, for no other reason than it looked pleasant enough.
Kinsarvik is an old settlement and can trace its history back to the Viking period.
It has an old 12th Century stone church and apparently the sailing ship masts were stored in its tower.
There is a great walk along the river Kinso which flows into the fjord. The big advantage of a spring visit to Norway is that the rivers and waterfalls are in full spate and it does appear that everywhere you go; you are confronted by the sight and sound of water crashing over rocks, throwing up masses of spray. It is no surprise that Norway produces nearly 93% of its electricity from hydro sources, leaving it free to export a lot of its oil and gas.
This was day one of our trip on route 13 which we picked up at Voss on what turned out to be a rather soggy weekend, though we could hardly complain for as to date we had experienced good weather.
Just outside of Voss, even in the rain there are some awesome sights
What can you say about route 13, particularly on the second day from Kinsarvik to Preistokollen which we did in one hit and though a long day driving, it was nevertheless reasonably leisurely, with plenty of stops for viewing, coffee and lunch.
The road has everything, ferry crossings, fjords, mountain passes, lakes, waterfalls, river valleys and gorges; it is a stunning drive and though in places rather narrow, proved no problem for motorhomes, though in places you have to give way, as there is limited passing room. As with many routes in Norway, in May the roads were not busy and to make things easier, we reasonably frequently pulled over, to let cars pass, so that we had the road to ourselves.
The Latefossen, waterfall, literally cascades over the road.
Route 13, just outside of the town of Sand
The route involves two ferry crossings; the first was from Bruravik to Brimnes which we took on day one, from Flam to Kinsarvik,.at a cost of 285 NOK.(£32)( This crossing is shortly to be replaced by the Hardanger Bridge, pictured below.
The first day took us a little longer as it coincided with the Bergen to Voss cycle race, an annual event, which is very popular and involves riders of all ages, the minimum age being 15. Though we were going against the race, it still necessitated caution, as demonstrated by one group of riders, where a young lady rider pulled out from the group to gain advantage, totally oblivious to the fact that I was coming the other way. She rapidly took corrective action but did prove the point that you needed to exercise care, as group after group of riders followed each other. In fact shortly afterwards we came to a stop as a rider had taken a nasty fall.
The second ferry was from Nesvik to Hjelmeslandvagen, which actually proved to be cheaper and I think the secret here is to keep talking to the ticket officer, when they ask about the length of your vehicle and the net result is that they become as confused as you do, in deciding what category they will put you in. The bottom line is that if you are over 6m in length then the price rockets. We paid 185NOK ( £20) for this crossing.
The plan the previous day to drive all day in the rain, to arrive at Preikestolen as the weather broke, was not totally an inspired decision, as I confess to have had considerable assistance from the Norwegian Meteorological Office. They had got their forecast spot on and as promised next day, we woke to perfectly clear blue skies and not too warm, ideal weather for a 2 hour hike to Pulpits Rock.
Pulpits Rock which overlooks Lyse Fjord is one of the iconic tourist spots in Norway and if you are to see any promotional material for Norway, it invariably includes a shot of Pulpits Rock.
It was definitely on our hit list of one of the must dos and it exceeded all our expectations, as not only was it a great hike but the views were absolutely stunning,
We stayed at Camping Preikestolen which fully exploited its position of only 4km from the start of the walk by charging 320NOK per night, that is £36 in real money. We did, however, have a perfect pitch at the end of the site with unspoilt views of the surrounding forest and on pitch water and drainage. The latter was not necessarily needed but I am trying to put the price in perspective for what you might pay on a similar commercial site pitch in the UK.
From the campsite you can get a bus for 75NOK return per person to the start of the walk.
Alternatively you can park for the day at the start of the walk for 100NOK per day but you cannot stay overnight.
We chose to get the bus and we caught the first one which leaves the campsite at 9.05am.
You pay when you leave.
The other alternative is to bike down but it is up and down and trust me, after your hike you will appreciate the bus.
The walk can be described as moderate, you will need sensible footwear. We were amazed to see a young American girl climbing in white trousers and flimsy slip ons. which were now plastered in mud following the previous day’s heavy rain.
The view from the hostel at the start of the walk.
There are two choices on this walk. After about an hour you see a small lake on your left and an open area of relatively flat rocks.
Shortly afterwards the path splits, one section veers to the left and you will see the markers on the rocks and the other one goes straight ahead.
The easier route is the one to your left and this is the one we took going up and follows the cliff and offers spectacular views, as you approach Pulpit Rock. It is well marked.
You will not be alone on the rock but at least there is always someone to take your picture.
Pulpit Rock as you approach it from the cliff walk. One of the favourite activities is to lie down & look over the edge, not for
the faint hearted
Steady as you go
Ok this is a smug shot but I have always wanted to replicate a similiar shot used on previous promotional material.
The view of Pulpit Rock from above is well worth the climb.
Everywhere you turn there are jaw dropping views - not for vertigo sufferers
The higher you go,, the more tricky it gets but there is no need to if you feel uncomfortable.
You return on the path that you would have taken if you had chosen the more difficult route up.
We did in fact find our own path, down a gully, which eventually met up with the main path.
The descent down
You are rewarded with views of Stavanger on the descent.
Allow at least 5 hours to walk and explore and to enjoy the views and take your lunch with you. Also remember this is a mountain walk, so be prepared for changeable weather.
The next plan of action was to drift down to the coast along route 13, taking the ferry from Oanes to Lauvvik,picking up the coastal road 44 and then enjoying a few days by the sea, before catching a ferry from Kristiansand to Hirstalls in Denmark.
There were withdrawal pangs from leaving the stunning fjord scenery but the more gentle coastal scenery was a calming influence.
The ferry crossing was a two and a quarter hour crossing by the fast catamaran service, operated by Fjord Lines.
This seemed a better alternative than going back to Oslo and then down into Sweden and returning via the Oresund Bridge.
Also at 161 euros this seemed a great price for this crossing and it would have certainly cost more in diesel and of course the bridge toll on top, which is in the region of £75, so it was really a no brainer.
It additionally gave us the facility to spend a few days in northern Jutland before coming down to catch the return ferry from Esbjerg back to Harwich.
We did not know what to expect when we called into Brusand but we were not disappointed. One of the advantages of arriving early at a site in low season is that you get a pick of the pitches and ours was a beauty, overlooking the Skagerrak, which is the name of the sea in this area.
We just spent a day walking up the beach and in the dunes, doing nothing special but just enjoying the fine weather, even if it was a breezy day.
Long days and long shadows on the beach at Brusand
The next day we had planned to call into Fleckerfiord, which by all intents and purposes is a pretty town but it was rather a damp day and we did not fancy paddling around in the rain, so we made the decision to continue onto Mandal, which was in spitting distance of the ferry port at Kristiansand.
We called into Camping Sol which is situated in pine forests backing onto the coast and a sandy beach and at 200NOK was the best value site to date, excluding the camping cheque sites.
The beach at the campsite
Mondal is Norway’s most southerly town and allegedly has the best beaches. We found that Brusand had the larger expanse of sands but what Mondal had was the beauty of the pine forests coming down to meet the sands, in the many rocky coves , which you can reach easily either on foot or by bike. We spent a pleasant afternoon exploring the forest trails and the rocky coves.
It also has a picturesque harbour area and town, with many older white painted wooden houses which are so often a feature of Norway.
There are also two viewpoints which gave you a great aerial perspective of the town and surrounding islands.
The view of the harbour from the Uranienborg viewpoint
It was such a pleasant town that we spent two days here doing nothing much but just enjoying the scenery.
On our second day we met Tony Cardworth who had cycled from Inverness in Scotland and was on his way to Stavanger following cycle route one, a month away, where he was going to catch a flight back home.
Ok Tony was an ex marine and the last time he had been to Norway was in the Artic but he had the early stages of Parkinsons and also had prostate cancer and as he said, he was not doing the trip as some sort of penance but just to enjoy it whilst he could and he wanted to do it before his 70th birthday.
He had left his wife at home looking after the cats and as he said someone had to look after them.
Tony was a real gentleman and it was a privilege to meet him.
Kristiansand was just over half an hour from Mandal and we were greeted by the automatic toll cameras above the road, which was somewhat gauling, as within a few hundred metres we had turned into the port, very clever positioning by the authorities.
The other difficulty is that the catamaran was not a ro ro ferry, so my heart sank when the guy said that I had to reverse up the ramp. This was not because of the thought of reversing, though I must admit when I commenced the manouevre, all I could see in my wing mirror was hunks of metal from the bulwarks ready to gouge a hole in my motorhome. The real problem was that I was now having major problems selecting gears and you guessed right, reverse was one of those. To make matters worse I stalled reversing up the ramp but with a bit of luck I managed to select reverse again, after some delay. I bet the guy was thinking whether we would ever leave. Do you notice when people give you instructions, when reversing, that they all use a language and signals of their own, totally alien to the rest of us? They then expect immediate compliance and then express frustration when it does not go the way they want. If that is where you want it 'Why don't you bloody well get in and reverse it'. In the interim I am just going to ignore you and make sure I do not knock a hole in my pride and joy.