The first articles mainly covered the north of Norway but now we are about to enter what the travel agencies call Fjord Norway. This is the most touristy part and is the part you are most likely to visit on a two or three week trip. If like us you have seen it first on a cruise or have studied the brochures then many of the place names will be familiar to you.
Last Nights Camp
We start our journey from a quiet lakeside where we saw badgers the previous evening and we made our way by a circuitous route via Andelsnes to the Trollveggan, the troll wall. A vertical slab of rock a thousand meters high, whose peaks at 1700 meters have been conquered by many groups including remarkably a French team who just went straight up. It took them 20 days just hanging from pitons etc even in sleep. We sat at the bottom and had a coffee!
The Troll Wall and Coffee
Then we went to the Trollstigen, the troll ladder, a road with eleven hairpins as it climbs up to 850m from about 400m. The road is closed in the winter and reopens in May or June dependant upon the weather. Note that large motor caravans and coaches traverse this road without too much difficulty, you need to be confident of your width and able to reverse if necessary into a corner. They don’t recommend towing a caravan or trailer!
The Troll Ladder
Lets talk about Norwegian roads, they tend to be narrow especially around the fjords, main routes are often the width of our ‘B’ roads the E39 for example a ‘Euro trunk route’ is so narrow that in some stretches it has passing places. We never encountered anything steeper than about 1 in 8, 1 in 10 is more common; it’s not like Porlock hill! Hairpins are often quite wide and sometimes the only place to pass is as you enter or leave the hairpin. One thing we noticed is the absence of Armco to protect you from precipitous drops, the only time you can rely on seeing it is where, if you fell off the road, you would land in the water. Perhaps it’s only there to protect the ecology not you. We never had much problem with keeping down to 80kph!
At the top of Trollstigen and at the bottom of Trollsveggan there are souvenir shops, these now become more frequent, ignore them if you will, but don’t do as we did and leave your present buying to the return ferry port we couldn’t get what we wanted there.
Ahead of us lay the descent into and climb out of Geirangerfjord and up to the Dalsnibba mountain, many more hairpins. It was in 2002 at anchor in Geirangerfjord that we said that we must bring a motor caravan to Norway. It was a hot misty day now as we began our drive down past the seven sisters waterfall which we could only just make our through the mist and by the time we passed a cruise ship and all the souvenir shops at the bottom and got up the other side it was 4pm and we were nowhere near where I imagined we would get to by that evening.
Above the Fjord - The Descent
Climbing to Dalsnibba
Most tourists unless they are returning to Oslo when coming to the E15 below the peak of Dalsnibba turn right and enter the 8km tunnel but we had other plans, we turned left to Lom. We were also on a mission, our cassette toilet was jammed closed with ‘contents’ in the pan. We knew that we needed rubber gloves and a good supply of water at a service point in order to sort our problem. This we found at a garage and so at Lom we joined the RV55 and headed across the Jotunheimen mountain range where Norway’s two highest mountains Glittertinden (2470m) and Galdhopiggen (2469m) are. By 8pm or so we were tired of driving and after our earlier problems now had our appetites back so we stopped high up in the range by a viewpoint. In our diary for the day I wrote 200 miles, 1 ferry, 100 hairpins and a 1000 Wows. Goodness knows what I would have written if the weather had been better.
On the RV55 at about 1000m near the highest Mountains in Norway
It rained overnight and we didn’t wake until an official looking car stopped by us at about 9am. We were on the route of a cycle race, later we reached the highest point of the road (1434m) where we thought the race ended only to find they were just having a ‘comfort break’ I never did find out how long the race was but it was called the three mountains or something like that and they were still on the road 50km further on as we went off towards Flåm. It was also a day of contrasting weather as we climbed in the rain past cyclists in very low gears. Then over the top dry and cooler now and just below the cloud base. Then a glorious run back down the mountainside where we were overtaken by racing cyclists.
A Day of Contrasts
Just should mention one more tunnel, the world’s longest road tunnel from near Lærdal to Aurland a mere 24.5km underground as straight as a laser beam and toll free.
One of Three Rest Area in the Tunnel
Actually we covered most of the ground twice, the original ‘snow road’ over the top had to be seen as well, as they promise snow both sides of the road all year. So we went on the snow road halfway then retraced our route and then went all the way underground to Flåm.
Flåm is another tourist spot where cruise ships tie up alongside and people go on the 20km long Flåm railway which climbs 900m on ordinary track. Sure enough when we awoke next morning the QE2 was alongside our campsite disgorging hundreds on to the railway. This was not what we planned when we saw the train going up with a dozen or so people on the previous evening. Still we managed to get seats and went on the round trip on the railway which famously does a figure of eight inside the mountain near the top. We actually got out at the top and walked 7km down the steepest part of the original railway builder’s track (the navvies road) before catching the train again. Doreen is not one for enthusing about train rides but gave it an ‘excellent!’
QE2 at Flam The Navvies Road
Hitching a Lift back
A day later after visiting Voss and staying overnight next to a fast food kiosk in a car park, we went to another place that we had both been before - Eidfjord where we drove though the tunnel that follows a upward spiral path through a mountain. Then along a road where suddenly you realise that instead of everyone selling strawberries you have hit cherry central.
One advantage of having GPS on these sort of long trips is that you can do ‘what if’ or advanced planning so at all times I could easily find how many miles and how many hours driving it was to our ferry. This enabled us to develop a comfortable cushion to allow for mishaps without having to rush. GPS doesn’t predict the weather though and the last two full days of our holiday were washouts. So we didn’t go on a funicular trip up a mountain or walk on a glacier. Pity, but there will be a next time. Planning has already started for 2008 it will include the Lofoten but not NordKapp or Tromso or Trondheim.
I could do these three articles over again and hardly mention the places that I’ve already covered. On one of our last days as we waited in the rain for a ferry we tried to decide which were the best campsites best wild camp and best day. Well we managed to come up with the first two categories or at least narrow it down to a few contenders but best day? We short-listed 20 of the 31 days!
Here is a potted summary :
31 nights in the van 11 in campsites 20 free camping.
Most northerly: NordKapp.
Highest mountain pass: 1,434 metres (Jotenheimen)
Tunnels: Longest 25km, deepest 265m. Total tunnels 264km (low estimate some tunnels too new for maps)
Sunniest day: Sala in Sweden also best campsite.
Best day: Probably when we did Trollveggen mountain view (1 mile high vertical wall), TrollStiggen pass (11 hairpin climb)
and Dalsnibba (1500m mountain 30 hairpins and snow) in the one day - these are all tourist hotspots ie you might see 50 cars an hour.
Best wildcamp: by the side of the lake Eikedalsval within site of N Europes highest waterfall Mardalsfossen)
with a great sunset ie the sun went behind the mountains and for company? Some sheep and three badgers.
Second was in N Sweden when a mother and baby reindeer visited us at breakfast time.
Biggest WOW: when the clouds rolled back at NordKapp we were still out looking at 2am local time.
Road Miles 5500, Fuel consumption just over 35 mpg (36 if you ignore UK driving)
It was daylight all the time once we left UK.
Just to finish what happened about the souvenirs? We wanted some candles and a Norwegian jumper for a three year old boy plus a few bits and pieces. Well with limited space we didn’t want to fill the van too early. At Flåm I said ‘Don’t get anything here its over-priced and we are going to Voss’. At Voss the one small gift shop was full of a coach trippers from Yorkshire all moaning about the prices. “Never mind” I said “there are plenty of shops in Haugesund.” “Are you sure” said Doreen. I proved it by showing her the town guide full of shops. Actually in Haugesund there was a tiny gift shop selling nothing that we wanted, all the rest of the places in the guide book sold ordinary sort of stuff that you could buy in UK. Little Norwegian boys apparently wear Gap or Reebok. There was one last chance, away from the town centre and not properly shown on the town guide book map was a candle shop, its address wasn’t in my GPS database, the road not shown on any map we had. So I took a guess at the location and wonder of wonders found it and what’s more it was open till late and it was the best candle shop in the world.
The little boys jumper? ……… we got him a toy Volvo articulated lorry on the ferry home.