The ferry carved its way through the fjords and around dozens of islands between the city of Stavanger and the village of Tau in South-Western Norway. Blonde-haired Norwegians crowded the decks during the 45 minute journey over the crystal waters as I struggled to get to the highest point possible to truly appreciate the glacier carved landscape.
So many islands dotted the route that they sometimes became hard to distinguish, blending into each other with only thin channels isolating them from the rest of the land. The air tasted cool and fresh with the sea breeze leaving goose pimples on my arms.
It is travelling in places like this that make you realise why the Vikings probably did take to the water; it is only when you leave the protection of the fjords and head out to the open-sea that the more fearsome characteristics of the Norwegian cost come to light.
Travelling in places like this make you realise why the Vikings took to the water
I felt like I could have remained on this boat all day, travelling back and forth between the islands under the blue sky. The ferry rejoined the mainland and I disembarked almost reluctantly and boarded a bus for similarly spectacular journey as the vehicle snaked its way along the coastline, passing clean red, white, yellow and green timber houses, which were sandwiched between the mountains and the fjord.
After half an hour, the bus climbed its way up into the mountains, ending up at the even smaller village of Preikestolhytte, which consisted of one hostel and one information centre on the bank of a clear blue lake surrounded by rocky peaks. This village is used predominantly by hikers as a base for walks in the mountains around Lysefjorden, a long and narrow fjord whose walls are so steep that anyone living alongside it can only leave their homes by boat. End to end, the fjord stretches 42km with its rocky walls stretching up to 1,000 metres above, and the freezing water plunging to a depth of up to 400 metres below.
With only a short amount of time, my aim was to hike the 6km up to Preikestolen (translated in English as ‘Pulpit Rock’) and have a bit of an explore around there. Preikestolen is a rocky cliff overhanging Lysefjorden, with a sheer drop of 700m were one to be unfortunate enough to slip off its ledge. With this in mind, I was amazed to see other hikers accompanied by dogs, walking sticks and hyperactive children. I had a rather disturbing mental image of a slightly over-excited pet chasing a bird a little too far only to never be seen again.
It rains up to 300 days a year in this part of south-west Norway
Hiking up to Preikestolen does not take particularly long, but pausing along the way to appreciate the magnitude of the surroundings is a necessity. It rains up to 300 days a year in this part of south-west Norway but I was lucky to be hiking under a largely cloud-free sky. The moisture, however, means that even this inhospitable rocky terrain is covered in greenery, sprouting from every possible crevice. Steep waterfalls also line the 330m climb from Preikestolhytte and even now, in late May, snow capped peaks can be seen in the distance.
Although the trail itself can get crowded during the day (around 90,000 people hike up to Preikestolen each year), there are a number of quieter detours that can be taken along the way. One of my favourites involved carefully climbing a steep rock face just before reaching the cliff, which is most people’s final destination, for a daunting aerial view of the brightly coloured hikers below, milling happily around the 25 by 25 metre surface.
The owners of the one youth hostel in Preikestolhytte go to so much of an effort to blend the three timber framed buildings in with the scenery that they have grass and flowers planted on their roofs. I arrived on the first day of the season that the hostel was open, meaning it was relatively quiet – although I did share the dormitory with Alizé, a French girl who was in Norway on an ERASMUS exchange. Alizé was in her 20s with long, dark brown hair and stylish clothing. She seemed to enjoy complaining about the Norwegians: “When someone bumps into you on the street or steps on your foot, they don’t even say sorry,” she said.
I asked her if she thought she would ever come back to Norway. “I don’t think so,” she replied. “Things happen too slowly here, not like in Paris.” For me, the calm and relaxed pace of life is exactly something that would attract me back to Norway, and I hastened to disagree with her on the rudeness aspect.
“I know York,” he said, stroking his beard. “The Vikings went to York”
Rain clouds drifted over the mountains at dusk; acres of mountain forest would hide under the cloud cover and then reappear sometime later. It was during this mystical scene that I realised why trolls, the legendary fearsome and devious inhabitants of Scandinavian forest, are present in so many Norwegian folk tales.
This was all while tucking into a plate of Rømmegrøt, a ‘traditional’ Norwegian porridge made of sour cream, flour and milk. I don’t know what exactly inspired me to order it, but I can safely say it was the one truly regretful experience during my time in Norway. The texture was thick, like a very thick warm yogurt, and yellow grease seeped up the side of the bowl.
In my happiness at being where I was, however, I neglected to think ahead as to how I was actually going to get back to civilisation. When I finally got around to it, I realised the next bus that would take me to the ferry back to Stavanger didn’t actually leave for another four days. “It’s ok,” the strikingly blonde hostel receptionist told me, in English better than my own. “My father is heading to town later today and he’ll give you a lift.” This was a relief, especially because “town” was of a sufficient distance away to require about a day of walking otherwise, and furthermore the rain clouds hadn’t gone away from the previous night.
The said father was called Anders and had bright silver hair and a bushy grey beard. I would place him in about his sixties. Although his English was not as good as his daughter’s, we did manage some conversation during the journey. He epitomised for me the happy, helpful Norwegian that I had been previously told so much about.
“Where are you from?” He asked me a short way into the drive. “York, in the UK,” I told him.
“Yes, I know York,” he said slowly, stroking his beard. “The Vikings went to York.”