Historical author Michelle Styles is back with us, with a lovely post about northern beauty - the Fjords of Norway!
There are times when you become jaded and tired of modern living. You want to get away from it all and travel to an unspoilt wilderness, a place where there few people, dramatic landscapes and crystal clear water. One such place is Norway, and in particular, the Western Norwegian coast line aka the Norwegian fjords. Land of the Midnight Sun, Of towering mountains, crashing waterfalls, glaciers and some of the most dramatic scenery known to mankind. And it is a landscape that would have been familiar to the Vikings. 96% of Norwegians live in and around Oslo, leaving only 4% to inhabit the remainder. Because of its heritage, in particular as a laegacy of World War 2, Norway maintains a system of mountain huts and a right to roam. Because Germany invaded them, Norwegians vowed never to taken unaware again and to this day, Norwegian men and women are prepared with a half hour’s notice to take to the mountains and form a resistance force.
The western coast of Norway is one of the more unspoilt tourist destinations in the world, and many people have the mail boat cruise up the coast of Norway as an all time dream. You can do shorter cruises, for example taking the ferry from Newcastle up to Bergen and that will give a taste of what cruising the fjords is like. Great snow topped mountains tower over the placid waters and forests rise steeply.
Bergen is a great stopping off place. The central harbour region, Bryggen, has not really changed since 1702 when Bergen was the centre for the stock fish trade. Stock fish or dried cod was a popular fish, particularly in Catholic countries. The Hanseatic League controlled the trade and there are several museums to this period. It is also possible to get salt cod on the menu at one of the many restaurants that are clustered around the harbour. It is generally fixed to a Spanish or Italian recipe though and is absolutely delicious, if done properly. The distinctive gables and narrow alleyways make the harbour incredibly picturesque. You can also reach Begen by the Oslo-Begen train line which has a reputation for fantastic scenery. The trains also have special family cars and are a lot nicer than their British counterparts.
It is possible to rent cabins in the area and spend several days hiking in the Hardangervidda National Park, just to the east of Bergen. Geilo, a popular ski resort, is a good place to stay. In the winter, it has both down hill and cross country skiing, while in the summer, it provides a number of hiking trails. The cabins have under the floor heating and wood burning stoves.
Hardangervidda is the home of the last wild reindeer in Europe as well as Arctic raspberry which is supposed to taste better than the Finnish cloudberry. You also need to keep an eye out for the trolls who are supposed to inhabit the mountains.
Even if you don’t see trolls, you can still take one of the most thrilling train rides in the world – the Flam railway from Flam to Mydrdal. You start up in the icefields where they filmed the ice planet in Star Wars, and the train zigs and zags through a series of tunnels and overhangs worthy of a Disneyland ride until you are suddenly in the upland pasture and then at the head of the Sognefjord – the longest fjord in the world, with the mountains rising above you and the tranquil sea out in front of you.
Further north of Bergen is Jotunheimen or the Home of the Giants. There are no public roads and people either walk or ski. Ibsen mentions two of its lakes – Gjende and Bygdin and Jotunheimen is also home to Norway’s highest waterfall –Vettifossen which has 275 metre drop. Basically, the landscape has not changed for thousands of years and you can experience it like the Vikings did.
But wherever you go, the sheer beauty of the place is bound to inspire and refresh your spirit. So if you are suffering from ennui, there is no better place to go than the Norwegian fjords.
Michelle Styles’ next UK release Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife features the west coast of Norway. She has been to Bergen, cruised up fjord, skied in Geilo and taken the Flam railway. She has not however seen a troll. She lives in hope!