A Norwegian Interlude

August 2016

A little diversion from my usual coastal walks, as this is not a coastal walk nor is it in the UK. But this is certainly the best walk I have had this year, perhaps for ever, it is absolutely stunning, so I wanted to share it.

I first visited Norway a little over a year ago. Inspired by a fellow coastal walkers blog I decided to visit the city of Bergen. It is a beautiful city and I also had my first visit into the Fjords on a cruise. I was blown away by the scenery so I went back earlier this , this time to Stavanger and then a few weeks ago I headed back to Bergen, as I had enjoyed it so much the year before. I think I am becoming addicted to Norway! It has such beautiful scenery and with a population of a little over 5 million, in a country 50% larger than the UK there is a lot of unspoilt scenery to enjoy. It is easy to reach Bergen with a couple of flights a day from London Heathrow whilst you can also fly to Bergen from London Gatwick, Manchester and Aberdeen.

I went for a few walks, some in the mountains that surround Bergen and this one a little further afield. The previous day I had been on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. As Nic comments (and I don’t think I could put it better) : Norway in a Nutshell is one of those things you will be pleased you did but which you will never want to do again, because every other tourist in the country also did it with you. I think that sums it up well, it is a wonderful and beautiful tour but it is also very popular, which means it is also very crowded. One of the highlights for me was the trip down the Flåm valley on the Flåm railway. But crowded on the train and only able to look through the window I wanted to go back and experience the landscape from closer quarters, so that is what I did. The previous day I had picked up a leaflet of local walks, which included this one though to be honest you don’t need a map or directions.

Having been on the Norway in a Nutshell tour the previous day I found that the 8:43 and 9:58 trains were those used by the tour (the service is only around hourly) so I decided to make an earlier start, to avoid the crowds by taking the earlier train, at 7:57. Having not used the trains independantly before in Norway I found the ticket machine offered an English option so I soon managed to buy a ticket. The train I caught was long, as it was heading across to Oslo (around a 7 hour journey) and had a buffet car. The previous day on the same route I sat on the left and found this had the best views as far as Voss, but then the views were better on the right after Voss. So this time I wanted to sit on the right but had to walk most of the length of the train before I found a free seat on the right. I sat down to enjoy the journey. There was soon an announcement in Norwegian (I don’t speak a word of it) but it was followed in English and the announcement was that the train was very busy and you must sit in your reserved seat. Well I didn’t think I had a reserved seat but on close inspection I found I had in fact been reserved a seat, in carriage 6 and an aisle seat. I had no idea which carriage I was in and it did not seem to be on the display. So I decided to stay where I was and prented to be an ignorant tourist if the guard challenged me. This worked perfectly, since the guard did not mention it when he came to check my ticket.

The train journey is wonderful. It took around 1 hour and 50 minutes but the scenery meant that it felt much quicker. The Bergen Railway runs between Bergen and Oslo and is I think the highest railway line in Europe, it runs all year round and much of it is over high mountain terrain. The full journey takes around 7 hours, so I was only going a little over 1/4 of the way. The train pulled out of Bergen and we were soon running alongside one of the Fjords.

The day was dry and overcast, but overnight rain left mist hanging over many of the Fjords we passed. The train went in and out of tunnels, sometimes leaving mist over the windows, at other times mist hung over the water.

View from the Bergen Railway

At the end of the Fjord, the train ran alongside one of the rivers that fed into it, the water rushing along beside the train.

View from the Bergen Railway

We passed through the pretty town of Voss and then the mountains became higher and soon had areas of snow on the top, even in August.

View from the Bergen Railway

View from the Bergen Railway

The scenery was changing, becoming wilder and remote, with just a few scattered houses visible from the train as the train was now climbing. I was glued to the window all the way, there was always something beautiful to see outside.

View from the Bergen Railway

I’m very glad I was not stuck in my booked aisle seat! We then headed through a tunnel and emerged at the station at Myrdal, my destination, where we pulled in exactly on time.

Myrdal Station

The height gain was obvious. I had not seen any snow in or around Bergen but here there was still snow resting on the hills just above me. Myrdal is also an unusual station for whilst all trains that pass through stop here there is no town, not even a village, just a tiny hamlet and in fact the station does not even have road access! The only way to get here is on foot, bicycle or by train, as I did.

I went into the station building (which houses toilets and a cafe but, oddly, no ticket office) to check the train times for my return journey. I picked up a leaflet with the times of the train back up from Flåm. A sign in the station told me that the station was unstaffed so you should buy tickets on the train and added “No seat reservations are required on the Flåm railway – find yourself a nice seat!”. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be quite accurate.

I seemed to have timed my arrival a little badly since to leave the station you need to cross the tracks. To do that you need it to be free of trains and so we needed to wait at the end of the platform for the man in the high visibility jacket to tell us it was safe to cross.

Myrdal Station

We had to wait first for the train I arived on to depart, then a train back the other way to Bergen and another that seemed to be a few minutes behind the train I arrived on, which terminated at Myrdal. Once those had gone, we could cross the tracks down into the valley.

Once into the valley there was a track, but the route was obvious. Everything seemed to be right. Including a sign for Flåm which was 21km away.

Flam Valley walk at Myrdal

The black and white building to the right is actually a hotel which surprised me in a such a remote place. The path was at this point a fairly wide track heading through the small number of houses that make up Myrdal.

Myrdal, Norway

The station building is just to the right here. Myrdal might be a small place, but it is very beautiful.

Flam Valley walk at Myrdal

The track I was following continued down the valley whilst the railway was now a little above me. The high parts of the railway line, such as this, are often protected from snow during the winter by these tunnels.

The Flam Railway

I left Mydral behind and the track was soon following by a fast flowing but shallow river.

River at Myrdal

There was soon a little bridge over the river where I stopped to take a few photos, but the main track stayed on the same side so I returned to that and continued down the valley.

Soon I was getitng hints of the scenery that lay ahead, as soon ahead I could see the impressive Flåm valley ahead. The photos don’t really give a hint of the scale – but hopefully all the trees might make it more obvious. The Flåm railway is cut through parts of the mountains here, twisting and turning to lose height since this is the steepest adhesion railway in Europe. The tracks can be seen near the centre of the photo below.

The Flam Valley

Rounding the corner I soon had much of the valley right before me.

The Flam Valley

Again you probably can’t appreciate the scale from the photo but trust it me, it is an amzing place. I think that is the Flåm river flowing down the side of the mountain and cutting that deep valley. The path down from here is the steepest part, but going this way it is all downhill. The track zig-zags down the hill (signs warned cyclists to dismount at this point) and soon passes close to a large waterfall that split into several channels. This is the stream I had been following down from Myrdal now feeding into the Flåm river.

The Flam Valley

You can see the path here descending down the valley.

The Flam Valley

I passed close to the waterfall as I descended.

Waterfall near Myrdal

The sound of the water was incredible and it turned out this was a sound that would follow me for the rest of the walk.

Soon I came to the bottom of the zig zag path where there is then a bridge over the stream. Here two waterfalls came down the valley sending up spray and making the most incredible sound.

Waterfall near Myrdal

The Flåm railway was only completed in 1940 and was originally built to connect the main Bergen railway line to Flåm where ferries connected around the towns and vilages of Sognefjord (and still do). These days it is mostly used by tourists and if you catch the train there is even a stop at Kjosfossen. It is a photo stop (the first time I’ve ever come across one on a train) and exists entirely for tourists, you can’t leave the station but there is a large viewing platform so you can enjoy the waterfall. As there is no road access from the station you can’t get to the waterfall on foot, but I think I am probably quite close to it at this point. Whilst you can’t see it from this walk here is a video of it I took on the previous day.

Sadly, as you can hear, you do get a musical accompniant (and also a dancer). The ruined building you might make out to the right is an old hydro-electric power station (there is now another one further down the valley) and the electric generated is used to power the railway line – interesting to think the line is powered by the very river it runs next to!

The track went across the river by a smaller waterfall over a bridge. Here I could not resist getting closer to the river, so I climbed down over the rocks beside it to watch the water rushing past at close quarters. It’s an impressive site with the water rushing past, the spray blowing up and the incredible sound of the water.

The Flam Valley at Kardal

Once over the bridge a sign warned that it was no longer a path and now a public road so you might come across vehicles. In fact until I was almost at Flåm only half a dozen cars passed me, so it was not exactly the M1.

By now the steepest part of the descent was over and I was now down beside the main Flåm river. The valley was wide with the water spread over two channels, here with an island in the middle.

The Flam Valley at Kardal

The sound of rushing water was the only sound. I continued ahead and soon found that I had company.

The Flam Valley near Kardal

Yes a herd of mountain goats! They were heading down the mountain behind me and onto this track. They were rather lovely though if I stopped for a minute one behind would try to give me a nibble! I soon left the goats behind and the track continued right beside the river which could really be described as a raging torrent by now.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

Large rocks littered the water in places, presumably coming down from the valley sides in the winter. The valley is remote, since leaving Myrdal I had not seen a single building, so I was a litle surprised to see this sign.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

I may not speak Norwegian but even I could work out that Kafe meant Cafe. I was surprised to find one in such a remote place.

And here it is.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

The cafe even had a little outdoor setting and a better located cafe you would be heard pressed to find. This was the view from it.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

The speciality was goats cheese – so that explains all the goats I had passed! After a drink (I didn’t eat as I’m not a fan of goats cheese) I continued down the valley. Just below the cafe there was a large area of rocks sticking out into the river. From here I could get up close to the river and what an impressive sight it was.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

The sound was incredible and it is impossible not to be awed by the sheer power of nature to be seen here. Just watch and listen.

The path crossed the river again ahead on a bridge. The signs on the bridge were not exactly subtle!

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

Still it gets the message across! And yes I did shut the gate! From the bridge I could look back over the rocks where I had been taking photos of the river.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

I was standing where the man in the red is standing (who also turned out to be British and walking down the valley). The path soon climbed up, away from the river (it’s not all downhill) a bit giving me a view back down to the valley.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

All down the valley there were waterfalls, most small some larger – there was always something to look at. To build both a road and a railway down here is an impressve feat of engineering and soon I could see some of this engineering as the track now passed through a tunnel cut into the rock.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

Emerging from the tunnel at the other end (it was about 150 metres long) it was now drizzling.

The railway line was soon parallel to me on the right, up on this little embankment.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

Ahead there was just a couple of farms, so I was surprised at what I found next.

Blomheller Station

A beautiful little station called Blomheller. This was about the length of the platform, but despite this it had this lovely little waiting room. These are about the only buildings nearby, it is a remote spot.

The Flam Valley at Blomheller

The track crossed the river again ahead where I could watch the surging waters heading down to the Fjord.

The Flam Valley at Blomheller

The railway line was now below me again, making it’s way down the valley.

The Flam Valley at Blomheller

There are several level crossings on this walk and I soon came to one of them.

The Flam Valley near Blomheller

I soon came across another little waterfall that passed under the railway line and track. I was now walking parallel with the railway line.

The Flam Valley

This soon brought me to another station, this one larger and called Brekvam.

Berekvam Station

The building was open and inside I found public toilets (handy) and some park benches inside for you to use whilst waiting for the train and also a small car park. Having had a little lock around I returned to the track to continue my walk, but first I had another level crossing to cross. This time, my luck ran out and the level crossing bells started as I approached the crossing. Here comes the train.

The Flam Railway

The Flam Railway at Berekvam

The Flam Railway at Berekvam

It was quite a long train but once it passed the barriers lifted and I could continue on my way. I crossed the level crossing and was surprised when a few second later the bells sounded again and the barriers dropped. It turns out this is the only place between Flåm and Myrdal which has two tracks, so the trains pass here.

Again this is a small place, you can see the extent of the houses near the station and just spot the train on the right.

The Flam Railway at Berekvam

I continued the walk which was now alongside the railway again, so soon the Flåm-bound train passed me.

The Flam Railway at Berekvam

The path descended further back down to the valley floor.

The Flam Valley near Dalsbotn

The Flam Valley near Dalsbotn

The views were again stunning, the river now wider. I crossed the railway again via a level crossing, then the river via a bridge.

The Flam Valley near Dalsbotn

The sun was now breaking through, picking out details on the cliffs and woodlands beside the river.

The Flam Valley near Dalsbotn

I continued past more waterfalls that continued to feed the river.

The Flam Valley near Dalsbotn

The valley was beginning to feel less remote now, with more houses around.

The Flam Valley near Dalsbotn

The Flam Valley near Dalsbotn

Ahead I noticed that the river had become calmer.

The Flam Valley near Flåm

This turned out to be for a small hydro electric power station, but it really was small. Was this really enough to power the railway and the houses along the valley? It seemed surprising.

I could now see the first houses of Flåm ahead, but it is quite a spread out village so I still had a couple of miles to go.

Flåm

Some of the houses were quite Swiss in style.

Flåm

Flåm is an incredibly pretty village.

Flåm

I soon passed the very pretty wooden church. I would have liked to have a look inside but some work was going on, so I was not able to.

Flåm

Flåm is almost a village of two halves. The pretty residential part further up the valley through which I ws now passing and a very much more tourist area near the Fjord which is mostly hotels, shops, restuarants and cafes. I sensed I was getting near to the tourist part of the town when I saw this ahead!

Flåm

The river was now calmer as I neared the Fjord.

The Flam Valley

I soon passed the village school. It would be impossible to imagine a prettier location for a school.

The Flåm Valley and Flåm School

Can you imagine going to school there in the shadow of the mountains and with the river right in front. So beautiful and what a place to go to school. Lucky children! I continued down the valley to the tourist part of Flåm.

The crowds came as something of a shock after the peace and trainquilty of the walk.

Flåm

Flåm

I continued through the crowds to reach the Fjord itself.

Flåm

Flåm

The reasons for the crowds soon became apparant. Not only is every train on the railway busy, there were two floating blocks of flats here (some people call them cruise ships), and two ferries. It was certainly a busy spot.

I had expected to buy something for lunch in Myrdal before starting the walk but there was nowhere. By now I had long since run out of drink and had no lunch, and it was a little past 2pm. So I stopped in a cafe for lunch (food in Norway is at least twice the price as in the UK) and then headed to the station to buy my ticket back.

Here I came across a problem. I was told the next two departures were sold out. Only the last train, around 6:30pm had any spaces. This would give me nearly an hour wait at Myrdal and so I would not reach Bergen until 10:30pm. I had no idea the railway was so busy and in any case the sign at Myrdal had suggested there were no seat reservations possible and that you could buy a ticket on the train, but staff would not let me on the platform without a ticket and the ticket office insisted the trains were full. So I had to explore other options or have a late arrival back. In the end it turned out there were other options – a fast ferry (which buy now was already here) which left at 3:30pm – but took a little over 5 hours. Or I was told there was a bus at 4:20pm which took 3 hours. I opted for the bus but told you had to buy a ticket on the bus. I was worried the bus would also be full but whilst it was busy, there were still a couple of spare seats when we left Bergen. In fact this was more like Natonal Express is here than a bus, since it was a modern coach with Wifi and a toilet. It had come all the way from Lillehammer so many passengers had already been on the road for many hours. Still it was on time and comfortable and got me back to Bergen around 7:30opm, which was rather more reasonable. In addition, it was about £25 cheaper than the train would have been.

All in all this was a wonderful day and if you ever visit Norway I can highly recommend this walk.

Here are the complete set of photos from this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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