Friday, 18 September 2009

Farewell to Norway

This is the last blog of our 5 month trip! Its been an amazing experince and was brilliant to share it with you - thanks for checking up on us!!

As I hinted in the last blog, we had to bring our trip to an abrupt close because of an invitation for a job interview in Scotland. We decided to spend our last few days in Norway in the high mountain plateau of Jotunheim and Dovrefjell national parks. This area of Norway is famed for its very arctic climate caused by its high altitude. As a consequence the wildlife also has a distinct arctic feel to it with Musk Ox, Arctic foxes and alpine flowers.

Our first port of call was the town of Lom. We hiked up the hill behind the town and enjoyed spectacular views of the glacial landscape... before an enormous cloudburst sent us hurrying in a comedic half running style down the very steep path back to town.

The area had some interesting plant life such as this Autumn getian violet and blueberries growing through thick carpets of lichen.

These cows decided to lick the bottom of Neils wellies. They got really excited about it. I wonder what he had trodden in!?

Public transport around the area had stopped as the tourist season had ended. But a very helpful man in tourist information managed to organise a ride with a schoolboy into the remote mountain lodge at Spiterstulen. This place is a mecca for mountaineers and who play in the high icefields and glaciers. The highest mountain in Norway (Galdhoppigen) is also climbable from this direction.

The scenery at the mountain lodge. Its a lovely place but be prepared to leave with you wallet a little lighter than when you arrived e.g. it costs £5 to hire bed sheets and a tiny room with 2 tiny bunk beds is £25 per person which I think is quite a lot... but average by Norway's standards.

The river was in full flood and looked beautiful because of its the chalky glacial salts it was carrying.

Starry saxifrage growing by the river.

Even the mountainsides in this remote spot have sheep grazing them during the summer. These sheep have been gathered from the mountains on foot and are about to be taken across the bridge to spend the winter in a warm barn least that is what Neil told me... I have a feeling some of them might end up on the menu at the lodge :( .

We did a fairly hard-core hike up the 2nd highest mountain in Northern Europe called Glittertind (2465ish m). The hike gave us great veiws of the surrounding mountains including Galdhoppigen (the highest at 2469 or so) but the very top was covered by cloud. Here are some pictures from the hike:

The trail was maked all the way by the iconic red 'T' sign painted on cairns.

The mountain lodge is in the bottom of this valley and the hike up to Galdhoppigen in on the opposite side.

Galdhoppigen has three peaks. All look down onto the glacier. Most people hike across the glacier to get to the top. To do this you need to hire a guide and rope yourself to other hikers as there are many open crevasses.

Hiking to glittertind takes you across this wide open valley high in the mountians. You have to ford this river which is easy as it is entirely made of stepping stones.

As you climb higher you begin to see the landscape opeing up. We counted six glaciers at once. The final two hours of the climb are brutal. The trail goes directly up a though an almost vertical boulder field.

It was t-shirt weather to begin with but as we got close to the top we found ourselves hiking through freezing fog.

The top of Glittertind is a snow peak and as a result is very often in fog. This can be extremely dangerous because you cannot see where the snow finishes and the fog begins...and it is a LONG way down. I am standing as close as I dared to the peak. If you look very closely you can just see the snow ridge at about the level of my waist. Below is a picture I found on wikipedia of what we were walking on without knowing it!

These pictures show the steep boulder climb... just as difficult on the way down!!

A pale pasque flower growing amongst the boulders.

The next day we decided to do a little hike... which turned into another quite big hike up to a waterfall. It was steep and slippery and when we got back we were told that somone had lost their life in this place after slipping. Don't worry Mum, we would never go outside of our comfort zone when we are in the hills!! It was a sobering reminder of how dangerous mountians can be.

Our last nights in Norway were spent around Dombas where we stayed in a little cabin. Norway has lots of these cabins and they are excellent accommodation when you are on a shoestring budget.

We really wanted to see some Musk Ox while we were here and managed to meet up with a Musk Ox guide who showed us the best spots, taught us about their life-history and told us the Do's and Don'ts of musk ox watching! Did you know musk-ox are very badly named, neither ox nor musky. They're actually the biggest member of the sheep family.

They can be quite feisty during mating time in autumn and have been clocked at 63kmph. One dog with a careless owner was lucky to escape this group.

We did a 17km hike across the plateau to reach a mountaineers hut where we stayed a night. Here are some of the pictures we took along the way:


Reindeer antler modelled by Neil

The mountain in the background is Snohetta, a little over 2300m high

Our accommodation for the night. You just turn up and stay and there are no staff. There is a kitchen with canned meats with unappetising names!! We were suprised to see that you have to pay for your room as this type of accommodation is free at home... it was actully quite expensive too!

...but it was well worth it for the veiws at dawn.

And that was it for Norway! Time to go home. We couldnt be sad though as we had a brilliant welcome home from our freinds in Aberdeen - Thanks guys!!!

Permaculture at Luregarden, southern Norway

Welcome to Luregarden, the Viking farm. This land, on a peninsula north of Bergen, has been continually farmed since before Viking times. The grazing animals maintain an increasingly rare patch of lowland heathland. Erik, the farmer at Luregarden, is keeping the tradition going, with his flock of old breed Viking sheep, Viking cows and 1 pig (old breed, probably Viking). The farm also grows masses of fruit and veg in a neat permaculture system which works so well that Erik is self-sufficient for meat, fish, eggs, fruit and veg year round and can trade his produce for most other needs. He also supplies restaurants, supermarkets and a growing number of people in nearby Bergen.

The farm is nestled in a quiet fjord. The Fjord is unusual in Norway as it is not surrounded by mountains, but by smaller hills. This, along with the narrow entrance, makes a huge difference to the conditions in the Fjord and a unique assemblege of animals has evolved to life there, including a sub-species of herring!

Local, sustainably caught mackerel

The farm has been a place of fun and knowledge exhange for many WWOOFERS (volunteers for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms), including ourselves. Here Erik and Geoff enjoy a trip to a small heather covered island which makes up part of the farm where the sheep graze.

Bergen is known for being quite rainy... but it is worth is for rainbows like these!

A Viking sheep. A very hardy old breed with beautiful wool and heather nourished meat.

Also on the farm are four old breed cows, Dina the pig and lots of lovely chickens:

Erik has worked hard to develop a system of farming where nothing is wasted and everthing fits neatly into an overall plan. The animals eat leftovers and scraps from the vegetable crops, the pig prepares beds prior to planting by digging through the soil with her snout, and the chickens provide some fertilizer. Brilliant systems of composting ensure that nothing is wasted, not even humanure! If you find that last idea a bit strange (as I suppose is only natural!!) read the humanure handbook for free at and prepare to be won over (and very amused at the same time)!

A bit about the produce:

The farm is amazingly productive, for example, there are 27 varieties of potatoes! You'll also find carrots, asparagus, onions, lettuce, leeks, kohl rabi, squashes, pumpkins, courgettes (by the tonne!), sugar-snap peas, french beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, chineses leaves, beetroot, jerusalem artichokes, strawberries, redcurrents, raspberries, fruit trees and herbs. There are two poly-tunnels which provide a huge crop of tomatoes, cucumbers and more delicate herbs such as basil. Most of this is sold but of course some of it goes straight to our dinner table - yum!

A tiny fraction of the potatoes we harvested.

Onions drying in the eaves of the barn to get them ready for storage.

Market day - getting some of the produce ready to leave the farm.

Tomatoes and cucumbers

Anything that is not eaten or sold is preserved in ingenious ways. This is lacto-acid fermented courgette... um sounds delicious!

The produce goes to Bergen - a really nice city on the edge of a fjord (like most cities in Norway!).

It has a medieval part to the city with wooden buildings and narrow alleyways.

We really enjoyed staying here but had to leave because we were invited for a job interview back in Scotland! There was just time for one last adventure before we left so we headed for the hills in search of mountains and musk ox - see next blog entry!