Oh my goodness, what an amazing day. Norway serves up an absolute treat everywhere we go. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful country.
We’re heading north west, along the scenic drive, partly identified by Chris, partly, we find, a national tourism scheme to ensure that the country’s best is showcased and well serviced with plenty of rest stops and places to pull over and experience it. The Norwegians are out in force too, Alpine walkers are everywhere, some with babies strapped to them. Now that’s dedicated.
We stopped last night, by sheer coincidence, at the edge of the point where we start to climb. There are serious mountains ahead. With steep and winding roads ahead, I’m very grateful for Chris’s nerves of steel -the man knows no fear.
The lowland forests continue, we’re flanked by pine, spruce and silver birch. At ground level, trees dominate the landscape, perfectly straight, searching sunlight through the canopy. As we climb though, they change, ever shorter as the air becomes thinner and resources scarce. It’s a biology and geography lesson combined. By the time we are half way up the slope, only silver birch remain, dwarfed, barely 10 feet tall. These give way to shrubs higher, then mossed grassland, and finally to rock at the peak. Here, above the tree line, it’s too hostile for anything to grow bar the lightest cover of sage green lichen. We can see even higher mountains in the distances, dotted with snow. The biggest surprise are the wildflowers, so many types and in all colours. Chris gets a little tired of me begging for stops each time I see a new one. The drifts of lupins are spectacular.
Along the way we stumble upon the Rollag Stavkirke, a stunning, all wooden church with dragon carvings that dates back to 1150. With the mountains in the background, it’s very beautiful.
We stop at Geilo, in the heart of the ski fields, for lunch and fuel and go for a short walk. Joy of joys, Chris spots a baby red squirrel in a nearby tree. He’s tiny, barely a handful with a little brush tail and a creamy belly. His tail hasn’t grown in yet. I’m in heaven. He darts around, startled at being spotted, but curiosity gets the better off him and he settles, peering down trying to work us out. I can’t coax him down although he looks quite interested, instead I leave him a few nuts tucked into the branches. Seeing a wild red squirrel is the best high, in my book. Love.
Back on the road, we’re soon at a plateau – this mountain has a flat top. The snow drifts we saw in the distance are all around us. Even this high up, there are cottages scattered throughout – ski lodges I suspect. Most have green roofs made of sod. There’s a competition in Norway for the best green roof each year. The weight of the sod apparently stabilises the buildings. Practicality aside, it makes them very charming hobbity houses.
We stop by briefly to have a look at the snow – it’s pretty cold 6 degrees at the top and we’re almost 1,000 metres up. The lakes are still and grey, reflecting the sky, but when the sun comes out, they turn an aqua blue.
We continue our journey along scenes of breathtaking beauty, punctuated only by the very occasional tunnel. The vegetation reverses as we head down the mountain, from bare rock to brush, small trees then large, then accordions back and forth as we travel up then down, over and over. There are signs for elk everywhere, but we don’t see any. Apparently they are a common sight on roads causing quite a few accidents. By mid afternoon we’re at the Mabodal gorge, at an elevation of 1,100 metres, carved out by a glacier, river raging below. Spectacular. As we drive down, where we are not in a tunnel, waterfalls cascade down around us.
Eidfjord flanks our final journey – a Fjord over 100km long set sharply along a steep mountainside. There’s no wind and it’s glass still, broken only by an occasional fish jumping out of the water.
We settle for the night along the crossing we have to make.
So much beauty today, I don’t feel, despite taking over 250 photographs, that I’ve done it justice in any way.
The mice in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy were right: Norway’s fjords were their best work.