Norway – Arrival from Denmark and our initial travels along the southern coastline
Leaving our lovely vineyard WorkAway in Denmark we drove north again, heading north to Hirtshals and the ferry to Norway. We completed a final food shop and filled up with diesel before reaching the port, checking in and rolling on to the huge ferry.
We passed an easy four hours on-board then disembarked in a busy line, a little nervous for the upcoming customs check due to Norway not being a member of the EU. When saying our goodbyes at Guldbæk Vingård we had been very generously gifted several bottles of wine, and we realised on the ferry we had more than strictly allowable. We straightened our story as we queued in the ‘nothing to declare’ line, but on arrival we were simply waved through with a friendly ‘welcome to Norway and enjoy your trip’. We quickly moved on, happily bemused and very relieved there was to be no inside check. NOTE: Stocktaking a few days later, after remembering older purchases that had previously been squirrelled away and forgotten, we shockingly found that we had the volume equivalent of eighteen bottles of wine (!) and two bottles of whiskey over our import allowance. Still, we lucked out and were now very nicely sorted for the weeks ahead.
We drove a few hours along the coast, our eyes sucking in the very different, wildly dramatic scenery that grew and grew as we progressed. We passed a few tolls and hoped the automatic recognition will simply bill us later as we hadn’t registered anywhere. Or not bill us, if they prefer. We saw that diesel was actually quite reasonably priced, around 12 NOK per litre, a lot less than we’d been expecting although there were wild variations at times.
Making good time, we arrived in the town of Risør, where there was a large aire, with electric included, in the centre of town. It was meant to be payable, but asking around no one knew how to pay except via some smartphone app that first had to be downloaded, but there was no Wi-Fi available. We tried to pay through the adjacent car-park ticket machine, but to no avail, so our first night in Norway became a very comfortable free stopover. We walked around the neat, white timber buildings of Risør, thinking the appearance was more New England than what we had envisaged for Norway. The centre was quiet but filled with lots of seafront restaurants and quirky, boutique shops, so we imagined it a popular tourist haunt in the busy summer months.
We skipped town early the next morning, eager to see more of Norway. We followed the coast back south west, clockwise, as we would continue to do for the next few thousand kilometres. A short hop away we reached our first stop, the interesting granite Sild Åsmundhamn potholes, near Krabbesund. We parked in a wide lay-by a little past the path and walked in, through a short forest trail and then over slippy, volcanic coastal rocks. There were many water-filled holes, of varied shape and depth, scattered around the wide coastal expanse of smooth rocks, said to be the largest in northern Europe.
We found a large, deep pool very near the sea, dark and interesting. We stripped in the cold early morning air and skinny dipped in the frigid water, a short but invigorating dip that really shocked us awake on our first morning in Norway. (read more in our ‘Seven Wild Swims’ post).
We stopped next in the celebrated coastal town of Arendal, still glowing from our early morning swim. We parked on the marina front and went in search of Norway’s second largest timber building, the old Town Hall. We enjoyed a long walk around the centre, seeing old boats and tall churches, taking in all the sights on the overcast day. But we had not located the large neo-classical styled timber building that had formed the foundation of our stop. That was, until our return to Benny after fruitless searching, only to realise we’d parked directly outside it and not even noticed.
We drove on to stay at Marivoll, an ACSI campsite opposite to but quite a drive from Grimstad. It was positioned down a narrow road on a beautiful, rolling peninsula beside a clear, calm sea inlet jutting off a main fjord. We had chosen here for convenience, but were wowed by the setting and could not restrain ourselves from undertaking our second swim of the day, this time a much longer dip, fully suited and booted. We got curious looks from a few kids playing in the designated shallow swimming area, but we soon moved away out and down the fjord as we explored, hugging the coast. We passed neat holiday chalets with private jetties, swans and plenty of jellyfish on our travels.
Later we walked over a rickety timber bridge that crossed the fjord and down to the nearby village of Rønnes, remarking at how stunningly beautiful each property we passed was. They were all immaculately cared for, neatly painted with colourful planted gardens and flowing hanging baskets, creating an overall image of clean, idyllic calm. Nearly all homes had a private jetty and a boat on the fjord, allowing immediate access to the water and we mused as to how nice it could be to live in such an area; perhaps, perhaps. We always like to dream of what our ideal permanent home could be like.
We stayed a second day, as the weather was wonderful, sunny and still, and we wanted to indulge ourselves with a second swim around the fjord. We followed a similar route, pushing on further around the inlet and back on the opposite side, covering around 2km. This swim was more relaxing for us now feeling we knew these waters a little, but was also harder work than the previous due to stronger winds churning up the surface of the fjord. Nicky had a wobbly-leg bounce on the water-based trampoline after our swim, with her jelly-like post-swim bambi legs. We spent the rest of the evening sitting in the sun, with wine, feeling smug that we found this beautiful oasis on the south coast.