Author Archives: Aaron Hill

About Aaron Hill

My wife Nicky and I have swapped our static desk-bound working lives for a more adventure-filled open-air existence on the road. We are currently travelling around Europe by motorhome. You can read all about our recent travels here: https://aaronandnickytravels.wordpress.com/about-us/

Bergen & Fantoft

A very rainy city visit to Bergen Centrum & a walk to Fantoft Stave church

Leaving the crashing noise of Steinsdalsfossen behind we headed west, in the direction of Bergen.  It was another grey and miserable day, with persistently heavy rain, on the West Atlantic coast of Norway.  We passed through only 19 tunnels on the way, a low count in comparison to recent days, but they were the only times we welcomingly escaped the incessant rain noise pattering on our roof.

We drove directly to the aire at Bergenshallen, where we nervously noted from the road it was full, with even a few motorhomes spilling out into the side car-park.  But we had timed our arrival perfectly, and just as we pulled in another motorhome, one from the left side where the available power sockets were, was leaving.  We jumped right into their spot and settled in, happy that we got a bay and, better yet, one where we were able to plug in.  Given the 150 NOK fee for a one night stay, it felt better value for money to at least have electricity available; some wouldn’t.

Bergen - catholic church

We walked to the nearby tram stop and bought tickets for the journey into town.  The rain was still falling at an impressive rate and we were getting thoroughly drenched, but that wasn’t going to slow us much.  With only a few minutes of waiting we hopped on the tram in the direction of the centre; all very smooth and easy. Fifteen minutes later we stepped off the tram a few stops before the centre, at Florida, so we could see a few sights on the way.  Heavy rain continued as we walked through Nygårdsparken park and the museum quarter to reach Bergen’s Johanneskirken, a tall gothic-revival red brick built church, where we sheltered a while inside.  As we dripped our way around the interior to see the large pipe organ the rain outside finally eased off a little, a welcome change.

Bergen - (harbour buildings)

Bergen - (marina view)

We headed next to Bergen Havn, to visit the famous fish market and historic timber buildings along the old wharf. We wandered around the old timber buildings in the Bryggen area, a UNESCO world heritage cultural site.  The small tourist shops in the warped, ancient buildings were busy with excited shoppers, bussed in from nearby hotels or moored cruise ships to buy their goods; a perfect symbiotic relationship of need and greed.  We walked on, to see a few large sailing boats moored at the end of the wharf, with impressively decorative bowsprits.

Bergen - (town view)

Bergen - (n with sailing ship)

We walked a little way behind the wharf to visit Mariakirken, St. Marys Church.  On the way, a large crowd of kids spilled out of a nearby school, and one girl in the line walked over and wanted to high-five me, for what purpose I couldn’t tell.  But she started a chain reaction and suddenly every self-respecting pupil in the class needed to follow suit, and a long line formed along the kerb as we walked by, all desperate to high-five the dripping wet, shorts-wearing tourist.  I felt like a minor celebrity, if only for a moment, and even if it was mocking it raised a smile.

Bergen - (waterfront)

Bergen - (shops)

We returned through the market stalls to visit the tourist office on the opposite waterfront, to pick up some tips for our ongoing travels.  The views of Bergen’s old wharf from the full height windows on the first floor office were the best we had all day, and it was warm and dry inside.  We found ourselves lingering inside a bit longer than normal.  Eventually we dragged ourselves down the stairs into the rainy air, to explore a little more in Bergum Centrum.

Bergen - (wandering the backstreets)

We very rarely eat out, but the damp day and the deeply inviting smells of the local markets led us to crave hot food over our usual home-made sandwiches.  But we had ideological objections to paying over £15 for a small portion of fish or noodles in the market, so we surreptitiously made our way to the local McDonalds, where we could acquire their very cheap, greasy burgers for only 10 NOK each, so we ordered four, two each, with a shared portion of fries.  It was so good to have tasty, warming junk food for a change, and by Norway’s standards, at bargain prices.

Bergen - (fountain parks)

We walked through the central pedestrian streets to Festplassen, a large open square from where we could view the fountains in Lille Lungegårdsvannet with the backdrop of Bergen hills behind.  This was only a short way from the tourist-filled wharf yet felt a world apart, quiet and peaceful, with only a few locals out dog-walking to be seen.  But being soaked through was not proving to be as much fun as we initially thought, so deciding we had seen enough of Bergen, we caught the tram back south, staying on for a few additional stops to reach the suburb of Fantoft.

Fantoft - (a in woods)

Fantoft - (church from woods)

From here we walked a few kilometres, through lovely forest trails, to visit a local, dark wood stave church. It was originally built in a small village on Sognefjord around 1150 CE.  In the 19th century the church was under threat of demolition, but was saved by a generous benefactor and transported to its current site near Bergen in 1883.  The beautiful, ancient building, saved from destruction once before, was then sadly destroyed in an arson attack in 1992.  It was dutifully and carefully rebuilt in its entirety in 1997, exactly as it was.  The design was one of the most striking we have seen so far, with very dark wood and intricately stylised dragon motifs on the ridges and gable posts.  Although not its original site, it had a real presence in the forest in which it now rested, connected and solid.

Fantoft - (stave church)

Fantoft - (n blending in)

We walked back through the forest and to the tram stop, but continued on a steep gravel path that led us through to a neat suburb before popping out right at Bergenshallen.  Glad to be back, we spent the rest of the day drying off, sipping tea in the warmth of Benny, and planning our very convoluted and winding route through the upcoming fjords.  There was so much we wished to see, and any route chosen now would discount other viable possibilities; decision, decisions.

Sand, Røldal, Odda & Steinsdalsfossen

Making our way north through the towns of Sand, Røldal, Odda & Steinsdalsfossen

We left the raw beauty of Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) and the noisy, milling crowds behind us and headed off to make more than a few miles of progress north.  Unfortunately, after a short stop in Jørpeland for supplies, we blindly followed our SatNav rather than sense and climbed over the mountain, not around it on the smooth tourist road.  The rather hairy mountain road was unpaved in places, loose gravelled and very narrow without passing places.  It was a real grind on Benny’s engine up and on his brakes coming down, but apparently it was slightly shorter, so that’s something.

Sand - (busy marina)

We continued on to the town of Sand, where something peculiar was occurring; we initially assumed perhaps a festival or a concert, as it was approaching midsummers.  There were motorhomes everywhere, in car-parks where there ordinarily would be none, in lay-bys, in every nook and cranny and spare land we could see as we passed.

We tried to park at the aire at the marina, but on arrival we found it was totally crammed with vans, double and even triple parked.  There were electric cables running everywhere, with splitters off the supplies feeding all the vans they could reach.  The central stack of sockets on the side of the museum building looked like a giant spider’s web.  Everyone was sitting out, in the car-park, with their tables and chairs.  Some vans had their awnings out, and one large A-class had a large attached tent and wind-break, looking very much like the main party tent.  It was quite a bizarre and confusing sight for what we thought was a simple mixed use car-park.

Sand - (view vrom across bay)

We wandered around, confused as to the blatant take-over and what the reasoning was for it.  We decided it was just possible, given the arrangement of all the other vans, for us to squeeze into a small space right at the entrance to the marina.  We asked a few nearby van owners if we were in the way and they said we were fine, no worries.  So we left Benny and wandered off to have a short explore of the town.  It was a Saturday yet everywhere was closed, so we climbed the hill to the church to enjoy the views over Sand, before returning to the marina to chill for the remainder of the afternoon.

We later found out that there was a local motorhome group and they had effectively hired the entire town for a day out and a formal meal at the local hotel.  There were 110 motorhomes in their group, and maybe a few other guest motorhomes tagging along, so the meal must have been for at least 200 people .  That explained the massive invasion of motorhomes; no wonder there were no parking spaces in town.

Sand - (view of town)

Later we were relaxing in Benny, watching our now smartly dressed neighbours pile into taxi after taxi to attend their meal.  At 7pm, just as we were starting to cook our dinner, we had a knock on our door.  One of the party organisers told us we couldn’t stay here anymore, as the full area was a private members’ party.  Disappointed, we had to pack up and leave the marina, but at least the group had the foresight to ensure regular motorhoming visitors were not left stranded, and had organised alternative non-party parking just a mile or so away, on a pleasant grass-edged field.  We doodled over there and found it to be very neat and quiet place, and actually a better spot to overnight than the busy marina.

Sand - (mountain scenery)

The next morning we headed off early, looking to make more miles.  We skirted around blue fjords and between high mountains on good roads, growing almost immune to the deep beauty of Norway.  Every bend brought a new vista that would be a celebrated highlight elsewhere, but was just more of the same in Norway.  For our first stop we pulled off the main tourist road a little way to visit the town of Røldal.

Roldal - (meadows)

Roldal - (stave church)

It was in a very pretty alpine setting, with steep mountain slopes of pine trees and bright flowering meadows sprinkled with red and black timber houses.  We visited our first Stave church, a 13th century timber construction.  We’ve since learned there is some controversy over whether it actually is an official stave church, or if it was originally built in a precursor post church style.  Either way, it was an impressive place to visit.

Waterfalls (raging water)

Waterfalls (n at falls)

Waterfalls (a at river)

We passed Låtefossen waterfalls on route, and stopped a moment to appreciate the incredible volume of gushing water churning up the river right by the main road.  We then stopped briefly in the large town of Odda. The weather had turned and a grey drizzle was falling, soaking everything.  We had a quick look around the now very wet town, skirting from cover to cover as we edged along the empty streets.  Every street was lined with outdoors and walking stores.  It may have been the weather, but it strongly reminded us of Fort William, grey and dull, a loch-side town stuck in the grip of high granite mountains and perpetually dreich.

Odda - steet view

Steinsdalsfossen - (overview)

We next drove around to Granvin and crossed a bridge with a 150 NOK toll to reach the other side of the fjord, rather than take the two ferries necessary to cross at this point.  Our final stop of the day was in Steinsdalsfossen, where we had decided to overnight in the tourist office car-park.  We felt we had made good progress today, seen a lot of interesting places whilst passing through huge, wild scenery, and so were happy to stop now.  After the obligatory warming cup of tea, we walked up and behind the waterfall, as tourists do, enjoying the light spray and trying to outdo each other by taking quirky, interesting photos.  It was a beautiful, if noisy from the falls, place to overnight.

Steinsdalsfossen (walking behind)

Steinsdalsfossen (view from behind)

Tunnels - roundabout

We hit our record daily tunnel count of 42 on this winding, long road from Sand to Steinsdalsfossen.  Some of the tunnels were so long and so large that they had blue-lit roundabouts and curving junctions inside. The scale of everything in Norway seemed to surpass all expectation, from nature to travel distances to infrastructure to prices.

Hiking to Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen)

Hiking to the famous Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) overlooking Lysefjord, Norway

Keen to get to Preikestolen, we were up early, buzzing and busy, as we were parked up in Oanes, a good half hour drive away.  We had been expecting a rather miserable, grey day and were happily surprised the weather forecast had again been proven wrong.  The skies had cleared overnight and we were treated to a bright, still cloudy but occasionally sunny day for our trek.  Sun makes everything on a walk so much more enjoyable and beautiful, especially one that ends at such an iconic place as Preikestolen.  It’s the one site that we’ve been seeing in stunning photographs ever since we first decided to visit Norway, so was unmissable.

Pulpit Rock - (the walk begins)

After our half hour drive we arrived in the main car-park just before 9am, to find the designated motorhome area very nearly full.  There was no way that all those vans, neatly levelled and closed up, had all managed to arrive here and settle in before us this morning, so they must have stayed overnight.  Many large posted signs said that overnighting in the car-park was absolutely prohibited, but that is clearly not enforced.  It cost 200 NOK to park, so we assumed this becomes the overnight fee for those who stay over.  If we’d known, we could have been here the night before too and had a slightly lazier start.

Pulpit Rock - (a on route up)

We squeezed into the only space we could find and readied ourselves for the walk.  Despite good advice on the signs, there were still groups of people heading up the path in woefully inadequate footwear and clothing, with no rucksacks, jackets or water with them.  The start of the trail immediately headed steeply up a gravel path, before it reached built-stone steps that climbed quickly to a flat-boulder plateau with a panoramic view. Here there was a small timber hut, not yet opened as we passed, where you could pay to zip-line back down to the car-park rather than complete the walk.  The ride opened at noon, in time to catch the first of those who had visited Preikestolen as they returned along the path.

Pulpit Rock - (beautiful swim pools)

We found ourselves passing lots of others on the route up, with many already struggling, looking like it will be a very long day for them.  We didn’t find the path to be particularly difficult, but we do a lot of hill-walking and I guess it makes a difference.  After a short up and down stretch, we passed some beautiful lakes on either side of the path, where we saw a couple drying off after swimming.  We wished we’d known there was the possibility and had brought our togs, as it would have been a great spot to spend a bit of time on the way down.  But Norway has an embarrassing abundance of great places to swim, so we’ll find others.

Pulpit Rock - (n on path)

The path led on, over some timber decking pathways and built timber steps that eased the difficulty in several areas, making the route fully accessible to all.  Views of the fjord below began to open out as we neared our destination, with glimpses of the sparkling grey-blue appearing to our left.  We strolled up a flat granite slope where we suddenly hit the edge of the fjord cliff, and we could finally see the full extent of the vertical drop down to the sea below.  To our right we could just see the corner of Preikestolen, jutting out, eerily familiar from so many photos.  A few walkers hugged the cliff to the right rather than walk near the open edge as they made their way to the expansive flat area.

Pulpit Rock - (first view of the fjord)

Pulpit Rock - (first view)

Pulpit Rock - (the rock on approach)

Pulpit Rock - (overview)

It took us a little under an hour to cover the 3.8km distance listed (4.1km tracked by my Polar Flow watch, but this was from our parking spot), so we made good time.  When we first arrived there were perhaps fifteen or twenty people already milling around on the rock, many of whom had camped there overnight, their tents and cooking utensils still strewn around.  Some others were in the process of packing up their pop-up tents, so there must have been quite a party on the rock overnight.  Splits and cavities in the rocks were filled up with discarded bottles, cans and other litter; it’s quite a shame how selfish and lazy people can be sometimes.

Pulpit Rock - (the fjord below)

Pulpit Rock - (us on the rock)

Pulpit Rock - (n posing)

Two buzzing drones scooted around overhead, filming or photographing the rock and the current inhabitants, including us.  We posed for some photos of our own on the iconic corner, showing the vertical drop down to Lysefjord fjord over 600 metres below. We were glad to have this time to play and photograph whist Pulpit Rock was still relatively unoccupied, and we took time to savour the view and the situation.  We were always aware the milling crowds were on their way and the reflective, relative quiet of our early moments on Preikestolen would be lost to the crowds eventually.

Pulpit Rock - (n looking out)

Pulpit Rock - (az sitting)

Pulpit Rock - (n on the edge)

Pulpit Rock - (a straddles crack)

Satisfied, we moved away from the flat rock to examine it from a different perspective.  We followed a path up and over the cliff behind to view Preikestolen from above, where we could watch the slow trickle of people arrive, like colourful ants.  We sat here a while, simply watching and absorbing the view.  The weather had cleared more than we could have hoped, and the slight mist hanging in the air added a level of grandeur to the full vista.  We could see right along Lysefjord in both directions, with a blanket of wispy clouds sitting just above the adjacent mountains.  We felt very fortunate to have timed our walk to coincide with such a stunning weather window.

Pulpit Rock - (n with view)

Pulpit Rock - (a with view)

Pulpit Rock - (looking out)

The crowds we met coming up as we returned grew thicker with every minute walked, and we were extremely glad to have made the effort to arrive early.  Preikestolen must have been groaning with the weight of people once they all arrived at the top.  The weather was also deteriorating as we descended, clouding over a little and throwing a thin blanket of grey over the trail. We reached the plateau where we resisted the urge to zip-line down the last portion of the walk.

Pulpit Rock - (us above the rock)

Pulpit Rock - (selfie with rock)

Pulpit Rock - (rock and fjord)

Pulpit Rock - (on return)

Arriving back at the busy car-park we enjoyed the satisfying acts of removing our walking boots and having a celebratory cup of tea.  It was still not yet lunch-time and we felt we had already experienced a full day, so we skipped out of the car-park and headed northwards with smiles on our faces.

Norway – Bryne, Stavanger & Oanes

Leaving Sandvika Beach, we returned over the headland and overnighted in a car-park near to Egersund, in torrential rain that battered Benny until 7am the next morning.  We had one five minute window when the rain abated and we quickly popped out to look at the local coastline, but we soon returned to the dry safety of inside while the storm raged on.  Norway’s weather had taken a turn for the worse, and the future forecast was not looking much better.

Byrne (abobil offices)

We decided to use the time to make some distance, so we could have more time to linger and enjoy good weather days later.  We moved north to nearby Bryne, on the road to Stavanger, where we knew of a Benimar dealership where we could stay overnight for free.  We had a few small jobs to be completed on Benny so this proved a very useful and successful stop, and it included free electricity, servicing and Wi-Fi too – perfect.

Byrne (abobil parking)

The persistent rain had followed us here, but late afternoon brought with it a narrow window of clear, dry brightness, so we walked into Bryne town where we found a pretty, leafy local park on the shores of a large lake.  We followed the trails a short way around the water’s edge where we passed a large, loud gathering of playing kids and barbecuing adults.  It looked like a large, well-planned gathering; they were either very lucky with the sudden break in the weather, or they organised the entire event in a very short time after the rain clouds dissipated. Either way this was a great example of Scandinavians enjoying the outdoors life.

Byrne (park barbeque)

The following morning I rose early and jogged back to the same park, to complete a longer loop. I covered a half loop clockwise around lake Frøylandsvatnet, crossing a beautifully formed timber bridge, Midgardsormen, built across the lake’s narrowest waist at a pretty picnic area. The sky stayed bright and the air fresh and clean as I ran, and there was no one else around this early on the well-marked paths; a lovely, easy exploratory way to kick-start a day in an unfamiliar place.  With the run into town and the lakeside loop I covered 15km in total.  I returned to Benny to find Nicky had completed her Pilates, tidied the van, had cups of tea just made and the bacon on, so all was good in the world.

Byrne (bridge on park run)

We headed north, along busy highways with many tolls, to stop next in the port of Stavanger.  The heavy, deafening rain had returned on our arrival in town and as we parked on the north coast road near the ferry port we were still thinking twice about even getting out.  We ensured we fitted fully within a marked bay, as a sign clearly noted that we would need to buy two tickets if not, and readied to leave.  On return we noted the motorhome behind us had not been so careful with their in-bay parking and had received a yellow parking ticket for the infringement.  We were surprised any parking wardens had been committed enough to check so diligently, or pedantically, in the midst of such torrential downpours.

Stavanger - (timber shps)

Stavanger - (view of marina)

The heavy rain dampened the colours and our initial impressions of the town, but we still enjoyed our look around.  The buildings were mostly slatted timber, neatly maintained and attractive, with larger grand stone buildings lining the harbour and marina.  We passed along one particularly colourful street lined with the brightly painted facades of busy cafes and restaurants, all sensibly providing covered seating areas to keep their clients dry.  For the first time in Norway we passed similar shops to those on any high street at home; H&M, Starbucks, The Body Shop, Zara, Burger King and many familiar others, both the convenience and the curse of globalisation on show.

Stavanger - (rainy streets)

Stavanger - (high street)

We saw tall sailing ships in the harbour, and sleek speedboats moored near the metallic Norsk Oljemuseum, the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. We passed the Maritime Museum, dodging tourists with careless umbrellas and not a small amount of big-nosed trolls on the pavements outside stores.  We walked, dripping wet, into Stavanger domkirke, the central cathedral, where we stood out of the rain in the porch for a short while, but didn’t enter due to our tight policy on paying entry fees.  We walked up a small hill to circle the Valbergtårnet, the Watchmen’s tower, a circular stone building that now houses a small museum, but this was closed during our brief visit.

Stavanger - (trolls)

Stavanger - (restaurants)

Returning to the marina, we spent some time dripping on the floor of the wonderfully warm tourist office, waiting for the current deluge to subside.  We collected some useful information for our upcoming days as we dried off, occasionally staring out the windows hoping for a change in the weather.  With a brief reduction in the volume of rain, we reluctantly returned back outside and rushed back to Benny for cover, our short Stavanger visit at a close.

Stavanger - (colourful street)

Stavanger - (petroleum museum)

We drove back along the busy highway through miles of roadworks and diversions, before cutting east to catch our first Norwegian ferry, from Lauvvik to Oanes.  It was a ten minute hop across the fjord, costing around £10 for Benny and two passengers, although the sign suggested this would have doubled had we been >6m long, not that anyone was checking.  There were five other motorhomes in front of us on the ferry, and we were slightly nervous about gaining one of the six available spots at our target aire, but when we rolled off all five vans drove straight on.  We ducked right, into the picnic spot at Oanes, where we very fortuitously sneaked into the last designated space overlooking the fjord.

Oanes - (picnic spot)

Oanes - (fish and bridges)

We spent the rest of the day warm and dry inside, keeping one eye on the brightening view.  The rain finally ceased later and we had a walk back to the ferry terminal to look around and a few shorter walks locally along the front of the fjord.  Even with the dull grey cloud hanging low on the mountains, everything looked moody and interesting.

Oanes - (Larvvik ferry)

Oanes - (panorama)

Norway – Lidneses Fyr & Sandvika Beach

Leaving the comfort of Marivoll behind we left the coast road and cut inland, to visit a few out of the way places listed in our new favourite book – “Wild Guide Scandinavia – swim, camp, canoe and explore Europe’s greatest wilderness”.  After driving along winding roads and through grand mountains, we arrived first at Digelva Waterfall, where we parked in a small, gravel lay-by adjacent to a pristine, still lake.  The lake feeding the waterfall was the more interesting part and we considered a dip, but never succumbed on this occasion.  The waterfall was pleasant enough to see but there would be much grander examples in days to come, so after a brief walk we moved on.

Digelva waterfall - visit

We drove on to our second designated stop at Vennesla, to undertake a quirky walk along an unused timber log flume.  This now dry canal was used to transport cut timber from higher upstream, allowing logs to bypass a long area of rapids on the foaming Otra river below.  There was no parking nearby, but we located a suitable gravel pull-off a few hundred metres along the road from where we could start our walk.

Vennesla - (n on log flume)

The flat-bottomed V-shaped flume was not quite wide enough for two to walk alongside, but the sides were high enough to feel nicely enclosed and relatively safe.  There was a lot of groaning from the wood as we walked, and a few missing or rotted boards left sizable holes to see through to the raging river below.  Not too difficult in terms of navigation though, so we scooted along easily and quickly, enjoying the views.

Vennesla - (through the trees)

Vennesla - (n on bridge)

The route passed over two tall, thin steel suspension bridges, where the creaking timber boards experienced even more vertical movement, combined with a little sideways sway.  The extent of the infrastructure to allow logs to safely pass the rapids was impressive, and the views around and through the trees was quite beautiful.  There were a few places where the sides had been cut back and steps added, to allow other forest paths to join the flume, or users to escape and visit nearby viewpoints and picnic tables.

Vennesla - (flume under rock)

Vennesla - (structure)

The end of the route promised a low, damp and creepy tunnel, but on our visit this was boarded off and signed that entry was forbidden, so it became our turning back point.  We walked an out and back route of just over 6km, a really enjoyable and different hike along a river bank.

Vennesla - (picnic spot)

Vennesla - (tunnel)

We drove on to a small, quiet lay-by at the village of Snig, where there was room for six carefully parked vans (or three French vans) but luckily we arrived first.  It was quite a popular spot, and there was a constant stream of vans arriving in search of a park right up until 10pm, then leaving disappointed.  Between weather breaks and bouts of laziness we had a few short beach front walks and played in the picnic area kid’s park, before having an early night.

Snig (sand spits)

Snig (play on swings)

Next morning we woke early and after a quick breakfast drove down the coast to Lidneses Fyr, arriving there before 8 am; sometimes we even surprise ourselves.  We happily discovered that outside of official opening hours (10am – 5pm) all access to the surrounding site is free, so we clambered around the most southerly rocks with abandon.  We had views over the paid aire in Lidneses Fyr, where we imagined many of those who didn’t find a place at Snig ended up staying.

Lidnese Fyr - (signposts)

Lidnese Fyr - (aire and visitor centre)

We were the only people up and active at this early hour as we wandered around the lighthouse, over the rocks and through tunnels, briefly becoming the most southerly people in all of Norway.  We learned a little about life in this region from the well-written information boards scattered around the rocks. We read of the local kids, when the weather was particularly stormy, having to be roped up to make their journey to school.

Lidnese Fyr - (anemometers)

Lidnese Fyr - (lighthouse)

There was a large collection of colourful, quirky anemometers, like there had been a school competition to design them.  We followed the stone tunnels that providing refuge from the weather for the workers needing to visit other parts of the working site.  One built cave housed a stunning photographic presentation of the history of the lighthouse and of similar lighthouses all across Norway.

Lidnese Fyr - (tunnels)

Lidnese Fyr - (cave display)

We drove on, up and over some narrow hairpins and down deep valleys with each turn bringing a new but spectacular view over a fjord or lake.  Although we had not yet reached the big mountains, the scale of the scenery was such a contrast to our previous month in flat Denmark, and we were simply mesmerised.  Lake, sea, mountain, sky; all combined effortlessly to build vista after vista of extreme grandeur.  Norway was showing off for us, and we loved it.

Norway road - scenery

Over many miles the scenery slowly but quite dramatically evolved, with the change not in the scale but in appearance.  We passed into a large area that formed part of a Magma Geopark, a national park area.  Gone were the tree-covered hillsides and high grassy banks.  Now hulking, curvaceous granite outcrops surrounded us, mostly bare of greenery, cracked and deep-lined like an old man’s weathered face.  Small, black lakes rested between each progressive rock formation, reflecting the hard stone and occasional building like a mirror, doubling the visual effect.

Roligheten - view of village

Sandvika Beach (walk in over Blofjell)

We followed a very narrow offshoot road down to the coast.  Our recent visit to the Isle of Mull was proving fine preparation for the roads we were now travelling – mostly winding single track with narrow passing places, slow going and requiring focused concentration. We found a large and empty car-park, in the village of Roligheten, and walked to the end of the road, only a few hundred metres further.  At points we could, when holding hands, both stretch out and simultaneously touch the rock face or house on each side of the road, such was the narrowness of the tiny road to the harbour.  When the road ended we hiked across a steep muddy hillside, named Brufjell, through some lovely light forest with well-marked trails, to reach our target – Sandvika beach.

Sandvika beach - arrival

Sandvika Beach (a on shore)

This small inlet was a white pebble oasis, with a narrow sea opening flanked with high, granite cliffs.  It looked incredibly inviting for swimming in photos we’d seen, but when we arrived the sea was raging and foaming, fighting violently with the cliffs and beach.  We considered swimming, or at least a quick dip, but it was just too wild to be safe.  The breaking waves clawed at the white pebbles, dragging them down and under with each surging line.  It proved difficult to simply stand upright at the water’s edge, as the pebbles rolled out underfoot with the incessant pull underneath.  Instead, we sat a while and watched the savage sea beat-up the shore, mesmerised by the simple, constant movement and the display of raw energy.

Norway – Risør, Marivoll & Rønnes

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.

Hirtsals - ferry arrives

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.

Risor - wandering

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.

Pothole Pools - n walks in

Pothole pools - swim

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.

Norway potholes (1)

Norway potholes (2)

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).

Pothole Pools - walk in

Pothole pools - panorama

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.

Arundel - Town visit

Arundel - Park spot

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.

Marivoll camp - (view down fjord)

Marivoll camp - (post-swim seat)

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.

Marivoll camp - (timber bridge)

Marivoll camp - (n on bridge)

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.

Marivoll camp - (kids swim area) Marivoll camp - (trampoline play)

WorkAway – Guldbæk Vingård

After a week of gentle exploring and lazing on sunny beaches around the north of Jutland, we again headed back south of Aalborg, to the area near Svenstrup.  It was here we had our second WorkAway project lined up to begin, this time volunteering at Guldbæk Vingård,one of the most northern vineyards in the world.

WorkAway - (the vineyard)

On arrival we were warmly greeted by our host, Jan, and after introductions we were given a whistle-stop tour of the grounds and facilities.  His wife Lone would join us later after her return from work at the local kindergarten. We saw their house, storage rooms and wine production areas, alongside the more public face of the business, their beautiful raised conservatory dining area complete with decked verandah.  We noticed maps of Greenland and mentioned our recent kayaking trip there; Jan was pleased we knew a little of the country and would later regale us with tales of the frozen north.

WorkAway - (approaching house)

WorkAway - (musk ox)

Walking through the door of the main house we were met face to face with a musk ox, staring down at us from the wall.  We later learned how this was hunted in Greenland and saw the very hairy pelt, now a large rug, in our accommodation.  We had offered to live in Benny for our stay, in case other WorkAwayers were visiting, but Jan insisted they have only one couple at a time and that we should use the available separate annex apartment, so we happily agreed.  We could spread out and enjoy the comfortable space in our downtime; perfect.

WorkAway - (relaxing in the house)

Jan and Lone’s house was constructed based on a Swedish design; angular, spacious rooms with light double-height sloping ceilings inside, tall, full gable windows, walls heavily insulated, underfloor heating ran off biomass pellets, with a focal-point log burner.  The rooms were very comfortable spaces to completely relax in, overlooking the garden and nearby woodland, and we loved that they were very generously willing to share the spaces with us.

WorkAway - (n tends vines)

WorkAway - (a in the vines)

We worked stripping the vine trunks of excess growth, to help focus the new growth at the top.  Our first day in the vineyard was a little damp and rainy, but we still enjoyed the experience of moving along the rows, clearing weeds and ensuring that we carefully removed all unnecessary growth on each vine.  We found our own rhythm and personalised technique as we went along, and soon made progress across several large blocks.  It felt good to be contributing, even in such a small way, to something we’re quite passionate about – wine.

WorkAway - (block 3 vines)

WorkAway - (vine wildflowers)

We spent one other, much sunnier, day re-staking new vines that had recently been planted to replace frost damaged ones.  We pushed long twisted-metal bars into the ground near the vine root, and secured this to the existing horizontal wire trellis with a special shaped wire twist.  Once the support was fixed, the stalk was then taped and stapled to hold it in place and to defy the wind.   We progressed along each row of vines, loving the freshness of the warm air and gentle breeze, with the gentle discipline of the work providing a focus that we’d both missed.

WorkAway - (staking new vines)

WorkAway - (working the vines)

Most days we completed 3-4 hours work in the morning, occasionally at their vineyards on the other side of the village.  We’d take ourselves over there in the morning on our bikes, and when lunch time was approaching, we’d cycle out of the vineyards, past the Kingergarten where Lone works, through the village and back home – a simple but fun journey with the anticipation of lunch to come, to satiate hunger earned from working in the fresh, clean air.  A beer was usually offered and enjoyed over our tasty cold-table lunch each day.  Sometimes beer was even brought to us in the fields; a beer-break treat.

WorkAway - (beer break)

WorkAway - (well earned break)

Occasionally we’d nip back over to the vines again in the afternoon, once as we were asked and other times as we were keen to ensure we properly completed a task we’d been working on in the morning.  Otherwise we would have the afternoons to ourselves, and we took to wandering local paths in the nearby forests or simply relaxing, whether in our comfortable annex apartment or in the vineyard’s conservatory and spectacular timber verandah, from where they host functions and tastings, overlooking the lush green valley with the dutifully tended vineyards in the background.

WorkAway - (the glasshouse)

WorkAway - (verandah)

There were great stories told over dinner, as we enjoyed the vineyard’s own wines each night.  We learned of their time in Greenland, Jan working there as a policeman.  Along with two other colleagues Jan was responsible for a jurisdictional area larger than France.  Policing this involved helicopters and light aircraft, many of which were maintained from a civilian compound set within the confines of a US military base.  We heard stories of conflicting legal entities, as contrary to the expectations of most US army bases around the world, local Greenlandic law remained the ultimate authority inside.

WorkAway - (nearby horses)

WorkAway - (icelandic ponies)

We heard tales of an emergency beacon rescue in north eastern Greenland. Unknown at the time, the beacon had been flippantly initiated, due to encroaching timescales rather than a life-or-death situation.  But this put in motion a series of complicated logistics right across the country that, once demanded, couldn’t be reined back in.  Undertaking a helicopter rescue to a remote point thousands of kilometres away, over inhospitable ice fields, led to multiple shuttle runs with regular fuel dumps, a process that can take over a week of constant flying and refuelling to finally reach the isolated destination.  On this occasion the culprit, safe and secure and only hoping for a lift home, was hit by a huge fine for misuse of his emergency beacon call.

WorkAway - (wine-tasting with Jan)

WorkAway - (beef loin)

The generosity and openness of our hosts, Jan and Lone, was boundless.   They cooked the most sublime food for us, such as barbecued Uruguayan beef loin, chosen to complement their own carefully chosen wines.  We felt so spoiled. We started early, as we chatted, tasting wonderful sweet wines served as an aperitif, before enjoying a glass or two of deep, rich reds or a sharp, clean whites, depending on the type of food on offer each night.  We tried their apple wine and bubbly fizz variations, loving hearing the story behind each as we sipped.  It was a real pleasure to relax in vivacious company.

WorkAway - (vine view)

WorkAway - (feeding the cows)

We met Jan and Lone’s two sons, both of whom live locally and are involved in assisting the vineyard business.  They both have their own projects and careers, keeping them very busy.  We met Kim, his wife Helle and their three children first.  They work in IT, keep dogs and chickens as pets, rear a few cattle for meat, along with numerous other side projects.  Dennis and his wife Heidi, along with their kids, run a large farm breeding Icelandic horses, where they also design, produce and sell specialist equine leather products; saddles, bridles, stirrups, all specific for use with Icelandic horses.

WorkAway - (family takeaway lunch)

WorkAway - (Emil & saddle sales)

Our hosts have lived, and continue to live, interesting and full lives; we heard tales of dancing with the Crown Prince of Denmark, being friends with the Prime Minister, hosting important civil parties in Greenland, investigating crimes, of kayaking, sailing and dog-sledging, and they now run a successful vineyard back in Denmark.  Their involvement in the wine industry has led them to travel extensively, to New Zealand and Australia, to California, to Japan, to visit other vineyards, increase their knowledge of wine production and make lots of good friends on their way.  But Greenland was the largest and most formative part of their lives, with over 20 years spent in the insular, patriarchal society.  It was Greenland where their heart lay, the stories most vivid.

WorkAway - (local views)

WorkAway - (tea stop)

WorkAway - (wildflowers between rows)

We have struggled to find words for the welcoming generosity of our amiable hosts; everything was just wonderful and the experience of our stay could not have been better.  We met three generations of this hospitable, happy Danish family and were deeply honoured to have been invited to so closely share in their lives, if only for a short while.  The stories we heard and the times that we had will long linger in our memory.

WorkAway - (us with our hosts)

Thanks so much for everything,  Jan & Lone; skål!