Exploring the Western Fjords of Norway
Last April we were fortunate to visit Norway, somewhere that had been high on our list of must-see destinations for a good long while, for the first time. Our trip would take us to the Western Fjords and the staggering rugged beauty of a landscape carved out by the grinding action of ancient glaciers. Despite Emma being 6 months pregnant, we hiked every day up steep forest clad slopes, marvelling at deep aquamarine inlets, thundering waterfalls and snow peaked mountains.
This year, we decided to return to the western fjords, although this time slightly further north, introducing our now 10 month old son to the wild sights and sounds of Norway and giving us the chance to further hike, explore and absorb the majesty of the Norwegian landscape. Our destination was Førde Fjord, about 4 hours drive and one ferry ride north of Bergen, and a tiny hamlet nestled on its northern shore. From our diminutive yet cosy, bright blue cabin, we could look along the fjord in both east and westerly directions and looking south, across the narrow stretch of glassy smooth water, a near vertical wall of granite capped with snow and streaked with relentlessly cascading waterfalls filled our gaze. Although hiking was our goal and we find it hard to rest on trips like this, simply sitting and gazing across the water towards these mountains seemed like a highly productive, fulfilling way to spend time.
We hiked nearly every day during our stay, taking advantage of Norway’s network of well marked trails; you soon become very familiar with the little red splashes of paint on rocks and trees, hanging wooden markers and tiny cairns dotting the landscape which seem to gently reassure you when map and physical geography don’t quite match up: yes, don’t worry, you are still going the right way. Owing to the general topography around the fjords, all the hikes began with sharp inclines, the narrow rocky paths zig zagging and switch backing their way up steep faces. These precipitous slopes are enlivened with a thick coat of greenery about their shoulders; dark patches of Norway spruce and vivid green swathes of birch, willow, rowan and bird cherry stand on luxuriant carpets of moss, grass and low shrubby bushes of lingon and bilberry. Dwarf Cornel, Mountain Avens and Chickweed Wintergreen dot the forest floor with their white inflorescences, giving the impression of tiny stars on a green sky in an upside down world. It is a real joy to walk through mountainous terrain so rich in plant life; a stark contrast to the often barren, sheep nibbled, ecological wastelands of the British uplands.
Nearing the summits, birches grow smaller and begin to mingle with stunted scots pines, distant mountain vistas begin to reveal themselves and the deep shimmering fjords below open out stretching towards the sea. Finally the steep trail begins to ease and you find yourself atop a plateau with seemingly the whole of Norway laid out before you. From this vantage point the landscape begins to make sense; the sources of roaring waterfalls can be traced to slowly melting tarns, shrinking glaciers can be seen still hard at work, industriously grinding out new valleys and deepening existing inlets. Occasionally an avalanche will boom in the distance, the falling snow carrying soil and debris with it on which new vegetation will take root and new forests will grow. Here, one can feel that the environment is still very much a work in progress, that nature has yet to unveil the finished product and that no such time will ever come, a story who’s ending remains unwritten. As we sat and watched clouds form and ice melt and listened to rumbling waterfalls, we felt that unmistakable feeling that we go into nature for; that we were truly alive in that moment and at one with the forces generated by our little spinning planet as it hurtles through the universe.
On the days we didn’t hike, we drove many miles around the winding roads, up into the mountains and along the majestic fjords; I wonder how many traffic accidents are caused by motorists marvelling at the scenery instead of the road ahead? Grass roofed cabins line the roads, painted in bright red, yellow or blue and enviable giant stacks of firewood are found on every front garden, much to the delight of an amateur woodsman such as myself. We also drove the Gaularfjellet, one of the many National Tourist Routes, stopping along the way to sample the sensory delights of the Norwegian countryside, some of which were staggering, although to us it’s not until you begin to engage with the landscape through hiking, camping, climbing or any other means that the true majesty of wild places becomes tangible.
This trip to Norway was particularly special for us, being our first foreign excursion with our new adventure companion. Special not only because of the moments and memories we shared and the places and feelings we were able to impress upon his tiny mind, but also because it was a chance for us to prove to ourselves that we could still do all the things we said we'd still do, that our adventurous spirits had not been stifled by parenthood. We can't help but feel a little proud of ourselves to of hiked up mountains, crossed rivers and streams, scrambled up boulders and explored deep forests all carrying a baby on our backs. Norway was the perfect proving ground; as accessible or as challenging as you want it to be and we’re already scouring maps in anticipation of our third Nordic adventure.