A diary of walking our pilegrimsleden in Norway

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A diary of a very Nordic pilgrimage

Views on Pilegrimsleden.

We walked St Olav’s Way from Oslo to Trondheim in June 2023. This was one of our favourite European pilgrimages to date. If not, the best one we have walked. Everything about the route was so magical. Based on my journal from the walk, here is a diary of my adventures walking Pilegrimsleden in Norway.

The sticky heat of…Norway

As soon as we arrived in Oslo, the heat hit us. We hadn’t expected this at all. When we first conceived of the idea of walking the Nordic pilgrimage, St Olav’s, which takes you from Oslo to the South to Trondheim, to the (not-quite) North of Norway, we hadn’t really imagined that we would be battling through the sticky heat in June. Snow, perhaps. A little rain. Chilly mornings. But not 30 degrees centigrade.

“It’s too hot for us Norwegians,” one of our hosts told us a few days in.

This reassured us. We were, as it turned out, experiencing freak heat and our careful research had not let us down. Not that this made the walking any easier. We continued in the British way, “well at least it’s not raining,” we frequently told each other. Still, we would march on through the midday heat.

This was an entirely different approach to the more sensible German couple who we found to be fast asleep in the shade of a tree by the side of the path one day. Theirs seemed a good strategy and I remained somewhat envious when John said “let’s keep going” when he saw me looking forlornly at the shade.

Fast forward to 21:00 and we saw the same pair arriving to our campsite looking fraught. We were already two beers in, supper had been made and our laundry washed. I felt that we had won the Nordic pilgrimage game that day.

Why is it so quiet on pilegrimsleden?

Views on Pilegrimsleden.

Once out of Oslo and away from the slight humm drumm of the city, we were well onto the trails of St Olav’s Way. When we have walked other pilgrimages, the Camino in Spain, the Via Francigena in Italy, there always seemed to be noise. Cars, people, exotic accents shouting things that we couldn’t quite understand. Pilegrimsleden in Norway, less so.

Walking past a lake a few days in, I noticed that all I could hear was the sound of wind. And we are not talking gale force here. This was an incredibly gentle breeze. The noise of this would be almost imperceptible in most circumstances. But in Norway, where there seems to be so much space, and so few people filling it, I could hear it.

I often walk with ear phones, listening to a political podcast, an audio book or even blaring beating dance music to accompany each step. In Norway, somehow this felt wrong. Too jarring. Almost like I was offending the nature around me by drowning out the natural quiet with noise.

“How did you sleep?” our kind farm-stay host asked.

“Very well, we said” wondering how we could possibly not have slept well after walking 38km, enjoying the delightful home cooked supper on the farm and drinking a few drams of Aquavit the night before.

“Only, some pilgrims find it too quiet around here,” she explained, before adding “nothing but a few cows,” and laughing to herself jovially as she walked away.

Will we ever leave the pine trees?

Walking through pine trees on our Nordic pilgrimage, weaving in and out, we entered a sort of meditative state. But there’s something a little discombobulating about walking in trees for so long, with no vista and no idea where we were. We were being guided solely by the St Olav’s arrows. Onwards on Pilegrimsleden.

“Do you think we are ever going to leave the trees?” I asked. Starting to feel a little dizzy as we went.

“No. This is where we live now. Like trolls in the pines” Quipped John. Always ready with a joke on hand.

Scenery on pilegrimsleden

Oh, but we did leave the trees. Soon, we were treated to the extraordinary sight of Lake Mjøsa. The largest fjord lake on Norway. We barely left her side for a week or so, walking up the lush green valley to enjoy the most terrific of views and then descending back to spend the night sleeping by her shores.

“In the winter, the lake freezes over and the children skate on it,” a host told us as she took a short break from chopping wood in her back garden.

“When is winter here in Norway?” John asked

“Oh. It’s hard to say. Perhaps October to May? Yes, seven months, that’s about right.” she replied with a smile.

Looking out at the lake now, the sun yet to even contemplate setting, it was hard to imagine it could ever freeze. It appeared that we had timed it “just right” for summer.

Who have we got here?

“Who have we got here?” a voice called from outside of our tent.

We had arrived at the farm around four hours earlier, with no sign of the owner and no information available, we had assumed that this was another “self-check in” accommodation as we had grown accustomed to on Pilegrimslden, the Norwegian Camino.

We’d encountered many unmanned camp sites and cabins by this point, simply pitch up and pay when you leave. Such is the high level of trust in Norway. I’d double checked our email confirmation, we had made a reservation.

So, we picked the best camping spot with a view of the lake, dined on our supper of tinned mackerel sandwiches and tucked ourselves into the tent for the evening. Being woken up at 23:00 by the looming voice from outside, it became clear that something had gone awry.

I tentatively opened up the tent “Hello, John and Emma, we have a reservation,” I said convincingly.

“Today?” an angry face of a woman replied.

“Yes,” I said, now trying to convince myself.

“Why didn’t you call me and ask before pitching your tent?” she barked.

“Well, our phones….” I started to explain but she had already interrupted.

“You’ve pitched in the wrong place,” she said gesticulating to her robot lawnmower, “now I’m going to have to reprogram the robot.”

We were asleep again within minutes, dreaming of robots taking over the world.

Dovrefjell, that sounds fun

Views on Pilegrimsleden

“When will you reach Dovrefjell?” we had been asked this multiple times. “Be sure to check the weather,” we had been told. “Make sure you have woolen layers.” “Do not approach the Musk Oxon.”

Dovfrejell is a mountainous nature reserve and the third section of St Olav’s Way from Oslo to Trondheim. It had loomed ominous in the distance since we left the comforts of the South. The very name “Dovrefjell”, sounding a little like it belonged in Lord of the Rings. The famous “Musk Oxen”, dwellers of the mountain, also look like they belong in a mythical land.

With no supermarkets or amenities in Dovrefjell for 100km, we stocked up well before we approached it, or so we thought. But, within 10km of our ascent up the mountain, we had already eaten perhaps too many cinnamon rolls and our backpacks were starting to feel light again.

The first two days of walking passed easily, the weather was surprisingly balmy during the day. We stayed in a mountain lodge on our first night, drying our shoes by the fire and hiding from the storm that had suddenly descended. “Ah, the famous Doverfjell weather,” I noted.

The second night was spent in a campsite. On day three, we decided to make things a little tough for ourselves and tackled a 36km walk, aiming for Ryphusan, a pilgrim shelter. In normal circumstances this may have been fine, but Dovrefjell is not normal.

It’s alright once you’re in

We climbed up to 1,300 metres on steep paths before entering a valley, the road to Ryphusan didn’t seem to end. The last chocolate bar had been shared at around 15km. Meaning, that we had around six hours of walking remaining with no food. For a period of 10km, we stepped from stone to stone, trying to avoid sinking into the marshy terrain. Lose concentration for a second and sopping wet and muddy feet were your reward.

When we eventually got to Ryphusan, we greedily consumed four packets of noodles in front of three pilgrims who looked a little shell shocked at our sudden and late arrival.

“They must think we are animals,” John muttered.

With no showers or running water at the shelter, I opted for a dip in the nearby river. Putting my swimming costume on, I bravely took strides towards the stream. I’m not sure why I was surprised that the water was cold. We were over 1,000 metres up a mountain and surrounded by patches of snow. Still, determined, I dunked my torso a little deeper into the water.

“It’s alright once you’re in.” I called to John.

Beers on benches

On the Nordic pilgrimage, we developed a bit of a ritual. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or often a large can of beer were enjoyed whilst sitting outside supermarkets.

“We would never do this at home,” I justified to John one day, as I swigged back my Mango flavoured IPA.

We were sitting on a picnic bench, shoes removed, backpacks downed. Bars and restaurants don’t seem to exist outside of the big cities in Norway, so the perfectly placed picnic benches became our “nights out.” And if we wanted to go “out-out”, we would take a few beers back to the campsite.

“We put the wild in wilderness don’t we?” I jested.

“Where is everyone? I mean, where do all the people go in the evening?” John asked. Ever the city-dweller, he was looking a little fraught that we hadn’t met many pilgrims, or indeed any humans for a while.

“Perhaps they’re too busy hygge-ing?” I asked.

The lesser spotted pilgrim

One day, we walked out of a Spar with our provisions and found two people sitting on the picnic bench. A couple, like us. As we got nearer we noticed that they had large backpacks. On closer inspection, I could see more clues. They were barefoot, a bit tired and rubbing sore toes.

“PILGRIMS!” John shouted gleefully, before bounding over to them like an unleashed Labrador in the park.

The couple turned out to be from Belgium and were also seasoned pilgrims. They too had been spending a lot of time outside of supermarkets in “nights-out”. We were later joined by a Frenchman on a bike and a German man walking solo.

A few beers were shared. Stories from the Nordic pilgrimage exchanged. Foreigners bonding in an even more foreign land.

“I would never drink outside supermarkets at home!” exclaimed the female Belgian. We all nodded knowingly in response.

Arriving in Trondheim

We arrived in Trondheim via what appeared to be a very convoluted route. My walking companion, sometimes somewhat impatient to arrive at his destination, was getting a little frustrated.

“I can see the Cathedral there. Why are we following signs away from it?” he asked

“Trust in the process. The Camino will provide.” I offered, a hint of irony in my voice.

As we walked away from the river in Trondheim and back towards the Cathedral (again), we encountered some steep steps, a cruel joke at the end of 640kms of walking. But then the splendor of Nidaros Cathedral appeared in front of us and as we arrived at the 0km marker, we could see why the route planners wanted us to approach the Cathedral like this. Ready for our grand entrance.

Unlike arriving in Santiago de Compostela, there were no other pilgrims completing the pilgrimage that day. The reputation of Trondheim as a destination for pilgrims hasn’t quite reached the heights that I expect it will just yet. We asked a friendly chap to take a photo of us outside the Cathedral looking sweaty and dishevelled and still wearing our backpacks, he looked confused but dutifully complied.

The end of our Nordic Pilgrimage

The next day we visited the pilgrim centre in Trondheim, a delightful building that has a feeling of an “explorers club.” We arrived in the office to get our certificates and we were offered a friendly smile from the lady working at the pilgrim centre and an even friendlier greeting from Frank, a German man we had met on the walk.

“The English have arrived,” he exclaimed.

More resources and guides on walking pilegrimsleden on St Olav’s Way can be located here. You can find a daily stages guide, accommodation and budget information as well as a guide to training for the walk.

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Most of our planning is done using other blogs, but you can’t beat a guide book at the bottom of your case. Find yours on here on Amazon and get the travelling started!

How to walk the Norwegian Camino: Oslo to Trondheim on St Olav’s Way

Norway Travel Guide by World Citizen

Lonely Planet Norway

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