I have always wanted to return to Norway ever since our cruise there in 2000. In 2004, plans for a longer visit were fulfilled. Our trip as far
north as the Lofoten Islands took 66 days via the Dover-Calais ferry through France and Belgium to Holland, Northern Germany, Denmark and
Sweden, returning to England via Fjord Line's Bergen-Newcastle ferry. This is our account of the trip, to go direct to a section, click on the
In all, we were away 72 days, 64 of these on the continental mainland. We travelled a total distance of 5157 miles and used 965.11 litres or 212.58 gallons of fuel giving an average fuel consumption of 24.25 m.p.g. and an average daily distance travelled of 71.6 miles. The average price of diesel was 69 pence per litre and excluding the outward and homeward sea crossings, we made 12 ferry crossings and used 42 continental camp sites.
Our views on the route
The six days spent on the Lofotens were a delight. We were blessed with 5 good days weather and one poor day and we saw all we wanted on this our second visit to these islands, the first being but a short appetiser. Highlights this time were the drive through the Islands to the pretty fishing village of Å, visiting such interesting places as Kabelvag, Henningsvaer, the stave church at Flakstad, the beautiful white beach at Ramberg with its mountain backdrop, mystical Moskenes and Å itself.
Our return south, night stopping down the E6 to Trondheim, was notable for the worst days weather we had the whole trip. This also coincided with crossing some of the bleakest of landscapes at the Arctic Circle. In spite of the many, many warning signs of Elk on the roads we never saw a single one, so on this section we took the opportunity to visit the Namsskogan wild life park where nearly all of Norway's wild life can be seen in natural surroundings. We only stopped briefly in Trondheim to visit the Folk Museum before taking a 4 day break in Surnadal where I had chance to indulge in some fruitless salmon fishing. We then headed for the Western Fjords.
Within a few miles of leaving Surnadal, the landscape abruptly becomes more precipitous and you are very quickly driving in an area of fjord and mountain which lasts all the way to Bergen. This area is not to be missed or hurried for it contains some of the most stunning and breathtaking scenery of the whole trip. We spent 3 weeks in the Western Fjords and thoroughly appreciated it. You certainly do not want to miss the drive from Andalnes via the RV63 to Geiranger, and then via the RV15 to Stryn, Olden and the Briksdalen Glacier. The first view of Geiranger from the top of the Eagles Road, the RV63's descent to Geiranger, is breathtaking especially if there are cruise ships anchored 2000 feet below. However, beware of the tour coaches from these!
Perhaps not so spectacular but not to be missed, is the 68 mile Sognefjell road, the RV55 from Lom over Northern Europe's highest mountain pass to the Sognefjord. To get there from Birksdalen we doubled back but diverted onto another spectacular route, the 17 mile long Old Stryn Road, the RV258. Over half this road is still a gravel surface and a narrow one at that. It rejoins the RV15 for Lom at Grotli.
Free guides for all these routes can be obtained from the tourist offices and you can see some of the photographs taken on this visit by clicking on the gallery in the left hand menu.
We used a TomTom GPS system as our prime navigation system and we would not be without it. We also used Statens Kartverk 1cm to 3 Km Veiatlas Norge Road Atlas to provide additional information. This is available from Stanfords Maps. and was most useful because it has nearly every campsite and motorhome waste disposal point in Norway marked on the maps along with other useful tourist information. There were frequent roadside rest areas and, in keeping with the Norwegian Tourist Boards's requests not to wild camp, all had polite notices in three languages forbidding camping . Rest stops with toilet facilities also had facilities for the disabled even in the remoter areas although the toilet may well have been of the 'long drop' variety using nature to do the dirty work of disposal!
I have touched on the good and the bad of the trip but what about the ugly. There is nothing really ugly about Norway or the rest of Scandinavia for that matter but we felt some of the campsites left a lot to be desired.
General comments for wheelchair users
Ferries all have some kind of provision for the disabled with the more modern ones having lifts to the majority of the decks and good toilets for wheelchair users. The big draw back of these for the non ambulant is lack of space to leave and return to the vehicle. Ideally it was easier to enter and leave the vehicle on the dock side and push the wheelchair on to the car deck from the dock side and push it off again. Tricky to do when there are only two of you and the ferries have a very quick turn round time! I did employ this tactic to disembark on one occasion, hurrying back onto the ferry to drive the motorhome off! Most of the crossings were short and Wendy stayed in the motorhome. On the longer crossings I requested access to the lifts. The crew did their best, but there is not much room on the car decks of these small ferries and even this was never totally satisfactory and I still had to lift Wendy in and out of the vehicle there being insufficient room to deploy our ramps.
Our Stops and tours
On our first day we took the bus into the City Centre and changed services to travel out to the Viking Ship and the Kon Tiki museums. Most of the major museums are in the same area and it was a short 10 minute walk between these. We returned using the cross harbour ferry and then walked round the harbour front and through the main shopping area to catch the bus back to the site. Both museums are wheelchair accessible as are most public buildings. The Kon Tiki museum is fully accessible with help to tackle the ramps and the Viking Ship museum is single story except for stairs to the viewpoints to see into the ships. Wheelchair accessible toilets are available at both locations although at the Ship museum you had to use a stairlift to access the basement. The main shopping area is pedestrianised and level with good access to the shops. Getting around the other areas of Oslo didn't seem too difficult either apart from where we encountered street works.
On our second day we again took the bus to the city centre and caught an onward tram to Vigeland Park where we spend a thoroughly enjoyable morning admiring the many sculptures and relaxing in the sunshine. A wheelchair route is signed round the sculptures but there are some lengthy slopes to negotiate and, unless you have a power chair, a helper is necessary to view all of them. We returned by tram to the harbour side, relaxed, enjoyed the sunshine and watched life pass by before once more strolling through the main shopping area to catch the bus back to site.
There is much more in Oslo, but this is what we had come to see and do. For the next few days we drove north along the "Wilderness Route" not stopping for any length of time until reaching Roros.
Roros - As recently as the mid 1970's this was a working copper mine town. We spent a cold drab Sunday morning looking around this small town with its many old preserved timber buildings. Nothing much was open and the streets were almost deserted. The old town is on a hillside so it is a bit of push to get around. We parked on the outskirts but you could park a little closer in by parking in the Mining Museum car park which we visited later on in the morning. This was again fully accessible and apart from displaying artefacts of mining activities and local life, it explained through working models what mining and life was like in the area from the earliest times until the mines closure. The adjacent slag heap, from atop which there are fine views, dominates this side of town and its stark bare slopes added to the bleakness of the cold drab day. We were not altogether displeased to be moving on. A day later, in showery weather, we were on the RV17 heading for Namsos.
Torghatten - an isolated spot and although there is a small on site shop you are well advised to stock up with provisions before arrival. The attraction of this spot is its famous mountain with a large hole all the way through it which a fit person can climb up to and walk through to the other side. We spent a couple of fine sunny days here relaxing and catching up on household chores. I climbed up to the 'hole' on the first evening and the following day we followed the sandy track round the base of the mountain, a good 2/3 hour walk and hard going for the wheelchair in the softer spots but it was a warm sunny day of endless interest and the batteries of the powertrike we had brought with us held up well. The sun was still shining when we left and the road works were still as difficult to get by. We stopped in Bronnoysund to replenish supplies and headed north. At the second ferry crossing of the day we found a long queue and ended up waiting some two hours to make the crossing towards the Seven Sisters peaks. At least it was a brilliant sunny day and we didn't mind relaxing on the quay surrounded by wonderful scenery and the wooden quay side buildings of Forvik. We didn't travel far that day and night stopped on a small farm site where the friendly owner invited me into his house for a chat and to get drinking water from his kitchen. A short drive away the next morning we arrived in Sandessjoen and after visiting the local motorhome service point, we strolled along the harbour front before retiring into the local shopping centre for coffee and a 'sticky' each.
At days end we were camped on the Arctic circle. The scenery was becoming more dramatic and the next day we headed for Salstraumen passing the Svartisen Glacier and travelling through one of Norway's longest tunnels. There is large car park, an information point and a motorhome service point opposite the Glacier. Here you can catch a small boat which will take you across the fjord to the foot of the glacier. This was not our first visit here and the descent to the boat and the boat itself did not look very wheelchair friendly so we only stopped briefly for water and photographs before continuing on our way to Saltstraumen.
Saltstraumen - home of the worlds strongest tidal current, the legend of the maelstrom and a Mecca for fishermen and I did not bring a sea rod with me! We did spend a couple of nights here fascinated by the spectacle and the abundance of fish being caught. The local camp sites here provide fish gutting and freezer facilities, they were in much demand. However, there are not enough pitches to go round and wild camping is tolerated on the large car park in the shadow of the bridge. Wheelchair users can get a good view from on the bridge and there is also a useable path down to the seas edge from the car park, but it is initially very steep. The adjacent visitors centre is completely accessible and provides an interesting insight into the history of the area and the tidal current. From here we drove north to the Lofoten Islands only pausing for daily groceries, fuel, rest, and night stops. Our first stop for an overdue rest was near Svolvaer, the Lofoten Islands major town.
I did eventually succumb to buying a sea rod and some tackle, again at a reasonable price and I subsequently spent many an hour fishing for tea with some success. We also drove into Svolvaer and after some initial difficulty found somewhere to park not too far from the centre which was in turmoil due to street works, otherwise it was not too difficult to get around. After some inquiries, we booked a 4 hour local cruise to the Troll Fjord on a small fishing boat. Access to the boat was not easy and I had to carry Wendy on and off the boat. It was fine day, calm seas and it was a welcome break from driving everywhere. The Troll Fjord is only accessible via sea and is one of the narrowest Fjords in Norway with towering cliffs on either side although we would say it is not the most interesting. I did enjoy the fishing though which was thrown in with the trip and our catch was cooked for our lunch and on the return trip, much to our delight, the sea eagles were fed the scraps. Wonderful sight. Whilst we chose a small fishing boat to make this trip, one of the ferry company's run an evening trip on a much larger boat to the fjord and this was much more accessible for the wheelchair user but I bet it was not half so much fun! Suitably rested we set off south down the island chain heading for A. After a night stop at a pleasant coastal site, the next day dawned misty and murky as we set off for Henningsvar.
Henningsvar and Å - Henningsvar is some way off the main road down a narrow minor road which we observed had plenty of places to wild camp most of which were taken. We found no difficulty parking but perhaps because of the weather we were not too inspired by the place but after a good mooch around and a coffee at a local general store we retraced our path back to the main road and in worsening weather headed for the extreme south of the islands and Å. I knew coaches and caravans made the trip and confidence thus boosted and undeterred by the narrow roads we set off. Even in the low cloud and showers it was a wonderful drive which must be taken with care in any vehicle with a definite eye open for passing places. The rain was coming down quite heavily when we pulled up in the carpark at roads end. However we had come a long way and did not want to miss a place we had heard and read so much about. I walked to the local campsite getting soaked in the process. It was mainly for tents with next to no room for a large motorhome so we decided to night stop in the car park in spite of the requests not to do so. By late evening we were joined by half a dozen other motorhomes who all settled in for the night. The following day our prayers had been answered and the day dawned bright and sunny. Å is one big museum, its red painted wooden buildings clinging precariously to the mountain slopes, half of which are built on stilts out into the cove. We wandered around the narrow streets but did not enter any of the specific dedicated museum buildings, access for a wheelchair not being terribly good and neither of us felt the cost worth it in these circumstances. Nevertheless Å is a fascinating place best seen in good weather when the views can be fully appreciated. From the car park, it is a slight descent into the village but nothing a fit wheelchair helper could not handle.
After a couple of hours we returned to our motorhome and set off on the journey back to Svolvaer where we were to catch a ferry for the two hour crossing back to the mainland. In glorious weather, all we had missed the day before was revealed in its splendour and we stopped frequently, where possible, to admire and take photographs. We night stopped at Brustranda Camping.
Our return to the mainland for the journey south was greeted a day later by one of the worst days weather we experienced the whole trip and it was a very cold and wet day when we stopped at the Arctic Circle's visitors centre for a brief look around its shops, a welcome cup of hot chocolate and the obligatory photographic opportunity.
Namskoggan - On the E6 travelling south towards Trondheim we came across the Namskoggan Wildlife Park and a few miles further on in clearing weather we night stopped by the river Namsen. In spite of numerous road side signs warning of Elk or Moose on the road we had not seen anything other than a family of foxes and a deer and fawn, the latter whilst out walking one day. We therefore decided the following morning to return to the wild life park realising that in another days drive we would be returning to the more populated area of Norway. The park is orientated towards the family who in our view would get very good value for money. All of Norway's wild life is on show at this wheelchair friendly venue and we did see elk, bear etc but the wolves in their very large pen remained elusive. That afternoon we set off for Trondheim.
Trondheim - We have spent a day in Trondheim before but on that occasion we had no time to visit the Folk Museum so this is where we were heading for. Driving through Trondheim on a Sunday lunch time was easy and after one or two wrong turns, which TomTom, soon corrected, we arrived at the museum's car park on a fine sunny afternoon. The museum is set out on a hill top which was once a fort overlooking Trondheim and the fjord, the views are superb. The site is in three parts, two of which consist of old buildings gathered from various parts of Norway and re-erected on this hilly site. One area is dedicated to Trondheim's old town and the other, of assorted buildings, occupies the major portion of the site. A main reception building houses exhibits. You can join a guided tour of the old buildings, well worth while and it provides a fascinating insight into life of a bygone age, but it is not at all easy for a wheelchair user to get round this steep site and into the old buildings. However, the reception building is totally accessible. We struggled round the site listening to the guide where possible and soon found that the afternoon had flown by and we had again run out of time. After a quick look round the reception building, we headed south again in the early evening to find a stop for a few days. We did find one but it was not to our liking and we only night stopped before heading south once again on the look out for a pleasant stop to spend a few days.
Surnadal - We didn't go far and having looked at a couple of sites we decided to stay at Camping Brekkoya on the banks of the River Surna just outside this little town. We chose wisely. It was but a short walk along a cycle way into the small town where all services were available. We rested 4 days here while we caught up on the household chores and I indulged in some salmon fishing in the adjacent river. The catch records indicated the fishing had been poor but, for ever the optimist and at £15 for a day licence to fish a 3Km beat, who cared. I enjoyed the fresh air and the challenge even though I caught nothing. Suitably refreshed and provisioned we set off for the Western Fjords and Andalsnes a ferry ride and a days drive away.
Geiranger -The descent to Geiranger is spectacular. From Eidsdal, the RV63 winds its way up the mountains before arriving at a large car park from where you can look down the 2000ft to the fjord below. This, the 'Eagles Road', is the only road kept open into Geiranger in the winter and the descent is similar to the Trollstigen but not quite so sheer and there is a very good view point on the way down from where you can look along the fjord in either direction. The day before the Queen Mary 2 had been anchored down below. Today the Hurtigrute, the Norwegian coastal express ferry service, had just left and three cruise ships lay at anchor making this section of the road extremely busy. We chose Camping Grand Geiranger, a fjord side site 2 Km outside of Geiranger for a three night stop over. Geiranger is reputed to be the most beautiful fjord in Norway, we will certainly not dispute that and a tour up the fjord was what we had really come here for. We drove into the town of Geiranger and had no trouble parking in the large car park. The town is quite small and is easy to get around and being a major cruise stop off point there are some fairly significant shops here. Having seen the lie of the land and enquired about trips along the fjord we chose to take a round trip as foot passengers on the ferry to Hellesylt, this being the perfect wheelchair friendly option. The following day armed with a packed lunch we parked the van and boarded the ferry for our day trip. A commentary is provided as the ferry makes it journey along this fjord and you can alight in Hellesylt but frankly you can see all you want to from the ferry. We stayed on board, ate our lunch and settled back for the return trip. It was a good day out and it is a spectacular fjord with much interest along its steep shores. Suitably satisfied we set off once again along the RV63 heading for the Nordfjord and Olden.
Olden - The climb heading south out of Geiranger is in my view more spectacular than that of the descent on the Eagle Road from Eidsdal, it is certainly much longer and ascends higher than the summer snow line. We stopped frequently to look back and admire the views before joining the RV15 for Stryn, Loen and Olden. We passed through Olden taking the narrow road along the lake side towards the Briksdalenbreen Glacier and eventually stopping at Camping Oldevatn for a few days. There isn't much to Olden but the campsites along the lake side road to Briksdal and the glacier are wonderful places to stop and soak up the picturesque surroundings, especially so higher up the valley. Our major objective was of course a visit to the glacier. There is a large car park at the end of the road and for a fee you can in fact stay here overnight. There is also a daily charge. If you are disabled it is best to be dropped off outside the hotel/restaurant before parking the vehicle because it is a steep ascent from the car park to the bottom of the track which winds its way, quite steeply in places, past the waterfall and on up to the glacier. At the bottom you can either hire a horse and cart or something like a mini moke with six wheels to take you up to the top of the track from where there is about a kilometre rough walk to the foot of the glacier. (NOTE On a visit in May 2009 it was learnt that the horse and carts have been withdrawn following several accidents.) Neither forms of transport are particularly cheap or wheelchair friendly so we chose to use the powertrike, which with the occasional assistance from myself on the steeper sections, got Wendy to the top of the track. It was a fine sunny day so it was an enjoyable but warm 45 minute walk. Wendy waited and watched the comings and goings while I walked the last kilometre to the foot of the glacier. No matter how warm a walk it is up the track, take a coat because it is very cold at the foot of the glacier which towers above you and makes those that venture on a guided tour on it look like ants. I collected a chunk of it, popped it in a plastic bag and took it down to Wendy so she could at least say she had touched it. The ice was amazingly clear and I could not distinguish a single impurity in it, and, as I held it up, I wondered how old this particular piece was? It would have made a couple of great gin and tonics. Back at the bottom of the track, we browsed the tourist shop and then had an inexpensive buffet lunch in the local restaurant before returning to our site in the late afternoon. The weather being fine we lingered a couple of days more, soaking up the sun and the clean air with a spot of rowing and fishing on the lake using the sites free boats. With the fine weather and being slightly ahead of our planned schedule we retraced our path to Stryn where just outside we had observed a nice terraced site overlooking Stryn lake.
Stryn - We spent two nights at Camping Strynsvatn, visiting Stryn, one of the larger towns in the area, for some shopping. Stryn is on the level and there were no problems parking or getting around the town. On leaving instead of taking the major road, the RV15 to Lom we took the 'Old Stryn' road, the RV258 which goes up over the mountains to Grotli rather than through them like the RV15. This used to be the only east/west route until the building of the RV15 and it skirts the Jostedalsbreen National Park and passes a summer ski centre where we found people sat in chairs on the snow sunbathing whilst others were skiing. A great drive but it is not for the faint hearted. Over half its length is still good dirt road and there are no barriers. It is narrow, and in places there are significant drops on either side of the road! To Wendy's relief we reached the main road again and headed for Lom arriving after a night stop by the Donfoss falls.
Lom - We arrived in Lom as the clouds were gathering and visibility worsening. Since our principle reason for coming this way was to take the mountain road, the RV55 to the Sognefjord, we decided to stop until the weather cleared. We spent two nights in Lom visiting the 12th century stave church and the Norwegian Mountain Museum where we learnt a great deal about the history of mountaineering in Norway and the Jotunheimen mountains and National Park which the RV55 skirts. We had no problems with access and on the third day the forecast was for improving weather and we set off along the RV55 for the Sognefjord, stopping frequently and taking all day to travel about 70 miles to Skjolden where we night stopped by a lake. From here we visited the Nigardsbreen Glacier on route to Sogndal
Nigardsbreen Glacier - This can be reached along a long side road from the RV55 and is itself an interesting drive climbing up a long river valley to its head where the glacier can be found. The weather was miserable, overcast and showery, thus we decided to visit the Glacier Centre hoping the weather would improve. This proved to be extremely interesting and answered many questions we had been asking ourselves about glaciers and it exposed a fascinating local history. Only the small top floor is not accessible to a wheelchair and wheelchair accessible toilets are available. You can see the glacier from the centre but it is possible to drive much closer along a toll road which leads to a car park from where there is an even better view. This is as far as the disabled can travel because the next stage to the foot of the glacier requires crossing a lake in a small boat and a hike. It is however an impressive glacier, perhaps not as scenic as Briksdalenbreen but larger and even in poor weather it was worth the trip. After a night stop in Sogndal, an uninspiring place, we crossed the fjord by ferry to Fodnes and headed for Laerdal and Flam.
Flam - On the way to Flam we stopped off in Laerdal to seek information about the road over the mountains to Flam and to visit the Wild Salmon Centre. We were advised not to take the mountain road but to use the new 15 mile tunnel. As it turned out, after spending longer at the Wild Salmon Centre than anticipated, this quicker route suited us. We parked outside the Salmon Centre without any difficulty and spent the morning there finding out more about the salmon's life cycle, habitat, and the spread of disease and the conflicts this caused between the farmers and the preservationist. The centre is fully accessible to wheelchair users and toilets are available. Laerdal itself is level and also easy to get around.
It didn't take long to get to Flam through what was to be our longest tunnel. We booked in at Camping Flam, a terraced site, fronted by a gently sloping stretch. The terraces overlook the small town of Flam which throngs with tourists in the daytime because this is a major stopping off point and the mainstay of the 'Norway in a Nutshell' tour. The place is strangely quiet in the evenings when they have all gone. From the sites' terraces you can survey all that is going on, from the arrival and departure of major cruise ships and the trains of the Flam railway to the humble comings and goings of smaller craft and tourist vehicles. We spent four days here in fabulous weather and enjoyed every minute of it. It truly is a wonderful spot to base yourself for a few days and we took full advantage of the fine weather to ride the Flam railway, go walking and evening fishing.
The railway is expensive, but in my view a must do. It is an incredible feat of engineering and journeys through remarkable scenery. It is accessible, and wheelchair space is available on the train. Ramps are available for boarding in Flam but like in other places we have been, the staff seem to prefer to bodily lift the chair and occupant on and off. We did not do the full 20Km 1 hour trip to Myrdal but alighted at the penultimate stop of Vatnhalsen. Stations between Flam and Myrdal are more primitive than Flam and there was no platform here, just a hotel and access to a very rough cycle way which we used to walk down to a lake and back pausing at the hotel for refreshment on the way back before returning on the train. This trip was a mistake, the terrain was too rough even for the trike and I had to help a great deal. It would have been far wiser to travel to Myrdal where I should have hired a bicycle and accompanied Wendy on the road the 14 Kms (9 miles) downhill back to Flam. This is a very, very popular option with the able bodied and if you took a walk up the valley from Flam, even for a short distance, you would quickly understand why. The scenery and interest on a fine day is stunning. We walked as far as the batteries of the powertrike would permit, which was 4 miles uphill alongside river and meadow, through Flam village to the Rjoande Falls which have a vertical drop of 140 meters.
We still had shopping to do and knowing Bergen to be expensive we headed for Voss to get those last minute souvenirs
Voss - It was only a short drive to Camping Voss which is on the edge of parkland and a lake just a short level walk from the town centre. We spent a lazy couple of days here in fine weather mainly shopping and relaxing by the lakeside before heading for Bergen.
Bergen - Even the drive down to Bergen is scenic. We stopped in a lay-by for coffee and picked a good sized container full of wild raspberries, delicious with cream. We arrived in Bergen just after lunch to find the motorhome park, which is on the harbour front only a few hundred yards from the ferry terminal, practically full. You have the choice to pay by the hour or pay for an overnight stay. We paid for two nights and settled in for what was to be the hottest couple of days of the trip. The advantages of arriving on a Sunday are traffic is much lighter and there are no tolls to pay. If you should arrive on a week day, make sure you pay your tolls here or anywhere else in Norway or you could find a fine waiting for you on the mat when you return home. Bergen is one of the wettest cities in the world yet on both occasions we have visited, we have been blessed with sunshine! We walked into Bergen centre in the afternoon, the market was in full swing and the yacht harbour quite busy. I finished the day of with a spot of fishing as the sun sank beneath the far hills. The following day we walked into Bergen centre stopping at the ferry terminal to check our reservation. On the harbour front, we caught the little tourist train which is wheel chair accessible and takes you past the major sights, up the heights and through the old town. A bumpy but enjoyable ride. We had a picnic in a local park, wandered around the centre and the Bryggen and finally settled on the grassy knoll of the Bergenhus to eat an ice cream and watch the harbour traffic scuttle back and forth before rounding off the day with more fishing. The next morning we boarded the ferry for the cruise down to Stavanger before crossing the North Sea in the calmest conditions I have ever seen. That evening we treated ourselves to a first class meal in the restaurant. Whether it was the meal or the wine, probably both, we slept soundly until the morning arrival in the Tyne estuary and Newcastle in thick fog.
Would we do it again? The answer is yes, but differently. If we were to return to Norway it would have to be via a return trip on a UK-Norway ferry or not at all.
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