Hiking The St. Olav Way in Norway.
Norway is such a beautiful country that is steeped in history especially Viking history! This for me was a place worth going to see and experience. The Norwegian people are extremely friendly and happy to see people walking and enjoying their beautiful land. As for the scenery well everywhere you look is a Snap Shot Wow moment. Having the chance to walk through this place was one that will always be treasured and hopefully repeated at some point.
The pilgrimage trails in Norway are like other trails throughout the world where one follows a route, quite often a path that a Saint or Royalty may have taken or be an old trade route from ancient times with a final destination place (usually a church). This case the destination point is the beautiful Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
People from all over the world will come and walk these routes for many different reasons, whether it be a religious, spiritual or just because they like to, this is a fantastic way for one to really go and discover a place, meet the people and learn about their culture.
St. Olav Day – 29th July
This is the day that the King had been killed in battle in Stiklestad so each year there is a festival to honour him. The Nidaros Cathedral just becomes alive with activity in and around it. There is a Olav vigil where there are services and prayers starting late evening through to the early morning of the 29th. There are processions that are led through from the out skirts of Trondheim and ending at the Cathedral.
There are music concerts, plays, exhibitions, as well as a re-enactment of the battle of Stiklestad. They have a fantastic medieval market place you can wander through and hear traditional folk music, witness crafts and traditional tradesman as well as people dressed in the period costumes.This festival usually goes for around 10 days and is well worth seeing and being apart of.
If you do plan to walk your pilgrimage to arrive for this do be aware that you will need to be booking accommodation ahead of time especially on the last 100km as it is very popular and there are big tour groups that go through as well. Don’t worry about the trail will be crowded as it won’t be, nothing like you would see in Spain, there just isn’t as much accommodation available but in time I’m sure this will change. I think because it is a relatively new marked trail and in time it will improve.
Be Aware –
Do be aware that these are not easy walks and if you are thinking it to be like the Spanish walks, Camino de Santiago, it’s not. You will work for it so I would suggest, as I do for all walks, train, train, train, and I don’t mean catch a train, you need to get trail fit! Be prepared for a lot of ascending and descending, mud and not just muddy patches either there are muddy marshlands that can go on for km’s. Some of these areas are boardwalked but not all and they can really be challenging work to get through. Be prepared for extreme weather, it can happen and Norway will give it to you. Always check online as well as talking to other pilgrims the state of the trail you are heading into. We had come across a few places that was affected but mudslides and were dangerous to cross.
Don’t let me put you off as it is a walk worth doing but I really want people to be aware and prepared so their journey will be as fantastic as ours was.
A very brief history –
These trails originally date back to the early 10’00s when St. Olav had become King of Norway. So who is St. Olav? He is Olav Haraldsson who ruled as the king of Norway from 1015 through to his death on the 29th July in 1030. His fame came, not just because he was king, but also for bringing Christianity to this Viking country and uniting its people and the country as one.
He died in battle in a place called Stiklestad in 1030 and his remains are believed to be buried on the banks of the river at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. Two years prior to this King Olav had fled Norway for Russia, but it is said he returned in 1030 after having a dream that he interpreted as a call to go home and defend his country. There are stories of miracles that then started to occur at the battle scene as well as at the site of his burial on the banks of the river in Trondheim. People were calling him a holy man and would travel to these sites expecting miracles to happen. It was a year later they decided to dig him up in fear his body would be stolen and bury him in an unnamed location, though when his body was retrieved he looked like he had just been sleeping. His hair, nails had grown, his skin looked fresh and they say there was a sweet fragrance coming up from his coffin. The king was then canonised and made a Saint.
After the arrival of the Reformation in Norway back in 1537 it was prohibited to walk a pilgrimage and has been said in doing so could result in Death! Have heard mixed stories on this and hope it isn’t true. The revival of this historical trail started to come about between the years 1994 and 1996 and the completion of the way marking was only as recent as 2000!
So this is I suppose a relatively new but ancient pilgrimage!
The St. Olav Way is made up of a network of 6 different pilgrimage trails that all eventually end at the Nidaros Cathedral Trondheim in the north of Norway. While not all the routes directly end at the Cathedral they do link onto the main routes that do.
The 6 routes are as follows;
- The Gudbrandsdalen; This is the longest of all the routes and was originally the main road leading to Nidaros back in the middle ages. This route starts in the city of Oslo to the south and heads north with the distance of approximately 645km.
- St. Olav Path; This route was St. Olav’s final journey before he was killed. The route starts in Selander, Sweden, passing through Stiklestad, the place he was killed, and ends at Nidaros. The distance is approximately 564km.
- The Osterdalen Path; The path gives you a choice of two starting points and later joining into one trail then continuing on to end at Nidaros. One starts in Lutnes, Sweden and is approximately 420km. The other starts in Rena, Norway and is approximately 360km. Both paths join up at the town of Åkre, Norway and takes the last 280km as one.
- The North Path; this is the most northern of all the routes starting at the Gloshaug Church in Gloshaugen and passes through Stiklestad where you connect to the St. Olav Path and on to Nidaros. This route to Stiklestad approximately 150km and from Stiklestad to Nidaros is approximately another 150km. In total from Gloshaug to Nidaros it will be approximately 300km.
- The Follo Path; You will get a great mix of terrain on this from farmland, forest, urban and even Coast. The route starts south of Oslo and ends approximately 67km later in Oslo where you can join onto the Gudbrandsdalen way to Nidaros.
- The Rombo Path; This is the oldest of all the trails and starts in Tydal, Norway and ends at Nidaros some 150km later.
Way-markers and signs –
You come across a variety of way-markers on these trails. They are a mixture of stone ones, wooden or enamel ones, stickers on posts even wooden tags hanging from trees. There are painted ones and also the odd yellow arrow as those you would often find on the Camino de Santiago!
The symbol of these way-markers are a mix of the St. Olav’s cross along with the symbol that is often seen on maps referring to a historical site.
The stone markers you will come across have the symbol at the top with the number of km you have left till you get to Nidaros. Always exciting to see one of these!
Pilgrims passport and credentials
Like all pilgrimages throughout the world there is a pilgrims passport. This is proof of pilgrimage and allows you to stay in the pilgrims accommodation as well as receive pilgrim discounts along your journey. You are required to collect stamps to show you have walked and this also enables you to receive a Testimonial or certificate of completion and like most of the pilgrimages you also must have walked the final 100km to qualify.
This is a fun thing to do when walking and found on this particular pilgrimage that it isn’t as easy at times to find places for the stamps but you will come across some places, even in the middle of a forest, where there is a box with a log book and a stamp for you.
There are different types of accommodation that is available to the pilgrims on these routes. You will find a mix of pilgrim centres, parish houses, guesthouses, huts and mountains huts, lodges, B&B’s and so on, it is expanding each year. Most places give a pilgrims discount you just have to let them know that you are a pilgrim.
It is wise to look ahead at the route you are travelling and even consider pre-booking some of your accommodation, especially if you are walking like we were to finish in Trondheim for the 29th July, St. Olav Day, as the trail becomes very busy and sadly we found in the last 100km there were some very big tour groups that had booked all the pilgrims accommodation and I believe they have done so for the next year as well.
As for the cost I won’t lie Norway is expensive! If you are one who has walked the Spanish Caminos this will come as a shock as it isn’t cheap like the Alburgues. The prices also vary as does the style of accommodation. You will be expected to pay at the min 250NOK ($40 Au) to as much as 900NOK ($140AU) and anything in between, that is for single so I would do research and look even look at AirB&B which we found to be the cheapest.
You need to be aware as well that the price does not always, most often not, include bed linen, towels, these are extra and can be around 50NOK to 250NOK (depending where you stay) averaging around 100NOK. Then you have a cleaning fee that is extra! We found nearly every place would have this or would give you the option to do it yourself. Do note that a complete clean including mopping of the floors is required. The cost of this again can vary anywhere from 100NOK to 200NOK.
Don’t despair if this seems all too much as you can camp and Norway has a ‘Right to Roam’ policy which includes the right to free camp providing you are considerate, thoughtful and respectful to nature, you tread lightly, pick up your rubbish and leave the landscape as one finds it! Yes I think it works in Norway as I would have to say it has been the cleanest set of trails I have ever had the pleasure of walking with only a few encounters of rubbish left at campsites.
The right to roam policy (allemannsretten) is actually a traditional right from the ancient times and back in 1957 is became a part of the ‘Outdoor Recreation Act’. This was, and is to, ensure that all get to experience nature even on the larger privately owned lands.
To pitch a tent in Norway you can in most places as long as you are at least 150 meters away from an inhabited house or hut. If you are on a private land and want to stay longer than one night you must get permission from the land owner but no problems in the forests staying longer. Be aware of the fire bans, no open fires in or near forested areas between 15th April and 15th September. do carry a gas cooker. You can get the gas cylinders in most of the larger towns at Sport and Recreational shops, camp grounds I even bought one at a petrol station.
You will also come across what they call a ‘Gapa-huk’. These are open huts which are just a basic shelter. There are many of these we found especially in the forest areas. They are there for hikers and some are for hunters and fisherman, just a great spot to find when the weather turns bad.
Food along the way –
Norway is vast for such a small country and you will find, especially on the Gudbrandsleden route you don’t always go through towns or places with facilities. The other thing is the route tries not to take you into towns but we found that the Norwegians were so lovely and helpful that often at the places we stayed they would give a lift into a town to get supplies. You will sometimes have to carry enough food with you for quite a few days at times but if you research and prepare it is not so bad. When we arrived in Oslo we went to the outdoor store and bought some dehydrated packs and when we knew we were heading to a section that we wouldn’t see shops for a while we would buy a bit extra in the last town. In the book it will tell you when you should be aware of no shops so you do get warning.
When to go –
You must be aware of the recommended short hiking time that Norway has. Winter in Norway can be a very harsh environment and not one you would consider walking in. Not only does it get extremely cold the daylight is very limited. It is recommended that the time for hiking is Summer/ Autumn. The temperatures in summer can reach to the high 20°c (68°f) but please be aware Norway does and will give you all 4 seasons in one day, so you must keep and eye on the local weather reports especially if heading up into the mountains.
What to take –
You pack it you carry it! as I always say so be aware of what you pack and take just what you need. If camping (in a Tent) you will be carrying more, like tent, cooker, food etc. if you are not camping but choose the other types of accommodation I do recommend you pack a sleeping bag unless you can guarantee bedding or want to pay the extra, a silk liner is a good thing as well.
As for clothes remember Norway loves giving you 4 seasons in 1 day! It might be sunny and shorts/tee-shirt kind of weather in the morning but 2 hrs later you might be looking for something warmer to put on and if in the mountains you will quite possibly want a thermal as well. I took a thermal top and used it. My best suggestion is to watch the weather leading up to your journey and judge then but take items that you can use in multi ways like for example get the zip off hiking pants that you can wear as shorts as well as long.
The basic list –
- Boots or shoes you will be walking in
- A back pack, size depends on you, I carry a 75ltr because I can and need it for my extra equipment
- spare lightweight shoes or sandals for the evenings
- underwear 3 pairs, one you wear, one you wash and spare in case the washed ones didn’t dry
- two sets of socks as well as liners which are easy for washing and drying
- two hiking tee-shirts
- two zip off long pants (this will give you two pairs of shorts as well)
- jacket, for warmth
- poncho or rain jacket
- two hats, one for the sun and one for the warmth or use a buff or both
- gloves to keep those little fingers warm
- sarong, recommend this item for various reasons, it can be a wrap after your shower, a towel, a bag, a blanket, a scarf and so on.
- something to sleep in, really don’t scare others if sharing accommodation so wear clothes
- thermal top, thermal bottoms is your call. I would say a must on for the top at least on this trip because the chances of the weather turning are greater than not
- sleeping bag and silk liner
- 1st aid kit
- hiking sticks if you use them (if you don’t you might want to in Norway)
- water bottles/hydration bladder
- head torch, helps find the toilet at night
- earplugs to avoid listening to other snorers
- map and guidebook
Any extras if you are camping would be
- cooker/gas cylinder, lighter/matches
- food utensils
and as for anything else really it depends on you. I carry an i-pad for my writing purposes and extra cameras for my work which means charging equipment and spare battery packs.
Arriving in Trondheim –
What can I say this place is just beautiful! A picture perfect city that is always filled with festivities. This place needs time to explore so if you are able to give time at the end do so you won’t regret it. So much history here from Vikings to 23 different fires some completely destroying the city! It’s a university city with the glory of even having a Noble Peace Prize won! There are stories from world wars and of the Nazis being here. I could just keep going on but let’s talk about arriving in Trondheim!
When you arrive as a pilgrim the first port of call for you is Nidaros Cathedral! This is where you will find the final stone km marker and it will read 0km to Nidaros! Behind this stone marker is the beautiful Cathedral.
Next port of call is the pilgrims centre as you want to get that final stamp and receive your testimonial. I will say here that even if you are not a person that cares a whole lot about receiving the certificate please still go to the centre and let them know you have arrived. It is helpful for them to be able to monitor how many people are walking the trails each year.
To find the pilgrims centre go down behind the Cathedral, through the grave yard and at the end of the garden is a building, go down the stairs and around to the other side near the river, this is where the pilgrims centre is. You are also able to stay here but do ring ahead as it was fully booked when we arrived.
Helpful Information –
Check out our series of YouTube videos to see what the Gudbrandsdalen is like. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBtkq3WUX2Y
As well as our blog on our journey as we wrote this while walking so you will get the real feel not the glossy version. Hiking the St. Olav Way
http://pilegrimsleden.no/ is a great website set up to help plan your journey. It is in 3 languages; Norwegian, English and German and you will find all the routes here. there is also a handy trip planner to help you along your way. There are maps and lists of accommodations and contacts. I would recommend if you want to walk any of the routes you should look at this site.
There is a Pilgrim Forum. www.caminodesantiago.me This is a forum on mainly the Spanish pilgrimages but has got sections for other world pilgrimages. Worth a check as I always would recommend talking to people who have done the walks previously and its a great place to ask any questions you may have. You will also find other useful links.
As for Maps and Guide Books there are some out there but only one at this point in English. If you can read German I would highly recommend theirs as it is quite good and accurate. The English one is called ‘The Pilgrim Road to Trondheim’ by Alison Raju. We used this though it didn’t always link with the maps from the pilgrims site, it is quite a good book and we did not get lost so that is a good thing.
The maps you can download from the pilgrims site. http://pilegrimsleden.no/ but if carrying a phone or I-pad it’s easier to just look at them on there rather that carrying endless pieces of paper.
We hope this has been helpful for you all and gives you a good start point in your planning. Any questions always feel free to flick us an email as we are happy to try to help wherever we can.
check out these other stories we have, this first one was written by a reporter whom we had the pleasure in staying with
then our day-to-day blog
Then straight from Norway we flew to Scotland to walk the West Highland Way