St Olav Ways
These are a network of historical pilgrim pathways, or hiking trails leading to Trondheim in Norway to reach the Nidaros Cathedral. In total there are 7 official routes to choose from coming from many different directions and joining up together either along the way or at the end. These routes were made up from a pathway that either a Saint, Royalty may have taken or from an old trade route from ancient times.
People from all over the world travel these paths for various reasons, whether it be of religious, spiritual, historical or just because they like to. This is a fantastic way to discover a place, nature, culture, meet people or even to discover yourself.
On this journey we will be walking the route known as the St. Olav Path. This route has us starting on the coast of Sweden and walking westward towards Trondheim in Norway. This route follows along the road or pathway that King Olav travelled in 1030 when he arrived back from Russia in order to reclaim the Norwegian Throne and Christianise Norway. Along the way King Olav fell to his death after the battle in Stiklestad on July 29th, 1030.
The length of the way is 564 km and will have us walking through some spectacular scenery including forests, mountain ranges, around stunning lakes, past many historical sites including the place of St. Olav’s demise. We will walk through farmlands and villages past medieval churches and along ancient paths.
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!
A Very Brief History
These trails originally date back to the early 10’00’s when St. Olav had become king of Norway. Who is St. Olav? He is Olav Haraldsson who had ruled Norway from 1015 through to his death on July 29th, 1030. He bought Christianity to this Viking land and united it’s people and bringing the country to one.
St. Olav died in Battle in a place called Stiklestad in 1030 and his remains are believed to have been taken and buried on the banks of the river at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim Norway. King Olav had two years prior fled to Russia but returned after having a dream telling him to go home and defend his country. There had been many stories told of miracles happening at the battle scene after his death as well as at the site of his burial. People started calling him a holy man and would travel to these sites expecting miracles to occur. One year later they dug him up from his burial site in fear his body would be stolen and buried him in an un-named location, but when they dug him up his body looked as though he had just been sleeping. His hair, nails had grown, his skin was fresh and they say there was a sweet fragrance coming up from his coffin. The King was then canonised and made a Saint.
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 marketplace 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 a part 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 100 km 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.
The St. Olav Way is made up of a network of 7 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 7 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 645 km.
- 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 564 km.
- 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 420 km. The other starts in Rena, Norway and is approximately 360 km. Both paths join up at the town of Åkre, Norway and takes the last 280 km 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 150 km and from Stiklestad to Nidaros is approximately another 150 km. In total from Gloshaug to Nidaros it will be approximately 300 km.
- VALLDALSPATH A pilgrims path from the fjords to the mountains, in the footsteps of King Olav. This path is 150 km and starts in Valldal and joins the Gudbrandsdalen Path in the Dovre Mountains.
- THE BORG PATH You will get a great mix of terrain on this from farmland, forest, urban and even Coast. The route starts on the Swedish border south of Oslo and ends approximately 176 km 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 150 km later.
Way-markers and signs
Signposts these trails was done back in 1994. 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.
You will come across a variety of way-markers on these trails. They are a mixture of stone, wooden or enamel ones. Sometimes there are stickers on posts painted ones on rock and even wooden ones hanging from trees. You may even find the random yellow arrow that you would often find on the pathways of the Camino de Santiago!
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 most 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 100 km 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 logbook 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 did when we walked the Gudbrandsdalen back in 2016 when we wanted to finish in Trondheim for the 29th July, St. Olav Day, as the trail becomes very busy. We found in the last 100 km there were some very big tour groups that had booked all the pilgrims accommodation and I believe they have done so for the following years as well.
As for the cost I won’t lie it is expensive! If you are one who has walked one of the Spanish Caminos this will then come as a shock to you as it isn’t cheap like the Alburgues. The prices do vary and so does the style of accommodation. You will be expected to pay at the min 250 NOK ($40AU) to as much as 900 NOK ($140AU) and anything in between, that is for a single so I would do some research and look at even Air-B&B which we found back in 2016 the cheaper option.
You should be aware also that these prices don’t always and most often include bed linen, towels as these are extra and can be around 50 NOK ($8AU) to 250 NOK ($41AU), depending on where you stay but the average is 100 NOK ($16AU). On top of that you have the cleaning fee! We had found that nearly every place we stayed would have this fee and it can cost anywhere from 100 NOK ($16AU) to 200 NOK ($32AU).
Don’t despair if this all seems too much as you can camp along the way if you choose to. There is the ‘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.
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 landowner 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, campgrounds 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 Gudbrandsdalen 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.
Sweden we are yet to find out but see in our guidebook food is more readily available and more towns will be walked into.
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 an 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 and Sweden love to give 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 backpack, 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
Arriving in Trondheim
Trondheim is such a beautiful picturesque place to see. A city that is always filled with festivities and one worth a good explore. Give yourself time at the end of your journey here as there is a lot to see and do, you won’t regret it. So much history here from the Vikings to the 23 different fires that engulfed the city, some even completely destroying it! This is a University City as well with the glory of even having a Nobel Peace Prize won! There are stories from World Wars and of the Nazis being here. I really could just keep going on but maybe come explore for yourself.
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 0 km to Nidaros! Behind this stone marker is the beautiful Cathedral.
Next port of call is the Pilgrims centre as you want to get your final stamp and receive your testimonial. I will say here at this point that even if you are not one that cares a whole lot about receiving a certificate please still go into the centre and let them know that you have arrived and you walked the trail. It is very helpful to them to know how many people are walking the trails each year.
To find the pilgrims centre go down behind the Cathedral, through the graveyard 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.
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.
www.pilgrimsleden.no and www.stolavsleden.com great websites set up to help you plan your journey. They are in 3 languages – Norwegian, English and German and you will find all the routes here. They have a handy trip planner as well to help you along the way. There are maps as well as lists of accommodations and contacts.
There is also a Pilgrims Forum www.caminodesantiago.me This is a forum mainly on the Spanish Caminos however they sections on other world trails. You will find others here who have walked some of these trails previously. This is a great place to ask questions.
Maps and Guidebooks
There are some available and as time goes on there are more becoming available. If you can read German then I highly recommend their versions as they are very good and accurate. We used for the Gudbrandsdalen route the English guidebook – The Pilgrim Road to Trondheim by Alison Raju. Her books have always been very good. This version did not always link with the map on the pilgrims site but was very good and we never got lost. You can download the maps from the pilgrims site and have them on your phone for easy access. For this next route – the St. Olav Path or St. Olavsleden we are using the English version of St. Olavsleden written by Staffan Soderlund and Marie Sjostrom. Looking through it seems to be full of great information and maps. I will let you know how it goes. This I ordered from the www.stolavsleden.com site.
We hope this has been very helpful and informative and gives you a good start to planning your journey. Any questions please always fell free to flick us an email and we will try our best to help.
Be sure to follow along by reading our blog – this starts on the 25th May 2019. Be sure to subscribe so not to miss a thing of our journey.
Check out our previous journey on the Gudbrandsdalen route here
also head to our YouTube channel and subscribe to see our journey! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiVf99G7dseuv1QLF8-tm9Q?view_as=subscriber
Watch our journey from 2016 here