Norway Tour - to remote places

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Norway Tour to remote places

Lone ranges

Anthony Ham goes in search of isolation in the home of the mountain kings.

THE VILLAGE of Røros huddles amid the fells of Norway's high country in the eerie, crepuscular half-light. Winking lights illuminate the wooden houses of ochre, orange and weather-scarred dark timber, keeping at bay the great emptiness all around. Recognised by Unesco as one of seven World Heritage sites in Norway, Røros is the counterpoint to Norway's signature fjords and a rare taming of the Norwegian wilderness to stunning effect. It is also the starting point of a journey, a quest for solitude and peace, that will lead me across the roof of Norway and into the unknown.

Røros, a former mining village, came into existence in 1644 when a local hunter shot a reindeer. It is said that in its death throes, the animal pawed the ground, unearthing a rich vein of copper ore. Mining operations began soon after, and the town sprang up in their wake. Even now that mining has ceased, its legacy continues to provide many of the town's star attractions.

Former mining cottages, some with gas lanterns in the windows, are the epitome of rustic charm, arrayed around the low hills, while the timber houses that line the two main streets taper off towards the summit. Røros Kirke, the church which crowns the village, is like no other in Norway. One of the largest in the country, it's also home to Norway's oldest
functioning organ, built in 1742. Instead of saints,
frescoes of former mining executives adorn the walls.

Although the norm in summer is agreeable temperatures - cool nights, days with a hint of warmth - Røros experiences epic winters, with temperatures dropping to -50C. "If you pour a glass of boiling water, it turns to snow before reaching the ground," one local tells me, with more enthusiasm than seems justified.

At such moments, Røros could be Siberia. Indeed the village doubled for its Russian counterpart in the film of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's classic novel of the Siberian gulags, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich.

But even in the depths of winter, Røros refuses to be bowed. From the penultimate Tuesday in February, Røros hosts the Rørosmartnan, a tradition as old as the town itself.

Established as a market for hunters who came to town to sell meat to miners and to buy supplies, Norway's largest winter market is celebrated with great warmth and activity.

With street markets and concerts, and dog sleds at the ready to take you off into the frozen wilds.


Roros in winter

Norway Tour and tourist routes

Røros's location is strategically perfect. It's away from well-trodden tourist routes, yet close to them and their promise of a scenic beauty of which only Norway seems capable. To the east, rolling forested hillsides straddle the Swedish border and conceal some of the last herds of the prehistoric musk ox. To the south and west, the highest mountain ranges in northern Europe soar above the high plains. It is to these mountains that I travel.

Norway Tour - Rondane

The road from Røros leads through hollows that become lush green valleys, past hills that grow into mountains, their summits dusted with snow even into summer. Without warning, in the small town of Folldal, the peaks of the Rondane massif loom into view away to the south.

Norway Tour with drama. There is drama in those mountains and in the small road itself, the Rv27, that seems to disappear into the folds of the great ridges like a legendary path. No wonder Tolkien was so inspired by Scandinavia when he conceived The Lord Of The Rings.

Forsaking Norway's main north-south highway that flanks the Rondane range to the west, I turn south, willing the Rv27 to take me as close to the heavens as it dares. The road plays with me, drawing near to sheer rock walls and then turning away to vantage points of rare beauty. Henrik Ibsen, the world-renowned Norwegian playwright, described the Rondane massif as "palace piled upon palace". Indeed it is.

For 87 wonderful kilometres, I travel through quiet mountain country, the road and views to myself. Hours later, as I drop down off a high, snowy plateau, I realise that an entire morning has passed, so often have I stopped and so little ground have I covered.

In this part of Norway, seemingly all roads lead to Lom, a crossroads town where river, road and the mountains of the Jotunheimen (the "home of the giants" in Norse myth) converge. Again, at day's end, that strange half-light of never-darkness descends, a landscape in thrall to a perpetual dawn. After midnight, Lom's 12th-century Norman-style stave church is an evocation of a fairytale, the sort of structure that could conceivably be home to trolls, with high snows and darkening mountains of the deepest purple as a backdrop.

In the morning, I turn south into the home of the giants. At first the climb is gentle, the road meandering along the floor of an ever-narrowing valley. Then come the switchbacks and hairpin bends, the snow piled metres high by the roadside. The highest road in northern Europe, the Sognefjellet Road leads across the top of the Jotunheimen National Park and is encircled by more than 275 peaks above 2000m and the small matter of 60 glaciers. I pause by the roadside at the road's highpoint of 1434m, looking with longing at these paths, and make a silent vow to return.

From the summit, the road leads down, down, down into the fjord country for which Norway is rightly famed. Each road is an astonishing feat of engineering, but each road is also full of campervans and tour buses. In search of a quiet back road, I stumble upon the Rv50 which climbs up, impossibly up, twisting and turning en route, a hidden valley coming into view here, a lake of cobalt-blue there.

Atop the climb, amid the clouds, is Hardangervidda, Europe's highest plateau and home to the largest herds of wild reindeer (7000 at last count) in the country and mountains that are arguably Norway's most beautiful. Among these is Gaustastoppen, often voted Norway's prettiest mountain and from whose summit you can see one-sixth of mainland Norway.

Starkly beautiful and thinly populated, the Hardangervidda is my sort of country. Eric Garen is the owner of the Fossli Hotel that perches atop the western end of the plateau, and this is Eric's sort of country too. Eric has lived all his life atop the plateau and he is a teller of stories - of his grandfather, the local postman, who used to hike 30km a day on his rounds; of his great-grandfather who built the hotel and one of whose first guests was the composer Edvard Grieg, composer of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King,” a piece of music hewn from Norwegian rock and ice.

Eric talks with the patience of someone accustomed to long winters of solitude. Perhaps more than anyone, Eric understands my quest for solitude as the appropriate response to these wild landscapes and his words are punctuated with long, comfortable silences.

"You must go to Kjeasen Farm," he tells me as I leave. In the background, I can hear the roar of the cascading Vøringfossen, a series of waterfalls that plunge off the precipice and down a narrow river canyon to the fjords. "At Kjeasen you will find what you're looking for."

Following Eric's advice, I take the road that leads down the canyon, corkscrewing through the mountains to Eidfjord, one of the most beautiful corners of Norway's fjord country. Eyeing a cruise ship that has just pulled in to town, I hasten west and along ever-narrowing roads that soon climb again up through the mountains to Kjeasen Farm.

There, atop a ledge of green and surrounded by flowers in early-summer bloom, I find the peace of which Eric spoke. Kjeasen Farm sits close to the treeline, 530m above the valley floor. Local legend asserts that there has been a farm here for 400 years, but until the 1970s, the farm could be reached only via a perilous path of rope ladders and slippery slopes. The current owner, a woman in her 60s, has lived alone at the farm for four decades. She is tending her flowers when I arrive and she smiles with the shyness of someone accustomed to the curious visitors who climb up daily, even as she clearly prefers the tranquility of the nights she has to herself.

The views are as splendid as the quietness of the meadows is soothing, a rare moment of peace in this glorious country that the world long ago discovered. Does she not, I cannot help ask, long for company from time to time? She smiles as if privy to a secret that I am slowly beginning to understand. "It is good to be alone," she replies, "here in these mountains."

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