The Coastal Path in Voss – Hanguren Part III

If you walk just under a mile to the north and slightly west of Hanguren’s cable car station you will reach Lake Valbergstjørni.  The route is via a defined and easy-to-follow path, over a green and undulating landscape.

The Path to Lake ValbergstjørniLake Valbergstjørni is a small and relatively secluded tarn at about 2,500 feet.  It looked very inviting to me, especially in the 30°C heat.

Lake ValbergstjørniThe fact that I had no swimming trunks or towel didn’t put me off.  I stripped down to my boxer shorts, plunged in!  The water was icy cold, but after a sweat-inducing walk up it was exactly what I needed.

Lake ValbergstjørniGetting out, however, was a little problematic.  My plan was to remove my boxer shorts, put my walking shorts back on and then head off.  Unfortunately, a Norwegian family with small children had set up camp nearby.  We Brits tend to have a reputation for unruliness abroad, and I did not want to enhance this reputation by stripping off so close to them.  My own family came to the rescue, surrounding me in a close-knit circle so as to hide my…embarassment.

Job done, we headed back to the cable car station.  If I ever come back here I’ll go swimming again, but this time I’ll bring a towel and some trunks!

The Coastal Path in Voss – Hanguren Part II

Given the heatwave conditions of Norway this summer, walking up Hanguren was something of a hot and sweaty experience.  It was quite steep, you see…

The Path up Hanguren…and even the trees didn’t provide much protection from the sun.

Pine Tree Forest Halfway up HangurenYep; we have never taken a picture of ourselves looking so hot!

Hot SelfieWhen we reached the top cable car station we walked into the waiting area.   This was a large wooden-framed hall with picnic tables.  There were only a few people there, but as we walked in they all turned and looked at us with a certain amount of shock.  What was the problem?  Deb and Catherine were also in the hall, having arrived by cable car.  Deb strode over, laughing.  “I’ve got to get a picture of this,” she said.  And here is that picture, of us drenched in sweat and trying to cool down:

Very Sweaty at the Cable Car StationAs soon as she took the picture, Deb came back over.  “Close your legs,” she hissed at me, “It looks like you’ve wet yourself”!  I hadn’t realised but where I had been sweating so much, the moisture had drained down in rivulets and soaked through to just about everywhere.  Indeed, a few seconds after this photo was taken I rummaged through my backpack to find my zoom lens, only to discover it lying in a shallow puddle of sweat which had collected in the bottom – yuk!

Hanguren – worth the climb but take a towel!  Still, the views from the cable car station were worth it.

The View from Hanguren Cable Car Station

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Top Cable Car Station, Hanguren:  N 60° 38.323 E 006° 24.080

Walk Statistics:

The Coastal Path in Voss – Hanguren Part I

According to my GPS our hotel was at an elevation of 300 feet.  The top cable car station of Hanguren, the hill behind our hotel, was at 2,150 feet.  A climb of 1,850 feet?  I’m not sure that was right – the cable car station didn’t look anywhere near that high to me.  Still, even if it was, that was ok by me!  But we didn’t account for the heat wave.  It was 30 degrees plus.  Deb and Catherine accounted for it – they decided to take the cable car up.  Ben and I decided to walk.

Fleischers HotelAt first the going was quite gentle.  As we gained height we were rewarded with some great views over Vangsvatnet.

View from the Lower Slopes of HangurenOn the south side of the lake we could see a cutting between two hills.  This was Bordalsgjelet, a gorge.  We’d be there in two days time.

Looking Across Vangsvatnet to BordalsjeletJust before we entered the tree line we walked by some sort of bunker outside the Voss Folkemuseum.

Bunker outside the FolkemuseumIt looked a bit like a hobbit hole.  Curiosity got the better of us and we headed inside for a look.  The bunker had largely been hewn out of the rock, but when we touched the walls our hands came away blackened.  Was this some kind of coal-like substance?  We couldn’t really tell – it was pitch black.

Bunker outside the FolkemuseumMy phone had a torch on it and we managed to shine a bit of light on the subject.  Ah!  That’s better!

Bunker outside the FolkemuseumThe bunker had two arms to it.  The first led to a sort of small rounded cavern, not too far away from the entrance.

Bunker outside the FolkemuseumThe other arm had walls and ceiling clad in concrete, ending in a slit looking out towards Vangsvatnet.  This had more of a World War Two feel to it.  Was that what this was?  After the German invasion of Norway in 1940, Voss had acted as a major mobilisation point for the Norwegian army.  The Germans bombed the town, destroying its centre, and then moved in to occupy it until 1945.  Was this some form of defensive bunker or air raid shelter?  I looked it up on Google when we got back home but to this day I still don’t know what this place is…

Bunker outside the FolkemuseumWe lingered for a while, glad to be out of the heat.  We couldn’t hang around for too long though; we had to meet the others at the top and we were only a third of the way up.  Good grief it was hot!  Oh well, time to plod on…

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Our Hotel:  N 60° 37.725 E 006° 24.530
  • Bunker:  N 60° 37.995 E 006° 24.715

Walk Statistics:

The Coastal Path in Norway – Vossvind

In 1995 I took up skydiving.  I loved it.  Lived it.  Breathed it.  In other words, I bored everybody rigid with it (I’ll try not to do the same here).  When Deb fell pregnant with Ben and Catherine I decided to stop.  Most people think that this decision was based on safety concerns, but that is in no way correct.  It was a question of time.  I used to get up at the weekend, drive two hours to the drop zone, spend all day there and then drive two hours back.  I would have been an absentee father.

I went out “on a high” so to speak, travelling to Davis in California and jumping with oxygen from 30,000 feet up.  I enjoyed views spanning miles in all directions and was in freefall for over two minutes.  As a souvenir I was given one of the best pictures ever seen of my backside, but don’t look at that – look at the views!  Those nearby hills are 14 miles away, and I could see much further than the photo shows.

Exit NicI came back to England, did one more jump in April 2002 (having just earned my camera ratings this was my first and only jump with a camera) and then called it quits.

My parachute rig and all my other equipment are stored safely in a cupboard at home.

Just in case.

You never know.

Something might come along.

Like Voss.

Voss, being the adventure capital of Norway, has a small airport and drop zone.  One day, after we had booked our Norway trip, I happened to mention this to my wife.  She looked at me and said one word.

“No”.

And that was that, or was it?

Voss also has a wind tunnel, Vossvind.  Even better, children can use it.  My wife looked at the videos on the Vossvind website and gave her approval.  I’m not sure who was looking forward to it more – the kids or me.  Actually, I do know.  It was me!

Vossvind is situated to the east of the town, in a remote corner, accessed via a dirt track.  How could such high adventure be so tucked away?.

VossvindOne of the best things about using a wind tunnel is that you don’t need to do much training.  After a 5 minute briefing we were all ready to go, looking resplendent in our goggles and helmets.

Catherine and Nic at VossvindBut once in the tunnel nobody really worried about how silly we looked.  We were having too much fun!

Catherine at VossvindThe kids really enjoyed it!

Ben at VossvindAnd as for their dad?  After 12 years I was worried I had forgotten everything I learned.  I thought I might be bouncing all over the place, smashing panels of reinforced glass as I went and ejecting shards of glass into the spectators.  I was terrifically happy to discover that it was like riding a bike – once you’ve learnt how to do it, it all comes back naturally.  The instructor decided to hop off the floor and join me for a bit of relative work.

Nic at Vossvind“What was it like?” he asked afterwards.  It was fantastic, I said, and I’d love to do more of it.  All the same, I missed the smell of the parachute fabric.  I missed the uncomfortable feeling of having a rig on my back and the pulling of the straps as I walked to the aircraft.  I missed the cramped conditions on the plane and then the complete release when jumping out into the freedom of the skies, and the feeling of absolute isolation as I plummeted downwards on my bed of air.  And the views are much better 10,000 feet up.  Like this, sit flying above Langar in Nottinghamshire.

Sit Flying at LangarIf you find yourself in Voss, Vossvind is well worth it.  If you ask my kids what the favourite part of their trip to Norway was, they both answer instantaneously.  “Wind tunnelling!”.

Catherine and Ben after their Flight

Date of Visit:  20 July 2014

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Vossvind:  N 60° 38.035 E 006° 26.650
  • High Altitude Jump in Davis, California:  N 38° 35.070 W 121° 51.200
  • Sit Fly Jump in Langar, UK:  N 52° 53.390 W 000° 54.400

The Coastal Path in Norway – An Introduction to Voss

There is little doubt that we will be returning to Voss.  The adventure capital of Norway, it is ideally situated for the fjords and is only an hour from Bergen.  If we time it well we could hop on a plane from Heathrow and be in Voss in three hours or so.  Yet the small town of Voss feels as if it is in the middle of nowhere and as if it should take days to reach.

Our train from Oslo deposited us on the platform, about 10 yards away from our hotel – the main entrance to the hotel was on the platform itself.  This seemed so strange that we decided to walk off the platform and around the front of the hotel, only to find no entrance there.  We circled the entire hotel and wound up back on the platform.  Our train still stood there; the people who watched us walk off the platform at one end of the hotel also watched us arrive back at the other end.  It was all rather embarrassing.

Voss Platform and Fleischers HotelFleischer’s Hotel is an impressive building.  It is situated at the bottom of Hanguren, the local hill.  In the photo below you can just about make out a building at the crest.  That’s the local cable car station, used by hikers in summer and skiers in winter.

Fleischers HotelIn front of the hotel is a stretch of green grass which acts as one of the landing zones for the local paragliding community (did I mention Voss was the adventure capital of Norway?).  And in front of the grass is Voss’s massive lake, Vangsvatnet.  What a lake!

VangsvatnetNow you might think it a little strange having a hotel on a railway platform.  Indeed, our room backed on to the line.  Trains ran from about 5:30am to 11pm and we were all of 30 feet away from them.  Each morning we were woken up early by the announcements.  You might think that to be cause for complaint, but no!  Voss is such a relaxed place that we didn’t mind a bit.  The 5:30am announcement would wake us up.  We would drift back to sleep.  The next announcement half an hour later would wake us up again.  We would drift back to sleep again.  We would continue this cycle feeling quite content, waking up a little more with each announcement – it was like having an extended lie in.  No complaints at all!

Fleischer’s Hotel gets it right.  Its decor isn’t modern, but neither is it outdated chintz.  Fleischer’s boasts a proud history; it is in keeping with the its history without being out of touch.  The hotel was originally built in the 19th Century and run by Frederick Fleischer with his wife, Magdalane.  In 1883 the train line connected Voss with Bergen, and so Mr Fleischer decided to build a new hotel.  This was completed in 1888.  It opened for business, and 13 days later burned to the ground.  The cause of the fire was put down to spontaneous combustion, but Mr Fleischer didn’t really care about that.  He thought he was a ruined man.  It was only later that he discovered his wife had purchased insurance, allowing the hotel to be rebuilt.

Towards the end of the century the hotel became a popular destination for royalty.  King Haakon of Norway; King Oscar II of Sweden; Edward VII of Britain; King Chulalongkorn of Siam; and Emperor Willhelm II of Germany all stayed at Fleischer’s.  Emperor Willhelm’s private toilet is on display (not so privately) in the hotel’s reception!

Emperor Willhelm II's Private Toilet in Fleischers HotelFrom the moment we arrived we fell in love with Voss, and with Fleischer’s.  We only had four days in Voss, but they were going to be good.

Voss

Date of Trip:  20 July 2014

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Fleischer’s Hotel:  N 60° 37.725 E 006° 24.530

The Coastal Path in Norway – The Oslo to Bergen Railway

On Day Four of our Norway trip we left Oslo, heading west into the fjords.  Here comes our train – bang on time!

Oslo StationThey say that the Oslo to Bergen is one of the 10 best railway journeys in the world.  I’ve not been on the other nine.  I did go from London to Birmingham once, a couple of years ago, but I have reached the conclusion that there are better views to be had on the Oslo to Bergen line.  It really is a spectacular trip.  Within a couple of minutes of pulling out of Oslo we were greeted with this view:

Leaving OsloWe weren’t travelling all the way to Bergen today.   We were getting off at Voss, the adventure capital of Norway.  We brought books for the journey but we didn’t read them.  It was a five hour journey of pure beauty.  The train climbed slowly out of Oslo, up into fjord territory, reaching about 3,000 feet before starting its descent towards Bergen on the west coast.

We left Oslo behind and travelled through rolling fields with hills rising gently behind them.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyThe fields soon gave way to lakes and the terrain grew more rugged.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyWe saw tiny communities tucked underneath the hills.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyThe fjord waters were crystal-cut, reflecting the scenery like a mirror.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyWe soon started to climb out of one climate zone and into the next.  The fir trees thinned out and the vegetation grew more sparse.  We saw our first glimpse of snow in the distance.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyAnd then we found ourselves properly amongst it.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyThe railway snaked its way around the lakes and hills as much as possible, but more and more had to be routed through the terrain rather than around it.  We passed through tunnel after tunnel, sometimes emerging from one only to find ourselves heading into another a few seconds later.  More often than not the train would start by passing into a grey-clad structure enclosing the railway line before plunging into the tunnel proper.  These grey housings had windows and gaps in them so as to allow the passengers to continue to enjoy the landscape.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyAnd what a beautiful landscape it was!

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneyEventually we crossed the watershed and started our slow descent.  We left the snow behind and joined the fir trees again.

Oslo to Voss Railway JourneySoon afterwards we entered Voss, and so ended the best railway journey I have ever experienced.

Oslo to Voss Railway Journey

Date of Trip:  20 July 2014

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Oslo Station:  N 59° 54.650 E 010° 45.100
  • Voss Station:  N 60° 37.745 E 006° 24.620
  • Bergen Station:  N 60° 23.420 E 005° 20.005

The Coastal Path in Norway – Oslo Opera House

Oslo Opera House is an iconic building.  It probably better known for its roof than for anything else, because you can walk onto it and then walk up it.  You don’t need to queue, or pay, or book.  It is a beautiful building.  Look at it here – a white granite iceberg against the dark clouds – I think there was some Wagner in the air above the Opera House when I took this photo!

Oslo Opera HouseAnd when the sun came out and the clouds departed for wetter climbs, well – then the Opera House was even more stunning.

Oslo Opera HouseLook at its sleek lines…

Oslo Opera HouseWe walked onto the bottom section and started to make our way up the landward side.

Oslo Opera HouseNow it may not look it from this photo, but it happened to be baking hot this day (over 30°C).  The slope of the roof is ideal to capture the sun, particularly as it reflects off the white stone and glass of the building.  Apparently the local residents spread out their towels and sunbathe on days like this.  We saw a couple, but expected more.  Perhaps it was just too hot.  In fact the sun was reflecting at us from just about every angle.  Up, down, left, right, we couldn’t look anywhere without a piercing, blinding light melting our eyeballs and baking our brains.  The soles of our shoes started to stick to the roof panels.  People were spontaneously combusting before our very eyes.  We shed pounds in sweat and melted blubber which ran off our bodies and down the gaps in the paving slabs, down the roof, and dripped off the edge and formed oily pools in the water.

Taking photos was hopeless – if you took one with the sun behind the camera no-one could look at you!  The sun seared your eyes tight shut like scallop shells.  Like this…

Arrgh The Piercing Sun…and this…

Arrgh The Piercing Sun…and this – you’ll have to excuse Ben in this next photo.  One of his eyeballs started to melt and slipped out of its socket – he was just popping it back in quickly.  In fact it was so hot that one of the buildings in the background started to float into the air and drift away on a thermal – can you see it?  The city skyline, by the way, was absolutely fantastic from here.

Arrgh The Piercing Sun There were also some magnificent views to be had out into Oslofjord.

OslofjordBut eventually we could take no more.  We started our way back down, trying not to slip in the fatty puddles of people who had melted before us.

Oslo Opera HouseYou’ll have to excuse the state of my wife in the above picture.  The glare of the sun started to literally burn holes in her clothes.  She was stark naked by the time we reached the bottom, though she didn’t worry about that as everyone had their eyes shut to block out the sun.

Oslo Opera House – well worth a visit, even if you are blinded in the process.

Date of Visit:  19 July 2014

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Oslo Opera House:  N 59° 54.460 E 010° 45.120
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