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Sweden to Norway Tour 2002 - Rallarvegen

Voss - Hestebotn 20/8/02
We were up early to pack up the bikes to cycle down to Voss to catch the train to Haugastøl. The train was on time and we enjoyed to views of the Rallarvegen terrain that we were going to ride through. On our arrival at Haugastøl the Norwegian railway guard and I stared down in disbelieve at the 20ft embankment falling away from us. Some frantic radio messages in Norwegian were made and from the look on the guards face it was obvious that the driver’s reply was “I ain’t moving this train, it’s more than my jobs worth”.

We’d just pulled in to Haugastøl station on the Bergen to Oslo railway and had stopped some 30yds short of the platform, with profuse apologies from the guard we started to unload the dozen or so bikes down the steep embankment, suddenly a Norwegian cyclist lost his footing and started to somersault down the slope still holding his precious bike, it’s just a shame that he didn’t manage to mount it at the bottom as it certainly would have raised a bigger cheer from the party of waiting cyclist gathering in the station yard.

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Well this was certainly a lively start to our journey along one of Norway’s most interesting and scenic cycle routes the ‘Rallarvegen’. The route follows the old navvy road that was used to build the Oslo to Bergen railway line from 1895 to 1902. The road is basically a track that now criss crosses the railway line from Haugastøl to Myrdal and then down the Flåmdal valley to Flåm(80km) with an alternative route to Voss down the Raundalen valley(108Km).

In order to make best use of the gradients most people tend to complete it east to west and this was our intention as we set off from the Haugastøl Turistsenter with a good meal of Reindeer stew under our belts. Leaving the highway 7 behind us we were soon cycling along the shores of the Nygardsvatnet through the myriad of Norwegian summer houses that nestle in the birch wood scrub that lines the track. The cycling was easy on a well maintained track as we climbed steadily through a valley of glistening lakes, fed by tumbling white mountain streams and rivers.

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Toward late afternoon it was time for us to start looking for a camping spot, in Norway you can take advantage of the 'Almensritten', which means that you can camp wild as long as you are at least 150m from any habitation and make minimal impact on the environment. Due to the proliferation of summer houses and the fragile ecosystem on the higher part of the Rallarvegen there are some 'no camp zones', even thou we had only done 16Km we decided to stop this side of Finse. it wasn’t long before we found a spot next to a small lake and immediately my wife christened it the 'splattered cow camp' after the shape of a patch of snow on the adjoining mountain side. We settled down to a pleasant evening watching the sun set and eating Arctic Cloud berries foraged from the boggy areas around the lake.

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Hestebotn - Steltuft 21/8/02
After a chilly night, interrupted by the sleeper train rumbling through at 4.00am we awoke to another bright clear day and were soon on our way pass the Stourdevatnet where the track is closed to vehicles and the Storudi turristhytta which is one of many linesman’s and surveyors cabins that are dotted along the route.
As we continued westward with each twist and turn of the track and increase in height we got ever better views of the snow capped landscape. After a few kilometres we went through an underpass and were bowled over by the wonderful views across the Finsefetane water meadows to the distant ‘Hardanger Jökulen’ one of Norway's largest glaciers, with blue skies all round it was absolutely stunning scenery. We could quite imagine the picture in the late spring with the glistening melting snow and the water meadows teeming with birds.

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After a few gentle rising kilometres we passed ‘Finsehytta’ the large DNT hut and reached the centre of Finse which is basically the platform of the railway station. Everything revolves around the station which is the highest on the railway at 1222m. It was a buzz with cyclists and hikers and apparently it is equally as busy in winter as a mecca for ski tourers.

It was time for a drink and to stock up with some food from the only shop which is in the Finse hotel just off the platform! Finse has an air of a frontier town with buildings dotted about with no particular order and it had the feeling that it will be nice when it’s finished!. We popped across the tracks to have a look at the ‘Finse Rallarmusséet’, which chronicles the building of the railway and the tough life of the Navvies, many of whom were Swedes, Finns and Italians. We had a quick chat with a guy renovating an old oil lamp saying how glorious the weather was, apparently south western Norway had gone 5 weeks without rain which was very unusual, normally in Finse it was snowing at this time of year!, well we weren’t complaining!

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From Finse we set off towards Fokstova where a large section of the old railway route has been bypassed by the construction of the Finse Tunnel, although the track still remains. The terrain is rock strewn glaciated tundra interspersed with more glistening lakes with some short sharp climbs and soon we had reached the Fagervatn lake and the Fagernuten which is the highest point of the Rallarvegen 1343m. We asked a lady who was just leaving after her lunch with her friends if she would kindly take a photo of us both to celebrate our achievement. We decided too that it was a good place to stop for a late lunch and basked in the afternoon sunshine with stunning views of the Ramnabergnuten and the Hardangerjökulen.

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After lunch small lakes continue to litter the rock strewn glaciated landscape as we descended towards the Fagernut hut which is Norway's highest Linesman's house and is now a cafe and a small museum, even though it was soon after lunch we just couldn't resist a stop for a drink. Unfortunately when we asked for tea the guy said that he was waiting for some milk to be delivered and it shouldn't be long, we decided to wait and had a look around. Within a few minutes a young lad came through the door with a huge rucksack on his back, it was the delivery! Apparently that was how they got all there supplies, I had actually remembered seeing the young lad pass us earlier when we were having lunch and thought that must be uncomfortable riding with such a huge rucksack! I thought he was doing the Rallarvegen with it, I suppose the 10km from Finse to Fagernut isn't too far with such a load, perhaps they ought to invest in panniers or a trailer! I'm glad we did stop and wait as the cafe sells some rather nice postcards with pictures of the Rallarvegen on the front and on the back a map of the route and a gradient profile. To top it all they frank it with their own stamp, we just had to send one to ourselves! It was interesting to read the entries in the visitors book especially the lady who was complaining about the beauty of the Rallarvegen being marred by the unsightly tunnels of corrugated steel sheet built to protect the line from being closed by snow fall. We could see her point but if the railway hadn’t been built, she like us wouldn’t have been cycling the Rallarvegen!!!!

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From Fagernut to Hallingskeid it's all fairly downhill and you gradually leave behind the snowy glacial terrain as you pass through Moldådalen where at times you are very close to the railway and the corrugated steel snow shelters tower above you. As we passed the Låghellervatnet the track was sandwiched between the lake and the railway line. Care needed to be taken here as there has been some deterioration in the track and it had been repaired with a sandy material which made the track a little loose in places. It was a easy gradual descent past the Grøndalsvatn and Klevavatn lakes and we left the railway as it past over us at an impressive stone arched bridge. After a short tunnel we started the steep descent of the Kleveagjelet gorge. There were warning signs 'to slow down and take care' and they were right, as the track is fairly narrow and rough in places, with only a thin looking chain rail between you and a nasty drop into the gorge!!! Having safely negotiated the gorge and with it getting late we started to look for a place to camp and fortunately found a good spot by the river just below the gorge. Although there was a bit of man handling need to get the bikes off the track to our camping spot, it wasn't long before we'd had a brew on, had cooked our evening meal and were settling down for the night.

Steltuft - Gudvangan 22/8/02
We had been lulled to sleep by the gentle burbling of the river nearby and had a good nights sleep, uninterrupted by noisy trains! It was a beautiful morning and while the first of the mornings cuppas was brewing up, I had a lovely wander around looking at all the flowers surrounding our camp. We left the camp just before 10.00am and were soon down to the cafe at Seltuft. Well it was nearly 11o'clock and you just have to have 11o'clockses don't you! I just fancied an ice cream as it was already getting hot. We had long chat with the Norwegian farmer who runs the cafe, it was interesting to hear his concerns about the present Norwegian governments lack of support for the Norwegian farmers and over the possibility of joining the EEC, apparently there are already several abandoned farms in Flåmsdalen where local farmers have given up due to economic pressures. His other concern was the possible reintroduction of wolves, he was quite adamant that he would give up farming altogether rather than rear sheep for 'Wolf meat' as he put it.

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From Seltuft there was an excellent ride through deciduous woodland along a winding track that skirts Seltuftvatn and Reinungavatn lakes before there was a steep climb up to the Vatnahalsen Mountain Hotel. The track was quite steep and rough in parts so we had to get off and push our bikes up parts of it. Just above the Vatnahalsen halt you cross the Flåmsbanen railway and descend steeply to the junction of the track where you can either go up to Myrdal station or down the 21 hairpin bends of the Myrdalsberget into the Flåmsdal valley. We had decided to go down to camp at Flåm, so descended the Myrdalsberget. It's an interesting descent through steep woodland with cascading waterfalls in the gorge on your left. The descent is fairly steep and the surface rough in places with loose gravel and large rocks and needs to be ridden with care. With an unladen mountain bike with good suspension it would be good fun, but with our heavily laden bikes we decided not to risk damage to ourselves or the bikes and walked the bikes down the roughest bits. It was such a beautiful spot that in a way it was nice to walk it, as we could take in the beauty rather than concentrating on staring at the bit of ground in front of your front wheel all the time! At the bottom you meet the road and there is an interesting notice warning the cyclists of the fact that it is a road with traffic and not a race track! Flåmsdalen is a beautiful valley and we had an excellent ride down to Flåm following the river and the railway. At certain points along the valley there are interpretive boards giving the history of the various places that you pass and they are worth stopping to read.

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We soon reached Flåm station and harbour and having had a good look around, found a nice restaurant for lunch. After lunch we noticed a ferry moored at the jetty near the station and heard an announcement that the 2.30pm sailing would be delayed by 30mins and wouldn't be leaving until 3.00pm, it was then 2.15pm. I looked at the timetable and saw that it went to Aurlandsvangen, always one for a ferry ride and a bit of fun, I suggested to Frank that we change our plans and catch the ferry and camp at Aurlandsvangen rather than stay at Flåm, Frank agreed and we bought tickets. As we had 30mins to wait we decided we had better buy something for our evening meal and hurriedly sped around the supermarket before boarding the ferry. Whilst sitting on the ferry waiting for it to leave, I had another chance to open out the map and have a good look at where the ferry went after Aurlandsvangen. I noticed it went all the way around to Gudvangan where there was also a campsite, I asked Frank if she fancied a longer ferry ride down the fjord, as I knew she had never been on a ferry on a Norwegian fjord before. If we can change our tickets and get back in the morning that would be great! I quickly rushed down to ask the guy who had checked our tickets as we came on board. No problem there is a ferry back in the morning at 10.00am and we can pay the extra.

We realised just before we left Flåm the reason for the ferry's delayed departure, they were waiting for a party of Japanese tourists who had come off the Flåmsbanen. Well what a lovely evening for a cruise down a Norwegian fjord with beautiful views all round of dramatic peaks and cliffs rising steeply from the fjord, part way down the Naerøyfjorden the captain gently steered the ferry over to one side and stopped by some rocks where there were some basking seals. All too soon we were arriving at Gudvangan and the large party of Japanese tourist who had amused us during the cruise by feeding the numerous gulls that followed the ferry, amused us further as they amassed in the bows of the ferry, it was like a scene from the D-Day landings, especially as soon as the bows ramp went down they poured out on mass. Apparently they were on the 'Norway in a Nutshell' tour from Bergen and their train had been delayed and they were behind schedule, they were amazingly well organised and were on there tour buses and off before we had even off loaded our bikes! It was only a few minutes before we were at our campsite and unloading the bikes, it was then that we realised that we had a casualty from the day as one of my front carrier rack mountings had cracked and come apart, luckily with a bit ingenuity and cord I managed to lash it back together.

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Gudvangan - Voss 23/8/02
We were in good time for the 10 o'clock ferry back to Flåm. It was a beautiful morning again, although there was very little sunshine getting through the steep sides of the Naerøyfjorden. As we past the small village of Naerrøy which nestled underneath towering mountains, I realised that they must get very little sunshine in a day especially in the the winter. There was hardly a breeze to ripple the water as we quietly chugged along the fjords, it was nice going both ways and at different times of the day as we got different views of the mountains. After a relaxing ride back we were soon back into the bustle of Flåm and buying tickets and booking our bikes onto the Flåmsbanen railway. The train ride is well worth it as you get beautiful views all along Flåmsdalen as it snakes it's way up the valley.

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The railway was started in 1920 and was finally finished in 1944, it is 20km long and climbs 863m to Myrdal station, with 8 halts along the line. At Kjosfossen the train stops by the spectacular Kjosfossen waterfalls where passengers are invited to get out and take photographs while they are treated to a 10mins music and dance show where a red dressed lady appears by magic at various places up and down the waterfall dancing to atmospheric music. After several tunnels you come out to a good view of the Reinungavatnet lake and after passing Vatnahalsen halt and several snow shelters you are soon at Myrdal station.

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At Myrdal you have to change trains to catch the NBS train through the 5km Gravhals tunnel to Uppsete as there is no track over the mountains. From here it is a lovely ride down Uppsetedalen passed the langvassstølen lake to Mjølfjell where you start to get back into the deciduous woodland. There are numerous waterfalls along the route and at Kardal there were a whole host of people enjoying the lovely weather by swimming in the pools created by the falls.

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From here the road down Raundalen is tacmac and apart from one steep climb over the spur just after Reimegrend it is all down hill and was a lovely ride down in glorious afternoon sunshine. We stopped to have a look at the Kirka at Raundalen, but unfortunately it was locked so we couldn't see inside. At Urland the road levels out a bit and over looks the Bømoen airfield where we stopped for a bit while a plane treated us to a wonderful display of acrobatics, followed by a couple of parachutists! what a great end to a wonderful trip.

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We followed the cycle route back into Voss, although it was a Sunday we did manage to find a petrol station that was open and bought some bacon, eggs, rolls and milk for our evening meal and we were soon back at the campsite at Staue.

We finished our trip by catching the train back to Oslo and spent a couple of days seeing the sights of Oslo. It seemed to be a round of museum visits, taking in the Fram museum, the Kon-Tiki museum, the Viking Ship museum, the Ski museum and international ski jump at Holmenkollen and finally the Norwegian Resistance museum. Here are a few photos that we took in Oslo.

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If you would like to see the cycling times and distance stats for this tour you will find them here.

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