St Olav’s Way 2013

Having more or less grown up in Trondheim, previously called Nidaros, and gone past the supposed resting place of St Olav in the Nidaros Cathedral every day for three years to get to school, I have always dreamt that one day I would come walking into town a pilgrim.

However, it is a long and pretty solitary walk from what I understand, and I wouldn’t want to walk it on my own. And not a lot of other people have the time, money or inclination to take on a walk like this. While I was walking to Santiago on the CF in 2012, G, a friend I had not seen in or spoken with for 15 years, got in touch after seeing a camino photo on Facebook and asked, incredulously: Are you on the camino??

It turns out she had walked the Camino Frances too, in two instalments, and of course we made plans to meet next time I came to Norway. I think we managed to keep the small talk up for almost five minutes before we asked almost in unison: Will you walk the St. Olav’s Way with me? And the answer, also in jubilant unison, was: Yes!

But being sensible, we decided to start off with a trial run from Tønsberg, the birth place of Princess Kristina, who died in Covarrubias in Spain (now the beginning of the Camino San Olav). The pilgrimage to Oslo would take about a week to ten days, depending on our speed, weather etc.

We decided to bring tents for flexibility and saving money – accommodation in Norway is rarely simple and never cheap – and a Jetboil and freeze dried food, and to be self sufficient to a large extent. Basically training for the longer walk across the mountain to Trondheim later.

The problem was there was hardly anywhere to pitch a tent! What wasn’t someone’s garden or agricultural land, was overgrown or steep, so we only slept in our tents once, at a camp site. We spent one night in a motel, one in a hotel where we got a pilgrim discount as well as an upgrade to a room with balcony and sea views!, one night in a moldy caravan in a caravan park …

Most of the time we were on tarmac, on narrow country roads with no shoulder to walk on. The hard surface triggers my Plantar Fasciitis problem, and also it didn’t feel safe to walk along the road like that. What made matters worse was that the guide book we had bought was about ten years old, totally out of date, suggested walking through fields full of corn surrounded by signs saying anyone walking across would be prosecuted; it took us over a bridge that ‘should be in place by 2003′ … and consisted of two swaying timber logs which did not look safe, and straight over to the other side, where there was no indication on where to go. The path in the woods and terrain was non existent and very rarely marked, we had to rely on GPS and guesswork to get where we hoped we were going. All in all a huge disappointment, route wise, but it was great fun being on the road with G and catch up. We found that we walk very well together and that the main thing was we had both found a good walking partner for the future.

So after a very long day with detours into a golf course!, leading nowhere, and then a long stretch on the road again, we got to a church and knew we were done for the day. We knocked on the door to the vicarage, but there was no one in, so we didn’t want to just pitch our tents without permission. While we waited we read up on the next two or three days’ walk and found that it was basically more tarmac, more roads, and industrial areas as a special treat.

So … we rang a taxi to take us to the nearest train station, made the last train to Oslo by a whisker, and were in G’s apartment before midnight with dry clothes and a small but delicious measure of egg liqueur!

Since then we have made new plans: Get rid of the guide book, get rid of the tents (well, we’ll keep them, but not take them to the St. Olav’s Walk) and camping stuff, do some serious research on the route to Trondheim and accommodation along the way, and see if we can prioritise lightweight packing = longer daily walks = fewer days = fewer nights in accommodation and fewer meals = not that much more expensive. It’s our best plan as of now, and we might have to cut the walk in two as well although none of us want to.

I really can not recommend that guide book. If anyone wants to walk this pilgrimage route to Trondheim, please look into Alison Raju’s Cicerone guide instead, or try one of the recent German ones, they seem a lot better and more up to date. 

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