Olav and me. Refelections on a 580 km hike across #Sweden and #Norway

Most people who follow me on Twitter will know that I’ve made it to the Cathedral in Trondheim. My mate Olav’s final resting place

I felt that I got to know the guy as I followed in his footsteps.  And I never liked him if truth be told

Time for reflection

This has been quite an adventure
Unlike the Camino in Spain there were days – weeks – when I saw no one on the trail.

Indeed I met just three fellow pilgrims in the month I was out there

So there was an awful lot of time alone. And I think I’ve sorted out a few “issues”

Once again this had taught me that you really have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs. A cliche but nevertheless true for all that

Stumping into Are with a painful blister after 28km. Finding the hotel closed but being given the most comfortable bed on the trail in the house of such a kind woman

Turning up in pilgrimstad with the hostel shut and a local family offering me a room for nothing

Another family celebrating a high school graduation and inviting me into their home for late night wine and cheese

Two retired couples offering me shelter and food.

A fairy in the woods (she certainly seemed like one) giving me water and chocolate.

So many other examples.  Reinforcing my oft stated view that people, generally, are just good and kind.  The world is not filled with hate but with ordinary human beings who just want to help.

This walk has taught me that , yes,  of course individuals are capable of doing more than they believed was possible.

But – and here I have changed – doing everything alone is not possible nor desirable.  Friendship and companionship brings inner satisfaction. Beyond the everyday practicalities of food and shelter , friendship are nourishing

You can kid yourself for a while that you dont need anyone else.  But in the end – we all do.

Messages from home and friends meant an awful lot.  People I didn’t expect to hear from have wished me well.

And  there have been people on this trek I will never ever forget.  Whether I spent an hour with them or 7 days on the trail.

Once again its been life-affirming.

And one other thing I learned:
Moose dont exist.  They’re mythical beasts

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The picture above shows the last of thousands of signs from sundsvall to Trondheim

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Linette from Denmark who walked with me for a week (actually once her blisters healed she left me trailing.

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The certificate that proves I made it

Clueless. Mishaps on Day 30 of a 580 km trek across #Sweden and #Norway

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again

When things aren’t going so well just hang in there. Cos they always get better

Yesterday should have been a simple  17km stage. But once again the Olavesleden cut through thick forest .
The constantly undulating path twisted and turned through the trees and the  drizzle made the exposed tree roots and rocks dangerously slippery

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The inevitable happened.  On one steep section my footing gave way. There was an audible crack from somewhere arouvd my ankle and I  was pitched head first into the undergrowth at the side of the track.

The water in my Camelback pouch also spilled out , leaving me soaked and covered in twigs and moss.

I lay there for a few seconds convinced I’d broken something. As it happens I don’t think I have but it hurts and there is an ominous swelling

I limped on…My fellow pilgrim Linette was so far ahead she was unable to help – or more importantly she was unable to listen to me complaining and swearing with every step.

My mood was not improved when I had to climb a series of fences topped with barbed wire

I was so exhausted by the time I reached the fourth fence that II rested my head on the top in mid climb

This resulted in (and I’m not making this up) an unseen part of the barbed wire puncturing the inside of my left nostril. Blood everywhere.

But you know me..I struggled on without a word of complaint……..

And how in the name of all that’s holy did I get blisters on my hand ?
Actually I know the answer…it was using walking poles in an attempt to prevent further falls
I must have looked like some giant arthritic spider as I stumped along

Things did improve when I met some lovely people from a local church who had  held a service in the forest.
They are also responsible for maintaining the signs on this part of the trail. God bless them.

And one couple invited us to stay with them. So instead of sleeping in wet tents we had a hot shower,  a great meal and – for the first time in a month – some wine . All this in a beautiful house overlooking Trondheim fiord

We stayed up til the early hours talking culture and history.  A great night with lovely people

I’m just 14km from journey’s end.  It’s the last day.  I’m going to get there even if I have to crawl

The end is nigh. Day 30 on pilgrimage from Baltic to Atlantic

In two days all this will be over.  I will have been on the road for exactly a month.  I think I might get emotional.

But right now I’m in a small log cabin originally used for storing meat for the family here.  It’s been converted  into a cosy little bunkhouse for travelers.  Very nice it is, too.

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Last night I stayed at a hotel/hostel at a farm in Ersgard in the company of Stein the owner. – a man whose family goes back generations  on this land

He was keen to let me sample some gorgeous local beer made with smoked hops.  He poured some out for me and continued with a bit of a history lesson.

“This valley is unusual in Norway as it runs from west to east ,” he said, turning around to wave expansively at the landscape.

“And another thing…..Oh your beer is all gone,” he said , staring at my glass which I’d drained in seconds.

“Well it was rather nice,” I replied , a trifle embarrassed

“Yes that is  the beer that costs 140 kroner ,” said his wife , Greta

That’s £11.67 in real money…

Today was one of those awkward treks through a forest.  The path constantly undulating and fallen trees and roots tripping up the unwary. IE me

They must have some bloody great storms here cos huge trees had been uprooted and tossed around like matchwood

My fellow pilgrim , a  Danish student called Linette , skipped through the trees like some sort of wood nymph and soon left me far behind – sweating, stumbling and cursing prodigiously

I felt trapped in a scene from Lord of The Rings.  The rock faces and marshes we passed by all had information  boards with names like somethinggaard this or doo dah-bond this

The wood became so dark I half expected  to see Bilbo Baggins stumbling along or Gollum leaping out at me.

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And let me tell you if Gollum had showed me an easy path out of that forest I’d have paid him a sight more than a golden ring

Missing a moose. Day 28 in the footsteps of a Viking Saint. #Norway #Sweden

Apparently there are some 400,000 moose (or elk) in Sweden.

And I dunno how many more in Norway but you can bet it’s not an insignificant number

But you could have fooled me.

Over the last month people have repeatedly told me that it’s just a matter of time before I encounter one of the antlered hordes

“Oh I saw five of them in the woods at the bottom of the garden”

“There’s a huge one who walks down the track outside the house every evening”

‘There’s a whole family of them who have a picnic on my patio ever night”

I made that last one up.

But the point is , I’ve been told it would be impossible NOT to see a moose in Sweden.  Well I crossed the country from East coast to the Norway border with nary a sight.

Oh , I saw moose crap. Piles and piles of it.  And hoof prints. Hundreds of ’em.
I got so good at recognising the signs I could have passed my Scout Tracker badge with a double first

Actually on reflection I did see a moose.  Probably a few score.  It’s just that the parts I saw didn’t amount to a single joined up moose

Imagine coming across this after a long walk in the dark forest

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That’s a jaw bone

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Glosa is famous for its stone age rock carvings

It also doubles as an education centre for the ancient art of moose hunting

Cabins are decked out in the way they think ancient  hunters would have stored various moose parts

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I’ve no idea how schoolkids feel about visiting this place.

But it gave me nightmares

The end of Olav. Day 25 on the world’s most Northerly pilgrimage trail

I’ve carried my tent almost 500 km and used it twice.
But the second time was rather memorable.
I’d done 20+ km and due to an unfortunate navigation error, I decided I couldnt make the last five
I found a perfect spot next to a river and an open air fireplace

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I was rather pleased, not to say  surprised,  to get a decent fire going and  cook my own meal.
Survival expert Ray Mears would have been proud of me
However,  I think it’s highly unlikely that Ray would have melted his socks and underwear while attempting to use a barbecue grill to dry them out …

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After that mishap I found my way to Stiklestad. The site of Olav’s last battle
It was here that an  army of farmers – aware of Olav’s previous track record of harsh rule – defeated his army of (largely) mercenaries

Outnumbered two to one, Olav’s first wound came from an axe blow to his left knee. For some unaccountable reason this warrior who had slashed and fought his way through  countless battles, threw away his sword and shield and began to pray for help.

Which didn’t come.

What did come was a blow to his neck and a fatal spear thrust under his chain mail from arch enemy Thorir the Hound.  Great name, crazy guy.

The stone on which Olav  lay dying is now said to be under the altar at Stiklestad church.

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A great place is Stiklestad. Special quarters for pilgrims based on 12th century lodgings…I had it all  to myself

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And if you want a party…where better to do it than in a Viking long house

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So farewell then Olav.  It’s been real following in your bloodsoaked footsteps
Now on to Trondheim and your final resting place.
Six days to go.

Crossing over. And another Olav story. #Norway #Sweden

Finally crossed over into Norway today. I left the modern road I’ve been for two days and forked left….following the trading route that goes back even before the Vikings

It wound its way past the treeline and up over a landscape that reminded me of the Dark Peak back home.  Only on a much  bigger scale , fringed with snow capped hills

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The old road is a sort of causeway really…giving a solid raised path through ground made waterlogged by melted snow

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Fur traders used this road. Olav and his men trod this same path. As did the army of King Charles  XII…the same army that would die in the snow on their return

Last night I slept in a room with the graves of several of these men literally outside my window

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Security at the border wasn’t what you’d call watertight.  It was just a pile of stones with a slate marker on top

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I’ve reached Sul. A place mentioned in Snorri Sturlusons tale of Olav’s last journey

Olavs men flattened a field of crops just up the road from my cabin

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The farmer – somewhat bravely in my opinion – complained to the Viking chief

Olav took the farmer to the field where Snorri tells us the crops were miraculously recovered

I suspect reality was rather different.

Olav probably drew the complaining farmer close and asked him to describe the scene

“Well as you can see all my barley,  Highness   has been destroyed”

“No no. It looks fine to me. A magnificent field of ripening crops….unless you think I am mistaken,” says Olav once again caressing his battle axe

“Now you mention it,” says the farmer (rather regretting he ever brought up the subject) “I think things aren’t that bad”

Another miracle attributed to our warrior king