The Splendours of Norway
by James Hastings
You could be forgiven for thinking that you need to be a Grade 5 jar-head to get the best out of paddling in Norway from the tone of some articles written about the country, often by very good paddlers who should know better. This is tosh. While there are plenty of continuous Grade 5s and humoungous waterfalls to throw yourself down, there is plenty to occupy the more cautious paddler, although it probably isn’t the best location for beginners or novices. Having said that, Norway is a great destination for a multi-activity holiday combining river and sea kayaking, cycling and walking.
The following are some thoughts on the destination having made my third trip there last July.
Overland to Norway has become more problematical since the Newcastle to Bergen ferry service was discontinued. There are a number of options:
- Normal cross-channel ferries to Calais, Boulogne etc, then a long drive through Germany and Denmark to Hirtshals in the north of the country, from whence ferries depart to various points in south Norway, then drive to main kayaking areas
- Harwich to Hook of Holland and slightly shorter drive to the same point in Denmark
- Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark and much shorter drive to Hirtshals
All the above would also have the option of staying on the road and taking the Oresund bridge, which delivers you to southern Sweden, rather than the ferry from north Denmark to Norway. All these options mean an absolute minimum of 27 hours travelling and usually more, thus are only a sensible option if you're going for two weeks or more.
As we were only going for one week in July, we decided to fly and chose Norwegian Air – www.norwegian.com as our carrier and flew from London Gatwick to Oslo Gardemoen airport. The total cost of the flights were £225 return and this included kayaks (up to 20kg in weight and 250 cm in length, although at no point did they check this as far as we could see), two items of hold luggage of 20kg apiece (yes, I kid you not) and one item of hand luggage up to 10kg. Thus our total baggage allowance was a massive 70kg and allowed us to bundle all the paddles together and take them on as one item of hold luggage rather than pay a sporting equipment charge for these as well. We had no problem at the check-in either at Gatwick or Oslo – Norwegian air staff were completely un-phased by the appearance of so much plastic!
We hired two cars from rent-a-wreck - www.rent-a-wreck.no which we picked up and returned from Oslo airport. Both cars were supplied with proper roof racks and once again the company representative was totally un-fazed by the boats. The hire cost for the week (excluding petrol but including mileage) worked out at about £170 per person. Don’t expect to get anywhere fast on Norwegian roads. Apart from around Oslo the speed limit is 80km maximum and as Norway is really one long mountain range, on a lot of the roads you wouldn’t want to be going faster than this anyway!
We brought camping equipment with us and camped for the week. Most Norwegian campsites also provide accommodation in 'hytters' - small huts - which vary in cost depending on their facilities. The £ to Kr exchange rate is not great at the moment, thus accommodation was more expensive than it had been on my previous visits – about £7 per night for camping. The huts started at around £10 per person per night for 4 sharing a basic one.
Norway is not cheap. Petrol is around the same price as here, but food and drink is expensive. It is best to buy a bottle of spirits from the duty free on the way over, and then stick to beers from the supermarkets while there. Eating out is expensive, but with a bit of hunting around you can usually find something that’s not going to break the bank.
The book to buy for Norwegian rivers is "Norway – The Whitewater Guide" by Jens Klatt and Olaf Obsommer. The Norwegians can be a bit mean with their gradings at times, probably as much due to how good the two authors of the book are as anything else. However, the main difference is the continuous nature of the rivers. Thus when a river is graded 4 in Norway, it means that it is pretty well all grade 4. Runs also tend to be longer than the UK and in much more isolated spots. Thus, in making your decision about what to paddle you need to take these factors into account. As is always the case when visiting a new paddling venue, it is probably best to drop down a grade for the first couple of days so that you can evaluate where you and your group are in relation to the local grading system.
We managed to get seven days paddling and eight different runs in – copious daylight means that there is no rush. We initially headed to Hedmark, which is the nearest paddling region to Oslo but doesn't seem to be frequented much by British paddlers, and then on to the justifiably famous Sjoa area. We had river levels at the low end of good in Hedmark in mid-July and quite high levels in Sjoa.
- Femund Run - 6km, big volume grade 3+ - pretty much on grade
- 10km - gorgy 3/4 - on grade - very pretty
- 18km - gorgy 3/4 - on grade - quite a long trip - some interesting drops in the gorge, but a slightly tedious section of rocky 2/3 before it warms up again towards the end.
- Sjoa - Steinholet Run
- 6km - lovely scenic open 2/3 with a start from a lake.
- Sjoa - Asengjuvet Run
- 14km - fantastic gorge. Graded 3/4 in the guide book but more like a straight 4 in quite high levels. Some very big stoppers and pourovers!
- Sjoa - Play Run
- 6km - lovely grade 3/4. This is what they train their novices on in Norway! Features the Faukstad wave, site of the Sjoa festival rodeo – its fast!
- Lower Jori
- 17km - this is an awesome run and one where the guide book grading is decidedly mean at 3/4. To my mind it's a straight 4 as it is at least as continuous as the Upper Dart at a chunky level when we ran it. There is NO flat on this river.
- Lagan - Hunderfoss Run
- 6km - dam-release. We estimated that we had a release of around 320 cumecs the day we ran it, so huge!
Some runs we did more than once. This itinerary was easily achievable and had we been a bunch of young guns rather than old dinosaurs we could have done more.
I am a huge fan of Norway - I think that it's the best paddling destination in Europe - however it will not necessarily be everyone's cup of tea. If the intention is to get some serious paddling in, then it's probably best undertaken with a fairly small group of paddlers at roughly the same level of ability. For mixed ability groups it would be better taking the multi-activity route and allow for plenty of time off the water.
Article and photographs copyright © James Hastings 2010