2006 Norway Fjords

On board the Swan to Norway.

Last August, I boarded the Swan, to join Jane, the skipper, and crew of Magnie, David and Ruth, and six other paying passengers, youngest being Rory at 11 years. Leaving Lerwick, a sense of adventure came across. Soon, instructions to help raise the mainsail put paid to any daydreams. A warm breeze helped the Swan on its way out into the North Sea. Slowly, the rolling motion spread its effects to one or two of us, but I have to say my first time nerves soon abated, I became comfortable with the routines, and thought no more about it all week.

Jane divided us into three teams for watch keeping and kitchen duties. Watch involved taking a turn on the helm, and watching out for other boats and oil rigs. Fortunately on my watch, we spotted some whales which were swimming too quickly for positive identification. Lots of seabirds were present out to sea, notably gannets and fulmars.

The waterways on entry to Bergen’s harbour were filled with motorboats, yachts and rowing boats. Bergen is a scenic city surrounded by steep wooded hills. It was dry on our arrival, but on walkabout a heavy rain persisted, giving credence to the cliché that a visit to Bergen always commences with rain! The old Hanseatic buildings on the waterfront revealed many craft shops, including embroidery and felt. The outdoor market consisted of the usual clothes and food stalls, but with the addition of lots of fur and fish products. Bergen’s tourist office is centrally located in a beautiful old building. Nearby is the Hanseatic traders’ museum located in the seafront’s preserved wooden Bryggen. Some of our party ventured uphill to the venicular railway, to experience the views from the top of Mount Floyen.

Next day we set sail south to Rosendal, in the Hardangerfjord, passing lots of wooded and granite hills, ubiquitous colourful wooden houses and an occasional glacier!

Rosendal is a truly beautiful village complete with dramatic waterfall on one of the surrounding hills, and a country estate with rose and vegetable gardens and stables, home to the sturdy fjord ponies. Weather proved to be hot and sunny. Whilst waiting for the tide to rise so we could set sail again, Thelma donned swimming suit for a fjord swim, soon followed by Ruth and Rory who dived from the bow of the Swan! Swimming in a fjord, looking up at the mountains, was an incredible experience of nature’s offering at its finest.

Next stop further up the Hardangerfjord was Hardanger Fartoyvernsenter – Norway’s boat building and ‘living’ maritime museum. This centre employs apprentices for building and maintenance of wooden boats, and also for the disappearing skills of rope-making from a wide range of natural materials. Famous Norwegian craft, the Mathilde and Frosso, were lovingly restored to their former glory in this yard. The guided tour of the museum was most interesting, and it stressed the value of experienced skilled elders passing on their trades to a younger generation. Located in the museum’s excellent, albeit expensive, café was a small cinema, which showed a black and white film of life in one of Norway’s fjords before the advent of steamboats, bridges and tunnels, when life was dependant on rowing boats for survival (no doubt similar to remoter parts of Shetland in the distant past).

Rory, who regularly and industriously fished from the Swan, was rewarded with hooking a large cod, promptly netted and gutted by his dad, and cooked superbly as fishcakes by Magnie that evening!

Staff from the museum came on board to view and appreciate the Swan’s structure. On spotting our bird books, the Norwegian foreman spoke about species present in the fjord, informing us of the presence of some white-tailed sea eagles, and low flying woodpeckers! Leaving Nordheimsund for the journey south to Mosterhamn, we were hopeful of spotting these birds, but none were spied.

Mosterhamn is a small village complete with open-air theatre. We were berthed alongside a wooden sailing yacht, Seladon. This boat, owned by a private individual who restored it over a period of 12 years, is now offered for private charter. That night, Seladon undertook an evening sail with home cooked meal, and then guests went ashore to watch the musical “Chess” at the amphitheatre. Decadent travel to the show!

Next day, still heading south, we stopped briefly in Haugesund – a modern town that was just gearing up for its Silda Jazz Festival. This Swan trip to Norway was originally planned to attend this jazz festival only, but then was readvertised as a fjord cruise, which was most definitely a better option. That night’s stop was in a quaint holiday resort, Skudneshavn, formally a fishing village. It consisted of immaculately painted wooden houses and narrow lanes. A decision was cast, after our on-shore showers, to visit a Norwegian pub, complete with piano, pianist, singer, and lager at £4.50 a half pint!

The last day of the trip was spent in Stavanger where some folk visited its excellent Oil Museum. Meanwhile, others caught the ferry and bus to the base of the steep climb up to the flat pinnacle of the enormous Pulpit Rock – a vast block of granite stone with amazing sheer view down to the azure water of the Lyssefjord.

Life on board the Swan for the week was basic but companionable. Cooperation was maintained for the preparation of meals and household duties and watches. A small hot shower is available on the Swan, but most harbours provide coin operated power showers. Spending a week on this wooden boat, being a necessary and appreciated part of the team, was a confidence building experience that I highly recommend and would like to repeat.

The final leg, the sail back across the North Sea to Lerwick, was rougher and exhilarating! Taking turns on the helm, guiding the Swan through large waves in a secure but exposed grey environment provided primitive and wild thrills unmatched by other previous sea faring trips on larger boats. The Swan truly brings you close to the awesome power of the sea.