Friends on a pilgrimage

Nature tourism or eco tourism is a worldwide trend. An increasing number of people are taking to the outdoors for their summer holidays, and more are becoming aware of The St. Olav Ways in Norway as an attractive alternative for the nature and spiritual seeking adventurer of the world.

In Norway, we have no less than seven pilgrim paths, or St Olav Ways, each leading to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. You can follow the same historical paths as thousands of pilgrims before you. The pilgrim paths take you through the Norwegian cultural landscape specked with farms both large and small, past towns, and up to beautiful summer mountain farms. They follow rivers and lakes and cross spectacular mountain ranges – and not least over the roof of Norway: the majestic Dovre Mountain plateau.

WALK THE PATH IN STAGES
The St. Olav Ways in Norway range from 151 km to 643 km. The shortest is the North Path, which runs from Grong Stiklestad, and the longest is the Gudbrandsdalen Path, which runs from Oslo to Trondheim. It takes around 5 weeks to walk the longest path, but who says you have to do it all in one go?
Most people who follow one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain cover a distance of over 800 km and divide their journey into sections, starting up next time where they left off. That way there will be many stages and perhaps a walk that may take many years. We are starting to see the same trend here in Norway.

When pilgrims gather around the table, like here at the Budsjord historic farm just south of Dovre, the conversation can range from blisters and mosquitoes to philosophical musings and everything in between. Photo: Eskil Roll

SHORT AND LONG TRIPS
You can plan for both shorter and longer trips, and you can get on public transport at several places along the different pilgrim paths to Trondheim, so you can easily plan to take a week or a long weekend along the path. More and more people have discovered this opportunity, and among them are pilgrim walkers Mari Sveen Kvam and Anne Helseth Udal, who we meet at the historic Budsjord pilgrim farm right before they embark on the stretch across the Dovre Mountains.
“We have been friends for over 30 years, ever since we were students,” they say.
The pair started their walk in Oslo and have so far completed seven stages.
“Our first walk along the pilgrim path was just a day trip, and we went from the Medieval Park in Oslo, through Bærum and up to Lommedalen.”
The following year they started in Lommedalen, and spent six days walking through Toten, Hadeland and up through the Gudbrandsdalen valley to the Dovre Mountains.
“We walk about 15–20 km every day, depending on the terrain and train times, and we enjoy following our impulses, starting and stopping our daily stages based on how we feel,” they say. “For us, this has become a tradition that we look forward to every year and a unique opportunity to experience Norwegian nature and all the different cultural landscapes along the path.” 
They think it’s a nice change from a normal mountain hike because they have the chance to enjoy different trails and experience the unique nature, culture and history a variety of places, and it’s interesting to see how the landscape changes from the open agricultural areas of the south to the valleys and mountains of the north.
 

Mari Sveen Kvam and Anne Helseth Udal, who got to know Markus Holzmann from Germany when they stayed at the Budsjord farm, say that one of the best things about going on a pilgrimage is the people you meet along the way. Photo: Eskil Roll

CLOSE TO NATURE AND PEOPLE
“For us, this walk is of course an outdoor experience, but we also really enjoy meeting people along the way, both hosts and other pilgrims. It is always a special experience to meet other pilgrims following the path. We’ve met people on pilgrimages from many countries, and we have even gotten to know a number of them quite well.”

THE INNER JOURNEY
Anne and Mari say that when you walk with trekking poles as they do, you fall into your own rhythm and the monotony of the poles produces a kind of mindfulness effect. “Then you are open to let the ‘big questions’ creep in: the meaning of life, the mystery of suffering, God’s hand in our lives and similar philosophical reflections,” says Mari.
“Meeting other pilgrims, who talk of life crises and who experience the pilgrimage as a kind of therapy, has also left a lasting impression.”

Mari Sveen Kvam and Anne Helseth Udal have stayed at many lovely places on the different stages of their journey along the pilgrim path to Trondheim, but highlight Fokstugu in Dovre as a particularly special experience. Photo: Eskil Roll

WARM AND WELCOMING HOSTS
They cannot emphasise enough how warm and welcoming the hosts have been at many of the places they have stayed along the way.
“People are so friendly and hospitable to pilgrims, and that is part of what makes this a truly one-of-a-kind experience. We have stayed at many lovely places, and would like to mention Fokstugu in Dovre as a particularly special experience. At this mountain farm, they keep the old pilgrimage traditions alive with morning and evening Mass.
It was also great to arrive at Engelshus farm at the north end of the Gudbrandsdalen valley. They are the nicest and most caring hosts you can possibly imagine. Engelshus is an incredibly beautiful, restored historic farm. They served delicious food in the family living room and they had the most beautiful bedroom I have ever slept in,” says Anne.

Mari and Anne have prioritised eating well and sleeping comfortably along the way. They are only carrying as much as is comfortable and they have chosen not to have a tent and sleeping bag.
“We always bring as little as possible. You can get what you need in the way of food as you go. And if the weather takes a turn for the worse, you can always take the first bus or train home. It’s not like you have to be anywhere at a specific time,” they say.


A GREAT TRADITION FOR FRIENDS
“Oh, we’ll make it to the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim eventually,” they laugh. “For us, the most important thing is the journey itself and the experiences we have along the way, but naturally we are looking forward to arriving in the city where we met as students!”
They warmly recommend a pilgrimage to Trondheim as a friends’ holiday. For the two friends, it has become an annual tradition they never want to miss.

After climbing your way up to the Dovre Mountains, it’s nice to spot the pilgrim mark. The 10 km walk across to Fokstugu will take you no time along the gentle plateau trail. Photo: Eskil Roll
From the Fokstugu mountain farm in Dovre, you can enjoy fantastic views of the Fokstu Marsh against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance. Photo: Eskil Roll

USEFUL TIPS!

  • Walking the St. Olav Ways. also called the Gudbrandsdalen path, from Oslo to Trondheim in several stages makes for perfect holiday adventures for both families and friends.
  • A number of places serve both individual dishes and 3-course meals based on local foods, as well as breakfast and packed lunches.
  • You can also join an organised walk with a guide, and there are package tours that include food, accommodation and luggage transport from place to place. You can find more information under Recommended Walks at pilegrimsleden.no/en
  • The Gudbrandsdalen Path is 643 km long and can easily be broken up into several stages, because the path leads you past many towns. That makes it easy to plan trips in combination with public transport such as buses and trains.
  • You can plan a trip ranging from a few days to a few weeks. No matter what you choose, the pilgrim paths to Trondheim offer fantastic outdoor experiences.
  • Test out the trip planner on pilegrimsleden.no/en. You can plan your trip, download maps, get an overview of points of interest and see what types of accommodation are available along the way.
Recommended Walks