Walking the St. Olav Ways

Many people are familiar with the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. However, Norway’s pilgrim paths to Trondheim are becoming a great alternative for anyone interested in pilgrimage solitude in Norwegian nature and culture.

The growing interest in pilgrimages in general has made Norway’s pilgrim paths to Trondheim increasingly popular abroad, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany. One such Dutch pilgrim is Ria Warmerdam, who has gone the distance both in Spain and in Norway. In 2013, Ria walked the entire 643 km Gudbrandsdalen Path, from Oslo to Trondheim. That journey resulted in her popular guidebook “Wandelgids Het Olavspad”.
She says that the Gudbrandsdalen Path was extremely well organised, and she was very impressed with the high quality of both the lodgings and the food along the way – not to mention the clear markings and the great condition of the path itself.
“I can well understand that Dutch tourists are increasingly drawn to the pilgrim paths in Norway,” says Ria. “Norway is very popular in the Netherlands. There is great interest in Norwegian nature, and the wave of Nordic Noir TV shows and crime novels has also helped generate an interest in Norway and Scandinavia.”

Ria’s desire to experience walking adventures was born 20 years ago when she decided to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
She started from her doorstep at home in Amsterdam. Four months later, she reached her destination – the pilgrimage town of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. By the time she arrived, she had walked 2,500 km across Europe, and although some of her friends joined her for short stretches of her journey, she walked most of the way alone.
“Many people have asked me how I felt when I finally arrived, and I think my strongest feelings were that of mastery and pride in having managed it,” says Ria, who also explains that most of her worries just melted away after a week on the road.
“Before I left, I was worried about a lot of things. Would I find places to stay? Where would I be able to buy food? Did I have everything I needed? Had I packed too much or too little? I was worried about finding my way – not to mention whether I would actually be able to walk that far.”

Ria Warmerdam, experienced pilgrim and author of the Dutch pilgrim's guide book "Wandelgids Het Olavspad". Photo: Eskil Roll/www.rollphoto.no

“Travelling as a single woman, you also worry about safety. That probably prevents many from embarking such on a long walk on their own, but as I started walking and the kilometres clicked by, I came to feel safe,” says Ria.
“In the Netherlands, we have an expression which in English translates to: ‘You suffer most from the fear of suffering’.
My experience was that, when you are on a pilgrimage, you are greeted with respect and consideration. People are friendly and say hello. They ask how far you’ve gone, and are quick to offer you both food and drink.”
Not least, she enjoyed talking to the people in the places where she stayed overnight, hearing the history of the place and all about the people who lived there.
“If someone had said to me before I left that I was going to knock on strangers’ doors and ask to sleep in the barn, I would have laughed at them. But if there was one thing I learned along the way, it was how to deal with challenges as they arise and not be afraid to ask.

Ria recommends you to travel light on a pilgrimage. Photo:Eskil Roll/www.rollphoto.no

From Ria’s point of view, a speed of about 3–4 km/h is just right. It is a speed you will be able to maintain for many hours a day, while also being able to see how the nature and the landscape change along the way.
“I start the day with a proper breakfast, and generally walk from the nine o’clock to around five in the afternoon. 
It’s a bit like a work day, and it has a rhythm that most of us are used to.
It is always just as gratifying to arrive at the place you planned to stay overnight – and always just as wonderful to start walking again the next day.”

When you are on a such a long walking trip, you become really thankful for the simple things, like taking your shoes off, having a wash and eating a good meal. Any worries you may have had before you left, just seem to disappear along the way, and life takes on a rhythm and a pace that Ria thinks is good for us.
“We humans are designed to walk. It is the natural way for us to move around,” tells the adventurous walker, who divulges that she when she comes home to Amsterdam, she plans to sit down to write a new guidebook. This time, based on her experiences from this year’s journey along the St Olav’s Path.

At the Budsjord pilgrimage farm, pilgrims can enjoy breakfast in historic surroundings. Photo:Eskil Roll/www.rollphoto.no

Useful tips!

  • You can find a variety of accommodation options along the Gudbrandsdalen Path, which makes it easy to decide just how far you want to walk each day.
  • There are a number of simple and affordable accommodations reserved for pilgrims. However, you should remember that if you choose to stay at a pilgrim hostel, you must be ready to share a room with any other pilgrims who come for the night.
  • In many places, you can choose between a simple accommodation with self-catering, or if you want a private room and meals served.
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