Perhaps the most immediate thing that hits you about Norway is a sense of scale. It’s a big country or, to be accurate, a long country. From Oslo, the capital, where the ferries get in, to the far Arctic north is about 1550 miles, and you’ll encounter few people along the way – you can drive 400 miles down a Norwegian dirt road and not see a human being. If truly remote wilderness is your thing, there are few places better and few places more majestic.
This size can be a negative factor: time of travel in Norway needs much careful thought. Distances are big, roads are never straight (curving as they do alongside lakes and up and down mountains), and speed limits are relatively low. They’re rigorously enforced by the police, too.
In general, speed traps are usually set along major roads and in more densely populated areas. The fines are huge – if you’re clocked at 21-25kmh (about 12-15mph) over
the limit in areas where the limit is 60kmh or lower, you’ll get a fine of close to £500. Exceed the limit by 31-35kmh (18-20mph) in areas where the limit is 70kmh or higher and the fine can rise to £600. Higher speeds will result in the loss of your licence.
Speed limits: 30kmh (18.6mph) in residential areas; 50kmh (31mph) in other urban areas; 80-90kmh (50-56mph) in rural areas and the same for expressways (the local version of motorways).
Other considerations are less imposing. Drive on the right, as you’d expect, and carry your licence, V5 and insurance documents. Dipped headlights must be used at all times and carrying a warning triangle is compulsory. You don’t need a carnet or visa as a UK citizen, and there should be no hassles at the port of entry. Road tolls are fairly common.
Roads tend to be in very good order, with main routes cleared of winter snow in a way that would embarrass British councils. Prices range from 15kr to 300kr (£1.33 to £26.60 approx) on the touristy stretches of western highways.
Maps are widely sold, the best range being Cappelen. Although a wee bit pricey, they’re well worth having: they’re accurate and frequently updated.
So, with your Cappelen map spread out before you, which parts
of the country should you highlight? The answer is – most of it! Norway
is a country of breathtaking scenery. The big draw for many folk is crossing the Arctic Circle (yes, there’s a sign…) and seeing the Northern Lights. This particular spectacle is best in winter, but then there’s little daylight in the north.
Another attraction is the North Cape, advertised as the most northerly place in Europe – although, to be accurate, this honour should go to Knivskjelodden, which is a whole mile further north.
A hard core of Britons head over the North Sea in their Defenders to experience the winter snows – Christmas and New Year in the deep, plentiful Scandinavian snow is a wonderland. The Scandinavians take pride in keeping roads clear of snow but winter tyres (studded pattern) are obligatory between October and March.
It’s also worth taking snow chains – and making sure you can fit them before you first need them! Remember, diesel gets lumpy in Scandinavian winter temperatures – you can get additives to combat this.
Regardless of the time of year, the best way to get to northern Norway is to catch a ferry into Oslo from Denmark (the direct ferry service from the UK ended in September 2008) and then cross the border to drive up through Sweden at speed. Allow two days for this and be prepared for a lot of fairly monotonous forest.
Take it easy on the run back south, pottering along the Norwegian coast. Avoid the boring E6 highway where you can and take smaller roads – don’t miss the beautiful Lofoten Islands and Vesteralen. Book your Lofoten ferries early via the web and be aware that the southern route is often full in the summer months.
You must allow time for hiking at Besseggen. It can be a bit touristy but it’s spectacular although, if you’re afraid of heights, you may think of another adjective for it. Sogn og Fjordande and a boat trip on the Geiranger fjord are also superb highlights. Pining for the fjords? Those in the south, near Oslo, are a bit small but, up along the west coast, they’re huge – and wonderful.
Animals in general have poorly cultivated road sense, but Scandinavian wildlife is especially lax. Moose and reindeer (the worst
of all) wander out on to roads all the time in remote areas, and cause many accidents. They almost always bolt forwards, so drive round the rear of the animal if you encounter one. There are wolves, brown bears and
lynx, but they’re very shy of human contact – nothing to worry about.
Clinging (only just) to the wildlife theme, you will need bug repellent. The local biters aren’t as ferocious as Highland midges, but they’re bigger and more intimidating. I recommend a bug repellent called Jakko Myggmelk, which is very good.
What, then, about getting ‘out into the wilds’? Well, off-road driving, as such, is illegal in Norway. But there are thousands of miles of dirt and gravel track (marked on maps as ‘Grus’, or ‘gravel’) that you can explore without any problems.
There’s also a very enlightened law known as the Right of Free Access. This means you can wild-camp (yes, just pull off the road) anywhere away from farms and urban areas – as long as you don’t cause damage and you respect the local environment.
Norway is a hugely outdoor-orientated society. Camping, hiking, canoeing and wilderness trekking are all promoted enthusiastically; any foreigner wishing to experience the wilderness will be welcomed warmly. Canoeing in lakes, rivers and on the sea is fine, but fishing in lakes and rivers needs a permit.
If you don’t want to wild-camp, campsites are always of a high standard. There is a national guide to these sites at camping.no/index_eng.html;
and you’ll save money by investing in a Camping Card, which is valid throughout Scandinavia – indeed, it’s compulsory at some camping sites.Find out more at camping.no/kortside_eng.html.
If you go camping in high summer, take some of those eye shades that they hand out on long-haul flights – daylight hours are very long and you may have trouble sleeping.
If you don’t fancy tents there’s a national network of camping huts – Hytter – that are popular and always need pre-booking. They can cost anything between £15 and £60 per person per night. To book, contact the host campsite.
The cost of living is high – alcohol especially is extremely expensive. Buy beer in supermarkets, where it costs about £1 per half-litre. Wine and spirits are sold only at branches of Vinmonopolet, the Norwegian wine and spirits monopoly.
Prices here are high so, if you’re near the Swedish border, drive over and buy your tipple at the Swedish equivalent, Systembolaget – it’ll be about half the cost it would be in Norway. If you’re driving up through Sweden (as suggested earlier for those going to the far north), remember to stock up en route.
The cost of a coffee at a service station will raise an eyebrow. A good way round this is to go to the nearest Statoil service station and buy the Breakfast Club coffee cup. It costs about £10 but you can drink all the coffee you like at any Statoil station for the rest of the year at no extra cost.
Statoil stations also have free wireless internet access, so you can send emails and check the football results on your laptop while you drink your free coffee fill-up.
Norway is a feast for the senses, with scenery that wows at every turn. Your Land Rover is the ideal tool for travelling through this enormous country – I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The full story can be found in the March 2009 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.