Norway South: The finest valley and mountain walks -
A Rother walking guide
by Bernhard Pollmann, translated by Andrea Adelung
Cordee 2001, £7.99. ISBN 3 7633 4807 7
Review: Richard Webb
IT HAS ALWAYS SURPRISED ME that until recently there has been little published about the hills of Norway, even in Norwegian. I've managed to acquire a small collection of Norwegian hill books, some very good indeed, but vast areas await the pitter-patter of the guidebook writer's feet. This, though, is no bad thing, ensuring that a spirit of exploration is still required.
I must declare an interest here. I believe that Norway is an all-but perfect venue for the walker: full of hills just on the boundary of technical climbs, yet accessible to folk with a lot of hillcraft and no technical gear. Although most hills can be done in a day, the outcome of a walk is often in doubt as you never quite know if you're going to be stopped by some hidden technicality. And not only is there a superfluity of Cuillins and An Teallachs over there, but glens forested in Scots pine and birch surround numerous small farms. Oh, and no access problems, either.
Now the writers are filling the vast void of a 1300km mountain range in Western Europe, and the latest and so far best English-language guidebook has been published by Rother. Norway South is only a summary of available delights and covers a huge area, both physically and in type of walking. It's a sampler, barely scratching the scratches. There are still plenty of holes left for the explorer.
The book is a pack-friendly paperback. After a short and very useful introduction with the usual travellers' information, 50 chapters describe walks ranging from multi-day hut tours and 2000m peaks to short trips to waterfalls and long gentle glen walks. The book is packed with well-reproduced colour photographs and each chapter has a clear summary map: quite detailed and beautifully drawn. Although insufficient for navigation, these allow routes to be appraised at a glance while making them easier to follow on the Statens Kartverk 1:50000 maps. This is important, as few features are named on Norwegian "OS" maps and following the route from text, even in English, is difficult.
The walks are graded, by colour. Short easy trips are blue, most of the rest are red and the big hills are black. A typical Scottish hill day would be red. All routes requiring a night out use one of the famous huts, another good thing about Norway. Imagine bothies with better facilities than more than a few hotels. Many routes make good ski tours as well, but the original edition of the book was aimed at the alpine hillwalker, normally to be found on the signposted trails of Austria and Bavaria. As Norway's ungroomed trails are somewhat closer to the back of Liathach than the woods of Oetztal, this would have presented the original readership with quite a culture shock.
Norwegians have only recently embraced peak-bagging, so most "tours" are along the glens. The routes are waymarked by cairns and a faint erosion trail across the tundra or through the forest. Anyone struggling through the birch scrub will be grateful for such aid. (Wheesht! - The guy on pp14-15 will take that as TAC editorial policy - jumpy Ed.) The book contains a balance of these traditional routes and a scattering of summit trips.
Areas covered include the granite plateau of Rogaland with the honeypot of the Prekestol, although that other base-jumper's paradise, Kjerag, is strangely missing. (Kjerag is a 1000m vertical granite crag with a deep gully containing a huge wedged chockstone. The idea is to walk over the void on the chockstone.) From Rogaland the hills stretch into the high plateau of Hardangervidda, aka Ice Planet Hoth, home to vast herds of reindeer and popular for easy hut-to-hut tours. The place to take the kids. There then follows a smattering of trips on the low but steep coastal hills near Bergen, easily accessed by ferry from Newcastle, before the bulk of the book is rightfully devoted to the Jotunheimen and Rondane ranges. Galdhøppigen and Glittertind get a chapter (and a good explanation of which is currently higher), the relatively neglected Gausdal Vestfjell is well covered and the book is rounded off with some pleasant hut tours in the forests of Telemark and Gudbrandsdal.
One problem is that the area covered is bigger than the Highlands, and wilder. The walks are thinly scattered and some areas are missing, eg the Femund national park on the Swedish border. It would also have been nice to have had something around Oslo, where good hillwalking is accessible from the city's tram network.
Even a short glance shows the book to be a translation from the German. This can grate, but it's not too badly done. It would have been nice had fjell been translated to the Nordic English fell for a British readership, but the spirit and ethics of Norwegian hillgoing are well explained to those brought up in the populated Alps. The Scottish readership will be familiar with the degree of self-reliance required, while enjoying the novelty of soft beds and occasional dry feet after a day on the hill.
Overall, if you can adapt to the different mindset of the alpine walker and the slightly Deutchlish text, this is a book well worth having. It's not a comprehensive guidebook: the text is concise, very much of the "turn right at the next boulder" variety. Enough of the flavour of the hill country gets through, however, and the beautiful photography ought to inspire you to get over there to smell the birch sap for yourself.
TAC 53 Index