When I started boating I thought paddling in Norway wasn’t for the likes of me. Tales of monster holes, inescapable gorges and relentless rain convinced me Norwegian boating was grade 5, experts-only territory. Then stories began to filter through about clean lines, stunning scenery and even the odd sunny day. After all, no country in the world has rivers that are exclusively class 5 – right? So looking for a summer alternative to the Alps and feeling brave, we joined four other friends and booked a flight to the land of the trolls. It was a cracking decision. Here are 10 reasons why Norway is possibly the finest paddling destination in the world:
It’s not all Death-on-a-Stick
As a group we were looking for plenty of grade 3 and 4 with a sprinkling of 5. And we found oodles of it! From big volume rivers like the Sjoa to remote, continuous pushy runs like the Jori. The Lower Rauma was a pool drop delight, while the Etna gave us slides, waterfalls, slots and drops in staggeringly beautiful surroundings. Sure, if you want to scare yourself silly, you can. But there’s something for everyone.
The UK’s national oil company is renowned for one of the world’s biggest marine wildlife disasters. Norway’s national oil company is renowned for giving out free coffee at its petrol stations. Spend 200 kroner on a Statoil thermos mug and get unlimited free coffee for a whole year. Genius.
Warm, soft rolls studded with chocolate chips or raisins – bole are the Norwegian equivalent of a pain au chocolate. They were also pretty much the only cheap things we found in the entire country. Highly recommended as a second breakfast or post-paddling snack.
Yes, Norway is pricey. But every Norwegian has the right to live off the land, so wild camping is permitted everywhere. This means you can stay in some pretty inspiring places, often right next to the get-on or take-out for a river. Just beware the sheep with bells on – they make an awful lot of noise when they come grazing round your tent in the middle of the night.
We met up with a Norwegian friend of a friend who gave us a 10-day guided tour, taking in the best rivers at the best levels and some of the most spectacular wild camping spots. Then he invited us to stay with his friend who welcomed six smelly paddlers by taking us fishing on the fjord in his speedboat. We tried inviting the Norwegians to the UK to repay their hospitality, but they said they probably wouldn’t bother as they’d heard it’s not as good as Norway. Fair point really.
Even in August it doesn’t start getting dark until after 10pm, which is probably a good thing because rivers can take a long time. Our routine quickly settled into: wake up, drink coffee, eat breakfast in the sunshine, go to Statoil for second breakfast, go paddling, find a good spot to camp, cook dinner, build a fire, sit and watch the sun set while drinking whisky. Repeat for two weeks. Bliss.
Okay, this isn’t a given. After a month of solid rain in July that saw levels go crazy and left a lot of the classic sections too high to paddle, we turned up in August and hit a fortnight of sunshine. There were a couple of rainy days that brought a few of the lower volume rivers up nicely, but most days we were paddling in shorts and strolling around in flip flops.
“Like Scotland but better and without the midges” sums it up nicely. Lush forests, sparkling fjords, clear rivers and mountains everywhere – including the awesome Troll Wall.
A strictly-enforced national speed limit of 50 mph even on major roads may seem like a pain. But in fact it saves a fortune on fuel and means you can’t even get angry at getting stuck behind a caravan.
We saw a man punch a fish to death
It turns out if you’re struggling to kill the two-kilo pollock that has just been hooked out of a fjord, the best thing to do is just punch it repeatedly in the face (in front of an appalled vegetarian) until it dies. As demonstrated with gusto by our pal Tore.