Fjords Tour (SfSS) – 7th (final) day

Day 7: Nr. Nordfjordied to Nr. Maloy – 37 miles (plus 5 miles the following morning)

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Around five years ago I / we stopped going on holidays for a fortnight and went instead for week blocks but more often.  Days like today exemplify why we changed our approach.  After a week, even the most fabulous scenery starts to become routine and you lose the awe and wonder that a place really merits.  When carrying out our research it suggested that the ‘must see’ fjords of the region we were visiting were Sognefiord and Nordfjord.  The former was certainly fabulous as had been the expected gems we had seen since then when we had been further inland.  So I’m sorry but whilst Nordfjord was ‘pleasant’,  today it failed to impress until the very end of the day.

Light rain was falling as we set of from our campsite, but having stayed in a cabin at least we did not have a wet tent to put away.  Also, my front light had dried out enough to start working again.  Five years on the front of my bike in Lancashire was clearly peanuts to a week of standing out on wet nights in Western Norway.  We headed back into Nordfjordeid but took the E39 on the way back in as it was a quiet Saturday morning.  This did afford views of the lovely rapid filled river which was feeding from the fjord down into Hornindalsvatnet.  Once into the town the headwind became obvious and was our constant companion all morning.  Counting our blessings though, this was only second period when it was a case of ‘getting your head down’ (not that in fact you physically actually do this on a recumbent) and getting the miles behind you.  Mrs W benefited from travelling in my wake as we made our way up the Northern shore of the fjord.

Fortunately we found a bus shelter with a very pleasant view for our lunch spot and during lunch the rain decided to stop.  As I said before, never did we suffer a whole day of rain.  Here is our lunchtime view once the sun came out:

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The afternoon was dry but next highlight was the end of the day.  Our campsite was right down on the fjord side.  There was only one other tent on site so we had the freedom to pitch where we liked.  The site looked to have been hewn from rock and then topsoil added back to make flat pitches.  We found a semi-circular cleft in the rock with the fjord lapping at its base.  A nice sheltered place to cook…

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…and a fabulous view of the fjord and passing cargo ships.

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The day may have been mediocre, but the evening made up for this.  The sun came out and we reflected on a tour we had both really enjoyed.  Glorious and massive scenery yet a route (carefully planned I might add) that only saw two big steep climbs in all ca. 300 miles.

The following morning required a very early start as our return transport was on a Hurtigruten ferry back down the coast to Bergen.  There is only one boat a day, so one dare not miss it – the only snag was the 0545 departure time.  Thankfully everything went like clockwork in the morning and we arrived at the port in plenty of time to allow us to hunt around and find which mooring that was used by Hurtigruten.  In the end a single A4 timetable in an office window as the only clue.  Lucky for us that taxi drivers are always around and one pointed us in the right direction.  The best of Nordfjord was to be seen from the water, so we enjoyed that as we made our way out to a coastline dotted with islands.  In reality, once through the islands this was the end of the good views that the boat provided – apparently the speed ferry offers better views as it goes into many more fjord entrances to smaller jetties.  We looked at it this way – we could tie up the bikes without need to pack or wedge them in anywhere and we could look at the view from the warm and between chapters of our respective books.

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Epilogue:  Western Norway offers awesome countryside, massive scenery great campsites (and cabins), smooth roads and is inhabited by warm, generous and wonderful people.  It was a great place to tour by bike is certainly somewhere we’d like to visit again one day…

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Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 6

Day 6 – Byrkjelo to near Nordfjordeid – 42 miles

Day 6 Route Map

Part 1 – From the start to the ferry

Day 6 - Route Map

Part 2 – From the ferry to the end of the day.

A dry start to the day and also a mostly downhill route along the E39 to the shore of Briemsvetnet which afforded glorious views of the 1000 metre peaks on the opposite shore.

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We enjoyed riding along the lake shore and then dropped still further into Sandane to buy food for lunch.  Then half of the height we lost had to be gained again as we followed a road high above Gloppenfjorden heading for our ferry crossing.  A few miles later we saw blocks of cars coming the other way, followed by periods of empty road – this tells you that you are getting close to a ferry port.  A sign saying 2 km to the Ferry coinciding with a glut of traffic, so we exchanged a few words and decided to up the pace and race to catch the ferry which had clearly just discharged its load.  A slight syncline helped and we raced down to and onto the ferry.  It was lunchtime but the crossing too short to enable us to dine on board.

IMG_6988As we landed some drizzle started and it felt pretty chilly.  We hoped that there would be a waiting room for foot passengers that we could use as a lunch shelter but, probably because it was only a very short crossing, there was none.  However there were some lovely clean toilets with underfloor heating!  The disabled toilet was big enough to get our bikes into, so we moved in to get out of the cold.  Being Norway, it was both warm and spotlessly clean – clean enough to eat your lunch out of you might say, so we did.

After lunch we started with a climb up the fjord wall to our last ‘long’ tunnel of the tour – which would take us from Innvikfjorden across to Nordfjord.  Even though it was raining as we were about to enter the tunnel, the view back across Innvikfjorden was something to behold.

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After exiting the tunnel it was downhill all the way into Nordfjordeid, an attractive town but one without a campsite.  As we were raiding the supermarket the intensity of the rain upped a gear and our final 5 miles out to the campsite at Neajartun was easily the least pleasant part of the day.  We had picked up a weather forecast when in Byrkjelo that suggested that the following day was to have heavy rain from dawn to dust without respite.  We thus hired a cabin at Neajartun with the idea that if the forecast turned out to be accurate that we could sit the day out in comfort and simply watch the rain through the window rather than experience it first-hand.  Our plan had included a contingency day for just such an occurrence so we were relaxed about spending a day reading and playing cards.

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Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 5

Day 5 –Forde to Byrkjelo– 30 miles (rain shortened play!)

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Some days on a cycle tour are about getting from A to B, with the ride from B to C what you are really looking forward to. This should have been one of those days but the afternoon turned out to be an unexpected delight. The day started out dry and remained so until our mid-morning break at Vassenden. Here we went into a Spar shop to get some fruit and were invited to sit down in the warm, have some complimentary coffee and use the loo if we needed it. All we bought was two apples and we go this service. This level of courtesy seemed common amongst all the people we met – what a great people the Norwegians are! At very least all those we met. On the way we saw a big waterfall just away from the main road so decided to go and take a look.

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Shortly after that it started to rain and the ride became a real slog. We were cycling along next to a large lake with no variation in view and on an almost straight road. It was a case of watching the miles click by and trying to go as fast as possible so as to get to the next stop as soon as possible It was lunchtime when we arrived in Skei and after a little hunt around we managed to find a café whose prices were only ‘very expensive’ and not ‘eye-watering’. It was warm and dry, something that could not be said for life outside. We stretched out lunch, then mooched around the supermarket buying dinner, hoping that by waiting it out that the rain would slow down. It did so we set off again.

We noticed that we were starting to have a revised perspective about the weather from this point onwards. Light rain was fine, if it was not heavy enough to sting your eyes on a descent then we considered ourselves to be just fine and got on with enjoying the view/ride. In fact because we were fortunate to have good Gore-Tex gear and the weather was a little cooler, being fully clad in waterproofs was in fact totally comfortable. Not too warm, and totally dry. When you look at it like that, what’s not to like? At this point I must give a plug for Vaude ‘short gaiters’, simple waterproof shoe covers that do just want you want, keep your shoes and feet bone dry. Affectionately known by us as our ‘booties’, we love them.

Then came the delight of the day and one of the most significant highlights of the whole tour. The valley formed by the river Våtedalselva, whose name translates as ‘Wet Valley’. It certainly lived up to it’s name but it was absolutely stunning none the less. For those who know Glen Coe it was very much like this but with the mountainsides stretching another 200 meters higher. For those not familiar it is a rare example of a v-shaped valley where the mountains climb steeply from the very valley floor, the base of which is totally flat. To add to this, Wet Valley was also 9 miles long (much longer than the impressive section of Glen Coe) and running gently downhill in the direction we were heading. Truly an extended pleasure. We placated ourselves with the truth that you can enjoy somewhere without photographing it, but for those who cannot read my memory, what you see below is an image taken by Tore Larson of the Wet Valley and after that a view showing the context looking back from the end of the valley / the start of day 6.

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Campsite on night 5 - looking back towards Wet Valley

Campsite on night 5 – looking back towards Wet Valley

The campsite and warden in Byrkjelo were excellent and the little kitchen just the place to make toast to enjoy with the remainder of yesterdays smoked salmon.

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Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 4

Day 4 –Ortnevik to Forde– 33 miles

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Packing up was quick and easy after a night in a cabin, and the ride to the Ferry was all downhill. The morning started dry, but seemed very windy. Just how much so became obvious when we reached the shore and saw the white horses out on the Fjord, showing it was blowing at force 6. Thankfully the ferry was a hydrofoil which not only meant it was fast but also meant a totally smooth crossing over to Nordeide on the North shore. We passed a hamlet on other shore which could only be reached by boat.  Fascinating.

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The rain started on the way over and was our companion until our mid morning shopping stop at Vadheim. Mrs W slipstreamed me all the way, which brings me to mention something odd. On a suitably laid back recumbent (even at my modest 33 degrees, rather than the radical 22 degrees of others, of which the Metabike is also capable) headwinds do not seem to make any noticeable difference. But still someone can ride behind me and benefit from my slipstream. Somehow this feels like getting ‘one up’ on nature with both of us winning.

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Vadheim saw us turn onto the busier E39 and start the climb up to Ykslandsvatnet. There were extensive roadworks on the way up, with the road due to be straightened and having a tunnel added, seemingly to allow some dual carriageway. The road alongside the lake was very attractive, those going through the new tunnel will have drawn the short straw. Lunchtime in Sande was chilly but dry. I have no photos of the climb, but the ride was on a easy gradient and graced with very pleasant countryside. We continued to climb to Langelandsvatnet, which is apparently a popular swimming lake the summer. You would have needed a hammer and chisel to break the ice to get in though! Now at ca. 650 m we were exactly on the snow line.

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Langelandsvatnet – A bit chilly for a dip.

The sun was now out and as we whizzed down the long and exhilarating downhill into Forde, our final destination for the day, the temperature started to climb again. Forde sat inside a bowl of hills, so it was clear how tomorrow ride would start.  It was a surprise to be in such a busy town with so much traffic. After failing to find signs to the campsite a little playing with the Garmin allowed us to navigate to the street on which the campsite was located. Once again we were the only tent on the site, so we could pitch where we liked. What I should point out now is that this was my birthday. Being in a large town meant access to a large supermarket – just a very short walk from the campsite which was handy. This meant the luxury of deciding what we wanted for dinner and buying the ingredients rather than seeing what was available and deciding what we could make from it.

Smoked salmon, cheese, broccoli, pasta and milk were obtained and over a starter of green olives dinner was prepared. This was my first time trying this truly one pan recipe and it worked out really well. In short the pasta was cooked in 1/3 milk, 2/3 water and then the liquor used as the basis of the sauce. Fine dining in the sunshine.

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Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 3

Day 3 – Botn to Ortnevik – 48 miles

Day3Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! Today was a day which we have been anticipating for many months. We prayed that today we would have sunshine, and God did not disappoint us. Our route would take us along the shore of Sognefjord for the whole day. Once fuelled with porridge we set off. After less than an hour we were on the quiet road which would have almost to ourselves all day. We were heading for Ortnevik which was at the very end of the road. We only saw around a car an hour, the road surface was excellent and the route had no significant climb on it all day. Ideal for lying back (as one does on a recumbent) peddling away and enjoying the view. The best way to describe the route is with pictures not words, so here goes:

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IMG_6941Upon arrival in Ortnevik there were no signs to the ‘cabins’ we planned to stay in and the chap in the shop couldn’t help either. However a quick phone call brought forth the girlfriend of the couple who have the cabins who turned out to be English, paired with a local chap. Now we did face a steep climb as their farm and cabins were a little way up, up, up the valley. But when we got there the cabin was excellent as was the view.

Ortevik Cabin

The next morning it turned out the price was pretty reasonable too (we were too tired to ask the night before, and anyway had no other option). It offered great walk options too, so well worth considering.

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Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 2

Day 2 – Manger to Botn – 46 miles

Today was about covering ground to get us to the shore of Sognefjord, but proved a pleasant ride nonetheless. It was Sunday and the roads were really quiet – although another reason for this was that this was, Norway’s ‘Constitution Day’.

Route - part 1

Route – From Start to Ferry

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Route - part 2

Route – from Ferry to Sognefjord

There were many flags in evidence and groups of people in traditional dress taking part in celebrations in all the villages we passed through. By lunchtime we had reached the ferry port at Slovag. It was not warm so we enjoyed the heated waiting room for the short time before the ferry arrived. It was a 30 minute crossing, so an excellent time for lunch especially as it had just started to rain. From the main road out of Leirvag we caught occasional glimpses of Eidesfjorden and the mountains on the far side and then it was time to peel off onto a side road to take us up one of only two big climbs of the tour, to get us into the neighbouring ‘valley’ of Sognefjord. As we descended the other side of the rain started in earnest but we were soon in the reception building of Botnen campsite. The sun did emerge again later that evening and revealed a truly magnificent view across the fjord. A foretaste of what we were to enjoy the next day.

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Searching for Slartibartfasts Signature – A seven day cycle tour of the Norwegian Fjords

Day 1  – Bergen to Nr. Manger – 35 miles

A long long time ago, in a sixth form college far far away a friend of mine introduced me the writing of Douglas Adams. Those familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (five book) trilogy will know of Slartibartfast. In the story he was part of the team that designed the Earth. Utter fantasy I know, but fun and part of some very thought provoking writing none-the-less. Since I read Slartibartfast’s description of his design for Norway I’ve wanted to go and see the Fjords. This has been a dream over 20 years in the making, in part due to the ultra high cost of almost everything in Norway – two years ago we started planning to make this possible and what better way to see a country but from a bike. To make it affordable we opted to camp along the way. In hindsight however, for anyone that follows after us, we might also have rented a cabin at any of the campsites we stayed at. These cost between £35-65 per night and for this you got four beds. Even for just a couple this would have been OK and provided cooking facilities – another big aid to the budget conscious by avoiding eye watering restaurant / café prices.

Route Day 1

Our tour started in Bergen, Noway’s second city and headed North along the coast. The city roads were busy but cycle routes plentiful and where they were absent the drivers the most courteous I known anywhere in the world. The morning was wet, something which turned out the true of all but two mornings of the tour – but we were both physically and mentally prepared for this. It was the West Coast after all. After we cleared the city we crossed a number of rivers and sounds.

IMG_6884 The rain stopped shortly after lunch and we were able to enjoy quiet roads through rolling countryside.

IMG_6894We peddled through bucolic countryside serenaded by the sounds of bells hanging from the necks of all the grazing sheep and ended our day in the Vagenes campsite five miles outside of the small town of Manger. Our plot overlooked an island studded sea and was very conducive to a good nights sleep….

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The Music of Friendship

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I love music, many styles as long as they are melodic and stir the soul. I was returning some CD’s to a friend and it made me realise just how many of the bands I like and have within my CD collection are ones I have been introduced to by friends. When I thought about it, whilst I have ‘discovered’ bands via other routes by far the majority have come from introductions from friends. This means now not only do I love the music and it may bring back memories of a gig, it can also bring back memories of the person and the occasion when I was first heard their music.

Take the favourite band of my teenage years, Status Quo, whilst they had some singles in the charts in the mid 80’s it was my woodwork teacher, Jim Boyd who lent me his vinyl back catalogue for me to listen to and copy to tape. What a great teacher – I won the schools prize for woodwork and took away with me a love for music which should really have been 10 years before my time – I continue to love the music of the mid 70’s.

Getting into Queen from this period was thanks to my college buddy Jon who I used to visit regularly and listen to his music as a group of us tackled ever more complex and geeky board games. I first heard AC DC with Jon too.  He’s still in geek in a black T-shirt, heavy metal remains only on the edge of the fringe of what I now enjoy.

Move on a few years to my time at University. I spend many really mellow evenings with the guy who was to become one of my closest friends and best man. Goodness only knows where he got his musical inspiration from – it was (and is) eclectic to say the least. He introduced me to lots of artists new to me, not all of them stuck, but many did – ELO, The Saw Doctors, Mary Black, Nancy Griffith and Donald Fagen. Our tea cupboard has a greater variety within it thanks to Richard too.

More on a few years again and my flatmate Tony, now a man of the cloth, introduced me to Deep Purple. What a find, what a drummer – whose patterns I copy to this day (I wonder if the church family realises where they’ve come from?). A new friend, Chris, is the person who lent me Made in Japan which was new to me and prompted me to think about this link between friends and music in the first place. I’ve never much been into live albums, but this is reputed to be the best of all time – I have no reason to disagree with this, thanks to Chris I bought my own copy.

This introduction to new delights does not stop though – just a couple of years ago a work colleague invited Mrs W and myself to a gig to see / hear ‘Show of Hands’ – Another fine find – folk music for the modern age. If you haven’t heard their song AIG, go onto YouTube or Grooveshark and look it up.

Whilst it may be true that I have come to love some bands through what I have heard on the radio, it’s interesting to me that most of my music has come to be through friends and has enriched my life still more than their friendship.

Thanks guys!

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HPV CommuteMachine II

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Finally a picture, taken on my first proper ride on the new commuting machine – a 35 mile loop via my favourite cider mill (no prizes for guessing why!)

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HPV CommuteMachine

It always seems a shame to put up a post without a photo or two within it. Perhaps I’ll have chance to add one later. What follows is likely to bear relation to many people who have been bitten by the recumbent bug. One is never enough. I think the reason is clear and normally unspoken….   For all the advantages of riding recumbent, the challenge is which design of bike or trike to choose.   When you have a choice with anything in life you have to play the pluses against the minuses – but with ‘bents the designs we have today, I am not aware of a machine out there which has the breadth of utility of a conventional diamond-frame design. With my 531 steel tourer, a little gentle off road is OK, riding with a group of roadies is OK and it’s good for commuting to work, pulling a kiddy trailer and of course it excels at touring. But if such true versatility exists in a ‘bent I have yet to see the design to achieve this. I would however be delighted to be corrected on this, dear reader.

My recumbent journey started with a trike. I opted for full suspension as it had 20” wheels and being a ‘bent I could not hitch myself out of the saddle for pot holes. It was supremely comfortable and an enormous amount of fun. It was fabulous for commuting and OK for short local day rides. However for longer day rides or touring the mechanical inefficiency of having three wheels on the road, the losses into the suspension / chain tubes and the weight meant that 40 miles felt like 60, especially when hauling panniers or a baby trailer. I did take it on a tour  which I really enjoyed, but it was too hard work up hills with a load. As I say, 40 miles felt like 60. It was however great in the snow and I think it is this capability that I will miss most, but probably only for one week every five years. She is now sold.

My downfall was looking for the most efficient long distance, hill climbing machine on the market. There seemed to be two designs considered to contend for this prize. The Lightning P38  and the Metabike.   I did get to sit on a P38 thanks to a kind young lady in Edinburgh who dropped into Laid Back Bikes (LBB) when I was there for a test ride. But in that short time I simply could master riding it. Also, it had a 20” unsuspended front wheel which from my experience is just not practical on British roads where we don’t so much ride on the left of the road as ride on what is left of the road!  Whilst I was at LBB I tried a Nazca Fuego (20” unsuspended front wheel) and whilst this was great in many ways, on Edinburgh cobbles it did seek to shake out all my fillings! So having tried a few designs I opted for the Metabike, where the 28” wheels take the edge off the British roads without having the inherent inefficiency of mechanical suspension. It was and is great, but as I said it was also my downfall. This showed me just how fast and efficient a ‘bent could be.  It doesn’t have suspension or chain tube losses, it isn’t heavy and yet the frame is braced and stiff. It allows me average speeds, over the same route, some 2 mph faster than my standard touring bike. So I found I did not need to compromise efficiency to enjoy the laid back posture of ‘bent riding, from then on the days were numbered for the trike.

However, whilst the Metabike is truly fabulous for day rides and touring, and if you are a regular reader you’ll know I rode along the Pennines / Spine of the England in the summer, it is not ideal for commuting in stop / start commuter traffic.   So what to do if I want to keep my ‘bent muscles working between tours, have the pleasure of a laid back commute into work but not be peddling something I know is far harder (less efficient) that I know it could be? It was time to research a compromise machine. Something easier to balance in stop/start traffic, good over potholes and yet not as inefficient as the trike… I guess it should be no surprise that my choice was to be the recumbent which is the most popular in the UK. Others also must have been looking for a versatile machine, and perhaps it is what I should have started with too. That said, hindsight is always 20:20!

So three weeks ago I went for a long drive to test ride, then purchase and bring home a second hand HPV Streetmachine GTe.   The first thing it needed was a change of drive chain to lose the grip shifts and 8 speed rear mech. My thanks to the ever helpful Richard at ATR Cycles for his advice and speedy work upgrading me to bar end shifters, cable oilers (ready for the winter) and rear cassette. She is now a great ride. Not as efficient as the Metabike, but on the spectrum from suspended trike to High Racer I know I am far closer to the High Racer end of the range. And for me efficiency really matters, not just as a concept but because my commute home involves picking up my son in his trailer and then cycling up hill to get home.

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