The Scandinavian Adventure: Leikanger – Urnes – Leikanger

The Scandinavian Adventure: Leikanger – Urnes – Leikanger

Monday, June 23, 2014

We woke up to beautiful weather, blue sky with some clouds and a cyclist friendly temperature of around 15˚C. So the decision if we should stay another day and explore the area, now that we were two days ahead of schedule, or if we should take the rather early ferry to Bergen was an easy one. Of course we would stay and take a nice bike ride. 
But before that we would have to make sure that we actually could keep our cabin for another night, which proved a little more difficult than one would have expected. The campground office hadn’t been opened yet and since I hadn’t taken my phone with me we couldn’t give the owners a call or call the office during our ride…
The solution was simple though: Solo never leaves without a paper notebook and a pen, so I borrowed both and wrote a note for the campground owners to „book“ the cabin for our second night, just keeping my fingers crossed they didn’t receive too many pre-bookings, but since it is still early in the season I had hope it would work out.

Last night on our search for dinner we had spotted a little cafe, which — if it was open in the morning — we wanted to try out for breakfast. So that would be our first stop on the ride after leaving the campground.
Since we would return to the very same campground in the evening we were able to leave all our luggage behind and instead of the usual two pannier bags each carry only one for all that we would need during the ride and to transport the later to be purchased groceries for dinner.

Soon enough we found ourselves back on our bikes to make the way along the Sognefjorden toward Solvorn where we had to take the ferry across the Lustrafjorden, a sidearm of the Sognefjorden, to get to Urnes, or Ornes as it is sometimes spelled.
We were able to follow the Fylkesveien 55 for most of the route, except for a few tunnels which we weren’t allowed to pass through by bike. But those tunnels had nice routes around them which didn’t add too many more kilometers to our ride, and except for the route around a tunnel between Sogndal and Lake Hafslovatnet the roads were paved. Yet the later bypass’s road conditions were still way better than what we had encountered during the first three rides on gravel roads and spoiled us with a nice view over the Hellvetesfall, a fast running river which must be rich of salmon as we would see weirs build into it used for catching salmon.

After we reached Solvorn, we had to wait a little bit for the ferry MF Urnes to take us across the Lustrafjorden to Urnes. We could have cycled around the Lustrafjorden to reach the same target too, but that would have meant adding 80 km in one direction to the bike ride which already had a little more than 90 in total.
I had explored the area in previous bike adventures, so I knew that not only the scenery of the ride would be enjoyable as well as the roads conditions would be good, but additionally we were able to visit the oldest stave church in Norway, which has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 1979: Urnes Stavkirke.
Stave churches have been built in the period between 1130 and 1350, when the black death put their construction to an end. Originally at least 1000 stave churches existed, not only in Norway but also in other parts of Europe, but only 28 of them remain until this day.

Urnes Stave Church

The building that stands here today is actually the fourth church in this place built in the 1130th and the oldest one that still exists in Norway.
Traces of the first one, most likely being built around 950, have been found during an archeological excavation in 1956-57.
Considering that it was King Olav The Holy who first adopted a Christian legislation in 1023 at the Mosterthing — after he had been introduced into Christianity while spending time in Rouen, France with his ally Duke Richard II of Normandy and being baptized by the Duke’s brother Archbishop Robert of Rouen in 1014 — it might sound strange that this first church should have been a Christian church being built some 60 years prior to Norway becoming a Christian country, but the first Christian laws in this area had been implemented by the Ting in Dragseid in Nordfjord in 997. Graves have been found in the churchyard, which are older than the oldest church itself, but must be Christian graves as they were laid in east-west direction, which means that the later built churches must have been Christian churches as well. Also there are many stone crosses to be found from the 800 in this area. So all in all even the first church built around 950 must have been a Christian church.

The outstanding characteristic of these stave churches is their craftsmanship. Even though by 1066 the Viking Age had found its end, the techniques and skills had been preserved for another 70 years. The wooden church building is constructed without a single nail, similar to how Viking ships had been constructed. The carvings on the outside of the northern wall remind of carvings on viking boats as well.

Would the trick with the note work out?

Too soon it was time to start the return journey to our campground. We took the same route that we had taken on the way to Urnes. 
Since we had been almost only covering paved roads today we could clearly see the difference in the kilometers and time that we had manage to put behind us.
While the 43 kilometers two days earlier over 985 meters in elevation had taken us 3 hours of riding our bikes the 91 km covering an elevation of 823 meters only took 4:48 hours…

Returning to the campground we still had to find out if our little note, that we put at the door in the morning, had been found and if we would be allowed to stay for another night.
Thankfully that worked out just fine. The cabin was available for another night, so we didn’t have to spend more time on finding us a new place to stay for the night.

If you liked this post, you might also like the other stories from my Scandinavian Adventure:

You can find more photos from Norway on my website.

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