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Photo: David Tett
Travel Trade

What drives three blokes to take themselves off on an adventurous wild-camping pilgrimage?

In the winter of 2009, Joly Braime from the UK was visiting the Nidarosdomen Cathedral in Trondheim, when he spotted an information board about the St Olav Ways. The idea of setting out on a pilgrimage in Norway percolated in his mind for another five years, until in summer 2014, a break in-between jobs provided the perfect opportunity. He had a full month to hike from Oslo to Trondheim, with his British friend Dave flying out to walk with him for the middle two weeks.

The rest of the time he’d planned to walk alone, but within the first few days he started bumping into a friendly American pilgrim from Michigan, also named Dave. After crossing paths enough times, they fell into step and ended up walking the rest of the way to Trondheim together. Joly talks about his journey with the two Daves and the wild stuff they experienced on their pilgrimage to Trondheim.


Photo: David Tett

What was it that fascinated you about going on a pilgrimage in Norway?

"The idea of walking all that way and just camping up when you’d had enough for the day seemed like such an adventure. And I was really keen to make the most of the wild camping because it’s illegal in most of England."

Is there a difference between ordinary hiking and a pilgrimage?

"There are a lot of nice things about hiking, but I think it does feel different when you’re hiking a route where people know what you’re doing. All the people who live along the way are familiar with the trail, so everyone knew we were pilgrims and were often welcoming or interested. The hospitality was really interesting. We often had people helping us out."

Photo: David Tett

"It was a really hot summer, and I remember one day I was slogging down the road in the baking hot sunshine and suddenly a lady came running out of her garden gate, waving a bottle of cold water for me. She ended up inviting me in to have a cup of coffee and a bit of lunch with her family. Those sorts of things happened from time to time."

Were there any interesting experiences that you felt you might not have had as an ordinary hiker?

"Actually the churches were an interesting experience along the way. None of us were particularly religious, but they were nice places to stop for a little bit of contemplation and a rest. When we got to a church that was open, we would go inside and sit there in silence for about ten or fifteen minutes, just to have a bit of a think."

"It was a sort of punctuation to the trip that wouldn’t exist on other adventures. They’re very spiritual and relaxing places and each one was so different from the last. You get wooden ones, stone ones, slate ones, some are very old, and some are very modern."

St Olav's pilgrim trail, Norway
St Olav's pilgrim trail, Norway.
Photo: Joly Braime

Why is it that people start asking big and important questions on a trip like this?

"Well, there’s a lot of time to think, of course, but perhaps it’s also because it’s a route that was devised in the first place for people to stop and contemplate along the way. You almost can’t avoid it."

"You’re walking a route that people have walked for hundreds of years before you, at important junctures in their lives, and that adds a sort of spiritual aspect to the trip. And the way the people treat you is important too. You’re so instantly recognizable as a pilgrim. In quite an old-fashioned way you felt looked-after."

Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
Photo: Sven-Erik Knoff

How was it to reach your goal?

"It was lovely and the timing was perfect. When we got into Trondheim, there was this big festival with a medieval market going on. It felt like walking into the Middle Ages. Everything had been quiet and peaceful for such a long time and suddenly there was all the commotion of the city."

"Trondheim is such a pretty place to walk into. And the cathedral is beautiful. A pilgrim priest spotted us almost as soon as we got there. He was straight up to us and said: ‘Are you pilgrims? You’ve arrived, congratulations!"

The right of access

Guidelines to roaming where you want

As long as you understand and follow a few basic rules and regulations, you are free to walk almost everywhere in the Norwegian countryside. Outdoor recreation is an important part of the national identity, and access to nature is considered a right established by law.

The so called right of access (“allemannsretten”) is a traditional right from ancient times. Since 1957, it has been part of the Outdoor Recreation Act. It ensures that everybody can experience nature, even on larger privately owned areas.

The main rules are easy: Be considerate and thoughtful. Make sure you pick up your rubbish and show respect for nature and people – in other words, leave the landscape as you would want to find it.

The right to roam applies to open country, sometimes also known as “unfenced land”, which is land that is not cultivated. In Norway, the term covers most shores, bogs, forests and mountains. Small islands of uncultivated land within cultivated land are not regarded as open country.

Leaving it as you found it

Take only pictures, keep only memories

Norway is a country of outstanding natural beauty, with dramatic waterfalls, crystal clear fjords, and majestic mountains and glaciers. Preserving this landscape, its communities, and the way of life is essential.

Norwegian philosophy is that conservation is everyone’s responsibility. Enjoying nature and the outdoors is considered a national pastime, and this is reflected in our attitude towards the preservation and our use of the wilderness.

Whether it’s hiking in the mountains or biking on an idyllic forest road, Norwegians try to leave as small a footprint as possible. Leave it as you would like to find it is the mantra, regardless of whether you are a guest in nature or in a small fishing village.

Quality of life is what it is all about, not only now, but for the time to come as well. It’s about recognizing that everybody else are just as important as ourselves, and taking steps to implement that thought in all aspects of life. It’s neither easy nor quickly done. But it is definitely worth it.

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