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Travel

Setting sail for the fjords

On his first visit to Norway, Norman Wright is bowled over by a fjord cruise that combines breathtaking natural beauty with luxurious accommodation and dining

Narrow veins of water, bright against the dark rock faces, fell hundreds of feet before tumbling through a bright green band of meadows and plunging into the impassive depths of the fjord.

The falls moved seemingly endless supplies of white water from the melting snows high up. The mountain tops still had their patchwork of snow and bare rock so there was still plenty to melt, even though it was only a week away from midsummer.

Nordfjord itself was a mirror reflecting the mountains, the little strips of farmland and the cluster of wooden houses of the small town of Oldn as we headed slowly away from the berth.

Our cruise ship was a pretty large vessel with more than 2000 guests and 800 crew on board, but the scale of the landscape made it look tiny.

At first after leaving, the manoeuvring to turn created a wake that rippled to the water's edge. Within a few minutes her slow pace left just a gentle swell, creating a spectacular reflection.

It was my first experience of Norway and its rugged coast and deep inlets, and I was completely taken aback; every time that we rounded a curve or a tributary fjord was revealed, the view was more spectacular than the last one.

My wide persuaded me to take the seven night trip from Southampton. The had done a similar trip with relatives a couple of years before. It was relaxing because we had decided to spend most of the time on board without rushing to take tours every day.

The voyage across the North Sea took up a full day and night both outward and return journeys so there was only time to visit the nearer fjords, whereas a longer cruise can travel further north into the Arctic Circle and investigate more frozen scenery.

That may be for another trip but for now this spectacular voyage is more than enough.

First stop after the crossing in a Force Seven wind, which was smoothed out by the ship's stabiliser system, was the port of Stavenger, once boasting 70 sardine canneries and now the centre of the Norwegian has and oil industry. Industry has not spoiled this beautiful town and we berthed right in its heart, towering over old Stavenger and its 173 18th century wooden houses painted white and bisected by narrow cobbled streets with vintage lampposts.

It was once the working class district and many of the preserved houses are now craft workshops.

The town's shops, tiny cathedral and the old town were a few steps from the boa.

I sat on the quayside watching the boats coming and going while my wife wandered around the shops and market stalls. Various boat trips and hop-on-hop-off bus tour were available. Afst zodiac boat chugged past heading for open-water thrills. It was full of wet-suited men of a certain age- a grey streak.

It was at a snail's pace hat we left the harbour, however, and back into the North Sea heading further north, nosing into the Sognefjord in the early hours.

This is the longest fjord in Europe navigable to larger ships- 127 miles- and the deepest, at 4291 feet. By 5am we were turning into the Lustrafjord branch, and the scenery was well worth getting up early for. By breakfast time we were approaching the village of Skjolden. Hi-vis jacketed men were waiting to bring her alongside a jetty, some in a boat as the ship was much too long and they were needed to bring the cables ashore. This was one place where we did take a tour as we were keen to see the Jotedalsbreen Glacier. This is the biggest in Europe at 166 square miles. Sjolden also boasts other records, overlooked by the highest mountain in Norway- Galdhoppigen, at 8100 ft- with several of the highest waterfalls in the world.

Our coach too us first to the Glacier Visitor Centre- a bit crowded by now- where we got a long-distance view of the glacier as it ended its journey in a jagged tumble of ice blocks above a lake.

Then we got up a bit closer at a viewing area where the glacier shines a delicate light blue, emerging between two towering mountains. 

You can take a boat trip to get even closer or a walking tour top touching distance. It was difficult to get the scale of the ice cliff until you spotted some of the walkers clambering near it. They were mere black dots looking smaller than ants. Steaming back out at the end of the day was equally beautiful but it was the next day that really assailed our sense. On the journey into Nordfjord of some 60 miles the wind ruffled the water. 

On the way out, after a day moored at the village of Olden, the sun lit the snowy mountain tops and highlighted those waterfalls and the meadows. Nor breath of wind and our stately speed meant the water was a perfect mirror. Small farms and villages were clustered around the edges of the fjord. We were fascinated by the activity as farmers cut the meadows for silage and winter feed. Most of their livestock was grazing higher up. Roads clung to the coastline, with tunnels where the rock faces plunged straight into the water.

Our last day in Norway was at the country's second city, Bergen. The cruise terminal was once again at the heart of the city. We took a hop-on-hop-off bus and got a guided tour of the old town, the harbour and the brightly painted wooden quayside- Bryggen. The sail-away in the late afternoon was excellent too. Bergen is left via a channel dotted with islands and inlets with some beautiful homes looking out over sensational seascapes. Mainly modern architecture, most can only be accessible by boat.

If you haven't visited the fjords, I highly recommend this holiday. You get all the luxury, food and entertainment of a cruise without the hassle of air travel, plus unforgettable natural beauty.

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