Click on any thumbnail image in this gallery to display the corresponding full size image. The images are access protected through a cgi script to prevent hotlinking. If you encounter problems while trying to view the full size images, please read the access advice page.
Got up at 7.10 local time (6.10 back in the UK) for breakfast at 8.00. Open buffet again, and almost as lavish as last night. Cereals, fruit, breads, meats, cheeses, croissants, toast, eggs every which way, grilled bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, tea, coffee, fruit juices... I was going to have to watch my waistline here.
Scene from my hotel room
The weather was fair, with a slightly patchy cloudbase at around 2000ft. It was pleasantly warm. I went for a short walk after breakfast during which the cloud lifted and the temperature climbed. It looked as though a second glorious day was in prospect.
The Fleischers Hotel
Met Geoff and Zay, the couple from Solihull, and we boarded the coach on the hotel forecourt for the next leg of our journey. The coach left at 11.10 and headed north towards Vinje. The road passed Lonavatn and headed into Perthshire-type scenery, all wooded gorges, tree-covered crags, streams everywhere, waterfalls cascading down vertical faces.
Stronddeval, and Vinje
At Vinje we turned right and headed into even more spectacular mountain country, passing the Derwentwater-sized Opjheimsvatn (vatn = lake) on the right. At 12 noon the coach arrived at the Stalheim hotel, where we were to stop for lunch.
Stalheim hotel and gorge
Spectacular scenery at Stalheim
Stalheim enjoyed a breathtaking setting, perched almost at the watershed between Norway's Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane regions, looking down a steep descent into Naeroydale to the northwest. The Skjerpisnuten mountain towered over the far end of the gorge, at 1480m rather higher than Ben Nevis. The sun was shining strongly, the colours were intense, it was hot. Took lunch fairly early, which was a good thing as the place began to fill up with American tourists when another coach arrived. I'm almost ashamed to say that the reindeer steaklets were delicious. An elderly lady played some rather ponderous classical music on a piano in the corner of the dining room, but I didn't waste time indoors with all that scenery to drink in. Stalheim was incredible. I didn't want to leave.
Overlooking Stalheim gorge from the hotel
The coach was a bit late away, at about 2pm. and we soon found ourselves dropping down the steep gradients into Naeroydale. The road ploughed through a superbly engineered tunnel, carved right through the mountainside and - unnervingly - completely unlined, with walls of bare rock. The tunnel was about a mile long and we emerged into the foot of the dale at the far end - all streams, green pastures and waterfalls. The road turned to the left to avoid Skjerpisnuten and we soon arrived at the end of the road at Gudvangen.
Naeroydal and Gudvangen
Gudvangen sits at the head of Naeroyfjord, an 18km long offshoot of the mighty Songnefjord. Sognefjord is big - laying pretty nearly east-west, it stretches for some 180km inland from the coast and almost cuts the Westfjord region in two. Its width is fairly constant, at around 3km, and of course it's criss-crossed with ferry services. Sognefjord has a good number of offshoots but the longer and more tortuous ones are here towards the eastern end.
We boarded a car ferry for the journey down Naeroyfjord. It was truly spectacular. The fjord twists and turns a little and is very narrow - only around 500m wide. Mountains of 4000ft and more crowded each side of the channel, sending their walls plunging sheer into the sea. I looked at some of the spot heights on the map - the 1398m summit of Bakkanosa stood only a kilometer from the centre of the fjord to the left, while Vindegga, at a mindblowing 1655m (well over 5000ft) wasn't much further to the right. Scotland has nothing to compare to this. Here and there tiny settlements such as Styvi and Drydal clung to the banks of the fjord on the few patches of level ground, entirely unserved by road. The sun was hot, the sky was almost cloudless and the colours were intense. Some of the surrounding mountains seemed to glow with a fierce, opalescent brightness, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that ample quantities of quartzite and sandstone were involved. But for the increased vertical scale this could have been Loch Torridon.
Naeroyfjord opened out into Aurlandsfjord, running north and around 11km long. Some unseen hand turned the scenery up a notch. The ferry slid between sheer, silent walls of rock, and waterfalls dropped for three thousand feet sheer into the fjord. I was captivated.
Aurlandsfjord opened out, in turn, into Sognefjord itself and now we were to experience something new. At this major junction of fjords there was of course a choice of routes - and that choice was effected by a meeting of ferries in mid-fjord. A second vehicle ferry tied up to the starboard side while a sleek hydrofoil pulled up to port, and there followed a mass movement of people and vehicles between the three vessels.
Leaving Aurlandsfjord; Changing ferries; Sognefjord
We transferred to the hydrofoil. At 4pm the docked ferries detached and went their seperate ways. We headed northwest along a short Sognefjord dogleg to Leikanger, then proceeded westwards, for another 12km, to Balestrand. Here, Sognefjord kinked to the south, the offshoot of Fjaerlandsfjord headed off into the Jostedal mountains to the northeast, and the tiny Esefjord formed a short inlet to the west. The village of Balholm, dominated by the Kviknes hotel, sat at the junction of the Sognefjord and Esefjord and was our destination for the day.
Leikanger; approaching Balholm
We checked in at about 5pm. The Kviknes hotel was something of a Jekyll and Hyde place, the lovely old original building having been dwarfed by a new, concrete blocky west wing that stuck out like a sore thumb. Probably the main advantage of staying at Kviknes is that it's the one place you can't see the hotel from, and since I had a room on the sixth floor facing eastwards down Sognefjord I wasn't complaining. The view also encompassed Fjaerlandsfjord to the northeast and was outstanding.
View from my window at Kviknes hotel
At just after 6pm I took look around the village. There wasn't much of it. Just about everything except the hotel's new concrete wing seemed to be built of wood - I had seen no brickwork at all in Norway, but more curiously had spotted nothing built of stone either. There was a fascinating church, built pretty much like an upturned boat - it turned out to be called the English Church, and had a visitors' book - which, I noticed, had been signed earlier in the day by someone from Clifton, just two miles from my home. Small world.
Dinner was magnificent - open buffet again. Was shown to my table by a stunning young blonde called Suzy and had a meat dish with all the trimmings followed by the best trifle I'd ever tasted. Norway was consistently getting top marks from me - its scenery was mind-blowing, its weather was magnificent, and its hotel food was first class. It came at a price, of course.
I went for a long walk after dinner. It was 9.30 when I got back but the sun was still up, of course. Although the village itself was small it's "suburbs" were pretty extensive, extending for some 5km along the shores of Sognefjord. I went out along a high track, and back along the road. Traffic was almost nonexistent. I was amazed by how many signs I'd seen in English, including "please shut the gate" a long way from anywhere on the edge of open country. The area around Balestrand had a great many similarities with the Scottish Highlands - the landforms were the same, the quality of light was the same, the pattern of pastures and open country, stony tracks and rude fences, peaty earthworks and gurgling streams, were all so evocative of the glens and bens of home. Why didn't these houses do B&B?
Balestrand and Sognefjord in the late evening