Climbing the Troll's Ladder
Any road trip that you take in Norway is likely to offer jaw-dropping scenery and spectacular vistas.
But one stretch of road that takes great views to a whole new level is the Trollstigen – The Troll's Ladder. This stretch of Route 63, between Andalsnes and Valldal, is a breathtaking drive (quite literally) that encompasses crashing waterfalls, steep, steep mountainsides and a gorgeous river valley.
The first choice to make is whether to go up or down the Troll's Ladder. We went up.
Having just driven the Atlantic Road, ending with a night in Molde, we were already familiar with the drama of driving in Norway.
From high roads to high ropes: Penny Bunting and her family experience some dizzying heights in the Valldal region of Norway
Our route from Molde to Valldal took us through beautiful landscapes of fjords surrounded by towering, snow-capped mountains. On this sunny, summer's day there was colour everywhere, with a blue sky overhead and a multitude of wildflowers flanking the roadsides.
We drove south on Route 64, with a ferry crossing across Langfjorden, and a pitstop beside scenic Romsdalsfjorden – where we spotted a pair of porpoises making their way through the clear, blue waters of the fjord.
As we headed up through Isterdalen, we caught glimpses of a river valley through the trees. There are several places to stop along this stretch of the road, with inviting walking tracks heading off across the river and into the surrounding mountains – and a gift shop with a quirky troll statue.
Isterdalen and trolls!
At the head of the valley, the road can be seen snaking up into the mountains – but it's not until you begin the ascent that you realise how dramatic this route really is.
A series of 11 hairpin bends switchback across the flanks of the mountain. Dropping into second gear we slowed right down, navigating each bend with care and hoping we wouldn't meet a large vehicle, such as a bus or a motorhome, travelling in the opposite direction.
At every turn the views became more and more impressive, with waterfalls on every side and the valley view opening up below us. And at every turn we gasped – both at the spectacular vistas, and at the steep, vertiginous drops falling away at the side of the road.
Arriving safely at the top we were pleased to see the Trollstigen Café and Visitor Centre, and walked on wobbly legs to rest and recover with a drink.
This wonderful building includes world-class architecture, with manmade water features that reflect and complement the natural cascades nearby.
Walkways and bridges leading from the café took us to a viewing platform: a large metal structure jutting precipitously out over the valley, which offers glorious views of the Trollstigen – but is not for the faint-hearted.
High ropes course
We were heading for more high places as we made our way further south to Valldal and to the Valldal Aktivitetspark, an exciting climbing park with over 1,150 meters of tree-and-post climbing courses, including a number of exhilarating zip-lines.
First of all we were given a thorough safety briefing. This involved being supervised through a short test course to check that we were using the equipment – including helmets, harnesses, pulleys and carabiners – correctly.
Then we climbed a rope ladder that took us to the start of the Klatremusa family course.
This was a great introduction to the climbing activities, including rope bridges, a horizontal climbing wall and a zip-line.
Feeling our confidence growing, we then tackled the Elvafaret course. This was a longer, more challenging route that took us higher into the trees. On one particularly tricky obstacle – a thin, tightrope-style wire – my knees turned to jelly, and I considered turning back.
But the supervisor had spotted my hesitation, and shouted words of encouragement from below, while our children – who seemed to take each new challenge in their stride – shouted words of encouragement from the far end of the obstacle.
The friendly supervisors at the Activity Park on on hand to keep you safe - but watch out for trolls!
This persuaded me to keep going. And I'm glad I did as, on this Elvafaret course, along with the balancing and climbing challenges, there were also five superb zip-lines – the last one a thrilling 125m soar across the Valldøla river.
Throughout the activity we felt safe, as the supervisors were always on hand to check we were using the equipment properly and not getting ourselves into difficulty.
The Valldal region is a fantastic destination for active families. As well as the climbing park, there are numerous other outdoor experiences – including the opportunity to get out on the water on some of Norway's most beautiful and unspoilt fjords.
The little-known fjords Tafjord and Norddalsfjord, where there are no cruise ships and few tourists, are the perfect place for a tranquil sea-kayaking adventure.
Activity company Valldal Naturopplevingar can organize kayak rental, as well as a range of guided kayaking tours – from a family-friendly three-hour paddle to a full day of exploration including a delicious lunch consisting of local delicacies. All tours start from the pretty fjordside village of Valldal.
Other summer experiences available include canyoning – pull on a wetsuit and enjoy the thrills of zip-lining, swimming and cliff jumping into the river – as well as rafting and climbing.
Trolls in Norway
Trolls are a key part of Norse mythology – with troll dolls, toys and ornaments found in souvenir shops across the country.
There are many and varied troll legends. But those that feature in most Norwegian fairytales and folklore tend to have particular characteristics.
Trolls are often ugly and hairy, with large noses, warty skin and big ears. They are typically dangerous – and also usually a little stupid – and can help or hinder humans. They live underground – often in wilderness areas such as mountains or forests – and it's believed that if they have contact with sunlight they'll be turned to stone.
Most people see trolls as huge, lumbering giants – but they can also be depicted as small, mischievous beings. Either big or small they are very strong – and are not to be trusted. In older legends, trolls were said to be metal or woodworkers – both Odin's spear and Thor's hammer are believed to have been made by trolls.
As well as being scared of sunlight, trolls particularly hate loud noises. As late as the 18th century, villagers would ring church bells in the belief that this would keep trolls away.
Where to stay
Valldal Fjordhotell is a stunning new hotel situated right alongside the shore of Norddalsfjord.
The guest rooms are gorgeous – decorated in shades of pale blue and grey with wooden floors and huge picture windows offering superb fjord and mountain views.
Each room has a little terrace with table and chairs – again with views – which, in fine weather, is the perfect spot to enjoy an evening glass of wine or morning coffee.
Shoreside paths lead directly from the hotel alongside Norddalsfjord, offering the chance to enjoy this beautiful unspoilt region. The hotel is ideally placed halfway between the Trollstigen and gorgeous Geirangerfjord – two world-famous sites that are must-sees on any Norway travel itinerary.
Green Adventures July 2017