Norway // Bergen and the western fjords //

Nordfjord and the Jostedalsbreen glacier

The inner recesses of the Nordfjord (wnordfjord.no), the next great fjord system to the north of the Sognefjord, are readily explored along Highway 60, which weaves a pleasant, albeit tortuous, course through a string of little towns. Among them, Loen is easily the best base for further explorations, though humdrum Stryn is larger and more important. Stryn is also where Highway 15 begins its long journey west along the length of the Nordfjord, with the road dipping and diving along the northern shore in between deep-green reflective waters and bulging peaks. It’s a pleasant enough journey, but the Nordfjord doesn’t have the severe allure of its more famous neighbours, at least in part because its roadside hamlets lack much appeal – end-of-the-fjord Måløy is unappetizing, though you can loop south to the much more agreeable coastal town of Florø. That said – and all in all – you’re much better off sticking to Highway 60.

High up in the mountains, dominating the whole of the inner Nordfjord, lurks the Jostedalsbreen glacier, a five-hundred-kilometre-square ice plateau that creaks, grumbles and moans out towards the Sognefjord, the Nordfjord and the Jotunheimen mountains. The glacier stretches northeast in a lumpy mass from Highway 5, its myriad arms – or “nodules” – nudging down into the nearby valleys, the clay particles of its meltwater giving the local rivers and lakes their distinctive light-green colouring. Catching sight of the ice nestling between peaks and ridges can be unnerving – the overwhelming feeling being that somehow it shouldn’t really be there. As the poet Norman Nicholson had it:

A malevolent, rock-crystal

Precipitate of lava,

Corroded with acid,

Inch by inch erupting

From volcanoes of cold.

For centuries, the glacier presented an impenetrable east–west barrier, crossed only at certain points by determined farmers and adventurers. It’s no less daunting today, but access is much freer, a corollary of the creation of the Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalpark in 1991. Since then, roads have been driven deep into the glacier’s flanks, the comings (but mostly goings) of the ice have been closely monitored and there has been a proliferation of officially licensed guided glacier walks (breturar) on its various arms (see Hikes from Turtagrø into the Skagastølsdal valley). If that sounds too energetic and all you’re after is a close look at the glacier, then this is possible at several places, with the easiest approach being the stroll to the Bøyabreen on the south side of the glacier near Mundal. On the west side of the glacier, narrow side roads lead off Highway 60 to two more vantage points, the Briksdalsbreen, the most visited of the glacier’s nodules, and the Kjenndalsbreen, which is much less crowded, far prettier and an easy twenty-minute walk from the end of the road–a delightful way to spend a morning or afternoon. By contrast, the Nigardsbreen, on the east side of the glacier, requires more commitment, but the scenery is wilder and, to many tastes, more beautiful.