THE ST. OLAF'S WAY PILGRIMAGE is the best known pilgrimage in Norway. The Pilgrim's Route, (Pilegrimsleden) also known as St. Olav's Way or the Old Kings' Road, was a pilgrimage route to the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, the site of the tomb of St. Olav. The main route is approximately 640 kilometres (400 mi) long. It starts in the old part of Oslo and heads north along the lake Mjøsa, up the Gudbrandsdal valley, over the Dovrefjell mountains, and down the Oppdal and Gauldalen valleys to end at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
ALISON RAJU has written a Cicerone guidebook ‘The Pilgrim Road to Nidaros’, a useful illustrated booklet, with a history, detailed maps and route directions.
THE ST. OLAF'S WAY ROUTE is 645 km long and for those contemplating this trail for their walking holiday in Norway, a certain amount of planning is required. Terrain: Undulating in parts, sometimes flat but often quite strenuous, with a lot of ascents and descents. You will be walking through woods, agricultural land and open moorland. Some walking on quiet minor roads, but much of it on old tracks and paths.
HISTORY: People walked the 645km medieval pilgrim road (pilegrimsleden in Norwegian) from Oslo to Nidaros (the old name for Trondheim) cathedral for over 500 years to visit the place where St. Olav, king, responsible for much of the conversion of Norway to Christianity, was buried. His shrine was the focus of many miracles and also was the fourth most important pilgrim route in Europe (after Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela). From the 10th century until the Reformation, it attracted pilgrims in their thousands, not only from Norway and the rest of Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland, but from Russia, the Baltic countries, Germany and Britain as well.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE WALK: The Way of St. Olaf Route: Starting from Oslo, the 645 km trail wends its way northwards and ends at Trondheim, the capital of the region known as Trondelag. The route crosses high wild moorland, attractive, wide river valleys and ancient woodlands. It passes through historic towns and remote hamlets. In some ways the route is reminiscent of Scotland's marvelous terrain.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS: Several historic churches and interesting buildings, as well as places connected with the pilgrimage's history. Open-air museums in different places along the way give an idea life of in medieval Norway while the route itself provides an insight into life in this country away from the tourist resorts.
WALKING ROUTE PLANNER: The number of days required depends on how fit and how quickly or leisurely you want your walking holiday to be. Work out the average number of kilometres you are prepared to do in a day, taking into account the landscape and the town or village in which you will end your day. It's also nice to plan on arriving a little earlier in a village if there are interesting attractions you may like to visit, such as in Dovre or Hamar. We did parts of the walk in 4 days, however it usually takes around 30 - 32 days to walk the whole way.
LUGGAGE TRANSFER: This service is available and can be organized through a number of tour operators or contact the various Pilgrims' Centres mentioned below.
PILGRIM CENTRES: Five of these were set up along the route in 2010, in Oslo, Granavollen, Hamar, Hunsdorp and Dovrefjell, in addition to the existing Pilegrimsenter in Trondheim. These are a state-run initiative designed to promote the pilgrimage and provide information about it.
YOUR ST. OLAF'S WAY ACCOMMODATION: No shortage of places to stay for most of the route, but much of it is expensive and there is hardly any little pilgrim-type accommodation as yet. A few youth hostels, several campsites; pilgrims on a budget would be well advised to take a tent as camping is also possible anywhere outside a town and more than 150m from a house.
FOOD: Mostly good quality traditional Norwegian food is served up at guesthouses and village inns and there are wide choices in their menu. Pilgrims do develop good appetites after a day on the trail!
WHEN TO GO: Mid-June to early September - (before and after that there is will be too much snow to be able to continue).
WALKING GEAR: Good walking boots and socks are critical. Your shoes should have been worn in. Also important is what rain gear to take. Make sure it’s made from a breathable material.
The following is an outline of the 10-day walk itinerary that we chose. We decided on this itinerary because of the reasonable distances and the available accommodation.