In 1998 I walked from the Netherlands to Santiago de Compostela. A 2.500 km-journey that took me four months. In order to be able to make that trip, I sold my house and quit my job. The whole experience made an indelible impression on me and from that moment I felt the desire to make longer hikes. Pilgrim routes are ideal for that. On the one hand because of the character of these routes, with overnight accommodations; on the other hand because of the combination of culture and nature – which means that the routes are varied. In addition you always meet interesting people along the way – not only the people who are on the road, but also the people who offer shelter to pilgrims. But above all one gets disconnected from daily life in a pleasant way on these long journeys.
In terms of walking, I am not a Mediterranean person. It is too hot or too busy for my taste. I love the somewhat rougher regions of Great Britain and Scandinavia. I had already made a number of trips through Norway when I came across information about the pilgrim’s path from Oslo to Trondheim. My interest was aroused. When more information about the path turned out to be scarce, especially in English or Dutch, I decided to write a book. In 2014 about the route from Oslo, and later, in 2016, about the route from Sweden.
The difference between these two paths can be made by comparing them to Harrods and Marks & Spencer (or Bijenkorf and Hema, for Dutch people). The route from Oslo is like Harrods: Norway has luxury grandeur because of the impressive nature. But the climbing takes more effort and the country is very expensive. St. Olavsleden on the other hand is like Marks & Spencer: an easy accessible path that has less height differences. There is always something beautiful to see, and sometimes its beauty pleasantly surprises you. Plus: it is all very affordable.
I was particularly surprised by the hospitable welcome from the Swedes. The people are almost without exception nice. I was often offered spontaneous ‘fika’ when making a chat. Furthermore, I was very surprised by the variety of the landscape. My prejudice about boring kilometres of production forests turned out to be unfounded: the St. Olavsleden landscape is idyllic, with beautiful lakes, forests and spectacular waterfalls.
Some handy tips for future travellers: take a sleeping bag or sheets with you, even if you do not go camping. You can save money on renting linens. Tell the accommodations where you want to stay beforehand that you are on your way. Many hosts and hostesses also have regular jobs and are not always present. And lastly: when passing through a village with a supermarket, think carefully about your food supply. You will find enough shops on the way, but not so much that you can leave it to chance.