I recently spent a weekend in Oslo, the capital of Norway, where some good friends of ours have settled. The whole experience was utterly relaxing, not least because we spent a big chunk of the Saturday, my one full day in Oslo, walking through the Nordmarka forest.
Nordmarka is the name of the deep pine forest to the north of Oslo. I haven’t yet encountered a European capital city with such a vast wild space on its doorstep: Nordmarka is only 20 minutes away from the centre by Metro, but it’s thousands of kilometres wide, and full of wildlife. Elks and moose can be spotted in its darker depths, and the sides of its gravel pathway are populated with rabbits, shrews and the occasional termite mound (we spotted this one, which was at least four feet tall).
To reach Nordmarka we took the scenic route on the train, climbing uphill on the no. 1 line of the T-bane Metro to Frognerseteren, through pretty suburbs populated by traditional Scandinavian houses. These were mostly a deep red, with the occasional bright yellow, blue or green home thrown in to spice things up a little.
Frognerseteren, like all Metro stops in the forest area, had a long rack where people could prop their skis while waiting for the train. In winter the forest is deep in snow, so skis are the best way to get around. But when I visited, in Spring, there were only small ribbons of snow left, with ice on the lakes to give me a sense of what the forest might be like in the snow-bitten winter months.
Our route took us from Fronerseteren to Sognsvann, past the Holmenkollen ski jump, which we could see in the distance, and the Tryvan Vinterpark, closed for business at this time of year. Apparently in Winter it’s bustling with Norwegians who want to practice some downhill skiing rather than the more traditional Nordic version, which is used to pass quickly along level ground.
You can get a map of Nordmarka from the Oslo Visitor Centre, and the route is well-signposted (although we did end up wandering round in circles for a couple of kilometres, trying to find an old church that my friends were keen to see).
As well as living creatures, there are plenty of other interesting sights to spot en route, like colossal, brightly coloured funghi; lichen, blueberry plants (you can pick thousands in the summer), and heaps of wood, harvested to keep the trees healthy and used as fuel. Nordmarka is peppered with many basic cabin huts – which don’t all have electricity, hence the need for fuel – where skiiers and walkers can stay overnight on a longer trek. You can find out more about this at DNT Oslo, the Norwegian Trekking Association.
There are lakes large and small around every corner. The biggest we passed was Sognsvann, which is busy with swimmers in summer, and cross-country skiiers in winter. My friends told me that skiing across a frozen lake is completely different to travelling on snow; you skid around a lot more (unsurprisingly), and there’s not much for your poles to grip onto. I quite fancy taking some lessons when I visit our friends in the winter…apparently there’s quite an art to it, which young Norwegians learn from when they’re old enough to walk.
On the smaller lakes, there were people fishing, or just relaxing. Nordmarka seems to attract all ages. We passed a group of teenagers hanging out by one lake; then round the next corner we passed an elderly couple, walking slowly along. They were very old, and looked as though they might even be in their nineties. Oslo’s healthy living is contagious, and the Norwegian introduction to the great outdoors starts young: we passed a lot of parents, out with tiny babies bundled up inside prams, with huge off-road wheels.
If you’re planning a walk through Nordmarka it’s good to have a stop-off point planned, to refuel and have a sit down. Ours was Ullevalseter, a traditional wooden cabin cafe/restaurant, with a roaring wood fire in the winter.
Like all the cabins, its wooden interior is dark compared with the bright Norwegian sunlight outside. I had to blink a few times before I could see my way around.
There’s a basic, traditional menu; some sort of soup is usually available, as well as warm waffles smothered with jam or the brown, caramelised cheese loved by all Norwegians; a wide range of cakes ranging from apple tarts to sticky, chocolatey meringue-bombs; and ‘polse med lompe’, the hot dog sausage wrapped in thin pancake that you see everywhere in Oslo, from corner shops to supermarkets.
Animal lovers should look away now:
Ullevalseter was quiet when we visited, as there was a 10k run in Oslo’s centre, which drew a lot of the crowds. But I was told it’s very busy most of the time, both in summer with hikers taking a break, and in winter with skiiers warming up over a hot chocolate.
The last part of our walk, towards Sognsvann, was busier, with people out for a weekend trek or jog around the lake. You only really encounter the proper wilderness by walking several kilometres into the depths of the forest. Our walk was a tiring 20 km long, and we did a circuit close to the edge of the forest, passing several people along the route. Even so, with all the trees, lakes, and bracing Spring air, I felt as though I’d had a large dose of pure Norwegian outdoorsy vim and vigour.
How to get to the Nordmarka Forest
You can easily reach the Nordmarka forest from Oslo’s centre. The T-bane Metro runs to Holmenkollen, Frognerseteren, Sørkedalen, and Sognsvann, all of which are good starting points. We set out at Frognersetern and walked a slightly roundabout route to Sognsvann; more direct paths are available, if you don’t want to walk as far as we did. For children, the Sognsvann starting point seemed popular, as the lake was close to the Metro stop.
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Have you gone for a woodland walk recently? Or visited Oslo’s Nordmarka?