Photo by Jacqueline Kehoe
Photo by Jacqueline Kehoe
The symbol on the red-and-white markers along the St. Olav Ways hints at the ancient trail’s history and pays homage to its namesake.
Unlike the cramped, crowded Camino and other famous trails, the St. Olav Ways is so unknown that it’s almost a secret.
Four hundred and eight hikers registered to trek the St. Olav Ways all the way from Oslo to Trondheim in 2017. That’s fewer than the 500 who huff and puff on Peru’s Inca Trail each day. More certainly sampled this 1,000-year-old pilgrimage unofficially, but even if you look at registrants who hiked just the last 100 kilometers (62 miles) to Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral—the shortest distance that still warrants the certificate of completion, the prized Olav Letter—that number climbs to a mere 1,040. And Americans? Barely a blip on the radar.
For those uninterested in hiking among crowds to Machu Picchu, following other groups up the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails, or sharing a path along Japan’s popular Kumano Kodo, Norway’s “secret” pilgrimage route is a phenomenal alternative. Its appeal is not in bragging rights or as a pseudo-casual drop at a party, but in its serenity. It’s not about cheap wine and fellow backpackers in crowded hostels, but rather homemade soups in creaky farmhouses, silent landscapes with hills that flow to their ends, and time spent with yourself. This is a pilgrimage for the introvert.Along the Route
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As you follow the trail’s red-and-white markers, you’ll be walking a path integral to the Norwegian identity: In 1030, when King Olav II was killed at the Battle of Stiklestad, his body was carried to Trondheim along the last 100 kilometers of the Gudbrandsdalen. Sainthood (and the rest of the routes) would enter the equation when his exhumed body emerged from the dirt a year later “smelling of roses.” Christians then started trekking the St. Olav Ways, up until the Reformation, to pay their homage to the Eternal King.
643 km (from Nidaros)—St. Hallvard Cathedral Ruins and Memorial Park
The site of Oslo’s first cathedral, St. Hallvard, marks the start of the Gudbrandsdalen. The building was built in the 1100s, and today only the foundation remains. Follow the tram tracks (and the trail markers) toward the suburb of Kampen all the way to Aker church; there you’ll find the Pilegrimssenter Oslo—the Pilgrim Center—where you’ll register for the trek and receive your passport.
488 km—The Cathedral Ruins of Hamar
The 900-year-old Cathedral Ruins of Hamar are now protected—and their acoustics amplified—underneath a triangular glass dome. When you enter, take your steps mindfully; once upon a time, the cathedral didn’t allow the general public to enter the sacred space.
You can register your trek at several offices depending on your starting point—don’t be tempted to skip this part. The passport allows you to collect stamps and receive discounts at some tourist spots and accommodations, in addition to being the proof that you’ve hiked the requisite distance to receive the Olav Letter. Both the passport and the letter make fantastic souvenirs, and if you feel like busting them out at that party or posting them on Instagram, go ahead. You earned it.
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