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Written by TimSearle on 11 Jan, 2006
For a sum so ridiculously cheap that I made a donation to an environmental charity (www.climatecare.org) to assuage my guilt, I flew to Torp airport 100km southwest from Oslo. Previously I’d visited the north and central areas of Norway--this offered a brief view of the…Read More
For a sum so ridiculously cheap that I made a donation to an environmental charity (www.climatecare.org) to assuage my guilt, I flew to Torp airport 100km southwest from Oslo. Previously I’d visited the north and central areas of Norway--this offered a brief view of the south coast, more industrial and populous, but hardly on a scale with the UK. The first stop was Tonsberg, claimant to the title of Norway’s Oldest Town and now a pleasantly prosperous place with good transport links (okay, that’s most of Norway). It was one of Norway’s Hanseatic League towns and developed into the 19th century as a significant shipyard and whaling town. Staying at the YHA proved a good choice, a 5-minute walk from the bus stop and easy to find, being in the shadow of the town’s main hill. The very helpful manager advised me that he thought I might have been charged double by their website (not something to take lightly when dealing with Norwegian Kroner) before bidding me good night. Dreams of destitution proved unfounded, I’m pleased to report. Indeed, being off-season, I had a room to myself for the price of one dorm bed, and that included breakfast.
I passed the next few days exploring the town, coast, and nearby islands. A particular favourite, and one of those wonderful discoveries yet to grace the pages of most guidebooks, was the island of Veirland. Reached by a connecting bus and foot ferry (of course, they connected) from Tonsberg, it is the sort of place to have you stamping your feet in frustration that you weren’t born here or don’t have a close relative poised to pass away and leave you one of its charming residences. For a start, it has no roads or traffic (oh joy, oh JOY), just a small network of well-kept travel tracks ideal for walking or cycling. These wind around gentle hills and through quiet meadows, fields, and forests, usually to end at an idyllic harbour somewhere on the 17km coastline. Footpaths take you on round the rocks and beaches, assuming you don’t just sit at the first one, breathing quiet exclamations of contentment. The "facilities" are based around the central junction, just a shop, bar, post office, community centre, and church. There’s even a primary school for the 10 to 15 local children of age. Many of the pretty wooden clapboard houses are holiday homes, but there is resident population. I wanted to stay, to live, to claim asylum there and then.
Instead, I went to the end of the world, or at least the village of Verden Ende (geddit?) at the southern tip of an adjacent island--a triumph of presentation over reality if ever there was. The connecting ferries and busses (and of course they connected) delivered me to this headland in time for a gorgeous sunset and then back to Tonsberg for dinner. I passed another day exploring the town and vicinity; along the waterfront, new apartments, bars, and hotels were springing up, and a stylish bridge connected them to the town. On the hill above the town sits a tower and remains of the old castle. From this vantage point, commanding views for miles across the fields, rivers, and marshes, you can imagine its strategic importance in less peaceful ages. In more recent times, I was intrigued to discover some of the ways in which the people of Tonsberg have contributed to the well-being of mankind. Svend Foyn shot to distinction, and no small amount of wealth, by inventing the whale grenade harpoon, commemorated in a statue and replica of the said item on the edge of town; meanwhile, Arne Gravdahl covered himself in glory by designing the tampon (which, strangely, isn’t).