Go East or West?
When leaving Oslo, should you choose to walk the western way or the eastern way out of Oslo? At the Pilgrim Centre of Oslo we get this question weekly!
The summer 2015 there was established a Forum on the internet for the St.OlavWays (press here to go to the Forum). The question was raised at the Forum, this was our answer:
The difference is not that much related to leaving urban/suburban areas, whether you choose the eastern or the western path you'll have to use the first day walking through the city and suburbs: If you start walking at 10.00 a.m. you'll reach the forest at about 4.00 p.m. following the western (you'll reach Haslum Church) path, and about 3.00 p.m. following the eastern (you'll reach the Gjelleråsen area).
The answer I usually give to this question is related to a) history and b) scenery:
- History: The most important medieval way for travellers going from Oslo to Trondheim over Hamar, would be the eastern way. So, if you want to walk in the footsteps of where most pilgrims used to walk in medieval times, choose the eastern way. Following this way also lets you visit Skedsmo Church, an old medieval church dedicated to StOlav, experiencing Raknehaugen, the largest free-standing prehistoric monument in Norway and one of the largest barrows in Northern Europe (!), later on visit the Eidsvoll 1814, the place where the Norwegian constitution was written in 1814, a place that is vital in understanding modern present day Norway. From Eidsvoll you can choose either going into the forest for 3-4 days walking in the direction of Hamar, or you can choose to take the paddle steamer Skibladner (don't forget to check the travel schedule!) from Eidsvoll to Hamar. From a historical point of view: In medieval times pilgrims and travellers would have taken ship from Eidsvoll to Hamar in summer time, and would have walked or used horse travelling on the ice in winter time!
- Scenery: Although there are also historical reasons to choose the western route, I personally point to the scenery and cultural landscape when pointing to the western route. When following this route you experience the Krokkleiva (close to Sundvollen), a fantastic view and downhill walk, that came to be almost an expression of Norway in romantic art in the second part of the 19th century - being wild and uncontrolled, showing the beauty of Norway. After Sundvollen you reach Bønsnes where St.Olav according to tradition lived as a child and where you today find a medieval church. The cultural landscape here is nothing short of being marvellous, and so it continues as you pass Norderhov Church, yet another beautiful medieval church, and you reach the scenic climax as you reach Hadeland and Gran - what is often called "The Toscany of Norway" with rich cultural landscape and several medieval churches. And when you reach Kapp or Gjøvik you can take the paddle steamer Skibladner (again: don't forget to check the travel schedule!) to Hamar. - If you arrive here out of season for Skibladner but want to go to see Hamar (the only in-land city in Norway in medieval times, today a beautiful glass construction is covering the ruins of the famous Hamar Cathedral making the site into a "Glass Cathedral") and continue from there to Lillehammer, which I would recommend: take a buss from Gjøvik to Hamar. Or: continue walking from Kapp or Gjøvik on the western side of Mjøsa to Lillehammer.
So, as you see: You really can't go wrong! Both ways are beautiful and full of history, but I'd like to ad: From different perspectives - if walking in the footsteps of where most pilgrims walked in medieval times, choose the eastern route, if experiencing the marvellous scenery is more important then choose the western! - And of course: What today is the western route does also consist of historical ways that was used by pilgrims in medieval times living in those areas setting out to walk to Nidaros/Trondheim!