In many ways our time in Vatnahalsen was probably not the usual experience of travellers coming to see the Flam Railway. Following numerous emails and phone calls with the hotel reservation agent, by the time we arrived, we were old friends. Co-incidentally, the agent was actually staying at the hotel on the same night as us, celebrating her birthday with a large group of friends and planning a long mountain bike-ride from Vatnahalsen to Flam for the Sunday! Our little group got pride of place at the dinner that night and even got invited to the after-party.
After our long day, we wisely avoided the party that night and headed to bed. Breakfast was an interesting affair with lots of the guests a little hungover, working themselves up for a long day of activities.
The Flam Line (Flamsbana) is a 20.2 kilometre railway line between Myrdal and Flam that runs through the valley of Flamsdalen and is currently the third most-visited tourist attraction in Norway. It has 20 tunnels, one bridge and 10 stations. It’s maximum gradient is 5.5% and is the steepest standard-gauge railway line in Europe. It was constructed in 1924.
The most dramatic stop was our first stop at Kjosfossen Waterfall which has a freefall of 93 meters. Most passengers got out for the photos of the waterfall and surrounding scenery. Just to the side of the waterfall opposite the station there was the ruin of a building built completely of local rock and covered in moss. Not long after we stopped, music started to play and the sharp-eyed among us noticed a blonde-haired Nymph emerge from behind the ruin and began an alluring dance, presumably to attract the men on board to join her in her forest home. Not being up with my Norwegian folklore, I didn’t know that this was Huldra, a forest spirit, that was known even in Sami folklore. She is a beautiful creature with a few odd inhuman features such as an animal’s tail. We noticed that she could also disappear at will (behind the ruin) and suddenly appear further away on the side of a hill. Magic performance and a great start to the train ride.
Travelling down from Myrdal to Flam can be done in a number of ways. By train is the obvious method but bike riding down the hill seemed to be another preferred method which our birthday party girls from back at Vatnahalsen were doing today. Some enthusiastic hikers even choose to walk down to Flam which takes about 5 hours. Not far on from our first waterfall stop we passed another glorious waterfall but also noticed that it was accompanied down the mountain by a fully paved bike path and sturdy bridges across the waterways. If we were to return to Vatnahalsen on a future trip, the bike ride down to Flam would be front and centre of our plans.
There is not a lot of information out there about some of the beautiful villages that the Flam train passes on its way down the valley. The above village is called Blomheller and is a little over half way to Flam. I can only presume that the concrete path running through the village is part of the bike trail down the mountain.
The water that falls down the Kjosfossen Waterfall becomes in this valley the Flamselvi River. Apart from when the Flam train is in the tunnels, it is a close companion of the train travelling down the valley and provides much of the spectacular scenery along the way. Not far along from the village of Blomheller, the river enters rugged rocky territory and pours through a cave in the mountainside and then rushes along deep stone channels…the river almost becomes a low angle waterfall for a while until it reaches the village of Lunden. It becomes a much calmer beast as it finishes the trip to Flam where it empties into Aurlandsfjorden, a branch of Norway’s longest fjord, Sognefjorden.
The closer we got to Flam, the countryside and the housing came to look a lot more civilised. There appeared to be two villages close to each other, Hareina and Lunden, that were only a couple of kms from Flam.
Standing out from the other buildings on this section of the trainline was an impressive looking wooden church; Flam kyrkje. There are records of a church here as long ago as 1340 but it is believed there would have been a wooden stave church on this site well before this. This church was built in 1670.This area was where the original Flam township was before commerce began to flourish in the region and the transport industries began to develop at the actual end of the fjord.
Not much further on from Lunden there appeared to be a hanging path construction built around a huge boulder that almost took up almost half the river at this point. It looked like a bit of a dare-devil course for young people to test their wits and their legs. Maybe it was part of an obstacle course that visitors to Flam completed after their bike ride down the valley.
One of the signs we encountered when we alighted from our train in Flam explains its World Heritage status.
“You now find yourself in the area of Naeroyfjord, which alongside the Geirangerfjord area makes up the World Heritage Site of the West Norwegian Fjords since 2005.
The tall mountains and deep fjords that surround you are unique from any other part of the world. They have been shaped by ice, water and avalanches throughout the course of several ice ages.”
The map to the right shows that the Flam that sits at the end of the Fjord is really only a commercial, tourist site and most of the local workers would live back up the valley at places like Lunden. This area at the end of the fjord consists of a railway station, a cruise line terminal, a shopping centre, a railway museum and a ‘culture park’ that enable day visitors to take their children for a long walk between trains. We appreciated the globe map of the earth outside the shops (below left) that showed that Australia hadn’t been forgotten even though it was the other side of the world.
Presumably most tourists arrive at Flam by train and by cruise boat. There was a large cruise ship in port while we were in Flam and the large number of passengers were divided up into groups of 20/30 and taken for walks around the facilities of Flam. It was a good idea to keep out of the path of these large groups or you would be swept up and carried along by their group dynamics and before you knew it, you would find yourself cruising the seven seas for eternity.
After we had found the café and refueled for the rest of the morning, we headed out down to the park at the start of the fjord. It was the usual beautiful Norwegian landscape of fjord and mountains stretching into the distance.
After returning to the area of the railway station we took the time to wander through the Flam Railway Museum which consisted of the old station building plus various railway carriages. It was very interesting and a good way to the pass the time while we waited for our return journey up the valley.
We had left our luggage in store at the Myrdal train station as we were changing trains at Myrdal and beginning the next stage of our Norway journey, the train to Oslo.