The Northernmost Pilgrimage Route In the World
There are hundreds of famous hiking trails located all across the planet, with some of them seeing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. However, scattered among these famous trails are a few hidden gems that are just as beautiful but, for one reason or another, do not have the same notoriety. Perhaps the best example of this is St. Olav Ways, which is Norway's most famous trail.
Despite many Norwegians knowing all about this infamous trail, not many foreigners are aware of its existence. In fact, only about 400 people complete the entire trail each year. The existence of this Norway trail and the incredible story behind it are really something that you should know, especially if you are an adventure seeker.
What Is St. Olav Ways?
Depending on who you talk to or what you read, you may know that this trail has many different names. It is also common for it to be referred to as the Pilgrim’s Route (Pilegrimsleden) or the Old Kings’ Road. Rest assured that no matter what it is called, the path is worth the journey.
Trekking all the way from the start of the trail to the end is just over 640 km. The terrain includes a fjord, various farmland, forests, and the revered Dovrefjell National Park. Rather than being one long path, St. Olav Ways is instead made up of seven different routes. The longest, and by far the most popular, is the Gudbrandsdalen Path, which extends the full 643 km. The other remaining six routes are much shorter but still provide spectacular scenery and plenty of challenges for even the most physically fit individuals
How St. Olav Ways Lets You Experience Norwegian History
Along this stretch of Norway, there is a series of unique historical sites that people who do not take on this ambitious pilgrimage are unable to see. For example, the St. Hallvard cathedral is the first cathedral ever built in Oslo, and, after over 900 years, only the foundation still remains. However, St. Olav Ways allows you to see these ruins in person and learn the story of the impressive structure that once stood there.
There is another 900-year-old cathedral located along the route, the Cathedral Ruins of Hamar. Unlike St. Hallvard cathedral, these ruins are protected by a triangular glass dome, which provides a unique site to anyone who makes it this far along the trail.
There is also a selection of stave churches along the routes, such as Ringebu, which is one of the biggest stave churches out of the 28 that still exist in Norway. So, by trekking through St. Olav Ways, you have the opportunity to see some of the finest pieces of Norwegian history up close and in person.
The Importance Behind St. Olav Ways
Up until 1030, St. Olav Ways was not the established path that it is today. Interestingly, the tragic death of King Olav II caused the trail to gain notoriety throughout Norway. When the beloved King perished at the Battle of Stiklestad, his death was treated as a national tragedy. As a sign of respect, his body was carried from the location of the battle to the Trondheim community of Bakklandet, where the body was then buried at the site of what is now the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
The path taken by the soldiers while they carried his body became the last section of the Gudbrandsdalen Path, which is why it is the minimum distance required for someone to receive the important distinction of being awarded the Olav Letter.
When King Olaf II’s body was exhumed a year later, Christians located all over Norway began making their way towards the burial site of the King as a sign of respect. This is what caused the other six paths to be developed and eventually formed the entirety of St. Olav Ways.
So, if you are interested in exploring some vital history of Norway, then there are few better ways to do it than trekking down St. Olav Ways. Make your trip to Norway as physically fulfilling as it is mentally fulfilling by planning your journey on St. Olav Ways today.
For other great hiking trails in Norway, check HERE.