Chasing beautiful scenery and the midnight sun, Nel Stavely discovers the benefits of taking a land-based trip through the Norwegian Fjords.
The instructions from the mountain guide sound like a punchline.
“A cowboy mouse on the way to Everest,” he beams down.
But as the dark clouds descend ever further, the winds lash harder and the grainy snow of Folgefonna Glacier gets even deeper, I’m beginning to think it’s a joke I may never understand.
Until suddenly, theatrically and perfectly on cue, the dark clouds disperse. And there it is. Not the joke, as such, but certainly the reason our guide has been smiling: Folgefonna valley.
Arching grey stone mountains, pitted lakes and swathes of deep green forests lie ahead.
Of course, seeing such heart-stopping beauty in the middle of Norway shouldn’t come as a surprise.
There’s now a growing trend towards ‘DIY’ trips around the fjords - booking a cheap flight, hiring a car and setting off into the vast and beautiful countryside.
For us, the cheap flight landed in ‘The gateway to the Fjords’, Bergen, a popular fishing town clinging to the western coast of the self-named region.
As the car edges up the Ulriken Mountain, the highest of the peaks, the view of the town and harbour below is breathtaking.
Back on lower ground, Bergen is equally as impressive, with its bustling fish market, serving everything from (ecologically-sourced) whale to caviar.
A one-and-a-half hour drive from Bergen is the Folgefonna Glacier, Norway’s third largest mainland glacier. Perched at 1,200m above sea level, the road to reach it is long, slow and stilted by hairpin bends, but - genuinely - you don’t really notice.
Things are about to get even more unnerving too, when the guide for our imminent glacier hike appears. One bemused look at our flimsy waterproofs, and he heads to a nearby cupboard. Moments later, he re-emerges, armed with climbing ropes, helmets, crampons and ice-picks.
Thankfully, the guide is more than willing to impart his advice on how this should all work. “Take little steps, wide apart for a good grip in the snow,” he says. “Like a cowboy mouse on the way to Everest.”
I can see that my fellow hikers - all of us dutifully knotted together by the rope - are as baffled as me, and as we tug and trip our way up the thick glacier snow. Until, of course, that cloud lifts and that view - the sort of view you know you may only glimpse once in a lifetime.
Similarly, the country’s infinite beauty is hammered home on a visit to Rovaer, a tiny island a short ferry-ride from the city of Huagesund. We meet the charming oldest member of the 110-person community. From her tales of the 1899 shipwreck that killed half the island, and how the island now only has one car. “But look,” she says, smiling, arms waving in every direction. “The island’s beauty makes it worth it.”
With ten minutes to go until midnight, there’s still a gentle glow from the summer’s never-setting sun, and it really hits you just how bright Norway is shining right now.