In celebration of Father's Day, we had the pleasure of hearing from the wonderful father-son duo, Nick and Noah, fondly known as 'Vikings in the UK'. Nick, whose upbringing in Norway immersed him in the breathtaking beauty of fjords and forests, shares nostalgic tales of outdoor adventures. With a deep desire to pass on enriching experiences to his son, they aim to forge lasting family bonds and inspire other families—fathers, mothers, sons, daughters—to embark on their own adventures.

Roots and Routes

I spent my childhood just outside Oslo, Norway, a mere stone's throw from the home of Roald Amundsen, the renowned Norwegian explorer of polar regions. Raised by a Norwegian mother and an American father, my childhood was a vibrant blend of fjords, forests, and cherished memories nestled amidst Norway's staggering array of majestic mountains of which 291 mountain peaks soar over 2,000 metres tall.

I have fond memories growing up outdoors. Whether in the company of friends, family, or fellow scouts, I would often spend the whole day or stay overnight in the forest building huts, making fires, or climbing steep hills.  During the holidays, we would often ski at our cabin in Trysil or hike up Mount Gaustatoppen in Telemark. The hike to Gaustatoppen is an absolute must for anyone in search of a hiking experience with a sensational view. While this mountain top is certainly not the tallest peak in Norway, it might just be the most beautiful. When the weather permits it, you can enjoy a spectacular view of almost half of the southern part of Norway from the top 1,883 metres above sea level.

Life's currents carried me to London in 2004, where serendipity led me to meet my South African girlfriend and now wife. We both moved to Lancaster to study and during our 3 years there our family had grown with the arrival of our first daughter. Amidst the academic hustle, I still managed to sneak in some local hikes and explore the nearby Lake District. Yet the call of Norway tugged at our hearts, and so in 2011, we packed our bags and headed back to my hometown, where in 2013, Noah was born. 

In Norway, one of the most mountainous countries in Europe, family weekends meant immersing ourselves in the outdoors, canoeing on the lakes, beach biking along the Oslo Fjord, and escaping to our family cabin in the mountains (almost half the population has access to a private cabin, called “hytta” in Norwegian). But in 2019, family drew us back to England, where we weathered the storm of Covid and career shifts, all while watching Noah grow up. Determined to gift Noah the same wild wonders I cherished growing up, we made a bold choice in the summer of 2023: to traverse the landscapes of the UK in what I certainly think and hope will forge a father-son bond to last a lifetime. 

So let me introduce ourselves - we're Nick and Noah, a father-son duo, exploring the landscapes of the UK with a heart anchored in Norway.

Fjells and Fjords

In Norway, you are extremely spoiled when it comes to access to wild nature. Even in the capital city of Oslo, you can take the tube for a few stops and walk into the forest or enjoy a stroll around a lake. The easiest way to see the Oslo forest from the city is to take the 5 metro and enjoy a stroll round Sognsvann lake (3.3km) or just sit and enjoy nature, take a picnic - or use it as a starting point for a longer forest walk in Nordmarka such as up to Ullevålseter cafe (5km each way). If you want to combine an urban vacation with mountain hiking, many Norwegian cities offer both. Bergen, Ålesund, Bodø and Tromsø are among the many towns and cities that have easy access to mountains. 

You also have “Freedom to Roam”, meaning you can walk or pitch a tent wherever you want in the forest, mountains, moors and along the coastline. Norway has a wild and rugged, but varied landscape; lots and lots of spruce and pine forest; areas such as the fjords on the west coast are lush and covered with grass and green leaves in the summer; hills, mountains and valleys cover the country from the south to the north. Norway also enjoys many natural lakes - you will be surprised how many when you start zooming in on pretty much any area of Norway on google maps - 450,000 freshwater lakes to be exact! Being able to go wild swimming is also an added bonus. Imagine setting up camp next to a lake on a summer’s day and being able to jump into the water after a long hike and maybe even catch some fish for dinner. We were lucky to live on a lake for three years where we would often take our canoe out in the evening and even camp on one of the small islands. 

For many Norwegians being in the great outdoors in any weather or season is an integral part of life and we have many sayings that relate to this, for example: 

“Ut på tur, aldri sur” 

“Ut på tur” which means going for a hike. “Aldri sur” - means that you should hike in a good mood, suggesting that if you’re feeling down, the hike will lift your spirits. So, no sad faces, let’s hit the trail, the mountains are calling! Ut på tur, aldri sur!

 “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær”

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing - basically a reminder that as long as you dress for the weather then any day is a good day to go for a hike or walk. These rhyme and sound better in Norwegian!

A popular year-round family activity involves walking or skiing into the forest, gathering around a crackling fire to roast hotdogs. However, during the summer holidays, many opt for hiking in the mountains, which aren't as readily accessible during the winter months. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also very popular activities here.  

 

Accessing Wild Areas in the UK

For me the biggest difference between Norway and the UK is access to wild nature, particularly in the region of England where we live, Cambridgeshire. Even if hiking through is possible, wild camping is likely not permitted. But the Lake District feels like a homecoming - a sentiment that may have been shared by my forefathers, as legend has it St. Olav (Viking King of Norway 1015-1028) spent time in the area during his time in England. 

Last summer, Noah and I embarked on a journey that echoed similar experiences of my childhood—a 30km, 3-day hike through the breathtaking landscapes of the Lake District. With backpacks weighing 30 kg and 12 kg, we hiked the rugged peaks of Bowfell, Esk Pike, and Scafell, with wild camping along the way. Our adventure also led us to the historic St. Olaf church in Wasdale where the roof beams are thought to have come from Viking ships! 

Despite the increasing restrictions on access to wild spaces, we continue to embrace the challenge, seeking out every opportunity for exploration, whether it be nearby or in the distant reaches of the Scottish Highlands.

Since joining the UK's outdoor community, one aspect that truly impresses us is the collective commitment to both enjoying nature and preserving its beauty. Just recently, I came across a post on a Facebook group highlighting someone's admirable effort to hike into the fells specifically to remove litter left behind by others. Amazing!

Gear Essentials + Kit List

The difference in gear used when going on adventures in Norway versus the UK mainly relate to climate, the type of terrain you have available to you, and the ability to make camp fires. In Norway, a lot of my time outdoors would be in a hilly area covered with pine and spruce trees, rather than bare mountains like those found in the Lake District. 

In this type of Norwegian terrain you can be comfortable with a lot less gear, even in winter. For example, a lightweight tarp and some cord for shelter paired with an adequate sleeping bag and a campfire would be fine in the winter. In fact, cooking can be efficiently done solely over the fire, further minimising the need for additional equipment.

If you compare hiking and wild camping in the mountains in the summer, then in my opinion I don’t think there is much difference in gear, and would refer to a standard hiking/wild camping gear list:

  • Clothes that support all types of weather and expected temperatures

When considering the same scenario in the winter season, the gear list would vary significantly.  Especially when it comes to how you would be moving from point A to point B, walking versus skiing and so on. Additionally, you'd require a sleeping system capable of handling colder temperatures and a tent sturdy enough to withstand heavy snowfall.

Planning Our Next Adventure

Looking into the future we have some solid plans and some exciting ideas for what comes next for our adventures. 

This summer, the whole family will be undertaking a 7-day hike to the Scottish Highlands, from the outskirts of Inverness towards the west coast, with shorter excursions leading up to the main event. 

In the winter, we're eager to tackle Ben Nevis in its wintry splendour, with the prospect of a summit camp. An ancient giant of the land, Ben Nevis was once a massive active volcano which exploded and collapsed inwards on itself millions of years ago. Its name holds significance in the ancient Gaelic language, offering two translations: "mountain with its head in the clouds," a nod to its iconic mist-covered peak, or "venomous mountain." We'll leave it to our experience on the climb to determine which translation resonates more with us!

Living close to the River Great Ouse has sparked the idea of a canoeing journey, paddling as far as we can up the river while enjoying wild camping along the way. 

With every new adventure shared with Noah and my family, my hope is to nurture a stronger bond and create cherished memories that we'll reminisce about for decades to come. Through our explorations, I aim to deepen our understanding of the beauty within our country and uncover new areas to explore. And if our journey can serve as inspiration for other families—fathers, sons, daughters—to embark on their own adventures, that would be truly remarkable.

 

For more adventures with Nick and Noah, follow Vikings in the UK on Instagram!


PS. If you're planning an exciting adventure, embarking on an expedition, or championing a charity or cause, we'd love to hear from you! Reach out to jessie@valleyandpeak.co.uk to share your story on our blog.

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June 14, 2024 — Jessica Soo-Banham