In the southwest corner of Norway, the Stavanger region is home to the infamous Pulpit Rock – and so much more!
Think Norwegian fjords and you might imagine crowds of shuffling retired cruise passengers – but it isn’t necessarily so. Hit the trail in Stavanger’s wild backyard and the paths seem never-ending: wending deep into forests, skirting fjords that shine opalescent like gemstones, cresting moonlike rockscapes and inching their way along clifftops and granite formations so peculiar they look like freaks of nature.
Even if you’ve never heard of Pulpit Rock, or Preikestolen as they say in Norwegian, you’ve probably seen it – you know, that immense fist of rock that punches vertically above a cyan-blue slither of a fjord? One of Norway’s biggest natural icons, the rock draws day-trippers in their thousands come summer. Some are content to merely gaze on its magnificent proportions from a boat as they cruise on by. Others want to get that bit closer and hike the path to its plateau, so they too can enjoy the top-of-the-bean- stalk views from its knife-edge ridge to the fjord below and grey, muscular mountains beyond.
This picture – the picture of a million postcards – is clearly etched in our minds as we board the boat in Stavanger that is going to take us across the Lysefjord to the trailhead. But the Nordic weather gods are unleashing their worst on this midsummer day. Dark storm clouds are gathering overhead and the mist is creeping inland, rendering the jagged spurs of land but silhouettes. On such a dull, rain-spattered day, the water is near-luminous – going through a spectrum of blues from azure to brightest turquoise. Up on the deck, cagoule-clad tourists are huddling under umbrellas that continuously buckle in the wind, eager for a glimpse of the sheer granite cliffs that razor hundreds of metres above the inky fjord, and posing for selfies in front of the rainbow-laced waterfalls that thread down their rock faces. Mist hangs in the pleats and folds of the mountains like a gossamer veil, and clapboard cottages crouch on the shoreline, dwarfed by their surrounds. Rain cannot detract from Lysefjord’s loveliness.
Pouring out of the boat, we make our way to the trailhead close by, kitted out in waterproofs and walking boots. Fog obscures the view as we begin our steady march uphill through pine and birch trees, over twisted roots and rocks that are slippery underfoot given the recent rain. In the gloomy, monochrome light, the approach to Preikestolen has a sense of mystery, with ragged mountains and lichen-swathed forests that look like a figment of Tolkein’s imagination.