Varaldsoy; Pearl Of The Hardangerfjord, Norway

We did not intend to get to this island, some 50 kms south of Bergen. We had hoped to go much further north to the arctic circle area to look for caves but the journey took far longer than expected.

The plan was to sail from Southampton round the east coast and then via the Shetlands to Bronnoysund, approximately 1300 nautical miles. The boat would then be used as a base to explore the more remote fjords , islands and coast looking for new caves. It was also hoped that we would meet with Trevor Faulkner and his group to swap notes. My boat is a wooden Bermuda rigged ,built early sixties, yacht 8.5 metres long. It was fully loaded with food for four people (plus of course full caving and camping gear) for the trip, expected to take six weeks in all. The weather was very fickle. Winds were of low strength or non existent on the way north. The maximum wind was a force 5. This tended to coincide with a rough sea so progress was slow and quite uncomfortable. Mainly there was too little wind and this coincided with fog on two or three occasions. On day we only logged three miles. We used a lot of diesel fuel and had problems with the batteries in not charging so stopped over at Aberdeen for two nights to replenish both fuel and batteries. On the leg to the Shetlands the engine overheated and burnt out the exhaust system. That meant no motoring in the calms. We had to sail into Lerwick harbour which proved an interesting task! It was here that one crew member jumped boat and fled back to England.

With three crew a heavier burden was placed on each. As we were now about five days behind schedule it was decided that the Arctic Circle was beyond our means in the time available. By the time we got there it would be time to return and we still had battery problems. We decided to go direct east towards Bergen. I managed to contact Stein-Eric Lauretzen at Bergen University and we met up with him. It was information from him that took us to Varaldsoy. He gave us a map which showed two bands of marble limestone. The one in the south had been explored and a small cave found with some formations. The band in the north had not been looked at. Also there was a large hole in a cliff on the north west coast not visited

The island sits across the mouth of the Hardangerfjord. It is approximately 11 kms north to south and 7 kms at the widest. The main village, clustered around the ferry quay has about 30 houses. A shop, post office ( open for an hour a day) , bank ( open two days a week) and tourist office (open four hours weekdays and Saturday) and snack bar kiosk ( the centre of night life up to 9 p.m.) Caters for most needs. The car ferry calls four times a day.

The south has the most cultivated fields with small farms and the centre and north are mostly forest and very wet scrub land. It rises to 500 metres. There are a few trout farms. In the late 1800's and into the early 1900's a mine was worked by a British company extracting sulphur. Residents let rooms or houses to tourists.

We were there six days and on only one day was dry and sunny. On the others it was low cloud and rainy. It was on a rainy afternoon that we walked with full caving and camping kit intending to stay two nights to the north of the island. We had to walk up 350 metres and then down for nine kms. The following day, still raining, we got to one section of the limestone adjacent to a lake. There was an outcrop but only 20 metres high; no holes. It disappeared under the lake and the longest mapped section was along a valley running out of the lake towards the coast. To get to this would entail a very wet tramp through rough undergrowth for two kms. We decide to retreat and attack it from another direction. We were very wet, with wet gear and so chickened out by phoning the local taxi from a hostel.

The following day, still raining, the inflatable dinghy with outboard was launched. Chris and Rob donned wet suits, oversuits and life jackets, stowed the caving gear and headed north. They managed to get ashore at the end of the valley and walk, with great difficulty, along the valley towards the lake. Nothing was found. They tried to climb up to the hole in the cliff face but, experienced climbers that they are found the rocks far too unstable and covered in greasy vegetation. No go there. The return in the dinghy was wet as usual.

We must get underground! A trip to the known cave at Gjuvsland was organised for the following afternoon. At least we would be able to say that we had done a cave in Norway. What optimists we were!. We eventually found the entrance signified by a small stream coming out from a bank by the side of a track. The entrance was said to be tight, but opened up after 2/3 metres. The entrance was tight. It took a body length and then boulders blocked the way on. Gaps were apparent in the boulders but far too small to insert a head. Each of us tried to progress but could not get in. Stein-Erik had said that the land owner farmer was not happy with people visiting the cave and had got angry when a group of university geology students arrived a year or so ago. It is possible that he had blocked the entrance.

So far as caving was concerned we achieved nothing. There was no other site for caves in southern Norway so we set off for England via Stavanger, two days down the coast. We went via local ferry and bus to visit Pulpit Rock. This wedge shaped flat topped protuberance is 600 metres up a cliff face overlooking a fjord. The 3 km walk was as usual done in the rain. When we reached to top of the rock we were in cloud. Perhaps it is just as well we could not see down into the fjord.

The sail back to England took a direct route across the North sea to our first port of call at Grimsby. At first progress was slow due to poor winds but we covered the near 400 nautical miles in four days, our best average run. A short stop over in Grimsby and then a stop in Ramsgate brought us back to Southampton. The leg from Grimsby to Ramsagte being another slow one on engine for a day. Off Selsey Bill we again became becalmed and we had to motor the last 20 miles.

To sum up the trip, which took a total of five and a half weeks: it was interesting sailing but don't ask about the caving.

Team members in Norway:

Ian Chandler
Chris Barratt
Rob Watts.

Ian Chandler