The unexpected is a constant on a jaunt like this, but rarely have we had such a welcome surprise as the one that turned up this afternoon.
It’s fair to say we were probably on a bit of a downer. We’d only just this morning bade farewell to Dave T, and after his two weeks and three hundred or so kilometres on the trail, his departure at a fork in the road seemed like quite a milestone.
The remaining two of us continued tramping up the valley into a grey wall of rapidly deteriorating weather which began by gradually hiding the wooded hilltops from us, then closed in ominously. That damp, stiff breeze of inevitable and imminent misery swirled about us as we climbed the ridge, and by the time we started to descend into the little hamlet of Voll, the rain was sheeting down.
There was no café or bakery, but we noticed a handwritten sign outside what looked like a small museum, advertising ‘pilegrim info’, so we popped inside on the off-chance that there might be some old bloke who’d sell us a cup of coffee and give us some shelter for a bit.
What we found was an extraordinarily friendly young couple who seemed delighted to see us.
‘Are you guys pilgrims?’ Asked the guy. ‘That’s awesome! Leave your bags in the hall here and come through.’
‘Do you want coffee? Tea?’ Enquired the lady, all smiles. ‘I’ll just put some more on.’
It turned out the place was a new pilgrim centre, not featured in our guidebook or on the back of the little red passports that we get stamped at churches, lodgings and other landmarks along the way. The pilgrim centres tend to be hubs for a particular region, and they’ll help you along your way with maps, advice, and usually a good chat over a pot of coffee. This one was no exception.
Holed up in the old village shop – now restored to a sort of museum version of itself in the mid-20th century – Carl and Tatiana welcomed us in from the wet to a table set with jams, creme fraiche and a stack of fresh waffles. They chatted easily as we took full advantage of their hospitality, pausing only to replenish the waffles and coffee and to welcome the steady stream of visitors passing through the old store.
Our host, Carl, was a rangy, bearded man with long, fair hair, who would have looked every inch the Viking if you’d removed his specs and dressed him in furs instead of shorts and a t-shirt. He spoke with a slight American twang picked up during a spell living in Seattle, and along with the accent, he’d also acquired a taste for American-style craft beer. He was in fact in the process of opening his own brewery just nearby. At one point during the afternoon, a portly local historian, his belly spilling out through an open button on his taut shirt front, stopped by the shop, and it emerged that he too was a farmhouse brewer, making beer in a more traditional Norwegian way. They exchanged a few samples from the backs of their cars.
After a while, another pilgrim arrived – a lone Bavarian lady, and the only other person we met who was camping outside like us. Carl took the three of us down for a tour of the church in Rennebu, and we stood chatting for ages in the old deep wooden building, with its odd, y-shaped layout and its medieval carving of a strange, almost voodoo-looking Jesus high on the cross.
Eventually, when we realised we’d never make it back onto the road without a serious effort of will, we struggled back on with our backpacks and our sodden, stinking waterproofs, and said our farewells.
The rain’s coming down hard again tonight, and there’s every possibility it could be a rough one, particularly for Dave B, whose minimalist brand of wild camping doesn’t extend to the use of a tent. But as we sit round the little flame of my camping stove in this clearing in the woods, there’s still a warm glow inside from our unexpected welcome in Voss, as well as possibly the two bottles of tasty ale that Carl furnished us with for the evening.