Friday, 30 April 2010


It’s the weekend, so we need an absolutely MASSIVE rock.

If you have been with us from the start, you will know that Norwegian-Rock-Based-Sea-Gazing is one of the most popular pastimes and I suspect may become a national sport before too long. At first, unless you are Norwegian, you might wonder ‘what’s with the rocks?’ But if you have seen, heard of, or stood upon Preikestolen, you will see the wisdom of it all.

A short trip from Stavanger there perches one of the most extraordinary rocks in the world. Preikestolen is a huge flat-topped lump of granite which hangs over the side of Lysefjorden, a full six hundred metres above the sparkling water below. The name means ‘Pulpit Rock’, apparently because from the fjord below the overhanging rock resembles a pulpit. However, from way down on the water, the thing is so high up one needs binoculars to get the idea. If anyone was going to preach from that particular pulpit, it would have to be Odin himself since a human looks no more than a miniscule speck when standing on that thing.

This mighty rock is one of the great sights of Norway. Climbers, walkers, and tourists in general can reach the top of Preikestolen without much’s a decent day trip, perhaps a two hour hike from the car park to the top, an undulating walk which involves everything from flattish bits to almost vertical boulder-climbing in parts. It’s estimated that each year over 100,000 people venture up here, and we have managed with everything from 3 year olds to 79 year olds. If you’re ever found yourself in this part of Norway and you didn’t climb Preikestolen, you’d kick yourself.

I love the fact the Norwegians have not shied away from allowing people to go up there. It is astonishingly dangerous, if you don’t pay attention. The authorities could have written a notice saying ‘Closed’. Or, they could have put a railing around the edge, endless off-putting warning notices, or, horror of horrors, allowed the once-talked-of cable-car to bring people up there to take their happy-snappies before descending again. If any of this had come about, the richness of conquering Preikestolen would be completely lost. The place must defy every Health and Safety rule in the book, but in doing so, it teaches us more about the world than any set of rules could ever do.

The flat top is the size of a football field, but with the added adrenaline-loaded thrill of a killer drop off the front end. The whole experience of standing up there is made even more edgy by the vast, menacing crack that has formed right across the rock’s surface, parallel with the cliff edge. Our geological friends heartily remark that one day this crack will widen and the rock will drop off completely, causing a huge tidal wave in the fjord below. While this may well occur eventually, we are told it won’t be for several hundred years or so. Probably. I’m clinging to the legend that goes with the is said that if seven brothers marry seven sisters in Lysefjorden, the rock will then split and fall. Don’t do it, guys.

We are fortunate in that none of us suffer from vertigo. However, an irrational fear of heights is quite different from the logical fear of falling off something that is very high up. If you fall off Preikestolen, that’s it, and sadly, it has happened many times in the past. None-the-less, in the warmer months, the place is hoaching with visitors, many of whom dangle their legs off the side while nonchalantly eating a prawn sandwich as though they were in the works canteen.

Frankly, I feel that’s a bit too casual. It’s the sort of place where it’s not cool to be cool. To look over the edge of Preikestolen is one of life’s great experiences, a place where, for once, the word ‘awesome’ has genuine meaning and perfect application. It’s as though nature itself was giving us a lesson, which is perhaps the real reason it is named Pulpit Rock. Both horrifying and life-affirming at the same time, to look over that rock edge is a potent reminder of how small, vulnerable and insignificant we human beings are in the great scheme of things.

Oh, and the view is, needless to say, world-class.

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