Ullevålseter Summer Hike

From Frognerseteren's front porch, you can see adorable sod-roofed cabins and the fjord spread out below.
From Frognerseteren’s front porch, you can see adorable sod-roofed cabins and the fjord spread out below.

August 14, 2016.  Since I’ve written about Ullevålseter in winter and spring, I thought I’d take some time to praise its summer splendors.  (Every season brings surprises.)  The trek to this old-farmstead-now-hiker’s-haven is one of our favorite jaunts.  Not only because of the gorgeous forests, wetlands, and pastures we pass through along the way, but also because we always start at Frognerseteren, an incredibly picturesque and yummy restaurant that offers a heart-stopping view of the Oslo fjord.  

Built in 1891 in the Viking-esque
Built in 1891 in the Viking-esque “Dragon Style,” Frognerseteren offers the fancier Restaurant Finstua and the casual Café Seterstua.

As a launch point for trekking into the Nordmarka forest, Frognerseteren is easy and quick to get to; it’s the last stop on the T-bane metro Line #1 and is only a 35-minute ride west from Sentral Stasjon.  If you’re visiting Oslo and have a half-day for a hike, this is the one to take.  It gives you the perfect smattering of typical Nordic habitats, vistas, and rustic log cabins, plus you’ll feel like a native rather than a tourist, as you’ll be rubbing shoulders mostly with other Norwegians.

Ullevålseter Farmstead Cafe
The Ullevålseter café makes a great mid-trek stop for snacks and just soaking in the sunshine. By the way, the word “seteren” means “seat” or “pasture” and gets tacked onto old farmstead personal names.

From Frognerseteren, you can choose from several different paths (biking, skiing, or hiking routes) that all lead to Ullevålseter.  But be sure to make time for a brief stop at this old farmstead’s café to re-fuel — food being a motivating factor for every hike  — before continuing on to Sognsvann Lake, your endpoint.  From there, you’ll catch the T-bane Line #6 back into town, easy-peasy.

The entire Frognerseteren – Ullevålseter – Sognsvann loop is only about seven miles, not counting any off-trail explorations.  And the total hiking time will be around three hours, unless you dawdle a lot for photos and food like we do.  Check out the trail here, and zoom in to see Ullevålseter and other features of the hike.  Or to learn more about Frognerseteren and the lake, take a look at my post, A Walk at Sognsvann.

Blueberry bushes, Ullevålseter + Sognsvann + Frognerseteren Norway
Blueberry bushes coat the forest floor this time of year — nothing like a little berry picking to lift your spirits.

I’ll admit that when we first started off on the trek, we were experiencing a fit of the dismals, due to some rough stuff life has tossed at us lately.  But by the end of the trail, nature had done its job, restoring our joy and making us realize what a wonderful place the world can be.  So with this in mind, rather than giving you the play-by-play as I’ve done in previous posts, I’ll focus on what really stood out during the hike:  the sensory experience.

Take a look at some photo galleries and my stream-of-consciousness ramblings on what your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, feet and fingertips will enjoy along the trail.

European Peacock (Aglais io) and Alpine Hawkweed (Hieracium alpinum L)
A showy European Peacock (Aglais io) feeds on the nectar of Alpine Hawkweed (Hieracium alpinum L). Males battle one another to win the right to hang out in popular spots where females like to lay their eggs.

Larger-than-life bumble bees drunkenly nuzzling wildflowers that are dressed in pink and yellow, clearly the most fashionable colors this season.  Butterflies dancing a mad fandango in the rare sunshine.  Masses of mosses waving huge, banana-pepper-shaped pods in the breeze; they remind me of South African soccer fans with their vuvuzelas.  Granite boulders surfacing like whales from the rippling green forest floor.  Blueberry bushes with blazing red, frost-burnt leaves due to the recent cold snap.  Giant black slugs munching sleepily on toxic red-n-white Christmas mushrooms; they leave their slime trails as testaments to their bravery.

Bogs along Ullevålseter trail
Boggy forest pools make great breeding grounds for frogs and mosquitoes. And fallen logs provide the perfect poolside picnic seating — if you don’t mind being strafed by tiny bloodsuckers too small to leave a mark.

The chirping and chattering of a stream keeps us company along the trailside.  I’m startled by the kerplunk of equally surprised frogs as they cannonball into forest ponds for safety.  A thrumming rat-a-tat-tat tells us that a tommy-gunned woodpecker has targeted his victims, hidden in nearby deadwood.  The buzzing of tiny mosquitoes in my ear, “ooh, pardon me, so sorry to bump into you.”  They’re plentiful but puny; not large enough to break the skin.  Trilling songbirds on their way south sing the Stark’s family motto: “winter is coming.”  The thunk of our heels tells me the earth is hollow here.  The ground is nothing but a spongy, shallow layer of peat moss and pine needles.  It clings for dear life to an enormous hunk of black stone that slumbers  just below the surface —  when this rocky giant awakens and sloughs off such a poor excuse for soil, I expect to hear the sound a dog makes when it shakes water off its back.

Wildflowers, Ullevålseter, Norway
Big swaths of wildflowers that include wild parsley, clover, and goldenrod give the air the scent of ripening hay.

Drying hay, pollen-laden wildflowers, pine sap in the Arizona sunshine, and blowing trail dirt — the scents of late summer.  Beneath the trees I smell dank basement, my grandma’s root cellar, the blue clay we used in my high-school pottery class.  My nose twitches as the tang of wild dill drifts by; I search but never find it.  Bending low, the acrid odor of soggy sphagnum explains why I keep thinking of the Hoh Rainforest in Washington State.  Granite, both wet and dry, gives off the citified smell of concrete.  A weird whiff of urine wafts up from three-foot-tall stacks of pine needles — condos for colonies of wood ants — and I’m reminded why they’re sometimes called “piss ants.”

Wetland boardwalk, Ullevålseter, Norway
Boardwalks continue the trail through wetlands and help you avoid sinking into the boggy soil.

Wringing out five ounces of water from one handful of moss.   Bouncing up and down on marsh boardwalks.  Running my fingertips along the stems of pond plants, feeling for that tell-tale, triangular shape of a sedge.  Tripping for the 500th time on giant tree roots that splay outward rather than downward and look like my grandpa’s gnarled hands.  A twiggy prick and squish between my thumb and forefinger reminds me that I’ve got to get one of those blueberry combs the Norwegians carry.  The sting of a splinter as I push the old Ullevålseter farmstead’s turnstile.  Sitting on a lakeside rock — are my pants damp, or just cold?  The prickling of the pores on my face as they respond tentatively to the sun’s heat makes me wonder if tonight, I can skip taking my vitamin-D tab.

Blueberry picking, Norway
Check out our blueberry haul. It was worth the stains for the incredible muffins these made.

The pop and gush of raspberries in my mouth, smaller but sweeter than last year’s.  Same for the blueberries, smaller although tarter. Are these signs of a snowier season to come?  Or just that somebody has gotten here before us and picked all the biggest ones?  The plasticky taste of water stored in a bottle warmed by sunshine and body heat.  The alkaline dryness of a green crabapple picked from an abandoned orchard.  Tomatoey goulash topped off with cream-covered apple crisp and a nutty cup of caffeine at Ullevålseter.  And finally, tasting the fruits of our berry-picking labor, mixed in some good ol’ homemade dishes.

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