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 stoop, 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 — because 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 our jaunt from the front porch of the picturesque Frognerseteren Restaurant, which offers a heart-stopping view of the Oslo fjord (and some yummy trail food if you haven’t stocked up beforehand).  

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.

Frognerseteren is a great launch point for exploring the Nordmarka forest that surrounds much of Oslo.  And it’s 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 soaking in the sunshine. By the way, the word “seteren” means the “seat” or “pasture” and often gets tacked onto old farmstead personal names.

From Frognerseteren, you can choose from several different paths varying in size from narrow hiking and mountain-biking trails to wide skiing routes that all lead to Ullevålseter’s adorable farmhouse café.  (Food destinations are always a big motivator for our hiking trips.)  And if you’re so inclined, you can continue along the trail to lovely Sognsvann Lake, where you’d 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 is 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 Restaurant and Sognsvann 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 this time, when we first started off on our trek to Ullevålseter, 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.

Every pasture sports pink and yellow wildflowers, clearly the most fashionable colors this season.  Larger-than-life bumble bees drunkenly nuzzle blossoms while butterflies dance a mad fandango in the rare sunshine.  Masses of mosses wave huge, banana-pepper-shaped pods in the breeze; they remind me of South African soccer fans with their vuvuzelas.  Granite boulders surface like whales from a forest floor covered in blueberry bushes that have been frost burnt to a deep red from the recent cold snap.  Giant black slugs munch sleepily on toxic red-n-white Christmas mushrooms, then leave behind 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.

A chattering stream keeps us company along the trailside.  I’m startled by the kerplunk of equally surprised frogs as they cannonball into a forest pond for safety.  A thrumming rat-a-tat-tat tells us that a tommy-gunned woodpecker has targeted his victims hidden in nearby deadwood.  Tiny mosquitoes whisper 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 family motto: “winter is coming.”  The thunk of our heels tells me the earth is hollow here, a thin drumhead of dirt stretched over granite.  Peat moss and pine needles cling 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 heating up in the sunshine, and dusty 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.  The acrid odor of sphagnum moss 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. These towers are condos for colonies of wood ants, and the smells reminds me 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.

Who could imagine wringing out five ounces of water from one handful of moss?  After much experimentation, I determine that marsh boardwalks offer better bounce for your buck than any trampoline or diving board.  Running my fingertips along the stems of pond plants, I find the tell-tale, triangular shape of a sedge.  As I trip for the 500th time on giant tree roots that splay outward rather than downward, I notice how much they look like my grandpa’s gnarled hands.  A painful prick and squish between my thumb and forefinger reminds me that I’ve got to get one of those blueberry combs the Norwegians carry.  I push the old Ullevålseter farmstead’s turnstile to see if it still works and am rewarded with a splinter in my palm; serves me right for snooping.  Sitting on a lakeside rock, I wonder, “are my pants damp, or just cold?”  The pores tighten on my face in response to the sun’s heat, making me ponder whether I can skip taking my vitamin-D tab tonight.

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 seems smaller but sweeter than last year’s.  Same for the blueberries, tinier but less tart.  Is the size/taste ratio a sign of a snowier season to come?  Or does it just mean that somebody has gotten here before us and picked all the biggest berries?  The plasticky taste of water stored in a bottle warmed by sunshine and body heat makes me wish for my old-school lunchbox’s glass thermos.  A green crabapple plucked from an abandoned orchard dries my mouth to a pucker with its alkalinity.  Ulvalseter’s tomatoey goulash topped off with cream-covered apple crisp and a nutty cup of caffeine rounds out the hike’s flavors.  And finally, the fruits of our labor get mixed into some good ol’ homemade dishes, imbuing them with an earthy wildness that they never had back home in Chicago.

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