Kayaking in Flåm

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August 22nd 2016
Published: August 25th 2016
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I find the beach area where I'm supposed to meet for my kayaking session but I'm a little early so decide to check out the Flåm Railway Museum while I wait. I'll be travelling on this line later in the day so it will be good to find out a little about its history before I go. Inside the museum are displays and old photos. Many of the photos show groups of men holding shovels and picks. Surely not! But yes they did indeed make the entire line, including digging through twenty tunnels, BY HAND!!! The work started in 1924 and wasn't finished until a whole twenty years later. It was nick named 'The Twenty Line' as it was 20km long, had twenty tunnels and took twenty years to complete. This mammoth task was pretty essential to people living in the Flåm area. Before the railway was completed the community was essentially cut off and unable to get across the mountains. Opening the Flåm railway enabled them to link up with the Bergen train line and beyond! Another photo is of the first station master and his staff. As well as the railway he also managed the first restaurant serving beer and wine, but only train passengers were allowed to drink this alcohol. Locals had to buy a ticket to the nearest stop, regardless of whether they intended to use it, just in order to be able to have a drink at their local! This costly way of necking a few down did lessen the number of bar brawls. There are a couple of track bikes on display, a kind of moped that ran on one of the rail tracks with a triangular bracket sticking out horizontally from the side supporting an extra wheel that balanced the bike on the other track. The track rider would take messages, items and could even take one pillion rider up and down completed sections of track. The first trains were steam trains and must have been quite an experience for passengers as they went through the tunnels. Some tunnels have open sections at one side, which would have provided relief from all the fumes. There is one short section of double track half way up the line enabling two trains to pass and therefore doubling the number of journeys possible.

And so it's time for my kayaking to begin, or so I think. First we are give THE most comprehensive prep session I've ever had! Derwin, our big bearded, American instructor is extremely thorough and is also very patient with the Chinese family who are part of our group, only the daughter able to understand English and therefore acting as translator for all the safety instructions. We get kitted out and then practice emergency exits from the kayaks in case of capsizing. We are given special dry boxes for our cameras that are attached to the bungee straps and also dry bags for anything else we need to take with us. Finally after what must have been a good 3/4 of an hour prep, safety advice and instruction we are finally out on the water having a practice in the beach area. I've been paired up with complete novice Brian from New York and am therefore at the back in charge of the rudder and teaching Brian if he gets stuck. Luckily he picks up the paddling pretty quickly but doesn't realise at first that we are synchronised because I'm following his strokes and that I'm making us turn by using the rudder which, amongst the mass of information being chucked at us by Derwin before we set off, seems to have passed him by. Soon we are paddling like pros and I find out that Brian is actually a barrister. He's managed to wangle a sabbatical from work and is doing loads of travelling. We keep hearing lots of arguing from Chinese dad and daughter combo in the kayak behind us. It's pretty funny. Dad is at the back in charge of the rudder and they are zig zagging all over the place and daughter isn't amused. Mum, paired up with Derwin, is finding it hilarious needless to say. We also have two American couples, no such problems with steering for them as they all go out kayaking quite a bit back home. We are paddling down the left hand side of the fjord to avoid the cruisers and ferries who use the other side, but we have to keep away from the steep rock face next to us. Apparently the only deaths from kayaking have been from rock falls not drowning. Every so often Derwin holds up his paddle to indicate we should raft up together and he tells us something about the fjord. All the fjords are sea water BUT during the summer the top layer is fresh water due to the run off from the mountains. We dip our hands in the water and lick them and yep, no salty taste. I think I get flavour of Weils, but might be mistaken! At another stop we find out that there is a wreck, the Estonian ship the Begonia, under the water where we are rafted up. It had used the overhang of the cliff face to try and hide from the Germans during world war two but was eventually spotted and bombed by the Nazis. We have a wonderful time paddling in the fjord, it's so awesome being out on the water away from the crowds surrounded by such stunning scenery all around. All too soon it's time to head back, but my arms are getting tired now so it's probably just as well we had such a lengthy instruction time at the start of the trip. I just have time to find the geocache hidden under the metal roof of the hut all the kayak stuff is kept in. Derwin knew where it was but wouldn't show me, just confirmed I had the right idea, before I have to rush off to catch the train.

Thanks to Derwin and Njord, the company who offers such a great experience in Flåm.

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