Leanne is a twenty-eight year old photographer from Kent in the South-East of England who walked St. Olavsleden in 2016. This is her own story about her trip along St. Olavsleden trail.
In August 2016 I walked St. Olavsleden from Selånger to Trondheim together with my good friend Angeliqa, after she asked me if I would be interested in doing the hike with her. I had never heard of the trail or done anything like it before, but I love to walk and I had a strong desire to visit the Nordic countries. Knowing this, Angeliqa told me about the trail and I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
I had wanted to do something like it for a while, something to challenge myself and experience some more of the world. I didn’t feel very well travelled at this point and the thought of flying on my own to Sweden and spending 30 days hiking through potentially wilder nature than I’ve ever experienced growing up in the South East of England, was quite a daunting one.
Actually, I found most things in life quite daunting back then. I had been struggling with anxiety for a long time, especially after my father died in 2009 and my mum became seriously ill in 2014. However, I had begun to discover that spending time outdoors doing things like hiking and camping, were really helping me to overcome my anxiety and cope with the stresses of life. I had found a passion for doing these things and the prospect of hiking across Sweden and Norway sounded like a dream come true, it would be the best thing I would have ever done in my life (and still is today).
I spent months preparing, acquiring all the gear I would need and then I flew to meet Angeliqa in Stockholm after saying goodbye for a month to my mum, my boyfriend and my dog and we began our train journey to Sundsvall, ready to begin our hike.
At this point, Angeliqa and I had only met twice, once in Italy on a press trip (Angeliqa for her blog vandringsbloggen.com and myself for my job at the time at simplyhike.co.uk) and then again when Angeliqa came to England for a weekend hiking in the Lake District with me and my partner. We were about to spend 30 days together, only having previously spent a total of about 80 hours together, but we didn’t really think anything of it. We knew we would have a great journey together, and we did, subsequently fast forwarding our friendship in those 30 days.
The walk itself was everything I had dreamed about and more. Beautiful Swedish and Norwegian nature, waking up every day somewhere new, living simply, having fun with my friend, a great adventure. What I did not count on was all the warmth and kindness I experienced from all the wonderful people I met along the way. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about. My favourite part of the trip was actually all the wonderful meetings we had with kind strangers. I had long felt scared of the world, but the trail taught me it is full of kindness and not to be automatically feared. I feel like I have friends now, all across Sweden and Norway and it’s wonderful.
The pilgrim aspect of the path was not something that originally drew me in. I’m not a religious person, though that is not to say that I am not spiritual. But I was open to learning about pilgrimage and the history of the trail as something completely new to me and I enjoyed visiting the pretty churches along the way. I can definitely appreciate the saying now that people ‘start as hikers and finish as pilgrims.’ That’s not to say I’ve become religious through walking the trail, but it was definitely more than just a hike. It was a spiritual journey and food for the soul. I’ve grown.
One thing that happened that could have devastated the walk for me but actually ended up a more spiritual lesson, was that I developed a problem with my Achilles in my right foot. This meant that I had to rest and was not able to walk some days and Angeliqa walked alone while I spent time on my own resting or with my lovely hosts (a shout out and massive thank you to Helene at Faxnälden for taking me Lingonberry picking with her and her friend Anita at a woodland cabin by a lake, while I was resting my foot). It was really frustrating not being able to walk and part of me felt like I was missing out, it was what I came to do after-all. But if that had not happened, I would not have experienced half of the kindness or had some of lovely experiences such as the above day berry picking.
All of this taught me that it is the journey as a whole that is important – it didn’t really matter whether I was using my legs to do it really and it wasn’t a failure because of this. It was, in a way, a gift.
For anyone wanting to hike along St. Olavsleden, I have a few recommendations. Originally Angeliqa and I planned to stay in a tent a lot and we carried one with us the entire way. This was great for giving us flexibility and shelter if needed but I am so glad that we ended up staying with so many different people along the way. I would recommend maybe carrying a tent for the same reasons above, but I strongly suggest that if you walk the trail, stay with the people along it and be open to every meeting that comes your way. This will make walking the trail more expensive, but it will be all the richer for it.
I also recommend for all the reasons above that you have a loose end date, so you can make time for all of the trail’s meetings, surprises and gifts – good and bad. Do not create stress by having an end goal, slow down and enjoy. Be open to anything.
At the end of the trail, my partner met Angeliqa and I in Trondheim at the Nidaros Cathedral. We celebrated that evening with a nice dinner together. The magic of the trail had not ended at the cathedral for me because later that evening, when we were walking to our accommodation for the night, on the old bridge we had walked over earlier that day for the last few steps of our pilgrimage, my partner got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.
We were married in June this year (2018) and Angeliqa was a bridesmaid at our wedding. We both wore our hiking boots.
You can read Leanne’s trail diary on her blog at http://pineandpeak.com/tag/st-olavsleden/
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