compact centre. The hotel and café at the top of the Fløyen funicular offer splendid views over the city and the sea, as well as a starting point for a pleasant ramble in a Norwegian wood. As the rainclouds sweep in from the Atlantic, it's easy to envisage ancient Viking ships heading out of the mist, returning with booty from their voyages of plunder and conquest. The express catamaran from Bergen to Sognefjord heads north up the coast, passing reminders of the booty modern Norwegians bring back from the sea, in the shape of large round fish farming cages and a huge oil refinery. The coastal islands gradually become more rugged and windswept, until we suddenly swing round into the mouth of the great fjord. GLACIERS ON THE WANE I take a connecting ferry to Fjærland, where I stay in a humble campsite cabin. The fjords were once Norway's highways, but modern tunnels and bridges have now brought roads to formerly remote villages like Fjærland. Reflections of snow-capped mountains in the still waters of Fjærlandsfjord are suddenly broken by the fin of a porpoise, a reminder that these narrow lake-like features are still part of the sea. Fjærland lies on the fringes of Jostedalsbreen mainland Europe's largest glacier. Today this ice cap still covers 500 square kilometres, and rises to 2,000 metres above fjord level, though it is only a relic of the massive Scandinavian ice sheet that carved out all the fjords during the Ice Age. Walkers are warned not to venture right up to the lip of the glacier, as huge chunks of ice regularly break off, creating crashing echoes that ring through the valley. In 2004 a massive sub-glacial lake burst into the valley here after a natural ice dam melted, causing a massive landslide and heavy floods. The Norwegian Glacier Centre in Fjærland illustrates how glaciers form and move. Nils Paulsen, the centre's manager, explains that glaciers are regularly monitored to see how they are affected by climatic variations. "Glaciers are complex indicators of climate change. They can melt very dramatically during warm, dry summers, but grow again during wet winters," he says. In 2006 one local glacier receded a record 122 metres. UP INTO THE MOUNTAINS Connecting buses take me on northwards to Geirangerfjord, claimed by many aficionados to be Norway's most beautiful fjord. Cruise ships and local ferries ply their way slowly along the S-shaped fjord, as passengers view wonderful waterfalls, long abandoned cliff-hanging farms, and the majestic mountains all around. RIGHT: Geiranger, Møre og Romsdal. BELOW RIGHT: Enjoying a winter picnic in Sogndal. BELOW RIGHT: The fjords as seen from Bergen. Touring the fjords "Norway in a Nutshell" tours combining scheduled train, boat and bus trips are sold through Fjord Tours. Prices vary for different itineraries. The route Oslo-Flåm-Nærøyfjord-Bergen costs 1240 NOK (138) one-way. www.norwaynutshell.com Accommodation is not included in Nutshell tours. An annual Fjord Pass card (100 NOK about 11) gives discounts on overnights at hotels and guest houses around Norway. www.fjord-pass.com. Reasonably priced cabin accommodation is available at many campsites. Hostelling International Norway runs cheap but comfortable hostels in the Western Fjords region. www.hihostels.no. Boat and bus services criss-crossing the Western Fjords region are run by Fjord1. www.fjord1.no. Johan Berge/Innovation Norway
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