This week, I'm on a teacher exchange project in Stavanger, Norway, and, although we're spending almost all our time in a conference room of the university working on a project about critical literacy, the Norwegian teachers did take us out on our first day to see some of the beautiful scenery. They all had loads of hats, gloves and scarves in their car boots so the first job was making sure we were all wrapped up warm enough.
That's not all they had though - despite the temperatures bouncing around zero and a few snowflakes falling from the sky, they gaily announced that we'd be having lunch outside and started unpacking water, cooking supplies and wood !
From the car park, we could see our destination - that big hill in the background. If you look closely, you can just see the little pillar on the top.
Stavanger is in the southwest of Norway and our hike was in Sandnes, the town just next to it.
Dalsnuten has an altitude of 324 m and the excursion is described as "a refreshing walk through easy terrain to the summit which rewards you with a marvellous view". This is by Norwegian standards though and it involved lots of pretty energetic scrambling over slippery ice-covered rocks to reach the summit ! Picking our way back down was even trickier but it was worth it for the views.
Just a few metres from the car, the beautiful Norwegian scenery kicked in, with pure mountain lakes and woodland - Norwegian woods !
It's fabulously serene and untouched.
Our hosts said that we'd leave our provisions at the base of a tree and pick it all up a couple of hours later when we'd finished our hike. We laughed that if you did that in France or the UK, you'd come back and half of it would have disappeared ! They did say that this would be the same in the big towns but here in the mountains, there were just families so it was no problem. Sure enough, other people were leaving their food and possessions lying around in the woodlands.
There were a group of little wooden huts in a clearing in the woods that could be used by hikers and families as a rest stop. Little did we know that we'd find out more about them on the way back !
It was described as an easy walk but it was recommended to wear good walking boots - we soon found out why as we went stomping through waterlogged, boggy ground !
Then we climbed over the Norwegian version of a stile.
I didn't take many photos on the way up as it was complicated trying to find hand and foot holds and not slip on the rocks, but luckily the Sherpas had been through long ago to cut (very uneven) steps into the rock to help with the ascent. Two days later, I can still feel the burn in my thigh muscles though !
The mountain peaks in the distance were white with snow.
The wind really picked up as we reached the summit.
But the views out across the fjords made it all worthwhile.
The photos don't really do it justice.
But adding a couple of people to the photo gives you more of a sense of perspective.
This is the headteacher of one of the schools that we'll be visiting later in the week.
Right at the summit is the stone pillar (or cairn) that we could see from the car park.
There is a stone with a plaque telling you something but goodness knows what it says. Even if you could speak Norwegian, most of the letters have been rubbed off by the weather !
There is also a book for you to sign to say you reached the top.
I'm sure there must be a geocache lurking in one of these holes too !
A final look at the views and it was time to head back down - easier said than done, picking a path down through the rocks !
And back through the swamp !
The car park was full when we set out but we barely saw another person, except at the summit.
When our hosts had told us we'd be eating outside, we thought they were joking, but sure enough, we had a barbecue with snowflakes floating down around us !
The Norwegians had brought a big iron cooking tray, plastic food dishes, cups, cutlery, water, firewood and lots of vegetables that were already sizzling away by the time we got down to the base camp !
Next to us was a family with the kids cooking sausages on sticks which was really cute !
It was a bit smoky but the Norwegians even have a saying that the smoke always heads towards the prettiest girl. This makes you feel a bit better when you're spluttering and rubbing your eyes because the wind has changed direction !
On the way back, we stopped off at Sverd i Fjell, three 10 metre high bronze swords planted into the rock of a small hill next to the fjord to commemorate the historic Battle of Hafrsfjord in the year 872, when King Harald Fairhair gathered all of Norway under one crown.
The largest sword represents the victorious Harald, and the two smaller swords represent the defeated kings. The monument also represents peace, since the swords are planted into solid rock, so they may never be removed.
We only took a quick photo though because the light was staring to fade and the wind was whipping across the fjord so it was freezing cold !