“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”
Llamas in Norway? I had no idea. Then again, I hadn’t heard of Skjolden, Norway, either.
It turns out that the village of Skjolden (the “k” is pronounced like an “h”), with 300 people spread out along Norway’s longest fjord, also has a population of about 20 llamas who live on a farm run by Simon and Monika Page. The port town was a last-minute substitution on our Norway itinerary that sent me scrambling to find something to do there. After eliminating the Urnes Stave Church – a very expensive taxi ride away – and an excursion involving switchback mountain roads with edges that made me quake just reading about them, I found an activity that sounded intriguing.
Skjolden Llamas, a short distance from the town center, offers farm tours as well as “llama walks” that involve taking a llama for a walk from the farm to the river and back. I’d never spent any time up close and personal with a llama and thought it sounded like great fun. Herb, however, needed a bit more convincing. “You want to do what in Norway?” I recall him asking. But after a quick look at the information I’d found, he came on board, laughing at the sheer uniqueness of the whole thing.
A Walk in Skjolden
Skjolden sits at the head of Sognefjord, known as the “king of the fjords” as well as being the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. It’s a scenic walk from the port through the village along a road that winds at the edge of a glacial lake. With our llama encounter not starting until noon, Herb and I spent the morning in town, taking in the scenery and trying to track down a trail that leads to a viewpoint I’d seen online.
Our first stop was the Fjordstova Visitor Centre, which was open, but had no one on hand. Its café and gift shop were also closed. We had better luck next door at the Skjolden Hotel, where a friendly receptionist told us we were welcome to check out the deck overlooking Sognefjord even though we weren’t staying there.
Finding the trail to the viewpoint proved to be a little trickier than I’d thought. We followed a road up into the hills, past farms and distant waterfalls, and eventually turned down another road that ended at a wooded trail behind a house. Not knowing the condition of the trail or how long it would take to reach the viewpoint, we turned back and retraced our steps into town. We had some llamas to meet, after all!
Our Llama Adventure
We met Simon Page in front of the Fjordstova Visitor Center, where nine others had gathered for the llama walk. Simon’s farm lies just off a road not far from the town center, ironically the same route Herb and I had traveled at the beginning of our trail search. When we arrived at the farm, the llamas immediately left their pasture and ambled over to the gate. Clearly they knew a daily walk was about to happen, and from what I could tell, they seemed rather excited!
Before the walk, Simon gave us a little background about his farm and answered the obvious question: “Why llamas?” Originally from England, he told us he’d had an opportunity to purchase two llamas in 2005, not knowing anything about raising them or what to expect from them, and was so impressed with their “gentleness and intelligence” that he and his wife added nine more to the fold the following year. He came up with the idea of the llama walks, he says, as a way to give his brood some much-needed exercise and offer visitors a fun and unique experience.
We lined up by the gate as Simon handed the reins of a llama to each of us. One by one these endearing creatures waited to meet their walking companions, nametags dangling from their harnesses. I was given Google, and Herb was charged with Fluffy. Most of the llamas were well trained, Simon told us, but a younger member of the clan was a little friskier than the others, and a woman in our group volunteered to take him on.
With Simon leading the way, we left the farm and headed down the road single file in what must have looked like people practicing for some sort of parade. Soon we crossed the road onto a path that would take us to the river. I was totally smitten with Google and the surrounding scenery. It was as if I were in a snow globe without the snow, engulfed in a world of shimmering green hillsides, distant waterfalls, the sounds of a rushing river…and a very sweet llama.
Back at the Farm
We lingered by the river for much longer than I’d expected. The llamas seemed happy, the one who broke away from his human companion was rescued from the river, and the easy-going Simon was in no hurry, answering questions and engaging in conversation. I got the feeling that when you live in a place like Skjolden, your inner clock operates at a much more relaxed pace that I was certainly accustomed to. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have given the time much thought if we hadn’t needed to catch our ship, which was leaving Skjolden at 4 pm.
The route back to the farm was a little faster than before, a shortcut that Simon knew well. I said goodbye to Google, unclipped his leash and laid it on the fence with the others. We walked to another pasture where Simon introduced us to the rest of his crew. In addition to llamas, he cares for a large flock of an old Norwegian breed of sheep called “Viking sheep,” who came running to the fence, accompanied by the youngest members of his menagerie. An overload of cuteness that brought an overload of smiles.
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That night as I was falling asleep, thoughts of Google and walking by the river kept playing in my mind. I thought about how a place that I hadn’t even known existed had quickly spun itself into a most memorable day. Travel is funny that way. It opens you up to new places and new ideas, and suddenly you find yourself walking by a river in Norway with a llama named Google.