Take two rapidly ageing nerds. Send them to camp at a festival that takes place amongst the fabled burial mounds of Borre, Norway. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, not really very much. Our website’s first excursion to Norway was actually totally drama-free unless you count a couple of days of unending rain – which, according to some of the people we met, was actually pretty good going. Besides, my festival days started at Download, and that typically looks much like the Uruk-Hai birthing scene from Lord of the Rings.
In this next series of feature articles, we’ll be breaking down our trip to the small but mighty Midgardsblot festival into lovely, digestible little chunks. There are bands, there are boats, there’s an abundance of fire and the discovery of an alcoholic beverage I can now only refer to as The Devil’s Nectar. Join us as we explore four days of metal and Norwegian history in an extremely unique and beloved festival. And, obviously, enjoy a little bit of the aforementioned devil’s nectar along the way.
DAY ONE: THE JOURNEY TO CAMP UTGARD
My journey to the festival began, regrettably, at 4 AM. The dark gods of affordable flights had conspired to make me rise at that unholiest of hours to begin the expedition to Norway. My partner in crime Jimmy was travelling from Stockholm, Sweden by car – in a rusty, trusty Volvo that we weren’t quite sure would survive the trip.
In any case, one train later I was falling asleep at the airport, and Jimmy was embarking on the final leg of his own journey. This was my first time travelling to Scandinavia – a region I have always wanted to visit – and I enjoyed trying to puzzle out the Norsk announcements on the flight with varying success (Thanks, 600-day Norwegian Duolingo streak). I flew by Norwegian, and I assume the flight was pretty good. I spent half of it trying to sleep underneath a beanie and the rest spamming my partner on WhatsApp so she’d get an absolute deluge of nonsense messages when we landed.
In what seemed like no time at all the flight landed at Oslo Gardermoen airport. It’s a great airport – the architecture is so open and welcoming compared to Gatwick, and – at least when I arrived – incoming visitors were being passed through border control at a blinding speed. ‘What brings you to Norway today, sir?’ Oh, I’m going to a music festival’. ‘Where?’ ‘incomprehensible attempt at pronouncing the location’ ‘…have a nice day.‘
Jimmy was waiting patiently at arrival, and within moments we were on our way. The drive took about two hours, backed by an eternally shifting playlist of old favourites and festival must-listens. We arrived just as the camp opened. Festival signage had yet to be established anywhere, and at first, everything looked quiet. We parked next to the Midgard vikingsenter, the museum at the heart of the entire event, and began the short, beladen trudge down to Camp Utgard. There was a short queue to get in, and the site’s strict rules, unfortunately, robbed me of my insect repellent spray right on day one – a mistake that would cost me dearly once the mosquitos rolled in.
The campsite is located on a beautiful Norwegian beach, as you can see below. It’s nestled beneath ancient oak trees that regularly attempt to mate with your head in the form of constantly falling acorns. You can see the picturesque fjord from the camp, and on the days the Saga Oseberg ship sailed out, you could spot it powering across the water with absolutely no modern buildings in the way. That, in particular, was majestic and surreal all at once.
Our camp was established within a couple of hours. We had 24 cans of beer, and full appropriate dress for the occasion. We enjoyed a few small tipples and went for a quiet walk along the beach to escape the full-volume hubbub of a campsite that was only getting busier. Camp Utgard is in a beautiful location, and it is probably about a twenty-minute walk through gorgeous nature to the festival itself. It was already loud when we arrived, and just kept getting louder, with three separate camps all competing to play music at the highest volume.
That was funny at 9 PM, after a few beers. It was not so entertaining at 2 AM, backed by the sound of distant drums and bagpipes from the bonfire party on the beach. But that’s not particularly unique for a festival, and our wry annoyance at it was simply an indicator of our advancing ages. If you are looking for some quiet communion with the beautiful nature of the area, Camp Utgard is not the place to find it.
We skipped the bonfire party on the first night. There were only a handful of people standing around it when we passed, but they were exhibiting a lot of passion – this is clearly a festival that’s very important to the community around it, and that’s a testament to the power Midgardsblot seems to hold over the people that attend. With a couple of beers and the distant sound of drums, we both did our best to get some sleep.
DAY TWO: MIDGARDSBLOT AND THE SAGA OSEBERG
Sleep was scarce, and we’d discovered before settling in for the night that the camp’s quiet time was 4 AM-8 AM. People generally did a pretty good job of honouring that, I think – although at the crack of 8 AM, someone was blaring out Guten Morgen, Sonnenschein. This would go on to happen basically every morning, and I think through a mild trauma response that song is now in a Spotify playlist. The temptation was there to plunge headlong into the festivities but today was a special day – today, we were rowing the spectacular Saga Oseberg out across the fjord.
Upon arrival at the ship’s dock, we were given a quick rundown of our duties on board. Essentially – row until the captain tells you to stop, emergency exits are on either side of the ship (hilarious) and do your best not to fall out. We were treated to an entertaining talk by the man in charge after we’d gotten to grips with rowing, and the accompanying motorboat came to shunt us along for a break.
If you haven’t heard of the Saga Oseberg, it’s a fantastic piece of history. The original Oseberg Ship (which can normally be viewed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, which is unfortunately temporarily closed) was discovered in a burial mound in 1904. The ship itself is thought to have been buried no earlier than 834. The Saga Oseberg is an exact replica of that ship, built by hand using the same tools and materials, famously said to be more accurate than the original itself.
Whilst onboard we got an educational, entertaining talk on the Saga Oseberg’s history, laced with dry, comical personal anecdotes and the ship’s difficulties with the Norwegian government itself (hence the warning about the emergency exits being located either side). It’s hard to put into words just how majestic and inspiring it was to be aboard the ship as it drifted along the fjord. It gives you just a small taste of the hard lives of the people who came before – I think we were all pretty shattered after just 45 minutes of rowing, which was certainly nothing compared to the work ancient sailors would have had to do.
Without Midgardsblot, I never would have had the opportunity to experience this incredible glimpse back in time, and thinking back on it, sailing the Saga Oseberg was probably the highlight of the trip. If you’re in Norway and you have the opportunity – even to just go see it – it’s probably my highest recommended ‘tourist’ activity. Just be prepared to put your back into it.
When we finally disembarked, we were gifted a certificate and a piece of oak wood burned with runes found etched into the Oseberg ship itself. A simple, slightly haunting phrase that I will never forget. ‘Man Knows Little.’
Invigorated by our time aboard the Saga Oseberg, we returned to camp and continued to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors by enjoying a few beers around a fire. The bonfire was a little busier tonight, still accentuated by sonorous drums and bagpipes, but Midgardsblot was yet to truly begin. Tomorrow, the opening ritual would commence, led by music and art collective Folket Bortafor Nordavinden. Sleep came a little easier today – aided immensely by the effort taken to row the Saga Oseberg – and we knew we had another unique, inimitable experience just beyond the horizon.
Coming up next in The Midgardsblot Diaries:
- The one-of-a-kind ‘blot’ ceremony that formally kicks the entire festival off.
- A thunderous opening set from Finnish metallers ‘Finntroll’, and a journey into some of this music scene’s most unique bands.
- We didn’t start the fire – oh, wait, yeah, that was totally us, sorry.
- Enslaved dominate the headliner set with their enthralling blend of metal and Nordic myths.
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