Sunday, September 5, 2010

Boating on the Telemark Canal

One of the most enjoyable summer vacations we’ve ever had was in August of 2001 when we decided together with two friends to sail up the Telemark Canal with our own boat, from the beginning of the canal in Skien (in south Norway) all the way up to Dalen (a distance of about 65 miles/105 km) and then back to Skien. Our plans included an overnight stay at the famous Dalen Hotel once we arrived there. This was a trip we had been talking about doing for several years, ever since I had taken a short day trip on one of the passenger boats that tourists can book trips on and experienced how the boats enter and leave the lock-chambers in the multiple lock system that characterizes the canal. The canal, formerly an important transportation route within Telemark, was completed in 1892. It consists of eight manually-operated locks situated at Skien, Løveid, Ulefoss, Eidsfoss, Vrangfoss, Lunde, Kjeldal and Hogga, and each of these locks consists of several lock-chambers (a total of eighteen spread out over eight locks), with Vrangfoss having the largest number of chambers (five) (see  The following websites describe the canal and also the lock system in more detail (see;

It took us about three and a half days to make the trip from Skien to Dalen and three days to return to Skien, so we were on the canal for about a week including the one-night stay at Dalen Hotel. Hilde and I drove by car from Oslo to Porsgrunn to meet Trond and Tom, who met us there in the boat before midday, having already sailed from Oslo the day before we left. We then sailed from Porsgrunn to Skien and entered the canal at Skien. 
The entrance to the Telemark Canal in Skien

Thus began a fascinating and idyllic trip that I will never forget and one that I would like to do again at some point. The first day (Monday) we sailed as far as Ulefoss where we docked the boat at the visitor’s pier for an overnight stay. Except for the one evening we stayed overnight at the Dalen Hotel, we slept in the boat (room for six people to sleep) the entire trip. The following day we sailed as far as Lunde and stayed there overnight, and then on Wednesday we docked for the night at Kviteseid; this day was the only day of the trip when it rained heavily, otherwise the weather was very nice for rest of the week. 

The following day we arrived in Dalen at midday where we docked the boat and made our way to what must be one of Norway’s most spectacular old hotels. The hotel’s architecture has been influenced by stave churches, with dragon heads and spears at its topmost portions. 

Dalen Hotel

It has to be experienced—the grand salon with piano, velvet draperies, elegant furniture and carpets—fit for kings, and indeed, kings have stayed here. We enjoyed a very good dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and then retired to the salon afterwards for coffee and cognac and to listen to the pianist play. This was the one night of real luxury during the trip. On Friday we began our return trip down the canal, with an overnight stay at Lunde and then at Ulefoss again. We arrived back in Skien on Sunday evening where we spent the night, returning to Oslo on Monday.

We didn’t realize at the time we planned it, but we actually made the trip during the very last week that the locks were manned for the summer. Had we done the trip a week later, we would have had to have called ahead to each lock station to ensure that someone was there to manually operate the lock chambers.  As it was, we did not have to wait at all to enter the lock chambers, as would have been the case had we done the trip in July with all the other smaller boats plus the tourist boats that normally sail the canal. The rule is that the tourist passenger boats have priority, so sometimes the wait to enter the chambers can be long for pleasure boats.
Tourist boat

It was very interesting to be on our boat as it entered or left the lock-chambers. Once the big wooden doors had closed tightly behind us, the water would rush in and fill the chamber in order to bring us higher (the height of the canal increases considerably from Skien to Dalen—about 72 meters total). The reverse occurs on the return trip to Skien--the water in the chamber would begin to be slowly emptied in order to aid our descent. Several pleasure boats of about the same size were usually allowed into the chamber at the same time. Fenders had to be out of both sides of the boat, and ropes (attached to a post at the top of the chamber) were tossed down to us by the men who manned the locks. These were to help us keep the boat in position during the filling or emptying of the chamber, which could often create choppy water and currents that tossed the boat about somewhat. Holding onto the ropes was actually a harder job than it seemed at first, once the filling or emptying of the chambers started, but Trond and Tom managed this job well (Hilde and I helped as well) and it became easier with each chamber we entered.

Lock chamber filling with water

Our boat in a lock chamber

On the return trip, during the time it took for the boat to go through the five lock-chambers at Vrangfoss (about an hour), I had the chance to leave the boat before it entered the lock to go the restaurant there that sells rømmegrøt—a sour cream porridge that is very good. I never thought I would like it—but I do. It is particularly good in exactly that restaurant in Vrangfoss. During the remaining time Hilde and I stood and watched Trond and Tom maneuver the boat into the lock chambers and watched the other pleasure boats as well.

It was peaceful to be on the canal for a week. There was no rushing, no stress, no having to be anywhere at any given time. We enjoyed leisurely days--eating lunch on the boat and dinners at small cafes or restaurants in the vicinity of the different places we docked for the night. The water was calm, the weather mild, the sky blue and the sun warm. Parts of the canal were idyllic--the scenery beautiful with the greenery of summer, and small cottages dotted the landscape here and there. We saw many swans along the canal, especially at Lunde; such graceful beautiful birds. I took a lot of pictures, trying to capture that idyllic feeling in photos. It cannot really be captured—it has to be experienced. We had the canal mostly to ourselves for the week because there were so few tourists at the time we made the trip and that was ideal. Looking back on that vacation, I would have to say it is one of the best we have ever had. 


  1. wish I was there with you. looks incredible. but we will be there soon. the hotel also looks incredible. thanks for sharing. your sis

  2. You're welcome. Looking forward to your visit!!