Category Archives: Hillwalking

Concerning Welfare

Sunrise/sunset: 09:01/ 16:00. Daylength: 6hr58min

Back in June I wrote a post about complaints from animal rights organisations about Mattilsynet: Trouble in Paradise. Last weekend on my Facebook feed, I found a post from a colleague with a link to a new article from NRK, Norway’s public services broadcaster. It contained the stories of whistleblowers from within Mattilsynet regarding the distress its inspectors are feeling about their inability protect the welfare of the animals they are supposed to oversee.

Link to article in Norwegian: We have to close our eyes to suffering animals. *See note below for translation tips

One of the things I have noticed in my job is that almost every other week, changes are introduced to policies and protocols. There’s a lot to learn in any role and a year in, I feel I’m still picking things up, which would be enough already without the feeling that anything I learn might shift again next week. Then there’s the “paperwork”. Most of it is digitalised now, but there is a whole load of report writing, which often takes up far more time than the actual visit.

I am catching up gradually with some of the politics, and it seems that the current concentration on bureaucracy relates to criticism from the official Norwegian Auditor General in 2019 regarding the poor quality of case processing. It was stated that Mattilsynet lacked good tools and systems to deal with the animal welfare supervision it had to carry out, and that the result was that serious breaches of the animal welfare laws were not being followed up. It also said that Mattilsynet employees were not using the tools they had to penalise those who broke the law, and that it took too long for those who didn’t take proper care of their animals to be banned.

There’s a certain irony to what is happening now as a result of these accusations. I haven’t been here long, but one of the major constraints is the computer system we have to work with when processing cases. We use a system called MATS. I don’t know how old it is, but it is so complicated to use that it slows everything down. It sets out protocols and you have to work through the elements in order and tick off certain actions before you can proceed to the next. So if I receive a message from the public regarding a concern about animal welfare, it comes to me in MATS. I have to process that message and work through various stages on a list, and then at some point I will come to the end of that segment and have to move onto the next.

Once you click through to the new section, you can’t go back and change anything in the previous section if you’ve made an error. Thomas always tells me I have to be very careful before I click onwards, and I often check with him. But as I am trying to stand on my own feet a bit more, there have been cases where I have got as far as writing a report or a response to an animal owner who has asked for permission for something, and then had to go right back to the beginning as I realised I had linked the case to the animal owner’s personal file, and not to their business, or some other easily made system error that cannot be rectified.

MATS is also clunky in other ways. Almost nothing is automatic. Before we leave the farm or home, following an inspection, we have to write a “receipt” with a summary of what we have checked and what our assessments were. This used to be on paper, but now most of them are sent electronically. So we type our observations into an app. This would be very useful if there was an integrated system. If the observations we recorded in the receipt were transmitted automatically into MATS, and then perhaps used in the report, then it would be truly useful. As it is, we have to open MATS and the receipt and copy and paste all the information from one to the other.

The report itself has to comply with strict parameters in how it is set out and before I can send it to the owner, I have to run it past a colleague, and then afterwards past a control team, all the time making amendments, and then often sending it back and forth multiple times until everyone is satisfied.

Instead of rebuilding the system, they are adding things like the receipt system (and another system that allows us to add photo evidence) before the problem of MATS has been addressed. It seems to me, that they are trying to tweak something that is so fundamentally flawed that they are actually making the situation worse instead of better.

Of course all of this really comes back down to funding and monitoring. The argument is that they can’t afford a new system, though not affording it is probably costing millions. I have watched similar events in the public sector in the UK. The health service and school systems have both wandered into this territory where funding is reduced, then criticisms are made, and rather than improving the situation, new systems for monitoring are introduced, which increase the workload in ways that do nothing to correct the problems, but increase the cost of the operation. That the Norwegian government is paying veterinary surgeons to copy-paste long lists of observations and check and recheck whether the reports we write comply exactly with a template, which could presumably be automatically applied if the will and funding was there, seems brainless to me.

In addition, there are certain routine visits we carry out, for example those to check the farmers are following the rules with regard to ear-marks, disease control and traceability. Common sense would suggest that if no breaches of the rules are discovered, the feedback report could be generated automatically. Not only would that save direct work for the vet who did the inspection, but it would sidestep all the report-checks for compliance and would ensure their other aim – that everyone is dealt with the same way, wherever they are in Norway – was met without any effort whatsoever. Reducing the time it takes to process cases would free up time so that we could carry out more inspections. It seems like the system is set up in a way that prevents us from doing the most fundamental part of the job, which should be getting out and checking whether the animals are okay.

Anyway, I’m not going to comment any more on this for now. Our area is actually better off than those in the report, for which I am grateful. The report mentions an area where the inspectors have been told they can’t take on any more cases until the old ones are cleared up and we haven’t reached that stage. Thomas often tells me of his frustration that we are firefighting cases, rather than preventing problems before they start. Because I’ve only been here a short time, I can’t compare it with how things used to be, but he feels things have become more difficult. I am also aware of how much Thomas takes on, in comparison with what I can do at the moment. Though I help as much as I can, I know he is taking responsibility for the worst problems, as I work to follow what he’s doing and ensure the case timelines are kept in order. I am learning a lot about how cases should be handled, but even writing up the timelines shows me how frustrating the system is. There has been a change in government in Norway and the new government is more left-leaning, so I can only hope that some of the budget cuts, that have been happening forever, start to be reversed.

*****

Though the snow has gone for now, it was beautiful while it lasted. Triar and I followed the same trail last Saturday as we had the week before. There were amazing views as I reached the higher ground and I went a little further than last time, though I think I was still only about halfway along the trail to the peak. I need to find someone to go with me before attempting the whole walk.

Looking back at the snowy trail up to Kistefjellet

And on Tuesday evening, there was a snowstorm. Though it was windy, the temperature was around zero. When it’s really cold, the snow is powdery, and when the wind blows, it doesn’t stick to anything. But this snow stuck to everything. I went down into the town centre to get something, and had to stop to take photographs of the trees as they were so beautiful against the overcast sky and the streetlights.

I am looking forward to winter now. Though snow can be inconvenient, I still feel a childlike excitement when I wake up to find the world has turned white. And in a month, the polar night will be here. I hope you will follow and share it with me.

*If you want to read a Norwegian article in English (or any other language) you can paste the URL into Google Translate (set the languages at the top). A link will appear in the “Translation” side. If you click on the link, it should take you to a translated version of the article.

Murder in the Mountains

Sunrise/sunset: 07:33/ 17:35. Daylength: 10hr01min

It crossed my mind this week that perhaps I should try a change of direction in my writing. I don’t really read enough these days (I have six unread books waiting at the moment in my bedroom) but the family Netflix account is filled with dark drama from all parts of Scandinavia. I have all the elements I need. I could set it in the blue Polar Night, when the morning never comes and have a grisly scene in the slaughter house, with a human cadaver hanging among the carcases. There could be people smuggling, with all the season workers coming in, or perhaps the victim(s) could be working in the laundries, washing all those blood stained clothes. Maybe a hand can emerge from one of those huge piles of snow that gather during the winter months, leaving everyone baffled as to when the murder actually occurred.

It’s actually been a quiet week. Andrew has been away, visiting his dad, who lives near Stavanger. Before he went, I asked him to show me how to use the TV. When I was young, the TV was simple to use. Admittedly, you had to stand up to switch it on, and indeed to change the channel, though back then there were only three to choose from anyway. Our first TV was a tiny black and white portable that, rather bizarrely, my parents won in a competition. They also won a small sailing boat on a trailer. I can vaguely remember it appearing in the drive outside our house. Of course, it had to go because they had no car to tow it with. They sold it and bought a little white mini. Anyway I’ve wandered away from the point, which was that I have spent the week alone and quite enjoyed it. I could indulge my taste for true crime and mashed potato. The candles have been lit every evening. It feels comforting to return to having some darkness at a time that my body feels is appropriate.

I went out walking again with Ann and Konstantin last weekend. We went up Falkefjellet. The peak we reached, though not the highest point, was above the treeline, which meant there was a good view all round.

The best thing about it was that, for the first time in a while, I felt I could have walked further. My springtime Fit for the Summer campaign seems a very long time ago. The summer was marred by sickness and it has felt like every time I began to work again on getting back into shape, I was hit by something that stopped me. As I reached the summit of Falkefjellet, I remembered how much I love the feeling of arriving on the top of the world. The higher mountains are now swathed in snow, but perhaps there will be time to get a few walks in before the winter really sets in.

The photograph at the top of the page is of one of the red markers on the walk, though the shape of the rock and the bloody brightness of the paint was one of the things that prompted my Scandi Noir thoughts. Here it is again, the full photo, rather than the cropped version.

Konstantin was full of facts about the wildlife and the landscape. He is interested in geology and occasionally would point out pieces of marble, or rock formations and tell us how they had been formed. For example, here’s another red marker, this time looking a little like a stone dagger, set into fractured rock.

I asked him how the cracking occurred and he pointed to another section of rock just to the left, where there was more rock in the process of arriving there. This had earth in between the cracks, which of course will hold water. It freezes in winter, driving the stones apart, and then eventually the mud gets washed away, leaving the rather mysterious looking holes in the mountainside.

It was windy on the summit, so here is a picture of Triar, looking windswept and interesting.

Konstantin was in the lead with Triar during the walk. I think they look good together!

And of course, as we descended back to the treeline, there were some wonderful views to enjoy, as well as the smaller details of unexpected plants growing underfoot, in nooks and crannies, and on the trunks of dead but unfallen trees.

Andrew was due to return last night in the evening and the airport is close to the abattoir, so rather than driving over there twice in a day, I decided to take Triar in the car, have dinner with John, and then wait. It was a little hair raising, driving over. Until now, the temperature has been well above zero, but a wind from the north has changed that, and when I left for work at 04.45 there was frost on the car. I still have the summer wheels on as I don’t use the car much and up until now, they have been fine. I will change them over next week, but for now I had to proceed with caution in the darkness. I’d had to stop when driving home on Thursday, as there was a moose that thought about crossing the road, though he looked at all the cars which had stopped to let him, and changed his mind. They’re huge when you see them close up, so I was very wary, but we made it there safely. To fill in the time between work ending and collecting Andrew, I took a quick reprise of the spring fitness project. This is how the landscape looks now, as we head into winter. If you look carefully at the second picture, you can see the white peaks in the distance, though they are rather swathed in clouds.

The plane arrived on time and as we arrived back at the house, Andrew pointed at the sky. There they were, the northern lights, greeting him on his return to the north.

Linken and Tromsø

Sunrise/sunset: 03:50/ 21:51. Daylength: 18hr1min

Today we head north again. We will be spending tonight in Skibotn and the night after, who knows where? I made the mistake of looking up the coronavirus map yesterday and saw that the north of Norway is currently lit up like a viral Christmas tree, but hopefully that and the hairy-legged northern mosquitos won’t trouble us too much. Anyway, back to this week’s news.

On Monday, Ann, Ammar and I headed out for a walk after work. We climbed a hill called Linken. I’ve been very interested to see how rapidly we have left summer behind. We had just arrived this time last year and so I missed those wild and exuberant months, where the abundance of life thrust its way into every crevice. The change arrived almost as soon as the sun began to dip below the horizon again. At the start of the summer, there was a delay. In my head, those long, long days should have brought warmth and growth, but it took time for the land to recover from the long hard winter. Now we have plummeted into autumn. The trees are only just beginning to turn, but the forest floor, so recently dominated by lime green ferns and brightly coloured flowers, is now filled with berries and mushrooms.

Ammar made the most of the blueberries.

The view from the top of Linken was mostly obscured by trees, but I managed to take a couple of photographs.

On Thursday, Anna and I drove to Tromsø so I could sit my citizenship test. I spent last weekend and took most of a day off during the week to revise. I learned a few odd facts along the way. I hadn’t realised the Viking period lasted only about 250 years. Somehow, it has always felt like something timeless. And who knew that Norway’s highest mountain is Galdhøpiggen at 2,469 m (8,100 ft) above sea level? I told Anna and she pointed out that translated, it’s name means Crazily High Peak. One has to wonder whether the map maker asked one of the locals and received a rather tongue in cheek reply, which then was preserved for all time by officialdom!

The test is thirty six multiple-choice questions and I knew I was reasonably well prepared, but because of the deadline (an appointment with the police at the end of August) I needed to pass if I didn’t want to delay my application any further. The test was meant to take up to an hour, but in the event, I was finished after only eleven minutes. I wondered whether I ought to scroll back and check my answers, but the woman who was checking our proof of ID had just arrived at my desk. I wasn’t sure what the protocol for finishing was, so I asked her and then went ahead. Walking up the stairs to get my results, my heart was in my mouth, but as I walked back down, my heart was singing. I don’t know what my mark was, but I had passed and that was all that mattered.

Having driven all that way, Anna and I spent some time exploring Tromsø. First off was this wonderful book (and toy) shop that we found tucked away in a little yard down near the docks.

I’m a sucker for all things Harry Potter, and so I was delighted to see some fabulous memorabilia.

There was a reasonable sized English section (albeit sci-fi dominated) and I took the chance to buy four Terry Pratchett books. Only a few weeks ago, I was thinking that I almost never read anything new, but now I have plenty of reading to look forward to.

We wandered around the docklands area for a little while. I don’t know much about Tromsø’s history (a topic for another day perhaps) but it really did seem to be an eclectic mix of old and new and definitely had some quirky elements.

We also found a pub. I’m not sure I’ve actually been in a pub in Norway before. There isn’t a pub tradition here in the way there is in the UK. This one had a very British feel to it and Anna and I immediately felt at home.

Anyway, I’ll have to go now and get some breakfast. The car is packed already and I’m feeling in a holiday mood. Thanks for reading. See you all very soon!

Fit for the Summer

Sunrise/sunset: Up all day.

Ann was on holiday this week and so I worked every day from Tuesday to Friday at the abattoir in Bardufoss. I was on animal welfare duty all week (which involves an early start) and as John is living over there in an apartment with a spare bedroom, I spent the better part of the week at his place.

As we set off to drive over on Monday evening, we began discussing health and fitness. Through the long winter, walking in the countryside was largely impossible. Trails were blocked with snow and even if you wanted to park and walk along the road, you often couldn’t as the car parks hadn’t been cleared and there was nowhere to stop. Looking back, I realise how unprepared I was. Next winter, I will have to find a solution other than sitting on the couch for three months, but for now, the challenge is to get my untrained muscles outside and get some fresh air into my lungs.

John suggested we walk up an unmade road close to his house that weaves up the side of one of the fells. Because it’s technically a road, it was cleared through the winter. A few weeks ago, there would have been an icy crust and walls of snow, but those have melted. There are large laybys all the way up. In winter, these were crucial passing places when the road was hemmed in, but now they are big enough to park in.

John’s proposal was that we should start from the bottom and walk up in stages, so that’s what we did. The first day’s walk was a steep twenty minute trek through woodland. It was pretty enough, even as I gasped my way uphill. A large stream, recently frozen, ran alongside sections of the track. The forest floor was still lined with snow. But it was only when we reached the end of the first day’s segment and turned round that I could see just how beautiful the scenery was.

Day one from the highest point of our walk.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the mountains were swathed in pure white. Now their rocky faces are emerging and the trees that line their lower slopes are beginning to be tinged with purple as new branches and leaf buds begin to grow.

Icy mountain stream.

We stopped to photograph the stream on the way back down. The peaty water flowing over the ice gives it a very different look from the streams in Scotland in springtime.

Highest point on day two.

On day two, we took the car up to the highest point we had reached on day one and set off from there. The trees were more sparse up here, clinging on to the thin layer of earth over the rocks. In the lower right corner of the photo, you can get an idea of how thick the snow still is. It’s treacherous to walk through. There’s a crust on the top, which occasionally holds firm, but more often you fall through and find yourself off-balance in a knee-deep, foot-sized hole. As your other foot is similarly wedged, moving it quickly to correct your balance is impossible. I haven’t yet fallen flat on my face, but that’s because I mostly avoid making the attempt.

Mountains beyond the trees.

The emerging colours are stunning. After months of white, it feels as if the world is coming to life again. The pussy willow trees are so rife with pollen that it almost looks like blossom. There were birds too, singing in the trees.

Tree in bloom.
Day three, close to the top.

By day three, my legs were beginning to flag and so we walked only ten minutes instead of the normal twenty. The sky that day was filled with dramatic clouds, and yet it was still warm enough to walk without a jacket. Then again, five degrees feels warm to me now. There’s no doubt my body has adjusted to the local climate.

The colours of spring.

I came home yesterday and walked here instead, but I confess that I love the new project John has created for me. We will continue walking up the mountain over the next few weeks, and hopefully when the trails on Senja are properly opened up again, we will be able to tackle some of the mountains there.

And, of course, I can’t write this blog and fail to mention the fact that we now have twenty four hours of daylight. I stayed up last night, to see whether there would be midnight sun, but it dipped behind the mountains at eleven fifty. Going to bed is more difficult when it is still so light. It’s also difficult when you wake in the middle of the night and there’s bright sunshine filtering round the edges of the blind and curtains. There’s no way to judge whether it’s morning or not. I have to check the clock each time. Tough to go back to sleep at four in the morning when your eyes are telling you it’s full daylight. Have a great week everyone.

Bjørndalsfjellet and Dalsnuten – Photos

Today Charlie and I tackled our first two peaks in the “10 på Topp” challenge. Ten peaks to climb in Sandnes Kommune before November. Bjørndalsfjellet is 362m and Dalsnuten is 323m.

The path to Bjørndalsnuten
The path to Bjørndalsnuten

Mountain flower
Mountain flower

Looking south from close to the top of Bjørndalfjellet
Looking south from close to the top of Bjørndalfjellet

Bjørndalsfjellet summit
Bjørndalsfjellet summit

Charlie
Charlie

On the way down
On the way down

Beside the path to Dalsnuten
Beside the path to Dalsnuten

Looking back at Bjørndalsfjellet
Looking back at Bjørndalsfjellet

Towards Dalsnuten
Towards Dalsnuten

Charlie at the summit of Dalsnuten
Charlie at the summit of Dalsnuten

Along the fjord
Across the fjord

Stavanger
Stavanger

Heading down
Heading down

Temptation.....
Giving in to temptation…

Krossfjell and Bynuten photos

We climbed Krossfjell on 30th May and Bynuten yesterday. Krossfjell is the second smallest of the hills at 258m, Bynuten is the highest at 671m. Krossfjell was a pleasant afternoon’s hike, Bynuten, at 12km over rough going was more challenging.

Krossfjell Summit
Krossfjell Summit

Native fauna!
Native fauna!

Excellent view on the way up!
Excellent view on the way up!

Flowers
Flowers

A gentle walk through farming country.
A gentle walk through farming country.

The Summit of Bynuten
The Summit of Bynuten

The view from the summit
The view from the summit!

Fluffy!
Fluffy!

Lots of yellow flowers
Lots of yellow flowers

I found this tiny red flower under a rock just before...
I found this tiny red flower under a rock just before…

...Charlie unexpectedly found a hole!
…Charlie unexpectedly found a hole!

The sky began to clear as we descended
The sky began to clear as we descended

And the sun returned as we began the long trek home. Note the rocky 'path'.
And the sun returned as we began the long trek home. Note the rocky ‘path’.

Almost back
Almost back

Getting late
Getting late

Beautiful things can even grow in cattle-grids
Beautiful things can even grow in cattle-grids

Summer passing

Summer is drawing towards its end and the chillier nights are creeping in, but there is still warmth when the sun is high. Marian and I walked today on Ognaheia amidst overwhelming beauty: sparkling dew on tendrils of spider-silk, sunlight filtering into the dark places through the shivering silver birch, the red of the rowan and the woodland toadstools against the late-summer foliage, the blue intensity of the sky going on forever. As ever it seems impossible to catch these images on camera, but I have attempted to do so and will share the best with you.

Setting out from the farm.
Setting out from the farm.

Walking east into the morning sun.
Walking east into the morning sun.

Marian.
Marian.

Amanita muscaria.
Amanita muscaria.

Standing alone.
Standing alone.

From the tiny...
From the tiny…

... to drooping splendour.
… to drooping splendour.

... the woodland floor was replete...
… the woodland floor was replete…

... with reams of toadstools.
… with reams of toadstools.

This magnificent creature joined our mid-morning snack, bringing his newly-caught food with him.
This magnificent creature joined our mid-morning snack, bringing his newly-caught food with him.

Sparkling with reflected light.
Sparkling with reflected light.

Seemingly unafraid.
Seemingly unafraid.

Late-blooming heather.
Late-blooming heather.

Dewdrops scattering sunlight.
Dewdrops scattering sunlight.

More magnificent fungi.
More magnificent fungi.

And evidence of tiny creatures we couldn't even see.
And evidence of tiny creatures we couldn’t even see.

And a final flourish of red before the end.
And a final flourish of red before the end.

Buzzing!

Spring is arriving here at last. Marian and I have finally managed to find some time for walking. As you can see from the picture at the top of the page, Bijke came too.

We took the Vestlandske Hovedsvei as it isn’t too far from home.

I actually only started taking photographs when we reached the top of the hill and sat down for coffee . . . here . . .

IMG_8495

I always find this landscape hard to photograph. It’s very rough terrain, but the horizon is flat. As you can see, everything is still winter brown.

IMG_8515

Bijke seemed to be enjoying the sunshine.

We sat for quite a while. The sun is beginning to have some real warmth. While we were sitting on top of the hill, I could hear a skylark singing.

IMG_8527

As we walked down this hill, there was a ringing sound in my ears.

IMG_8530

Not such a good photo because she was a long way away, but we did find the source of the soothing clank clank . That is one of the sounds of summer here.

As we passed by a rocky stream, above the rushing water, frogs were croaking out their spring song.

IMG_8536

Anyone want to live in this house? I know I do. Note the grass roof.

IMG_8537

Almost back at the car, our footsteps were arrested beside this tree.

It wasn’t the sight of it that caused us to stop and take a closer look. The tree was humming.

IMG_8539

Bees! There were thousands of them. I’ve never heard anything like it. I can see two in this photo alone.

IMG_8551

And then we were back at the car in the farmland at the bottom of the valley where it’s possible to grow crops.

I’m off to Yorkshire on Thursday. I’m hoping for sunshine and lambs. Not sure when I’ll be able to blog again (I’m not back until Monday) but I hope while I’m there to do some research for Christmas at Mistletoe Cottage.