Category Archives: Holiday

The Snowy Peaks

Sunrise/sunset: 05:58/17:56 Daylength: 11hr58min

And so I have returned from my holiday. It was not as restful as I could have wished, but I did catch up with almost all of my immediate family in the UK. Quite a task when they are rather scattered.

I will start with a picture of our plane in Bardufoss, just as Andrew and I were boarding. I commented on it after my last holiday, but the contrast between Bardufoss and Heathrow couldn’t be much greater. I meant to take a photo at the end of our journey, but was so pleased to have arrived, I quite forgot.

We spent a couple of days in Winchester with my daughter Anna and her girlfriend Lauren and then headed up to the Peak District to meet my parents. A few months ago, when booking this holiday, I decided I wanted to meet up with Mum and Dad. Driving up to their home in Yorkshire seemed quite a long way, so looking at a map of the UK, I plumped on the Peak District, as somewhere that was in between Winchester and North Yorkshire and was noted for being beautiful. I knew I would be hiring a car and I was looking forward to gambolling amongst the daffodils and driving round in blue-skied, spring weather.

It was wet on the day we drove up, and the journey was longer than I had realised. I had hoped to be there to pick my parents up from the station, but they decided to take an early train and there was no way that, with almost two hundred miles to go, I could make it there comfortably by one o’clock, so abandoning any idea of getting there early, I decided we would take our time, given that the driving conditions were quite unpleasant.

At about two in the afternoon, Anna received a plaintive text from Mum. They had arrived soaking wet after quite a walk from the railway station. The inn where we were staying was all closed up until five. They had been allowed in to their room, only after a special appeal to the landlady and that was only because there were absolutely no cafes open in the village of Bradwell where we were staying.

When I had planned the trip, I had hoped that my dad would drive the two hour journey to join us, so that we would have two cars. What I hadn’t planned for were the Dire Weather Warnings. Far from the spring holiday I had been imagining, an Arctic Blast was to arrive. Understandably, Dad had abandoned the idea of driving. While our inn had received wonderful reviews, I hadn’t really checked out how much there was to do in the village. The idea that the inn itself would be closed until five each day hadn’t been part of my calculations either. Nor was the fact that it was Monday afternoon and the inn wasn’t going to be serving food in the evenings until Wednesday. What on earth were we going to do for two days in a village with nothing to do, with only one car and six people? How were we going to feed ourselves? Mum was also cross, it seemed, as she had been told I had received an e-mail with the information that check in was after five. I confess that, at this point, I began to think the entire trip was going to be a wash out.

We arrived at about four and spent the intermediate time driving around Bradwell and Hope Valley. It was certainly a charming place, with steep roads, bounded by grey stone houses and drystone walls, which were sometimes so narrow that the distance sensors on both sides of the hire car were flashing at me. I noted that there was an Indian restaurant in the next village. Potentially I could drive everyone there in two trips, but curry two days running didn’t sound too appealing either.

When we finally drew up in front of The Shoulder of Mutton Mum came out to greet us. It hadn’t really been so bad. They had been allowed into their room, which had been quite warm. The landlady had brought them milk for their tea and four pieces of cake. The room Andrew and I were shown to was lovely. Each of the rooms was named after animals and ours was The Hare. As well as a lovely view from the window, it was clean and fresh, with lovely touches on the theme of hares. Even the mugs had hares on them.

Better still, when we went downstairs, the landlord greeted us warmly. There was no food on offer in the bar, but if we would like to buy in fish and chips in the village, or order carry out from somewhere else, they would set us up a table in the restaurant and we could eat in comfort there. To my amazement, at no extra charge, we were provided with a table, plates and cutlery on both of the first two days of our stay. It was also realised that, because of the way the booking had been done, we hadn’t received the e-mail we should have that would have told us about the five o’clock check in. It was just an unfortunate oversight.

We spent Tuesday exploring Castleton. Mum and Dad went on the bus (a fifteen minute journey) and we joined them in the car. I should certainly have checked out what would be available a bit more before travelling. I am out of touch with opening times in the UK and had assumed there would be historic houses open to explore, but we were a week too early. Still, it was lovely wandering around Castleton and we did get some lovely food as there were several cafes open. Though it was chilly, it still felt spring-like.

With ever increasing Dire Weather Warnings, Mum and Dad decided to go home a day early. Though they were on the train, there was still a risk of disruption and they had to drive to get their much-loved cat, Sammy, from the cattery. The lovely owners of the inn even reimbursed their room fee for the night they didn’t use. I would absolutely recommend The Shoulder of Mutton. After an inauspicious start, we couldn’t have been made more welcome or been treated better.

Anna, Andrew, Lauren and I decided to stay on and risk it. Though I was wary about other drivers, the potential lack of gritting and clearing of the roads and the lack of my trusty winter tyres, I thought we would probably make it. We took a drive over to Bakewell on a Bakewell tart hunt and as well as buying a delicious Bakewell pudding (like the tart but without icing and absolutely delicious) we got to see some of Derbyshire as the snow began to fall.

Bakewell puddings in Bakewell

It wasn’t great driving to Lower Slaughter near Cheltenham on Thursday. It had snowed overnight and the road that led over the moors at the beginning of our journey was treacherous, with rutted slushy snow that made driving very difficult. We arrived safely however, and met up with my sister, Helen, and her husband, Steve. They came out with us for a delicious Chinese meal in Cheltenham and donated a big box of logs for us to use on the fire in the cottage we had rented. Anna and Lauren took a walk to Lower Slaughter, which they tell me was gorgeous, but it will have to wait until next time as I spent the day resting in front of the fire.

We arrived back in Norway on Sunday night, very late and slightly concerned as a girl beside us on the plane had been vomiting all the way from Oslo to Bardufoss. I hadn’t expected a lot of snow while we were away: the forecast had been clear, but there was a good deal more than when we had left. It was no longer possible to see the road in either direction when turning out of the driveway. Even in my SUV, the snow was too high to see over and I made a decision as I pulled out, that I was going to ask the neighbouring farmer whether they could come round and shift some of it. And so I did. He came around in the evening and cleared the snow from the driveway, as well as some from the sides of the road so we could out out more safely.

I hadn’t realised how much the snow had built up until he cleared it. There was a foot of compacted snow underneath where the cars were parked and now it is clear, you can see just how deep it is when the cars are parked there.

Neither Andrew, nor I picked up the vomiting bug, though both of us have been unwell this week. I guess that’s always a risk of travelling, particularly on planes. I must confess that the burden of the snow feels much lighter now. I don’t know how much I will be charged – I did ask, but the reply was enigmatic. Still, however much it is, it is necessary. Next winter should be much easier.

Anyway, my holiday is over for now, but I would love to go back to both the Peak District and Lower Slaughter, preferably when the weather is a little kinder. There’s also lots more blogging to catch up on, both with work and with a lovely gift I received from Mary, who reads this blog and sent me a Norwegian book with some lovely history attached, which I will write about in due course. I hope you have a lovely weekend and I will see you all again next week!

The Beautiful South

Sunrise/sunset: 08:25/16:37 Daylength: 8hr12min

It seems like ages ago already, but last Sunday I took off from Bardufoss Airport and flew (via Oslo) to London Heathrow. Quite a change of scenery!

It’s been one of those magical weeks. One of the hardest things about living in Arctic Norway (apart from the weather) is that it’s a long way from the UK and family. It’s only a couple of flights, obviously, but there’s a limit to how many times I can manage it each year. So it was a big deal to visit Anna, partly for her graduation, but also because things are moving along in her life and I wanted to catch up in a way that just isn’t possible in a phone call.

In addition, when I visited Anna earlier in the year, my co-author for the Hope Meadows series, Vicky Holmes, had pointed out that Winchester was within relatively easy driving distance from where she lives. That time I hadn’t hired a car, so this time I had rectified that.

I confess I was slightly nervous about driving. The roads around Heathrow couldn’t be much more different from the roads around Bardufoss. The national speed limit in Norway is 50mph and there are no motorways within easy driving distance. I’m generally more worried about ice on the road than about what the other vehicles around me are doing. On top of that, driving on the other side of the road is always challenging, and so I had booked an automatic. Not having to reach for the gearstick (and banging your hand into the door) was one less thing to think about. I had declined the offer of paying an extra £50 for GPS. I feel that GPS in a hire car should come as standard in this day and age, but I was wondering whether it was a decision I would come to regret.

So when I arrived I was pleased to find they were offering to upgrade me to a car with GPS. Better still, they had moved me up a class, so the car I drove out of Heathrow was a nice little Mercedes A200. I guess some of the local drivers must have been mystified at the sight of me driving a neat sports car at 60 mph as I navigated from the M4 to the M3 via a short section of the M25, but I arrived safely at my hotel about an hour and a half later, feeling both relieved and proud.

Having endured the slowest check-in ever (computerised systems are great until they’re not) I went round to collect Anna and her lovely girlfriend Lauren. It’s odd, being on the other end of that “meeting the parents” situation. It didn’t cross my mind until I was on the way, that Lauren might actually be nervous about meeting me, but if she was, I hope the worry was swiftly put aside. We had sharing plates at Weatherspoon’s, which was a lovely, relaxed way to begin our few days together.

Anna’s graduation was on Tuesday, so we had arranged to go to Stonehenge on Monday morning, then we were to meet up with Vicky for afternoon tea later in the day. I hadn’t been sure that Stonehenge would be the most interesting place for Lauren to visit (I know Anna loves ancient monuments as much as I do) but I needn’t have worried. Lauren was soon reading up on the history and telling us fascinating information as we walked round. Stonehenge in the modern age is frequented by people keen to experience the summer solstice, but I was intrigued (and quietly pleased) to find out that, in ancient times, the winter solstice was actually more important. There used to be huge gatherings there, with people coming from as far afield as Scotland with their animals each year. What a tradition that must have been!

The stones themselves were fascinating, not least because they were occupied by a flock of starlings, who called loudly throughout the time we were there, except for on a couple of odd moments when something disturbed them. When that happened, the entire flock (along with a few ravens) took off with an intense rush of wings. They performed a few acrobatic manoeuvres in the sky, then flew back in and the chittering and chirping would start again.

A rush of wings: starlings and ravens take flight over Stonehenge

It was amazing to meet Vicky after all these years. Vicky and I wrote six books together, starting in 2016. We were meant to meet in Oslo years ago, but just before the trip, Vicky was diagnosed with cancer. Since then we have been through a pandemic and it had begun to seem likely we would never meet.

It turned into the most perfect afternoon. Vicky had found a lovely hotel in a village not too far from Stonehenge and we were soon deep in scones with cream and lively conversation.

As well as Hope Meadows, I knew that Vicky had been the driving force behind the Warrior Cats/Erin Hunter series. What hadn’t crossed my mind was that she had also been the creator of other, very popular, children’s’ books, but she looked at Lauren, who is studying creative writing, and diagnosed that Lauren might be of an age to have read Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Magic series. It turned out that these were some of Lauren’s favourite books as a child and she confessed on the return journey that she had recently put some of her favourites into a box, in case she has children. So not only did I meet a friend I’ve been chatting to for six years without meeting, quite unexpectedly, Lauren also met one of her favourite authors. Here is Vicky, smiling that wonderful smile as she peeps out from behind the two enormous stands of afternoon tea!

Vicky Holmes and the Afternoon Tea!

Tuesday was the day of Anna’s graduation – another wonderful occasion. It was heartwarming to see her looking so happy. Her years at university couldn’t have been much more overshadowed, with the pandemic dictating that she spent most of her second year with us in Norway. It was lovely to see her with her university friends, and with Lauren. Charlie came too and it ended up being another perfect day.

Anna and Lauren outside Winchester Cathedral

The hardest thing, as ever, was leaving. Anna won’t be coming home for Christmas as she is working, so it could be quite a while until we meet again. It was also a tug leaving Winchester. It really is the most wonderful example of a small, cosy, English city. They were setting up the huts for a Christmas market near the cathedral and of course, I want to visit that now! Maybe sometime in the future, I will be able to walk among the weathered sarsens of Stonehenge on the winter solstice and visit the stalls in Winchester on Christmas eve, but all that will probably have to wait a few years. For now, I am back in Norway, listening to the rain on the metal roof of my house, with Triar snuggling beside me, and that will have to do.

Snuggly Triar

Holiday Reflections

I thought I’d start with a few thoughts about my stay. Someone commented last time I was in the UK, that they were interested to find out what changes I’d noticed since I was last here, in 2019. I can’t say I’ve noticed too many, though of course my parents notice many things I haven’t, such as changes in the NHS. Prices have probably gone up, or portion sizes have shrunk, but that’s happened elsewhere too.

I think perhaps it’s me that has changed more, and that’s partly to do with the pandemic. Living in the north of Norway, along with general pandemic precautions, I am unused to being close to large numbers of people. In Glasgow I went to a Marks and Spencer Food Hall, which was (to me) heinously busy. I pretty much ran to the section I wanted, grabbed something, and rushed out. It was much the same when we stopped at a service station on the motorway. I escaped outside as soon as I possibly could. I also had a discussion with John about driving. He’s learned to drive in Norway in an area where there are relatively few cars on the road. He was watching the drivers on the A65 with a kind of horrified fascination as they drove in close convoys, with only a meter or two between each car.

Other things struck me anew, which I had forgotten because I hadn’t been here for so long. Nobody in Norway has a string light switch in their bathroom! Anna tells me one of her friends was mystified, trying to turn the light on when he visited. Then again, Norwegian houses seem to burn down quite often, which is probably because a lot of the electric wiring is DIY. That and all the candles, of course. Most of the taps (faucets) in Norway are mixer taps, so I was freshly frustrated trying to rinse my hands before the hot tap got too volcanic. Cash? There was consternation recently when the entire card network went down for one of the major Norwegian supermarket chains. I had to go and find an ATM. I’ve lived in Finnsnes for two years and didn’t know where it was. Lots of people still seem to use cash here. And for anyone who likes their floors to stay clean, Norway is the place to be. I still can’t adjust back to keeping my shoes on in the house. I kick them off at the door, every time.

Food wise, it’s been a frustrating holiday. I’ve been sticking to low fat foods throughout. Fortunately, there’s a fairly good selection, though it can’t have done my teeth much good eating so many iced buns and scones with jam. There has also been a glut of bacon and ham rolls, slathered in delicious chutney, but without butter. Eating out is difficult, though full marks to Rosa and Matteo’s Italian Restaurant in Settle, which made me a wonderful low fat Pasta e ceci – pasta with chickpeas – (twice) but there have been a few occasions where I’ve watched everyone else eating fish and chips or curry, and wished I could join in. Still, there’s much more choice here, even with my health limitations. I think I might get thinner when I go back.

What I would have liked to eat in The Golden Lion in Settle – sausage, mash, onion rings, peas and gravy
What I ate – noodle salad with mixed leaves, roasted courgettes, peppers, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, coriander and lime

Still, I managed to fit in a couple of walks this week. On Tuesday, Helen and I were driven over to Long Preston, and walked back to Settle over the fells. We also took a detour up to see Scaleber Force waterfall, though Force is a complete misnomer at the moment as there’s hardly any water in it. Still, it was a pleasant, 9km walk, taken early in the morning, before the day started to heat up.

The second walk was this afternoon, with Dad. We didn’t go far: just along the riverside in Settle itself, but I was glad to have the time together, before I have to leave tomorrow.

The Ribble as it runs along the back of Ribble Terrace

We’ve also managed a bit of shopping. Andrew took us on a hunt for Raven Forge in Crosshills. We almost missed it, as it looked like a unit in an industrial estate, but we stopped and asked someone who was working there, and found ourselves invited in to a wonderful display of swords and weaponry, from all kinds of games and films.

Weaponry display at Raven Forge

We also went upstairs in The Geek Side, a little gift shop in a rather magical arcade in Skipton, and discovered a veritable Harry Potter paradise.

Harry Potter merchandise in The Geek Side shop in Skipton

And if you want some sweets, you could do worse than The Dalesman Café in Gargrave.

An old-fashioned sweetshop in The Dalesman Café, Gargrave

But in the end of the day, it all comes down to the wonderful view from my parents’ garden. As the sun goes down, and the shadows lengthen on my last day in this golden oasis, I can only hope that it won’t be too long before I can return.

Wildflower garden with golden evening sunlight on the hillside behind

A Tale of Two Walks

This week’s post will mainly be about two walks I took this week, the first with my dad, the second with John, but first a quick update on things I forgot last week when I was unable to use my computer. My health is moderately stable. Because of the likelihood of some kind of blockage of my bile duct, I have been eating a low fat diet. This has mostly worked, but any time I deviate from it, I develop pain. It’s nowhere near as bad as the pain before I had my gall bladder removed ten years ago. It’s only somewhat physically troublesome, but psychologically more so.

On the subject of submissions and publishers, there’s nothing much to report. Another couple of rejections, but with some positive feedback about my writing. Too commercial, seems to be the main objection at present, which presumably means it doesn’t fit the style they’re looking for, and not that they think it will sell too well. One editor gave more specific feedback that she “wasn’t sure [it] had quite the escapist, romantic tone [she was] looking for at present”. She did say it was well written though, so I hope that somewhere there is an editor who will fall in love with it. Commercial fiction within traditional publishing tends to fall into very specific genres at the moment and what I’ve written doesn’t fall neatly into any of them, so it was always going to be challenging.

I guess it would be odd to write this without also noting that John, Andrew and I have ended up in the UK at a time of mass upheaval in parliament. The astonishing events of the past week, with dozens of resignations within the Conservative Party, resulting in the resignation of Boris Johnson (though he hasn’t gone yet which, given his recent maverick activities, seems risky) have been something to behold. It has interested me, watching from Norway, that in the UK press at least, it has appeared that Johnson has been credited with handling the pandemic marvellously, based mostly on his roll-out of vaccinations. Watching from the relative calm of Norway, with its early lockdown and only marginally slower vaccination roll out, it seemed bizarre that he received quite so much credit, but of course I don’t know what it felt like on the ground. I can’t say I’m sad to see him go. He seems an unfit person to be in power, with his history of lies and profligacy, but he’s obviously one of those divisive figures that some people love and others don’t.

Anyway, onto the walks and photographs. I went for a walk on Sunday with my dad. After not seeing him for two and a half years, all the time wondering whether we would ever do such a thing again, it felt wonderful to be out in the Yorkshire countryside: a very precious moment together. We walked to Langcliffe, which is a village not far outside Settle. We walked past an old mill, then on up the hill to Langcliffe itself, which is even more charming than Settle, with its terraced stone houses, quiet country church, and village green. We called into the village institute, where volunteers were serving tea and cakes. It felt very much like being inside a James Herriot novel (though without the animals, obviously) which I found very pleasing!

View of Ribblesdale through a wooden farm gate

The second walk was a 7km hike with John. We drove to Malham, then went up the almost 400 steps to the top of Malham Cove.

On the top of Malham Cove is a limestone pavement. It’s amazing to look out over the valley below from this incredible structure with its weathered stone, the cracks between the rocks filled with ferns and tiny flowers.

Having reached the top of Malham Cove, and finding my second wind, we decided we would go on a circuit from the top of the cove to meet a road that went back down into Malham village. As we reached the road, we spoke to a couple we met, who had come up via Janet’s Foss, so rather than walking down the road as planned, we took another detour down the shady river valley, past Janet’s Foss (my Norwegian friends will know what that is, as Foss in Norwegian for waterfall) and back through some gorgeous green pasture, where cattle stood knee deep in grass.

We finished with a well deserved drink in the Buck Inn. A lovely end to a wonderful sunny day.

Narrow Lanes

We flew out of Tromsø last Sunday. Despite the threat of strikes and potential airport chaos, for us everything went without a hitch. Flying out of Tromsø is spectacular. The island the city inhabits is still surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Snow-capped mountain peaks and Tromsø from the air

Andrew and I arrived in Edinburgh in the evening, then the next day we took the train, via Carlisle, to Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. My dad met us as we climbed down onto the platform. It was both wonderful to see him after two and a half years, and jarring at the same time as he stood well back: the first time we’ve met and not hugged immediately in many years.

I had booked an AirBnb – an old workers’ cottage in Upper Settle. Our intention was to quarantine for a week before moving into my parents’ house, but our plans changed with the sad death of my mother-in-law. Instead of quarantining, Anna joined Andrew and me and we drove to Glasgow to attend her funeral two days ago.

Driving in the UK again was something of a challenge. When I bought my car two years ago in Norway, I went for a sturdy SUV. it had to be suitable for winter driving and potentially farm roads. I wasn’t looking for an automatic, but as luck had it, that was what I got. Mum and Dad’s manual, diesel Polo couldn’t be much different. Add in the fact that the national speed limit in Norway is 50mph and I hadn’t driven on the left for three years and starting out was something of a challenge. Our practice run into Skipton was … interesting! Sixty mph on the narrow, winding road seemed impossible. I kept slowing down to go through the towns and villages, only to realise I was already only doing forty. I was amused then, when Dad solemnly bade me not to drive too fast as I set off a couple of days later to drive to Glasgow.

John also flew over and joined us for the funeral, which was only very small, but which fortunately went well. He returned with us to Yorkshire, and so yesterday afternoon, for the first time in many years, John, Anna, Andrew and I all sat in my parents’ conservatory together.

Though I was in the UK in spring, with Anna, it’s different being back in Yorkshire. The contrast with the northern Norway summer is striking. Where the growth around Troms is short-lived, wild and uncontrolled, here the green has a quiet maturity, with its dry stone walls climbing the fellsides and the clustered grey houses on steep lanes. The rest of this entry then, will be a few of the photographs I’ve taken this week, in sunshine and showers, both in my parents’ garden and as I’ve wandered round the town.

Green fields and drystone walls – view from Ingfield Lane
Dry stone walls and graceful trees

My Norwegian Christmas – Fourth Sunday in Advent

The final advent candle is lit.

My last advent post and with it, another tour to the south of Senja. With the snow melting at speed, it would be easy to lose the Christmas feeling, but we were determined to enjoy our trip. Anna, Triar and I seized the moment between rain showers to explore a not-too muddy track that went down to the shoreline.

Though the snow was mostly gone, the distant mountain top is still covered.

There, we found a wonderful decorated hut, obviously someone’s barbecue place for summer days. Despite that, the decor seemed to fit so well with Norwegian Christmas vibes, I thought I’d share it with you.

There was sleet hammering on the windscreen when we arrived at Senja Roasters. It was empty as well, but no less welcoming for that. I had come with the intention of trying the nussecken I had seen when I went before, but this time there were three kinds of Christmas cakes lined up on the counter, so Anna and I decided we would share a piece of each between us.

From left to right, gløg cake, Greek biscuits and nussenecken.

We sat down and enjoyed the cosy decorations against the backdrop of the half light outside the window, where the wind was flitting across the bay, stippling the water in wild flurries.

A tealight and a lantern light up the pine cones in the window.

The cakes were as wonderful as they looked. As well as the nussecken, there were soft Greek Christmas biscuits and a gløg flavoured sponge cake. They went perfectly with my Christmas spiced latte.

A triplet of Christmas cakes from round the world.

We came home and put on the Christmas tree lights and it wasn’t too hard to forget the weather.

Yesterday was a hard day to follow, but this afternoon, we put on some Christmas music, cracked open the Red Velvet Cupcake Baileys and made the Christmas pudding mixture. Usually I leave it a in the fridge for a few days before cooking, but as I’m so late this year, it’ll be done tomorrow. But for now, the kitchen if filled with the wonderful scents of spices and rum.

Of course, it’s traditional that everyone in the house has to stir the pudding and Triar put on his special Christmas jumper before he took his turn.

And now the last of the advent candles is lit. Soon Christmas will be with us. John is coming, as is Charlie (John, Anna and Andrew’s dad, for those who don’t know). My next update will be on Boxing day. And so for now, I will wish all my English speaking friends and relatives a peaceful Christmas. And en riktig god Jul to all my Norwegian friends.

Honningsvåg and Departure

Anna and I visited the small Nordkapp Museum on the afternoon of our last day in Honningsvåg. It concentrated mostly on relatively recent history, though it was fascinating to see that being close to the ocean meant that trade routes here allowed this distant arctic region to be colonised early as the ice from the last ice age retreated, long before other regions which nowadays would be considered as hubs for movement and trade.

There were one or two snippets about women, which interested me on a personal level. I am always fascinated by pioneering women. For example this small plaque celebrates the first local paper on Magerøya, which the notice tells us, was written by two ladies.

Witchcraft in the village of Kjelvik seems to have been more strongly ranged against men than women though. Interesting as in other parts of the world, it seems to have been women (and particularly older women) who were targeted.

There was a large exhibition about the war and its after effects. I was aware that the far northern regions of Norway were devastated at the end of the war when the Nazis retreated, and I had wondered whether Honningsvåg was so far away and so remote that it might have escaped being burned to the ground. It seems that it was not. Of course that makes sense. In these days, where road and air travel tend to dominate (at least in my mind) it requires a complete adjustment to understand that in both near and more distant history, boat travel was one of the most significant ways of transporting people and goods. This was especially true around Norway, but also as it connects more distant parts of the world. Of course many goods continue to be transported by boat, but it doesn’t predominate in the news unless something goes wrong. But any harbour town must have been particularly useful to any invading forces, and therefore at risk.

It seems all of Honningsvåg was burned with the exception of the church, which I regret not visiting. The rebuilding effort was rapid. Some had fled to caves in the hills, others returned from evacuation to start again, and those who did so apparently slept in the church.

There was also a filmed interview with a man who had been born in Finnkongkeila, which was a busy Sami fishing village to the east of Magerøya. It too was razed in 1944, but due to the lack of road access, and because of the steep slopes that lay behind it with the high landslide risk, the Norwegian authorities decided it would not be rebuilt. The idea of having the place, where you had lived your whole life just disappear, burned and then gradually overtaken by nature, is so alien that I can scarcely imagine it. Here’s a photograph of Finnkongkeila before it disappeared.

We also read a lot about the local fishing industry and the related trade in dried fish. I was interested to find out that though stockfish is dried and exported in huge quantities, the local dish is actually boknafisk, which is only semi-dried. I had noticed it on the menu in the restaurant we had eaten in the night before, and so of course I had to go back and try it. It was really very good.

I was going to write that our holiday disaster struck the next morning, but given what I’ve written about so far, I shall temper it to say that a mild bump in the road reared its head the next day. I had heard coughing from more than one other guest during breakfast the previous two mornings at the hotel. So it should perhaps not have come as a surprise when Andrew came to us first thing and told us he had a sore throat and perhaps the beginnings of a cough. I confess I wasn’t too much worried about his health (he’s been a school throughout the pandemic and we’ve been through several rounds of colds) but I was concerned about the logistics. Hotels in Norway are not cheap, and the idea of stopping and getting a test locally, then waiting for the results was not appealing. We were due to check out anyway, and so Anna and I went down to breakfast (and took Andrew up some very tasty chocolate croissants). We discussed the situation afterwards. Andrew was already feeling a bit better, and there was still a chance he was suffering only from a flare-up of his allergies and so we decided to head down to Alta to the cabin we had booked there, and then reassess the situation.

It was only three hours or so, but I was rather sad to be leaving Magerøya so soon. Andrew seemed to be feeling better and we stopped once or twice on the way to get some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Triar went for a run on a little beach at Repvåg, where I found these two very weathered benches under the sullen sky.

And then we were back into the amazing slate-dominated landscape with its weathered stones, its disconcertingly angles layers jutting towards the sky .

The cabin in Alta was tolerably comfortable. It had a small TV tuned to the National Geographic channel with a sign that sternly informed us that we mustn’t touch the settings. By nightfall, it was obvious Andrew’s cough was not a resurgence of allergies, but definitely something more, and so we decided that we should try and get a test the next day, then find out whether we would be permitted to drive home, or should wait in the cabin until we got the results.

Friday then, was rather sad. We had arranged to have two nights in Alta as there were things we wanted to do there. Our neighbours had recommended the bathing park and I very much wanted to go and see the famous rock paintings and carvings. Instead, Andrew slept for much of the day, while Anna and I sat on poorly padded wooden benches and watched a series of documentaries about aeroplane crash investigations, airport drug smuggling and some rather Top Gearesque programmes about a man who refurbishes classic cars. The wifi was awful, so other pastimes were not really possible. I had hoped to write a blog update, but that wasn’t really possible. Anna and I did take Triar out for a walk in the (fungi-filled) woods, alongside a sortie to the shops and to a local takeaway but that was the extent of our day in Alta.

I was impressed with Alta’s coronavirus test station. Our local version involves going into an old school building, where masks are not compulsory, and standing in a queue of blue dots set two metres apart. I’ve long thought it must be a wonderful hub of infection as everyone who has a cold is meant to get tested. In Alta there’s a drive through tent outside the health centre and drive through we did, shouting replies to the man in protective clothing as Triar barked in Andrew’s ear from the back of the car. We asked about travel and he told us that so long as Andrew stayed isolated in the car and wasn’t too unwell, there was no reason not to head home the next day.

And so abandoning our possible plans for a last night in Vollan or possibly Tromsø (fortunately I had nothing booked as I was sure we would find something and wanted to keep things flexible) we made a run for home last Saturday. It was a six hour drive, and though we stopped to buy food and drinks from garages, we were not really able to take much of a break on the way. We stopped a few times to look at the scenery, which was dominated in part by the sheer numbers of berries growing on the ground and on the trees, and in part by the weather, which was mostly good overhead, but with glimpses of cloud capped mountain tops and distant rain-filled valleys.

I arrived home feeling tired with a rather dry throat. I was still hopeful that this might have been due to a long drive and the car’s air-conditioning, but I woke up on Sunday with a raging cold that has seen me spending most of this week in bed. Andrew’s Covid test was negative, as was mine, but I was definitely not able to go back to work. I’m still coughing away as I write this and feeling fragile, but I will try to work (from home) tomorrow and hopefully things will gradually return to normal. Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed the journey to the north with me. Next time we venture north I’d like to take more time to explore Alta and Magerøya, and perhaps go on a detour to Hammerfest and Karashok. There’s still so much of northern Norway left to explore!

Magerøya and the North Cape

Slightly belatedly, I’m going to take you though the last days of our adventure in two instalments.

There’s something of a controversy over the North Cape (Nordkapp), which in truly Norwegian style, is unfolding gradually. Scandic, who owns many hotels in Norway, invested heavily in a visitor centre right up on the cape where they have sub-leased the land from the municipality. It boasts a wide-screen video system, an underground tunnel with exhibitions about Nordkapp’s history, a coffee shop, conference facilities and a restaurant that seats two hundred and fifty people.

However, rather than charging people to go into the centre itself, for many years Scandic had set fees for the car park outside that were widely considered to be unreasonably high. Presumably this was more lucrative than taking payment only from those who wanted to go in and see the exhibition. Had it been a 50-100kr charge for a car ( a little under £5-10 or a little over 5-10 US$) with an additional fee for going into the centre, I should imagine it would have gone unremarked, but it seems that for a long time, the so-called parking charge also covered entry to the visitor centre and started at a much more painful 260kr (back in 2017) for the car and driver, plus a 40kr charge for each additional passenger.

This caused a divide in the local community. On the one hand, the centre created a great many jobs for local people. On the other, charging excessively to stay outside and look at the scenery comes into conflict with the Norwegian “friluftsloven,” which is the state law that guarantees public access to public lands, which Norwegians justifiably value very highly.

It was only in July this year that a complicated court case ruled that Scandic could for now, no longer charge parking fees for those visiting the cape. The downside for us is that they are now charging 260kr per adult to go in the centre. I discussed this with Anna and Andrew on the day we arrived in Honningsvåg. The centre sounded good to me and I half felt that having come all this way, it would be exciting to have the full experience, so though the price was steep, had they both wanted to go, we would have done. But somewhat to my surprise, they both felt quite strongly that Scandic had behaved in a way that was against what Norway stand for. Both of them said that they would be happy to visit the cape without going into the centre.

I proposed an evening visit, once the centre was closed. I wasn’t sure whether there would still be pressure to buy tickets on arrival, so though the sun would be below the horizon, we decided to go around ten in the evening.

It was a beautiful drive, though the road is precipitous in places. I was glad it was dry and though the temperature on the tops was a chilly 3°C there was no chance of ice. We stopped to admire the sunset as we approached the cape itself.

I was amazed, as we arrived at Nordkapp, to see how many camper vans were parked there. Other travel sites had warned that there might be crowds, but the days of the midnight sun were past for this year and I had wondered whether it might be quiet, but the vans were lined up along the edges of the car park, taking advantage of the wonderful views of the sea and coastline to the east.

There’s something of an irony over the battles for Nordkapp. The view above shows the Knivskjellodden peninsular. If you look carefully at the map, it stretches a little further north than Nordkapp itself. Nordkapp is where the road ends, whereas to get to Knivskjellodden you have to hike 5km. We had considered it, but as I was the only one who’d brought my walking boots, we had decided against it. Still, the globe monument at Nordkapp was a great photo opportunity and it really did feel very much like the end of a journey to look out over the Barents Sea to the northern horizon.

On the drive to and from Honningvåg to the cape, we had noticed a few side roads and we decided that the next day, we would explore them. And so after a pleasant meal under the striking artwork in the Arctic Hotel breakfast room, we set out to explore.

We drove north west out of Honningsvåg until we came to a junction just after a huge bend in the road. The first thing we noticed as we descended the steep road down to Kamøyvær was the massed seagulls on the cliffside and along the roof of a building above an inlet where there was a fish farm.

The village itself was like something out of a fairy tale. A row of brightly painted boats lay in the quiet waters of the harbour and colourful wooden houses were scattered around the bay.

As I stood taking photos, Anna quietly nudged me. From behind the building in the photo, a herd of reindeer were emerging. They carried on getting closer and closer and I thought they would peel off up the hill, but to my amazement, they carried on coming towards us, right into the centre of the village and, to my delight, cantered right past. One or two of them stopped to graze in the space between the houses.

We watched them wander off and then feeling cheerful, climbed back in the car to drive on to the next side road. This time, we turned left off the main E69, heading towards the more distant Gjesvær on the western side of Magerøya. It was a longer road and took us over rather barren moorland, where we stopped to let Triar out for a bit of a wander. I’m not sure whether it was the freshness of the air he was enjoying, or if it was the scent of distant reindeer on the wind, but he seemed to be very cheerful.

Anna lifted him up, and I took a photo of them together against the wonderful blue and green backdrop.

Feeling happy to have taken such a pleasing shot, I thought it would be nice to get a picture of Andrew, so I asked him to take Anna’s place and this is what I got.

Fortunately, as Triar has been taught from his earliest days that being held up in odd positions usually means food, he was unfazed.

We carried on, down past rocky outcrops and ruffled lakes and came out on a plateau that looked out over Gjesvær and the islands beyond. Sadly we had no food. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic here?

One thing we noticed as we headed down each of the side roads was that there was a barrier at each end which can be closed in winter when the snows come. Though it looks benign in the August sunshine, the island must be a very different place in winter.

We had coffee and ice creams at the little bird sanctuary building in Gjesvær, and then drove on to our third and final destination, Skarsvåg. There we found another picturesque harbour and, somewhat to our surprise, a small factory, behind which was piled huge bags of sea salt, presumably all ready to be shipped off to wherever they are processed and sold.

And so, our whistle-stop tour of the island complete, we set off back to Honningsvåg and the hotel, where Andrew stayed in and Anna and I went off on a visit to the little museum that stood on the dockside. But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Northerly: Days Two and Three

We drove on from the campsite at Brennfjell and paused briefly to get in contact with Birgit. I had intended to organise a visit, but the last weeks before we set out had been so full that I’d forgotten. Luckily she was in and we called in for coffee and a tour round the animals, which included a new puppy, some new pigs and this gorgeous foal.

Heading north from Storslett, the sky was grey as we drove up onto Kvænangsfjellet. This section of the E6 road is often closed in winter. Its austere beauty was enhanced by the clouds which swathed the mountains and we stopped for photos, just as the road began to drop back down towards the sea.

I hadn’t managed to find accommodation for the night in Alta, but after a couple of unsuccessful queries in hotels, we managed to find a very cosy cabin at Solvang Camping, a little north of the city. This was a more modern version of Norwegian camping: a single room with a bunk bed and a sofa bed, where we sat and watched the movie Bølgen while eating leftover pizza and chocolate chip cookies. Having slept soundly, we rose the next morning and set off towards Nordkapp.

The scenery changed again as we drove along the coastline. Jutting cliffs overhung the road, grey slate layers, unevenly weathered, sometimes slanting at crazy angles against the sky.

I had expected a bridge over to the island of Magerøya, but instead there was a seven kilometer tunnel, dropping to 212m deep, under Magerøy Sound. The scenery here was different again: a tundra like landscape, bereft of trees. Streams tumbled down steep mountainsides and rocky pools lay in the hollows. And though the journey had been beautiful, it was a relief to arrive in Honningvåg and check into the hotel.

After resting for a while, we took Triar for a walk. He had been very patient in the car, but the scent of reindeer woke him up. They are everywhere on Magerøya. Wonderful to see.

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!