Category Archives: In Darkness and In Light

Blog about moving to northern Norway.

Season

Sunrise/sunset: 05:47/ 19:39. Daylength: 13hr52min

Autumn is in full swing now and there is a chill in the air. Every year in Norway, there comes a time when winter is approaching and bright red snow poles suddenly appear along the sides of the roads. I have often wondered how they are put up and as I was driving John home from his evening class this week, we saw a brightly lit lorry in front of us. It was stopping and starting, and it was on our side and we ended up stuck behind it for a couple of minutes.

It had an arm on the side, overhanging the edge of the road. There was the sound of a jack hammer as it created holes and then it moved on and the poles were dropped into them. I would happily have watched for a bit longer, but the cars coming the opposite way had passed and there was no excuse to linger. If you look in the photo at the top of the page, you can see one of the poles. I also wanted to photograph that section of the road as I love the two tone effect of the taller pine trees, which are still green, and the smaller silver birch and undergrowth, which are autumn yellow.

I mentioned the Covid roller-coaster last week, but hadn’t expected the drop to be so steep. There’s an outbreak at Andrew’s school, which seems to have spread through the students who board. The school runs an international baccalaureate program which attracts pupils from overseas. Additionally the school covers a huge area, some of which has no public transport that would allow daily access, so those students board too. Information seems difficult to come by, but last weekend there were nine confirmed cases out of one hundred and fifty students, all in different classes and streams.

I half expected to hear the school would close, but discovered instead that even close contacts of the infected students would be in school, and would be tested three times over six days instead of quarantining. Within class groups there is no social distancing or mask wearing and vaccination of sixteen and seventeen year olds had only really started a week earlier, which seemed rather rash. Why not take stronger precautions, at least until the first vaccine dose starts to have an effect? After more than a year of disruption, would two more weeks be a big deal?

Half way through the week I was still assuming there might be a change of course, and I spoke about it to a friend who lives in Rogaland, where I used to live before we moved here. She has a daughter in the same school year as Andrew. I told her about the nine confirmed cases and the lack of precautions, hoping to hear what she thought would happen. She told me instead that in her daughter’s class there are four students off with Covid and even there, they are taking no precautions other than frequent testing.

There’s a definite irony to all this. The government website is firm in that they feel that Norway’s young people have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and that from now on, they want things to be as normal as possible for them. But having sold the idea that vaccines are the answer to protect people, then having given the first dose of vaccine to those between 12 and 17, why would you then not wait until that dose at least had a chance to give some protection? My friend tells me her daughter’s year feel instead, after more than a year of lockdowns and quarantine, that the government are abandoning them to their fate because the older people are now protected, and who can blame them? Of course logically that age-group are at low risk from Covid, but it’s the ultimate in mixed messages to a group the government claims they want to protect.

Anna will return to the UK tomorrow for university. She had to brave the local Covid test station, with its potential queue for sick people, but fortunately it was very quiet (which I hope is a good sign for the more general situation). I’ve printed out her vaccine certificate, and now hope that everything goes smoothly for her.

As well as the changes in the weather, it is now also “season” in the abattoir, or in other words, the time when the spring lambs come in for slaughter before the adult sheep are taken inside for the long, hard winter. It’s a busy time, with all kinds of people coming in from different countries to work on the line. For the rest of the year, Mattilsynet provides two or three staff on days when the line is running, but from next week, when the season is in full swing, there will be seven.

So I’m likely to be a little more at the abattoir in the coming weeks. Konstantin and Vaidotas, who were here last year during the season, have returned. Already the office has a busier feeling and better still, there might be a bit more social life on offer. Having spent a year social distancing and having a general rule that the office should be avoided unless going there is essential, that is definitely something to look forward to.

Recovery

Sunrise/sunset: 05:20/ 20:11. Daylength: 14hr51min

And so it’s September and already autumnal here in the far north. Though I enjoyed the summer, it had a frenetic feel to it. I had heard, before I moved here, that many people found twenty four hour daylight more troublesome than the darkness of winter and I can understand why. Even with blackout blinds and curtains, it’s disconcerting to wake at four in the morning to see bright sunlight around the edges. Too easy to lose track of time and unexpectedly difficult to go back to sleep when your brain is telling you it’s morning and time to get up.

It’s also interesting to note, as I check timeanddate.com, that it still isn’t fully dark. At the moment, during the darkest part of the night, we are still in something called “astronomical twilight”. It’s a bit of a technicality, related to where the sun is in relation to the horizon, but we won’t experience full darkness for another week and a half. Either way, it’s reassuring to see it getting dark outside the window in the evening, though odd to have to get used to putting lights on again. The rapidity of the change is taking some getting used to.

Not much has happened this week and I don’t have so many photographs. I worked for about an hour on Monday (at home) and attended a meeting on Teams about half an hour in. Though I was there in spirit, my woolly brain was having trouble following what people were saying. Hilde was there too and asked how I was. I explained I was still tired (at that stage, I was still waking at least once through the night to cough for an hour) and proposed working limited hours each day and taking time off using some of the hours I’ve accrued. But she told me if I was still sick, I should use my last day of self-reported sick leave and perhaps get a doctor’s note.

Obviously being ill hasn’t been pleasant, but it has been instructive. The standard legal requirement in Norway is that employers must allow you three days of self-reported sick leave before you have to get signed off by a doctor. You can take up to three days, four times a year. I had assumed that was my entitlement, but Hilde told me that Mattilsynet have signed up to a better agreement (recommended by the state, but not enforced) that we can take eight days sick leave before we have to see the doctor and have up to twenty four days in a year. I was glad to hear it, having already taken two of the four lots of three days. I hope I won’t have to take any more this year, but with Covid on the rise, nothing is guaranteed.

I am signed up to get updates on the Covid situation from Folke Helse Instituttet, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Covid is rising rapidly in Norway at the moment and the children are now back at school, so it is likely to escalate. Yesterday I received two messages from them regarding the figures. It seems that, like the UK before them, Norway have decided that, as the most vulnerable people have now been fully vaccinated, they are going to let Covid run its course. I knew this was going to happen at some point. There has to be an end to lockdowns. And of course, more general measures to slow down the spread, like working from home and keeping your distance from others are still in place. But I do still have an edgy feeling when I think about how the next few months might be. A bit like teetering on the brink of a properly scary roller-coaster. I wonder what the world is going to look like on the other side of all this.

Speaking of vaccinations, I had my second on Wednesday. Having researched the reasons for not getting it when unwell, I reckoned that I was recovered enough to get it done. It would also mean that if I had any side effects, I would be at home already. I was sitting in the queue when my phone went twice. Ann was trying to call. I didn’t answer, but a few minutes later I got a message from John to say that he’d been in an accident at the abattoir and had hurt his hand. He was coming over to get an x-ray at the emergency doctors’ clinic here in Finnsnes. It’s very well equipped because of the distance to the nearest hospital.

And so after my vaccination, I went to collect him. Fortunately, his wrist was not broken, but he too was signed off for the rest of the week. As Anna was now unwell, it didn’t seem a good idea for him to stay with us, and so I took him shopping, we ate lunch in the car, and then I drove him home. I am used to driving when tired and sick (in the small, rural practices I worked at in Scotland, unless you were bed-ridden or actively vomiting, you were expected to be at work) but I did have to stop for a rest break on the way home. There has been a lot of weather this week: sun and rain and dramatic skies. The photo at the top of the page was where I stopped and below is a rainbow that appeared while we were eating lunch.

Other than that, I’ve not been out and about much. I’ve been hanging around at home, cuddling the dog, eating jelly and looking out of the window which, fortunately for me, is a view well worth looking at. And so I will leave you with a pictorial summary of the last few days and hope for more variation next week, when I will be fully back at work.

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.

Northerly: Day One

I am writing this from a hotel room in Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya. Honningsvåg is the «northernmost town on mainland Norway» although technically it’s on an island, so arguably, it isn’t! It’s also one of the smallest cities in Norway, having been given its status in 1996, one year before legislation was brought in stating that Norwegian cities must have at least 5,000 inhabitants.

It’s very much the stereotyped end-of-the-road place. I am reminded of Scottish towns like Campbeltown, Stranraer and Thurso as they were when I was younger. Nowadays, I think most of those remote Scottish towns have caught up with the money to be made from tourism and are now filled with friendly cafes and upmarket shops selling highland-cow aprons and novelty fudge shaped like sheep droppings. But Honningsvåg is still utilitarian. The houses are scattered along the single road, with a few a little higher up the hillside. Though they are painted in different colours, they were built for practicality, with no thought for aesthetics. There’s a toy-shop with faded lettering. The main street is stippled with chipped paint and grey, harled walls. The harbour is charming though.

We drove up over three days, though we only spent three to four hours travelling on each of them.

Day one. We stopped off at the Sami shop on the E6 north of Bardufoss. I have driven past a few times, but have never stopped. I was surprised to find a fire in the tent, near the entrance. It was set in a fireplace with a well-designed chimney and was very welcoming. We might stop for coffee on the way back, but we were less than an hour into our journey, so we decided to push on.

It was a beautiful day as we drove along the sides of fjords and through mountain glens. We reached our desination: a cabin near Skibotn, which I had found on AirBnB. The cabin I had booked was very basic: two bunk beds and a stove, but happily it was a campsite where we were able to upgrade to a cabin with a toilet and shower. These campsites are very common in Norway. The cabins are designed to be slept in, by as many people as you can fit in the available space, and not much more. This was a typical example. There were three bedrooms, two with a bunkbed each and the other with a bunkbed and one very squashy single bed. There was a table and chairs, but nowhere else to sit. There were two electric rings for cooking, but pans and plates had to be borrowed from reception. Deciding quickly that we would eat out, we dumped our things and headed out to explore.

We passed through Skibotn without seeing anywhere to eat, but stopped to air the dog (translation from Norwegian) on a pebbly beach on the edge of the fjord. While Anna and Andrew skimmed stones, and Triar gambolled about, I investigated possible eateries on my phone.

There was a hotel nearby, which seemed like a possibility, so we headed back to the car and drove to it. It seemed deserted and somewhat surprisingly, there was an area temporarily walled off with what appeared to be a stage in the background. Sliding in through the gap, we made our way inside to ask about food. A couple of tantalising cup-cakes lay on what looked like the remains of a conference lunch, but there was nothing available right now. There would be later though. The stage would be in use for Guffstock! Guffstock being a small festival. Who was playing, we asked. Ove Schei was on first at eight, followed by a band called Royal Jam at ten. We’d not heard of either of them, but thinking back to the cabin and its lack of a sofa, we glanced at one another and bought three tickets for the evening.

We found some food at Circle K. Norway doesn’t have many motorways except around Oslo and there arek no service stations by the main roads. Instead, almost all the petrol stations serve hot food and lots of them have a few seats. Two pizzas later, we headed back to the cabin to wait for the evening’s entertainment.

Though the inside of the cabin was rudimentary, the setting was beautiful. We wandered along the valley floor, admiring the flowers and the river, and finding our eyes drawn upwards to the overhanging mountain tops and the tree-lined lower slopes, where the autumn colours were beginning to emerge.

We returned to the cabin and decided to play cards. I had bought a little box of games a couple of years back, when holidaying in Yorkshire. We opened it to find three sets of cards: Donkey, Snap and Old Maid. I had expected them to be basic, but functional. They were worse than expected: roughly cut with a tendency to stick together. We played Old Maid first and had fun, despite the unwieldy, badly drawn cards. Of course, I was left with the Old Maid card. Next, we looked at the rules for Donkey and laughed, because as I had thought, Donkey and Old Maid are the same game. We played it anyway, passing cards round, pairing them up, and teasing one another mysteriously about who had the Donkey card. We were well on through the game, before I noticed as I looked round the hands we were holding that there were only four cards left. I hadn’t been passed the Donkey card at any point, and had rather been wondering about it. I looked round again. Definitely only four cards.

I looked across at Anna, and then at Andrew, who was sitting on my left. «Does anyone actually have the Donkey card?» I asked.

Both of them shoot their heads and we grinned at each other. So not only were the cards badly made, but they hadn’t even managed to insert the essential Donkey card in the pack.

Despite not having heard of the bands, we had a wonderful evening. Rather than their own songs, both Ove Schei and Royal Jam played a lot of classic tracks and before long, we were clapping along. It’s a long time since we’ve seen any live music and here we were, outside as dusk fell and the sun dipped behind the mountains behind the stage. It was a wonderful end to the first day of our journey.

Ove Schei
Royal Jam

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!

Dog in a Bog

Sunrise/sunset: 03:14/ 22:29. Daylength: 19hr14min

I am looking forward to my holiday. It’s only a week away, and somehow until now, it seemed distant, but now it’s almost upon us. Not that we’re going far afield. Coronavirus has seen to that. But it seems fitting, given that this past week has been the anniversary of my epic drive from the southern tip of Norway to here, that I will be heading north once more, this time to Nordkapp. Our accommodation will be mixed. The first night will be in a tiny cabin with four bunk beds and an electric hob. I haven’t managed to book anything at all for the second night. Everything seems to be full, but we’ll take the tent and hope it doesn’t rain. Then we’ll be staying in a hotel while we explore Nordkapp. I had hoped to spend a couple of nights in a lavvo, which is a Sami wigwam. We found one on AirBnB and I quickly booked it, but my request was sadly rejected after twenty four hours with the succinct explanation “holiday”. I will keep my eyes open for it reappearing though. Despite the fact that it would undoubtdly be inhabited by the unexpectedly vicious Northern Norwegian Mosquitos with their huge evil fangs, I still find the idea very appealing.

On Thursday next week, I will be sitting an exam. I applied for Norwegian citizenship last year and happily filled in the section that said I had passed an exam in Norwegian social studies. I thought this was covered by the Norwegian course and exams I sat ten years ago when I first came to Norway, but I recently discovered that the rules had been changed and now everyone who wasn’t schooled in Norway has to take a test. As soon as I’ve finished writing this, I shall start revising. A lot of the subject matter is based on things I have experienced, such as the inner machinations of the health service and workers rights. But some of the questions on the mock test I took were very specific and rather obscure so I’d better get learning. My appointment with the police is on the week after I get back from my holiday, so I only have one chance, unless I want the whole thing to be delayed even more. I feel like getting a Norwegian passport will mark both the end of another journey and a new beginning.

Ann and I went out for another walk yesterday. Last week, we had a walk, followed by fish and chips. This week, Ann came over to mine and we went for a walk on Senja. I took her to Ånderdalen, of course. It’s still my favourite walk. But Ann, it turns out, has some books about walks in the area, so now we are planning more. In the meantime, I will spam you with the usual Ånderdalen imagery of pale ghost trees and mountain vistas.

Triar found both a bog to jump in (when does he not?) and a Burned Sausage of Unknown Origin, secreted in the barbecue close to the shelter at the highest point of the circuit. Ann very quickly prised his jaws apart and rescued the sausage, which was definitely a sausage and not the more traditional hot dog. The civilised Norwegian habit of providing both a grill, and the wood to burn on it at the end of a pretty walk continues to please me. I must get into the habit of taking matches, whittling knife and food with me more often.

Anyway, I must go and study. Procrastination won’t get me very far. Hope you will all join me on my journey next week. And in the meantime, a toast from Senja. Cheers!

Strange Days

Sunrise/sunset: 02:31/ 23:11. Daylength: 20hr40min

It was on this day last year, that John and I set off to drive To The North. In a week’s time, I will have been here a year.

It’s been a strange time, all in all. Not that it hasn’t been wonderful in many ways; it has. But coronavirus has had an effect on all our lives that would have been difficult to imagine only a few years ago. In the past year, I have lost an uncle: a wonderful man, larger than life, of whom I have many wonderful and cheering memories, and also an aunt – not technically mine, but an aunt by marriage who was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I could never have imagined that I would be unable to attend their funerals. Nor that I would have been unable to visit my mum and dad for a year and a half, with no definite sign of an end to restrictions amid continuing reports from around the world that the virus is continuing to spread and mutate, despite (or perhaps even because of) the vaccine.

So here I am. Logically coming was the right decision. John has settled nearby and has a permanent job and friends with whom he goes climbing and walking. Andrew has settled into school and has taken up the piano. Anna has been with us since she came home for Christmas and wasn’t able to return to university in the UK. We have a lot of freedom to go out locally. The Norwegian government have done a sterling job in limiting the spread of the virus and we are so remote that often it’s hard to remember during everyday life that we are in the middle of a pandemic.

But it’s odd to think that I have been here a year, in an area I had never visited before I drove up here in a few chaotic days one year ago. I haven’t been home to Yorkshire or Scotland. I am hoping to see my parents at Christmas, but everything seems so unstable that it is impossible to make firm plans.

Still, life goes on. While on a grand scale, everything is filled with uncertainty, on a small scale, I am thriving. This week at work has been special. When I started work a year ago, I was given a list of tasks to complete. One of them was to engage with colleagues who worked in other sectors within Mattilsynet. We cover everything from drinking water to cosmetics as well as food safety on all levels between farm and plate. It had been discussed occasionally, but due to the strict coronavirus rules, where nobody was meant to go anywhere that wasn’t essential, it was always put on hold. But last Friday, alone in the office with Randi and Øivind, I decided it was time to seize the opportunity and I asked whether they had anything planned for this week.

The result was that I went out with Randi on Wednesday for some Smilefjes tilsyn and Friday with Øivind to inspect some waterworks.

Smilefjes is Mattilsynets system for inspection of restaurants and food outlets. When you enter an eatery, there’s generally a certificate on the door showing a happy Smiley. If the inspection didn’t go so well, the Smiley might be less cheerful, but the kitchen we inspected was well organised and clean. I was shown around the restaurant and communal areas of the guesthouse as well, while Randi wrote her report. It was a lovely place: an old building in an area where few old buildings exist. There was a huge fireplace in the restaurant and comfortable couches in front of a large television, which the owner proudly told me was the only one in the building. There were photographs too, black and white pictures of years gone by. I felt nostalgic for the times when staying in hotels was a casual weekend activity and I wanted so much to stay overnight. I took a photograph out of the window as Randi was finishing up her report. The book in the foreground is to record the weight of the fish you catch in the river outside.

On Thursday, quietly melded between the restaurant and water inspections, I carried out my first solo animal welfare inspection. I say solo as I had no other inspectors with me and the responsibility for the case lay with me, but I had support from a fabulous member of Dyervernsnemnda (a little about Dyrevernsnemnda here) called Berit. Berit drove down from Tromsø and she was wonderfully helpful and reassuring. Thanks must also go to Birgit, who made sure I followed the correct procedures beforehand.

Afterwards, I went out for some fish and chips with Ann to celebrate in the cafe that serves the ski slope at Fellandsby.

Yesterday, Øivind took me out to inspect some waterworks. If that word conjures up an image of a huge building with pipes and filtration, then like me, you will have to think again. We drove out onto Senja and headed south to a remote village, where we met the group of men who organise the water supply for the few houses in that area. We sat outside in the sun, as Øivind asked a series of questions about cubic metres of water per year and how many people are supplied. It was an interesting discussion, partly because of the logistics. In summer, there might be fifty people there, whereas there are only four permanent residents. But for me, it was a stark reminder of social changes and history. The four permanent residents are all over 80. The rest are a mix of tourists and very likely people whose parents used to live there, who have moved away, but return at weekends and for the summer. I found myself wondering about those still living there: all of them are in their eighties and nineties. It’s a very long way to the hospital if anything goes wrong.They likely still have families on Senja who look after them. But when they are gone, will the village only exist as a holiday place? There was an old schoolhouse, which is now used for social events. But once upon a time, there must have been families and people who worked the land and/or lived from the sea. Did the four people still living there attend the school, all those years ago? It was a reminder of how much things can change within a lifetime.

After the conversation, we walked up to see the water source. No filtration in sight and the small pipe that carries the water to the village was underground. The water comes from a river. I found myself surprised that it doesn’t freeze in winter, but the water must continue to run underneath all the snow and ice.

This was where we walked to. It was perhaps a kilometer up a grassy track from the village.

Such a peaceful place. I could have passed a happy few hours, listening to the water rushing over the rocks.

And here is the “waterworks” we inspected!

So the village is supplied from the water that runs down from the mountain. It’s not filtered or cleaned and technically, it is a water supply and not a drinking water supply. Øivind made some recommendations. The water source cover should be locked with a padlock, just in case. And the quality should be checked at least once a year. Likely times for the check would be after heavy rain, or when the snow is melting, preferably at a time of year when more people are arriving.

But those who run the system assured us that nobody had ever been unwell from the water in the fifty years since the pipes were installed. It was another reminder of the differences in the lives people in Norway lead. The idea that everyone in Norway should be treated exactly the same (one of Mattilsynet’s aims) is challenging, to say the least. There has to be flexibility when dealing with a country where the ways of life are so very diverse.

And to finish up, here’s are some pictures from Tuesday, when we met one of Anna’s old teachers, who was up for a holiday in the north. We took Triar for a walk in Ånderdalen afterwards. It really has been a very good week.

Very British

Sunrise/sunset: 01:14/ 00:34. Daylength: 23hr

There has been a massive change in the weather this week. Until now, it’s been warm and sunny, on and off, but the forecast this week, courtesy of YR.no looked like this.

Not only has it rained a lot, but those temperature listings aren’t very accurate. I took John to the airport on Tuesday and noticed that the temperature was a rather chilly 5.5°C. I took a picture after dropping him off. The mountains were shrouded in mist and the river was a distant mirage.

When the mountain peaks emerged now and then, they too showed evidence of the chill in the air.

I was reminded of the weather forecasts in October and November last year, where they announced that the snow line was now at 400m, 300m, 200m and you could watch the gradual descent into winter.

I am very much better than I was. My blood pressure has returned to normal, thank goodness and I seem to be generally on the mend. I was back to work yesterday. I was afraid that I would be too tired, but I had a good quiet day in the office catching up and arranging things for next week.

Though I spent much of the week resting, Anna and Andrew offered to take me out for a Senja Roasters brunch on Thursday. How could I resist? I’ve been wanting to try the French Toast ever since I read the description and it didn’t disappoint. It was wonderful, filled with caramel flavours.

French toast , brown cheese and mascarpone whipped
cream, honey, roasted pears, and pumpkin seeds

Our trip did lead to one of those truly embarrassing British moments, however. Thomas is always telling me off for thanking him and I probably still apologise way too often, but this was one of those more toe curling examples. The lovely waitress was explaining to us that there was no cured ham for the Banger Toasts. Instead, they were substituting chorizo. I’m not sure where she was from, but I didn’t quite catch what she said at first. When it dawned on me, I said, in a rather loud voice, “Oh, chorizo!” About one second later, my brain caught up and I remembered that, of course, her pronunciation was almost certainly the genuine article. It was more an announcement of realisation from me than any attempt to correct, but it was one of those wonderfully cringeworthy moments I love to share with you all!

We walked down the track to my favourite beach afterwards. Happily it was between rain showers. Though summer is passing and the green has passed its vibrant zenith, Senja is still stunning. There are orchids and harebells, sandy beaches and misty mountains. And sheep with bells on. What could be more Norwegian than that?