Category Archives: Travel

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

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

Homecoming

Sunrise/sunset: 04:45/20:53. Daylength: 16h08min (Finnsnes)

Sunrise/sunset: 06:08/20:02: Daylength: 13hr54min (Winchester)

I flew out over the snowy mountains around Tromsø in the early afternoon on Thursday and at twenty past seven, I caught my first glimpse of the UK since December 2019.

Bottom corner of England from the air

As I flew over, I was struck by how green it all was. There were so many small fields, with hedges as their boundaries. There were also mansion houses scattered among the fields, dotted with swimming pools and tennis courts. It is so different from Norway!

As the wheels touched down, I found myself smiling, then there were tears in my eyes. Being back in the UK after so long was very moving. I love Norway, but there’s something very special about returning to my homeland.

Anna met me at Gatwick. It was wonderful to see her again. We bought marmite pinwheels and chilled raspberry mohitos from Marks and Spencer and had a mini-party on the station at Clapham Junction.

Anna

I’m posting this belatedly, as the available internet for the past couple of days has made posting impossible. There are more photos to follow, but for now, I want to celebrate the memory of coming home.

Lillehammer

Sunrise/sunset: 06:16/ 19:32. Daylength: 12hr53min

This week I have been to Lillehammer, to take part in Den norske veterinærforening‘s fagdager. Den norske veterinærforening is the vets’ union in Norway. Fagdager translates as “subject days” and this was a veterinary congress with lectures separated into different streams for vets working with pigs, horses, small animals and (for me the most important) veterinary public health.

It’s a very long time since I have been to such a big meeting, and it was my first time in Norway. There were about five hundred people there, so it was the biggest gathering I’ve been to in a while as well. Having recently had covid was actually a boon. Had I not had it, I would probably have been much more wary of picking it up. I should add that I’m feeling very much better, which is a huge relief.

The trip has led to something of a cascade of emotions. I couldn’t help reflecting on the fact that I knew almost nobody. The veterinary world is a small one, both in the UK and Norway. Back in the UK, I worked for Vets Now, who run emergency clinics in the UK, and for several years I worked at their head office, and had contact with vets and nurses all over the UK. I also worked in a few different places and knew people from university. If I attended a big meeting in the UK, there would probably be loads of people there to catch up with. There was a party night on Thursday, and all around me, other people were doing just that. There were also random outbreaks of singing, including the Norwegian Toasting Song, which I came across for the first time at the Christmas Julebord back when I was working at Tu veterinary clinic back in Rogaland. In fact the only person I did run into was Dagny – Scary Boss Lady from Tu – who gave me a cheerful hug, but was naturally catching up with lots of people herself.

The food was good, though with five hundred people being served it took about three hours from the fish starter to the pannacotta dessert.

I travelled down with Astrid, who works in Storslett. We flew from Tromsø to Oslo and then got the train to Lillehammer. Both those things were something of a novelty, as was leaving northern Norway, which I haven’t done since moving here in August 2020. Coronavirus has turned me into something of a hermit. There was definitely a feeling of opening horizons, both from travelling, and from the lecture streams themselves.

One of the major themes in the veterinary public health stream was sustainability. I guess this might seem somewhat odd, as those two things don’t immediately appear to be strongly linked, but sustainability is something of a theme at the moment in farming, as it probably should be. The European Union is in the process of introducing its Farm to Fork Strategy (“aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly”) and because Norway is integrated with the EU (though not a member state) we will be taking on board some, if not all, of the new regulations and initiatives. Norway, as I have mentioned before, has more stringent rules on animal health and welfare than the EU, which it is unwilling to compromise to make food cheaper, or “competitive” as officials in the EU put it.

The most interesting lecture, from my point of view, was one which covered an interesting mix of discussion over the relative amounts spent preventing new variant CJD (BSE related prion disease) and coronavirus and whether insects might be integrated into the food chain in order to minimise the long term impact in the fight against BSE/prion disease.

Regarding the relative costs around the reactions to both diseases, it is difficult to estimate the price of lockdowns, but the argument was that the amount spent on fighting BSE was way over the top. Given the number of samples we take on sheep and cattle, but also on reindeer and even wild animals such as moose, the amount spent in the whole of the EU must be colossal. Given that there are still under 300 diagnosed cases of the new variant of CJD (which spread from BSE in cattle) in the world it does seem odd to still be spending so much. It can, of course, be argued that the campaign to prevent vCJD has been successful in terms of disease prevention. As always, it’s difficult to know, when looking at the cost of something where intervention HAS taken place, what the costs would have been had no actions been taken.

But the other side of this discussion was around the fact that the use of meat and bone meal from ruminants in food fed to other animals is still banned, and how these could possibly be used. The suggestion was made that perhaps what is currently mostly a waste product could potentially be used to feed insects, which would produce protein that could then be fed back into the food chain which is an interesting, if rather bizarre thought. We are living through astonishing times, where the world is changing incredibly fast, compared to what went on for probably thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Sometimes I wonder where it will end.

Anyway, back to the more mundane! I enjoyed the train journey from Oslo airport to Lillehammer. I took some photos from the train window. Apologies for the glass reflections. The days when you could open windows on long distance trains are long gone.

The hotel in Lillehammer was pleasant. I guess that if you’ve heard of Lillehammer, it’s probably because the Olympic Games were held there in 1994. I say the Olympics, because though in the UK and elsewhere, generally people refer to the Olympics and the Winter Olympics, here in Norway it’s the other way round. Here we have the Olympics and the Summer Olympics. Anyway, there was a ski jump just visible from the back of the hotel, and this chap was caught in an eternal gymnastic leap on my bedroom wall.

Picture of a ski gymnast on the hotel wall in Lillehammer

Because there were no flights back to Tromsø or Bardufoss on Friday evening, I spent the night in a hotel at Oslo Airport. I was greeted in the entrance by a red plastic moose in sunglasses, but the most pleasing sight greeted me in the room, and was much more down to earth. Most British hotels have a kettle in the room, but in Norway, it’s so rare that I actually took a photograph!

So now I am home, but going away has been a wonderful boost. Things are beginning to change and the world, which has felt closed in for the past two years, may be opening up again soon. And to that I say, bring it on!

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