This is going to be something of a scattergun post. I’m sitting in the SAS lounge in the international area of Oslo Airport, though not in the true inner sanctum of the Diamond and Gold cardholders. I bid for an upgrade (it seems several airlines do this now) and got it for my Oslo – Bardufoss flight. As upgrading that flight was cheaper than upgrading the Manchester – Oslo flight, I thought I’d be limited to the domestic lounge, but cheekily tried the international one and, to my surprise, was waved on through. There’s unlimited food in here, so with nine hours to kill, it’s probably cheaper than paying for a couple of meals and drinks.
Anyway, most of this post will be photographs from my holiday. I don’t have my computer, so I’m not going to type much, but I hope you enjoy a whizz through of a walk along Water Lane and a tour of Skipton Castle.
Firstly a walk with my dad. It was a gorgeous evening and we wandered across green fields and over stone stiles to get to the lovely, shadowed Water Lane.
There were birds singing in the trees, and though we didn’t see them, I stopped to identify some of them using the Merlin birdsounds app. There were chaffinches, blackbirds and a robin, which I wouldn’t have known without the app. I recommend downloading it, if you’ve ever wondered which bird was singing.
We left Water Lane and turned onto Lodge Road. So many flowers, though as a vet, I definitely wouldn’t recommend making hay or silage with all those buttercups.
Skipton Castle was interesting. There are very few ancient buildings in Norway, due to the custom of building using wood. I love exploring old, stone buildings, especially in summer, when the thick walls and small windows make for cool, shady protection from the sun.
We stopped for a very English cup of tea in the Castle grounds. With hindsight, I should have stuck to plain Yorkshire Tea. Instead I plumped for Chai tea. I think there was a bit too much water for the single teabag…
Add in a book fair:
And some Elderflower Cordial (beside attractively presented bird and insect supplies) in the garden behind the Victoria Hall, where the book fair was held…
It was hard leaving Yorkshire. I left just after midday last Saturday and the last few hours were melancholy. I travelled to Gatwick on the train: a frustrating journey as I misbooked my tickets on the Trainline App and though I realised my error moments after I had done it, it couldn’t be undone. And so I walked through Leeds station and watched an almost empty train to Kings Cross leave ten minutes after I arrived there, then travelled to York, where two more trains to the same destination left before the one I was booked onto pulled in. Still, I stayed overnight in a Premier Inn near the North Terminal and set off at a civilised time on Sunday morning to fly home.
That day’s journey was somewhat hair-raising. I flew from Gatwick to Bergen, then from Bergen to Tromsø. The original plan was that John was to collect me from the airport, but as he was stuck in the UK due to the SAS strike, I planned on getting a bus from the airport to the fast boat and taking the last boat of the day, which left Tromsø at 8pm. All the connections were a bit tight, but despite a couple of delays and an almost interminable wait, while they unloaded the baggage for four planes onto the two, smallish luggage carousels in Tromsø, I arrived safely at around 10pm. Just as well as I was due in the abattoir at 6am on Monday morning. Had I not made it, I would have been faced with the interesting dilemma of which of my colleagues might be willing to take the two and a half hour drive to Tromsø at an unspecified time on a Sunday evening.
It’s been a fairly typical summer week at work. I was at the abattoir Monday to Wednesday, then on Thursday I set to, tackling the six new cases I’ve been sent. Fortunately, the abattoir is closed next week, so hopefully I will get at least half of the investigations under way then, and keep my fingers crossed that I don’t get another six in the meantime. The good news is that Gry is sacrificing some of the first week of her holiday to come out with me.
I haven’t been out and about too much this week, but Triar and I did take a tour down the pathway at the back of the house and round to the little harbour that lies near the bottom of the hill. I’ve commented before on the fact that most of the small paths are blocked in the winter due to the snow. When it’s a meter deep and regularly added to, they rapidly become impassable. But this is a land of extremes. While the long dark spell brings a blanket of white over the landscape, the light brings so much life that even the floors of dense pine forests are swathed in green. This was the path Triar and I took. The undergrowth is at shoulder height.
And here’s Triar on the harbour wall.
Of course, all that growth means there are lots of insects. In particular, I love watching the bumble bees.
The last two photos are from a trip to collect John from the airport yesterday evening. I set off for Tromsø before his plane left Oslo and before the hour and a half delay was announced, so I took my time (and a small detour) driving up. The tops of the mountains were swathed in clouds, but now and then I would catch sight of a rocky peak.
And as ever, where the mountains are so steep, there are stunning waterfalls along the roadside. Though technically today is the last day of 24 hour daylight, there was a brief period around 1am where it was definitely twilight. Due to the mountains, though the sun is still technically above the horizon, the reality is a little different.
And though it was hard leaving Yorkshire, and Mum and Dad, now I am back, I am not homesick. The week after next, I will get the keys to my new house, and then a whole new chapter will be beginning. Have a lovely week all!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Yesterday was another of those gorgeous days of endless blue skies. Birgit and I drove south in the morning sunshine and then took the ferry across Lyngen Fjord.
Our destination was Lyngseidet in Lyngen Kommune. Though it is possible to drive round, it would take several hours. The crossing took about forty minutes and as well as taking photographs, Birgit and I bought drinks from the small cafe on board. I had a slightly surreal moment when I approached the lady behind the counter and she spoke to me in English. Given that I was wearing a Mattilsynet jumper with a Mattilsynet badge hanging from a Mattilsynet lanyard, and was waving a Norwegian credit card, I was slightly taken aback. Perhaps my face looked British, but I didn’t ask so I guess I’ll never know.
Birgit had planned two visits to blood sample goats, but there were some last minute cancellations and so we visited some sheep farms to check ear tags instead. I am taking a course at the moment on inspections, and so Birgit let me lead both of them. Better still on the first farm, as well as the sheep, the owner had some Lyngshest/Nordlandshest. These wonderful little Norwegian horses are immensely strong and hardy. Most of them are between 12.3 and 13.3 hands (130-140 cm) but Birgit assured me they can easily carry an adult’s weight. She had told me before we arrived about the little horses – she has some herself – and so when we had checked the sheep, I asked the farmer whether we could see them. He led us outside, and to my delight, he called them and they began slowly to walk towards us.
Despite being a little shy at first (he told us they were suspicious that we were vets) very soon we were making friends. Considering the bizarre protective clothing we wear, I think they were surprisingly courageous!
The second visit was great too. The farmer gave us a warm welcome and was very positive about having a visit from Mattilsynet. She seemed rightly proud of her mixed flock, half of them tiny Norsk Villsau (literally Norwegian wild sheep) the other half being the sturdier Norsk Kvit Sau, or White Sheep.
Once we were finished, we headed back to the village where we had landed. After stopping to take a photo of Lynseidet church with its friendly red roof and one of the irresistible mountain behind the Co-Op, we ate lunch outside on a scarlet-painted table beside the fjord. Birgit pointed out the curlews flitting over the water. The arrival of the curlews on their migration to the north means that spring has arrived, she told me. With the warm sun on my face, I could well believe it.
After that it was time for our return journey across the Fjord. As I looked back towards Lyngseidet, I was already making plans in my head to visit again in the summer. It will all look very different in a few weeks time when (most of) the snow has melted.
As we drove around, Birgit told me a bit about the local area. Norway has, of course, a great seafaring tradition. With its long coastline and sheltered fjords, it was the perfect place to create a trading hub. And here in the north, we are also very close to the Finnish, Swedish and Russian borders. She tells me that traders created their own language, which is a mixture of the various languages and dialects, so that they can all understand one another.
I had heard of the Sami before, but not of the Kven people. Descendants of Finns who moved to Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries, they too have their own language. So just as in Scotland, where many road sign have Gaelic alongside the English spelling and in Wales where Welsh names are shown, up here there are road signs with three different languages: Norwegian, Sami and Kvensk.
As we arrived back in Sørkjosen where I am staying, Birgit told me that the building opposite my hotel was one of the few in the area that was not burned down by the Germans as they retreated towards the end of the second world war. I had taken a picture of it in the morning as it was a beautiful old building.
And so, with all the new information whirling in my head, I stopped for a moment to look at the boats that were safely tide up in the harbour. Despite the desperate thought of past destruction, so far I have found nothing but peace and happiness here in Nordreisa.