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.
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!
I started the week in Bardufoss. John was here last weekend and I took him back on Monday night and stayed over until Wednesday. The temperature is much lower inland and it was -24°C when I parked the car.
You really find out how good your vehicle is in those conditions. After a few short journeys, my lovely BMW started to tell me that its battery was not very happy (it’s a very chatty car and likes to forewarn me before things get out of hand – though sometimes I wish it wasn’t quite so fussy about seatbelts when I want to shuffle the car on the driveway). A quick check on the internet told me there was probably no real problem, but for the last twenty four hours of my stay, I was worried that I might not make it back without complications. When I returned home (where it was a balmy -4°C) the warning light was still on, so I decided to get it checked out. It was snowing hard and the weather forecast was warning me that it wasn’t going to stop any time soon. The garage Hilde recommended was busy, but they kindly arranged for me to go to the petrol station next door. After a quick trip home to remove the dog cage from the boot (because that’s where the battery is apparently) the mechanic very kindly checked that the battery was indeed fully functional and then waved me on my way without charging anything. He’s definitely gained a new client!
When I’m not in the abattoir, I’m still working from home and for now, I’m concentrating hard on trying to qualify as the Norwegian equivalent of an Official Veterinary Surgeon. This will allow me to work in the abattoir without another (already qualified) vet. The course really does cover a lot of material, mostly to do with welfare, but some of it is very technical. On Friday I found myself learning about stunning chickens with electricity, which actually isn’t a method used here in Norway. Nonetheless, I found myself back at school learning all about Ohm’s Law, current, resistance and voltage, only this time it was all in Norwegian. Life here does sometimes throw up unexpected challenges!
I was, as you can imagine, quite relieved to arrive home safely on Wednesday and I decided that having got there, going back out again should be kept to a minimum. Here’s a summary of the weather forecast from Thursday lunchtime.
By Thursday morning, it looked like this.
It soon clouded over again though. Wave after wave of snow has passed. They come in from the North, slipping in over Gisundet, the sound between the mainland and Senja.
There has been quite some digging of the driveway to be done, though happily my landlord keeps popping over with his snow blower to remove some of it. It’s getting harder to dig out though as the snow at the sides gets higher.
Though of course my driveway has nothing on the public car parks down in the town itself. For reference, the zebra-crossing sign is a good deal taller than me.
But one of the best things about the snow is watching Triar playing. He loves going outside and flolloping through the deep snow, burying his face and emerging cheerfully covered. He will happily play outside for ages and doesn’t seem to feel the cold.
And of course, after all that play, it’s time for Triar to go to bed. Sleep well Triar!
So here we are in the last week of 2020. It has been, I believe, the strangest year of my life. Had you told me in January that by the end of it I would be living in the Arctic Circle, and that I wouldn’t have seen my parents or set foot in the UK for a year, I wouldn’t have believed you. In May, I would have told you I was going to move back to the UK. I had applied for a number of jobs there, but coronavirus was holding everything up. But those of you who know me well will know I was never able to resist an adventure. My eye was caught by an advertisement for a veterinary job in the far north and the rest is history.
In turn, this week has been something of a roller coaster. On Monday, Ann and I accompanied Ammar to the little reindeer abattoir at Hjerttind. I am conflicted, showing you this photograph. Reindeer are beautiful animals and bringing them in to an abattoir might not be considered a happy ending. But the other side of that coin is that these animals have led perhaps the most natural life of any of those that come into the food chain. They have spent their lives outside in their natural habitat. And rather than being brought in by lorry, they were brought in on foot, though I understand a helicopter was used in the herding process. There hasn’t been enough snow, apparently, for them to be brought in with snowmobiles! Traditional Sami methods with a modern twist.
The slaughter process and meat preparation at Hjerttind is very traditional too. The only mechanisation in the process is a hoist. Everything else is done by hand. Every part of the reindeer is used. Outside the window, I could see the skins being spread out on the snowy ground in the gathering gloom. But Ann and I didn’t stay long. We were there to learn the process. The plan was that I would return the next day on my own.
But it wasn’t to be. I woke on Tuesday morning with a mild sore throat and a tendency to cough. I was very torn because usually I would ignore the symptoms and carry on. I didn’t feel particularly unwell. But Anna had arrived from the UK only two weeks earlier. The news was filled with stories of a new, highly infectious strain of COVID. The Norwegian borders had been closed and everyone who had arrived recently was to be tested. Anyone with any respiratory symptoms here in Norway should be tested as well, and so on Tuesday instead of heading to Hjerttind, I went to Senja with Anna to be tested for coronavirus.
The process itself was mildly unpleasant. A swab to the throat, then in through the bony nasal turbinates to the nasopharynx. Waiting for the results was infinitely worse. I had begun to feel more unwell and by Wednesday afternoon, though technically I didn’t have a fever, I was definitely warmer than usual and was feeling rough. They had told us one to three days for the results. I thought they might be delayed by the approach of Christmas and the additional testing involved with the new requirement to test incomers from Britain, but late on Wednesday afternoon, I got a message to say my results were in. I was surprisingly tense as I opened the Norwegian health website. I had been feeling lucky that all my children were safely home, and now there was the possibility that I might have to spend Christmas day isolating in my bedroom. But to my enormous relief, the test came back negative, as did Anna’s, and the worry lifted. Better still was the news from my parents that my dad has had the first of his vaccinations against COVID. I hope this means that I will be able to visit them next year.
But back to Christmas. Though I’m sad I couldn’t be with Mum and Dad, this was the first time in years that all my children could be with me. John has come back from the UK and is living in Norway again. It was lucky that Anna also changed her plans to come home early from university. The borders are closed now and some of her Norwegian friends are stuck in the UK. Britain has also gone into lockdown and many people can’t be with their loved ones.
And yet Christmas brought me joy, as it always has. We put up our decorations gradually and on Christmas Eve, Andrew and Anna put up the last of the fairy lights and now I feel as if I am sitting in a Christmas grotto.
Those of you with sharp eyes might have noticed another strange thing. Having moved inside the Arctic Circle, I had thought we would be guaranteed a perfect white Christmas, but most of the snow melted earlier in the week and there isn’t even enough now to cover the grass.
Triar has been the most hyped up member of the family. He loves unwrapping his presents on Christmas morning.
And of course Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a feast. In Norway, it’s normal to have the main meal and presents on Christmas Eve, but in line with British tradition, we still eat on Christmas day. This year John and Anna helped with preparing the food. We have something of a mixture of Norwegian and British cuisine. While we serve the traditional roast potatoes and honey-roast parsnips with stuffing and gravy and bread sauce, they are served alongside pork ribbe and lingonberry sauce. I was very proud of the crackling on my ribbe this year. It was the best I’ve managed: golden brown and wonderfully salty crisp.
And for dessert, there was Christmas pudding (it doesn’t get more British than that) and Norwegian kransekake, a wonderful, chewy almond flavoured extravaganza.
And now the year is almost done. Thank you to all those who have been following my adventures. I wish you well for 2021.
Less that ten days now until the Polar Night (or Mørketid as it’s called here) arrives and the snow has properly arrived. Hilde said on Monday that it looked like the early part of the week would end the mild spell we’d been having (all relative, obviously – it was around 7°C) and the winter would start in earnest and my neighbour said something similar this morning. He has very kindly cleared my driveway twice in the past two days, using his snow-blower. I’ve also cleared it using the more traditional scraper method… which will tell you just how much snow there has been. “Ah yes,” he said when I met him as I took Triar out for a morning walk, “It’s no longer a case of whether there’s snow, but how many metres.” I gulped a little, but smiled and thanked him for his help. He also advised me not to leave my car right at the top of the driveway as it might get damaged by chunks of ice when the road clearers come through at night. So my cunning plan for not having to clear the entire driveway has already gone out of the window.
Driving over to Bardufoss has been interesting too, over the past couple of days. Though the roads are regularly cleared, they don’t seem to use any grit. Perhaps when it’s properly cold, it doesn’t make much difference, but right now the road is treacherous. As I drove past the flashing light on the snow-obliterated “Elk crossing – great danger” sign, I could see the light reflecting off the ice that was lurking underneath the tiny swirling snowflakes. Like the southern wuss I am, I didn’t get much over 70km per hour (about 45mph). The locals, however, confident in their spiked winter tyres, were whizzing past me at the normal speed limit of 80.
Though I’ve bought lots of things, including two ice-scrapers (one with a long handle and one attached to a mitten) I realised this week that I was going to have to invest in one of these:
As well as scraping off ice, there’s a brush for taking off the fluffier snow on top. I am very pleased as well, with my purchase of a pair of leather driving gloves with a soft, knitted lining. When your steering wheel is minus ten, it does take a while to heat up.
While we’re on the topic of excellent purchases, I must quickly give a shout out to the rather wonderful Vinmonopolet here in Finnsnes. Though beer and lower alcohol drinks can be bought in the supermarket, anything stronger than 4.7% has to be bought from the state-owned Vinmonopolet shop. Last year I tried to get chocolate Baileys and was disappointed to find they had none in my local store, but this morning, I thought I’d see what they had here. To my delight, I managed not only to buy the original, but also Salted Caramel and Strawberries and Cream varieties. So it looks like, whatever else befalls us, I am now officially ready for Christmas!
Of course it wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t spam you with some snow photos. First up is the view from the garden this morning. When I take a cup of coffee out with the dog first thing before work, it’s very much still dark, but as it’s the weekend, I could wait until the sun was up.
And from a walk with Triar last night, when I felt as if I was strolling through Narnia. It doesn’t get much more magical than that.
I’m sitting in my living room at three in the afternoon and it’s already dark outside, save for the streetlights on the bridge and along the shoreline across the water. The days are fast fading, but for now I am making the most of what daylight there is. It was wonderful to have a couple of days off at the beginning of the week and Charlie and I continued our exploration of local beaches and of Senja, the island that lies over the bridge from Finnsnes. The snow is coming and going, as you will see from the photos. Lots to see this week!
These photographs were taken on Sunday. This is one of our more regular haunts, though once the snow begins to lie, the track will become a ski-track. We won’t be able to walk along it until spring comes.
By Monday the snow was gone, and on Monday and Tuesday, we took Triar to different beaches, the first at Sørreisa (the site where you can light fires under shelter that I have written about before) and the next day on Senja near Vangsvik.
There were more fir trees as we walked down to the tiny beach at the southern end of Senja and it struck me that, twisted and stunted as they are, they remind me of bonsai trees. Not that they are anywhere near so small, but their growth is surely limited by the shallowness of the soil and the long, long winters.
I returned to work on Wednesday and was delighted to be invited out on a farm visit. Both Ammar and Thomas had compiled lists of possible farms to collect samples for the OK Program. The OK Program is an official project, carried out annually, where various samples are taken from different animals or herds to check for contamination. This can be in the form of heavy metals, which can be present in the soil in certain areas, antibiotics which might have entered the food chain, radioactivity, or infections such as MRSA or salmonella. Some of the materials are collected at the slaughterhouse, but we were looking for urine and milk samples. In the end, we visited four farms. One had no milk because the tanker had already collected it (and a herd sample was needed, rather than one from a single animal) and on another, there was no farmer to be found. But the other two were more productive. One had milk in the tank still. The other was the best for me. We had to collect a urine sample, and for that, we had to go and stand behind a row of cows in a byre and wait until one of the cows obliged. They were lovely cows – a little herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle that would have been equally at home in Scotland. They looked healthy and well fed and the farmer very generously let me take a couple of photos (including the sweet little cat at the top of the page).
And so I carried out my first farm visit in the north of Norway. Here’s hoping there will be many, many more!
It’s been an eventful week. As Donald Trump and Joe Biden totter towards a final result in the US presidential election, coronavirus is surging worldwide. On a more personal level, the abattoir season has ended (hooray!) and I had my 2-3 month review.
The review went well. I knew I had done all the online coursework I had been set, but there were one or two tasks I hadn’t really had a chance to get my teeth into. One of my tasks is to find out what my colleagues do. Some of them are involved with aquaculture, others with quality control of drinking water and those in my own small section are involved with animal health and welfare. But with many of us working at the slaughterhouse, there has been limited time for other tasks.
Before my review, therefore, I had a quick look at what my colleagues were up to. Øivind (who works with drinking water) had a trip next Thursday to Husøy, and so I decided I would ask Hilde whether it might be a suitable trip for me. I was unsure where Husøy was. Øy means island and I know that there are some far flung places in our region. If it involved an overnight trip, it was unlikely I could join at this late stage. But Husøy, I discovered, is a small island off the coast of Senja. No ferries required – there’s a bridge across. Hilde told me that Husøy had been the subject of a Norwegian documentary, “Da Damene Dro” back in 2008. All the women on the island were taken off for a ten day holiday in the sun, while the menfolk were left to fend for themselves and their children.
This seemed like the kind of social experiment I could get behind, so a taking a trip there would be fascinating… but it wasn’t to be. When I caught up with Øivind at lunch time, he told me that the trip had been cancelled. With the surge in coronavirus cases, nobody wanted to take any chances and the trip was not urgent.
I left after lunch as Charlie had texted me to let me know he was arriving soon. Charlie is John, Anna and Andrew’s dad and he is here for the weekend. He came up to watch Andrew in a school concert. Andrew has been learning the piano and the music group had put together some songs, which were to be performed in a local café. But that too was disrupted by coronavirus. The venue changed from the café to the school and then the message came through that it would be broadcast online. So Charlie flew all the way up here from Stavanger to sit in the living room and watch the concert on TV. There were advantages though. Charlie and I were going to support Andrew, but with the change in the agenda, both Anna and my parents were able to watch from the UK and Wytske, a friend from the Netherlands also joined us.
The weather this week has been stormy, but despite the forecast, Charlie, Triar and I took a walk this morning in Ånderdalen National Park. It was a wonderful place to explore. There is a trail up into the park which has been made suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs, and beyond that, the tracks are well marked, so even if the weather had taken a turn for the worse, it would have been possible to get back safely.
The park is stunning, even at this time of year, when everything is lowering into winter. Fir trees dominate the landscape and in the distance, snow covered mountain peaks, but the trees are sparse, the landscape shaped by the long winters. There are many dead trees amongst the living, their trunks and branches still rooted deep against the winter winds. The weather was changeable, one moment bright and clear, the next darkening as snow or hail began to descend.
I love trees and found myself as fascinated with these beautiful ghost trees as I am with the living trees that stood alongside them. Lichen caught my eye, and wonderful shapes on the trunks of the bigger trees.
And so, tired and damp we returned home. It was Charlie’s birthday yesterday and there was leftover carrot cake to go with our coffee. And now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day. I’ve taken Monday and Tuesday off and I am looking forward to going back to work fully refreshed.
I have been adding the changing daylength at the top of each post for a while now. Those who have noticed might have calculated that over the course of each week, we are losing an hour of light and gaining an hour of darkness. The rate of change is not exactly disconcerting, but it is a little disorienting. I look at the clock expecting it to be late evening and find it is only seven o’clock.
Sometime last week, I noticed two of the trees beside the little pond in the town centre had been decorated with lights. In the UK and in the more southerly part of Norway where I used to live, there were tasteful lights draped in the branches of the trees around Christmas, but this was something different. The whole tree, trunk and branches, seemed to be swathed in lights, and it seemed odd that there were only two. I drove home yesterday and to my delight, saw that now there were lots more trees lit up. I don’t know whether they are finished, or whether there are more to come, but Andrew, Triar and I went for a wander around the pond and it was beautiful.
As well as the changing daylength, there has been another change this week. John has started to do seasonal work at the abattoir. He is working with the sheep shearing squad. There is a technique, of course, to sheep shearing. He tells me it’s important to remove the wool in a smooth manner, ensuring that the length doesn’t get disrupted. If they don’t get it right first time, they are encouraged not to take another cut as the shortness of those segments would degrade the quality and mean the price would be lower. For my part, I’m glad that the wool is used. I remember being told at university that wool was considered so worthless that it was often thrown away. If we breed animals for food, I can’t help feeling that we should do what we can to use every one of the products that creates. Anyway, for now, John has moved out and is living in a house with other members of the team and seems to be enjoying it, which is wonderful.
Andrew has also been away this week, visiting his dad and the orthodontist. He flew back yesterday evening, and as the airport is near to where I was working, I decided I would find something to do there instead of coming home and having to drive back. Rather than leaving Triar at home all day on his own, he came with me in the car. The airport is at Bardufoss, and as Foss is Norwegian for waterfall, I decided to go and look for it. It didn’t take too long to find. I’m sure it was beautiful once… but it was now empty. Norway is famous for its renewable energy. 98% of electricity production comes from renewable sources, and though the number of wind farms is increasing year on year, the majority still comes from hydroelectric.
But of course, where there are mountains, you are never too far from a waterfall. As I was driving, I noticed signs for Målselvfossen and so I followed them. It was well worth the effort. As Triar and I walked down into the valley, sunlight stippled the hills in the distance.
Down beside the river, the roar filled our ears. There was a salmon ladder, currently closed, but well worth a revisit next year as the summer comes round again. We’ll definitely be coming back!