I took Anna and Andrew to the airport on Monday morning. They will be away for another week and a half, staying with Charlie down in the more southern regions of Norway. John and I have spent more time together. As well as the visit to Roasters, we spent some time exploring the southern end of Senja and have also taken a couple of walks up around the local ski area, which looks very different without snow. I haven’t much by way of commentary. There must be bloggers who can tell you all the names of the flowers and the mountains, but I am happy for now just to gaze and wonder… and share the photographs with you in blissful ignorance.
I’ll start with the ski slope. It’s small, I believe: just one tow. Next winter, I hope that Andrew and I will get season tickets, but for now, it’s open for hiking. Triar was with us, of course. When is he not?
While Anna and Andrew are away, John and I are hoping to get a night or two away camping. Weather permitting, I still hope to take a midnight hike up one of the easier hills on Senja. We found a possible campsite as we were driving down to Roasters. It’s down by the edge of the fjord, by the side of a river. Wild camping is allowed in Norway, so we hope to make our base here.
John, Triar and I also went for a wander around Stonglandseidet and back to the beach where Thomas and I were taken on our reindeer hunt.
Stonglandseidet has a lovely church. It’s spread out around flower meadows, between two stony bays with a mountainous backdrop.
After a short stroll there, we went back to the beach, which is also surrounded by velvety meadows and grass verges, stippled with flowers.
And finally, this is possibly the happiest photograph of Triar I’ve taken. He really brings a huge amount of cheer into my life.
Anna came home last week. In line with Norwegian quarantine rules, she has been avoiding areas where she would come into contact with people. She could however, go for walks, so on Wednesday I took a day off and she, Triar and I headed out to Ånderdalen National Park.
It has been overcast for most of the week and under the polar skies, the light is grey-blue, but has a rare clarity that I love. With the snow, it looks very different from my last trip, when everything was green. I was fascinated, as before, by the ghost trees – dead but still holding strong on the sturdy roots that have seen them through many arctic winters. These two trees, entwined in death, but giving protection to a few smaller fir trees growing in their shelter were perhaps the most beautiful.
Of course I was busy with my camera throughout.
Yesterday was another of those amazing work days that lift an enjoyable job into something even more special. Way back in September, if you’re a regular reader, you might recall the Finnsnes staff taking a trip out to cook hot dogs at Sørreisa. Back then, the season (the busiest time of year at the abattoir) was just getting started and between then and now, the Mattilsynet staff there have been working every day. But now, with the season past and Christmas fast approaching, there are days when there are no animals coming in and the line is still and silent.
Ann had invited me last week on a day out. I felt quite honoured. Most of the staff who would be hiking together have been working exclusively in the abattoir and for the past couple of weeks I have barely been there. In some ways it’s a rather sad time. While Ann is a permanent member of staff, Konstantin and Vaidotas came for the season and both of them are heading home for Christmas. Vaidotas is going first – driving home all the way to Lithuania this weekend. Konstantin will be there on Monday, but I will only see him for a short time as I will mostly be working at Hjerttind on my long delayed training day in the reindeer abattoir. He will be heading back to Latvia early next week. I feel that both of them have become friends. There’s no doubt I will miss them very much.
Anyway, back to yesterday. Ann and her boyfriend have begun an amazing project to build a smallholding where they will raise Norsk Villsau – an ancient breed of small but hardy Norwegian sheep – all wild eyes, wool and horns. They have bought a plot out in the wilds and the plan was to go out and have a hike around her land.
It truly was a beautiful place, though at the moment it’s too cold to do much work there. We tramped through fluffy snow down to the river, then headed back up to where they are going to build their house. The picture at the top of the page shows Ann in the centre as she explains where the rooms in their new house will be.
And after that, we lit a fire and had warm drinks to heat ourselves up before we drove back to the office to eat together one last time.
“Pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country, and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss….” C.S.Lewis.
I wonder how life would have gone, were it not for COVID-19. I can recall the fascination I felt, back in late January or early February, searching on social media for information from Wuhan. I watched with interest: those alarming films of people dropping in the street, reading that China (of all places) had gone into a lockdown so tight that people were not allowed to leave their homes.
It filtered through to me, as I watched those posts unfold, that something big was happening, though back then I had little sense of impending doom. That came later, as the virus began to spread. One by one, day after day, new posters appeared at work, telling us how to cough, to wash our hands, to use gel as we entered, notices in Norwegian and English and several other languages I didn’t understand. The canteen shut and then the borders of the country: closed to anyone who didn’t live here.
And as I watched the figures fall in Norway, I watched them rise in the UK.
I miss my parents. That is undoubtedly the worst in all of this. I had been looking for a new job for a while with no success. But with spring, the realisation came that I was no longer tied to Rogaland for my son’s schooling. And in the midst of a wave of homesickness and fear for my parents, who by now were locked down themselves, with no obvious end in sight, the grand idea came to me that perhaps now was the time to return to the UK.
But it was not to be. Though I found a wonderful practice close to my parents, who wanted to employ me, they were unable to make me an offer. They had sold the practice a year earlier to one of the corporates, and the corporate had a moratorium on taking on new staff due to … coronavirus.
But by now anyway, the insanity of a move back to the UK was starting to hit me. With the increased border security, it was unlikely I would be able to get the dog into the UK, let alone the guinea pigs. Juggling quarantine requirements would mean I would have to find somewhere to stay when I returned to the UK. It would need to have furniture, as mine would take a while to arrive. Likely many shops were shut, and even if they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to go. Quarantine with no bed and no TV…
In the midst of all this chaos, a job popped up in the North of Norway. Mattilsynet (the Norwegian equivalent of the UK Food Standards Agency) were looking for a vet. The duties were very wide ranging, as often happens in remote places. Lower population often results in less specialisation… and that has always suited me. Easily bored, I love doing different things. And so I applied.
I had expected a phone call or e-mail from the person who had interviewed me. Instead, a contract arrived. No explanation: simply sign here if you want the job.
I signed it of course. It was so precious I didn’t want it to slip through my fingers. And then I contacted them about accommodation and about moving and about how I wouldn’t be able to start on the day that was written on the contract.
All that happened only three weeks ago. And in one week’s time, I will be driving north to take up my new post. It’s a thirty hour journey and I will be taking it with my son John, our dog Triar, and a pair of guinea pigs.
We will be camping! I hope the weather holds. John is planning on walking and lake swimming. I’ve bought a new car to take us up there… well I say new. She’s seven years old, but my first BMW… all wheel drive. I wanted something that could tackle snow.
I am about to move up into the Arctic Circle: Land of midnight sun and interminable darkness.
Spring is arriving here at last. Marian and I have finally managed to find some time for walking. As you can see from the picture at the top of the page, Bijke came too.
We took the Vestlandske Hovedsvei as it isn’t too far from home.
I actually only started taking photographs when we reached the top of the hill and sat down for coffee . . . here . . .
I always find this landscape hard to photograph. It’s very rough terrain, but the horizon is flat. As you can see, everything is still winter brown.
Bijke seemed to be enjoying the sunshine.
We sat for quite a while. The sun is beginning to have some real warmth. While we were sitting on top of the hill, I could hear a skylark singing.
As we walked down this hill, there was a ringing sound in my ears.
Not such a good photo because she was a long way away, but we did find the source of the soothing clank clank . That is one of the sounds of summer here.
As we passed by a rocky stream, above the rushing water, frogs were croaking out their spring song.
Anyone want to live in this house? I know I do. Note the grass roof.
Almost back at the car, our footsteps were arrested beside this tree.
It wasn’t the sight of it that caused us to stop and take a closer look. The tree was humming.
Bees! There were thousands of them. I’ve never heard anything like it. I can see two in this photo alone.
And then we were back at the car in the farmland at the bottom of the valley where it’s possible to grow crops.
I’m off to Yorkshire on Thursday. I’m hoping for sunshine and lambs. Not sure when I’ll be able to blog again (I’m not back until Monday) but I hope while I’m there to do some research for Christmas at Mistletoe Cottage.