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.
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!
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.
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.