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Published: September 14th 2009
The red barn
..'I'll not paint it again in my lifetime,' he said with a happy grin.
Motorhome News from Europe 32.
Norway 17th August 05
Around about the middle: Stjordal, Trondheim, Roros, Oppdal, Doverfjell, Dombas, Rondane Park, Vagamo and Lom.
The school holidays have come to an end here and fields of buttercups have been sacrificed to the hay barns for the long winter ahead. The sun now sets at night and the martins and swallows are heading south as we prepare to travel with them for our migration across the North Sea, from Norway's beautiful Bergen, to Shetland, way to the north of Scotland, on the 23rd August. But there is still much to see and do before we leave these shores.
Our campsite host at Stjordal, the local farmer and entrepreneur, had many strings to his bow; a carbon copy of our good friend Roy, back home at Little Lodge Farm. In addition to the 80 static caravans by the beach, he had a few fields of barley on the summer farm awaiting harvest in the coming week, he had work as a house builder in the local town and a house on the rocky foreshore rented out on long contract. His parents farmed the land for many years before him,
remnants of copper mining
he told me in broken English.
‘Now, I have one house for me and one for my wife since my mother died!’ He pointed out to sea with a red painted finger. ‘In the winter the sun rises over there at eleven and goes down over there at two. Most people here have a house in town for the winter months, but my wife and I prefer to stay put - the only person we see for three months is the postman.’
‘That sounds fun,” I ventured.
His main task on the farm this year was to scrape and paint the enormous timber barn, more than 100ft long, 50ft wide and two storeys high for hay on top and cattle below. He was on the first tier of scaffolding scraping off the old terracotta paint. He had managed about half of one side to date.
‘And that’s a bit like the Forth Bridge,’ I added.
‘I’ll not paint it again in my lifetime,’ he said with a happy grin. ‘This paint will last for 5-10 years and by then my son will be converting the barn to a home.’
Norway is principally rock and water in
....and slag heaps
the north. The only other viable natural resource is birch, though it is not ideal for building. There is no pine to the north but with very few exceptions the houses are timber-built in pine. I am prompted to ask why the houses are not built in stone, though the need for speedy rebuilding post-war might be one answer, and low cost another.
By-passing Trondheim, we headed southeast from Stjordal, to the mountains of the interior, across bleak and treeless fells and high passes to the copper-mining town of Roros. Sadly, with 3,000ft passes and cloud cover at 2,000 ft, we didn’t get to see a lot of the view, driving for most of the day through mist and rain. That’s also the problem with mining towns like this one - it rains, as if to render Gods’ punishment for taking the earth’s worldly goods. We have memories of rainy days in mining towns, Rio Tinto in Spain and Bute in Montana, to name but a few. Like Bute and its valuable minerals, this one ceased to be a viable copper mine in 1977 and both of these towns are now a pale shade of grey.
was a bit grey too at first glance in the rain, but after a morning at the copper mine museum with a memorable personal guided tour of the 50m deep mine, we went back for a second look at the town and its wealth of history. In thin sunshine already hinting of autumn, the town came to life; its craft shops were busy and cafes and old log houses along the main street bustled with tourists. Perched within an elk’s leap of Sweden, Roros has smelting works and slag heaps at its core - they have been mining here since 1644, but it is protected under UNESCO ‘World Heritage Site’ status and wears its recognition with pride and a certain elegance on a par with Lavenham, in Suffolk perhaps. Tourism is all that’s left now in recognition of centuries of toil and sweat at the rockface, now just misty photographs, museums and guided tours.
Most campsites in Scandinavia have at least a few cabins for casual travellers. These are small huts, some of log construction and others in traditional style in keeping with the surrounding houses and farms. Cabins provide beds for 2 - 5 people, usually cooking
facilities and are generally rather rustic. In the ‘hot’ fishing and tourist areas, there are also a number of static caravans on every site. The caravans are all normal tourers as we know them, not the long holiday jobs we associate with ‘static’ sites in the UK. Here their caravans have wooden extensions, patio decking, fancy picket fences, outside lights and flower boxes. They are generally owned by flat- dwellers visiting at week-ends and holidays with the family and they can be used 12 months of the year using the van for cooking and sleeping and the shed as the lounge. I’m told on good authority that it all started with sheds to keep the skis and spare kit in when the awning was full up. I can hear the conversation now.
‘Where are you going for your holidays, Edvard?’
‘I’m taking the family to the garden shed again this year.’
A very high percentage of the 4.5million Norwegians have holiday cabins somewhere in the country, beside lakes, around the ski slopes or out in the wilds on mountains or deep in the forests. Forest covers some 23% of this vast country providing an essential resource and
space - space for everyone, everywhere.
From Roros we headed west to Oppdal, through wide valleys with rushing rivers and lush pastures bordered by great banks of rose-bay willow herb. Prosperous dairy farms with old log barns and grass roofed timber buildings brightened the high rolling hills, sombre in the misty rain, stretching to the tree line and the barren mountain fells above. Along the route we stopped for a short hike in dense birch woodland and a second sign of autumn’s stealthy approach. There were mushrooms everywhere, a veritable feast for fungi foragers, and one of Janice’s favourites, the beautiful but deadly fly-agaric, the stuff of fairies and elves. Love ‘em as we do, we’re not very good at identifying mushrooms and they’re better left alone! A goldfinch, beyond its northerly range, reminded us that we had journeyed a long way south since Nordkap, and a young moose amongst the trees put yet another special Scandinavian memory in the bank.
Oppdal is a seriously ‘outdoor pursuit’ town, with skiing, fishing, river rafting, canyoning, climbing, hang gliding, hunting and hiking, all together at the top of the list. It lies at the centre of some of Norway’s most
Hunting for Musk ox
A grey haired nomad lost in space
important National Parks. Our first hike was to the high hill farms to find a farm serving Norway’s famous but elusive sour-cream porridge and the second, further south into the Dovrefjell National Park in search of the secretive musk ox. We didn’t find the farm or the porridge, but the walk was wonderful, through mountain farmland and peaty bog where an army of visitors with white buckets picked the last of the cloudberries. A thorough search of the wild high fells below Snohetta mountain (9,000 ft) proved fruitful, however, and we were able to get reasonably close to two groups of musk ox - fifteen in all, from a total of 80 thought to be in Norway. All thanks to Janice’s meticulous research, I must add.
The desolate snow-topped mountains around Doverfjell stretch to the horizon in all directions, clothed in creamy white lichen crunchy underfoot, dwarf birch and stunted willow not more than a foot high, heather, bilberry and moss - and not a dwelling in sight. We saw musk ox when we were at the zoo in Jarvso in Sweden some weeks back, but we never really expected to see them in the wild. They are
Dovrefjell National Park
Musk ox on the high fells
also found in Greenland, Canada and Alaska and they are famous, of course, for their head-banging exchanges during the rutting season. Fantastic is the word! ‘Anything else on your list of must sees, Janice?’
There were black- throated divers on the water, cranes and bluethroats in a vast marshland nature reserve just to the north of Dombas. The marsh is an important site for breeding birds, great snipe, ruff and the divers, but once again we were late in the season and many were already on their way to warmer climes. Our planned two-hour walk took us nearly twice as long, as walks often do when we’re enjoying ourselves.
Dombas is another of those winter ski and outdoor recreation towns, humming with posers with sunglasses pushed up on their sweatbands and eating ice cream at the cafe tables. We joined them, with our rucksacks and walking boots, enjoying ice cream in the warm sunshine - on the last day of Norwegian school holidays. Evidently the weather here had been uncharacteristically atrocious over the previous two weeks -and we had seen the tail end of it. Central Norway has a lot to offer and whilst it’s not on the ‘foreign’
a beautiful wilderness
tourist trail it is worthy of a month’s holiday on its own. (It’s a bit like Norfolk. ‘Don’t tell anyone how good it is, they’ll all want to come.’)
National Parks are a magnet for us. They are not all easily accessible, but each has its own character and specific interest. Rondane Park, a little further south, gave us the best part of a day’s walking over raw landscape at 5,000ft, miles and miles of barren mountains fading into the distance, set against a blue but cloud-threatened sky.
There’s a long distance path or two running through the park and we walked as far as a remote climber’s hostel for a welcome coffee and waffles with sour cream - to make up for the treat we missed earlier in the week! Waffles have appeared on our menu around mid-afternoon a few times since our arrival in Norway, prompting the possibility of another electrical appliance when we return home. I had always previously associated waffles with Germany.
Towards the end of our week we joined a route taken on our previous visit to Norway, passing through the village of Vagamo, its lovely stave church set at the end of
Walking over raw landscape.
a long lake, its jade water the combination of glacial flour and warm weather. The rivers along this stretch of road were all a similar colour, bringing back memories of Lake Louise. The Tourist office recommended a drive up to a lookout point to the north of town with views over the three National Parks and with a spare hour in our schedule we set forth to sample the goodies. Now there’s roads and there’s roads, as they say, but this one would make the Blackpool big dipper look like a Sunday afternoon in a rowing boat. For a modest toll of £3 in English money, it is possible to start your training as a rally driver on the hairpins on tarmac, moving quickly to single track un-surfaced road climbing up to 5,000 ft on slippery shale. A Dutch couple on a motorbike gave up a mile before the TV mast perched atop an incline a 4X4 would be pleased to tackle. Smiley made it over the corrugated track, though how, I don’t know. Our problem was that there was nowhere to turn round, there were sheer drops at every bend and we had to go for it, pressing on
ever upwards in second gear, fast enough to maintain traction and throwing clouds of dust at our heels! The dramatic yellow-lichened rocks and vast panoramic views from the top were magnificent, the sun punched holes through the clouds, and the wind whistled in our ears; it took a while to pluck up the courage to drive down! A memorable, heart-thumping, white- knuckle drive that we would not be in a hurry to repeat, but the added bonus of a golden eagle soaring and a ptarmigan flushed from the roadside left us exhilarated and excited.
There’s another stave church at Lom which we had seen before, though memories from our previous visit had faded with time. We had also forgotten the next stretch of narrow road as Janice drove us southwards, up and up beside the blue river, into the rain over the high winding Leirdalen Pass and Sognefjell, through snow clad bleak mountains boiling with black clouds chasing the sun, steep ravines and rushing blue rivers tumbling down deep crevasses. A hundred Lakeland passes together would fail to match the spectacle. Two drives like that would turn some into nervous wrecks! Janice has stopped shaking now.
..a truly hairy drive. One, hopefully, never to be repeated.
next week we’ll be in Shetland. It is said that Norway still lays claim to both Shetland and Orkney, but Scotland’s not having any of that - the noo, or any other time.
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads
A few of the week’s birds: Jay at the northern extent of its territory, Siberian Jay at its western. Wood warbler, willow warbler, chiffchaff, wheatear, flocks of brambling, black throated divers and cranes again. Blue-throats everywhere and snow bunting. Disappointed not to have seen a Lapland longspur yet, but we keep trying.
Flowers: Jacob’s ladder, marsh bedstraw, valerian
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