No way to Norway

Tuesday 22nd July 2008, On board the Queen of Scandinavia between Stavanger and Haugesund

We are on one of the last ferries to run between Newcastle and the Norwegian coast. The line is closing shortly, severing all passenger ferry links between Britain and Norway! Whether we wish it or not, we will need to find another way back home!

Four weeks ago today we returned to England from Caen. Since then our lives have been in a whirl visiting family and friends. It has been a delightful period and has passed far too quickly. We have hardly started to see or do the many things we had planned and it was almost with a sense of regret that we boarded the ship yesterday afternoon. We have had no time to plan our onward travels yet but that's all part of the adventure.

We'd like to thank everyone we have seen during our return for the warmth of the welcome we received. You have all done so much to make our visit happy and memorable. We really do appreciate how fortunate we are to have the love and affection of our children and friends. We are sorry that we have not been able to visit everyone this time and know we would have been made equally welcome had it been possible. We will be back again briefly as some stage this side of Christmas and look forward to seeing you then.

On our return we drove directly from Portsmouth to Brighton to see our daughter Kate. She will have departed on her South American travels before we next return so it was a time of delight to be together again for a couple of days. While there we heard that her boyfriend has accepted a job offer in Exeter, throwing everything into confusion. Will Kate be returning to her flat in Brighton after her travels or moving back to live in Exeter?

Next we visited our son Neil and his family in Oxfordshire. Our eight months old granddaughter was twice the age, twice the size and twice the mischief she had been when we last saw her. Neil took us out for several very windy walks along the Ridgeway from where we had distant views of the gleaming spires of Oxford's churches and the steaming spires of Didcot's power station.

On our way down to Exeter we called off briefly to see our friends Peter and Rosemary in Wilton. It turned out they had been on the Greek island of Lefkada at exactly the same time as us! Such is fate. If only we'd known!

Back in Exeter we found our house very much as we had left it with the added pleasure of sharing it with Paula for a few days. Thank you for taking such excellent care of everything. It was good to sleep again in our own bed, watch TV, linger in the shower and chat on the phone – all things we had missed. The garden needed cutting back, the rhubarb and potatoes needed harvesting and the weeds had gone rampant. We tamed it back into order but not for long. The rain never ceased and things grew faster than we could hack them back!

We also managed to see several local friends and work colleagues, but too soon it was time to head off north. Modestine had an appointment with her specialist in Bristol. After her 5,000+ miles of recent travel she had quite worn down her front tyres, thanks largely to the Greek roads! She has had a general health check and is now hopefully fit for the mountains of Norway.

It has taken us two weeks to reach Newcastle from Exeter! On the way we visited lifelong friends Peter and Kate in Leamington Spa together with their granddaughter Jessica who is just a fortnight older than our Deyvika. The following night we ran out of friends and camped in a soggy field in the spectacular Peak District National Park near Castleton. This was a very pleasant, nostalgic trip back to an area we used to walk together while we were both students at library school - Ian in Sheffield, Jill in Manchester.

Peter with Jessica

Moorland farmhouse in Castleton

Next morning saw us in Sheffield. This was the real reason for our return to England. We were meeting up with Ian's colleagues from his student days to celebrate 40 years since they had all been at Sheffield library school! The reunion was a great success despite only a handful of former colleagues being traceable or able to attend. With 22 of us gathered at the Royal Victoria hotel (Holiday Inn) overnight there was ample opportunity to swap news of the different directions our lives had taken us. What was especially good was that everyone who had taken the trouble to attend seemed fit and healthy and eager that the next gathering should be in five, rather than fifteen years time! We are actually in regular contact with several of those who attended so it was especially good to have an entire group of friends gathered together in one room. It was well worth travelling back from Greece for!

Sheffield library school friends reunited forty years on

After a leisurely breakfast together the following morning we all went our separate ways, Anne back to Munich, Howard back to the Isle of Sark, Sylvia to Hereford, and Jane to Durham. We drove, via Selby Abbey, on up to York to spend the night with our library friend Elizabeth. It happened to be Ian's birthday and she had made him a cake complete with candles! Elizabeth lives in the heart of the city and gave us a guided tour of the historic quarters, the river side, the city walls and the cathedral precinct. We are now eager to explore it in more detail. Next morning we continued north to spend a few very pleasant days with Ian's sister Jill and family in Cumbria near Kendal where we visited Lake Windermere, the largest lake in Britain.

Ian, Jane, Anne and Sylvia

Selby Abbey

The Shambles, York

The Minster, York

Elizabeth, Ian and the birthday cake

Me with Daniel, Brian and Jill

Next we pottered our way up to Carlisle to spend a couple of nights with Peter and Jill. Peter was a friend of Jill's from Manchester, also from our days as library school students some forty years ago! That's what true friendship is all about – something that really lasts. We had a couple of really wonderful days, exploring the countryside around their home in the pretty village of Wetherall and exploring nearby Hadrian's Wall where we visited the Roman town of Corbridge, followed by a picnic in the rain. But then, almost everything we have done over the past month has been in the rain! It's hard to believe we are in the height of summer!

Supper with friends Peter and Jill, Wetherall

Signal box, Haltwhistle railway station

Remains of the Roman town of Corbridge near Hadrian's Wall

Finally we drove across to Barnard Castle to spend the weekend with friends Vally and Chris. Vally was at library school in Sheffield with Ian but unable to make the reunion, so we brought it to her with lots of photos, all of people she remembered from the last reunion fifteen years ago. We have never visited Barnard Castle but found it to be one of the nicest British towns we have ever explored. The main street is lined with individual shops and houses rather than the cloned stores and façades that destroy the character of so many of our high streets. Buildings are all in the yellow sandstone of the Yorkshire Dales so blend well together despite architecturally spanning several hundred years. Above the town stand the imposing remains of the castle from where we had excellent views down onto the river Tees. On our first afternoon we also enjoyed a beautiful, comfortably energetic walk to the nearby ruined abbey of Egglestone. Next day we all drove up onto the Dales to see the magnificent waterfall at High Force and higher still, the reservoir of Cow Green. This really is a deserted area of England with the wind whistling across the barren moorland and nothing but a few untidy sheep littering the landscape. It has inspired us to investigate it further when we eventually embark on our travels around the British Isles in the future.

Barnard Castle

Ian, Vally and Chris outside their home

The castle and River Tees, Barnard Castle

High Force waterfall, Teesdale

Strange custom of hammering coins into a fallen tree trunk, High Force

After lunch back in the milder climate of Barnard Castle we walked across the old bridge up to the Bowes museum, seen dominating the hillside on the far side of town. Here there was a craft fair in the grounds and as the sun was shining we decided not to spend the afternoon in the museum. In any case, there would not be sufficient time to do it justice. So we sampled the chutneys, admired the hand-made jewellery, lusted after the country wines and watched the children on the bouncy castle. There is nothing quite like an English garden fête on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The Bowes museum is a massive, 19th century building resembling a French Château, built privately, to house the personal art collections of the Bowes family. The late Queen Mother came from the Bowes-Lyon family and is linked somehow to this same Bowes family. It is a world-class museum and what we saw at the entrance makes us eager to visit properly, but it needs several wet days in a row to do it full justice!

Bowes House Museum, Barnard Castle

Back in Vally and Chris's flowery, sunny garden we enjoyed afternoon tea with iced, home-made coffee and walnut sponge. Ian was in paradise! With two cats purring at our feet, surrounded by foxgloves and geraniums, sheltered by a huge parasol and surrounded by views of the Teesdale moors, what could better represent all that is lovely in England?

And so the day of our departure arrived. There was a sense of sadness to be leaving England again but also the inevitable excitement felt when facing new challenges, exploring new places and perhaps meeting new friends. We drove leisurely across to the ferry port at North Shields and stopped to visit the Angel of the North which we had never seen. It is the largest statue of an angel in the world and is truly enormous. Personally I really liked it though not everyone agrees. Cast in iron, it has rusted to a matt red since erected in 1997. It has a wing span as great as that of a jumbo jet and stands on a grassy hillock overlooking the landscape, a prominent landmark from the motorway. Perhaps the local council's thinking was that if, as a deprived area, you are given development money from the European Community, why waste it on helping the poor and needy? Make a splash and employ Anthony Gormley to sculpture you an angel, after all it will last a lot longer!

Angel of the North

At the ferry port we discovered another tiny Romahome, just like Erik. Her owners called her Betsy and travelled every year to Norway with her. They are distraught that this will have to be their last visit and it has been cut short as they are booked to return on the very last ferry. They say they never use campsites, stopping beside the fjords, and with the price of food in Norway they carry essentials with them from home, supplementing their diet with fish they catch as they go!

On board we found our cabin where Jill promptly fell asleep so missed the departure along the estuary of the Tyne. Once out on the open sea the waves were violent and we were tossed, hurled and thrown about like a cork. No way could we even walk across the cabin. Unable to move we lay for hours on our beds. Here the pitching and rocking was bearable though far from pleasant. The only thing to do was sleep. With no windows in the cabin, lying in darkness, we slept so soundly that it was gone 9am before we woke! As we'd been asleep since 4pm yesterday this must be the longest sleep we have ever had! All the travel and excitement in England has obviously exhausted us! The North Sea was pretty calm by the time we woke but it was a disappointment not to have been able to join the onboard marine naturalist on deck looking for whales. It's doubtful whether anyone would have been up to coping with it anyway.

We went up on deck to watch our arrival at Stavanger, recognising some of the landmarks we had seen on our first travels to Norway back in August 2006. Anthony Gormley has made it to this side of the North Sea as well with iron casts of himself scattered around the town.

Stavanger seen from the ferry

Soon we will be arriving at Haugesund and as we are currently threading our way through the many offshore islands of Norway we are off up on deck to seek out the island of Utsira, famed as being mentioned regularly on the Shipping forecast.

Tuesday 22nd July 2008 continued. Sauda
We are camped this evening on the edge of one of the fjords and we are finally realising that once again we really are off on our travels with Modestine.

Once disembarked from the ship we drove into Haugesund where the streets were sufficiently familiar for us to find the same street to park in that we used on our previous visit. After obtaining some Norwegian kroner (ten to the £) we walked down to the edge of the fjord where all the expensive yachts are moored to say hello to Marilyn Monroe who still sits alluringly on the quayside as we found her on our previous visit. As Ian says, to the Norwegians she is their Angel of the North! We also dropped into one of the supermarkets to get the feel for the cost of foodstuffs. Prices are not quite as dire as we had feared but the names on the tins displayed on the shelves do not inspire confidence!

Sodd, Kylling and Bogg on the supermarket shelves. How appetising! Haugesund

(There is a detailed account of our earlier visit to this part of Norway here so no need to describe it again.)

Deciding it was too early to camp and knowing the area already, we set off on our long journey across the country towards Oslo, some 500 kilometres away. The traffic, or lack of it, in Norway is amazing! It is such a contrast to Italy and Greece. Nobody is in a hurry. Someone even pulled in to let us pass him! Road surfaces are excellent, there is always somewhere to stop to admire the view or picnic beside a lake or fjord and the scenery is truly beautiful. It is a country of rugged mountains, wooded lakes, deep fjords, steep fields and forests of pine trees and birches. Whenever we stop there is the sound of silence, sometimes broken by the distant clinking of sheep bells in the lakeside fields down below, or water cascading in a white ribbon down the granite rocks at the entrance to one of the many road tunnels cut through the rock face. Down beside the lake there are tiny isolated hamlets of wooden houses that look completely inaccessible. Norway must be an empty, lonely place to live in winter time, even today, when road links have been so dramatically improved.

Saudafjord where we are camping

Waterfall at the entrance to one of many road tunnels seen through the windscreen

We picnicked beside a lake, washing up in a bowl of clear, icy water. Around 6pm we reached this little village of wooden houses at the head of the fjord with a small campsite beside the water. We have spent a very peaceful evening looking out across the water and up to the surrounding mountains which are even now still harbouring patches of snow. We are completely out of step with time after our long sleep and it is with amazement we have just realised it is well after 10pm and it is still broad daylight!