A brief trip to Norway. Lakes and mountains make for amazing scenery – particularly the Bergen to Oslo train journey – and with English spoken everywhere it’s an easy place to travel. The railway network highly efficient, though limited , so you’ll need to book seats on all long distance trains, even if you’re using a rail pass. Norway also has character. Plenty of traditional Scandinavian style buildings, great water fronts, and few high rise buildings. It’s very ‘green’ with bicycle friendly streets and surprisingly multi-cultural, having a relatively liberal immigration and asylum seeker policy. (Norway’s not in the EU, but remains closely aligned.)
A huge country ( I only managed to get as far as Trondheim which is still well below the Arctic circle) but with a population of around 5 million, most of whom live in the southern plain area (Oslo, the capital is smaller than Liverpool), Norway punches above its weight internationally. In terms of GDP per capita, it’s one of the world’s richest countries, has one of the shortest working weeks and a comprehensive welfare state.
But it hasn’t always been like this. Until the early 1970s, Norway had a similar standard of living to Greece, eking a living from farming forestry and fishing. But then, as was the case with the UK, oil was discovered off it’s southern coast. Unlike the UK however, Norway was tough on the oil companies, repatriated much of the profits and built up a huge social wealth fund now worth approaching $1 trillion. With further fossil fuel expansion is planned in the Arctic, Norway’s prosperity is not without controversy.
A brief visit to Scotland – using the new Caledonian Sleeper service culminated with an ascent of Ben Nevis. A mountain I’ve got to know well since my early 20s. The usual way up, (but certainly not the only one!) is to follow the ‘mountain track’ which starts just outside Fort William. It’s a clear path, but rocky in places and a long, relentless trek, taking anywhere over three hours to the top – with a similar time down depending on your fitness, experience and tiredness (!) The second half of the climb uses the infamous ‘zig-zags’.
In summer and at weekends it’s very busy, but there’s a strong sense of purpose and a ‘comradely’ spirit.
The final part is usually cloudy, but at least on this ascent it wasn’t bitterly cold or raining. In mist, the summit always has a certain spookiness about it. Even in June you can still pass patches of snow as you plod to the top. There are huge cliffs to the left (the notorious North Face) , although unless it’s a clear day you probably wouldn’t know!
Ben Nevis, on a sunny day – looking from the south
Having the opportunity to spend at least half the week in Saltdean. Just east of Brighton adjoining the more fashionable, but extremely touristy, Rottingdean, ( the old Sussex word ‘dean’ means valley). Amongst other things, Saltdean is famous for its Lido ( now reopened as ‘The People’s Lido’ – the result of local fundraising)
There’s a great coastline with a cycle track that runs down to Hove on the other side of Brighton, an increasingly trendy beach café and 1930s style ‘modernist’ architecture .
Best of all, at least for me, is the way the long ridges of the South Downs gently meet the town’s outer lying streets and estates. The Downs provide fabulous mountain biking, running and walking.
Looking forward to the summer…..
Catch the sleeper from Euston and 11 hours later you can wake up at Bridge of Orchy, a tiny hamlet – a (wonderful) hotel and handful of houses – midway between Glasgow and Fort William. Like arriving on another planet, it’s surrounded by ‘Munroe’ (3000ft) peaks and the West Highland Way (A long distance footpath popular with walkers and mountain bikers) passes through.
Like with most parts of the Scottish Highlands you don’t go there for sunny weather, though on this occasion, it only really rained on the first day of three.
The summit of Beinn Dorain 3524 ft
A short storm gives way to a stunning rainbow
The imposing viaduct which supports the Fort William ‘main line’
Been coming down to Mara for a while Now. Thinks it’s probably about my sixth visit. This short trip included a day in the beautiful Ourika Valley and up into the Atlas foothills.
…on the way you can do the ‘tourist thing’
Mara’s not quite the old hippy town it used to be; it’s now an establish tourist destination but the Jemaa el-Fnaa ( ‘Big Square’) is worth an evening or two. The food stall holders are pushy and the snake charmers relentless…..
But the sunsets over the rooftops aren’t going to change