A brief trip to Norway

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.


Climbing Ben Nevis

th (2)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.



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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!

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                                   Ben Nevis, on a sunny  day – looking from the south









Living in Saltdean, Brighton

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 .



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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…..


Walking near Bridge of Orchy (Oct 18)

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.

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The  summit of Beinn Dorain 3524 ft
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A short storm gives way to a stunning rainbow
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The imposing viaduct which supports  the Fort William ‘main line’

Skiing in the Italian Alps (April 2018)

My first real attempt at skiing. High up at Cervinia in the Italian Alps where there’s plenty of snow  –  with the runs remaining open till May. Have always associated high mountains with solitary places, but here,  an array chairlifts and gondoliers dominate  the hillside,  taking you to almost 4000 meters for an amazing ski down.

Nowhere near that level myself, but did manage, despite a lack of technique, a long ‘blue’ route after just a couple of days on the baby slopes.

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Towards the left hand side of the valley  and serving as a boundary with Switzerland, the Matterhorn sparkles in the sun. With its fixed ropes and huts, these days it’s supposed to be a relatively straight forward climb  – though ascents tend to be done from Zermatt  on the Swiss side. But the mountain  remains awe inspiring.


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Marrakech March 2018

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.

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…on the way you can do the ‘tourist thing’

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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…..

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But the sunsets over the rooftops aren’t going to change
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Tanzania, Kilimanjaro & Zanzibar

Headed to Tanzania at the end of last month with Sarah my partner.  We’d signed up for a Kilimanjaro trip a while ago, but rather than just ‘fly in and fly out’ – the basis on which most of these trips operate   – we wanted to try and see just a little bit more of this East African country and to visit Zanzibar.  Before the trek convened, we explored markets, sneaked a visit to a primary school, took local buses and managed to see an animal or two.  


As it turned out, we never quite made the summit of ‘Kili’ (though we managed one of the subsidiary peaks on route) as Sarah got the dreaded altitude sickness at 4500 meters, higher up than almost anything in Europe. There are various pills you can take to alleviate its effects, but the best (and safest) strategy is to descend, though this is sometimes easier said than done as we had to trek for another day, before we could be escorted down.




Disappointing not to have stood on the top of Africa?  Of course, but it was still a great adventure and the scenery was superb.   In many other respects however, it was good to get away from the mountain, after 4 nights of (below) freezing camping at sites which were overcrowded and without any real facilities – the portable toilets provided by our tour company being slightly less unpleasant than the official ones.

Climbing Kili is also rather formulaic. Part of a long line of people on a predefined route, our party of 15 was accompanied by another 50 or so guides, porters and cooks. These are local people, employed by the tour operators on a trip by trip basis. Watching the porters hurry past carrying three times more than us, as well as their own equipment (for just over $5 a day – a good gig by Tanzanian standards – as  tour companies, facing intense competition and rising taxes, seek to cut costs) provides another perspective.







So, we headed to Zanzibar a bit earlier than planned and spent time exploring the twisting streets, the wonderful beaches, snorkelling from boats and islands and watching the dhows drift past the hotel.  Zanzibar is very different to the main land – they merged into a combined Republic in 1964 – has a strong Arabic and Islamic influence and was once the hub for an appalling slave trade.





But the villages along the coast road stood in sharp contrast to the blocks of international hotels that dominate Zanzibar Town’s coastline.  My first trip back to sub-Saharan Africa for over 30 years,  it was just as magical, but still seemed to be just as poor.