Flam, Norway

Our first port of call in Norway was Flam (pronounced flom as in from) , somewhere that I had never even heard of before so I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out it was perfect for us, just some shops selling the inevitable trolls and knitwear as well as T shirts and mugs, the usual tourist stuff.
Flam

We hadn’t booked any of the organised trips, preferring to be independent and strike out on our own, so that is exactly what we did. The weather was fine and we were keen to stretch our legs so we went a walk in search of the source of a large waterfall, sadly we didn’t find it as the route became too muddy after a long yomp uphill and we had to give up, in fact nobody seemed to have managed to get to the waterfall.
River
High above the river there is a small group of buildings as you’ll see if you click the photo below to enlarge it. I suspect that those places are only inhabited in the summer months. Apparently Flam only has 350 inhabitants.

Flam

Turf roofs are fairly common in Norway, in rural areas anyway.

Flam

The river is very fast flowing and noisy and it has a lot of fishing platforms situated above it, you can walk on some of them. Strangely though there are also ‘fishing forbidden’ notices there too. In the background you can see that waterfall we didn’t reach.

fishing platforms

The bird life and planting in this part of Norway seems to be much the same as in the UK, but I’ve never seen a tree like the evergreen one in the photo below before. It was very pretty with ‘fruits’ like teeny trees on it, lemon yellow.
evergreen tree

We passed a church at one point and luckily it was open so we were able to have a peek in it, but I’ll leave that for another time.

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart

My Brother Michael cover

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart was first published in 1959 – a very good year I think! But my paperback copy is from 1971.

The story begins with Camilla Haven sitting in a crowded cafe in Greece where she’s on holiday on her own after the break up of a long term relationship, She’s writing a letter to her friend back in the UK and bemoaning the fact that nothing exciting ever happens to her, no sooner has she written that when a man throws car keys onto her table and says that the car he has ordered is waiting for her. There’s been some sort of mix up as she hasn’t asked for a car but eventually Camilla decides to take the car and drive it to Delphi, it’s apparently a life or death situation that the car is delivered there and she had been planning on visiting Delphi anyway.

There she meets Simon who is a Classics teacher back in England and Simon is on a mission to visit his brother’s grave and to discover more about his death. Michael had been in the British army and involved with the Greek resistance fighters during World War 2 – a terrible time for the Greeks as the Nazis treated them so badly, but to make matters worse the various factions of Greek freedom fighters fought amongst themselves, so it was difficult to know who to trust. As the story unfolds it transpires that Camilla also finds it difficult to know who is on her side.

I really enjoyed this one, Mary Stewart was obviously very fond of Greece and the Greeks, as I recall she used it as a setting a few times. There’s plenty of suspense in this one and I can’t help thinking that Mary Stewart would have had a far higher profile and reputation if she had been a male author.

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

After Leaving Mr McKenzie cover

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys was first published in 1930. Previously I’ve read her very well known Wide Sargasso Sea and to be honest I seem to remember that I wasn’t nearly as enthralled by that one as many other readers have been, although it’s many years since I read it. I also read her Good Morning, Midnight and I found that one a bit depressing.

For me After Leaving Mr Mackenzie is a much better book, not exactly uplifting though. It’s the story of Julia Martin, a not so young woman (well not as young as many men prefer) who has had lots of gentlemen friends. Originally from London she made her way to France as a youngster, looking for adventure and a way out of the poverty of her family home and leaving her younger sister to cope with their mother.

Her most recent man had become disenchanted with her six months previously but he had been sending her a cheque every month and she squandered the money, so when he makes it clear that there will be no more cheques from him she realises that she’ll have to go out and find another man who will support her. But that’s easier said than done as she’s no longer as attractive as she once was.

I found this to be a poignant and atmospheric read, no doubt it’s autobiographical, it seems that Rhys had a sad life, one of those people who was her own worst enemy. You can read a bit about her here.

Aurlandsfjord, Norway

From Lysefjord we sailed into Aurlandsfjord which turned out to be even more spectacular. It’s a branch of the much larger Sognefjord as in the map below. If you look to the right hand side of the map you will see Aurlandsfjord.

Sogne Fjord map

The photographs don’t look that wonderful, it was a grey day, but I think you can get a flavour of the ethereal atmosphere with the wispy low clouds.

Aurlandsfjord

I think of Norway as being just like Scotland – with knobs on! It always amazes me that trees can thrive in such grim growing conditions, this is a very heavily wooded mountainside and the trees have their roots in the rocks.

Aurlandsfjord mountains

Aurlandsfjord leads to the small town of Flam (pronounced flom as in from) and on the way there there are small communities, wherever there are some small patches of greenery people have settled there. These pieces of fertile land are few and far between, most of Norway is too rocky for growing crops. That was the whole reason that the Vikings had to get on their ships and look for somewhere else to live, the land couldn’t support all of the inhabitants.

Aurlandsfjord houses

Some of these houses are only lived in during the summer, they look idyllic to me but I can imagine that the winters are long and grim.

Aurslandfjord houses

I was quite happy with our grey sky views of the fjord but if you want to see other people’s blue sky photos have a look here.

The next Norway post will be of Flam.

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

The Cutting Room cover

The Cutting Room is the first book that I’ve read by the Scottish author Louise Welsh, it was published in 2002 and was nominated for several awards, including the Orange Prize.

I mention that she’s a Scottish author, but it seems she was born in England, she must have moved to Scotland at a fairly young age I think because this book which is set in Glasgow is pure dead Glaswegian as far as the dialogue goes anyway. But it would be easily understood by anyone I think. It’s quite detailed on the dodgy background of auction houses, but I’m sure that wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The blurb on the front says: ‘A stunning work of fiction’ Sunday Times – well I enjoyed it anyway although I think for more prudish readers some passages might be a much to take.

The story revolves around a Glasgow auction house where Rilke is an auctioneer, the business isn’t going very well so when they get a call to clear an entire housefull of antiques – if they can do it all within a week, they jump at the chance. The house owner has died and as he has no children it has fallen to his elderly sister to arrange everything.

She tells Rilke that her brother’s private office is in the attic, not easily accessible, and she wants Rilke to destroy whatever he finds in there. He finds some very disturbing books and photographs there and is loath to destroy them as he knows they are worth a lot of money, but it’s the photographs that haunt him and he starts inquiries of his own.

Of course as I knew all the locations the book had that extra dimension for me, being able to picture all the places mentioned and Welsh managed to make Rilke a likeable character despite his many weaknesses, including his penchant for having gay sex with random pick ups from time to time. It’s decidedly sleazy in a few places. It takes all sorts I suppose!

I’ll definitely be reading more books by Louise Welsh.

Lysefjord, Norway

For the first couple of days in Norway we sailed through some fjords before actually getting off the Black Watch.

Lysefjord

There are loads of waterfalls tumbling down the sides of the mountains. It’s all quite magical, so atmospheric.

Lysefjord in Norway

Pulpit Rock below is famous, it’s a flat piece of rock about 25 metres square and people go up there to sightsee, I’m not sure I fancy that!

Pulpit Rock

These are just a wee taster of our first fjord on our trip, I have loads more photos. Sadly they don’t capture just how spectacular the area is – but I’m sure you know that feeling when you look back at your own photos, they still bring back the memories though.

Lysefjord

I’m back!

I really enjoyed our trip to Norway, it was something I’d wanted to do again for donkey’s years, and often when you’ve looked forward to something so much it can be a wee bit of a disappointment. But Norway lived up to my expectations, I don’t suppose the fjords ever change, except when some more scree falls down the mountains, just making it even more scenic than before.

As ever, the food on the cruise was excellent, but luckily we were able to go for long walks when we got off the Black Watch, we were just about the only ones to do that, although one couple did hire bikes to travel up to the lakes at Flam.

Queensferry Crossing

The cruise started off from Rosyth though and we were lucky enough to be the first cruise ship to sail under the newly completed Queensferry Crossing which was being officially opened by the Queen the next day. It had been closed to traffic to allow 50,000 people to walk across the bridge over the weekend, it’s not a pedestrian bridge normally. There was a lottery for the tickets so as you can see there were people waving at us as we sailed under the bridge. The bridge isn’t open to pedestrians at all now so that was a rare opportunity for them – and for the passengers who were out on deck waving back to them, quite emotional really.

Queensferry Crossing

All going to plan tomorrow’s post will be in Norway!

Off again – Norway

Just a quick one to let you know that I’ll not be online for a wee while. We’re going to Norway for a week, I’ve been pining for the fjords since I first went to Scandinavia when I was just eleven years old, I was on one of those great heavily subsidised educational school cruises that we had way back in the 1960s and 70s – on the MS Uganda. That was when I discovered that I enjoyed a good rough sea as it was wild, the roughest that the captain had ever experienced, but I seemed to be the only passenger not afflicted with sea sickness. Since then whenever I’ve been on a ship it has been a disappointing flat calm, so I’m now left wondering if I’m still a seasick free zone!

After coming back from that trip we’ll have one night at home and then we’ll be going off to visit friends in the north-west of England. Some other very good friends have taken to calling us the nomads and I sort of see what they mean as we have been travelling around a lot during the last year, but it’s good to have something to look forward to when you’re retired.

You might not realise that my blog title Pining for the West is a bit of a pun on the famous Pining for the Fjords Monty Python sketch, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about you can see it below.

20 Books of Summer 2017

My 20 Books of Summer 2017 list ended up being a wee bit different from my original list, in one case that was because the book has gone walkabout, yes Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet still hasn’t turned up after being ‘put away in a safe place’! I’ve given up looking for it and have resorted to reading it on my Kindle but I’m only about halfway through it.

1. London Match by Len Deighton
2. I Claudius by Robert Graves
3. Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
4. The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell
5. The Dove of Venus by Olivia Manning
6. The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson
7. Soot by Andrew Martin
8. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
9. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
10. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
11. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
12. Spy Hook by Len Deighton
13. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
14. Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
15. The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
16. A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
17. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
18. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
19. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
20. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

I have actually read more than 20 books throughout June, July and August, which probably says more about the weather this so called summer in the east of Scotland than anything else!

The Island of Hoy, Orkney

We got a ferry from Houton to Lyness on Hoy, there’s a military museum there and a cemetery, both within easy walking distance of the ferryport, which is just as well because we had to go as foot passengers. We hadn’t realised that the car ferry was so small and you have to book up a few days in advance to make sure of getting on to it.

A yacht in Scapa Flow, Hoy behind.
Yacht + Hoy from Scapa Flow

This area was very strategic during both World Wars of course and Scapa Flow is famous as the Germans scuttled their navy there at the end of World War 1. That turned out to be quite handy eventually as the metal from the wrecked ships has been very useful due to the fact that it hasn’t been contaminated by the radiation from nuclear bombs that were dropped on Japan towards the end of World War 2 and subsequent nuclear tests. NASA used the metal to make instruments for experiments in space – something like that anyway!

Mainland Orkney to left, Scapa Flow to centre, Graemsay to right
Yacht in Hoy Sound, Orkney

Graemsay and Hoy from Ness Battery, Stromness
Graemsay and Hoy from Ness Battery

Hoy from south Stromness

Hoy from south Stromness

If you want to see photos of the War cemetery on Hoy hop over to Jack’s post on Lyness Naval Cemetery.

In the cemetery there is also a Memorial to HMS Hampshire, the ship in which Lord Kitchener died.

HMS Hampshire Memorial, Lyness War Cemetery