4300 miles

The last lap. Short drive to ninth ferry trip from Faaborg on the southern tip of Fyn to Helved in Jutland to reduce driving time. Pretty area, more fields of grain perfused with wild flowers. Poppies, forget-me-nots allowed to flourish.

The drive through Germany was arduous, hot and stricken by first major roadworks around Hamburg. We limped into Holland. Arriving in familiar Hindaloopen, our first campsite was full and the next one was full but squeezed us in. Warning us that their was a kite-boarding festival and live music until 1.30am. We had a great time until we were falling over with tiredness, earplugs in and zonked for ten hours.

Restful two days followed at Welgelegan. Bursting with nature, birdsong all day, barking bullfrogs all night, mama duck walking her procession of fluffy ducklings under the breakfast table, swans wing beats moved the air as they fly over head. Nesting curlews and lapwings swoop in aerial combat, guarding their nests by the canal cycle ways.

Cute wee ferries bridge gaps in the cycle paths. ‚ā¨1 pays the ferry man. Villages along the way provide sustenance. Appeltart met slagroom research continued, every one was different. In the marginally cooler evenings we ate Kibbeling and prawn croquettes until we burst.

The temperatures were soaring to 30 degrees and a swim in the bath like IJsselmeer helped.

The last days short drive via Petten for lunch at another specialist seafood van. Then down to IJmuiden near Amsterdam. The temperature roasted us to a distressing 32 degrees on the beach for a last swim in the more refreshing North Sea.

Then the last ferry. DFDS chugs overnight, after a good dinner, lulls you to sleep. Then wakes you with a massive wave slap on your cabin window.

From Newcastle to Edinburgh we worked out and perfected the Christmas single.

‘On our amazing trip to Norway my true love gave to me..

1 Sperm Whale, 2 Arctic Circles, 3 Boat Rides, 4 Thousand Miles, 5 Massive Moose,

6 Tanks of diesel, 7 Sea Eagles, 8 lots of seafood ūüėČ, 9 Different Islands, 10 Ferries, 11 Borders and…. Dozens of cute reindeers.’

Back over Arctic Circle in a ferry…

Bodo leads down the dramatic twists and turns of the coastal route, crossing the massive Saltsraumen maelstrom seen boiling away under the bridge which leads onto the E17. No ordinary road. Norwegian road builders are mighty. Bridges join long spaces between Islands and tunnels gouged through miles of rock, remove obstacles. The tunnels are heart stopping, dimly lit and cause a mad grapple to change from sunglasses. Varying degrees of dampness escape from the walls and also in lane widths, which cause serious repetitive flinching at the passing of squeezed artic lorries and house sized Motor homes, with trailers bringing along their cars. Small prayers and blasphemous language were heard. But the views.

Holandsfjorden is the most dramatic seen from above. The aqua blue from the arctic melt and the bio culture of the water.

Two sentinel glaciers run down towards it. When the road stops, twice, there is a ferry waiting.

The second journey from Kilboghamn to Nesna through Stigfjorden, Slona and Ranfjorden is signalled by the ships captain, on passing through the Arctic Circle. Polecirken marker on the shore.

Mo I Rana is the first stop, a proper town with a holiday feel campsite. In the harbour stands guard an Antony Gormley statue.

A big lad, he gets around.

This is the big journey south over two days, the humph. The border between Norway and Sweden is heralded only by their respective flags and a welcome wave of the EU star circle. It wasn’t hard at all.

Embarking on mystical Handsel and Gretal Road, the E12, Inlandsvägen, there are trees. It descends in a near straight line, flanked by dense spooky Scandinavia Noir forests.

A lot of trees. But also wildlife. An actual moose walks across the road, a fox shies away into the undergrowth, what might have been a bear or could have been a wolverine ran off to the side, an eagle sat at the waters edge like a small child, red squirrel skittered about in roadside stops, reindeer wouldn’t even acknowledge the photo.ÔŅľÔŅľ

An overnight oblivious stop at Ostersund campsite. Enjoying the great value lunch daggen ratt en route for fortification and the occasional service station Circle K, kabanos hotdogs (everything on it) and a bag of wine gums. 1147km/712miles later, exhausted and hungry arrived in the oasis of Mariastad.

Sitting on the side of Lake Vänern. The startling ice age hole gouged out of the middle of Sweden. Cycled into the harbour past fields of blue stemmed wheat ears, edged by profusions of wild flowers, deer peeking out nervously. Recovery.

Followed by an unholy thunder and lightning storm, a warm (comparatively) swim.

It seemed a short wee hop down to Helsingborg to take the sixth ferry into the fifth country, entering Denmark. Greeted by the view of Hamlet’s majestic Kronborg Slot, at Helsingor. A double dip of the day swim in the colder Kattegat sea and cycle down for fish and chips in the marina at Kronberg Fiskehus.

Moskenesoya- Road End

Through more tunnels and twisting over bridges the last Island feels small, the end comes too soon.

The cliff top campsite at √Ö has the best view from the shower block window. It’s pin drop quiet. Looks on to nothing and everything.

The villages are close enough together that dotting back and forward is easy. After breakfast at the fabled bakery in √Ö, a return to Reine for a boat trip to bird island, across the Maelstrom, a tidal meeting which creates a fun, bumpy salted sprayed ride in the rib.

Stopping in the middle of the Maelstrom is peaceful, bobbing in the flow of it, not fighting through it. Reluctantly the boat has to return but the offshore views of the great black slick of mountains is a rapture. A razorbill, black puffin like bird, follows us back, swimming overhead. A sea eagle is chased away from an island’s nested gull eggs.

Fish Mountain fable. Luring fishermen to their deaths. If that fish comes back to life, we’re all done for.

Final fish soup lunch spot.

The last night’s camp is on top of the cliff at Moskenes. The ferry from here back to Bodo on the mainland. A journey of wonder and open-mouthed awe. A lifetime desire to visit these islands, add more roads less travelled to memory. But the adventure hasn’t finished. There’s the journey back South to come.

The end of our road.

A moody farewell.

Completing the Circle of Vestv√•goya

Heading back on ourselves, away from the main artery, driving to the north coast, the road end is Eggum. A carved bowl of mountain behind, the sea and ever present sun in front. Wildish camp.

Onto Flakstadoya Island, the most holiday feel. Two days of beach R&R at Flakstad, Lofoten Beach Camp. Campfires, swims and midnight sun.

Nice swim but still cold water. The mountains behind illuminated by the peachy glow of the 1.30am sunlight. Magical place.

On a southern road end is Knusfjord, now a heritage village. Preserving the houses, Fisherman’s history and workplace. Restaurants housed in thick walled potato and wine cellars.

Mid Lofoten

Heading south west following the scenic E10 road, negotiating scary dimly lit tunnels, some 6km long and more bridges and causeways. Emerging to stunning mountains, that seem to have been gouged by the elements. En route are Artscape Nordland installations to look out for. This one, a curved mirror, reflects the mountains and changing weather.

The next stop is Henningsv√¶r. Annual music festival ‘Codstock’ is on and it’s pretty lively in the pubs! Great wee shops for a mooch.

Next Island is Vestvågoy, heading off the E10 takes you to Stamsund for halibut gratin lunch with a view. The smell of drying fish now becoming the norm.

Borg is central to this Island, they are proud of the discovery in the 1980’s of a Viking village, proven after excavation to be a Chieftain house and important to the spread of Viking culture to Iceland and Europe. Great afternoon spent pretending to be a Viking. Archery, axe throwing, weaving, milling, dressing up and playing Viking chess.

Heading up to the North of the Island, Eggum is at the end of the road. Camping by the sea with mammoth mountains behind, walks along the coast and into the mountains with the ever present sun. Biting cold wind still.

Further south and through another toe-curling tunnel (which cyclists also must travel through), to the next Island of Flakstadoy. A side road leads to the heritage village of Nusfjord. The history of the hard conditions the fishermen, past and present, endure catching the cod, processing and living in the cramped huts, for the duration of the season. The cod liver oil refinery was fascinating, taking me back to childhood and a winter nightly dose of cod liver oil and malt extract.

Cool restaurants in thick walled potato and wine cellars and old fish houses.

Lofoten at last!

A life goal achieved and not disappointed. What a beautiful place. Even better in real life than Instagram because of the ever changing weather and light. Very Scottish but vast and powerful. And breathtaking.

Had a swim in the late evening in a small lake at the campsite, no colder than the sea at Portobello, Edinburgh. Surrounded by views of mountains and birds flying past.

The thing with the midnight sun is you feel like a toddler being put down for an afternoon nap on a summers day.

This weeks highlight was Trollfjord. A fast, wind ravaged trip in a rib out to spot Sea Eagles, launching themselves from cliff tops to fight massive gulls for thrown fish. Have seen them in Isle of Mull before but not so many and not flying so close to our heads. Then heading into the narrow Fjord, accentuating the height of the mountains behind. There was indeed a tiny Troll, positioned high on a ledge between black guillemot nests and looking weathered.

The food continues to be a wonder for a fish lover. But the waffles with brown cheese and jam are highly addictive.

The red Fisherman’s cabin’s, Rorbuer, are iconic across the islands. As is the continued tradition of air drying the spring glut of returning to spawn cod or Skrei, which scents the air and challenges the view. It reminds us of the thousands of migrant workers who would descend here, live in cramped huts and work madly in cold and brutal but beautiful landscapes. Made into Stockfish Stew and exported to eager Italian restaurants. The question remains- why don’t the seagulls eat the fish?

Snowy Borders, midnight sun & Sperm whale safari

It was a surprise to see such wintery conditions in the mountainous border area into Norway. Regretting the shorts and sandals. Kept stops short, most places are still closed, including the impressive Abisko visitor centre. Immediately struck by the serious mountaineers’ huts every few hundred meters.

Crossing the Swedish/Norwegian border was a drive through. Not a uniform in sight, chose the ‘nothing to declare’ lane and meandered in.

It was still a further four hour drive of breathtaking fjords, as wide as oceans. Green carpets dotted with cabins and farms. Stopping for a pit stop of brown cheese waffles and elk pizza, in a farm shop en route at Gullesfjord, whose freezers were filled with elk reindeers, dried cod, cod tongues, salmon hunks and whale meat and sausages.

Arriving in Andenes on Andoya Island in the north of the Vesterälen, the sun was warm and the sea clear. The view from the van as we settled in, the comforting sounds of lapping waves.

We cycled into town, a quick 15 minute cycle path but a fierce headwind, to eat at Lysthuset. Recommendation of monkfish in shellfish sauce hit the spot. First meal with no wine, felt okay. Really.

Definitely had a glass of wine on return to the campsite but as the sunset was turning out to be better than expected, turned back to tea.

Waiting to witness the midnight sun, campers were settling themselves in chairs and sleeping bags along the edge of the beach. Walked along the sand, did a wee bit of yoga and meditation behind a rock.

The midnight sun is an odd thing. You can see the time ticking down to midnight, experience fluttering excitement but without the dark of Hogmanay.

69 degrees North, it feels precious, as if somehow the day has been held open. The sky and the sun’s halo changed constantly. The sun suspended just above the horizon. It was like looking at a new born, you didn’t want to miss a thing but reluctantly you have to leave it to sleep.

Needed to set the alarm to get up for the @Hvalsafari Whale Safari. Informative, expert talk in the exhibition by tour guides unafraid to mention both plastic pollution and Norway’s hunting quotas. The Sperm whale skeleton puts in perspective the relative size of these male 50 tonnes, 20 metre long giants, who love the fish in the deep water 7 nautical miles from Andenes. Eating giant squid in the depths. The lateral fins (or arms) were huge enough, with a spine of vertebrae, each as big as a baby. The females stay in warmer southern waters, with their young.

The boat, Reines’s, Captain used his sonar equipment to locate the clicks of our boy and we witnessed him surfacing three times, before diving for twenty minutes, Blowing out his left side only blow hole, which looked like the contracted end of an elephants trunk. The spray caught the light, splitting it into momentary rainbow colours.

The captain announces when it will dive and you hold your breath. I only attempted a photograph on the last dive, so I could observe through binoculars. Head down, full pike worthy of an Olympian, then the massive flip up of the fluke. Leaving only a defined circle of flat glass-like water, a footprint. Created by the suction of it’s submerging descent into the murky depths. A ghost. It was a magical trip.

Arctic Circle

A long rainy road journey to get here. Very little prospect of seeing the midnight sun.

Chuffed to have made it this far and to cross into the Arctic Circle with a gentle fanfare. In need of a good sleep before the final leg to Lofoten Islands.

Obligatory kannelbullar & coffee at City Konditori.

Reminiscent of road trips in Alaska. Similar feel to the towns, friendly helpful locals, straight roads, grid systems, only shops that are needed. All of the young speak excellent English and every one is more than helpful.

Over breakfast had to google much loved TV show Northern Exposure, guessing the characters names (looking at how they’ve aged).

Back on the road to Kiruna. No snow this time but did spot a few small groups of nervous roadside reindeer.

Return to √Ėregrund

Twelve years since I last visited this area, an idyllic week in a summer house, kayaking & cycling. A ferry hops back and forth to the tiny island, Gräsö, where a circle of dancing cranes had entertained and delighted. A memory which still makes me smile.

There’s only time for an overnight rest stop on the long haul towards the Artic Circle. Reacquainting with a wander round the peaceful streets. A Moose burger in Supen, one of the harbour restaurants, and on this quiet Sunday morning, breakfast at Wilma’s. Recharged before the next humph North, along main roads edged by pine forests, wild flower meadows, placid stretches of water and russet painted summer houses.

Desperately trying to spot a Moose.

Halo Magazine

Fip is a short story of a lifetime love affair between two women scientists and the sadness of the time they lived in.

This short story was published in Halo magazine and was written for the theme of Issue Two, ‘Embers.’ My first published piece of writing since schooldays, was beyond exciting. A bit of affirmation and confidence building. An answer to that question, ‘Have you had anything published?’ Sadly, Halo only had two issues but they were strikingly illustrated and I was proud to be nestled in amongst writers and artists of that standard. So, I’m proud to have it as my first writing post. Thank you to http://www.lorriehartshorn.com

FIP

FIP

By the time these embers die out, I’ll be gone. I will extinguish before they do. It’s not surprising. I am very old. I was born in the sad peace which descended as WW1 ended. My mothers’ husband was killed in the confusion of the war end and she married his best friend. Not an uncommon heartbreak at the time. They were glued together by grief and guilt. Perhaps a little regret.

John Abbott, the log delivery man, called me three times after I cancelled my regular delivery. I found myself telling a fib to appease him. Apparently, I am shortly to be taken to spend the rest of the winter with my nephew in Surrey. We agreed the climate may be kinder than in Kirriemuir. 

I have no family. To be honest, I don’t know if my real father was mother’s first husband or his best friend. Lovely man Angus, if a little distant. I don’t think mother knew either. 

Last month, as the snow whitened the fields and gardens, the letter arrived from France. I didn’t need to open it to know what was inside. It was time. I’ve been prepared for this moment for many years. When the embossed ivory envelope dropped on the mat it sang out like a siren, so familiar, so comforting. The olive green tissue paper lining the envelope, still vibrant and glossy. They were purchased in Florence from a favourite stationer, Papiro, on a soft September afternoon in 1993. The writing made my heart sing, the curlicue scrolls of my address and on the reverse side, ‘In the event of my death, please post this’ and ‘Dans le cas de ma mort, s’il vous pla√ģt poster ceci.’

I wonder who had found and posted it, whether curious, they were tempted to steam it open. Perhaps a former student. They had walked to the bureau de poste, had it weighed, stamped and posted.  

Gently rubbing the smudged post mark, I remember the desk, the room, the house, the street from where this letter began its journey. The pine-wood edged beach, the rolling breakers and mountainous sand dunes. The fading pink summer sunset and a bottle of  ros√© wine on ice. 

My hands shake with age and stiffness, not from fear of disturbing the contents, as I carefully open the envelope. Sealed so many years before. On our last trip. I reunite it with its near identical twin, only the hand-writing and addresses distinguishing them as they had lain in their drawers, waiting patiently. 

When it was obvious we would not be physically able to attend the next FIP conference in Buenos Aires, when we acknowledged we would struggle to attend any conference, when we knew our time was up, we made our pact and formed our plan. It was your plan but as soon as I heard it I knew it was perfect.

Not for us a care home full of deathly grandmothers dressed in flowery nightgowns, waiting for their children and grandchildren to visit. Not for us the indignity of the pity on two old spinsters, sitting in mustard vinyl wing backed chairs, placed in a rectangle of others staring into space and hoping for something easy to chew for supper. Separated by Continents, joined by love.

We two, who to the world were seen as sad only children, who grew up into lonely academic bores, working late into the evening, attending every annual conference, communing with fascinating colleagues, listening, debating or lecturing, receiving awards and academic prizes, pushing our professional boundaries at the expense of our private lives. Women married to their work.

No-one knew, no-one noticed that we were together for every second of those precious two weeks of every year for fifty-two years. Those beautiful hours we spent together enjoying the warmth and passion of each other and of life. We explored all our bodies, our minds and our love could show us. And I grieve your passing with every fibre of my body, every feeble beat my heart has left.

My Fip, Felicie Irma Pascale. I am smiling at my in-joke, when I called you, flippantly on the day we met, after the abbreviation of our professional body, FIP, the International Pharmaceutical Federation and it stuck. 

From both envelopes I slip out the two small sachets of white powder and place them on the tea tray. I prop up the two copies of  the photograph of us taken together on our last day, our faces old but content and joyously happy. I am transported back to that afternoon in Arcachon, on our final day together. I feel the sun on my face, your lips and warm breath on my neck.

The room feels colder now, the last log on the fire has shrunk to a blackened kernel. I shake every last microgram out of each bag into my teacup and lift the teapot to pour, steeling myself for the bitterness to come. I break a square of chocolate in readiness. I gather the blanket around me and stare into the blinking embers to watch the grey crust of ash disengage as the final glow disappears.

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