Norway Part II: Scenic Swimming (and other adventures)

On to our second week, where we headed a little further south towards the Lofoten islands. The archipelago is hugely popular with tourists, even more so since being used as the inspiration for Disney’s Frozen, and it truly is a stunning destination.

We chose not to stay on the islands for a few reasons, mainly because it would have taken us such a long time to drive down to the ‘best’ parts (and then back to the airport in Tromsø); they are disproportionately expensive – even for Norway; and they are packed with other tourists. Instead we stayed near Tjeldsundbrua and just took a day trip down to the first island, Austvågøya.

I had thought that we might regret not staying on the Lofoton islands themselves as they are widely regarded as being well worth seeing, but in reality there was so much to do and see close by that we didn’t regret our decision at all.

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The view above the Tjeldsund Bridge, a good evening stroll from our accommodation

The weather was both better and worse than our first week – we had a couple of beautiful, clear days where the temperature rose to a tropical 17-18 ºC, but we also had several days of non-stop rain and low cloud cover which totally obscured the mountains.

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A ‘ good day’ view

 

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It was even warm enough for a snooze in the sun!

The rain did stop us doing some of the longer walks that we had planned, but we still managed to get out and about.

 

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Walls of cloud were unfortunately all too common a sight in week two

 

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When you’re already soaked through, you can stand as close to waterfalls as you like!

Thankfully, the good days really were good, and we made the most of them. I’m a huge fan of wild swimming and I was determined to take a dip in the Arctic Ocean. When we came across this beach, I couldn’t resist…100_1752.JPGOkay, so I won’t pretend the water was in any way warm (‘refreshing’ would be putting it mildly), but I think this wins the award for my most scenic swim so far, hands down.100_1766.JPG100_1779.JPGWhile I was off splashing around, Sam got a good look at some of the native plants growing along the coast.

 

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A cloudberry – a Norwegian delicacy. Sadly, nowhere near ripe, so we made do with a tasty jar of jam from last year’s crop

Something that I wasn’t expecting to be particularly impressed by was the Norwegian flora, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! The more eagle-eyed observers of Part I might have noticed the abundance of cow parsley in my photos, but anybody visiting this part of the world couldn’t help but to spot flowers in every direction – at road verges, by the coast, on the mountains, and in the marshes. They were wonderful.100_1486.JPG100_1455.JPG100_1466.JPG100_1450.JPG100_1463.JPGSadly, the fauna wasn’t quite so impressive – after watching porpoises in the fjord on our very first night in Norway we had high hopes, but we peaked a bit too soon and saw practically no other wildlife (mammals at least) for the next two weeks. The bird-life put on a slightly better show, and we were treated to an eagle gliding above us for quite a while, as well as many, many songbirds.

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Sadly, the only bird we managed to get a picture of was the not-all-that-exciting northern wheatear

Some of the wildlife wasn’t quite so welcome, and although we’d been warned about mosquitoes and midges, we were mostly bothered by larger housefly-type-flies. Yeuch.

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A small fraction of our very ardent admirers…

 

 

 

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A wonderful view that we couldn’t stop to enjoy thanks to swarms of flies

All of the above pictures (flies included) were taken within an hour’s drive from our apartment. We did make one trip down to Lofoten, and it was stunning, but in all honesty, it was just too busy for us.

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Our first view of Lofoten

We headed over to the Svolvær area, thinking that in such a touristy spot we’d have lots of signposted walks to choose from, but either we were looking in the wrong places or there really aren’t many of them around. We finally found one simply heading ‘To the mountain’ which we thought could be promising, but it ended up being one of the weirdest walks I’ve ever done. For starters, the path was tough, and dangerously narrow. For the first piece of ascent we weren’t walking, but scrambling, with both of us having to use our hands constantly to pull ourselves up. Despite this being really strenuous going, there were hundreds of people on the path, varying from those in serious hiking/climbing gear to those in jeans and trainers. Hmm. 

We realised later on that we were on the route to the both the Devil’s Gate, or Djevelporten, and Svolværgeita, two of the most photographed spots on the islands – that would explain it then!100_1821.JPGAs neither of us has a wonderful track record with vertigo, and neither of us fancied queuing for half an hour to pose on Djevelporten, we decided to call it a day and head back down. The scenery was impressive, but no more so really than some of the views we’d seen over the past two weeks, and I didn’t feel that it warranted so many more people visiting. I’m not complaining too much though, as it leaves more wilderness for us to explore in other places!

There were many things that I loved about our holiday, and I have never been anywhere before that boasts such amazing scenery in every direction. We both feel that we barely scratched the surface when it comes to discovering Northern Norway, and although I don’t think we’ll be returning next year (I would really like some warm sunshine next summer!), we will definitely be returning.100_1700.JPG

And I would walk 500 miles

The halfway point! My aim was to complete the first 500 miles by the time we fly to Norway on the 1st July, and I managed to get there with over two weeks to spare.

Hitting the halfway point is a fairly obvious time to reflect on how I’ve found the challenge over the last six months, and I think it’s fair to say that so far I have no complaints.100_1297.JPGSome aspects of the challenge haven’t been anything out of the ordinary – Sam and I have always enjoyed walking and our weekends for the past few years have generally been taken up with long walks, so that’s nothing new to us, but it’s the shorter walks in the evenings that are proving more challenging.

Although we’re both well ahead of target, I’m conscious of how much more difficult it will be to keep ahead of the curve as the year progresses, so it’s really important to us to notch up as many as possible in the next couple of months while the light is so good.

I quite often find that once I’m home from work and have eaten I really don’t want to strap on my boots and head out the door – but I suppose it wouldn’t be a challenge if it were all easy! Once I’m outside though, I never regret being there, and many of the evening walks have actually been the most interesting.

Just some of the things that we’ve spotted over the last month of evening walking: a barn owl hunting in the fields along the Downs Link, the goslings growing up rapidly, a kingfisher flitting amongst the dragonflies, deer quietly grazing in the fields behind the house, and (my favourite) two otters playing in the Adur.

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Goslings prove to be much easier to photograph than otters…

We’ve also enjoyed watching spring turn into summer, and have been making the most of the brilliant weather we’ve been having.100_1313.JPG100_1304.JPG100_1249.JPGIt’s possible that setting out on a long walk in 30 degree heat wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had, so what better way to cool down than with some homemade whinberry ice cream?100_1360.JPG100_1387.JPG100_1396 (2).JPGThis was made using the last bag of whinberries in the freezer, left over from last year’s pickings – now there’s room to add more in a few weeks time!

Foraging is something that I absolutely love to do – I enjoy stumbling across something growing wild and being able to take it home to make something tasty, all the while covering off more miles. This year we’ve branched out from our usual fruit, nuts, and berries and have recently made elderflower cordial (followed very quickly by elderflower sorbet – can anybody tell we’ve bought a new ice cream maker?!). Mmm.100_1323.JPG100_1229.JPGI must admit that I’m a bit clueless about all of the hundreds of other wild plants that I could be enjoying, so I’ve just bought myself this book to educate myself and I can’t wait to try it out!

The #walk1000miles challenge is definitely encouraging my foraging, but it has led us to neglect our garden quite significantly. Never ones to do things by halves, Sam and I have also taken up vegetable gardening this year having never grown anything before. Although we really haven’t had quite as much time to dedicate to it as we’d like, so far we’ve been fairly disaster free and are enjoying the early crops of courgettes, as well as the never-ending salad leaves and herbs.100_1332.JPG

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The first ‘Burgess Vine’ squash has appeared, quickly followed by several more

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The ‘Golden California Wonder’ pepper has started to set (one) fruit

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After a slow start, the aubergine is now so big that I had to remove it from the greenhouse to get a decent photo

I haven’t forgotten about the rest of my New Year’s Resolutions either, although many of them link into other quite nicely – I doubt we’d have made our new ‘food’ of elderflower cordial had we not spotted the flowers while walking one evening for example. Sam’s in charge of this month’s ‘special’ weekend so I’m waiting to see what he has planned (I’m betting on it involving my walking boots…).

I love how much time I’m spending outdoors and it has been lovely to discover new places, both close to home and further afield. This half of the year has flown by, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself – here’s to the next six!

Asturian Adventures

Almost exactly a year ago, Sam’s parents moved to Asturias in northern Spain, which means wonderful holidays for us! It really is a stunning part of the world – within the space of 20 minutes you could be halfway up a mountain, wandering through lush green forests, or exploring one of the many beaches along the rugged coastline. Our long weekend there last week managed to make the most of the variety in scenery, taking in a new environment every day.

We started close to the border of Galicia, walking along a shady stream up to a waterfall. This part of the world is often referred to as ‘Green Spain’, and it’s not hard to see why! The trees, not content with colour provided from their leaves, are draped in lichens and mosses giving the whole area a gorgeous hue.

KODAK Digital Still Camera100_0841.JPG100_0843.JPG100_0858.JPGThere was once a thriving community here, and their buildings and miles of dry stone walls stand testament to the generations of people who lived and traded in the valley.100_0856.JPG100_0902.JPGNow long abandoned, the woods are home to smaller and fluffier residents…100_0891 (2).JPGFollowing on from our gentle woodland walk, the next day we headed to the wilderness of Somiedo. This is apparently one of the best places in Asturias to spot brown bears, although we weren’t lucky enough to spot any. Despite the disappointing lack of bears, Somiedo had more than enough for us to look at and enjoy.100_1005 (3).JPG100_1022.JPG100_0985 (2).JPGSam and I first visited Somiedo last September when the trees were beginning show off their autumnal colours. Roger and Lis visited earlier this year when the snow completely blanketed the valley and the lakes were frozen over, giving the mountains even more of a dramatic appearance. This time around, although spring was well underway in valley, the snow had only just gone from the high paths where we walked and the first flowers were just beginning to appear in the sub-alpine meadows above the lakes. Judging by all the new shoots that we could see, in a couple of months the pathways will be a mass of stunning summer colour just waiting to be discovered. Somiedo truly is spectacular in all seasons.

Descending from the hilltops, our last day was spent exploring the coastline of la Playa del Silencio. I’m happy on any beach at any time of year, and have great memories of windswept coastal walks during winter, as well as splashing around in the sea in summertime, but this beach really is something special. As well as the clear blue water, it also features some interesting geology, along with a selection of rock-pools that are home to sea urchins and anemones.

We stayed for hours, and the only disappointing part was that I hadn’t taken my swimming stuff – it was pretty cold, but I think I’d have managed just fine in such a beautiful setting.100_1035 (2).JPG100_1080 (2).JPG100_1097 (2).JPG100_1039.JPG100_1045.JPG100_1068.JPG100_1049 (2).JPG100_1067.JPGUnsurprisingly given both the fantastic scenery and the great company, we had an absolutely wonderful break and have returned feeling very rested and relaxed – just what we needed!

¡Muchas gracias!

Back on Track

When I started the #walk1000miles challenge in January, I got off to a flying start and even thought it might not be quite challenging enough. Ah, how are the mighty fallen! Starting a new job combined with the dark, cold evenings meant that practically no mid-week walking took place, and I quickly fell way behind target.

My lowest point came on the 17th March at a huge 50 miles behind where I needed to be. Once the clocks changed though and I became a little less tired, suddenly it seemed much easier to put my boots on and head outside.

As Spring gets well underway, there have been lots of new appearances for us to enjoy. The bluebells are out in force, carpeting the woods with their gorgeous colour. We found it impossible to properly capture their rich bluey-purple hue and the sheer quantity of them – I’ve never seen so many bulbs in one place.100_0598.JPG100_0646 (2).JPGKODAK Digital Still CameraThe pond has been disappointing us with its total lack of otter activity for months, but there are some new arrivals who are trying their best to make up for it!100_0687 (2).JPGUnfortunately for the little goslings, we also spotted Mr Fox prowling around the neighbouring field – I think Mr and Mrs Goose need to keep their eyes open for the foreseeable future..!100_0671 (2).JPGThe pond is going to be a regular destination for the next few weeks as I expect that we’ll be seeing ducklings appearing soon, and hopefully we’ll be able to watch the goslings develop as well.

The better weather and the prospect of new developments in the plant and wildlife world has made it much easier to get outside and go that little bit further every day. I only managed 48 miles in February, increasing to 77 in March, but I’ve already walked 103 miles in April with a full week left to go.

I’m very happy to say that as of Saturday, I’m now back on target with my miles for the first time since January 31st, and have clocked over 300 so far this year. I’m aiming to have reached the halfway point by the time we head off to Norway at the beginning of July so there’s still a long way to go – I’d better get my boots back on!

That February Feeling

The last couple of weeks of January seemed to fly by with the excitement of starting my new job, and as a result my time spent walking has really decreased. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain my rate while working but I’m now four miles below target. I’m hopeful that I’ll make it up once the evenings are lighter, but it’s still disappointing to see the numbers dropping, and I know they’ll continue to fall for a while until spring arrives.

We’ve got a busy February coming up (well, I say we – what I really mean is that Sam has lot of tennis planned), so we decided to do our February ‘day out’ this weekend. It does seem like it’s coming hot on the heels of January’s and we’ll have a bit of a wait until our one in March, but I’d rather get it in early than run out of time and not do it at all!

The day was off to a great start before we’d even set off, with the arrival of this fine fellow on the bird-table. I’ve really not been having much luck with feeding the birds this winter and have been attracting mainly pigeons and starlings, with a couple of robins and blue tits thrown in, so I was thrilled to have a bullfinch visiting. I know they’re not rare in the UK, but it was a very welcome change to have such a colourful visitor!108_3295 (2).JPGWe began with lunch in Arundel which is one of my favourite spots and so always a great start to a day out. I have mixed feelings about the castle as it was restored in 1900 and has a slight air of being made of Lego rather than being a ‘real’ castle. It redeems itself with its 12th century remains, and also by its wonderful gardens that are a real treat in summer. Regardless of its origins, it remains an imposing sight.KODAK Digital Still CameraInspired by my love of castles, Sam took me to the Motte & Bailey cafe where I had a scrumptious lunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and salad, but the real highlight of Arundel was this beauty that we followed into town!108_3306 (4).JPGIt was quite happy to pose for photos and took very little notice of us on the path as it happily fished in an offshoot of the River Arun.

It’s quite difficult to top seeing (and photographing!) a kingfisher, but our next stop – Fishbourne Roman Palace – was trying its best to impress. Okay, so the first impression of the building was a little underwhelming, not helped by the fact that it’s right in the middle of a housing estate, but the inside definitely made up for it.108_3335.JPGThe highlight was the ‘Cupid on a Dolphin’ mosaic that has been incredibly well preserved, although there were several other mosaics that were impressive in their own right.108_3329.JPG108_3319.JPG108_3327.JPGIt had only just opened for the year and was fairly quiet which meant that we were free to wander around at our own pace. We’d not been before although it’s been on my list of ‘places to go’ for a while now, so I was thrilled to finally visit. It’s hard to believe that such a huge palace could disappear without a trace for hundreds of years, and I found the whole site fascinating.

It was a fantastic day out and a great start to February. As the days start to slowly lengthen and warm up, I’m hoping that we can squeeze a few miles in around the various tennis matches coming up this month – watch this space!

Thunder Snow

There has been much excitement in the South-East this week, as we’ve been subjected to the prospect of ‘thunder snow’! Cue mass hysteria, various weather warnings, and general panic…

Thunder snow actually turned out to be, well, just snow – and not much of it at that. We ended up having a light smattering on Thursday which only managed to stick around until Friday because it froze overnight. It was ever-so-slightly underwhelming, but did make for some nice pictures on Friday morning when I caught the sunrise and notched up another couple of miles on the Downs Link.108_2804.JPG108_2832.JPG108_2845.JPGActually, the weather that had the biggest impact on my week wasn’t the snow, but the rain. The beginning of the week was lovely and I had a couple of great walks with Mum although I forgot to take the camera out with me so have no photos – oops! After that though we had several days of rain and I was surprised to see just how quickly the River Adur responded to the rainfall. The morning following an afternoon/evening of rain resulted in the river overflowing its banks and covering the fields which I really wasn’t expecting as I didn’t think that the rain had been anywhere near heavy enough to cause flooding.108_2866.JPG108_2868.JPGThis meant that most of my usual walking routes were out as the river was up over the footpaths, so I had to go exploring. We live close to a Carthusian monastery, and I decided to head north and find out how much of it I could see from the path. The spire is visible from miles around, but the rest of the building is very well hidden from the road so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get a good view. After a couple of frustrating miles where I could only see small glimpses through the trees, I turned a corner and was treated to an unobscured view and it really is very impressive. I’ve heard that the best way to see it is from the air, but I think I’ll be quite happy with what I can see with my feet planted firmly on the ground.108_2907.JPGThe rain may have led to one interesting new walk, but it made for a fairly awful one on Saturday. Sam has had a really busy week at work and hasn’t been able to get out at lunchtimes for a run or walk, and as a result has started to fall behind on miles. He planned a new walk for us just south of Lewes which would have been a good nine miles, but the weather was so atrocious that we called it off after three miles and drove home.108_2922.JPG108_2923.JPGThe walk was made worse as the lovely homemade quiche that I’d packed for our lunch was still frozen, and the parking area recommended by the guidebook had a rather large “Absolutely No Parking” sign by it resulting in a detour to another village to find somewhere more suitable. All in all, it was a rather unsuccessful day! One of the only bright spots – quite literally – was a kingfisher happily diving in the River Ouse. Sadly, my wildlife photography skills are not up to kingfishers (or otters, not that I’ve seen it since the first sighting), but we enjoyed watching it make its way down the river. At least someone didn’t mind the rain! Another point of interest was the church in the small hamlet of Southease which dates from the 12th century and is one of only three in Sussex to be built with a round tower. It also has wall paintings inside which date from the 13th and 14th centuries which I enjoyed looking at while sheltering from a particularly nasty downpour.108_2937.JPG108_2929.JPG108_2931.JPGWe think that the walk itself will be lovely when not tipping down with rain, so we’ll definitely be going back and hopefully managing the whole distance. The weather for this week looks better, so fingers crossed for some better walking over the next few days!

January Greys

I think it’s fair to say that I class as a fair-weather walker; although I love to be outside, I very much tend to stay in if it looks like it might rain, even if it might just be a light shower. I think that this partly stems from our love of climbing hills to see the view – I see very little point in putting in all the effort to get to the top and not being able to see anything when there (case in point: this spectacular photo of the view from the top of Bla Bheinn on Skye).108_1298.JPGHowever, I have a feeling that my #walk1000miles challenge may change all that. Knowing that I have to get in on average 2.74 miles a day is definitely going to make me get outside in all weathers, as this week has started to prove. Although we’re very fortunate to live in the part of the country with arguably the best weather, it does have its grey days, and we’ve been ‘fortunate’ enough to have several of those this week.

I always find January to be a rather bleak time of the year. Spring still seems a long way off and the festive excitement that overwhelms December soon disappears into a cold, grey period that can stretch on and on. In fairness, we have had some lovely days, especially at the beginning of the week where I spent a quiet few hours wandering along the River Adur watching the sun set.108_2692.JPG108_2722.JPG108_2734.JPGThe latter part of the week has been much duller; the frosty fields have been replaced by muddy paths, the clear skies for gloomy cloud.108_2749.JPG108_2752.JPGThat’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the walking – far from it actually. We are very lucky to live only a couple of minutes from the Downs Link, a great path that is walkable in all weathers, and very popular with cyclists, dog walkers, joggers, and horse riders. The change in the weather has sent almost everyone else indoors, leaving us free to roam in peace, and as soon as we leave the path for one of the many footpaths that branch off it, there is nobody else around.108_2776.JPGWe had quite a treat yesterday when walking in the drizzle, and I’m seriously considering promoting the pond back up to lake status as we’ve discovered that it’s home to an otter! We only had a few glimpses of it in the water, and didn’t manage to take any decent photos unfortunately, but it was so lovely to watch. The pond is going to become a favourite haunt of mine, and ‘otter-watch’ is officially on!108_2788.JPGApart from the walking, I’m also trying to stick to my other resolutions, and we’ve enjoyed a new meal this week. We made a dhal makhani – admittedly, it wasn’t the most exciting of creations, but was delicious served with homemade naan bread. I’m not so sure this one counts, but Sam has also just made apple and mincemeat muffins to use up our leftover mincemeat. This is a recipe completely of Sam’s own invention, so while it might not be a ‘meal’ as such, it’s definitely new and when they look this good, who’s complaining?!108_2783.JPG108_2795.JPGWriting this has encouraged me to reflect on the past week and all its achievements, however large or small. Sometimes I think we can get too caught up in the huge parts of life and we forget about all the small things that when taken together can also make a massive difference.

The week has really been a great one, and I’ve enjoyed summing up all of things that made it so: I’m currently 6.6 miles ahead of target with my walking, we’ve spotted an otter, I’ve cut my running route time down by 90 seconds in the space of just three runs (I need to reduce it by another minute to meet my goal for January, so considering we’re only just out of the first week of the month that’s pretty good going), we’ve just booked our flights to Norway for our summer holiday, I’ve just been offered a fantastic job that I’m absolutely thrilled about, and I’ve got tasty muffins to look forward to this evening!

January might be grey, but I’m finding that grey definitely doesn’t mean dull. Cheers!108_2782.JPG