Chapter 41: Norway
We had launched an adventure holiday for our children from England before we left for SHAPE. All four had ages in double figures and their skiing was improving. We would go to Norway and choose the springtime with its warmer weather and longer days. The first step was to contact Claus Huitfeldt, my Oxford skiing friend, and seek his advice. He lived in Oslo. In the event he generously offered great help in a variety of ways. We should stay with him and his family when in Oslo. He owned a second property in the skiing area, that sounded like a hutta which may have been similar to Alpine huts elsewhere, though much superior to anything called a hut in England. Planning went ahead.
A well-loaded car would carry the six of us and all our essentials and this suited our experience. However there were other complicated arrangements at the start that could easily have gone wrong. I went to London for a day’s work, whilst Sheelah loaded children and car. Driving to Immingham in Lincolnshire she located the terminal for Tor Anglia, the Ferry Company. She then drove back to Grimsby to meet my train arriving at 8pm. All went well. We embarked, supped and slept in preparation for the night drive through Sweden. At 11pm the next night we docked at Gothenburg and before long were on our way with the children packed like sardines in their sleeping bags on top of the luggage.
Neither Sweden or Norway Customs were interested when we crossed the frontier and we pressed on, following the map Claus had sent us through Oslo and up the hill to Vettakollen. This took us into the snows. The great Holmenkollen ski jump lies a little further up the hill. Parking at four in the morning we entered the door left open for us and were soon distributed to our rooms.
Claus’ wife Jonne was recovering from pneumonia, so Claus gave us breakfast before departing for work. Carl, aged ten, had already left for school, so Birgitte, aged seven, joined us and sized us up. We explored Oslo on our own, visiting the new Edouard Munch Museum, lunching and shopping. Supper was Norwegian style around 5.30 with children going to bed early whilst Claus briefed us for our travels, with particular emphasis on arrangements for our stay in the hutta and where we would meet Claus, who would guide us there after our week in Geilo.
The drive to Geilo followed a valley, the Halingdal, through Fla and Gol, Al and Hol. What nice easy names to remember. We were to note Hol as we would be meeting Claus there a week later. The traffic-free road ran alongside many picturesque lakes with the course of the river carved out by the annual snowmelt. The result is convenient gradients for road-makers and valley space for the railroad that travels an indirect route from Oslo to the major port of Bergen on the west coast.
Before offering any description of the skiing facilities in Geilo at this time it is important to say that ski resorts of the day do not resemble those of the twentieth century. They were closer to the age of climbing by muscle power and stamping out practice areas on skis. We were grateful for the simple drag ski lifts that there were. On the plus side there were minimal queues and no weekend invasions to make for long delays.
The hotel was small and friendly with a good sprinkling of British families. If asked for comments, all would say that the food was magnificent. Children and hotels do not always mix well but Geilo produced an ideal environment for our tribe. All of us would agree that the food was magnificent and that meant that it suited all ages. Breakfast was taken seriously with several courses and the Smorgasbord lunch with self-help could not have been bettered. Fish, crab and eel came from a not-too-distant sea and there were several choices of meat. Then followed caramel or chocolate pudding with the alternative of fruit salad. One staggered out clasping an apple or orange to eat on the mountain. Vigorous skiing was essential between meals. Getting away from the lifts we climbed and explored, running down through trees on untrodden snow as well using the manicured pistes.
There would be no ski lifts when we moved to the Huitfeldt property so we spent our last afternoon climbing for two hours on a marked route to a mountain hut and skiing back on unmarked snow to the populated skiing area. That done we made what preparations we could for an early start in the morning. This included buying provisions for our isolated stay. Meeting Claus at Gol, he led us to Hovet to explore a charming little 900 year-old wooden church, then on and up to the limit for motor transport. The next part of our journey was across an extensive lake and there was no hesitation about the solidity of the snow-covered ice. An ancient snow-track with a cabin for us and a towed sledge for the baggage awaited us. It was a slow old thing and could only manage our baggage, not us, for the final steep climb to the hutta . Leaving the sledge on the lake, we piled the baggage into the snow-track while we climbed on skis.
The hutta, standing a few hundred feet above the lake and facing southwest, looked its best on this fine sunny day. As a rescued farm building of some antiquity it had been treated with sympathy. Even so the roof had been beyond recovery and had to be rebuilt. The addition of an extended porch did nothing to spoil the character of the building.
Though less than 30 feet long, the one living room seemed spacious. One corner housed the kitchen and washing area, another the parents’ bunk bedroom and in a third, partially separated by an ‘L’-shaped fireplace, was a corner sofa. A substantial dining table stands in the remaining open space. Above is a loft divided into two dormitories in which the central standing space is little over five feet high, diminishing towards each outer wall, but who needs more when lying down?
All this was explained by Claus, who was to remain with us for the weekend. The noise of wind the following morning told us that the weather had changed. We set off to trek the two kilometres across the lake to a more sheltered valley, climbing to the ridge of Ynglesnosi, which I take to translate appropriately as the English Nose. Wind assisted, the return journey was easier. Afternoon exercise was the creating of a snow-hole. Large snow building blocks were cut with a shovel to build walls. We could all sit there out of the wind but we made no effort to turn it into sleeping accommodation such as I had experienced in Austria. Back in the house a good wood fire is kept burning. Our evenings are comfortable though we do not say up very late.
At the end of our stay the snow-track arrived on time and took us to the car that started at once, frozen as it was. There were even signs of spring as we drove to Oslo and gave a full report to the Huitfeldts. We were all convinced that another visit to the country would be essential but made the most of our last day. We started with a visit to old friends, Digby and Addie Raeburn, both skiing champions and now working at the NATO Headquarters. We moved on to the Park containing the Vigeland statues, the Viking Ship Museum and the Folk Museum. The latter deserved at least a full day on its own to do it justice. In the evening we met the most interesting of guests. They included Tønne Huitfeldt, brother of Claus, who was to become a General and his wife Elly, and Arild Smith Kielland, Secretary General of the Association for the Advancement of Skiing. English-sounding names are shared with the Norwegians. A medical Colonel Alf Johnson and his wife Tullen, a cousin of our hostess, had an interesting history. During the war he reached England via Russia, India, South Africa and Newfoundland. He was later parachuted back into Norway. He had also served in United Nations operations in the Congo and Gaza. Even if one wished to, it is difficult to compete in the conversation of such company.
Away early in the morning we arrived in Gothenburg with time to spare. We discovered that we were to sail on the maiden voyage of the Tor Hollandia, which meant a smart new ship, and plenty of flowers. A maiden voyage attracted greater attention in those far-off days. Arriving in the Humber we met an escort of tugs and a fire-fighter with all its sprays going, whilst we had all our signal flags hoisted to make a colourful picture. There was a big reception at Immingham with at least a couple of mayors decked out in their formal robes but we played no part in the shore-side festivities.