Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana!
Of all the many reasons to like and admire our North Sea neighbours, football commentator Bjørge Lillelien's 1981 apostrophe on the occasion of Norway's 2-1 defeat of England ranks pretty high. At the moment of unwonted triumph over an ancient enemy, Bjørge lighted upon this eclectic selection of icons of Englishness like a valkyrie upon a corpse-strewn field. Revenge for Stamford Bridge (the other battle of 1066) had been a long time coming, and was exacted to the full when Bjørge turned his verbal spear on the English leader.
Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took a helllllll of a beating ... your boys took a hell of a beating!
Robin and I had intended to go on a weekend camping trip to Rum, but the idea of being stuck in a tent in the rain for three days without any simple means of packing up and going home was just too daunting. So we hit on the idea of a weekend in Lillelien's homeland instead. Cheapish Ryanair flights and a hire car were booked on the net, and we were away.
It is remarkable to think that only seven-and-a-bit-hours after breakfast coffee at home in Kilmarnock, I was sipping Laphroaig at the summit of a Norwegian Munro. What's the most distant significant top in Scotland I could have gained in a similar time, and involving scheduled transport, I wondered: Cairn Gorm, perhaps? Beinn na Lap? There's a question for all you number-crunching tacoraks and stats-rats to chew on (after you've finished the Christmas quiz, of course).
The hill in question was Himingen (or just Himing in English, the -en being the Norwegian enclitic definite article, as any fule kno), a rocky eminence which rises to a historically resonant 1066 metres above Gavlesjaloch. To get there we had to follow the Gavlesjavegen, which is, according to the guidebook, a toll road. We drove up this forestry track without let or hindrance, until we reached a broken-down sign which exclaimed BOM! in a Bjørge Lillelien style. At first we were concerned that this might be something to do with landmines, but a flick through the Norsk-Engelsk ordbok informed us that Bom means barrier, which it plainly wasn't. Another sign advised us to take an envelope, fill it with 40 kroner, and deposit it in a little post box. It seemed like trying to rob someone by pointing your finger at him, cocking your thumb and announcing this is a stick-up.
We were in a quandary: no wish to cheat the good folk of Norway, but able to scrape together only 20 kroner in change. We could have put in a 100 kroner note, but were too skint (and, frankly, too mean) to countenance such excess (and I liked the 100 NOK's portrait of Kirsten Flagstad, arguably the finest Isolde of the last century). Or we could just drive on - what about the principle of toll roads anyway? We compromised by putting 20 kroner in the envelope and writing by way of ambiguous explanation vi kommer fra Skottland. I was embarrassed to note that the tear-off permit wished us a Bjørgean GOD TUR!
Himing was a pleasant hill, reminiscent of Galloway in its roughness, pine forests and lochs. We met only one other group on the hill, and the summit log book (why don't we have these?) confirmed that this German family had been the only other visitors that day. The entries went back over a year: there was a touching entry for 11/9/01, which (as far as I could translate) contrasted that day's horrors with the tranquillity and beauty of the fjell. The view over the mountains of southern Norway was indeed worthy of contemplation: but grey clouds were now settling over the distant nave and dome of Gausta, Telemark's 1881-metre highpoint.
We camped that night at the side of the road, occasionally disturbed by rain and by law-abiding, toll-paying Norwegians driving up to their holiday hytter in the hills. Sometimes a 4x4 would slow as it approached our car, doubtless to check the windscreen for a valid permit, before being driven away again with a sorrowful shake of a blond head. The tax-dodger's sleep was disturbed by the ghostly taunts of conscience: Ken Dodd! Al Capone! Lester Piggott! Tommy Sheridan, can you hear me? Tommy Sheridannn! The nightmare proved to be the result of a surfeit of jarlsberg, however. Next morning we made our escape scot-free, but with a promise to make up what we owed next time.
The drive up to Gausta took us by the fjord-like Tinnsja, at the bottom of which rests a steamboat loaded with heavy water intended for the Nazi nuclear programme. It was sunk by local saboteurs before it could reach Heisenberg and his pals: another good reason to be grateful to the Norwegians. Turning the corner into the Vestfjorddal, we had our first close-up of Gaustatoppen, rising 1600m in three crow-fly kilometres. A road winds up to a high pass at about 1100m, where we found a car park busier than the Coe on a bank holiday Monday. Richard Webb noted in TAC53 that Norwegians have come late to the concept of peak-bagging: if so they are certainly making up for it on Saturday afternoons in Telemark. Hundreds of couples and families were following red paint marks up to the Gaustatopphytta where they purchased coffee, waffles and jam, and marvelled at the views over the rugged Hardangervidda plateau. Few were inclined, however, to follow the ridge to the true summit, an aggy jumble of sharp-edged quartzite blocks. There was a final step, reminiscent of the top of Stac Pollaidh, only very much bigger: a sort of Megalopollaidh, I suppose.
A good day on Gausta finished at a riverside campsite, where a 330ml bottle of lager cost a mere £3.75. I would advise TACers to take their own, but for the facts that (a) it defeats one of the points of travelling, and (b) Norwegian customs allow the importation of a maximum of two litres of beer anyway. Norway also forbids the importation of fireworks, guns, drugs and potatoes. We smuggled our spuds in in crack form, mixed with flour and formed into scones.
Norway is beautiful; the people are obviously and justifiably proud of their country; and best of all, you get to walk just about anywhere you like. Now that takes a hell of a beating.
TAC 56 Index