Thursday, 18 February 2010
In Norway, the hytte, a cabin or even a hut, is a place of sanctuary so close to the Norwegian soul that it is not possible to write about it only once. Its splendours are such that their impact on society is vast but incalculable, and marks one of the most fundamental differences between our two nations.
I recently asked a Norwegian if it was true that 85% of the population now owns a hytte. She thought for a moment, and replied that this was not true....it would be more accurate to say 85% of the population owned two hytter, a mountain one for skiing, and a lake or fjord-side one for summer. What is more, companies tend to own or rent hytter too. It has often been said when a Norwegian is offered a job, his or her first question will be less concerned with the salary than the number and locations of the company hytter. The age-old tradition of a Norwegian living in harmony with nature is as popular as ever.
Years ago, a hytte was indeed a hut. It grew from being a simple shelter from the weather, to a place to stay, a quiet retreat from everyday life. In the 20th century, it became fashionable to build a hytte, often by one’s own hand, purely for recreational purposes. These might be of the log-cabin variety, and placed in a picturesque spot, where the owner could furnish it with simple wooden furniture and chequered curtains so cute one might expect Little Red Riding Hood drop in. Here the average Norwegian would ski, skate, fish, swim and generally mess about, positively relishing the lack of running water and absence of electricity.
But in recent years, the hytte has gone up-market. Nowadays, a hytte can be every bit as grand as a normal house, if not even posher. There might be a bathroom for starters, a sauna, heated floors, a TV and a broadband connection. Some people suspect the Norwegians are getting soft.
But I don’t. It seems the hytte imposes such inconvenience and discomfort upon the owners that the result is a highly self-reliant, extraordiinarily strong population.Mountains are not littered with plumbers, electricians and joiners. The lust for DIY that exists in Britain is taken to a new level here.
Not all hytter are posh. Some of the loveliest are small and remarkably basic where the struggle to survive in them is undoubtedly part of the attraction. Unless your journey towards your hytte has been fraught with icy roads involving snow-chains, a steep hill climb on skis, a wet and breathless boat-ride, a power-cut, frozen pipes, and a five hour wait for the place to heat up, then you have not experienced the full joy of the hytte.
One guy, after decades of abstinence, decided to treat himself to a little comfort in his hytte by installing a washing machine. These are not light objects. Having bought it and transported it behind his car for miles into the mountains, he single-handedly unloaded it from trailer to sledge. He then put on his skis and began hauling it up a mountain with only a small head-torch to light his way through the murk. An hour later he arrived, to find his new white-good would not fit through the hytte door. After an awkward entrance involving a balcony, a ladder and a window, he finally placed it triumphantly upon the interior floor of his hytte and ripped off the bubble-wrap.
Only to find it was a dish-washer, which was as much use to him as the proverbial snowball in a microwave.
Oh, by the way, with Norway generally seen as the favourites in the cross-country skiing events at the Winter Olympics, I’m nervous. But yesterday, the fantastically strong Marit Bjoergen did the business and won Norway’s first gold in the Women's 1.4 Cross-country Sprint. Phew.
Posted by Returning Scot at 09:58