Saturday, 13 March 2010


If someone yells ‘God Helg’ at you, don’t be alarmed. Pronounced ‘Go Hell-G’ it can be eyebrow-raising for an English-speaking visitor, and confusing as it is invariably uttered with such wholesome, rosy-cheeked cheeriness.

The well-wisher is, in fact, being friendly, and wishing you a ‘Good Weekend’...they are not telling you to naff off to somewhere painfully hot where you will fry. They are hoping your weekend will be full of fresh air, healthy exercise, some first-class meals, good entertainment and excellent company. And if you’re really lucky, another hytte visit.

I have noticed Norwegians start employing this friendly greeting from around Wednesday afternoon onwards, in a fevered anticipation of the thrills the weekend may bring. I have never been in any country where the effort to ensure one’s leisure time is used to achieve maximum enjoyment, and therefore benefit, is so concentrated. 

An enviable network of roads, tunnels, bridges and ferries is available to transport the weekend pleasure-seeker to mountain, fjord, hytte, a choice of 21 national parks and some extremely serious wilderness. It’s as though someone decided, way back once the Viking era had finished and there was no need to indulge in battle any more, it was the government’s duty to ensure that the entire population remained ‘frisk som en fisk’. So fitness-freakery was on the national agenda.

Over 1000 years ago (so roughly when the Vikings were deciding to pack it in and put their feet up) some wise guy came up with the idea of ‘allemannsretten’...’every man’s right’. Later on, they sharpened this concept up a bit and created the Norwegian Outdoor Recreation Act (Friluftsleven) which states that everyone is legally entitled to hike or ski across wilderness areas, including outlying fields and pastures. You can camp anywhere for up to two days, provided you are more than 150m from a dwelling, and mess about in boats on all rivers and lakes to your heart’s content.

However, with this generosity of spirit, there are one or two obvious rules. No litter, no damaging of plant or animal life, leave cultivated areas intact, and keep the wilderness as pristine as you found it. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

This freedom to roam is taken very seriously, and I have often been amazed to see bunches of complete strangers in our garden...while they haven’t actually sat down for a picnic, they were none-the-less entirely happy to wander willy-nilly through my lavender and rosemary.And I don’t mind in the least...I know they will be careful.

I admit I have seen one or two bottles and cans left lying about, but it is so infrequent I feel like making a note in my diary. So, on the whole, this liberal attitude to access works, and I THINK almost everyone respects their countryside. I’m not too sure the same can be said for the entire population in Scotland.

I once overheard a forthright Brit commenting on this habit of embracing the outdoor life to his long-standing, and no doubt, patient Norwegian colleague. ‘You’re country is basically just one great big country club,’ he said.

There was a sharp intake of breath, followed by a lengthy silence. The two colleagues concentrated very, very hard on their work for an hour, and then went to lunch separately. In the canteen, they sat at different tables, stealing glances at each other from time to time in unspoken combat. The Norwegian went out for a little lonely walk and did some rock-top-sea-gazing for a wee while.

Finally, both of them were sitting at their desks again.

‘You know,’ said the Norwegian. ‘What you said earlier...’

‘I know, I’m sorry. I didn’t really mean....’

‘I think you’re absolutely right.’


  1. mmmm a very interesting one this .. the issues affecting the Scots (from my somewhat tunneled and dare I say, jaundiced perspective) is land mass and 'wilderness' ... Scotland's land area is approx 78,000 sq kms & Norway 308,000 sq kms. It's self evident that every Norwegian has 75% more land to escape to ( space, countryside .. whatever ) than your average Jock! Scotland also imposes the term 'wilderness' on what is to all intents and purposes a man made desert of hills which are almost entirely denuded of indigenous trees .... we have no wolves. lynx or bear .. they were all blasted out of the heather centuries ago. Like it or not that creates a mass social dichotomy about what countryside or wilderness or wildness actually is ... The rest, as they say, is history .. aye, wha's like us, eh?

  2. Ooh Rob...this is becoming very philosophical...what is 'wilderness'? Certainly, the Norwegian land mass is more per head of population, but a great deal of it is not just wilderness, but Arctic too.
    I like your numbers...will use.