Saturday, 22 May 2010


I lay there, ‘neath the nylon, feeling exactly like Tutankhamun. Unlike the young Pharaoh, I was encased in duck-down and merino, rather than gold and lapis lazuli, but hey, I was warmer than him. It would just have been nice to be able to move...why do sleeping bags have to taper down towards the bottom end? Do they think we don’t move our legs around just because we’re camping?

I’ve been moving camping gear, amongst other things, and that is why I’ve been reminded of all this. As a former West Coast of Scotland camper, I had sampled all sorts of camping gear in the past, but this was a new, bigger tent. So, would it be more comfortable? Comodious? Have more gadgets? Our Norwegian camping adventures took place last June, but as summer comes closer and the days lengthen, I can’t help recalling the experience. It was an outdoor, literary and marital mile-stone of a peculiarly Norwegian sort.

I lay there wide awake, quietly re-designing camping equipment in my mind, quite unable to sleep. After wondering if Tutankhamun ever got bored during his hundreds-of-years stint in a tomb, I eventually extracted a couple of arms, whizzed away on the wind-up torch and grabbed my book.

I must say, it was the ideal reading material. ‘Nansen’ by Roland Huntford, a big thick tome about how to be a polar explorer, and other useful tips. If you want to know anything about the Fabulous Fridtjof, Huntford is your’s incredibly well-researched and utterly gripping. I flicked through to a picture of Nansen posing for a formal photograph of himself decked out in Dr Jaeger’s ‘Sanitary Woollen Clothing’. Ah, so that was his secret.

You see, as far as I can determine, it’s all about gear in this neck of the woods. Whatever you are doing, whatever the season or the reason, the time or the place, you need to have the best possible gear. Now Nansen was the boy as far as gear was concerned...TALK about being ahead of his time. Apparently people saw this happy-snappy of him in Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen Clothing and thought he was a wee bit cuckoo....until of course he went and skied across Greenland and they had to eat their words.

As Nansen demonstrated, the right piece of kit can save your life, never mind make things easier. It seems his passion for gear is alive and well in Norway, whether one is camping with one’s family or conquering a Pole. Luckily, the Norwegians are rather good at making sure their houses have terrifically generous storage areas. If we assume every Norwegian has several pairs of skis each, a cornucopia of ski boots, walking boots, snow boots and sailing boots, skates, a wet-suit, life-jackets, 236 hats, a bike, several tents and a wide selection of fishing equipment, any fool can see that a Norwegian needs storage. And that’s just for starters. By the time he gets hooked, he has also splashed out on a wind-surfer, a canoe (folding or otherwise), two extra bikes for different terrain, and a helmet for every occasion.

It was incredibly light outside the nylon, so hard to tell what might be counted as daytime. However, at an appropriate moment I checked my day-glow watch to discover the hour. Excellent...5am...I’m allowed to ‘get up’. I struggled out of my cocoon, realising that sleeping on the hard ground was not necessarily for the over 21s. I found someone’s wellie-boots and shoved them onto my merino-clad lower limbs. I was ready to seek out the facilities.

‘Why can’t they invent something for camping that stops you needing the loo?’ I asked nobody in particular.

‘Happy Wedding Anniversary,’ came the reply.

I was amazed. I thought people went to Paris, Venice or Marrakesh for that sort of thing. How come I was camping at the foot of a fjord? I unzipped the front door and peered out into the gloom.

‘Good Lord!’ I cried. ‘What the....that’s sensational.’

The absolutely vast back end of the QM11 was sitting in front of me, just a few metres from my face. Even in Geiranger Fjord, one of the most dramatic places in Norway, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, this new addition took my breath away. She must have stolen quietly into the fjord in the middle of the night....maybe I did get some shut-eye after all.

‘Oi,’ I said, poking the TA’s sleeping bag with a tent peg. ‘You have no idea what’s sitting out here?’

‘Wrong. I arranged it. As I say, Happy Anniversary.’


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