Monthly Report, June 2024

After a very restless month in May, June was always going to involve a bit less travelling. Only one journey of note - the 'usual' periodic relocation from Oxford to Shetland.

Reporting Days: 30

Location: Oxford and Shetland

Distance Walked: 320 km

Distance Driven: 1620 km

Photographs Taken: Thousands - mostly orchids and auks


The time in Oxford was the opportunity to tame the garden (which thrived on the neglect allowed by No Mow May) - and to catch up with other neglected tasks and to spend a bit of time doing touristy things in Oxford and London, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity check out some of my local orchid spots.

Lye Valley, Oxford

Milham Ford Nature Park, Oxford

Relocation North

The drive from Oxford to Aberdeen (for the ferry North) is more than I like to do in one day, so I stopped for an overnight stay in Ecclefechan (and for a spot of gentle orchid spotting).

Roadside orchids, Ecclefechan


And having 'enjoyed' a relatively smooth Northlink crossing up to Lerwick, it was lovely to able to spend time watching the puffins at Sumburgh Head, and walking the beaches and headlands at the south end of Shetland.

Puffins in the Sunshine, Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Orchids on Shetland tend to be smaller than further south,
Scat Ness, Shetland

Puffins are rubbish at forming orderly queues,
Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Wave Watching, Scat Ness, Shetland

West Voe Beach, Shetland

Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Onto the Beach, Quendale, Shetland

Next Month

I can confidently predict, there will be lots more auks and lots more beaches.

Monthly Report, May 2024

One word summary of the month - Norway.

300 kilometres walked, many thousands of photos taken and an awful lot of train, bus and boat kilometres. 

The trip planning started last autumn, when I decided to figure out how to get from southern England to northern Norway without resorting to flying - turns out that it's easy but not very quick

Phase One: Oxford to Oslo  

So, how do you get from Oxford to Oslo without flying? Answer: Buses, boats and trains.  

Coach from Oxford to London, then train to Harwich for the first over-night boat of the month, Stena Brittanica (which is lot bigger than the Northlink boats I use between Aberdeen and Shetland).

After that it is several trains across the dramatically flat north German plain to Kiel on the Baltic Coast.  The journey can be done (relatively quickly) as a joined up journey, but I opted to have overnight stops in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Kiel (none of which I'd visited before).

From Kiel, it's another overnight cruise-ferry (Color Magic - even bigger than the Stena Brittanica) which delivers you into Oslo - the last few hours are a fantastic cruise up the Oslo Fjord.

And the reward for successfully completing Phase One was a couple of nights in Oslo, one of my favourite cities.


Leaving Kiel

Cruising up the OsloFjord

The Opera House, Oslo

Phase Two: Oslo to Kirkenes

This was the easiest part of the entire jaunt.  I started by taking the Bergenbanen, the direct train service across the mountains from Oslo to Bergen.  

And then after spending couple of days touristing in Bergen,  I headed to the Hurtigruten terminal for an evening departure on the MS Richard Witt heading north up the Norwegian coast and on to Kirkenes.  

The MS Richard Witt (named for the chap that started the Coastal Steamer in 1893) is now, like all the Hurtigruten ships part cruise liner and part ferry service.  There are 32 intermediate stops between Bergen and Kirkenes - some as long as 10 hours, and others as short as 10 minutes, and the schedule means that there is one long stop each day on the way north.

This was the second time I've done this journey.  I did in February 2012 on the MS Lofoten, which was definitely less cruise ship, more ferry.  

Over the course of 5 boat days, I was able to spend time on dry land in Alesund, Trondheim, Bodo, Tromso and Honningsvag - in addition to crossing the Arctic Circle (between Trondheim and Bodo) before disembarking in Kirkenes.



Crossing the Arctic Circle


Phase Three: Kirkenes to Oslo

Norway is very long (c. 1800 km or c. 1000 miles)  from north to south - but once you add in the twists, turns and idiosyncrasies of the road or rail networks it feels a lot longer than that.  My challenge was to get back to Oslo without flying.  

In northern Norway there aren't any trains so you have to reply on buses (or boats) for transport.  There are long distance buses but they are occasional, for example the first leg of my journey south was from Kirkenes to Alta - there was a one-bus-a-day route, which left at 06:16, which was a splendid incentive to get up early. 

The first three travelling days were from Kirkenes to Alta, Alta to Narvik and Narvik to Bodo.  There is a train station in Narvik, but it connects to the Swedish railway network - and there isn't really any way to rejoin the rest of the Norwegian rail network.

One of the highlights of this stage of the journey was being able to join in with Norwegian National Day celebrations while I was in Narvik - marking the day (in 1814) when Norway declared independence. 

Having made it to Bodo (another all day bus journey from Narvik) trains again became an option - even if they were on slow single track lines, high-speed trains don't feature strongly on the Norwegian train timetables! I split the journey back to Trondheim at Mo i Rana over two days mainly because i wanted see how Mo had changed since my first visit there in 2004. The big changes in Mo (as in most of the towns in northern Norway) seem to have involved building more shopping malls and more hotels!

And after a couple of nights in Trondheim, the final leg of this phase of the journey was down the Rorosbanen into Oslo.  

This phase of the journey could have been done in 5 days (three on buses, two on trains) - but I opted to do it over 9 days so I had some time to explore the towns en route (and get a bit of exercise!).


National Day in Narvik



Phase Four: Oslo to Oxford

I could have just done the reverse of the outward journey - but that seemed too easy.   

So I opted for the trains all the way to London. 

From Oslo to Gothenburg (for another two night stop, my one previous visit involved just changing trains), then to Copenhagen (where I did just change trains this time) and Hamburg, before heading to Brussels and the Eurostar back into London (and the Oxford Tube back to Oxford).





It is perfectly possible to get to Norway from London (or indeed from anywhere else in Europe) and to tour the country by public transport (and without flying).  But it does take time, particularly if you want to also add in time to explore the places you're passing through.  I think I got the balance between travelling and touristing days about right.

I bought the boat and train tickets in advance, and had prebooked the hotel accommodation too - the buses were pay as you go. And everywhere takes (and almost all insist on) credit cards - including the buses. The only times I needed cash were in one restaurant (in Hamburg) which didn't take cards at all, and on one train buffet car where the card machine stopped accepting foreign cards.

Would I do the trip again? Yes absolutely - I might rethink the journeys between London and Oslo - but otherwise would repeat the trip.  I'm sure I'll be back on the Norwegian trains, boats and buses again before too long.

But first, it's time to head to the far north of Scotland.

Monthly Report, April 2024

A month of two parts - first half back on the trains to Italy, and then a couple of weeks in Oxford.


Reporting Days: 30

Location: Oxford and Lombardy

Distance Walked: 290 km

Distance Driven: 240 km

Photographs Taken: Many Hundreds

Back to Boario

Trips to Boario seem to now be lodged firmly in the diary for Spring and Autumn.  This was my third visit - good food, fine wine, decent weather, walks by the River Oglio and a spot of pampering too.  I'll be back again (well, that's the plan) for all the above plus a fourth visit to the REGEN Centre.  

Having first visited Boario by train last April, I now can't imagine getting there any other way. 

London St Pancras

Zurich by Night

Milan Cathedral

River Oglio in Boario

Madonna of the Alps in Boario

Zurich by Day

Around Oxford

Having had a fix of warm Spring weather in northern Italy, it came as a bit of shock to be back in 'very' early Spring around Oxford - good for waterside and woodland walks (if you kept moving!) plus early orchids and bluebells.

Lye Valley Boardwalk

Bury Knowle Park

Orchids at Sydlings Copse

Bluebells in Shotover Country Park

More Trains

And on the subject of trains, next months report is going to involve a lot more trains (and buses and boats.

Monthly Report, March 2024

Another Oxford month - but with lots of London days, and a wee island holiday.

Reporting Days: 31

Location: Mostly Oxford

Distance walked: 300 km

Distance driven: 190 km

Photographs Taken: Hundreds

Mostly Oxford

I always think that Spring-time is a best time to be in Oxford - and while there were quite a few lovely Spring-like days, there were also quite a few days when Spring felt like a distant promise!

Rainbow Bridge, University Parks

Jubilee Bridge, Christ Church Meadow

Bluebells, University Parks

London Days

Another Oxford month also means easy access to London, and on most London days I seem to wind up wandering beside the river.  Eventually I'll get round to walking the whole of the Thames Path again, but in the meantime, I'll keep doing wee bits of the Path.

Canary Wharf, London

London Eye, South Bank, London

Island Break

Usually when I make reference to an 'island break', it's a sure sign that I'm heading north to Shetland's beaches and headlands.  But just occasionally that means south.

We are regular visitors to Alderney - our first visit was in 1994, our second was in 2009 so we just had to add a 2024 visit to the diary. Next visit 2039? Our 'usual' hotel is closed at the moment for what looks like a very major refurbishment, but lots of the other landmarks didn't seem to have changed much and the flight into Alderney airport is still serviced by very small planes (even smaller than the Logonair Saabs that serviced Shetland until very recently). 

Braye Harbour, Alderney

Platte Saline, Alderney

Braye Bay, Alderney

Flying with Aurigny, Alderney Airport

Next Month

Back on the trains to Italy, for a Spring-time visit to Lombardy.

Monthly Report, February 2024

 An Oxford month - but with a distinctly Italian twist.

The numbers

Reporting Days: 29

Location: Mostly Oxford

Distance Walked: 250 km

Distance Driven: 733 km

Photographs Taken: Hundreds

Distinctly Italian?

So how Italian can a month based in Oxford be?

Well, you can enrol on a course in Italian Design run by the University Department of Continuing Education. Or you can sign up for an Italian cooking course (with Ursula Ferrigno at The Jericho Kitchen Cookery School). Or you can spend time at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London. Or you can eat out in Italian restaurants in Oxford, London and Bristol. Or you can continue to learn a little bit of Italian everyday via DuoLingo. Or you can plan and book trips to Italy for later in the year. 

Or you can do all of these. 

Signs of Spring

And when I wasn't looking for signs of Italy, l seemed to spend most of the month looking for signs of Spring.

Parson's Pleasure, Oxford

Jericho Kitchen, Stadhampton

Early Purple Orchid, Sydings Copse

Crocus, Bury Knowle Park, Oxford

Maps, Stanfords, London

Oxford Botanic Garden

C S Lewis Reserve, Oxford

Magdalen Tower, Oxford

Snowdrops, Stoke Place, Oxford

Entering the City, London

Blaise Hamlet, Bristol

The Duke's Cut, Oxford Canal

Nest month - more Oxford and more London with (hopefully) a wee island fix thrown in for good measure.