Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Fantasy bothying in Norway

Thanks for your comments on last week's bothy post. I have spent the week mulling over the dilemma that the promotion of outdoor activities poses for antisocial types like myself. Having given the matter some more thought I think that I can see why the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) have chosed to publish the locations of the bothies that they maintain. They have presumably realised that in this information age it is inevitable that the locations will be revealed. By doing so through their own website they at least have an opportunity to educate people in bothy etiquette before they arrive.

Giving people an appreciation of the great outdoors and and an understanding of how to behave once you get there can only be a good thing. You only have to compare Scotland with our near neighbour Norway for an illustration of how ignorant our general population are in the ways of the wild. In Norway it is perfectly normal to be an outdoor enthusiast whereas in Scotland we are regarded as slightly freakish extremists. There are many factors that contribute to this difference in attitude: the Norwegian population is less concentrated in the urban centres; Norway has a similar population but roughly four times the land mass, giving them more outdoors to enjoy; they have no history of access being discouraged by the owners of sporting estates. Possibly most importantly, however, is that their outdoors are made accessible by the Norwegian trekking association, the DNT, who maintain a network of marked trails and mountain huts throughout the country.

This fully serviced DNT hut is right on the summit of Fannaraken (2068 m) in the Hurrungane region of Jotunheimen National Park. View towards the peaks of Skagastolindane.

Many DNT huts are actually more like hotels and this can be rather offputting for the hardship-seeking purist like myself. They also have a range of less luxurious accommodation options, ranging from unserviced open hovels, in which one can doss free of charge, to serviced but unmanned huts that operate on an honesty box system where for a small fee one can avail oneself of gas, firewood, crockery, bedding and sometimes even tinned food and recycling facilities.

One of the best views I've ever had from a toilet (Fannaraken Hut)

From reading bothy books I have established that it is a common fantasy among tired outdoorsmen, fighting their way through bogs in the rain, that they may find their bothy crowded with a Norweigan University netball team, wet and cold and in need of a good towelling down. I have never heard of this dream coming true in a Scottish bothy, but I once came close in an unserviced Norwegian hut in the Jotunheimen National Park. The hut was a former saeter - a summer dairy equivalent to a sheiling. It was a lovely old wooden building which boasted a very low entrance, the purpose of which was to facilitate the smoking of cheeses in the rafters.

This is more like it. The partially serviced Stolsmardalen hut in Jotunheimen NP.

As we were settling down after dinner a pair of lycra-clad lady students entered, stooping low to get through the diminutive doorway.  The watchful eye of my wife, who was pregnant at the time, helped me to keep any towelling urges in check.

It is difficult to imagine an such an honesty box based system of serviced huts working in Scotland, but this may be something of a chicken and egg situation. To sustain such an infrastructure requires a nation of outdoor enthusiasts, but perhaps to nurture a nation of outdoor enthusiasts requires precisely such an infrastructure. In publicising bothy locations the MBA may have unwittingly taken a first, faltering step towards the development of a DNT style system of huts and trails.

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Blogger Erik said...

Unlike Scotland, Norway doesnt have a large population of scumbags nor suffer from 'ned' culture, thats why they are able to have such a civilised attitude to the outdoors and related infrastructure.

17 November 2009 at 22:34  
Blogger straight from the den said...

last night a friend told me of a norwegian bothy-campsite complex he has visited that has a library.

even after reading your post i'm still suspicious that this was hallucinated!

17 November 2009 at 23:57  
Anonymous Craig W said...

>>From reading bothy books I have established that it is a common fantasy among tired outdoorsmen, fighting their way through bogs in the rain, that they may find their bothy crowded with a Norweigan University netball team, wet and cold and in need of a good towelling down.

Sounds like a book a friend of a colleague has just written:


18 November 2009 at 10:10  
Blogger Fraser said...

Norway sounds great. But please Erik, Scotland isn't the dystopian hellhole you describe. I agree our Nordic friends have it sorted in some regards [based on my school trip experiences in Denmark], but there are many worse places to live then Scotland...

18 November 2009 at 20:38  
Blogger Gavin Macfie said...

As usual there is some truth in all the comments above. Scotland is great, but it's hard to deny that there is a significant element of mindless behaviour. This is perhaps best illustrated by our rates of littering which must be among the worst in the world.

20 November 2009 at 08:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this yank's question is:

are the "netball team" (a term i have not heard before) made up of women or men?

a clarification of the terminology will make this more interesting depending on the answer....

just call me "ever curious to local lingo"....

1 December 2009 at 01:44  
Blogger Gavin Macfie said...

Hi Deborah,

Netball is like basketball for women. The players traditionally wear short skirts.

Another British game to add to your sporting vocabulary is 'rounders'. This one is like softball without the gloves.

Five more days of hip spica for our daughter - we're getting very excited now!

1 December 2009 at 20:11  
Blogger Colonel Richard H Merchant said...

Hi Gavin,

I am trying to plan a route for a couple of weeks walking in Jotunheimen, but can't find any info specific to these "unserviced hovels" you mention!

How cheap do they get?

As you can guess I'm trying to do this on a shoestring! ;)

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!

15 March 2011 at 00:24  
Blogger Gavin Macfie said...

For hut advice in Jotunheimen the best source of info is the 1:50,000 hiking maps. The huts have different symbols depending on whether or not they have a guardian (cooked meals available), is serviced (tinned food available for purchase), or unserviced (cooking gear, gas and blankets but no food).

At many hut locations and elsewhere there are emergency shelters - these are the only free option - but I don't think these are marked on maps.

15 March 2011 at 21:30  
Blogger Colonel Richard H Merchant said...

Thanks Gavin,

Your blog has been the most useful thing online so far!

Looks like we're going to Tromso!


16 March 2011 at 18:15  

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