January

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The first few months of winter have come and gone! There have been a lot of changes for me too! There has been a wedding, a Norwegian Christmas and a change of location.

I’ve been doing a lot of planning for my business this year and now January is over, things are starting to fall into place. I like routine to keep up my flow of projects, however that has been quite difficult this past while. Now I have just finished setting up my workspace in my new flat, and I have some weeks free of client commissions to focus on exciting projects I have lined up in my head. I am hoping they can help push my work in a bit of a new direction. I’m also really keen to make contact with new clients in Norway, and I will be hopefully posting about creating some more local themed illustrations to help with that.

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A lot of my client work over winter has been emailing and sketching roughs so I haven’t had much to share online. However, I did get some time to sit down and do some media experimentation with my painting. I decided to paint a cuckoo as I had seen them on the local mountain this summer and was fascinated by them. A few pages of sketches on layout paper and I was ready to paint.

I was hoping to see what would happen if I painted with no prior colour planning and just stuck at it for a few hours. I am pretty happy with how it went, so it’s a definite incentive to play around with my process more. The colour planning and the then inevitable laborious colour matching on photoshop was really beginning to take the enjoyment out of painting for me, so I am happy to try out new methods, even if that means my final aesthetic changes quite a bit as a result.

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Over December I attempted the challenge of swimming every day in the fjord. Unfortunately, as I probably should have anticipated, there was absolutely no sunlight to tempt me out into the water. This wasn’t helped by a couple of weeks of temperatures below -10°C! I think I maybe made it in for half of the days, and this is probably a lot more swims than I would have managed without the goal.

However, when January came I was determined to keep up a routine of cold water dips. I appreciate how helpful it is for my mental health to have something like that – especially in January! For the last two winters I have aimed for a once-a-week outdoor swim goal, and I can happily report that this January I have managed it – even getting in one extra swim!

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Well that’s January – I hope that I can keep those swims going and keep up a positive mindset as the year goes forward. (I can now say I have swam in 1°C water for the first time!) I have a lot of interesting and exciting illustration ideas in my head, but I feel I am not jumping into them when I have the chance as I have been held back by frustrations with my painting technique. Hopefully more experiments and practice over the next month or so should get me where I want to go and I can start creating those artworks I have been dreaming of for so long!

Last of the summer in the mountains

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What a summer it has been! I have managed to get long walks in almost every weekend! Having shin splints for almost a year and half now has been a big mental challenge for me but over time and partly in thanks to my plans to reach some nice long distance goals with very gradual progress over the past few months I have come to settle to what I think is a much healthier state if mind. The shin splints haven’t gone away, I am still not running but I have been able to do and see so much this summer without feeling much pain at all, have discovered that hiking poles are great and am looking forward to see what I can achieve next spring!

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I also used the bike a bit to travel further distances away from home. Almost all of the early journeys had a mountain pasture as the end destination though. I would eventually start making some mountain tops in the early autumn but the time spent exploring the old huts and surrounding landscape of these historic places was very interesting and inspiring. There are so many of them around in the uplands of this part of Sogn and I expect I will be drawn to explore more of them next season and perhaps even reach a few on skis this winter too!

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Now the hunting season has arrived and I am adapting my time outdoors to fit in with the new challenges this brings. It’s not something I have ever had to think about before! The forest around our home is particular suited for deer hunting. It has very good access for quads and tractors as well as many flat places the deer like to sleep in. Hunting is normal across the whole of Norway but this area is much more busy than is normal elsewhere. This makes it particular important to take care in these areas after 15:30 and it is usually best to avoid them altogether at this time.

So far I have started thinking about doing some uphill running in the middle of the day as well as the possibility of cycling further afield from the hunting, while carrying the gear to do a short mountain walk. This might be something I start considering for the season but I will just have to see how the weather plays out. I don’t really  enjoy cycling in persistent rain (compared to walking when I am quite happy if I have my rain gear on) and the last month has been so wet almost every day. I am very aware of how much I will be limited in my route choices once the snow falls proper so if the weather improves over the next week I will hopefully have good motivation to seize any free time and to do as much as I can now!

Evening cycle in Sogn

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Here are a few photos from a recent cycle I made up to a lovely spot by Sognefjorden in Norway! I was very happy to find that there is plenty of rustic farm inspiration to be found there as well as quite spots by the water to sit and reflect. With the pond there is almost a Hobbiton feeling there too!

Ride Journal – Cycling up Lifjell

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At the start of summer I finally took my bike up to the top of Lifjell – the steep and rocky hill that I could see from the door of my flat in Stavanger and a summit from which I had dreamt of seeing the view back to the city and surrounding islands for too long!

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To get there I first had to pedal my way around the edge of Gandsfjorden to the start of the mountain track. This came to around 35km each way and had a few hills but nothing too steep. On the way I passed Vaulen my local swimming spot. It lies just beside a lovely shared-use bike path from which I happily took in the views and celebrated cheerfully the lack of busy traffic. This is just one of many amazing shared-use paths that run south of Stavanger and I can’t praise them highly enough!

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Then it was time for the steep gravel or “gris” climb to the summit of Lifjell at 282 moh. The track is for access to the radio mast but it also makes for great white knuckle downhill gravel riding too! I tried to wave home but unfortunately it appeared that I had chosen a day when fate had it that I was hidden inside a misty cloud on the top, so no mountain-to-city contact was made.

The initial road climb to the carpark and trackhead of Lifjell was more tough than I had imagined but all in all it was a very fun ride and I would recommend it to anyone who only has a few hours but is looking for something a bit more challenging in the close vicinity of Stavanger and Sandnes! (It is very flat to the south!)

Writing this is making me miss Rogaland quite a lot as I have some exciting news to share – I am moving back to Cornwall with my girlfriend! It is going to be lovely to be back where I studied and met so many nice people but I am going to miss Norway a lot too! So Cornish adventures coming up on the blog and maybe even some Celtic/Cornish themes finding their way in to my work soon!

Ride Journal – Egersund to Stavanger

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A few weeks ago I took the train down to Egersund to explore a length of the North Sea Cycle Route on my bike. I had heard lots of nice things about it and knew that Nordsjørittet – one of the most popular gravel races in Rogaland is held along much of the route. I was excited to experience riding the entire length of the Jæren region for the first time, known for its farmland and fields of glacial boulders, as well as feeling slightly nervous to be doing my first long ride in a good while. An hour or so of comfortable train ride later and I was pedalling out of town.

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The route starts out on an old railway track of gravel at Egersund (it was about 30% gravel over the whole 80km route) winding its way to the amazing beaches at Ogna. I really wanted to stay by the beach for longer but decided to keep on as I had no idea how slow I would be along the route!

I was already pretty tired, as the gravel section veered inland just before the beaches of Ogna and headed up into the steep rocky hills. I didn’t mind getting off to push as it gave me an excuse to take a lot of photos! I was the only person around for miles! Just me, an empty track and sunshine!

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Then I was properly heading up into Jæren! I made use of the wee villages dotted along the route to pop into a supermarket for some lunch and then started along the coastal gravel section. There were so many nice things about this route that I would be hard pushed to pick a favourite. However, the company of the sparkling sea to my left and beautiful Lapwings calling to their young in the fields to my right made this section of the coast (Kongevegen ) particularly special!

Freewheeling down from the eerily silent uplands to the lush fields filled with birdsong was a little like cycling into spring. I was glad that it was finally here!

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Obrestad lighthouse provided a welcome (if very windy) stop to savour a few pieces of Swedish chocolate biscuit. From then on it was a case of winding my way up the many cycle paths that line most of the main roads in northern Jæren up to Sola and then Stavanger. However, I made a wee diversion out to Vigdel strand to dip my toes in the sea.

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Vigdel Strand has to be my favourite cove on the whole of Jæren so far! There was a perfect spot to bivvy up on the headland and I can just see myself getting up out of my sleeping bag and going for a swim in the calm morning sea as the sun rises!

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I am hopefully going to have the opportunity to explore the Jæren coast a bit more on my bike soon, (Hå Prestegård in particular!) but for now here is a map I drew up showing my route and of course – I had to paint some Lapwings!

Jæren Coastal Walk

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I have been really taken recently with the Norwegian tradition of a Sunday family walk or ‘Søndagstur’. I like how enjoying nature seems so normal here in Norway and how young children are often part of the walk, so people are often dandering around at a very relaxed pace which means plenty of time for chatting and resting.

I am also really enjoying researching the Jæren coast here in Rogaland and looking for interesting walks along the shore. So when my girlfriend’s mum was visiting one misty Sunday this spring, we got together and headed out for a slow family walk by the sea!

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The walk starts at Tananger Indre Havn which is just outside Stavanger. I really want to come back to the harbour again in low evening light as there are quite a few lovely old buildings on the wharfs. From here on the rocky seashore scrambling begins!

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And what fun that scrambling is! It can be quite slow going on the sometimes slippy rocks but it is nice to slow down the pace. That way you  can enjoy the views out to sea and look out for seabirds and passing ships. Not that we could see the sea very much! (We could hear the ‘ghost ships’ though!)

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Returning to our car at the harbour we stayed a while to enjoy the first signs of spring and sip some lovely Norwegian filter coffee we had brought with us in a flask. I love this ‘Søndagstur’ tradition so much; I would love to try and do it as much as possible this year!

 

Mountain running plans for the year

Last winter I had my first try at a hill race at the Kendal Mountain festival. I really enjoyed it but as the winter has gone on I have been pondering what direction to take my running next.

So far I have learnt that my favourite part of fell running has to be fun technical downhill running! However, I currently (and hope to continue!) only travel around by bike and public transport, (mainly with environmental concerns in mind) and realise that to compete in even just a few fell races each year would mean a lot of travelling for me.

However, a big inspiration for me is the idea that by running I can explore more mountainous/upland terrain in one go and connect routes that would have previously been a logistical nightmare to walk. Hiking Pádhraic would have had to attempt such areas section by section and to return by public transport, which in many cases is pretty much impossible.

So this is where this year’s plans come in.

I grew up looking up at Slemish. It’s a wee rocky mountain overlooking a broad valley and I couldn’t begin to count how many times I have climbed it! It is a very special place for me. It also lies at the end of a long distance footpath called the Antrim Hills way. I have yet to explore many parts of the route and have never walked the whole 35km. So this summer I am aiming to find a good dry spell,(roughly a third is pathless bog!) get up really early and run/fast walk all the way from my door to the end at Glenarm (maybe dip myself in the sea too!). An afternoon bus later and I will be home for tea!

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I am also very lucky to be going on a wee holiday to Sognefjord for my Birthday next month! My bike can’t come with me unfortunately so I am planning to do loads of exploring on foot. I am not making many definite plans as the weather can still be quite wintery above 500m there in April but I do have one goal. To run up Storehaugfjellet!

The summit lies at 1173m and has beautiful views over Sogndal and across the fjord. I attempted to run it in December but ran out of daylight and turned back at around 900m. Once I left the tree line I did feel like some snow spikes (something I don’t own at the moment) would have been helpful but I think in similar conditions I will still be in a safe position as long as I give myself enough time to go very slowly and carefully on the steeper snow sections.

I have many more ideas but these are my main goals for this year. Keep an eye out on my twitter for updates or even just to have a wee chat. I would love to hear what running adventures people have planned for the coming year!

Norwegian Bikepacking Book – Villmarkssykling

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Last year I had the pleasure to work with Mikkel Soya Bølstad on his latest book about adventures by bike in the wilderness and nature of  Norway. I have been following his adventures and photography for a while on instagram so was really excited to work with him.

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I was initially just working on the maps of the bikepacking adventures he features in the book but at the end of the project I was asked to illustrate the cover as well! The designers did a really nice job on the cover so I was very happy with this surprise extra work!

I went to the book launch in Oslo and got my first look at the finished book and it was everything I had been dreaming of and more! In my second year of uni, just after I completed my first solo bike tour in the Hebrides, I searched all over the internet for beautiful photography showcasing adventure cycling. I was really hungry for visual inspiration but I hardly found anything at all!

Fortunately, there has been a lot of positive interest in bikepacking recently, and now websites like bikepacking.com are doing a great job at providing beautiful stories and photography to inspire you to get out there on your next adventure. I think Mikkel’s book perfectly embodies all those things I was looking for when I first started getting into travelling and camping with my bike. Now I just have to up my Norwegian translation skills so I can read it!

Island Life on Svanøy

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I found the island of Svanøy so peaceful that I had to share some more photos from our trip there. The house we were staying in was really nice but there was also lots of beautiful vernacular architecture and rustic hytter (cabins) to explore around the island. In the old churchyard there was even some viking archeology to be had. Oh and these sheep!

I have been fascinated by island communities for a long time now. I recently found a childhood drawing of my dream home. It was on Rathlin island of course! While we were staying on Svanøy it was great to see how friendly and close the community was. A new log splitter arrived off the ferry and half the island came by to have a look and offer their help in assembling it!

Waving goodbye to people at the slipway as we left the island was a really nice moment and I am very grateful to the hospitality of the family we stayed with. If I am ever back I would love to go swimming and maybe catch a fish or 2 to cook on the beach.

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Exploring Svanøy

A couple of months back we travelled to the west coast of Norway to visit my girlfriend’s family who live there on the island of Svanøy. We arrived in the evening after a long but incredibly beautiful drive down the fjords and across onto the evening ferry. It was getting dark so we made plans to explore the island on foot the next morning.

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What an amazing walk it was! I had many “I am in Middle Earth right now!” moments and the wildlife and flora around the island was really exciting to explore. However, seeing 6 white tailed eagles definitely topped the day! They were all flying around together, ready for the mating season and were only about 15m away from us. Unfortunately my wildlife photography skills failed me at this point so I took a nice picture of Ragnhild looking at them instead.

Island life was very peaceful and children seemed free to fish, play and have adventures where they liked. I think the calm weather we had helped this feeling of peace, but apparently the island is much more sheltered than the more outlying islands anyway, allowing many more trees and plants to grow. Speaking of trees, here is one of those Tolkien moments!

Don’t even get me started on rock formations on the island. Needless to say there was lots of scrambling and wee bit of cheeky bouldering to be had on the last day we stayed there!

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The trip has definitely solidified my love of island life but ultimately I just feel incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to see those sea eagles. I have dreamt about maybe seeing one in the Hebrides for a while now but to see so many at once is a moment I won’t forget!