Return to Svolvær

Svolvær seems like a dream to me now.  We timed our trip to Norway to perfection.  It was always going to be sometime between mid-February and mid-March, to ensure there was still plenty of snow but a reasonable amount of light.  When I booked the flights, hotels and rail journeys, little did I know that there was another consideration, something I could never have imagined.  As I said in an earlier post, we arrived back in the UK on 7th March and Norway went into lock-down on the 14th.

Like everyone else, I guess, we are dreaming of where to go when the world returns to normal, whenever that might be.  Mostly I think of places I would like to go back to and, of course, Svolvær is at the top of the list.  Some of this is because every Saturday night at 21:00, I am reminded of how it looks.  By coincidence, BBC4 are showing the Nordic thriller Twin, filmed in and around Svolvær.  A slightly bizarre and hardly believable story, the compensation is the scenery, although I can’t help thinking they should have talked to me about the best time to film 🙂

All this inspired me to dig through some of my unused images from the trip and return on a virtual tour.  I have selected as a soundtrack one of the songs used in Twin – God Don’t Leave Me I’ll Freeze by the Norwegian band, Highasakite – full marks for the name!  Is it me or does it sound vaguely inspired by Sami folk music.

The view from Svinoybrua

The view from Lamholmen





Magnesia Bank

I was not a sickly child but I suffered the various illnesses that inflict the young.  The kitchen cupboard contained the standard remedies, prescribed in varying degrees, as determined by my mother’s expert diagnosis – lucozade (only one flavour), glucose powder (by the dessert spoon), Famel Syrup, Owbridges and Milk of Magnesia.  When all of these failed, Doctor Gold would be summoned – always a home visit, Gladstone bag and stethoscope in hand.

Milk of Magnesia was the least palatable of these concoctions; I assumed it to be the milk of some exotic animal, alien to Altrincham and best kept at a safe distance.  For this reason its memory lingers but, with no great affection.  Invented by the English pharmacist, Charles Henry Phillips, a chemistry teacher would later explain, it is simply Magnesium Hydroxide in suspension.  This didn’t dispel my notion that, nothing wholesome ever emerged from a blue bottle.

Pure magnesium is a glossy grey solid which burns with a bright white intensity, sufficient to temporarily impair vision. Combine this with racing fuel and the conflagration is almost inextinguishable.  As a teenager I witnessed the impact of this lethal combination on more than one occasion.  It’s all about chemistry.

And this preamble is simply to explain why my interest was sparked when fellow Blipper, X-Photographer and Triumph Bonneville owner, Len, posted an image of the Magnesia Bank pub, North Shields.  There are some odd public house names around Newcastle but why the Magnesia Bank.

Len offered the following explanation: The Maggy Bank is so called due to its former days as a bank; it then became a social club before being converted into a pub. The pub is now a popular music venue. The name “Magnesia” derives from the Magnesia Stair, one of the crowded streets of houses that led down to the riverside, which was south of the current pub near the present day stairs.

Local historian and author of the excellent The Northumbrians, Dan Jackson, made the link with magnesium’s various uses in the local manufacture of metals, chemicals and glass but, I felt there had to be more.

Reproduced with the kind permission of LenBageDigital

Search for “Magnesia Bank” on Google and most results relate to the pub, restaurant and gig reviews but, delve into the British Newspaper Archive and much more is revealed.

R Brown writing to the Shields Daily News, 12th August 1942, is convinced that a street called Magnesia Bank derived its name from the salt and magnesia works established by Joseph Ogilvie.  This opinion is contrary to another local theory that it was named after a nearby  magnesia spring.  He continues: It was from 1810 known as Thorntree Lane, and only from the latter date known as Magnesia Bank.  Thorntrees were popularly in use as gibbets at the time, and it is not impossible that this may have been the scene of many public hangings.

Ogilvie was descended from John Lomax, the first Presbyterian in the borough who arrived from Wooler in 1662 and gathered a Noncomformist congregation at the house of Isabella Green on Thorntree Lane.  Lomax lived at the house in nearby Wooden Bridge which would later become the Seven Stars public house – as the third occupier, R Brown in the same letter, surmises that this was the oldest building in Tynemouth (demolished).  John “learned” Lomax died on May 25th 1693 and is buried at Tynemouth Priory.  In 1787, the Lomax descendant married the Rev. Andrew Ogilvie and it was their son, Joseph, who established the magnesia works from which the lane derived its new name.

Coincidentally, another candidate for the oldest house in North Shields was situated on Magnesia Bank.  The Echoes of the Week column by Vigilante in the 18th September 1922 edition of the Shields Daily News quotes historical records of old Shields: ‘It occupied the site and embodies the remains of an old chapel dedicated in honour of St David … The chapel was probably erected at the time when sailors began to come to North Shields probably in the reign of King John or, when the trade of the place had been revived under the fostering care of the Prior of Tynemouth in the time of Henry IV.  (In providing a place where seafaring men could make their vows to the Lady of the Sea, the priors would have exacted a good return in the form of fish tithes).  In the course of its transmigrations it was used as a dissenting meeting house, and later as a baker’s oven … Inside the oven were the remains of some inscriptions and cherubs’ heads.  On the end walls in the upper storey were some curious ornamental figures but so mutilated that their nature could not be made out.  The following inscription, cut in large letters in oak above the altar has been preserved – “Si Deus pro nobis quis contra nos”‘.  If God be for us, who shall be against us.  The reference to the ‘dissenting meeting house‘ suggests that this is the house owned by Isabella Green.

Reproduced with the kind permission of LenBageDigital

A 1933 image of Magnesia Bank reproduced in the 30th May 1942 edition of the Shields Daily News appears to match the view of the street depicted on The Magnesia Bank pub sign.  The accompanying article in the Round the Town column repeats the 1933 discovery of a tunnel which it suggests may have been the crypt of the ancient church of St David.  The entrance was ‘in the North wall of premises that were then being used as a washhouse by residents of the bank.  What I saw was an aperture, perhaps three feet wide in the stone wall about two feet from the ground.  It had the appearance of an old doorway and led into a stone-walled chamber, roughly speaking about 12 feet square, which seemed to have been partly filled up with rubbish. This debris and the want of an electric torch prevented further exploration but one of the residents assured me that when as a youth some 25 years previously, he and other lads belonging to the locality penetrated to the east end of the chamber they found an arched passage which was certainly not a culvert.  I was always hopeful that when the houses in the Magnesia Bank neighbourhood were demolished and the bankside cleared of debris the truth about the tunnel would be disclosed, but apparently no one who was engaged in the clearance operations was sufficiently interested to bother about it’.  This article does not mention the ghost which long haunted the bank – a ‘figure of a man’ who periodically appeared at the same spot – near the doorway leading to the chamber from which the old tunnel starts (Shield Daily News, 20th February 1933).

All is not entirely lost despite the 1930s slum clearance.  An article in the 5th February 1921 edition of the Shields Daily News, entitled Our Local Churches, suggests that the baptismal font (dated 1693) in the nearby Howard Street Presbyterian Church, originated from the St David’s Chapel.

There was history on Magnesia Bank but there was also life.  Search the British Newspaper Archive for “Magnesia Bank” and the majority of the news stories relate to brawling, begging, drunkenness and prostitution.  All human life was there.  In the mid 19th century, the Bank and, possibly some of its residents, were immortalised in song:

In a New Garb, By an Old Tar
The common shores ill ah be cleaned, the streets so nicely swept,
The Causeway and Magnesia Bank ill be in order kept
At the wooden bridge here’ll be pulling down some day
The dark stairs and the baccy shops ill all be cleared away

Locked down …

… but, fortunately, so far, not locked in.  We are very lucky, living in the wilds of Northumberland.  For the most part it just feels like an extended winter without the temptation to take a motorcycle out on salty roads nor play golf on water-logged courses  In some ways, life is almost simpler.  Lacking other inspiration, here are some images of the neighbours who don’t seem to have got the hang of social distancing:

Ewe mucky kid …

Here’s lookin’ at ewe kid

Ewe don’t have to say you love me …

Don’t look back …

The local longhorn …


The steam engine negative has been in my desk drawer for some months, awaiting a spare moment to scan.  I was not optimistic about the results, the 120 negative appeared over-exposed but, after fiddling with the levels in Photoshop, the positive image is better than I had expected.

I would have taken this on the family Kodak Brownie Cresta 120 roll film camera.  This Bakelite device with cream shutter release and film wind-on, captured our family history from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s.  According to Saturated Imagery, this chunky viewfinder camera was made by Kodak in the UK from 1955-1958. It is typically simple, virtually the same as a box camera in features except for the moulded Bakelite body.  In a slider over the lens, it has a close-up filter for use with a range of 4-7ft, and a yellow filter – used to heighten the contrast when shooting skies.


The image dates from 1962, a summer’s day out to Doncaster Station with the Altrincham Grammar School Trainspotters Society – an august body of young enthusiasts with a constant eye for mischief. The LNER Class A4 streamlined 4-6-2, Guillemot, is heading north with a passenger service, probably destined for Edinburgh Waverley.  Introduced in 1935, the Gresley streamlined design included a corridor tender, but not this example which is sister to the more famous 60022, Mallard.

Introduced on the 8th January 1938, it was taken out of service on 20th March 1964, not that long after I took this picture.  I have resisted repairing the image – the dust spots add an air of authenticity and help fill an otherwise blank sky – I obviously neglected to use the yellow filter 🙂

To the left of the image is what appears to be a Standard Class 9F** emerging from Doncaster sheds – introduced in 1955, these were the last steam engines to be commissioned by British Railways.  To the right, in shorts, is a fellow trainspotter, Peter Parker – I could be wrong on both counts.

** Several like-minded enthusiasts have suggested this is a Peppercorn A2 Pacific – it makes more sense and I bow to their superior knowledge.  Looking at the plan of the station on Google Earth, I now think Guillemot is heading south.

A last ride out …

… probably for some time, unless I start shopping for essentials on two wheels.  These were taken yesterday, on a trip into Northumberland designed to avoid almost everyone and everything.  Hexham to Cambo can be done via B roads and from there it was a circular trip around Harwood Forest.

From door to door it was exactly seventy miles and I hardly saw a soul – these roads are empty, virus or no virus.

Wallington Bridge

Harwood Forest

Harwood Forest – somewhere near the ‘U’ in Rothbury

This final image shows the railway bridge to the left at Scots’ Gap and the converted station buildings to the right.  Sited about midway between Redesmouth and Morpeth on the Wansbeck Railway, the line closed in 1952.  According to Disused StationsThe station opened as Scots Gap on 23rd July 1862 being renamed Scotsgap in October 1903. The station was poorly equipped as a junction with no branch bays and a single platform on the down side. The station building was solidly built of local stone with a stone signal box at the east end. The station had two parallel loops with two sidings on the north side. There were three short spurs, one serving a locomotive turntable. The outermost siding served a goods platform and cattle dock and a goods warehouse.

Scots’ Gap

More from Norway

Having posted a series of images of magnificent Norwegian landscapes, these are ad hoc moments captured along the way.  It turns out, by good fortune, we just about timed it right.  We returned to the UK on 9th March and this was announced on the 14th:  Millions of Norwegians and foreigners living in or visiting Norway will be impacted by a drastic set of measures announced by Erna Solberg today. Norway is essentially shutting itself down for two weeks, in a bid to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease.

Gardermoen Stasjon from the airport concourse

All points on the compass

Black Crow Blues

Honeymoon couple

Start them young

Some don’t seem so keen

As we left Svolvaer Airport – one last abiding memory.

Mono landscape

Eight train journeys, four flights and I am home.  Every connection was made but that’s not to say everything ran like clockwork – a landslip heading north delayed the train’s arrival into Bodø by one hour and, on the return leg, the sleeper service was cancelled between Trondheim and Oslo due to a derailment.  It is reassuring to know that it is not just the UK that struggles to run a reliable rail service, although, in the land of darkness, snow and ice there may be better excuses.

The day we arrived in Svolvær, it was a Fuji Velvia day – a bright, vivid landscape and light, nature’s colour saturation turned up a notch or two.  The next day, we toured the northern islands under leaden, monochrome skies – regardless, it remains a spectacular place to be and already, I am plotting my return:

A cormorant drying its wings.

The road to Gimsoy.

Morning light.

Abandoned landing stage.

Light and shade.

The beacon at Kabelvag

Kabelvag harbour.

Where sand, sea and snow meet.

Near Lofoten Links.

The bridge to Henningsvaer.

Henningvaer harbour..



It has been some journey.  Over two days we flew from Edinburgh to Oslo, caught the sleeper train to Trondheim, swapped onto the daytime Vy.No service to Bodo (complete with line closure and bus detour) and then, this morning, we flew the red-eye island hop into Svolvær. This trip was always going to be as much about the journey as the destination, the railway journey into the Arctic Circle being a highlight. The problem with rail journeys is they provide little opportunity for effective photography – through glass, at speed and with reflections, it is never going to produce good results.

Svolvær, our destination, provides more than adequate compensation. This morning we walked the road bridge to Svinoya and Kjeoya islands – dried fish central. There is a distinctive smell to these small islands – and this is their unlikely destination – Nigeria.

Racks with a view

Dried fish head anyone?

The source of the smell

Fortunately, there is more to the beautiful Svolvaer than dead fish …

Svolvaer Harbour, Lofoten Islands, Norway – colourful and busy.

The view from the bridge

Something fishy going on …

Svolvaer Harbour, Lofoten Islands, Norway.

The view from the small islands

… Svolvaer skyline

A dog’s life …

We have been dog-sitting these last two weeks – two golden retrievers with eyes that could melt hearts.  The younger was nine months and the elder four years – a teenager and a sensible grown-up.  Junior was into everything and was a constant source of irritation/entertainment – delete as appropriate.  Sadly, the weather was thoroughly miserable throughout their stay.  This didn’t constrain their activities, it just made life harder for the sitters – I had forgotten just how much work is involved in drying and cleaning a dog after winter runabouts and this was times two.  Needless to say, I fell for both of them but, especially junior – that said, now they have gone home, it is quite nice to have the house back and I am not missing the 7am walks:

Do not disturb …

Resting between walks

Feeding time – a serious business

Brotherly love

Bed time for the youngest

Too early one morning

Chocolate Cream Biscuits

My mother and I didn’t agree about much but, the one thing that was never a source of contention was her cooking – she was a genius.  I have never tasted better and she remains the culinary benchmark.  There was nothing flash about her repertoire, it was plain English cuisine – roasts, Yorkshire puds, Cornish pasties, liver and bacon, bread and butter pudding, treacle tart and lemon meringue pie to die for – to name but a few.  She dismissed all “foreign food” which loosely translates as anything containing garlic.

Her pièce de résistance was chocolate cream biscuits.  Time consuming and fiddly to make, they were a rare treat, consumed with dog-like enthusiasm by my sister and me as soon as they emerged from the oven.  Garrison Keillor’s aunt Myrna and her Chocolate Angel Food Cake was surely nothing by comparison.  For years we tried to extract a recipe but my mum, like all good cooks, worked intuitively in the kitchen.  Nothing was ever written down because, pressed to define precise quantities and ingredients, she would probably struggle.

And then last week, I was hovering around the reduced cakes and pastries counter in Waitrose and there I spotted an individual, over-sized,store-baked, broken bourbon biscuit.  I sneaked it into the trolley, away from the prying eyes of my trainer/dietitian.  When I eventually bit into this large confection, I could not believe it. In more than fifty years, it is the closest approximation to the original chocolate cream biscuit I have ever found.  My immediate thought was ‘I must ring my sister and tell her – go buy some immediately!’

My big sister: 1944-2019.

In an overwhelming moment, I remembered.  The good news had come too late.