Looking back, 1946 was a very important year for me, one which would shape my future in so many different ways, and during which I would start to build the circle of like-minded friends that has sustained me all of my adult life. The key features of that year were that I joined the YHA, and that I had two walking holidays in the Scottish Highlands. The Scottish experience really changed my life, at least as far as holidays went. From then on, all holidays had to include some element of getting up into the hills and the transition to skiing grew naturally out of this, helped to a very great extent by a 1947 skiing holiday to Mjølfjell YH in Norway.
I was completely hooked from the very first day, skiing became an essential part of my life, and in 1949 I arranged for a party to go back to Mjølfjell for a six-month spell, helping to build an extension to the hostel. My brother George was there too, plus the seven Tyneside hostelling pals you can see in the photo (that’s me on the left).
My very good friend George Baker came out in July of that year and we had a great trip to the famous Jotunheimen area 350 km north of Oslo, including ascents of Galdhøpiggen, and Glittertinden, the highest mountains in Scandinavia.
I really took to the Norwegian people and their style of life and in 1950 went back to Mjølfjell for a three-year spell working for Oswald, Mjølfjell Warden for many years and well-known to many British visitors (see footnote). As Assistant Warden, I was involved in all of the duties necessary for the running of the Hostel, and, in the winter, a major part of my job involved looking after the hire skis and boots, equipping about 100 new people each weekend!
During my time there, the skiing at Mjølfjell was all of the Nordic touring type, the leather ski boots had grooves around the heels for the kandahar-binding cables, the ski sticks were made of cane, with very large baskets for the soft snow. The Ski Instructors (including my old mate Karsten Pettersen, known to everyone as ‘Casie’) were a happy bunch and we had many great international sing-song evenings in the Common Room, with Oswald on his banjo, Casie on his clarinet and one of the hostellers on the piano.
This was a wonderful period of my life. Since we had snow for five months of the year, and no mechanical uplift at that time, I became quite a competent mountain touring skier and enjoyed many long distance trips with my friend Åsmund Pedersen, using the extensive range of remote mountain huts that are a such a feature of Norwegian mountains (ah, the joys of being young and fit!). I made so many lifelong friends during this time, people with whom I correspond and visit to this very day (now including going to their Golden Wedding celebrations!).
After my time in Mjølfjell, the place came to be quite a favourite with skiers from the North East, many of the founder members of The Northumbrian Ski Club had their first ski holiday experiences there – including using a ski lift! – and all done very inexpensively by train to North Shields and a crossing on the ‘Leda’.
Footnote 1. Oswald was the most interesting man I have ever met. During the war, he was in the Stein Organisation, a Norwegian Resistance group based in the Bergen area. One of the group was picked up by the Gestapo during a big push following the German capture of the ‘Viggo’ (one of the famous wartime ‘Shetland Bus’ ships). Unfortunately, this man was carrying a book listing all the group members. Most of the group were arrested and tortured and some were summarily executed, including Ingebright Valderhaug, an SOE operative. Several others evaded capture, escaping to Shetland on board the ‘Rupee’, arriving 19th February 1942. Oswald and most of the remainder were sent to Nazi death camps in Poland, where they had some pretty harrowing experiences before being freed by US troops. Oswald was too emaciated and weak to travel and spent six months recuperating in Schaffhausen in Switzerland, where he met Riwa, his wife-to-be. They married in 1946 and had 55 years together until Oswald’s death in 2001. We miss him.
Footnote 2. Click here to read about the involvement of Åsmund Pedersen during war, he went on the run from the Gestapo and ended up in Sweden, where he joined the Norwegian military as a member of a special Police Group.
Editor’s note. The comments concerning Oswald’s war record may have a direct link back to the Cairngorms. The Stein organisation acted as a conduit for Norwegians who wanted to strike a blow against the hated German occupation by joining ‘Norwegian Independent Company Number 1 – commonly known as ‘Kompani Linge’, a group formed early in the war by Captain Martin Linge. Linge the man was killed in 1941 during an attack on the occupied Lofoten Islands but his name was retained and it was a section from Kompani Linge that successfully blew up the experimental heavy water plant at Rjukan (as shown in the film ‘The Heroes of Telemark’), thereby arguably allowing the US to get ahead of Germany in the production of atomic weapons. This group trained extensively in the Cairngorms and some of them were based in Glenmore Lodge and the ‘Norwegian Huts’ which were in front of the hostel until the mid 1960’s. The original Scottish Ski Club hut near Ben Lawers was another important site for these wartime activities, see the Once each winter story for an update. A very comprehensive explanation of the work of ‘Kompani Linge’ is given in the Forest Enterprise teashop in front of the old Glenmore Lodge (now called Glenmore Youth Hostel). The image below shows the Kompani Linge shoulder flash, a very modern logo for the 1940’s!