Norway – August 2014

A different, but hugely enjoyable, travel experience for us recently….a short suck-it-and-see trip to Norway with Great Rail Journeys.

Flåm Railway from Myrdal to FlåmGRJFlamRailway(photo courtesy of GRJ website)

Gill and I are independent souls and would usually recoil in horror at the thought of following an umbrella-hoisting tour leader on and off a coach, barking orders to the camera-toting flock….right, it’s now 4:30, you’ve got 20 minutes to explore the ancient ruins, have a comfort break, exchange your currency and buy some souvenirs. From that place over there, where I get the best kick-back. Meet here at 4:50, otherwise make your own way to the hotel for the gala buffet dinner (wine not included, the salmon’s rubbish), in the Peer Gynt Suite at 7:35.

But we were travelling with good friends Sam & Annie Key, from the Dordogne via Yorkshire, and they had valued highly the GRJ guided experience on a recent trip of their own to India.

Our concerns were quickly allayed. Tour leader John – a diplomat and businessman in previous lives – was an urbane, informative host who imparted useful information with good humour. And without an umbrella in sight.

The itinerary was essentially to spend 2 nights in Bergen on the west coast, 2 nights in Flåm in the Western fjords and 2 nights in Oslo, with thrilling rail journeys connecting the destinations.

Bergen highlights:

  1. The fish marketBergen fish market 3Bergen fish market 2Bergen fish market 1
  2. Bryggen waterfront, a UNESCO World Heritage site, including a museum portraying the powerful Hanseatic trading organisation’s key site for 400 years from the late 14th centuryBryggen
  3. The walking tour with a local guide, giving real insight into the history and hidden parts of the delightful city
  4. A trip on the Fløibanen funicular railway to the top of Fløyen Mountain…and the walk back down into Bergen

Flåm highlights:

  1. The serenity of this small community at the edge of the Aurlandsfjord…when a huge cruise ship wasn’t in dockAurlandsfjord
  2. The wooden church in old Flåm, built in 1670Flam church
  3. Hospitality, food and service at the Fretheim Hotel…and the dream-like fjordic views from every window Flam cruise ship

Oslo highlights:

  1. The spectacularly contemporary design of the Opera House, allowing you to ascend to the roof, almost by stealth
  2. Culture, especially museums. We barely scratched the surface, but enjoyed the Henrik Ibsen museum and Norway’s Resistance museum….both very different but equally insightfulHenrikIbsen
  3. The Aker Brygge area, originally home to Oslo’s shipyard industry but now imaginatively converted to a vibrant car-free area of shops, restaurants, bars and free entertainment
  4. A guided coach & walking tour, especially through the thought-provoking Vigeland Sculpture Park, containing more than 200 bronze and granite creations from this controversial artistVigeland4




On balance, a different and hugely enjoyable holiday, with thanks to Sam & Annie, John, GRJ and our fellow group members for opening our eyes to the benefits of being led. Sometimes.SamAnnieGill


Just Popping Out

The Short Walk to Freedom

Wednesday morning. 8:30 am. 20th August, 2014. The sun is shining.

But instead of my usual long commute to work in London I’m standing outside our house in Godalming, meeting old and new friends, to experience my first official justpoppingout (“JPO”) walk since justretiring.

My wife Gill has nurtured her love of the Surrey Hills, maps and walking over the last 15 years. To such an extent that she has now set up a walking enterprise to share these passions with a wider audience.

If it’s fresh air and exercise you’re after, Gill will do all the hard work for you. She will plot a route to meet all your requirements….time, distance, degree of difficulty, pub and tea shop quotas, just name it. Leaving you to enjoy the sociability and scenery, without fear of getting lost for days in the Surrey wilderness or being late back for Jemima & Joseph’s school run.

There are 6 of us chomping at the JPO bit on this beautiful, late summer morning – Gill and me, regulars Simon, Barry & Alex, and fresh meat Kate.

Today’s collective brief is:

  • 8-9 miles
  • a medium level challenge, preferably with a decent hill to get the blood pumping round ageing arteries
  • a coffee stop
  • back by 12:30

Gill has designed a route from Godalming to Enton, then on to Hambledon, up to Hydons Ball, and back to home via Clock Barn Farm.

The natural rhythm of a walk allows social interaction with everyone in a group this size, and Kate is soon fully integrated into the JPO family.

The coffee break is at the delightful, community-owned Hambledon Post Office & village stores. The sausage rolls and cakes, eaten at a picnic table by the pond and overlooking the quintessentially English cricket green, taste all the sweeter in the knowledge that it’s mid-morning on a work day. Does that sound just a tad too smug?

We take a second, briefer break at the top of Hydon’s Ball, sitting on the well-worn stone bench commemorating Octavia Hill, one of the co-founders of the National Trust. We revel in the expansive views back to Hambledon and beyond to the Devil’s Punchbowl in Hindhead, before heading back to Godalming via Clock Barn Lane .

Gill gets us home within a couple of minutes of the requested deadline. We’re all warmly satisfied from the exercise, sociability and natural beauty of the morning’s walk. I think I’m going to enjoy this retirement lark, and I’m looking forward to plenty more JPO walks.

Sunshine & good coffee guaranteed of course, Gill?


I’ve always had  a love-hate relationship with DIY. My wife loves it, I hate it.

But on the cusp of my retirement, could that possibly change…?

Gill and her entire family are so practical, they make their own luck. I, on the other hand, head straight for the Smirnoff when someone mentions screwdriver. And I run for the hills – or the nearest pub – as soon as I hear the words rubbing down,  architraves, or 3rd aisle on the left in B&Q.

Whilst working in finance roles for 30+ years, I took the view that I’d rather pay a PPP (professional practical person) to sort out the decaying wood on the bedroom window than spend a cherished weekend holding a blow torch and one of those funny triangular things to scrape off flaking, rotten paint.

Well, you don’t think Rory McIlroy whips out a claw hammer rather than a 7 iron on his day off, do you? Or that Barack Obama hangs wallpaper in the Oval Office when he could be protecting the free world?

City analysts often say companies should stick to their knitting when an ambitious CEO is tempted into risky diversification away from the successful core business.


Understand your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses, focus all available resources on your most profitable activities…and leave the other stuff to someone who really knows what they’re doing.

But now I’m suddenly time-rich and cash-poor, I’m not sure I can get away with that argument for much longer.  Perhaps I can even grow to love the smell of emulsion paint and white spirit. And maybe Gill and I can bond over the Polyfilla as we convert our home office to something more relaxing and appropriate for our post-work years.


Just as long as she doesn’t fall out of love with me at the same time  as I’m finally becoming passionate with a paintbrush…..




Hadrian’s Wall walk

Well….I hadn’t quite finished work as it turned out, but the first Just Retiring adventure was walking Hadrian’s Wall in July 2014.


Damned clever, those Romans. An amazing piece of engineering and logistics to build a fortified wall the breadth of northern England – approximately 84 miles – to protect the northern extremity of the vast Empire from marauding barbarians. I make no comment about any parallels 2,000 years later, with the Scottish independence vote looming as large as Russell Crowe in the Colosseum.

Starting from Segedunum at the imaginatively named Wallsend, just east of Newcastle,  we took a leisurely 7 days to walk the Wall’s path as far as Carlisle. I’m ashamed to admit we didn’t complete the final few miles from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway, the western extremity on the Cumbrian coast…well, not on foot, anyway.


By that stage we were all a bit Roman forted out, and the weather forecast was grim. And the final few miles were flat, compared to the wild and undulating central parts in remote Northumberland. But I’m still ashamed.

The Wall is remarkably intact at various points along the path, and invisible at others, either submerged or destroyed in the intervening millennia. But the history is thrillingly brought to life along the way, so well that you can almost hear the clanking of a centurion’s armour or the wailing of a wounded barbarian, drifting on the gusting Northumbrian breeze.

Insight into the Wall, the Roman Empire and details of daily life on and near the Wall can be gleaned at lovingly restored fort sites -Chesters, Housesteads, Vindolanda, Birdoswald.


Vindolanda, home of Roman curry-making, is still very much an active dig site, with artefacts being exposed every day by a modern army of professionals and volunteers from within and beyond the Empire. The collection of original leather shoes is remarkable and worth the admission price alone, and there is a palpable sense of history and real life at this site, a short distance south of the Wall itself.



The more contemporary highlight for me was a short, but memorable, stay at Sandysike House, a farmhouse B&B (with a separate bunkhouse for hardier souls than us). Hosts Richard & Margaret welcomed us in the garden with 4 pints of life-replenishing lager, chilled to perfection for a warm evening and after a long day’s Hadrianing.


What could be better than the company of my fellow Hadrianers (wife Gill, good friends Simon & Fiona), a pint of cold lager, hearing the history of the house, farm and its charming owners,  and soaking up the beautiful and timeless views across the valley to Brampton?

Well, now you come to mention it…..the Bermuda cavalry. Old friends Phil & Christine Barnes hunted us down, bearing supplies of the legendary rum cocktail dark ‘n’ stormy. And enough ice to freeze a passionate Emperor. Bizarre, but true. A memorable evening, of which even Caligula would have been proud.


A  fun, rewarding and insightful walk alongside history, with camaraderie, modern comforts, and rum. I can think of no better way to have kicked off my Just Retiring adventures.