The last trip was a boy’s fishing trip to Norway, about three hours north of Trondheim. We were fishing on the Soroa which is north of the famous Namsen and a smaller river though still carrying a fair volume of water when the mountain snow melts, as it was doing when we were there. We hit the most remarkable patch of hot weather, topping out at 31c, which was better for sun bathing than fishing and our best day was fishing for trout on the loch above.
Apart from the weather, two things stand out in my memory. The first is the length Norway has gone to in protecting and preserving small scale farming and agricultural communities. Farms cannot be sold except to people who will farm them, and cannot be converted to second houses. (There are plenty of second homes, they are on farms, but they not farms; every loch you visit is discreetly ringed by little cottages and every Norwegian wants to spend their summer in the country). As a consequence farm sizes have not changed, there is very little intensification and agricultural produce is expensive (and I assume protected and/or subsidised). I’m not sure whether I approve or not. There is much that is good about protecting the rural economy, but is it just the indulgence of a rich country? If every country were to take the same approach it would be environmentally attractive, but would it feed the world population?
The other thing that struck me was their approach to sport fishing. Most of the world has moved increasingly to ‘catch and release’ for most angling as a means of retaining fishing whilst preserving fish stocks. To the Norwegians I spoke to, catch and release is an anathema. They believe that you are hunting for fish and if you catch, you kill. They feel it is morally indefensible to catch and then release, better not to catch at all. To the extent that are concerned about fish stocks, they have focused on shortening the season. I have some sympathy for their moral concerns on catch and release; the underlying justification for fishing is surely that you are hunting for food, not playing with fish. But it is not clear that we have that option in Scotland. Firstly, in some rivers at least, fish stocks are perhaps more endangered than in Norway. Secondly, sport fishing is a key source of rural employment and economic activity. A shorter season would have a serious impact on both, in locations where alternatives are not that readily available.
Before visiting Norway we spent a few days in France, another country which is steadfast in preserving rural agricultural activity. After a few days in Paris, which I thought expensive until I visited Norway, we travelled on the TGV to Avignon.
The TGV is marvellous and very good value. It would be nice if we had a TGV style service to Inverness but I doubt that our HST will ever get north of Manchester. I think it is a tragedy for the Highlands that we remain condemned to infrequent flights, the A9 south and an antiquated rail service. Imagine how quickly the economy of the Highlands might develop if people were able to combine the obvious desirability of being able to live in the Highlands with effective communications to Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and beyond.
We were visiting friends who live just outside the village of xxxxxxx, pictured above. Looking at these villages now, it is hard to imagine that as recently as 30 years ago these were very poor rural villages surviving on small scale agricultural and hard work. Indeed they were increasingly deserted by the original inhabitants and have transitioned into second homes and tourist destinations. They are very attractive, particularly when huge sums have been spent as in the picture above creating elaborate garden and landscapes. But of course the only working life in them these days is tourist-related.