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Not long after Fred Holdsworth had turned a fish shop in Ambleside into a small bookshop, Arthur Ransome became a regular visitor. The author of Swallows and Amazons died in 1967 but you can still buy his stories in hard back here, some in their original dust jackets. There’s a lot more besides (10,000-15,000 titles) although where the cheerful and knowledgeable owner Stephen Baskerville-Muscutt finds the space for them is anyone’s guess.

Fred Holdsworth celebrates its 60th anniversary this year which, at a time when so many independent bookshops are going out of business, is certainly something to write home about. To celebrate, Steve is holding a ‘win 60 books’ competition over the summer holidays, with 10 prizes of six paperbacks each. Check website and Facebook page soon for details.

Thursday, 09 June 2016

A visit to Oslo, Norway (part 4)

I couldn’t leave Oslo without visiting the hotel where I once worked and anyway its Holmenkollen location affords fantastic views of the city and fjord. So we took the little train up to Frognerseteren at the end of the line, a huge panorama revealing itself as we moved slowly up the hill. Some of the paths through the woods here are floodlit, so cross-country skiers can use them on winter evenings.

A short walk back down brought us to the old Holmenkollen ski jump where a number of young men were practicing on the slope. Not far away is the newer and even bigger ski jump and my old hotel, now much expanded.

On the final morning we took a tram into the city centre and went to the National Gallery where a room is devoted to the paintings of Edvard Munch: The Scream, MadonnaThe Dance of Life and several more. It was good to be acquainted with the work of other Norwegian artists as well, such as JC Dahl and Thomas Fearnley. We skipped the gallery’s French Salon for coffee and cake and went across the road to Kaffebrenneriet (pic).

Save for a stroll down the city’s main thoroughfare of Karl Johans Gate (past the Grand Hotel where the Nobel Peace Prize laureates stay) and visits to Oslo Cathedral, Ostbanehallen, the food court at Oslo Station and department store Steen & Strøm, that was it.

A picture of Edvard Munch was on our plane home, Norwegian having a policy of putting ‘iconic figures from across the network’ on the tail fins of their planes. Understandably, the company calls them ‘tail fin heroes’.

Thursday, 09 June 2016

A visit to Oslo, Norway (part 3)

It took us about an hour on foot from the hotel, via the main station, to the Opera House and then later a half hour walk north of the station brought us to a food hall called Mathallen (pic). Part of the way went along the River Akerselva, an old industrial area which had a different feel to the city centre. The food hall itself has about 30-40 speciality shops and eateries.

We had some tapas and Ringnes (Norwegian) beer and then set off for nearby Telthusbakken, a small street characterised by its old and colourful wooden houses (pic). The route led us on to Vår Frelsers Gravlund, a well known cemetery and the final resting place for both painter Edvard Munch and playwright Henrik Ibsen.

The next morning we did a 50 minute trip out to the islands, using a 24 hour ticket that covered buses, trams and the type of ferry we were on. From the water you can clearly see Oslo City Hall, the place where every December the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded (pic).

We popped in after the boat trip, not just to admire the murals on the walls but to see the plaque commemorating HMS Devonshire. The cruiser was part of the fleet which returned King Haakon of Norway from Britain to his homeland on June 7, 1945, after the German occupation. My father was on the Devonshire that day and during the celebrations met a young Norwegian man. His family and mine have kept up a strong friendship ever since.

Shortly after leaving the City Hall we passed a photographic shop and there in the window was a very large black and white photograph of a crowded Oslo harbour.....on June 7, 1945. It was an extraordinary coincidence.

Thursday, 09 June 2016

A visit to Oslo, Norway (part 2)

What adds another dimension to Oslo’s great location are the nearby islands, and the little promontories and peninsulas that jut out from the waterfront. One of them is Aker Brygge (pic) and the adjoining area of Tjuvholmen, once known as Thief Island but now home to a fairly dense development of apartments, shops, galleries, restaurants and a sculpture park.

We had a quick peak inside the luxury Thief Hotel where the serious art on display merits its own curator and then walked the short distance to the Astrup Fearnley Museum (pic). The temporary exhibition was closed that day so we concentrated on works by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, David Hockney, Anselm Kiefer and others in the permanent collection.

We’d made for Tjuvholmen after a fjord-side lunch with friends at Sjøflyhavna Kro, Fornebu. By then it was really hot so if the locals weren’t shopping or dining, they were sunning themselves on any spare bit of grass they could find, and on Tjuvholmen’s artificial beach. Across the water a massive cruise ship lay at anchor, having decanted its thousands of passengers into the city.

Two ferries to Denmark were in the harbour next day and this time we spotted them from the long, sloping roof - which you can walk on - of the elegant Oslo Opera House, a building that would grace any great capital city of the world.

Looking the other way was The Bar Code, a series of medium-rise buildings in an area of Oslo called Bjorvika. Over the next three years Bjorvika should see the completion of the new Deichman (public) Library, the new Munch Museum and the new National Museum. It was crane crazy.

Thursday, 09 June 2016

A visit to Oslo, Norway (part 1)

‘Welcome to the biggest village in the world.’ was the greeting from locals when I started work in Oslo many years ago. Last week on a short visit it was somewhat different. ‘Welcome to Europe’s fastest growing capital,’ they said. A lot has changed over the years in Norway’s main city but its setting - at the head of Oslo Fjord - remains as sublime as ever.

A flight with the low cost, ever expanding carrier, Norwegian, took us from Edinburgh to Oslo airport in just over an hour and a half and from there it was a 20/25 minute ride on the express train Flytoget into the centre. You can take an NSB regional train on the same route; it’s bit slower but about half the price.

Our base was the Saga Hotel Oslo, located in an 1890s building in a quiet neighbourhood, 20 minutes walk from the centre through the grounds of the royal palace (which you can visit in summer). 10 minutes in the other direction lies Frogner Park where the 200 or so sculptures by Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) make for one of the city’s best known attractions.

The sculpture park (pic) was created at a time when Norway was still a relatively poor country. Oil wealth has changed all that and over the last few years Oslo has seen unprecedented levels of development, resulting in some striking contemporary architecture.

The Oslo office of Statoil (pic) at the city’s former airport of Fornebu (architects A-lab), the Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet (architects Snøhetta) are three fine examples.

Thursday, 02 June 2016

Cumbrian Art: Picturing Places

There are only three days to go, so if you haven’t already seen Cumbrian Art: Picturing Places head quickly to Tullie House in Carlisle for this excellent exhibition. It’s a show of some 100 paintings (and photographs), all from the museum and art gallery’s own collection and many of them not seen from year to year because they’re stored in the archives.

Anyone connected with Carlisle will love the first part of the show because there are 300 years of different city views, a number painted by the likes of Sam Bough and Thomas Bushby. You can see why Cumbria’s capital was such a popular place to paint, given its castle, cathedral, city walls and the vista across the River Eden from the north.

The other half of the exhibition sees a gear change in terms of time and space, exploring artists’ response to the Lake District and west Cumbria, many from the last 50/60 years. Favourites? They include former Turner Prize winner, Keith Tyson’s hugely evocative Nature Painting, Conrad Atkinson’s atmospheric Workington Steelworks, Julian Cooper’s epic Honister Crag, photographs by Fay Godwin and paintings by Sheila Fell, Winifred Nicholson and Martin Greenland (pictured). The exhibition runs until June 5.

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