[ 19:27 monday 10 august – hytta wichstrøm, førenes, norway ]
i’m in a sublimely beautiful place. a house made from pine and glass perched on a wind-smoothed outrcop of rock with forest all around and a sheltered bay below. the coast is folded into intricate bays and inlets dotted with a thousand islands. the house was built in the early 1970s for the grandfather of my friends thor and stephanie. architecturally it comprises a series of joined single-pitch structures with wooden terraces at the front and back. the living areas are surrounded by an almost continuous band of floor to ceiling windows framed with a rectangular grid of pine. some of these glazed walls slide open to link the inside spaces with the terraces. meanwhile the house nestles in the irregular structure of the rock outcrop, a section of which pushes up through the rear terrace. the overall effect is a blurring of inside and outside, a sense of the house as an extension of its surrounding landscape. the building’s geometric forms and its harmony with the environment carry echoes of traditional japanese architecture.
the forest here is predominantly oak and pine. almost everywhere i walk there’s a dense undergrowth of blueberry bushes at the apogee of fruiting. it’s almost impossible to resist the temptation to stop every minute or two and gorge oneself. more than once i’ve returned to the house with a guilty look and purple stains all over the lower part of my face. even more exquisite are the wild raspberries, harder to find but equally at the pinnacle of ripeness, super-sweet miniature originals of the cultivated versions found in gardens and supermarkets.
here at the southern tip of norway civilisation feels reassuringly distant. the nearest shop is in lillesand, a couple of miles away as the crow flies but much further by road or sea. getting to and from the outside world is most easily accomplished via a dinghy with an outboard that’s moored at a jetty below the house. to get here i made the four and a half hour train journey from oslo southward through the forests and lakes to kristiansand, followed by a forty-five minute bus trip to lillesand, then finally a twenty-minute skim between islands in the dinghy. as we neared the quay thor stopped the engine, leapt out into the shallow water and returned with a dozen wild oysters. the largest of them was as big as an ostrich egg. we ate them with chopped red onion in vinegar.
yesterday afternoon thor and stephanie took me out fishing. it’s the first time i’ve used a proper rod rather than a primitive line wound around a piece of wood. over a period of three hours i caught two cod and thor caught three more. all were duly baked for supper. today we took the boat to a tiny island with a lighthouse. the whole island was bare rock with broad stripes of grey, pink and black like a 1980s minimalist interior, worn into smooth curves by centuries of wind and sea. the only flora were wild pansies and daisies nestling in sheltered folds in the rock. the inter-tidal rock was coated with mussels and barnacles. we swam in the rolling swell which was bracingly cold. afterwards i sat in the warm breeze watching the horizon and felt myself dissolving into the rock and the rush of waves.
: c :