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CROSSING THE BORDER

Midsummer 2020 has been one of the strangest in my life, filled with silence and a lack of cheeriness. I even got a sense of breaking the law.

Midsummer night at Kornsjø lake, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen

On the brightest day of the year, when the sun barely goes down, there was a shadow hanging over me. All thanks to the Covid-19 virus, which has parted us Norwegians from our dear neighbours in the east. The Swedes, known for their joyful midsummer celebrations, were almost absent at Kornsjø — a lake on the border.

Well, I must confess: Yes, we crossed the border. More than once. Most on the lake. We even went into a narrow channel, under a bridge, where some of us got worried.
Flying trouble in the air.

«Look out! There’s Batman!»

«Oh, is he that small. I’m not impressed.»

Not quite like that, these quotes were from another trip, but we joked about it now as well. Nevertheless, this time it was different. Now there was mention of bats and Covid-19 virus, and we decided to turn back to Norway again.

Should we have been sentenced to a 10 days quarantine?

No, I do not think so. We did not meet any Swedes, other than on a safe distance, only on the water.

Midsummer day at Kornsjø lake, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen

Some places Sweden is exceptionally near, so close that we can toss stones at each other. The island to the left is Sweden. The pole in the foreground, and the cabin as well, is in Norway. Hey, you`re bound to break the law when travelling by boat. There are no markings on the waves.

Midsummer day at Hisøya island, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen

Next day we visited «riksrøys» number one, a border marker from 1752, situated on Hisøya island. As you can see, the trees are chopped away along the borderlines — all the way down to the watershed.
Here some noblemen greeted us. — Yes, it is true. We saw their monograms carved in stone, placed at the top of the cairn. Strong guys? Yeah. It must have been a difficult job for them, to stack all these rocks into this fantastic pile. Just look at the photo, how proud they look.
The guy to the right, he with the sword in his hand, is the reflection of Frederick V. He was a freemason who loved to party. Besides that, he was king of Denmark and Norway. He would surely have joined our midsummer celebrations if he could.


Hm, one other thing that caught my attention — his sword. Did he cut down all those trees on his own? All by himself?


The guy to the left, Adolf Frederick, was also a freemason. But as a Swede, he loved snuff. His favourite hobby was to make snuffboxes, which he allegedly spent a great deal of time doing. Supposedly a good husband, a caring father, and a gentle master to his servants. Besides all that, he was also king of Sweden. A hard-working man!

Hisøya island and the borderline. Google Earth.

To make borders is a troublesome business—no wonder why they look so strange. Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes have argued about them for centuries. They have fought numerous wars and have been moving them back and forth and back again. Somewhere it follows a creek, and otherwhere it follows unexpected turns.


However, as this monument show, they came to an agreement in 1752, or more precisely, one year previous, in 1751.

My wife at the beach of Hisøya island, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen.

After we met with the kings, we headed back to our boat and left Hisøya island while the wind whispered gently in our ears: “Everything will be fine. One day the borders will open again.”
Until then – Carpe Diem!

A well-kept oasis of history and culture

Here do I live, and I feel privileged to live here, next to Northern Europe’s best-preserved fortified town. Gamlebyen, as we call old town Fredrikstad.

Founded in 1567 by the Danish king Frederick II, this is Norway’s first renaissance town. And it has a strategic location in the delta of Glomma — Norway’s largest river. Not far away from the Oslo fjord, too. Or Sweden for that sake.

For me, as an author of suspense novels, is this environment a gold mine. Hence, I often stroll along these ancient walls. As a matter of fact, this is an oasis for many artists, and the town has a few galleries and cafes, well worth a visit.

The Fortified Bridge and the Glassworks Factory. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Old Fredrikstad and Glomma river. Photo: Xalzlos (Wikipedia)
One of the Portals. Photo: Tom Thowsen

Thick walls of rocks and bricks, dark, narrow gateways, water graves, and wooden bridges – once a robust defence system from the past, built after Dutch standards.

A section of a map from 1776
The Main Gate. Photo: Tom Thowsen
One of the streets and a small park. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Along the riverside. Photo: Tom Thowsen
A statue of King Frederick II in the middle and the building to the right is Galleri Sand.
Photo: Tom Thowsen

Kirkøy

In the shadows of the pines at Storesand beach, you have a fabulous place to put up your tent. Here you can feel the breeze in your hair, you breath clean air. You can smell salty water and seagrass. Listen to the seagulls screaming in the sky—walk along the stony pathways. See the stone Church at Kirkøy, built over foundation stones who possibly stretch back to the Viking age. Back to the time when the Norwegians worshipped Thor and Odin.

Storesand Beach. Photo: Tom Thowsen

As an author of fiction books, I must get inspired by reality, because my fictional characters are “living” in the real world. Therefore, I sometimes walk in their “footsteps”. In this reportage, I walk at Kirkøy island, where my two main characters Willy Lauer and Raja Romanova talked with each other at the beginning of The Sea Lion. Storesand beach and Hvaler Church.

Hvaler Church. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen
View to Lauer. Photo: Tom Thowsen

The young fisherman Willy Lauer “lives” on Lauer island, which is a group of small islands. At these photos, you can see North Lauer, the very island where the Castle lies, Willy’s tiny house.

Homlungen lighthouse, and Lauer island in the background.
Photo: Tom Thowsen
An old house at Skjærhalden. Photo: Tom Thowsen

The white, wooden house above, is as I imagine, pretty like Willy`s house. But in my imagination his “Castle” is even smaller.

At the pier of Skjærhalden. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Storesand Beach. Photo: Tom Thowsen

The Sea of Beauty

In the Norwegian archipelago of Hvaler, in the fishermen’s outpost at Utgårdskilen, you can wander along the shore. Here you can watch their boats, or you can look at the open sea of Skagerak. See the lighthouse on Torbjørnskjær on the horizon. Take a bath if you want or sunbathe on the cliffs. It’s a beautiful world.

Along the pier at Utgårdskilen, the fisher boats and their equipment lie, ready to take off to the sea. This safe harbour is next to the open ocean, and here they also deliver the Catch.
Photo: Tom Thowsen
Hvaler and Utgårdskilen are situated less than two hours’ drive by car from the capital Oslo. Hence many of the capital’s citizens come here in their spare time. Some even have cabins here, even the royals and the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. It’s well worth a visit if you visit Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen
A sea of shells washed ashore. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Small fishes washed ashore as well, from the strong waves of the ocean, were now swimming in these shallow ponds. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen
View to Skagerak. In the horizon, you can see these objects lined up from the left: Akerøya, Vesleøya—and the tiny little thing to the right is Torbjørnskjær lighthouse. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen

As a silent witness, carved to last forever, and shrouded in the mists of time, is it there:

With its 4 x 1,5 meters, this is probably the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. Its location is in South-eastern Norway. Today the rock is lying in the farm fields. At the time the carving was created, around 3000 years ago, this was a coast.

Photo: Thomas M. Hansen

A ship like this was 20 meters long and crewed by 24 warriors. On calm water, it could do 8 knots, 3,5 on the open sea. A crossing from Denmark to Norway could take 18 hours.

At this time, 2000 years before the Vikings, our ancestors had horned helmets. The Vikings had none.

Photo: Tom Thowsen
The farm fields in Skjeberg, in the vicinity of the carving. Three thousand years ago, most of this was beneath the sea. Photo: Tom Thowsen