Written by Lees (James Arthur) & Clutterbuck (Walter J.).
Published by Coch-y-bonddu 2009
Star rating ****
This charming work, the first paperback in a revival series planned by Coch-y-Bonddu, is constructed from the diaries of three adventurers, plotting their travels through Norway in the early 1880s.
Two of them, Esau and Skipper, start from the UK and arrange to meet John later on their travels. You immediately take a liking to their approach, self-effacing style of writing, and the general good humour.
Initially it covers their planning, then follows their travels to the campsites (the least interesting part), although the humour still shines through. On a day when they are forced to remain in the tent, they write: "We resided in the tent and read, and indulged in whisky and water for lunch to counteract any ill-effects of the reading- for some of it was poetry."
However, this book is at its best when they make camp at Memurudalen. Here they initially find little sport, but as better weather arrives, they are able to catch trout to over 3lb, shoot ryper (a type of grouse) and to hunt the reindeer that eventually arrive. Their life in camp is well documented, from building a fire in which they bake their own bread and cook pies, to the construction of meat stores.
The camaraderie and characters of the three very different people are underpinned by the wit and wisdom of the authors. Indeed, when the three month trip ends you feel the sadness as they have to return to "civilisation", going their separate ways and leaving behind the people who have shown them such hospitality and the simple pleasures of life.
The book ends: "Tomorrow,alas! We commence a life of gilded misery and gloomy magnificence. Give to us the untrammelled freedom of Gammle Norge and the humble crust of fladbrod - with jam."
As with many books of this period, the vocabulary and presentation differ from today's works, but I feel this is for the better. It sets the scene for a different time and social order, which greatly enhance the interest of the work.
It also makes you long for the quality of sport that they found in remote, often virgin territory, sport that probably could not be found anywhere in the world today.
This edition carries a new introduction by Jon Beer, who enjoyed the book so much that he recreated the trip, following in their footsteps. The Norwegians regard this work with high esteem, with the original tent being preserved in a museum, and their oven is still in existence today.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. However, I wonder whether the simple reprinting of such works, even with a decent and fresh introduction, has much of a future. When Flyfishers' Classic Library started, the internet was in its infancy and it was difficult to locate copies of rare works in any format. These days, you can buy this title printed to order from disc for just over £14; less than this edition but not as well presented, and you can get a pre-1900 reprint for less than the deluxe volume.
Will this paperback sell in today's market? Will people pay more for the deluxe version than the original? Time will tell, but books like this should not be lost in the mists of time, and Coch-y-Bonddu should be applauded for its efforts in popularising these largely forgotten classics.