By John Mowat
Convenors of Orkney Islands Council and Hordaland Fylkeskommune in Western Norway, signed a twinning agreement in Kirkwall in June 1983. Almost 39 years later in April 2022 the formal twinning agreement between OIC and Vestland Fylkeskommune (County Council) was reaffirmed.
Orkney has an area of 382 square miles, and a population of 22,500.
The number of Counties, in Norway was reduced on 1st January 2020 by merging some neighbouring Counties with a few small boundary changes.
Vestland has a new coat of arms. Vestland consists of the previous Hordaland Council area plus most of the much more sparsely populated Sogn & Fjordane. It covers an area of over 13,000 square miles, & has a population of 637,000.
Vestland is thus bigger than Highland, Council at 10,000 square miles in Scotland and bigger, in area, than Belgium.
Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, with a population of almost 300,000 remains by far the largest settlement.
Norwegian Councils are elected on a proportional representation basis, every 4 years. There are 65 elected Councillors, representing parties from the left centre & right. The present Mayor is Jon Askeland of the Centre Party, while the Deputy Natalia Gollis is of the Green Party. Counties are sub-divided into smaller units, rarely having a population of more than 20,000. Councils raise some of their own revenue, raising some taxes locally, in addition to nationally allocated funds. Local democracy is much stronger than in Scotland or rUK.
Fast passenger catamarans have linked Bergen to the many islands, coastal settlements, and fiords on a daily basis.
All vehicle and passenger only ferries are replaced by more modern more efficient vessels after 20 years. Most are built at Norwegian shipbuilding yards. The obvious advantage of using newer vessels is very small numbers of breakdowns. Given a limited number of designs and engines, spare replacement parts are readily available.
There has been large scale rebuilding of roads over the past 40 years with many tunnels, the longest of which is Laerdalstunnelen, in inner Sogn is 26 Km long. Tunnels are situated at much lower elevation than mountain passes and thus less affected by bad weather, in winter.
Short ferry journeys are still required to link roads on either sides of the bigger fiords of Hardanger, Sogn and smaller ones. There are also a number of bridges too, including one floating bridge over a fiord, north of Bergen which can be opened to shipping, on occasions. There is an extensive network of daily bus services too, throughoutVestland.
NSB electric powered trains link Bergen with Oslo, a distance of almost 300 miles, several times a day. The highest station at Finse on the Norwegian plateau is 1222 metres or anound 4000 feet in elevation. The Bergensbahn railway journey is one of the most scenic in the world and takes around 7.5 hours.
Bergen Airport at Flesland has a network of internal & international air links.
Vestland contains many small and larger islands, deep fiords and high mountains.
The Jostedal, north of Balestrand, is the largest Glacier in Europe.
The highest mountain Lodalskapa is 2083 metres, around 6400 feet high.
Many people from Orkney & Shetland enjoyed motoring holidays in Norway in the days when the Norrona linked Lerwick & later Scrabster with Bergen, Iceland, Denmark & the Faroe Islands.