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Every year Norway sends us a giant Christmas Tree to brighten up Trafalgar Square. Tim Maughan traces its journey from the forest outside Oslo to the centre of London.
We're all familiar with the Beatles song, but at CM we never thought we would actually enter a Norwegian wood. Yet to see London's famous Christmas Tree at strategic points along its land/sea/land odyssey, we did just that.
The Norwegians take the Trafalgar Square tree seriously.Their country fell to German forces in 1940, and the British, although unable to oust the Third Reich from Norway. fought back hard enough to inflict significant damage to its military machine (see panel).
By way of thanks. Norway has given one of its magnificent evergreens to the British people every year since 1946.
The morning of Sunday 3 December arrives and CM has relinquished its traditional weekend pastimes to follow the British stage of the Christmas Tree's trip to London.The timing of its sea trip has been prone to change: we've been liaising with Lee Burniston of DEDSTorline for some weeks.
Time and again. mountainous winter seas have prevented ships crossing the North Sea then, the original transport vessel, the Tor Neringa, suddenly went into dry dock.
Now, however, the 6,000-tonne Victoria has successfully made the crossing and deposited the tree at Immingham's Nordic Terminal.
Having witnessed the chopping down of this specimen, it evokes a strange feeling to see our lumbering friend rest on the dock, battered by fierce blasts of wind. But the tree is in good hands_ It has been given the all-dear by Customs as well as by officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food, and it's ready for its journey to the capital. At 10.30am.as we stand admiring the range of shipping moving in and out of the port, a red ERF unit and Broshuis extendible trailer rumble across the quay:The rig comes to a halt, and out leaps driver Len Rumble and Young Drivers Scheme trainee Gary Petersen.They work for Beck & Pollitzer Engineering, which currently holds the three-year contract to transport the tree.
"We've driven up from Dartford," says Rumble. -We're used to carrying abnormal loads, hut the tree is very light although there's a lot of foliage on it." But this prestigious job holds no fears for Rumble and Petersen: they also handled the tree last year.
Bumiston and south terminal manager Tony Blendell tell us about the 18m Mali platform that supports the tree. This specialist kit is hauled from shore into the bowels of RO-RO ships: it held the tree secure during its crossing.
DEDSTorline enters into the spirit of this unique tradition by transporting the tree free of charge. For a normal trip with such a consignment, you'd be looking at a£3,(XX) fee.
Olav Aashenn. who captains the Victoria. takes us for a tour of his ship. Up on the bridge he tells us that it cruises at 15 knots and can accommodate 654011 trailers. Its spacious hold is also ideal for carrying large Christmas Trees. -The tree is a bit special," he remarks. "The Norwegian people all watch it on television... we're very happy about it."
The original plan was to use a dockside crane to lift the tree, but high winds have made this impossible. Instead, a mobile crane is used to drop it onto the Broshuis.After touchdown, Rumble and Petersen get on with the business of lashing the tree to the trailer.
Job done, and CM pushes on along the Ml 80.A few miles down the road we have a perfect vantage point on a bridge to photograph the vehicle and its load as they head south to the M25 and the urban sprawl. It's a long way from a Norwegian forest.We also head for London,a spot of tea and some sleep before heading toTrafalgar Square.