Looking for a stocking filler for a telly fan. How about an Arctic Circle sleigh ride from the comfort and warmth of your own home? Yes please! Straight away you know this is going to be a proper seasonal treat.
All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride is the happy union of Slow TV and hygge. You may have seen the word hygge in bookshops (there’s at least a dozen books out about it this year alone) and on department stores shelves selling blankets, slippers and candles. It’s a new UK obsession with the old Danish term, meaning to live comfortably in a warm cosy atmosphere.
This calm cosiness incorporates the Slow TV craze from Norway. These are long programmes where, really, nothing much happens. Examples include the four hour National Knitting Evening, the six hour National Firewood Night and the Train Ride: Bergen to Oslo. British tv got in on the act with All Aboard! The Canal Trip and All Aboard! The Country Bus. The Daily Beast calls Slow TV “the mesmerising antidote to the madness of 2016”.
While the boat trip and the bus ride were broadcast in spring and summer when people may not be desperate to spend hours in front of the tv (weather dependent) All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride comes at precisely the right time of year. It’s ideal for your Christmas cuddled up in front of the tv and was broadcast for the first time on Christmas Eve 2015 on BBC4.
A warning though. You’ll put it on as pleasant background scenery for Christmas activities – wrapping presents, decorating the tree, preparing the food – and even though it feels like nothing is happening, you quickly find yourself absorbed in the journey.
This adventure is set in Norway, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. We begin at 10am but it’s still twilight. The enormously wide establishing shot of the snowy forest is silent except for noise of wind in the trees, sleighs on crunchy snow and the bells on the reindeer themselves. You keep expecting the music to start. But no; nothing disturbs the calm. This is a landscape that makes you want to take a deep breath. It’s an extremely peaceful experience.
We follow two women from the Sami tribe, Charlotta and Anne-Louise. They are indigenous reindeer herders taking a walk through the Taiga conifer forest following an ancient path. They carry flaming torches for a while and the path is lit up with a series of small bonfires. Later on they have a little daylight, but it gets dark again extremely quickly. The crescent moon stays out the whole time and the sky is framed with pink light as they track over the frozen tundra.
As the viewer follows the journey unobtrusive little facts turn up by the side of the road, decorated with frost, like a very stylish version of VH1’s classic Pop Up Video. This adds a some depth and context to the journey and provides a little window into the lives of the Sami people. One amazing fact I learned is that the reindeer have a kind of acid in their bone marrow which acts as antifreeze. I need that! Also, as you’d imagine, reindeer are traditionally used for meat, milk, cheese and the skin as clothing and materials for tents. Now I love milk and cheese but I’ve no desire to try reindeer milk. I imagine it’s thick and creamy, but mainly smells of reindeer which cannot be good. I’m revising reindeer facts- this stuff is good enough to be on QI.
There are very few camera angles. It’s exciting to switch to a reindeer close up shot. Both the herders and the reindeer look extremely cosy. The reindeer’s faces are so cute with their grey spotty cow-like noses. The team take it all at their own pace – there’s a determination but no great rush. They seem to be very kind to their animals.
Speaking of which, when the women stop to warm up and rest, the reindeer are supplied with frozen grass to eat at a sort of service station in a clearing. It’s dotted with Sami tents, called lavvu, which look like really big wigwams. It’s fairly busy at the services – three teams of sleigh dogs come speeding through. The frozen facts tell us that they can go up to 28mph. The sports cars of the Arctic Circle to the reindeer HGVs.
At two hours long this is absolutely the sort of tv which can only be shown on a public broadcaster, which makes it strange that ITV are on the credits as co-producers alongside the BBC. This journey needs to be uninterrupted – no ads, no ‘previously’ reminders of what you just saw three minutes ago. “Coming up after the break – ice fishing!” It’d throw the pace off completely. And pace is what Slow TV and hygge is all about, taking a real break from the stresses of daily life. A way to feel cosy and comforted, relaxed and refreshed.
How long is the journey itself? Is all one shot or is it edited at all? The Radio Times has the secrets of the filming process.
ALL ABOARD! THE SLEIGH RIDE is released on DVD on Monday 21st November by Nordic Noir & Beyond.