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Cow Parade

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    Cow Parade

    To start this new thread, I am about to present a major illustrated write-up of about 10 posts, the story of my visit to Norway to see a Cow Parade exhibition – though it turned out to be very much more than simply that.
    I’ve called it “Travelling to Telemark”.

    You don’t know what this Cow Parade thing is?????? - Don’t worry – it will be explained in the story!

    The reason for not awarding “Travelling to Telemark” it’s own thread was that I felt it contained too much about the exhibition to post in the Kingdom of Norway section, yet too much about a village in Norway to post here in Overtime! Cross-referencing it in Norway and incorporating the story here in a Cow Parade thread seems to solve the dilemma, and retains the possibility of sharing more photos of these popular, fascinating and quirky parades here in the future.

    Travelling to Telemark

    One summer day some years ago, I suddenly decided that I would like to go away for a short break in early autumn. Destination Norway naturally, but, with insufficient time for reaching the west coast and the hurtigruten ships, it was to Oslo that I planned to head, changing flights in Copenhagen. However I had no sooner made the arrangements than everything seemed to conspire against my temerity in thinking I deserved a holiday!

    Firstly, there were rumours of an impending airline strike. I usefully found a union’s website for airline pilots from which one could glean more facts than from BMI itself. In particular there were details of the notice period the union must give prior to such an official strike. As I hopefully counted down to the day after which a strike announcement would not affect me, news of a thwarted terrorist plot in England brought immediate changes in luggage rules for flights to and from the UK, causing confusion, delays, and airport chaos generally. All luggage had to be checked in, save for a plastic bag containing the barest essentials of travel documents, keys and currency.

    As I had booked each sector separately (having only enough frequent flyer points for half the journey), checked-through luggage was not allowed, so I had planned on having hand luggage only – I usually travel “light” in any event. But now I was forced to check in my luggage, reclaim it in Copenhagen and re-check in landside for the Oslo flight. That would scarcely allow enough time to make the connection.

    Oh well, I reckoned if I got stranded in Copenhagen where I had a colleague at the palaeontological museum, I could always have surprised him and turned my trip into a working holiday! But then I remembered that the free ticket also gave me the ability to change the Copenhagen/Oslo flight to a later departure time. Good, I was back on track for Norway again!

    Having eventually made it through security in Edinburgh, I boarded my flight, which seemed satisfyingly on time. Indeed the plane had taxied to the end of the runway and was poised for take-off at the exact minute of the scheduled departure… but that was all that happened. After some fifteen minutes of standing still, the engine noise ominously tailed off and an announcement was made that we had a technical delay. Apparently the plane had been insufficiently fuelled, and it was eventually over an hour before we were airborne. Once again the amount of time for re-checking in at Copenhagen became uncertain, and the likelihood of the museum and fossils a distinct possibility.

    However my luck about-turned yet again as my little black soft case miraculously emerged first on the carrousel and, knowing CPH well, I was soon and efficiently re-checked in and back airside with even time for lunch there at my favourite restaurant. Now confidently in holiday mood as I contentedly munched deliciously crispy deep-fried prawns, and refreshed with the local Carlsberg lager, I could look forward to actually getting to see the Cows.

    “See what?” I can hear you wondering…

    I don’t know if you are familiar with this Cow Parade thing. Having started in Zurich, it certainly became big in the USA and is now back around Europe’s cities and to continents beyond. The idea is that a city decides to host the event and local organisations and businesses put up money to sponsor a cow. The cows are life-size, made of a sort of fibreglass and cheaply produced in Poland. The sponsorship is actually to pay an artist to paint the cow, the herd then goes on public exhibition in the streets and other public places, after which the cows are auctioned with much money going to charity. Ok, the results are variable, the puns on words bovine repetitive, there are always some spoilsports who moan about it not being “real art”, and some graffiti and vandalism may occur. But there is also enormous pleasure for young and old alike, and in the streets hurried folk pause and pat and smile. Amazingly a cow typically fetches £3000 at the auctions.

    I vaguely recollect mention in the news when Cow Parade was held in London some years back, but only encountered it directly when I happened to be attending a conference in Prague at the precise time their exhibition took to the streets. Despite limited opportunity for sightseeing on my first and only visit to that city, I seem to have taken a disproportionate number of photos of those colourful cows. Perhaps it brings out one’s childish side, or perhaps it’s the collecting instinct as one “bags” a photo of each (even perhaps aspiring to a complete set!…). For me the idea of clutching the essential Cow Locator Map and discovering surprising parts of a city in the search for the cows is immensely enjoyable, but then as a child I was hugely into maps, not to mention “I-Spy” books (do any British readers remember those?).

    Whatever the cause of my fascination with cow-spotting and urban exploring, I never need much excuse to visit Stockholm and so timed a visit during their Cow Parade in 2004. I was less fortunate in Spain where the coinciding of cows and the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Barcelona didn’t quite materialise. But then the news I had been waiting for – Edinburgh was to be a cow city in 2006!

    Host cities are encouraged to bring a local flavour to their exhibition; there could be said to be a local colour downside too as two Edinburgh cows only lasted as many days before succumbing to pub throwing out time on the first Friday night. Cows were carted off to “hospital” for repair – oh the frustration at following the map trail only to encounter an empty plinth!

    More memorable were our Edinburgh specials. The “Three Grazers” parodied the Canova sculpture The Three Graces, and apparently raised National Gallery visitor numbers to an all time high as folk who had never set foot inside the art gallery went to compare the cows’ pose with the original! There were also the successful “Cowmunity” Cows, involving children from Edinburgh’s less desirable districts in both designing a cow for an artist to realise as well as painting some of their own.


      Sure I had noticed amid all this publicity that Norway was also to host a parade that very same summer, but had initially dismissed the practicalities of a visit. For Oslo was not the location of Norway’s first Cow Parade. This was to be an exhibition like no other. The Cows were returning to their roots, eschewing the city streets for the countryside’s fields in rural Telemark. Moreover many cows would be relocated week by week; even the region’s remotest villages would, at some stage, delight in a cow. Without a car it would have taken much study of country bus timetables and an extremely long holiday to do the cows justice. That was until I realised (well, if I stare at written Norwegian long enough I can sometimes attempt a translation from my sprinkling of Swedish) that all thirty cows would eventually come together and could be viewed prior to the Grand Auction. The venue was to be the tiny village of Seljord.

      Seljord, situated in the east of Telemark county several hours drive west from Oslo, and conveniently on the long distance express bus route between Oslo and Bergen, is reached before the high plateau famous for skiing styles and wartime heroes. It is known, if it is known at all outside Norway, for two things; the legend of a lake monster (clearly Scotland’s Loch Ness monster’s Norwegian relative), and the three-day annual country market called Dyrsk’un.

      The Seljord Hotel.

      Scandic Byporten Hotel, Oslo.

      Obtaining any kind of accommodation within even a generous radius of the village is impossible at this time with even camping places at a premium, let alone the delightful Seljord Hotel. I decided to stay at a Scandic hotel right by the bus station back in Oslo, using hotel points (a frequent-stay along the lines of a frequent-flyer scheme), and travelling twice to Seljord, first on the Friday and then on the Sunday auction day. (I have found that Saturday and public transport are generally too challenging a combination in rural Scandinavia.) I did not at all mind the repetition of a long journey, for one is rewarded with the experiences of everyday life as well as the changing view from the bus window. Eventually the suburbs and industrial estates are replaced by fields and forest; the landscape is reminiscent of parts of Scotland’s Perthshire, but in Norway the main road is bordered not merely by “beware deer” signs but by seriously effective-looking fences against the moose.

      The route then passes through an area of more open fields and small villages, clearly a major fruit-growing area; the neat orchards are bright with September-red apples and picturesque traditional wooden barns. I make a note for the Sunday journey and am then camera to the ready as the bus speeds past.


        Soon the buses are moving more slowly in the increased traffic; as the signposts start to say Seljord there is an air of eager anticipation, and then quite suddenly we have arrived.

        The Country Fair is amazing, a sort of extraordinarily vibrant amalgam of agricultural show, market, craft fair, traditional festival, showcase for local produce, family gathering, even car boot sale, and much, much else besides. 2006 marked the 140th anniversary of the event. These days there is a purpose-built arena for showing livestock and a few other permanent buildings at the centre of the site, around which spread fields of temporary stalls and trade stands and, beyond those, acre upon acre of tents and camper vans and parked cars and trucks and tractors. Indeed the expanse seems to far exceed that of the actual village of Seljord itself! Throngs of folk all heading in the same direction; young and old, this is an event for everyone.



          A group of teenage lads decide to aim first for the funfair down by the river but they’ll be back in the main arena in time to see their sister show a calf in the children’s event – this explained to me in impressive English following amusement at my Swedish-Norwegian. She’ll have strong competition, for I immediately make way for a little girl, confident and unbelievably stereotypical-Scandinavian-blonde and pretty in bunad – the Norwegian national dress – but also very much the rosy-cheeked tomboy as she efficiently manoeuvres the calf at the end of her piece of rope. A younger dark-haired child is clutching the hand of her grandfather and is seriously attentive to what seems to be an explanation of the history and characteristics of this unique breed of Telemark cow, and I see my young self at the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show, an annual treat of an outing with my formerly-farmer granddad. I muse as to whether this grandfather is likewise her mother’s father and strain to catch their conversation to find out – the Scandinavian languages reveal the genealogy; morfar, literally mothers-father.



            We all pass through the entrance gate and find ourselves looking along the main central “avenue” of the showground. Telemark calf immediately meets Telemark cow, but with a difference for this is the first Cow Parade Cow! It personifies the county, not only in the sandy-brown markings typical of the breed but also in the pattern of woolly jumper; clearly this is a proficient cross-country skier-cow, knapsack on back. That’s when I realise that the entire avenue is delineated at both sides by Cows, and I have a momentary ridiculous memory flash to Luxor in Egypt and the temple approach, lined with sphinxes.


              And so I set about the familiar business of Cow Photography, pausing only at the many food stands to sample offerings of crispbread and local cheeses. I tick off the cow numbers on the list; 19 out of 30 already, time for a more substantial lunch. A group of old men with characterful faces are cooking their own over a wood fire; they are clearly here for the duration and have brought everything with them, including a kitchen sink substitute bowl, in a box-on-wheels. Some thicker pieces of wood from the pile for the fire get promoted to the wood carving demonstration. Small boys wield seriously sharp knives – could that be a cow taking shape? The day passes unbelievably quickly.


                Despite the confines of the showground, the familiar frustration of cows stubbornly remaining un-ticked on the list becomes a concern. There is no locator map as in a city – only the knowledge that they are all here somewhere. I take another route through the stands, setting out between the saddler and the sausage maker, only to find myself back on the main avenue. Imagine the delight of discovery when the elusive cows are eventually located indoors, crouched on a balcony overlooking food stalls and exhibitions!

                A winged Pegasus of a cow and another mimicking a chandelier hanging from the roof must have distracted me earlier. I was told they had been exhibited in Rjuikan, strung dizzyingly high out over the gorge beside the power station.

                It’s Saturday – and there’s time, back in Oslo, to review my cow photos.



                  Simple spotting gives way to art appreciation. Yes, I was soon convinced that this was the finest of Cow Parades - see how often I had looked a cow straight in the eye, gazed down at the hooves, focused on some painted detail! The cows had become the artists’ curved canvas. Blond blue-eyed children adorn one cow, blond mythological Nordic super-woman another, both with grasping outstretched fingers. There are colourful buildings and floral decorations . . . and cows within cows.

                  The parade becomes self-referencing, for here is depicted the noughts and crosses cow “Hugs and Kisses” from one of the earliest exhibitions. This artist has clearly done his homework!



                    When I return to Seljord on the Sunday, it is immediately apparent that the cows have moved. Or should I say moo-ved! I encounter some of them standing around nervously, it seems, outside the entrance to the main arena.

                    Other cows have already been taken through the gate and are assembled in front of a row of cattle stalls, getting a final wipe down by a nice attentive diary-maid before standing in line to await their turn. It won’t be long now!



                      It is a warm sunny September afternoon and crowds have gathered for the auction; there is an air of expectancy and excitement.

                      When the proceedings commence, each cow is led forward on its trolley to the accompaniment of music appropriate to its style and decoration. Only after it is lifted up onto the stage, and assisted in a twirl around to best display the design, does the actual bidding begin.

                      The auctioneer's Norwegian intonation sounds hypnotically musical. He will have been auctioning real cattle the day before!

                      Afterwards the happy cows line up in the enclosure awaiting their proud new owners to collect them and take them home to pastures new.

                      And so it was time for my own return home. As I sat in the bus and later on the flight from Oslo, I felt quite shocked to think, amid all the air travel chaos, how very close I had come to missing this utterly delightful and charming occasion.


                        Originally posted by Seagull View Post
                        In the colors of the Norwegian milk carton!

                        WAOW.... this was a really nice thread! So many beautiful cows, on a parade I had NEVER heard of! There is still so much to learn and see in life, will we ever get fully educated.

                        Thank you so incredibly very much for all these fantastic images and interesting story. This, I enjoyed very much reading! Lady C, you have lifted our forum up to new heights with this post!
                        With best regards from Jan-Olav Storli

                        Administrator and Owner of CaptainsVoyage.
                        Main page:

                        Surround yourself with positive, ethical people who are committed to excellence.


                          Pakarang! Out of all those cows you have picked out my favourite
                          AND correctly identified it as indeed being sponsored by Tine!
                          (It was called “TINE-kua”.)


                            Okay- I have to admit this....

                            I was scrolling through the thread really quickly...and started noticing decorated cows. I read one or two posts, fell enchanted, went to the kitchen and got a fresh cup of coffee and a shawl (Mother Nature and I have a battle every time this year, as I see how long I can last before I turn on the heat in "my" part of the house.....) and sat down again to really enjoy this thread!

                            It's charming and wonderful Cecilia! And quite inspirational. I was thinking how much fun it would be to do something like this "a la porc" for the BBQ Blast here.

                            How hysterically clever! Love it! Absolutely LOVE IT!!!


                              So very pleased you enjoyed it so much, Elizabeth – I’d already been reminded about the agricultural aspects of the fair at the time of Ralf’s farm adventures, and then HurtigruteMartin mentioned Telemark which brought it back to the top of my to do list. But it was your Kaolin Festival and BBQ Blast photos that reminded me of Cow Parade and spurred me into finishing it.