NORWEGIAN ex-patriots have celebrated a landmark occasion for their nation in a small corner of the North-East.

An 11th Century farmhouse in a County Durham village was the unlikely setting for the Norway National Day bicentenary celebration, marking 200-years since the country’s constitution was signed heralding independence from Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Denmark.

Syttende Mai, meaning simply May 17, is an annual public holiday in the land of the midnight sun, but, being the 200th anniversary, the occasion was that little bit more special for all Norwegians, this year, whether at home or abroad.

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Among them is June Holmes, who arrived at North Shields on the North Sea ferry from Oslo in 1957.

Then called Jorunn Ostaghen, she came to work as an au pair, but went on to become a nurse at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Having met and married Witton Gilbert farmer John Holmes, in 1959, she changed her name by deed poll as English people struggled with her original name.

She has lived for the last 55 years at Witton Hall Farm, which, since the death of her late husband, has been run by sons John and Christopher.

Mrs Holmes visits relatives near her family’s home near Lillehammer, north of Oslo, at least once a year, and also keeps in touch with fellow exiled Norwegians in the North-East at regular lunch and evening group meetings.

All were invited to Witton Hall Farm for Saturday’s National Day celebration, with some of those attending wearing national dress.

National delicacies were on offer for the 14 guests, including salmon, pavlova and chocolate, washed down with champagne, with the backdrop of a sun-drenched old farmhouse, once a medieval leper hospital, believed to be one of the oldest inhabited properties in the Durham area.

Such was the success of Saturday's event, Mrs Holmes plans to repeat it annually, each Syttende Mai.