Going home

Our midnight sun adventure is almost over.  Yesterday we started the day in Malmö and ended in Rotterdam.  Big Blue says that was 635 miles on the road, fairly uncomplaining miles at that, apart from the madness of the German autobahns.  I say that is far too far for any one person to drive in a day.  It was absolutely exhausting.  Rotterdam is not a good place to camp so we checked in to an hotel for the night.  It was good to have a bed made up, a shower where you didn’t have to keep feeding coins or pressing the tap, and a breakfast prepared for you.  This was nice, but the Bastion at the Benelux Tunnel will soon be forgotten.  What will stay long in our memories are the camps where we pitched our tent: the wild Scandinavian forests, the enormous expanses of water, both river and lake, and of course, the midnight sun.  These are the things that make adventures.

It is a little early to reflect on the meaningfulness of our journey – we shall in a while – but it has been the most incredible of times and the experience has given us a wonderful insight in to ourselves, each other and this incredible planet on which we are sentient beings of beauty, marking our fleeting existence in words and deeds, challenging ourselves to be a special part of it.  We belong to something very, very special.


A change of plan

As you will have seen from Oli’s update, our scheduled sailing from Esbjerg has been cancelled, with DFDS offering us 7 or 9 July! We have managed to book on a ferry from the Hook to Harwich for Saturday afternoon, but it ha meant curtailing our midnight sun adventure and making a mad dash to the Netherlands. This wasn’t in the plan.

Just to update, we made it to Norkapp on Tuesday and left Wednesday. I shall update on that part of the trip when we get home. We have not been able to get online for two days so apologies for the gap in chronology. We were on our way down on Wednesday when we got the call about the cancellation so we decided to get as far south as quickly as possible. We are now in Malmo and it has been a huge drive over the last two days, about 1100 miles I’m guessing. We have about another 500 to go.

We need to be at the Hook of Holland by 13:00hrs on. Saturday, so it’s an early start tomorrow. Hopefully we can update you from somewhere in Germany or the Netherlands. Bon voyage!

DFDS Failways

DFDS Failways

The company that took us to Esbjerg fails miserably due to the fact that yesterday we found out that our ferry was canceled; it hit the side of the dock and it is in repair until the 7th of July. So at the camp site that I found yesterday was very good but the Internet didn’t even work so we where allowed to us one of the reception computers and booked a ferry from The Hook Of Holland to Harwich, and it is a day boat so we don’t need a cabin. We have had to cut our holiday short to get to The Hook Of Holland. At least DFDS Seaways refunds our money for the journey! Yesterday dad was driving and when DSDF Seaways called I picked up the phone and they wanted my dad but since he was driving they told me everything that happened, I was so shocked and then I told my dad and he said that man at one of the campsites was right because he said that a ferry hit a side of a dock in Harwich but we didn’t know that it was our ferry at that time. Also the good thing is that we are going in 2 extra counties!
All counties we’ve been to:
And the extra two

71˚ 10′ 21″

Last night ended with a session in the smoke house.  These are communal buildings found all over northern Scandinavia that offer shelter, warmth and a means of heating food and water.  They are small, basic wooden structures, not much bigger than a garden shed, usually hexagonal or circular in shape and charecterised by a fire pit in the center.  A hood and chimney takes the smoke out.  Our hut had a supply of seasoned birch and we got the fire going first time.

In our hut there were bench seats all round and these were draped with reindeer skins; it was an invitingly comfortable environment.  We got warmed and dry quite quickly as we mulled over the days events, reflecting on the wrong turn that took us along the beautiful pathway.  We washed and cleaned our teeth and slept a deep sleep in the snuggly confines of our cabin.  So much so that we slept through the six o’ clock alarm.

A rare treat of cooked breakfast – bacon and sausage – and we were on our way again.  The morning was warm and sunny and we left with hope that we would get a proper view of the midnight sun today.  Our route took us north-east along the E6 again and then when we got to Porsangenfyord we headed north on the E69.  This route, in the sunshine, has to be the most scenically  beautiful I have travelled.  The fjord water is crystal clear and as blue as the paint they use in swimming pools.  Across the water the mountains rise, in places vertically.  The vastness of the sky links land and water.

Looks like reindeer

The road twists and turns and descends in to deep valleys before rising in to the blue of the sky again.  At times it disappears in to dimly lit tunnels, eerily dank and disorienting; an unseen force seemed to pull Big Blue in towards the walls evoking thoughts of trolls and their magical powers for spiriting humans away.

We entered one such tunnel, the sun blazing behind us and several kilometers later we emerged in to a thick mist.  It was as if the trolls had draped a net curtain over the windscreen. Now you could no longer see the other side of the fjord.  We drove on in the subdued light of the low cloud.  One final tunnel took us below the sea and up to Nordkapp, the northernmost point on mainland Europe. Actually, I don’t think it is at we are really on an island.  But hey, 77˚ 21′ 10″, what’s in a number?

A simple mistake and a new perspective

We had bought a new tent for the trip.  It’s an Outwell Nevada, but that’s not really important and I don’t intend to review it, suffice to say, it’s an ok tent.  It lasted the night and it was blowing a hooley and tipping it down.  It’s a five person tent and althoughthere’s only the two of us I had planned to use the extra space as storage.  We could leave most of kit in the tent and go off exploring.  The original intention was to base camp at Pajala and then take the explorer tent, a stove, a few rations and the sleeping bags up to Nordkapp overnight.  That way, if we didn’t reach our destination we could bunk down in the back of Big Blue.  But plans change.

Oli and I had got bored with Pajala and the weather there and decided it was time to move on.  We packed early this morning, showered, breakfasted and we were on our way by eight, which is an achievement for us.  I think Oli is hitting those teen years when hours in bed are all that count (apart from computers!). Pajala is about 25km from the Finnish border and the intention was to hop over and travel north on the E8/E21 and then take route 93 to Alta and then on to Nordkapp.  In all, I reckoned it to be an eight hour drive, not including breaks, which we have achieved on a couple of occasions this trip.  We had navigated by map for every inch of the journey so far, mainly because I love maps and they tell you so much more than the anodyne sat nav with its monotone instructions.  They don’t make driving a pleasure.  But today I decided to switch on the artificial guide, just as a back up; I new that it was eight years out of date for this part of the world in any case, but at least it would indicate where we were.  Or so I thought.  No sooner had we approached the border then the map went blank.  Apparently, Land Rover don’t think Finland exists!

Still, we had the map and I had a good idea of where I was going: E8/E21, route 93 and then turn right at Alta for Nordkapp.  Couldn’t be simpler.  Except I was so engrossed in the magnificent scenery that I didn’t see the turning for route 93.  That was 200km from our starting point.  It wasn’t until we were 200km further along E8 that I bothered to check the map.  And discovered we were not where we were meant to be.  We should have been hitting Alta, but we were just north of Tromsø!  We we were both quite relaxed about this as we had been travelling through some scenic pathways, reminiscent of the Welsh mountains.  Some of the sheltered north facing slopes were still snow covered and the cloud descended low in to the valleys.  The drizzle kept away the mosquitos so we had the joy of a fairly clean windscreen too, to enjoy the view.

We picked up the E6 and travelled north east towards Alta, which was now 270km away.  What an amazing road this is. Admittedly, it would have been great to drive it in the big, sexy cat; that would have left me grinning for weeks.  But in Big Blue, at a sedate 90kmh it gave us every opportunity to to take in this breathtaking part of the world.  Driving along the fjords, with the clear, calm waters of the sea on our left and steeply sloping valley sides to our right, every inch of the way was beautiful.

We encountered reindeer herds, sheep and cows.  We have yet to come face to face with moose, but these are secretive, elusive creatures, so we’ve been told.  It has become a compulsion to find one.  We stopped at a Saami settlement and bought hand crafts. This community lived as a trading post, selling reindeer skins, pelts from polar foxes, hand made hunting knives and all manner of goods, all crafted from what was available, usually reindeer.  But what really struck me was the trader who sold us a knife, a bracelet and some dried reindeer meat, resplendent in his traditional clothing, was the fact that he completed his deals on a mobile phone! A real collision of cultures.

We arrived at Alta about 18:00hrs which meant we had been on the road for ten hours.  We thought about pressing on to Nordkapp, but we have ended up renting a log cabin for the night.  Neither of us had the stomach for pitching the tent in the rain. We have eaten well and now we are off to the smokehouse to dry out and warm up.

Night night xxx

Midges, mozzies and mahoosive bugs

Oh to be insectivorous! You would survive well at these latitudes.  The diversity and quantity of our six legged cousins is truly astounding.  I first noticed the issue on the road to Hedesunda.  This highway took us alongside a lake that went on for ten minutes and Big Blue was holding a steady 100kmh.  Then all of a sudden her aluminium panelling to the front was hit by a volley of something that I hadn’t seen, her metalwork resounding in strike bursts of noise.  My instinct was to duck, thinking there was a maverick Swedish hunter with a semi-automatic reindeer-slayer taking pot shots at passing tourists lurking in the dense roadside vegetation.  But Big Blue doesn’t take too kindly to sudden shifts of position, pitching and yawing in protest.  So I put my foot down and checked the boy for bullet holes and pressed on.

Then panic as a piercing alarm ripped through the cab as Big Blue started to protest about something.  I now had visions of a direct hit on the fuel tank and this was the warning to bale out.  As I started to slow her down Oli said “Parking sensors.  You are driving too close to the car in front”.  This sent me in to double panic mode: there wasn’t a car in front.  In fact we hadn’t seen a car for ten minutes.  The heat in my brain told me that each and every vehicle had been picked off, one by one, by Mad Sven of the Woods.  And now, pulled up next to his domain we were sitting ducks.  Or rather, sitting elk.

My head was pounding, my heart was racing.  And it is true: the colour of fear is brown.  We were under attack and I had to conceal my fear, be brave and get us out of this dangerous situation.  There was nothing else to do except summon up all the courage I had. “OK Oli, I want you to go outside and check all round Big Blue for damage” I said, concealing the terror in my wavering voice by offering him a barley sugar from the ration tin.  Oblivious to the magnitude of the situation Oli stepped down from the passenger and and did a slow, lazy circuit of Big Blue.  I was willing him to hurry up and report back that we were riddled with bullet holes and that we had been extremely lucky to escape with our lives.  But no, Oli insisted on doing the full check, even kicking the tyres like a car salesman looking to knock you down your part exchange.  “Looks alright to me,” he said, pulling himself back up and in to the passenger seat; “can I have another barley sugar?”.

To be honest, I was relieved Oli had made it back alive, but now it was my turn.  I decided I would do a quick recce round the front, as that was where the main attack emanated from.  I slid out of the cab, stooping low to keep my hat beneath Big Blue’s roof line; a head shot now would be game over.  I got down on my haunches and shuffled round to the headlights, using Big Blue’s vast expanse of bonnet as cover.  I looked down to bumper level and then I saw it.  The carnage is indelibly imprinted in my memory and will resurface at every nightmare opportunity.  There, spread across her bumper was a browny red layer of sludge with exoskeletal appendages poking through at varying intervals.  We had hit a huge swarm of gargantuan flies; flies that had breached the anomaly; prehistoric flies of mahoosive proportions.  For us Brits, the biggest we get is probably the horse fly, or the hornet.  But these things were as big as stag beetles! I swear they were.  And they had left a yucky, gooey mess across the front of Big Blue.

To remove the offending articles now required the second act of outstanding bravery for the day.  This would require a tactical deployment involving stealth, guile and a strong stomach.  “Oli! Get yourself the pack of wet wipes and come down here!”.  My little trooper obliged and I had him cleaning the gunge from the parking sensors.

Back in the cab and back on the road we reflected on the ordeal we had just undergone.  I am amazed that an insect strike can wipe out your parking sensors and part of the daily routine now is to wash them off.  That’s after we’ve ladled on the insect repellant.  Apparently, it is a bad year for mosquitos. Even the locals are complaining.  The early warm spell and the current damp spell is the perfect combination.  The reindeer headed north ages ago.

An intrepid adventurer

P1030762After arriving at Pajala and setting up camp, Oli and I explored the campsite.  We were mulling over the difficulty of the crazy golf course when the cyclist we passed on the way in to town arrived at reception.  He looked slightly bemused as the guy running the camp site was nowhere to be seen.  He wasn’t around either when we arrived, appearing out of thin air  like a latter day Mr Ben to check us in. I waved to him and pointed to reception to let him know he had another visitor and gave the cyclist the thumbs up, to let him know assistance was on its way.

We continued our exploration, discovering a tributary of the Toureålven through the woods at the bottom of the site.  There was a suspended walk way crossing this smaller river on which we had ten minutes of scary, bouncy fun, trying to tip each other in to the river some   ten meters below.  When we got back to camp the cyclist had pitched nearby to us.  He struck up conversation, in English; he must have seen Big Blue’s number plate.  He was from the UK himself, from the north of Scotland.  His name was Paul and I guessed he was in his late fifties.

We talked about our journeys, me feeling quite proud of the fact that I managed to get myself and my eleven year-old son to the Arctic in and eight year old Land Rover.  I assumed that Paul had flown to Sweden and then hired his bicycle to tour the region.  Then he told me had cycled all the way.  Again, I assumed that he meant from Scotland and began thinking what an amazing achievement that was.  It had taken us four days to get here by car, god knows how long Paul had taken!  So I asked him when he had set off.  He said that his journey began in March.  From Cape St Vincent.  In Portugal.  And he had cycled every inch of the way!  I don’t even know how far that is, but it is a huge distance.

Then Paul explained his route.  Not only had he set off from the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe, he decided to go the long way!  He came up through Portugal and Spain, telling me how fabulous the city of Cordoba was and also the small town in Spain where the roads are made of sand because there are no cars, only horses.  He told me of his struggle through the south of France, cycling in to the Mistral and only managing 20k a day.  Not only had Paul crossed the Pyranees, he had crossed the Alps in to Switzerland, where he spent some time in the mountains with his wife.

His journey then took him through Germany, at the time of the torrential rains and flooding, and then on through Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland and back to Germany to get the ferry to Denmark and on to Sweden.  His destination, like ours, is Nordkapp, the most northerly point on mainland Europe; the end of the continent.  Where the midnight sun gives way to winter ice and the raw power of nature.

Paul, you are a true adventurer. You have dreams and you make them happen.  You have made me realise that this is how life is meant to be.  Dreams are OK, but no matter how big or small they are, you have to make them live.  I hope I meet you on the road again and we can tell each other what happened with our dreams.

I salute you, intrepid adventurer. Travel safely, dream big. And do it!