Day 383 – Chateau Caniche

11 February 2016
Miles 19656
Location Bunratty, Co. Clare, Ireland
GPS 52.70816,-8.80913

CC

Chateau Caniche

It’s been quite some time since our last update, 6 months in fact. We returned to Sheffield on 3 August after the trip of a lifetime covering 20,000 miles and 26 countries, arriving home with some incredible memories, hard drives bursting with over 7,000 photos and videos, several interesting passport stamps and one more dog than we’d left with.

I never got around to finishing the last few updates to bring our trip to a close, it was always on the back burner but we’ve been so busy. Since returning home we’ve sold up and moved abroad!

We’d come to the conclusion that we could not return to our former lives after the trip. We could not see ourselves slotting back into the rat race, we’d learned so much about living together in a small space, living on a tight budget and foregoing superficial luxuries, coming to value more important things in life like the time the five of us spend together.

So the house was sold, Jude packed in her job, Ernie has sold and we now live in another country. But more of that later, we’ll pick up where we left off….

From southern Zealand it made sense to leave Denmark by the Rodby – Puttgarden Ferry, rather than driving all the way around, paying another bridge toll to cross into Jutland and then down into Germany around Flensburg. At 869 DKK or €116 the ferry was good value for money seeing us enter Germany again on 6 July. Our first overnight stop was at the popular seaside resort of Scharbeutz, the Stellplatz there we thought was rather expensive at €16 a night, a reminder that we’re firmly back in Western Europe now.

There is a fantastic dog-friendly section of beach at Scharbeutz. Typically German organisation, they have the beach sectioned off, one part for families with children, one for dogs, one for nudists, one for nudist dogs with children and so on!

Into Belgium and passing south of Brussels we had to stop and visit the battlefield of Waterloo. The future of Europe was decided on a Sunday afternoon 200 years and five weeks ago, leaving 30,000 dead on a battlefield of little more than a square mile in size and ending a quarter century struggle against Revolutionary France and a French Empire which had conquered most of the continent.

The battlefield is now dominated by the Lion Mound, an earthen mound topped with a statue of a lion commemorating the Prince of Orange, a young Dutch oik who was wounded on this spot during the battle. The mound was constructed using earth from the ridge which had been a key feature of the battlefield, Wellington was famously furious when he saw what they had done with his carefully chosen terrain. From all the commemorative Emperor-worship tat as well as statues and monuments around the battlefield you do seem to get the impression that Napoleon must have won after all!

7427 Waterloo, Belgium 9 July 2015

Tickets cost €16 to ascend the Lion Mound, or €19 to include shuttle buses to visit the farmhouses of a Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte which played a key role as fortifications during the battle. We’d only arrived late-afternoon and judging there to be insufficient time to get our money’s worth we were more than happy taking the dogs for a stroll around the wider battlefield area.

Then on into France. Marcoing, a quiet free aire at edge of village where we had a fantastic walk along the St Quentin Canal

Travelling through the Picardy region we did a whistle stop tour of the Somme memorials including the village of Pozieres and the enormous Thiepval Memorial inscribed with the names of 72,000 allied soldiers who died in the battle and have no known grave.

7456 Thiepval Memorial, France 10 July 2015

There is a fantastic unofficial free aire at the seaside resort of Veules-les-Roses in Normandy. Despite “no camping” signs at the entrance to a huge field above the village there must have been 50 motorhomes parked up, largely French familes enjoying the summer weekend, but some Germans, Austrians and one or two Brits as well.

A few days spent at the aire at Beauvoir in order to visit the huge Norman Abbey on Mont Saint-Michel, an island just off the Norman coast and reached by a long causeway. This was my first visit, Jude has been a few times on school trips. The Abbey is a massive tourist trap but in a stunning location and really a must-see if you go to Normandy.

7531 Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France 14 July 2015

We reached Brittany on 15 July, several weeks earlier than planned but by this point we’d decided that a bit of house hunting was in order and we’d already shortlisted some country cottages, firmly in the budget fixer-upper category.

Josselin in central Brittany is popular with British ex-pats thanks to a mild climate. We were very interested in one of the cottages on our shortlist but decided to look further west in the wild and windy Finistere region where you get more for your money. We’ve always wanted to live somewhere on the Shipping Forecast and there were no houses available in Viking, North Utsire or Dogger Bank!

At Scrignac, near to the small town of Huelgoat, in a wonderfully isolated spot down a little country lane we viewed an old stone two bedroomed cottage which had been on the market for years. The house has a ramshackle barn on the end containing loads of massive barn-owl droppings, there’s also a half-finished loft conversion and three quarters of an acre of secluded, but very overgrown garden containing among other things an old cow shed, a wrecked camper van and an ancient Renault van. We fell in love with the place. It needs quite a lot of work, the sale price was €39K so we put in a silly offer at €27K expecting it to be knocked back. €27K is around £19,000, only a bit more than we’d paid for the camper. The house needs the same spending again on repairs, but still…fingers crossed. We nicknamed the place Chateau Caniche, or Poodle Castle!

Our final couple of days in France involved some long drives to all the way over to Dunkirk, stopping briefly to see the D-Day beaches and the remains of the Mulberry Harbours, as well as the ancient city of Bayeux. Waiting at the ferry port at Dunkirk we had a phone call from our Immobilier, or Estate Agent to inform us that our offer had been accepted! We’re giddy, just as one incredible phase of our lives is drawing to a close a new one begins.

So why am I posting this from the Republic of Ireland?  Find out in the next nail-biting episode which will definitely not take six months to get around to!

Cambremer, Normandy

7560 Dinan, Brittany, France 15 July 2015

Dinan, Brittany

Plouaret, Brittany

Bayeux, Normandy

7706 Arromanches, Normandy, France 2 Aug 2015

Arromanches, Normandy

7714 Dunkirk, France 3 Aug 2015

Dunkirk

Day 356 Denmark

7 July 2015
Miles 17548
Location Faro, Denmark
GPS 54.95095, 11.98329

Did someone say haircut?

Did someone say haircut?

There is Fjordline ferry from Kristiansand in Norway across the Skagerrak strait to Hirtsals in northern Denmark. We’d decided that taking the ferry would be good value, cutting out a significant detour through Sweden as well as saving on several hefty bridge tolls.

At Kristiansand I tried to find somewhere to park near to the port but there are parking restrictions everywhere. There are several paid open air car parks, but they’re small with such tight access that it would be a challenge to manoeuvre a smart car. After driving around the city we found a nice, large open car park – and free – with about 20 motorhomes already parked up. Situated next to the marina and an artificial beach it’s in a great spot, ideal to spend the night while exploring the city or waiting for a ferry. GPS 58.14526, 8.00110

After taking the dogs for a walk I noticed a GB plated camper parked up next to us. Chatting to the occupants, a retired couple on their way north, the man proudly announced that he doesn’t use his onboard toilet as he doesn’t like the, ahem, “job” of emptying it. Instead he poos in a plastic bag, ties it up and throws it in the bin. Thinking this to be rather too much information I bade them goodbye as the ferry was due.

7387 Faro, Denmark 5 July 2015

Nellie enjoying a paddle at the fantastic free aire at Faro in Denmark. GPS 54.95095, 11.98329

7393 Faro, Denmark 5 July 2015 7394 Faro aire, Denmark 5 July 2015

Again the ferry was charged by the metre with sub-6m vehicles significantly cheaper than those over 6 metres. We wouldn’t pass for 6m but with the bikes removed and stowed inside we come in at under 7m. €97 + €6 per pet.

We were last to board the ferry. A group of motorhomes were directed to one side while everybody else drove up the ramps. It turns out that we were in the unfortunate “over 2.95M” height category. The decks don’t have sufficient headroom except at the very end of the ship and my heart missed a beat when I saw the first of our group being directed to REVERSE up the ramps onto the ferry. We were last on the ship, directed to drive straight up onto the ramp – thankfully not in reverse, but this would mean we’d have to reverse off at the other end.  Yikes! They shoehorned us in between a German motorhome and an Eriba caravan.  Pets have to either remain in the vehicle on the car deck or caged in a kennel area. I couldn’t leave them so shut all the blinds and stayed on the car deck with them. Strictly speaking not allowed, and we’re pretty much stuffed if the ship sinks, which thankfully they don’t do very often.

First off at Hirtshals – in reverse, down the ramp in the dark, without the benefit of the reversing camera because that’s attached to the bike rack which is now rattling against the fridge. Aware that I can’t dither too much because I’m holding up disembarkation for the entire ferry, I manage it without driving over the edge and plunging into the murky depths below. Fun!

Into Denmark, the 26th country on our adventure. After the dramatic, rugged Norwegian coastline the flat terrain of Denmark looks very much like the Netherlands.  I picked Jude up at Copenhagen airport. We spent the first night parked up on a quiet side street outside the Carlsberg brewery, (GPS 55.66462, 12.52970- from Europe by Camper). It’s now baking hot, we’ve heard on the news about the heatwave at home and it’s reached here too. We need to clip the dogs as they are wearing big thick woolly coats and Cleo in particular looks like a woolly mammoth. Nellie is beginning to look like the eccentric Colombian goalkeeper Carlos Valderrama.

7328 Copenhagen, Denmark 2 July 2015

Carlos Valderrama

Carlos

Nellie

The following day we found a quiet picnic area, trimmed and showered all three pooches.

Because of the stifling weather we decided to explore the city in the evening, so drove in and parked in a pay and display. If Denmark is like the Netherlands, then Copenhagen, criss-crossed with canals and the streets bristling with parked bicycles, bears an incredible resemblance to Amsterdam.

7343 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015 7336 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015

7349 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015 7350 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015

7344 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015 7352 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015

7340 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015

Other than the famous one, most of Copenhagen’s statues seem to depict blokes on horses.

The Little Mermaid is often described as underwhelming and disappointing. Quite small and with a rather industrial backdrop, it isn’t meant to be a grand monument but is a symbol of the city and worth a visit as long as you’re not expecting something to rival the pyramids or the Colosseum.

We tried unsuccessfully to get three little rascals to pose in front of one little mermaid.

7372 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015

7371 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015

We spent most of the evening wandering around the city parks and gardens and the locals were all out enjoying the beautiful summer evening.

7362 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015 7363 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015 7365 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015 7367 Copenhagen, Denmark 3 July 2015

The following day we spent at City Camping, a secure tarmac compound quite close to the city. Expensive at €30 a night, with water, showers, toilets and quite ropey Wi-Fi, nevertheless in a great location for exploring the city. Here we spent a wonderful evening with Iain and Sandra from Baxterbus, chatting and sharing tales of our travels. We’d been planning to meet up for ages, and were so glad we had the opportunity when our paths finally crossed. From here we head off in completely different directions, we’re France bound and then (sob!) home, while they are northbound into Norway. We wish them the very best.

Finally, you might have noticed a lack of activity here recently. We have been moving on every day and not going out of our way to seek out Wi-Fi hotspots so I’m playing catch up at the moment. In fact we’re in France as I post this and have been for some time. Normal service to be resumed in the next few days with the next post taking us through Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France as we slow down exploring Brittany in the coming weeks.

7323 Storebaelt Bridge, Denmark 1 July 2015

The Storebaelt Bridge, the Great Belt Fixed Link, the world’s second longest suspension bridge connecting eastern and western Denmark. 360 Krone toll one way, which is about 48 Euros!

7326 Denmark 1 July 2015

Watch out for the flatulence police!

7330 Copenhagen, Denmark 2 July 2015 7333 Copenhagen, Denmark 2 July 2015

Day 345 Trondheim and Trollstigen

26 June 2015
Miles 16734
Location Bygland, Aust-Agder, Norway
GPS 58.80763, 7.79074

7269 Norway 22 June 2015

A funny thing happened while overnighting at a roadside rest spot south of Trondheim. It has the beginnings of a joke: An Englishman, a Frenchman and a German in a Norwegian picnic area. Me and the Frenchman filling water containers at the outside tap. We hear a knocking sound, it turns out to be a German who is stuck in the toilet. The lock mechanism is jammed and he can’t get out.  Hilarity ensued as we tried to force the latch open from the outside using several screwdrivers as levers, and eventually Herr Trappuncrapper emerged from the cubicle. He was ancient, I think he’d gone into hiding in the toilet in 1945 and was unable to get out again.

The ferry from Moskenes at the tip of the Lofoten islands to Bodo on the mainland cost 1794 NOK which works out at 210 Euros. Quite pricey but the alternative would have involved a 200 mile drive back up to the mainland in completely the wrong direction, and a further 150 miles down to Bodo. This would have amounted to a couple of days driving and a full tank of fuel. The ferry fare is much cheaper if you’re under 6 metres, with incremental price bands at every additional metre.  Ernie is 6.4m, we removed bike rack again otherwise it would have taken us over 7m which is more expensive still. You pay in the queue while waiting for the ferry, an attendant wanders from vehicle to vehicle selling tickets. I didn’t see them measuring each vehicle, you could probably get away with being half a metre over. Advance tickets can be purchased but a proportion are reserved for people who wait at the docks, I would advise advance booking in mid summer though.

The journey took 3 hours to Bodo from where Jude departed for Oslo to see her mother. I’m going to continue south and pick her up on her return, from either Oslo or Copenhagen.

Unfortunately this means she will miss some of the best bits of Norway, the western fjords. I’m sure we will be back to spend more time here as the place is just jaw-dropping. I’d like to have seen more of Sweden too, we merely dipped into the country for a few days – stocking up at Lidl while there! We had a half term break in Stockholm a few years ago, it’s a fantastic place well worth a return visit and I’d also like to travel up and down the coast. That’s all on hold now, unfinished business in Scandinavia to be revisited some day.

7139 Norway-Sweden Border, 17 June 2015

7145 Hammerdal, Jamtland, Sweden 19 June 2015

Overnight spot at Hammerdal

7144 Sweden 17 June 2015

Swedish banknotes. I’m not quite sure but aren’t they the two blokes from ABBA?

Further south and an epic two hour walk around the pleasant historic centre of Trondheim with three poodles in tow kept me busy untangling leads. Trondheim is small enough to explore on foot and enjoy the glorious summer weather at long last. Now we are further south the sun is blazing, Ernie’s roof vents open, the woolly hat and winter coat relegated to the back of the wardrobe.

7170 Trondheim, Norway 20 June 2015

7176 Trondheim, Norway 20 June 2015 7150 Trondheim, Norway 20 June 2015 7183 Trondheim, Norway 20 June 2015 7149 Trondheim, Norway 20 June 2015 7181 Trondheim, Norway 20 June 2015

There is dedicated motorhome parking at Trondheim, a mere ten minute walk from the old town (GPS 63.42578, 10.38212). The municipal aire has a limited number of bays (20) free to park for 24 hours – yes free! The rest are charged by the hour between 8am – 8pm, but free overnight. Arrive early for a free spot. How enlightened to encourage tourists to visit your town by providing free motorhome parking. Can you imagine that happening in Britain? Not likely!

7185 Trondheim, Norway 20 June 2015

On to the Trollstigen Pass on National Road 63. An epic mountain road, closed for most of the year, it only re-opened a few weeks ago when the winter snows thawed, and will close again when next winter’s snow arrives (probably in late July!) Having driven the incredible Grossglockner in Austria in 2012, but missed much of the Transfagarasan in Romania earlier this year I was determined to drive the Trollstigen. It was spectacular if a bit scary, a white knuckle ride as I gripped the wheel to navigate dozens of hairpin bends, in second gear for the ascent, occasionally having to squeeze past another motorhome going in the other direction. Although steep it’s possible for larger vehicles as long as you take your time and there were plenty of motorhomes larger than Ernie on the road.  We passed one or two tourist coaches too, hats off to the drivers, they must have nerves of steel. At the top there is a plateau and visitor centre with ample free parking, several viewing platforms offering a spectacular view into the valley and of the winding road below. The large car park here seems to be a likely overnight spot as a number of campers and motorhomes appeared to have been parked up for a while, wheels chocked and chairs out.

7232 Trollstigen, Norway 21 June 2015

7204 Trollstigen, Norway 21 June 2015 7213 Trollstigen, Norway 21 June 2015 7226 Trollstigen, Norway 21 June 2015 7233 Trollstigen, Norway 21 June 2015 7235 Trollstigen, Norway 21 June 2015 7241 Trollstigen, Norway 21 June 2015

Later the same day came the awe-inspiring decent into Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Norway’s most visited tourist attractions. At one end of the fjord is the small town of Geiranger and the narrow, sheer sided fjord extends for 15 kilometres to Hellesylt.

7249 Geirangerfjord, Norway 21 June 2015

7251 Geirangerfjord, Norway 21 June 2015 7252 Geirangerfjord, Norway 21 June 2015 7253 Geirangerfjord, Norway 21 June 2015 7259 Geirangerfjord, Norway 21 June 2015

It’s possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been stuck in a traffic jam, we were stopped on the narrow road for 20 minutes as a caravan met a coach coming in the other direction. Both drivers halted and scratched their heads for a while wondering what to do as a tailback developed. Eventually the car driver reversed the caravan into what I’d hesitate to describe as a wide spot, merely a small stretch of road about 20 centimetres wider than the rest and the coach inched by with a hair’s breadth between them.

7254 Geirangerfjord, Norway 21 June 2015

On to Briksdal Glacier, an arm of the Europe’s largest glacier, the Jostedalsbreen. From the car park it is a 40 minute walk to foot of glacier past some spectacular, thundering waterfalls. Coach parties of lazy-arsed Chinese people were being ferried to the top in “Troll cars” or golf carts, but we walked. You can overnight on the car park there is an overnight fee at the ticket machine, plenty looked to be doing just that. It was a blistering hot day and the dogs were panting when we reached the top but had a soothing drink from the cool glacial lake.

7297 Briksdal Glacier, Norway 22 June 2015

7290 Briksdal Glacier, Norway 22 June 2015 7300 Briksdal Glacier, Norway 22 June 20157292 Briksdal Glacier, Norway 22 June 2015 7288 Briksdal Glacier, Norway 22 June 2015

We drove through the Telemark region and I toyed with the idea of visiting the Vemork hydroelectric power plant at Rjukan. The factory was capable of producing heavy water for the nazi bomb project and between 1940 and 1944 was the focus of numerous raids by Norwegian resistance, British Commandos and the US Air Force. Unfortunately it was again in completely the wrong direction so it’s another one for next time.

Finally, we’d been considering a major change of plan for a number of weeks. With one eye on the calendar and time passing far too quickly, we are going to head over to Brittany and spend the final six weeks of our adventure relaxing and not driving very far at all.

7265 Road 258 nr Geiranger, Norway 21 June 2015

7270 Norway 22 June 2015

Day 336 Pining for the Fjords

17 June 2015
Miles 15234
Location Å, Nordland, Norway
GPS 67.87953, 12.97710

7099 Henningsvaer, Norway 12 June 2015

Henningsvaer

We are in the village of Å on Andøya in the Lofoten Islands. It is something of a novelty to visit a place with such a short name, though I suspect that the name was abbreviated from something longer due to cuts to the council’s sign-writing budget. We felt that in the spirit of fairness Å should be twinned with that village in Wales with the ridiculously long name, LLlanfair “PG”, known to have the longest placename in Europe. Å is a picturesque fishing village and tourist destination, unfortunately hammering down for the past 48 hours. Interestingly there was a cycle trip in 2004 which went from Å to B – or Bee in Nebraska.

7125 A, Norway 13 June 2015

There is a prominent sign on the huge car park outside the museum at Å stating “this is a parking place, no camping”. Who are they kidding, there must have been 30 campers here last night. Obviously the “rule” is not enforced, in the interests of local tourism, as the majority of people visiting the place arrive in various campers and motorhomes. Predominantly those seasoned travellers the Dutch who pop up everywhere in Europe but in even greater numbers in Scandinavia, attracted by the rugged, mountainous terrain which is I suppose a dramatic contrast to the Netherlands. Or perhaps the Finns with their millions of acres of forest and woodland have a thriving wooden footwear industry and that’s what attracts the Dutch.

7126 A, Norway 14 June 2015 6973 Nordkapp, Norway 4 June 2015

We also noted an increased proportion of big “A” class motorhomes in the far flung reaches of Finland and Norway, huge 30 footers are quite commonplace. Presumably due to the time required to travel to the northern region of Norway is such that it is a primarily the domain of retired people, there aren’t many under 50 here. Other than the Dutch, they are mostly German and surprisingly French who we haven’t seen in great numbers anywhere else on the continent – other than France of course! Few others, though we have now bumped into one or two fellow Brits, who seem to be an endangered species up here.

Tommestasjon - refill and emptying point frequently found at petrol stations

Tommestasjon – refill and emptying point frequently found at petrol stations

Norway is obscenely expensive. The going rate seems to be anywhere between two and four times what you’d pay at home. We can’t seem to work out the prices and have reached the conclusion that merely looking at a supermarket costs 120 Krone (£10) and if you look with both eyes, the price is doubled. Hence we have been averting our eyes every time we drive past a supermarket, and training the dogs to as well! We are so glad that we stocked up massively before coming here, meaning we only have to buy a bit of fruit and veg and rely on our supplies for everything else.

The logistics and cost involved in transporting goods over incredible distances to the northern regions of Norway obviously have a bearing on retail prices and I’m hoping that things will be a little bit more sane further south.

Fruit and veg are expensive, meat costs an arm and a leg, fish seems reasonable though. Alcohol is completely off-limits. We did buy some rather pricey reindeer meat and Jude made a delicious reindeer stew. It had the texture of lamb and tasted like beef. Sorry Santa!

We filled up with our first Norwegian diesel at Olderfjord, a shock to the system at 15.16 Krone (NOK) per litre which works out at €1.75 or £1.25 – fuel in Norway is the most expensive in Europe so we’re hoping to free-wheel downhill all the way to Sweden.

The first LPG station we found was at Alta, the northernmost LPG in Norway. It cost 8.90 NOK a litre or €1.042, double what we’ve been paying elsewhere on the continent.

Just outside Alta is the World Heritage Rock Art museum, on the site of a prehistoric settlement and exhibiting rock carvings dating back 7,000 years.  Entry to the museum costs 95 NOK but you can wander around the outdoors section for free after hours. You can also overnight on the museum car park, several other motorhomes present when we stayed. GPS 69.94636, 23.18625

7015 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 2015 7013 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 20156986 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 2015 6988 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 2015 6989 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 2015 6994 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 2015  6982 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 2015 7013 Alta Museum, Norway 6 June 2015

Further south from Alta at Kafjord there is a small but fascinating museum housing artefacts from the Tirpitz, well worth the 60 NOK entry fee.

7021 Tirpitz Museum, Kafjord, Alta, Norway 7 June 2015

The German battleships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lützow were anchored at the naval base in Altafjord. In September 1942 Tirpitz was badly damaged by explosives delivered by X-craft midget submarines in Operation Source, and finally capsized after being hit by RAF “Tallboy” bombs a year later at Tromsø.

7025 Tirpitz Museum, Kafjord, Alta, Norway 7 June 2015 7033 Tirpitz Museum, Kafjord, Alta, Norway 7 June 2015 7037 Tirpitz Museum, Kafjord, Alta, Norway 7 June 2015

7028 Tirpitz Museum, Kafjord, Alta, Norway 7 June 2015

Norwegian Resistance agents who photographed and reported ship movements at KaaFjord to the allies

7031 Tirpitz Museum, Kafjord, Alta, Norway 7 June 2015

Replicas of VCs awarded to commanders of X-Craft midget submarines

The rocky coastline and landscape here reminds us very much of Greece. We’re half expecting to see olive groves beside the road. Of course the two countries have vastly different climates but the weather here in June is similar to what we experienced in Greece throughout December and January.

7078 nr Lodingen, Norway 11 June 2015

Disaster struck at Oteren when I sustained a stone-skimming injury, thanks to a sharp stone slicing into the top of my finger. Nothing serious but my apologies to the GB Olympic stone skimming team. After several dunkings Nellie has finally learned not to chase the stone into the water.

We gave Hammerfest and Tromsø a miss. I’d like to have seen Tromso but it involved a significant detour and we like to stay away from towns and cities, we did spend a night at Narvik though at a car park within walking distance of the town centre. GPS 68.44131, 17.41774 (from Campercontact)

More delightful wildlife on our travels including two more sea eagles. It is nesting season and one day walking among the rocks on the beach, Nellie, curious as ever, picked something up. It was a (live) oyster catcher chick. We were mortified, we had wandered right past the nest. The chick was completely unharmed other than a bit of dog saliva, Jude carefully gathered up the warm little bundle and returned it to the nest. We hope it is OK, there wasn’t much more we could have done than beat a hasty retreat and hope the parents returned soon.

7055 Norway 7 June 2015 7056 Tappeluft, Norway 7 June 2015

On to the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago extending two hundred miles into the Norwegian Sea, possibly the most beautiful part of Norway. The islands have a mild climate due to the Gulf Stream, though you wouldn’t have believed it during our time there. The village of Henningsvaer is well worth a visit and you can overnight on the car park, we chose not to and moved on to a quiet picnic area in the countryside.

7082 Henningsvaer, Norway 12 June 2015

7118 Henningsvaer, Norway 12 June 2015 7090 Henningsvaer, Norway 12 June 2015

The region is known as a producer of stockfish and everywhere we go there are large racks of cod left to dry out. It stinks to high heaven and we’ve seen seagulls helping themselves to whatever remains edible after several months in the open. The seagulls’ leftovers are exported mainly to the Mediterranean market. We’ve also seen large buckets of dried fish heads apparently for export to Nigeria where it is a delicacy.

7103 Henningsvaer, Norway 12 June 2015

That brings us to our final stop on the islands, here in the village of Å. The ferry sails several times a day from Moskenes to Bodo on the mainland, after that Jude has to travel on to Oslo as she has got a cheap flight to Liverpool so is off to see her mum in Chester. In the meantime I’m going to continue south in search of warmer climes. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting – albeit in the Arctic – woolly hat and big coat weather in mid June!

Rest stop.  In case you hadn't guessed, that's a urinal on the right!

Rest stop. In case you hadn’t guessed, that’s a urinal on the right!

7068 Norway 9 June 2015

Day 323 Nordkapp and Knivskjellodden – On Top of the World

4 June 2015
Miles 14495
Location Knivskjellodden, Finnmark, Norway
GPS 71.12204, 25.70767

6826 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 30 May 2015

Camping spot at Kistrand on Porsangerfjorden. Us (left), the Dutch and the Germans – all northbound

From the heavily forested, flat Finnish lowlands we crossed the border into Norway, country number 26 on our travels. The landscape became more rugged, more dramatic with snow-capped mountains in the distance. We’ve only been in Norway a few days but are excited to be here. Everyone who comes to Norway seems to rave about the place. We – but especially Cleo, Eric and Nellie – are going to love it.

Our favourite camping spot for a long time, possibly since Greece, was at Kistrand on the shores of our first fjord and just 90 miles from the northernmost point on the continent. A breathtaking view looking out over Porsangerfjorden with an incredible mountainous backdrop. Sharing the parking area were two other motorhomes, Dutch and German, both on their way to Nordkapp – the North Cape.

6848 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015 6847 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015 6838 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015 6829 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 30 May 2015

On our first morning here, lying in bed drinking coffee and looking at the marvellous view out of our “hide”, we heard a commotion from the local gulls and then spotted a sea eagle, or white-tailed eagle being given a hard time as it was obviously close to their nesting site. It landed on the beach close by but was eventually driven away by the dive-bombing parents. We were enthralled, the sea eagle is one of the largest eagles in the world, with a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres. It was huge!

6888 Sea Eagle, Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 1 June 2015

6887 Sea Eagle, Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 1 June 2015 6886 Sea Eagle, Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 1 June 2015

The coastline on the fjord was littered with the carapaces of red king crabs – again, monsters of their species, up to 1.8 metres across. They are a newcomer to the area, having migrated from the Barents sea where they were introduced as a high value food by the Russians. Apparently they eat everything, so are quite invasive. They live about 200m below sea level normally, but the females come up in May to “moult” before breeding. We didn’t see any live ones, just thousands of shell parts and huge pincers – big enough to grab a poodle!

6874 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015 6877 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015

The bird life here is wonderful. It must be a real treat for birdwatchers. We were fascinated by the oyster catchers, with their comical runs and stunning red beaks.

Lemmings are a common mammal here but we have not seen any. The frequent holes in the ground beneath rocky entrances I fancied might be their little burrows. They look quite cosy!

In the absence of any real knowledge, I imagagined that the skull I found could have belonged to a seal. Answers on a postcard please!

6844 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015

In December, the male reindeer shed their antlers, and it didn’t take long before we found a few of these. We decided that Ernie deserved to display a pair, and they are now proudly strapped to the ladder!

6858 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015 6860 Kistrand, Finnmark, Norway 31 May 2015

We haven’t seen a Norwegian Blue parrot yet though.

The traffic on the E69 road to Nordkapp was 50% motorhomes, predominantly German, Dutch and French. The 7KM Nordkapp Tunnel used to incur an expensive toll but it is now fully financed and free to use.

6899 Road to Nordkapp, Norway 1 June 2015

Intentions of wild camping for the entire Norwegian section of our trip were eagerly abandoned on a cold, very wet dull day driving past Nordkapp Caravan & Camping, which looked all inviting with its electric hookups and promise of Wi-Fi, so we stayed for a night until the weather cleared. It’s very changeable this far north, one day warm and sunny, the next can be overcast with sleet and we’ve even had some light snow – yes in June! Leaves were only just beginning to bud at the top of the world, and it seems like we have been running away from the spring since December!

The campsite is just outside the village of Skarsvag – claimed to be the most northerly fishing village in the world. Here everything seems to be labelled “the most northerly” something-or-other, from the most northerly campsite to the most northerly cafe. I think Cleo, Eric and Nellie’s food bowls were briefly the most northerly dog bowls in Europe. Do they get a certificate?

6913 Skarsvag, Norway 2 June 2015

6905 Skarsvag, Norway 2 June 2015

Nordkapp was named in 1553 by the English explorer Richard Chancellor as he attempted to navigate the North East Passage. It is almost (but not quite) the northernmost point in Europe and atop the cliffs is a visitor centre with restaurant and souvenir shops. A major tourist trap, entry to Nordkapp costs 255 Norwegian Krone (NOK) or £21 per person which is a lot for what is basically a car park on top of a cliff.

The actual most northerly point on the continent is the small peninsula of Knivskjellodden just to the west of Nordkapp. Knivskjellodden is not accessible by road and involves a hike on the Knivskjellodden Trail, a round trip of 18 kilometres or 11 miles. Consequently and understandably most people satisfy themselves with the visitor centre at Nordkapp, but we thought we would have a crack at the trail. We had no idea whether we were up to it, but we do walk the dogs for an hour, more often two every day in all weather in all sorts of terrain. We had nothing to lose and were fully prepared to pack it in and spend the night at Nordkapp if it became too strenuous. If nothing else it would be a great walk for the dogs.

6966 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 4 June 2015

Map of Mageroya showing Nordkapp and Knivskjellodden

We settled down for the night, spent on the small car park which marks the starting point of the Knivskjellodden Trail and watched a succession of motorhomes and coaches coming and going from Nordkapp a few miles up the road.

The following morning the moors were thick with fog and we thought of abandoning the idea and doing the Nordkapp visitor centre like everybody else.

6915 Knivskjelodden, Norway 3 June 2015

The weather cleared though still cold and windy, a big bowl of porridge later and the dogs wearing their winter coats we set off at 11.30am. The going is quite hard, very rocky, muddy in parts and snow melting on hillsides and ravines but the trail is well marked by stone cairns at regular intervals. The tradition is to add a stone when passing, to counteract the effects of weather and erosion. I thought it would be a jolly jape to dismantle a cairn or two and re-erect them somewhere else, like on the edge of a cliff. But Jude would’t let me.

6917 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

6928 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015 6962 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

After and hour and a half we had made it perhaps half way but the dogs were wet after traipsing through snow and across streams. Cleo and Eric were fine but Nellie was shivering. She is so tiny, she feels the cold more than the other two. We carried on for a while with Nellie tucked inside my jumper to share my body warmth, but clearly we could’t carry on like that for five or six hours.

6927 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

We discussed our options, whether to turn back and at least visit Nordkapp, and agreed that Jude would return to the van with the pooches and I’d carry on alone.

So repeating the famous words, “I am just going outside and may be some time” I bade them goodbye wondering whether I’d ever see them again!

It took a total of three hours to reach the point. The first hour and a half navigating undulating rocky paths, then descending a steep hillside into a valley and finally crossing a rocky slope around the headland to Knivskjelodden where a stone marks “Europas Nordligste Punkt”.

6959 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

Into the valley of death – nearly there!

6935 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015 6945 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

I nearly gave up at this stage, I’m not keen on heights and though there were no sheer drops, the slopes were rather too steep for my liking. Having come so far though, I forced myself onwards. I was relieved that Jude had taken Cleo, Eric and Nellie back to the safety of the van, the last mile is definitely not suitable for dogs.

At the end having not seen another person for several hours, there was a proper football crowd at the end. A German couple left as I arrived (must have been something I said!) and there were two Italian blokes sitting eating their sandwiches enjoying the view, one of them kindly took a photo. Quite an emotional moment as I signed the visitors book in memory of our beloved dog Harvey who we lost tragically in 2013. Then for a few minutes I was the northernmost individual of 742 million people on the European continent.

6955 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

6948 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

Apart from this fella – the cheat! Strictly speaking he isn’t “on” the continent though is he!

From here you have a spectacular view, looking out over the North East Passage with the Norwegian Sea to the west and the Barents Sea to the east, beyond that the remote island of Svalbard and the Arctic Ocean. We’re further north now than Iceland and closer in latitude to Greenland and Alaska than the UK.

The very worst part was ascending the steep hill on the return journey. I began to feel sorry for myself at this point, wondering whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew and thinking that this game should be left to younger, fitter people. Then I met a Dutch fella on his way down, who proudly told me that he was 74 years old!

6957 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

Footsore and fed up I finally reached the top of what seemed the thousandth hill and my eyes met with a wonderful sight, the comfort and safety of Ernie. Feet thoroughly soaked and legs like jelly, abandoning earlier ideas about picking a careful path through the muddy trail I trudged in a straight line towards the van. It was 6pm, the walk had taken three hours each way and half an hour at the point. If you needed any more proof that exercise is bad for you, then look no further. I set out with a spring in my step at 11.30am and dragged myself back to the van at 6pm, dead on my feet, aching from my fingernails to the ends of my eyelashes. Seriously though, the trail is long and quite hard going if you’re not used to it, but you can afford to take it slowly as long as you make it back before sunset, and that doesn’t happen until the end of August.

6961 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015 6964 Knivskjelodden Trail, Norway 3 June 2015

Later that evening we were relaxing watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones when we saw a mountain Rescue helicopter heading over the hillside towards the point. The following morning a Norwegian and a Dutch car were still parked up on the car park. Quite worrying, I hope nobody is badly hurt.

Now it’s time to start south, for the first time since the southern Peloponnese in Decemer. Having spent the last three and a half months running away from the spring, we now finally get to turn around and drve south towards the summer.

Day 317 Lapland

29 May 2015
Miles 14305
Location Inari, Lapland, Finland
GPS 68.96184, 26.95979

6727 Arctic Circle Marker, Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015

The evenings are becoming increasingly surreal the further north we go. It’s broad daylight when we let the dogs out for a midnight widdle. It is becoming difficult to judge the time, late evening feels like mid-afternoon, it feels so weird. We are glad of the blinds in the van which are quite effective at blocking out the light otherwise it would be difficult to get any sleep.

Here in northern Finland, well inside the Arctic Circle the sun doesn’t set from late May to late July, and doesn’t rise for two whole dismal months during winter – how depressing! Your best chance of seeing the northern lights comes during these dark winter months, so it isn’t a realistic prospect for us, frankly I’m glad that we’re here during the relatively mild summer months than in the depths of winter.

Icy lake, it's almost June!

Icy lake, it’s almost June!

We pushed on through the lakeland region and covered more ground than intended, thanks to fantastic roads and incredible surroundings making for a pleasant journey. Driving for hundreds of miles on straight, flat roads intersecting vast expanses of forest and bridging hundreds of lakes, we ended up pushing on and consequently find ourselves approaching the Norwegian border two weeks ahead of schedule. In the 11 days since leaving Helsinki we have moved on every day and covered 1000 miles. We need to slow down!

We’ve seen loads of reindeer peacefully grazing beside the road, several small herds were treated to a drive-by yapping thanks to our three terrors. There are more reindeer than people in Lapland. They are amazing resilient animals to survive in this harsh environment. We have also seen several arctic hares – their white winter coats in the process of turning brown for the summer giving a mottled appearance. Nellie chased one twice her size into the woods, we were worried for a split second but little Nellie has the best recall of the three of them and came back on command for a treat.

6788 Lapland, Finland 28 May 2015 6770 Lapland, Finland 27 May 2015

Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland. The town was almost totally destroyed during the 1944-45 Lapland War when the Finns made peace with the Soviets and clashed with their retreating former German allies. The rebuilt, modern city isn’t anything to write home about, it is more an administrative centre of the region and most notable for being the “official” home of Santa Claus. The locals here don’t just believe in Santa, they’re related to him!

Just north of the town is the Santa Claus Village, a Santa Claus based theme park and also the site of the Arctic Circle marker, a line through the centre of the village at GPS 66 33’07” N, 25 50’51” E. Beyond this point the sun never sets for at least one day in summer and never rises for at least one day in winter. We are now in the arctic!

6715 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015 6720 Arctic Circle Marker, Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015

6716 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015 6728 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015

There is an official post office where letters from all around the world are delivered. You can have a letter or card posted from here and delivered at Christmas time, postmarked from Lapland. We expected the Santa Claus village to be tacky, commercialised and a total rip-off but were pleasantly surprised. There is even a dedicated motorhome and caravan parking area where you can stay for 24 hours for free, with free open Wi-Fi. We took the dogs for a lovely long walk in the surrounding woodland. The site is bordered by pine forest with wide paths for snowmobile rides. There’s no snow at this time of year except for a few unmelted remnants of last year’s drifts heaped at the side of the road. We can picture the woods in deep snow, it would be magical to stay here during winter, if it wasn’t for all the screaming brats. We wondered whether they do they do adults only weeks here for us big kids. There is also an interesting reconstruction of a Sami village with a collection of traditional wooden houses.

6733 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015 6734 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015 6740 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015 6742 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015

The Sami people are Europe’s only remaining indigenous population. They live in Lapland as well as the northern regions of Sweden and Norway, many making a living herding reindeer. I expect these days they drive 4x4s and have central heating and satellite telly.

6746 Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland 26 May 2015

From Rovaniemi we joined the E75 Arctic Highway, traffic consists of trucks and lots of motorhomes, German, Dutch, French, Swiss, but we’ve not seen a British plated motorhome since Christmas.

Petrol stations are now few and far between, often 50-70 miles apart and getting increasingly scarce so we have been topping up the diesel tank at every opportunity.

As expected Scandinavia is proving to be an amazing place for free camping. There are ancient rights of way and laws on freedom to roam. While strictly speaking this right doesn’t extend to camping in vehicles, this culture of free access to the countryside means that as long as you’re responsible and park off the road and away from private houses and property you can have the pick of beautiful lakeside picnic areas and peaceful forest clearings. This is all perfectly above board and you aren’t made to feel like you’re doing something wrong as you would be in heavily regulated, regimented, NIMBY-obsessive Britain.

I can’t see us needing to visit a campsite anytime soon. In fact we see it as something of a challenge to beat our record of 30 consecutive nights wild camping set last November in Greece. Thanks to easy access to mains water, frequent toilet dump points and round the clock daylight on our solar panels, we are just about self sufficient so don’t need to pay extortionate prices for fully equipped campsites.

Petrol stations usually have a mains water tap, the stations are often unmanned and automated so you don’t even need to ask for permission to fill up with water. There are many picturesque laybys some of which have toilets with a plank and hole over a large cess pit. Memories of the Glastonbury festival come flooding back, not so fond ones, the infamous Glasto toilets. These are suitable for emptying the toilet cassette and at least they don’t have a queue of 200 mud-caked revellers waiting outside.

Thanks to constant daylight on our solar panels the leisure batteries remain at a full state of charge. At this latitude the sun is low in the sky so our solar output is far from optimal, but this is more than made up for by the fact that we’re getting at least a few amps around the clock, as well as not needing to use the interior lights. Also we’re doing plenty of driving so the alternator is charging the batteries while on the move.

At Tankavaara Gold Village there is a gold mining exhibition and reconstruction of a Finnish gold-rush village. We had a walk around but most of the exhibits were closed, it looked like the site was in the process of opening up for the season.

6776 Tankavaara Gold Village, Lapland, Finland 28 May 2015 6783 Tankavaara Gold Village, Lapland, Finland 28 May 2015 6787 Tankavaara Gold Village, Lapland, Finland 28 May 2015

Inari is the centre of Sami culture and there is a Sami heritage museum in the small town. Entry costs 10 per adult which we thought was a bit much for a small exhibition so gave it a miss. Instead we had a fantastic walk in the woods seeing red squirrels, more reindeer and a burnt out Audi 100!

6792 Inari, Lapland, Finland 29 May 2015 6794 Inari, Lapland, Finland 29 May 2015

We are now parked at a fantastic spot overlooking a lake just north of Inari. Tomorrow we leave the EU yet again, crossing the border into Norway.

Day 313 Helsinki and Finnish Lakeland

25 May 2015
Miles 13810
Location Paltamo, Finland
GPS 64.31957, 28.04317

6696 Koli National Park, Finland 24 May 2015

Koli National Park. Note dog treats in the foreground to keep their attention!

Ever since we had our first VW camper van twenty years ago We have wanted to tour Scandinavia, to see the fjords, the mountains, islands, lakes and forests. We had a brief and thoroughly enjoyable city break in Stockholm some years ago, but really wanted to travel extensively through the region. The place is so huge, the distances so great that you can’t really “do” Scandinavia in a couple of weeks leave from work, so this part of our adventure has been on hold for a long time, until now when we can finally get to experience the region and see what it has to offer. The wilds of Scandinavia seem an inviting place to spend a summer, the final three months of our adventure.

We filled up with LPG before leaving Estonia. LPG/Autogas is not available in Finland, so we will have to make our 42 litre gas supply last a month. Judging from previous usage this should be sufficient as long as we don’t need to use the heating. I have since read on the MagBaz site that there are now a limited number of filling stations in the country. Unfortunately they are all in the south which isn’t too useful for us, so we will just have to to eke out our gas supply as best we can. Map and downloadable Satnav poi files are at the following website, which has an English language option http://www.gasum.fi/

Viking Line sail twice a day from Tallinn to Helsinki, at 8am and 6pm – there are other operators so shop around. Viking Line worked out best for us as pets don’t have to stay in the vehicle, you can take them on deck. The evening sailing costs double that of the early morning one so we stayed in Tallinn for another day. Ticket prices are calculated according to the length and height of the vehicle, the crucial factor being length. Ernie is 6.4 metres long but with the addition of the bike rack this takes us to 7.4 metres. We found that we could save 100 Euros on the crossing by removing the bike and rack and storing them inside the van for the duration. Tickets in the “Max length 7 m, max height 4.20 m” category worked out at much more respectable €111 plus €14 per dog.

6551 Viking XPRS Ferry Tallinn - Helsinki 16 May 2015

Having never been on a Viking ship before we rolled up to the ferry terminal half expecting to see a longboat with oars manned by a load of hairy blokes with horned helmets.

6543 Viking XPRS Ferry Tallinn - Helsinki 16 May 20156547 Viking XPRS Ferry Tallinn - Helsinki 16 May 2015

The crossing took just over two hours on a clear, sunny but still biting cold day over the Gulf of Finland. On the way we passed the 60th parallel north, the furthest north that we’ve ever been. We passed the 50th parallel back in southern Poland, and the 70th parallel is right up at the top of Finland, inside the Arctic Circle. With any luck, we’ll be there in a few weeks time.

Helsinki was originally El Sinki, named after a Spanish ship with holes in it. The town was founded in 1550 as a port to trade across the Baltic.

6565 Helsinki, Finland 16 May 2015

6577 Helsinki, Finland 17 May 20156601 Helsinki Cathedral, Finland 17 May 2015

We had a wonderful experience walking around the annual “Restaurant day” stalls and stuffing our spring roll holes with all manner of exotic dishes. Restaurant Day is not unique to Helsinki. It is a festival where absolutely anyone can open their own “restaurant” for a day.

6557 Food Market, Helsinki, Finland 16 May 2015

The streets were full of stalls, from teenage girls selling their own cupcakes, to professional chefs on a huge bandstand putting on a lavish display. The dogs noses were working overtime with all the aromas. Nellie was quivering with excitement, in her short life she has never experienced anything so exciting and she continually tried to drag me to the nearest stall. Unfortunately for Nellie, her few kilos were no match for my bulk so on we went to Market Square on the dockside, selling traditional arts and crafts, and hand made clothing. Woolly hats for €80 and full reindeer pelts for €300. The place was heaving with American and Australian cruise passengers, their ship docked for the day. It felt unusual to be in the company of English speakers once more.

6583 Market Square, Helsinki, Finland 17 May 2015 6585 Market Square, Helsinki, Finland 17 May 2015

A man in a wolf costume in Market Square.  As you can see, Nellie isn't impressed

A man in a wolf costume in Market Square. As you can see, Nellie isn’t impressed

We found a dedicated dog exercise area inside one of the city parks, how civilised!

6570 Helsinki, Finland 16 May 2015  6603 Helsinki Cathedral, Finland 17 May 2015 6612 Helsinki, Finland 17 May 20156599 Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland 17 May 2015

Prices in the city were eye-watering. Finland is supposed to be cheap by Scandinavian standards but after Russia it came as a shock. Diesel at 2.5 times the price we paid in Russia, a can of beer for 4 euros and wine/spirits only available at government regulated “Alko” stores. I suspect our time in Scandinavia will be a dry one! Once out of the city we found the Lidl stores once more and prices were more tolerable, which was a massive relief. We’ve missed our bargains from Lidl.

We loved Helsinki but were still yearning for the countryside. For the journey north it was a toss up between the coastal route or travelling through the lakeland region, the largest lake district in Europe containing most of Finland’s 187,888 lakes. we decided on lakeland hoping that it’s early enough in the season to avoid the mosquitoes.

6651 Overnight spot, Anntola, Finland 20 May 2015

This eastern region was ravaged during the Winter War following the Soviet invasion in 1939. The Finns’ tenacious defence and guerilla tactics held off the numerically superior Red Army for three months. The Soviets eventually prevailed at huge cost, and large areas of eastern Finland were ceded to the Soviet Union in the Moscow Peace Treaty.

We were lucky to miss the insect feast season and enjoyed the lakes very much. Sometimes it is hard to decide where to stop as there is so much choice. Picturesque lakeside laybys and picnic areas, and the excellent ABC service stations which have fresh water, Wi-Fi and some even have chemical toilet disposal points – all free to use! Some of these can even be described as posh!

6630 ABC Service Station, Savitaipale, Finland 19 May 2015 6633 ABC Service Station, Savitaipale, Finland 19 May 2015

The laybys often have fantastic views, but we like to try to get away from the main road and find clearings in the forest so that the dogs can run around.

6622 Finland 19 May 2015 6643 Savitaipale, Finland 20 May 2015

Finland is huge. We’re travelling the equivalent of Land’s End to John o’Groats and then some more for good measure, but we have a month in which to do it, at a leisurely pace of 30-40 miles per day. The rough plan is one month up through Finland, all the way up into northern Norway and Nordkapp, then two months down through Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

We expect to be in Lapland in a few days. If you have any messages for Santa we’d be happy to pass them on.

Note: a couple of videos to follow when we manage to find a decent internet connection.

6710 Finland 24 May 2015

Olavinlinna Castle

Olavinlinna Castle

6664 Olavinlinna Castle, Savonlinna, Finland 22 May 2015 6663 Olavinlinna Castle, Savonlinna, Finland 22 May 2015 6666 Olavinlinna Castle, Savonlinna, Finland 22 May 2015 6671 Olavinlinna Castle, Savonlinna, Finland 22 May 2015

Koli National Park

Koli National Park

6692 Koli National Park, Finland 24 May 2015 6683 Koli National Park, Finland 24 May 2015 6706 Koli National Park, Finland 24 May 2015