Journey to the Top of the World : 3

We got to bed extra late on Sunday, we were too busy writing blogs and listening to the wildlife at Skibont. Not to mention that dusk wasn’t until nearly midnight and I don’t know if it ever got fully dark all night. So we managed a wee lay in until gone 07:00 and subsequently didn’t hit the road until 09:00. Today would be a short journey, when I looked the next site in Alta up the site finder said 66 miles which of course was as the crow flies. In reality it was 135 along the shores of the fjords some “follow me” roadworks through tunnels and rock falls and over a couple of passes and a short ferry crossing.

As it turned out today’s views the most spectacular yet. As we drove along across the other side of the fjord we could see snow on the mountains and numerous small glaciers between them but the best was to come. We stopped for lunch in a lay-by next to a large UK registered motorhome with a covered trailer containing a car and a boat. We watched an attractive lady drive an articulated tarmac truck in to clean the back out and get told off by the highways people – all very interesting. After lunch as the road climbed up a pass we noted that the pine trees had given way to stunted silver birch. As we crested the pass the view that unfolded before us took our breath away. The fjord was turqoise with snow capped mountains and glaciers beyond. The stunning scene was further enhanced by reindeer grazing at the road side. Difficult to believe that in WWII the battleship Tirpitz was holed up here until the RAF managed to sink it.

There are 3 camp sites in Alta all next to each other on the banks of the river. We chose the last in the row and were not disappointed. We booked in for 2 nights with the intention of doing a day trip to the Nordkapp and back the following day. A day ahead of our contingency plan which was useful. We were up early on Tuesday for the final push. It would be about 150 miles and 4 hours and we planned to have lunch there, admire the view and send some postcards.

Did I say earlier on this page that the views that day had been the most spectacular yet? Well forget that, yes they were good but the awesomeness of the land and seascape on the final part of our Journey to the Top of the World was simply gobsmacking. It was a cold, grey, damp and sometimes wet day but that was immaterial.

We headed North out of Alta climbing on to a treeless wilderness plain. The road was  long and mostly straight for the best part of 50 miles. There were Sami (the local indigenous peoples) camps and settelements at the side of the road and stalls selling their goods. On the hillside and beside the river there were occasional holiday cabins, skidoo’s for sale. A real wilderness, that must be inhospitable in the extreme in the winter but so much life going on. An then there were the reindeer herds, hundreds of them in large tracts of crudely fenced land and to think Sue had been worried about seeing just one.

Eventually we got to the small town (if it could be called that) of Olderfjord with fuel, shops, campsites and a hotel that we thought might be the last civilisation after which the road followed the coast line for 60 miles. Sometimes shiny new 2 lane and others barely 5 metres wide with uncomfortable drops off the edge. The views out across the Porsangen Fjord and the mountains beyond were stunning as were the clouds with sheets of rain where they met the sea. Still people lived and worked along the way mostly fishing but also still bailing hay obviously for winter feed and one guy who was the local helicopter service. Along the shore there were family groups and rafts of Mergazer and Goosander  ducks with the occasional Wigeon and Long Tail ducks.

At the top of the Fjord the road crosses to Mageroya island through a 6.8km tunnel. As you drive in it starts to drop until it is eventually 212m below see level. Shortly after we stopped at a road works waiting for a “follow me” through a tunnel and watched an Eider family with still very small chicks. The roadworks inside this tunnel turned out to be cleaning with big spray trucks washing the roof and walls (these tunnels are all rough hewn from the rock) and here I have a bone to pick – we had to go through is in both directions and it cost me 80NKR (£8) to get the van anywhere near clean again.

Immediately after this tunnel we came upon Honningsvag which seems to be a bustling small town with tourism (there was a small cruise ship came into the harbour), fishing and other shipping or perhaps oil related services. Continuing up the road with just 21 miles to go we passed a large and recently built Scandic hotel before climbing high across the very wet and windswept moor until we came upon the Nordkapp visitor centre at 71.10.21N. They charged us 55NKR (£55) for the pleasure but after 2390 miles we were hardly going to turn around. The temperature was as low as 7C but we just had to do the photos before seeking shelter in the visitor centre. So we had made it, an itch well and truly scratched.

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After a hot dog and a bun in the visitor centre and sending the obligatory post cards we set off back to Alta. Of course the same journey was just a retrace, and that tunnel, but we knew where to look for things. We stopped and got a great view of a Black Throated diver on a pond on the moor and got fabulous views of 2 pairs of Golden Eagles soaring above the road. By now we were suffering from reindeer overload so it might be time to start looking for some for the BBQ when we get further south to warmer weather. As we got closer to Alta the weather did improve and we returned to a not unpleasant but still chilly evening.

A couple of things that have struck us are the number of different countries cars and campers have come from apart from the obvious Scandinavian and Northern European. We have seen Russian and Ukrainian, hardly what we expected, Italian and Spanish, hell of a long way, and even one Australian BMW bike but we have seen precious few British certainly in Norway. Sue saw a car a few days ago and we passed a VW camper and then there was that Burstiner motorhome wit the trailer. On the way back from the Norkapp to Alta we sa a UK plated Unimog type camper and big 4×4 van camper with UK plates but that is it. Another surprising thing especially to and from the Nordkapp was the number of cyclists laden with tents and luggage battling the elements, the hills and tunnels and the traffic to reach the Top of the World – to be frank they must be bonkers.

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Journey to the Top of the World : 2

Our crossing to Kristiansand was smooth and took just over 3 hours. The Colorline fast ferries are large vessels and a cut above your average cross channel fries. The terminal in Kristiansand spilled us into the into town in the middle of the afternoon and we were soon on our way north. The next week was going to be all about travel as we wanted to get to the Nordkapp first and then meander back south taking in sights and detours on the way.

It was another cooking hot afternoon when we dropped off the main road to find a small camp site by the lake at place called Hisoy. The sun was so hot that Sue and Fred had to sit in the van with the blinds down to avoid it and it hardly cooled down all night. Like most Norwegian campsites it was a mixture of caravans, campervans, motorhome and cabins but on this site someone was staying in a full on Kenworth long nose semi tractor.

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Fred woke us about 06:00 on Thursday so we were soon up, dressed, breakfasted and on the road. Some of the road from Kristiansand to Oslo is now motorway but there was one section under construction and boy do the Norwegian road builders know how to deal with rocks. Sadly Norway has fallen in love with road pricing and every so often there is a gantry across the road that collects your registration number. We found just a few of these before so at least we have an account but there is no escape for foreign tourists as their agency will collect the tolls.

We came off the motorway before Oslo to take a scenic route to Lillehamer. It was picturesque but not a very good road and busy so for the second half of the journey we opted for the main E6 road (that would take us to a 100km short of the Nordkapp) that was equally busy and still pleasant enough. On the way into Lillehamer we looked up local campsites and found one by the lake. Fred managed to get a swim in the lake and bark at the ducks so he was happy. That evening we started to notice the lengthening days as sunset was getting later and the light it left over the lake was stunning.

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For Friday our plan was to make it past Trondheim to a camp site we stayed at last time but first a trip to the supermarket for fresh provisions. By the time we were on the road it was already busy and for much of the way it was a frustratingly slow Norwegian cautions speed limit dawdle. We crossed over the vast wilderness at Oppdal where the road summit is over 2000 feet eventually reaching Trondheim in the Friday rush hour. Finally we got to the campsite at Steinkjer and the same pitch we had last time overlooking the lake where we could watch the Merganzer ducks among others dividing for food.

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We made an early start on Saturday and this time the road was quiet. We were aiming for Mo i Rana but in the end made it way past there. The road passes through a mixture of geography and terrain but whatever there are a lot of pine trees. Like the rest of the journey there were several tunnels and todays longest of 8.6km is going to take some beating. Sue was on the look out for Elk and was rewarded with one this morning a bit off the side of the road. Long before Mo i Rana and beyond there were significant roadworks where the road is being widened and realigned. We saw the beginnings o this last time so it is going to be a long term project. That afternoon we crossed the Arctic Circle and continued to Nordnes campsite for the night. The van is taking the journey well in its stride and passed the 2000 mile mark just a few short of the Arctic Circle. By now the weather was much cooler, about 16C during the day and 10C at night.

We were away sharp on Sunday morning and again the roads were very quiet. This afternoon, 7 days after leaving home, we passed 2000 miles. Our aim was to get a little way past Narvik before stopping. We had an easy journey through some very big scenery stopping on one occasion to admire it and finding we were close by the WWII concentration camp. Just before that we had both seen an Elk on the road margin before it scuttled off into the woods. We ate lunch on small ferry just before Narvik and were looking forward to stopping for the night. Well this had to be the longest stretch of road with no campsites and we were contemplating a wild stop. Fortunately though we found a pleasant site next to a wildlife reserve that apparently has abundant bird life – except of course when we visit although we did see a red squirrel on the drive which fortunately Fred did not.

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Driving through Norway is often slow and always torturous. Distances as the crow flies are great but by road they are twice as far. I am sure Fred, being a Spaniel, understands this. They can be tedious at times but rarely boring. It is easy to become blasé about the stupendous scenery that is seemingly endless. One could take a million photos but never capture the essence of bowling along through this fabulous place.

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Journey to the Top of the World : 1

Well at least to the Nordkapp which is the most northerly point in Europe.

Two years ago we drove up the west coast of Norway as far as the Arctic Circle before turning for home through Sweden. Ever since then we have regretted not going further north in Norway even though we would not have had time to get to the Nordkapp. So now here we are on that journey for 5 weeks. Our plan is to get to the there reasonably swiftly although without busting a gut especially driving through Norway.

We set out on Sunday 29 July to catch the shuttle to Calais. For several days before Eurotunnel had been having tremendous problems caused by the heat wave and high traffic levels at the start of the school holidays. It seems that the air conditioning in their ageing rolling stock could not cope with the heat and the hot vehicles so that carriages were being taken out of service causing delays of many hours. However by Sunday things looked better so when we arrived everything was apparently running normally – that is only 30 minutes late. Waiting in the camper van park for our slot to be called we were one of many VW campers – at a guess about 1/3 of the vans there were VW of all ages. Oh and we had the first rain for weeks – but of course we were off on our travels.

Hitting the road north from Calais the Sunday traffic was busy and it was still raining. After about half an hour we crossed the Belgian border and it started to warm up. The autoroute through Belgium was extremely busy slowing to a crawl on several occasions. Our intention was always to get through Antwerp and into Netherlands before stopping for the night. Antwerp didn’t disappoint and we queued all the way up to and beyond the Kennedy tunnel even on a Sunday.

img_0934Once in the Netherlands we came off the motorway at Ousterhout to find a campsite. The surrounding area seemed to be a leisure park with a lot to choose from but in reality most were holiday camps or static vans. We stopped at one that was ASCI listed but as the lady totted up the extras it came to €40 for nothing special so we made our excuses and left. With a bit of snooping we soon found a site. A few miles away, it was bit old and tired but it was fine for the night and substantially cheaper at €13.50 and no formalities.

It was a hot night and we all had difficulty sleeping. We struggled to get Fred to stay in his bed but a bit of forceful persuasion eventually did the trick and we all got some sleep until about 06:00 when he decided it was time to jump on the bed and wake us.

On Monday 30th our plan was to reach the Danish border, about 400 miles away but the autobahn gods had other ideas. It was 30C and more for most of the day so we were running fast with the air condition blasting. Our first big problem came approaching roadworks joining the A1 near Osnabruk. We both saw the sat nav direct us off to the right but as we moved over I noticed the road signage was different and by the time we looked back at the sat nav we were committed. Annoyed and frustrated we drove about 7 miles to the next junction with queuing traffic on the opposite side that we were going to have to come back through. We had lost about half an hour.

 

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Back on the move we stopped briefly for lunch with an eye on making the border by 17:00. Our plan ran it to trouble when we hit the back of a queue caused by a recent accident in the roadworks ahead. In all we sat there for about 2 hours with an outside temperature that maxed at 36C – it wasn’t fun. Once they cleared the accident and the traffic was on the move again we dove through many miles of 2 lane restrictions with more queues around Bremen and on to Hamburg. Hamburg was another nightmare, it was rush hour and we crawled through the Elbe Tunnels and into 30 or 40 kilometres of roadworks where the A7 going north is being widened.

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By now we had given up on making Denmark and so dropped off the motorway to find a nearby camp site. What we found was a holiday camp site around a small lake. They even had a beach with loads of activities for kids. The touring pitches were a free for all which despite our having driven around the lanes off the autobahn was right next to it. Whatever the facilities were superb so we ended up clean and refreshed. It was another very hot and stuffy night.

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We were up early the next morning, 31 July, courtesy of Fred and on the road where even at 09:00 it was 28C. After the previous day our drive was spectacularly uneventful and we made Hirtshals by 14:45. At the camp site by the beach our details came up on their system and we pitched just a few places away from where we had before. After a walk around town we had planned to sit out for the evening but the inevitable happened, the wind got up, the sky clouded, there were claps of thunder and the heavens opened so that was that until later when the sun set with a gorgeous orange turning to red glow.

Wednesday 1st of August and we were off to Norway. We killed time with a walk around the extensive German fortifications for the big guns that were there to protect the straight. And then before checking in top the tank up with cheap Danish diesel and a trip to the supermarket for a few essentials. Finally after 865 miles arriving at the ferry terminal for our 12:15 sailing to Kristiansand.

Journey to the Top of the World : 2 >>>

2018 Here We Come

What to do on a wet New Year? Book next years hols of course!

We have been looking forward to going back to Norway and this time we are going all the way to the top in August.Norway Map It is 2500km from Kristiansand to Nordkapp which is 5000km round trip, or 3000 miles. Add to that the 1300km from Calais to Hirtshals (the Tunnel to the ferry from Denmark) is a total of 7600km, or 4500 miles, without any detours and there will be plenty of those. We are allowing 5 weeks so a few days to get to Kristiansand and a few days back, hopefully via Holland where we can visit friends and and take Fred to the vet for his passport worming pill.

The Tunnel and Ferry together cost about £500. There are no great deals to be had on the Tunnel as our C&CC membership only works on silly o’clock trips and you we can’t use Tesco vouchers and include Fred who by the way Eurotunnel charge another £18 each way for! However the tunnel is better than the ferry simply because of the frequency that fits in better with our timing. It would have been good to have a flexible return but they want virtually double so we will just pay the penalty if we need to change. Another gripe with Eurotunnel is that they charge another £20 each way for our van. because it is a Motorcaravan – I tried to select van but when I put the registration in it objected.  Conversely Highways England refuse to let us cross Dartford as a Motorcaravan and charge us extra as a van!

Conversely Colorline Ferries from Hirtshals to Kristiansand is easy and user friendly. They are also quite a bit cheaper than Eurotunnel. There we can book on as a Small Car under 2m high and 5m long. Unladen we actually go 2020mm over the solar panel so with us, our travel kit, clothes and 4 weeks of food that we can’t afford to buy or can’t get in Norway I am sure we will find that 20mm.

This time we will allow and extra day to get from Calais to Hirtshals where we will top over the night before the ferry. We plan to go inland from Kristiansand to Trondheim but major route planning is easy especially north of Trondheim – there is only the E6! On the way back south we will do the coast again from Trondheim.

NC500 MapSo what else? Well continuing the Go North theme we are planning to do the North Coast 500. It is a few years since we visited my relatives in Edinburgh and 25 years since we last went further north. As it will be outside school holiday time I don’t think we will book anything so we can be free to go with the flow. Time and weather permitting we would like to do some of the islands and at least Skye and perhaps Orkney. There are a couple of sites close enough to Edinburgh where we can get into town easily and, if the weather is kind, host a picnic for my cousins.

Arctic Circle 66° 33′ N

Situated on the E6 about 80km north of Mo I Rana the Polarsirkelsenteret is a bit more than just a line across the road.

We arrived at the Arctic Circle at about 17:00. It was a pleasant afternoon with an air temperature of about 18C but at that time of year and latitude the sun is very hot. There is a large car park, a visitor centre with all the touristic paraphernalia built astride the line and overnight parking for campers. There are also monuments, including those to Russians and Yugoslavs from WWII, and a large area of rock piles that Fred had a go at knocking over!

DSC_0204We were not sure what to expect at this latitude and the surrounding terrain is rugged but then the visitor centre is at 630m a.s.l.. However not far down the road in either direction industry and agriculture continue despite the shortened seasons.

We were in too much of a hurry to get here and were worried about how long it is going to taker to get home. In reality we could have taken our time and / or gone further north. We must come again and and carry on to the North Cape.

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Kristiansand to the Arctic Circle

Depending on the actual route you take it is about 1000 miles from the southern tip to the Arctic Circle by the main coast road and then the main road north. Sounds like a long way but that is only half the distance to the North Cape – but that will be another story.

kristiansand2arcticcircleDay 3 – Thursday 16 June – Kristiansand is the southern most tip of Norway a 4 hour crossing from Hirtshals The Colorline ferry arrived mid afternoon and took quite a while to disembark and single file past the immigration / customs – sadly a test of things to come post Brexit

It was overcast and damp as we hit the road aiming to find a camp site not too far away for the night. The first of many spectacles came on the E39 at Feda, a tunnel that exited directly on to a suspension bridge over a fjord before going straight back into another tunnel on the other side. Shortly after we cut off at Flekkefiord on to the 44, a smaller coast road. It was spectacularly senic even on a damp and dreary evening often single lane winding through narrow fjords with big drops, picturesque valleys and cragy tops. Getting desperate we stopped in a small village and contemplated stopping for the night until we opened the door and met the local residents – mosies! Eventualy we found a small and surprisingly inexpensive campsite with nice facilities, Bakkaano Camping, in hills near Sognadal.

Day 4 & 5 – Friday 17th & Sat 18th June – The next day we followed the coast north heading for Stavanger. After stopping for a quick look at Egersund church and a coffee by the fjord the country side along this stretch of coast turns into flat coastal plain with arable farming all the way to Stavanger Fjord. I used to stay at a hotel in Sola so we headed for Sola Strand, a long sandy beach, where we rocked up for lunch. Sola is next to Stavanger airport that is constantly busy with helicopters coming and going to the oil and gas rigs.

A quick look at a couple of camp sites and we decided on a nice site on the beach south of Sola Strand at Olberg harbour. It was barely separated from small the beach by a row of dunes and had great facilities. Next day was Sue’s birthday so our plan was to stop here and chill. It was a great spot and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Fred particularly liked the beach, the Oyster Cachers and a family of Eiders. It was windy and a showery at times. The winds off the Atlantic were a constant 65kph for 24 hours so we had to take down our inflatable drive away awning and when it came time to go we had to to turn the van back into the wind so that we could lower the roof without risking damage.

Day 6 – Sunday 19th June – After filling up in Stavanger with what had to be the cheapest diesel in Western Europe we headed for Bergen opting to take the scenic route with a couple of longish ferries hoping across the islands. However before we could do that there was the tunnel under Stavanger Fjord which at 8.5km long may not sound too spectacular but at 265m deep it certainly is. There are 2 ferries each about 45 minutes and such an enjoyable way to travel.

We arrived in Bryggen, the old town at the heart of Bergen, for a spot of lunch parked up just off the waterfront and had a quick look at the touristic buildings. Most of the big buildings are stone or brick from the early 1900s, presumably because the wooden ones would have succumbed to fire amongst other things, but there are several preserved or reconstructed buildings.

A short stroll was enough for us – nowadays we really don’t do cities and Fred certainly doesn’t! This section of the old waterfront overlooks the harbour where apart for a host of sail boats and fishing boats the ferries and cruise ships dock. Further out to sea it quickly gives way to shipping for the oil industry.

Leaving Bergen and still on the E39 it was a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon and the views from the road across the fjords simply went on and on. We stopped for refreshment at a busy road side cafe to buy ices – not something to be recommended at those prices. Parked up enjoying them a guy pulled up next to us in the most pristine black 1957 Thunderbird convertible, such a nice way to enjoy that road. Shortly after we came across the quintessentially Norwegian church nestling in a small hamlet on the shore of the fjord at Vikanes.

Crossing the Sogner Fjord to Lavik we took a detour from the E39 in search of a camp site for the night. We found a one in the middle of nowhere and by that I mean we turned off the main road following a camping sign and drove for miles along small roads until we came upon it by lake Askevatnet,. It was in an idyllic spot in a valley next to the lake with several Huttes (the Norwegians enjoy holidaying in Wendy houses) and a small communal block with a toilet, shower and small kitchen. It was so quiet we only had 2 other vans and several Polish workers for company that night.

Day 7 – Monday 20th June – The following morning still following our detour on scenic small roads we came across a roundabout at Dale in the middle of the tunnel that was lit in disco blue. The whole day was just more great roads and fab scenery on our way to our next stop over that was to be Alesund.

Here we made our first foray into the supermarket which as expected was expensive and we were surprised by the poor choice, something we found throughout Norway. We also had to go to a pet shop as Fred had chewed through his lead and if we thought the supermarket was expensive the pet shop beat them hands down! That night finding a camp site was a annoying and we drove 20km up the road until we found one at Sjoholt. It was a bit uninspiring but the dreary evening probably didn’t help.

Day 8 – Tuesday 21st June – The following morning I was on a mission so we drove back into Alesund. As a kid one of my favourite books was the Shetland Bus, the story of the Norwegian fisherman and sailors who escaped from Nazi occupation of Norway and with the help of the British SOE formed a naval unit that sailed from Scotland to Norway in fishing boats supplying the resistance, rescuing people and carrying out attacks like the attempted sinking of the Tirpitz. On the harbour front by the ferry terminal is a monument to the men of the Shetland Bus.

From Alesund we headed on toward the Atlantic Road. A series of bridges hopping across several small islands. Nice though it is it is no where nears as spectacular as the tourist literature makes out. As it sweeps from one island to another there is only one main arch, to allow boats past, and this is the one you will see on all the photos. The other bridges are all fairly flat. We stopped for coffee and waved to the first Brit we had seen since Germany and who just happened to be another VW T5. They pulled in for a chat and recognised our van from the T4/T5 Forum!

Immediately after the Atlantic Road we followed a sign for a camp site heading out to the islands. It took us so far out and the road eventually turned to gravel before we got to Camping Lyso. This site has to be recommended with loads of pitches in amongst the rocks and views all around. The facilities were excellent including good WiFi and all for a great price. That night was midsummer so the shortest of the year and we were able to wonder around taking in the views late into the evening while the sun still shone on the mountains.

Remote though this place was there were new holiday homes being built in several places and some of the Lithuanian workers were staying on the camp site. Yet another example of Norway’s relationship with the EU.

Easy 9 – Wednesday  22nd June – Continuing to head north and after several days following the E39 we finally reached the end and joined the E6 on the way to Trondheim. Sue had been suffering from a bad cold and sore throat for several days so we made a detour into a small town, Bardshaug, and called into Boots the Apotek for a packet of Strepsils at twice the UK price!

Despite the northern latitude it was warm in the rush hour traffic around Trondheim so we were pleased to find a nice camp site just north of Steinkjer, Follingstua Camping on lake Snasavatet. From our pitch we had an elevated view over the lake.

Day 10 – Thursday 23rd June – The following day we simply headed north on the E6. On the way a long tunnel at Hemnes was closed and the traffic redirected over the old mountain road. From the viewpoint at its peak we got clear views of the Okstindan mountains and the Okstindbreen glacier. As the weather promised to be fine all day we decided to press on to Arctic Circle that afternoon. Just before Mo I Rana something strange happened to the sat nav and the screen decided that it was night time so that the only solution was to turn the day night feature off. It was a haul getting past Mo I Rana because of the amount of road works but we made it late in the afternoon.

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