However you look at it, Salisbury to the North of Norway is quite a long way. I considered that detailed planning for that length of journey was probably a waste of time so when we left our dogs on the morning of the 11th of June all we had definitely planned was the ferry back.
Now we are back I can report that we travelled 5500 miles or nearly 9000 km. With 31 night stops, if I’m not careful, this is going to just be a long list, so I won’t mention every day, every lunch stop nor even every tunnel. Regarding tunnels, according to the maps we travelled about 260km underground, the actual total will be more because lots of them aren’t on the maps yet. I think that’s enough statistics for the opening paragraph so lets finish it with a quick summary. We caught the ferry from South Shields to Stavanger went across towards Oslo then on across Sweden towards Stockholm. A big left turn took us on the E4 up the east coast of Sweden then from the coast we went Northwards did about 100km in Finland and back into Norway to NordKapp (North Cape). We went South to the Lofoten islands and dallied there a week before heading South, island hopping until we got near to Trondheim. We then crossed the fjords till eventually we caught the ferry at Haugesund back to South Shields…. the end.
Ok Ok I’ll write a bit more but I’m definitely leaving bits out otherwise everyone will be bored.
Actually the first 24 hours was quite good. We got off the ferry at about 3pm headed south out of Stavanger until we picked up the RV45. Now this road ain’t on everyone’s map and even if it is, it peters out after a while but we had contacts that told us it went right across to the main road to Oslo and so it did. After an hour of gentle driving we took a short detour to a boulder field that I had seen on the internet. Now we’ve all seen boulders, but perhaps not like these, they totally dwarfed us, some of them the size of houses, all lying on top of one another while the road wriggled between them. There were several spots there where we could have easily wild camped.
Wild camping or free camping is definitely an option in Scandinavia. In fact it is a right. I think you should respect a notice that says that a car park is private or one that says no overnight parking or not stay in a place closely overlooked by a house. You are also not allowed to just drive off road over land but in general there is no problem finding somewhere to camp for free. We have a loo and a shower so we don’t need a campsite every night. We only stayed at sites on 11 nights and one of those was really only a car park. The other thing they have is motorhome service points, basically a small roadside kiosk (sometimes in a filling station) where you can empty the waste water and chemical toilets and fill up with fresh water. They vary in design but were either free or cost a couple of pounds to use.
Where was I? Oh yes an hour or so from Stavanger (only 750 hours to go), I had an idea to camp at the end of Lysebotn Fjord on the 1st night so we headed off again. Now there are two ways to reach Lysebotn, one is on a car ferry from Stavanger, the other? Well what you do is go along the RV45 until you see this small road on the left. After climbing for about 12km or so, passing small lakes with mini icebergs on, you go down into the fjord, there are 27 hairpins and the road drops 700m and by the way the last hairpin is inside a tunnel which is about a kilometer long. This is what it looks like on a map!
Lets get the whole tunnel experience over with. Basically the Norwegians have spent their North Sea oil revenues on tunnels. They are mostly fairly narrow single carriageway roads under mountains and fjords which are typically a few kilometres long. We went through one that was 25km long and several of 8 to 12km length but that’s just tunnellers showing off. Their most impressive trick is making them spiral upwards through a mountain and in the network under Tromso they have roundabouts inside them! The simpler tunnels tend to have a curved and very well lit bit at each end to get you acclimatised, then a boring straight bit which is also lit but not brightly. Seeing a dot approach for 3 minutes that suddenly develops into a 8 axle road train in a dimly lit tunnel under 6 metres wide keeps you on your side of the road, no question. A small tunnelling firm was once asked by the roads authority how they intended to do the work, the boss said that his brother would start his team at one end and he would start at the other. What if you don’t meet, what happens than? Well then you get two tunnels for the price of one! We didn’t meet any tunnels with two bores so I guess they are pretty good at it.
So three and a half hours after getting off the ferry we are tucked up in a campsite, with a view to die for. No advance booking and lets face it if there was no room we would have found somewhere to park up and free camped. This site was home from home for base jumpers. Sure enough when enjoying our breakfast egg the next morning a parachutist executed a neat turn overhead and landed a few meters away having jumped off the impressive 3000 feet cliff by the side of the fjord. Well I think driving down is much more difficult.
Three days later we were 60m down a silver mine in Sweden, just a bit northwest of Stockholm having already visited the site of the Norwegian power station where the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ destroyed the heavy water during the war, had our first wildcamp and gone under the Oslo fjord in a tunnel, oh and by the way gone up those 27 hairpins at Lysebotn.
Swedish campsites were deserted. There was only one thing more empty than a Swedish campsite and that was a Swedish motorway. We drove a 50km stretch of the E4 mid morning and only saw one other vehicle on our side of the road.
Swedish Motorway, Bridge and Carpark
By day 7 we are above the arctic circle and have already met our first reindeer. Well they met us, a mother and baby came and investigated our camping spot at breakfast time that day and later we came across lots on and near the road. That day was when we made up our mind to go all the way to NordKapp. To be honest everything had gone so well that we could have easily made it there by day six if we hadn’t bimbled about.
Above the Arctic circle the weather deteriorated for a couple of days and when we pulled into NordKapp car park in late afternoon on day 9 (the 20th of June) it was in thick fog, actually thick sunlit cloud because NordKapp is basically a 1000 foot high lump of rock and the cloudbase was about 800 feet. Picture the scene, its very bright but so foggy that you can hardly see 30 feet. We found the payment kiosk easily enough it was at the end of the road, but then had to gingerly ease forward to find the car park. We parked up next to a German motorhome and went exploring, carefully. The three-storey visitor centre was found eventually but not easily and I seriously thought of taking the GPS out of the van to navigate by. It was no better after we returned to the van as we groped around the car park we found motor caravans huddled in groups for company but with no semblance of order at all. We had asked at the kiosk how long had the visibility been like this – three weeks was the reply, but they said that the cloud had cleared for a few hours the previous night so that the midnight sun had been seen, and they were hopeful…so were we.
Nordkapp Carpark, Cliff Edge and 'Viewpoint'
It was 390 NOK for up to two days parking and the unrestricted use of the visitor centre and the view! It is also 185 NOK for a one way trip through the tunnel to get there. Obviously NordKapp is a one off and going to be expensive, a NOK (Norwegian Krona) is about 8.5p (in 2006, 11p in 2013 - you can do the sums. It did cost us 88 NOK to cross a bridge once and there was a 174 NOK charge for a ten minute ferry but in general the tolls and ferry fares didn’t seem too bad. One important point is that the price often triples if your van is above 6m long, and unfairly in our view a car and caravan is charged less than a 6m motorhome. Not every new road or tunnel has a toll charge but the newer the road the more likely. In general Norway is much more expensive than UK. Some examples: Ordinary postcards 7 to 10 NOK, a carrier bag full of mundane groceries 290 NOK, Beer in a supermarket 25 NOK a can, cheese 175 NOK a kg but diesel varied at about 10 NOK a litre A coffee on a ferry would be about 15 to 20 NOK and a refill free or 5 NOK. Parking outside of major towns was free.
In thick cloud we viewed all the attractions of the visitor centre including the purchasing opportunities. As we continued feeling our way around the car park we came across two British vans, the first we had seen since getting off the ferry in Stavanger. We were invited into one of them and whilst swapping experiences realised suddenly that we could see about us. It rapidly became amazing. There was cloud below us down to the sea and cloud above us but in between the sun shone and the temperature rapidly rose to a comfortable 12 or 13 degrees by 10pm. The sun doesn’t rise very high in sky at noon but doesn’t sink very far at midnight either if you want to see the sun dip down to kiss the water you need to be there further away from the Summer Solstice. By the way some people have difficulty working out what is happening with the midnight sun. What you are seeing at that latitude at midnight is the sun on the opposite side of the earth, the rays are coming across the N pole to you and in doing so go through the atmosphere for quite a long way although try telling that to my camera, the photo is 1/500th at F5.6!
From about 11pm coaches started arriving until there were about 30. Where did they come from? Were they all waiting at some alternate venue for a visibility report or were they all travelling hopefully? We shall never know, by 2am they had left and we proper visitors had the view to ourselves again.
Clouds Depart - Coaches Arrive
The next day brought rain and wall to wall cloud, we thought we would have a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant or coffee shop but all they had was some rapidly curling open sandwiches along with instant coffee. We were not impressed but really 11am is not their peak time. So we moved on, by the time we stopped on day 11 we had travelled some 400 miles south and had been in strong sunshine for most of the time.
When we went to Tromso it rained. ‘Paris of the North’? we don’t think so but they had one attraction the Polaria exhibition where we could have stayed at all day. Its best you visit their website at www.polaria.no/home.155300.en.html to see for yourself. Oh and the roundabouts in the tunnels they were cool.
I better stop here and attach the photos. Go to Part II
Also many more photos here Extra Photos