[May 2017 Sally] Blighty, Blighty, Blighty. We've come the long way round, the long way up and a hop, skip and jump through Europe to get here. It means a lot to us as we were born here - me (Sally) in Wales and Jeff in Scotland. So we have lots of family and friends here and I can't wait to see them all. It's going to be great to meet my new in-laws and for Jeff to meet his new in-laws (if you've only just joined us - for your info, we got married on this trip in Las Vegas). Between us we both gained a few sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Unfortunately it doesn't make a great story - I'll put alerts ! and GO signs in the blog so you can skip over it if you're not a friend or relative. Sorry it's taken so long getting this blog out but it's not only been go, go, go, but also hard finding a story, but I'll give it my best shot. So once upon a time, a long, long time ago back in May . . .
We've just arrived in Folkestone from Calais on the Eurotunnel - the first time for both of us. How easy to get across the Channel in 35 minutes. First stop - a real ale pub. We found a cheap B&B in a pub in Rowland's Castle not far from Portsmouth. We avoid motorways and have a lovely ride through the English countryside passing through small villages and country lanes. We get there with an hour or so of sunshine left in the beer garden. We don't bother unpacking or getting changed out of our riding gear - we head straight for the beer garden. A good real ale, in a beer garden, in a small village overlooking the village green, in a pub called The Robin Hood - how quintessentially British. It turns up trumps in the morning too with a full English breakfast - I'm in heaven :)
We've headed this way as we want to see Stonehenge. The traffic starts to get really slow and heavy a few miles from the stones. Everyone's rubber necking the stone circle as we pass them on the road even though you can't see them very well - they're about 200 metres away. I imagined (in Sally's world), that you could just park up and walk up to the stones in a bit of a rural/farm setting. I didn't expect a massive car park, a whopping 21st century visitors' centre, thousands of tourists and a £20 entry fee. And you have to pay if you want to see the stones as you can't see them from the visitor centre. So we didn't. We rebelled, had a cup of tea and a sandwich, and left.
We're heading for Stratford-upon-Avon, taking the country roads through tiny English villages, and amusingly named places like Stow-on-the-Wold - hopefully it's not a rotten borough like Dunny-on-the-Wold of Blackadder The Third. We're heading there, not to see Shakespeare, or the River Avon or any ye-olde-worlde timber framed houses. We're going to stay 2 days with Richard and Becky - they said we could use their garage to do some maintenance on the bikes. Richard has sourced a Heidenau tyre for Jeff's rear wheel and Becky's a trooper and picks it up on Saturday for us. In the meantime we get to work on the bikes and do a full maintenance. Jeff has a go at fitting the new Heidenau tyre himself, but they don't have a reputation of being tough for nothing - he tries to fit it, with the help of Richard and myself for hours, and hours, and hours all day Saturday and finally gives up (not something Jeff does lightly). He takes it to a Kwik Fit in the morning but that's for car tyres only. All day yesterday and all this morning we can hear motorbikes racing around - Richard says there's a speedway close by, so they try there. Thankfully there's a tyre-fitter there. He was a but reluctant at first but when Jeff told him he'd ridden his bike all the way from Australia he was more than happy to help. We get visits from old friends Dave, and Tony who I used to work with at Callscan in the 80's - it's great to see them both. Thanks Becky for being a great hostess with the mostess - it will be a while before I forget that incredibly delicious cake you make.
It takes most of Sunday to get the bikes finished and ride-worthy, but we just about make it to Tony and Phyllis' in Stourbridge to go out for a curry dinner in the Black Country. We go for the obligatory pint of real ale first then to one of their favourite Indian restaurants around the corner. Tony opens up a very old bottle of vintage port when we get back to theirs and we have a few night caps. Thanks for sharing that Tony, it was delicious.
The day has finally arrived to ride to my home town, Prestatyn, in North Wales. It feels very strange to ride a motorbike on roads I once knew like the back of my hand driving a car. It's a warm feeling seeing the familiar panoramic view over Llandudno as I ride through Dyserth and a few minutes later arrive at my eldest sister's house, Ann, in Prestatyn. We've just had time to change out of our wet riding gear and get visits from my cousin Judith and George, and my gorgeous niece Nicola and her fiance Jermaine, who have driven over 2 hours especially to see us and drive back. It's lovely to see them all - and quite overwhelming at the same time. We've been on our own too long! Ann has made us a beef roast dinner and I can't wait to get stuck in - it's been a long time since we've had a home-cooked meal and a roast dinner.
We're in Prestatyn for a few days so have time to catch up with a few rellies. My lovely brother John treats us to a cheeky lunch at a local pub in town - but "just the one". We go out for dinner with him and his lovely wife Sian one night, and visit my nephew, James another day and his sons Freddie and Charlie. We get to see cousin Steve and Aunty Jean in their new house around the corner from Ann's.
We're spending Friday night with my awesome niece Andrea in Chester. We drop our bikes off at Kate's in Wrexham fairly early and take a train to Liverpool. Jeff needs to renew his UK passport as it expires at the end of the month. He's got an appointment at the passport office later on so we while away the time around Albert Dock. The passport office is extremely efficient and Jeff's done in a few minutes - and he is to come back tomorrow to pick up his new passport.
Back at Andrea's in Chester - we get a chance to catch up with my niece Kate and her daughter Holly for a short while before they have to leave. It's an exciting night - I can't believe Andrea's saved the bottle of Dom Pérignon I bought for a special birthday 18 months ago. "Saved it for a special occasion", she says. I'm so glad our 18 months of riding our motorbikes from Australia to the UK is special enough!
Saturday, we pick up our bikes from Kate's and ride to Liverpool to pick up Jeff's passport. When technology fails you it can get quite stressful. It's pouring down with rain when we leave Kate's, and whereas I sort of know the area and sort of know where Liverpool is - I don't know how to get there without TomTom. Jeff's glasses fog up in the rain so he has to take them off, he's ok to ride without them but can't see the TomTom map; his intercom is faulty so he can't get voice guidance from TomTom nor can we speak to each other; I'm leading but my iPhone's not charging on my handlebars and my phone dies within minutes of leaving Kate's. We're flying blind really. Jeff has to lead but it's very difficult. By the time we get to the start of the Mersey Tunnel he's cracked it. We take a few minutes' break and take it slowly through the tunnel - thankfully the speed limit is 30mph. We find the passport office OK and park on the pavement outside. While Jeff collects his passport I rig up my portable charger to my phone and tuck it in my tank bag to keep it dry so I can lead and navigate. Cos now we have an 80km, very wet ride to Clitheroe.
Adventure Motorcycling Hero
"Clitheroe", I hear you say. "What the devil is there?". Well, this was a fixed date for us - the fabulous Austin Vince, a hero of ours, is giving a talk organised by the Ribble Valley Trail riders club. He, and five friends, were the first Europeans to ride from the UK across Asia to Magadan in far east Russia and ride across the Road of Bones. He'd better be worth it, as we arrive soaked through to the bones and had our worst weather riding day on our whole trip. Thankfully our pub B&B had central heating which we cranked up to full and could hang all of our gear up to dry. And, yes, he was worth it - he gave a great presentation.
Just down the road from Clitheroe we visit the north of Manchester where I spent many times in my childhood visiting Gran Simpson and Simpson aunties, uncles and cousins. Sadly my Gran passed away donkeys years ago, but we're fortunate to still have two of my Dad's seven sisters with us - Aunty Gwyn and Aunty Margaret. We stop for lunch with them, and Aunty Gwyn's companion Ted, at Paul and Joyce's house.
We get back to my sister Ann's in time to fit a new USB charger to my bike as mine's being naughty, then on to the beach with Ann for fish and chips overlooking the Irish Sea.
I’ve never been to Ireland and it would always be a single regret having moved to Australia - never having seen it. So now finally time to visit the Emerald Isle.
We get the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin and have contacted Padraig and Henny who we met in Nairobi at Jungle Junction a few months ago. We get off the ferry in Dublin and as always we have the "Avoid Motorways" option set on our navigator - even though Padraig has given us directions to go on the M50. Well, this is a painful lesson for us, as we crawl through rush hour traffic in Dublin. And rush hour traffic would be bad enough, but Dublin city council seems to be running an experiment with different modes of public transport, and it's an experiment gone horribly wrong - with trams and buses seemingly causing bottle necks throughout the city.
We finally make it through after about an hour and a half and get to a major junction where we are supposed to turn off. This junction is another incredible experiment on how many roads you can get converging on one junction and how many spin offs it can have. Keep in mind we're using navigators, it still takes us three attempts - going around in big correction circles before we finally take the right spin off - and that's only because it's the last one we haven't tried yet. And then we finally make it to Padraig and Henny's - It’s great to see them and we have a great chin wag about Africa over dinner and stay the night.
We head south and start a clockwise loop around the coast of Ireland camping in lots of places, riding through Wicklow mountain range. Our first stop was in a small hamlet just north of Wexford - at The Trading Post. We’d heard there was pub down the road but that it didn't open until 9pm. We thought that was a bit odd, but walked down there with newly found camping neighbours. The pub seemed closed when we got there but the door was open and it was all dark inside. We called to see if any one was there. After a good few minutes the bar maid showed up and said yes, she was just opening up. We ordered our first Guinness on its home turf and while we settled in for 3 more, a couple of locals came in. Apparently the local farmers don't come in until late for a night cap and may stay a few hours - that’s why the pub doesn't open til late.
We make our way around the coast, having some sunny days, foggy and misty days, riding around the Ring of Beara and Ring of Kerry - beautiful coastline. Camping most of the way or staying in hostels if it's raining. Enjoying Guinness around village pubs and Guinness and Mussels in Clifton.
Heading to Northern Ireland and a campsite just over the border, we stop at Donegal to go to a supermarket to get food for dinner and breakfast. Complete strangers, Peter and Elle come over in the street. It’s a dream of Peter’s to do a long haul motorbike ride and we chat for a while. He eventually invites us to camp in his back garden. We follow him 15 miles to a dirt track and up through farm land. He’s got a cottage at the back of a farm.
There’s a festival in his local village Ardara - running in all the local pubs - we go to Nancy’s and Peter’s Mum joins us. Elle is Polish, a university professor, lives in Florida, plays the ukulele and has a great voice. She just gets up and starts performing in the pub - getting the crowd going.
I ask her to play Danny Boy - and my Irish tour is complete.
It’s time to leave this lovely island and we catch the ferry from Larne to Cairnryan in Scotland.
wee bonnie Scotland
First stop - cousin Julie in Skelmorlie. Julie and Tony take us out in Largs with her Mum, Aunty Myra - who is Jeff's Mum's eldest sister - my new Aunty Myra-in-law.
We stay one night with Julie before taking the ferry to the Isle of Bute where Jeff Mum and Dad are from, and his family spent many holidays visiting grandparents and enjoying this bute-ful island (it had to be done). We stay in Rothesay with Jeff's aunty, Joan (Mum-in-laws's youngest sister) and Steven. Joan treats us to a Scottish staple - mince and tatties - comfort food at its best. We spend a few days here. One day we get blue skies and sunshine - we make the most of it and have a ride around the island - Jeff showing me his favourite haunts from his childhood. One of the highlights was to walk to the lighthouse at Kilchattan Bay where they used to go fishing off the rocks around the lighthouse. Jeff's memory on the length of the walk was a bit thwarted and it seem to take ages to walk there (in our riding gear and boots - it's always a bit more of a struggle)
Another day we take a walk in to town to get dinner supplies and come across the Ilse of Bute brewery - well it would be rude not to try a pint of their finest and give them our support.
Thanks Joan and Steven for putting up with us for 4 days - that was a bit longer than planned - but rained stopped play :) What a lovely place you live. From Isle of Bute we head over to Edinburgh to see Jeff's cousin John and Eva. They own a holiday rental apartment in the middle of Edinburgh and they have very generously let us have it for the weekend. Eva treats us like paying guests and stocks the kitchen with all the treats she would normally provide - thanks Eva - that was lovely. We all go out into Edinburgh for the night - we go to a South African restaurant and around some pubs for a few beers after.
From here, we're generally heading to the Isle of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to visit more of Jeff's rellies, but it's going to take a few days' riding to get there. So in the meantime, we make our way to Loch Rannoch. Jeff's family spent many a holiday wild camping beside the Loch, and it was Jeff's dream to camp there again. It is beautiful riding through the highlands to get there and we find a nice spot to wild camp beside the Loch, but it starts raining and looks set in for the rest of the day and night. Camping in the rain is not fun at the best of times; wild camping can be challenging with no facilities at all; but on a motorbike you've got absolutely no where to hide - especially in our tiny tent just big enough for us both to lie down. Now, some people think I'm a tough little cookie - "take what life throws at you and take it on the chin" attitude. And that may be true for a lot of experiences in life, but camping in the rain? . . . on a motorbike? . . . in wet riding gear? Nooooo, I can't handle that :) So we spend our rewards points and get a hotel room at Kinloch Rannoch for next to nothing. It certainly makes you appreciate the small things in life we take for granted - a warm, dry, cosy bed.
It's still raining the next day and we want to take the long way round to Fort William via Glencoe. It pours down with rain the whole way - even so, the scenery is spectacular. We arrive in Fort William soaking wet and manage to find some cheap accommodation in a hostel just around the corner from a Tesco Metro - that'll get dinner and breakfast sorted.
Riding through more of the beautiful Highlands, we make our way to the Isle of Skye, crossing over on the Skye bridge. Everywhere is fully booked on the Isle of Skye, and we're very lucky to find a B&B just outside of Portree, in an unbelievably named village called Achachoch. We walk 3kms into town for fish and chips and a pint of beer down by the harbour - it's quite a pretty fishing village.
We're up "early" the next day to catch our ferry from Uig to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. We're heading to Borve to stay with Jeff's Uncle Donald and Maureen. We can't find the address on our navigators or Google Maps. We're puzzled as it's quite an odd address - 3 Borve, Isle of Harris and a postcode. We can see there are 2 villages called Borve on the Isles. In the end we just have to put the post code in and hope for the best. On the way there we're gob-smacked at the scenery we're seeing - it's like a tropical island:
We ride to where TomTom takes us with the postcode - it's just one road going around the island, through this "village" Borve, with a few houses / farms / sheep. We ride 2kms passed and stop and contemplate. There's no mobile service so Jeff's philosophy is if we make enough noise riding up and down, hopefully Donald will come out and show himself. We ride back and Jeff spots Uncle Donald opening the gate for us. We learn later that the addresses on Isle of Harris and Lewis are quite unusual (for the UK anyway) the address is the house number within the village - no street name. How quaint :) Donald and Maureen happen to be on holiday here for a week or two. Jeff arranged to meet them here rather than in their hometown of Forres. Donald had run several whiskey distilleries in his career before he retired and we are treated to a whiskey tasting lesson. "What do you smell", he asks me, "I'm scared", "No, no it's OK - what do you taste", "Fear", I say. Too scared to offer anything intelligent.
Today we're heading to the north of the island - Isle of Lewis to stay with Lindy and Alan. We take a long scenic route even though it's raining (again). We're told the "The Golden Road" is quite an interesting route around the south east of the island - wow you really feel the remoteness up here that's for sure. It's a tiny single track road joining many tiny hamlets in this remote part of the island. It was dubbed The Golden Road because it cost so much to build apparently.
We make our way slowly to the north of the island - to the other village called Borve (coincidentally) on the Isle of Lewis to visit Lindy and Alan. I had my doubts about staying with Lindy at first as she had her first new born baby 6 weeks ago and I thought it'd be too much for her. Well, hush my mouth - they make 'em tough in Scotland! Taking it well in her stride. Alan inherited a croft from his uncle a few months ago and they moved up here from Glasgow and love it. I can see why - their back garden is a few hundred metres long filled with their grazing sheep and backs on to the Atlantic Ocean. Their 6 week old son takes it all in his stride too - his name is Ruaraidh (Gaelic for Rory). They still speak Gaelic up here too.
We try to get a ferry off the island but it's fully booked until Monday - meaning we have to stay 3 days instead of 1 or 2. We all head in to town (Stornoway) for a little wander around and we get stuff in to make dinners for 2 nights - might as well make ourselves useful if we're sticking around.
On Monday we get the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool and head straight for Inverness, just stopping one night before we ride along the western shores of Loch Ness. It's a beautiful ride through this northern most part of Scotland.
We stop for one night in Giffnock, just south of Glasgow to visit Great Aunt Isobel (Jeff's Dad's aunty) - we all go out for dinner with Isobel's daughter Mary and hubby Vic, and Uncle Dan (Jeff's Dad's brother) and his wife May.
It's been lovely to meet all of my new in-laws and for Jeff to see them all again. Thank you all for being so kind and generous to us - treating us to restaurant meals; making comforting homemade dinners; putting us up / up with us, for sometimes 4 days at a stretch - it's been overwhelming.
Time to leave Scotland and Jeff's relatives behind. On the way out of Scotland we visit Lockerbie and the Garden of Remembrance of the terrorist air disaster back in 1988.
Return to England
Just over the border into England, we stay one night with my nephew Andrew and his lovely wife Kim, with their two gorgeous boys Harry and Charlie, in a tiny village called Bardon Mill. After racing around taking Harry for swimming lessons, Kim picks up a chinese on the way home for us all, as Andrew passes us a beer. We're being spoilt :)
They live close to Hadrian's wall so we take a short detour there in the morning.
On the way to Pickering, we stop off at National Bike Tyres in Newton Aycliffe for a couple of hours - I need a new rear tyre. It's a one man band operation but he has a good selection of tyres and doesn't charge a fortune to fit it. It's a Friday afternoon, but he still does a good job :)
We get to my fab sister Helen in Pickering by 6pm - time for a quick change and out for dinner with my exquisite niece Claire, and her kids Oliver and Aleisha. We go to The Fox and Rabbit where Claire's hubby Dave is a chef. It's a traditional English country pub - I love it. I order the Pork Belly and I'm in heaven when I taste the best pork crackling I've had in years. Thanks Dave for treating us - you're a star! Kim and the boys have followed us down as Aleisha is celebrating her Holy Communion on Sunday and there's a big family gathering for that. Unfortunately we can't attend that as we have a bit of work to do on the bikes.
They all come round for dinner later so we have a lovely family gathering - something I miss out on a lot living in Australia.
They're all back at work on Monday, so we spend the last day at Helen's doing some admin and basic preparations for our next leg in Scandinavia. We ride to Hull late afternoon to catch the overnight ferry to Rotterdam.
Now, as you can imagine, after 18 months on the road our funds aren't as bountiful as they once were so we're in for some serious budgeting to stretch it for another 3 months to visit Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Sweden and Norway are notoriously expensive so our daily budget of AU$50 is going to be a challenge. We will camp whenever possible and buy supermarket food and cook for ourselves. We will also attempt to up the ante by 50% on mileage every day to slash living expenses by a third.
First stop Rotterdam. We do apologise Netherlands, but we've both seen you before so we ride on the motorway straight from the ferry at Rotterdam over to Germany and pitch our tent near Lunne for our first of many nights camping. We get rained on a bit but manage to get up an awning of sorts.
We have a few very rainy days and get soaked. We have to get a hostel in Hamburg and in Kolding in Denmark. We decide to ride by "land" to Sweden rather than take a ferry - there are 2 ridiculously long bridges to cross Denmark and into Sweden. The longest is the Øresund Bridge crossing over into Sweden - it's nearly 8km long (5 miles) - both are just frightening to ride across - it's very windy and you feel as if you're out in the ocean - you just have to hang on and hope the other side comes up soon. It does of course, after a terrifying 10 minutes, and I'm really glad to get back on terra firma.
We camp for the night at Malmö as finally the rain has eased off a bit. While we're setting up camp another biker comes over and starts chatting and makes us a coffee. He's Dimitri from Ukraine riding around Scandanavia with his wife Marina.
So, what's better than camping? FREE camping! In Sweden, Norway and Finland there are "Right to Roam" rules where you can camp "anywhere". Jeff finds a spot near a lake on the iOverlander App and we head there. It's a car park with grass verges, a few picnic tables and, get this ... toilets with heaters in them. We find a cosy corner behind some bushes for ourselves and set up camp. This will help bring our average spends down after having to pay for accommodation when it was raining.
We both worked for Swisslog back in Australia, a Swiss company with sister companies all over the world, including Boxholm in Sweden. Jeff's worked with a few guys from there and I've worked with a couple remotely, so we pop in. Bizarrely and quite surreal, one of the guys from the office in Sydney has just arrived this morning, Geoff. It's only taken him 24 hours to get here compared to our 18 months! We all go for lunch and have chin wag and catch up with news and business in the Swisslog world. In the afternoon we visit Bo who we've both worked with in Australia - he happens to be on holiday at home so we pop in for coffee and delicious home-made cake.
From here we camp for a few nights - one place at Tallberg giving us free showers and free camping as he was a bike enthusiast; another place I spotted from the road - a car park with campervans on it - we found a just-big-enough patch of grass to pitch our tent near a picnic table. This place had public toilets with heaters too, and also a coin operated shower - how civilised :) It was pretty cold so we had to wear a lot of our warm clothes for bed - I felt a real stunner in thermal long johns, long thermal socks, 3 merino wool T-shirts, a cotton T-shirt and my fleece - all tucked up inside a survival bivvy bag inside my sleeping bag.
Sweden is beautiful - lots of trees, lakes, rivers and mountains. I love the houses - many of made of wood and painted a reddy-brown colour. These 2 photos sum up Sweden for me:
We cut across to Norway from Åre to Trondheim. As soon as we cross the border we stop off at a picnic spot for lunch. I love Norway - look at this for a beautiful spot.
We stop in a hostel for the night in Trondheim and some things give a nation away - look at this for belts and braces - not satisfied with the usual fire hydrants and fire escapes. In the eventuality of a fire and you can't get out of your room - you can use this rope to climb out of the window! I'd probably fall and break my neck.
We start heading north and planned on camping tonight but it starts raining as soon as we leave Trondheim. No-one seems to have told Europe that it's the middle of summer - or has it been so long since I lived in Australia that I've forgotten the whole reason I emigrated there? We call ahead to a campsite to book a cabin. They say they have one small cabin left but emphasise that "It is really small, but you could put the mattress on the floor". We're a bit puzzled by that but put it down to language translation, and it's cheap so we're in denial about how small it can possibly be. We turn up at Nyheim Camping in Namsskogan and take a look at the really small cabin. Wow! It really is small - but we think we can both fit in and it's better than camping in the wet with all of our wet gear.
Here's a short movie clip of the inside of the cabin . . .
It's still raining the next day so again we book ahead for a cabin at Krokstrand camp site - explicitly requesting a 2-man cabin. We're so excited when we see the cabin - not only has it got a bunk bed so we can both have a bed, but it's also got an electric hot plate, a tiny fridge and a tiny table for two. I can cook! Sausages and Mash and onion gravy - comfort food for a cold and rainy day.
It's pouring with rain in the morning so we opt for one of our weekly rest days and stay another night to keep warm and dry - we don't like being wet and cold. We haven't got much food with us though - but I manage to hash something together with rice, eggs, an onion, a tin of corned beef and a schezwan sauce (aunty) Joan gave us. It looks like cat food, but it doesn't taste too bad.
There's a long stretch of road works and it's comforting for the sight of roadworks not to strike fear into me - as it did in Africa and South America - where there’s no such thing as an orderly contra flow - or a nice paved road to ride around the road works. But all very civilised in Norway. You can tell a lot about a country the way it handles traffic around road works. In southern Chile and Argentina it was OK for them to dump deep gravel on the road and you had to try and ride it; In Africa - just be thankful there's a way through regardless of the state of the road and it becoming an "off-road" challenge; In Norway - let's build a nice tarmac bypass while we fix the other road.
We’re continuing north, heading in general to Nordkapp - the scenery of Norway is just stunning - some of the best, if not the best, we've seen. There are fjords, lakes, waterfalls, pine forests. There’s water gushing off in thousands of waterfalls off snow-speckled mountains where this Norwegian mid-“summer” sun has managed to melt some of the snow off the mountains - the views are spectacular and it gets quite intense seeing all this incredible scenery as you’re trying to ride your motorbike around the endless curves in the road. Jeff sees a Moose (so he tells me) and we see start to see lots of reindeer on the roads. All through Scandinavia and right down to Helsinki we see road warning signs for Moose, but I don't see a single one - I don't know where they're hiding, and I don't particularly want one to run out in front of me as that would be my time up pretty much - but it would be great to see one at least.
It’s quite cold most days and a little rainy - so we stay in a few cabins, a daily routine of riding for a few hours, stop at a supermarket to get food for dinner, breakfast and lunch, cabin, cook, sleep, photos, repeat. Roadside rest areas mostly have toilets and picnic tables - which aren’t so great in the cold and rain - but we come across this great one with some huts with a fire pit in the middle - so Jeff lights a fire and I get making some sandwiches and a coffee for lunch.
We reach the Arctic Circle, latitude at 66°33’ - quite a milestone for us as we never made it to Alaska as originally planned due to me crashing my bike and breaking my wrist way back in Peru. We still have a long way to go to Nordkapp though - another few days' riding. The days have been getting longer and longer and now we're into 24 hours of daylight. It's quite fun at first with time getting away from you thinking it's 7'O'Clock in the evening when in fact it might be 11'O'Clock. But sleeping in a tent most nights with daylight perpetually outside - it's difficult to sleep.
Great achievement as it is, we're still only halfway up Norway. We're riding up the E6 - the only main route up through Norway - it's a long skinny country. They're improving the road all along the way - more so in building more tunnels through mountains to eliminate old twisty routes up and down mountains - but it seems that Norway bought itself a state of the art tunnel digger recently as they're digging new tunnels all the way up through the country. It's a great relief when you do get to a new tunnel - there's enough light so you can actually see where you're going and they're wider - unlike the older tunnels some of which are very narrow and very dimly lit - it's like riding through a cave. I nearly poop my pants a few times - especially with big trucks coming the other way with full beam on . . . thanks, that helps.
The E6 is surface road most of the way but there is one ferry crossing - thankfully its only $10 each including the bikes, but it's a lovely crossing from Bognes to Skarberget.
We get a cabin at Bardu Camp ground - nothing to write home about - but we’ve arrived early (for us) and I’m looking forward to a couple of hours relaxing, and getting warm and dry before cooking dinner - but its seems there’s no rest for the wicked - I notice my electrics are dodgy - my heated seat controls light up even when I turn my ignition off, my iPhone charger on my handle bar has been intermittent for weeks - sometimes charging, sometimes not despite several diagnostic sessions and changes of cable - and now the charger in my pannier isn't working. No time like the present (boo - bang goes my relaxing time) - all luggage off and seat off to get to battery and electrics under the seat. Jeff gets his multi-meter out and starts a diagnostic session and process of elimination. It’s all demonstrating odd behaviour, then seems to stabilise and we (I help holding stuff after all) think we’ve fixed it, and then starting to tuck all the wires in it stops again. Grrrrrrr. Jeff then takes a closer look at the battery terminal and sees the negative wire is frayed and broken from the terminal. Field repairs are done and my electrics look good. In fact, over the next few days, they prove to be the best they’ve been in a long time and I no longer get my iPhone charger being a pig.
It's getting colder but the scenery remains spectacular at every turn. We do a short climb over some mountains with lots of snow still on them. The altitude is not much higher but it's notably colder. We stop for a few minutes at the top, then ride on quickly to get back into the 'warm'.
One of the great things about riding a bike is that you smell everything - sometimes it's not so great of course. But this one stretch of riding around a fjord comes with an incredible smell - it smells like a scented candle - Ocean Breeze - but it's a whole lot more subtle. I keep taking deep breaths the whole way as I can't quite believe it's real.
Heading towards the island of Magerøya where Norkapp is, the road is incredible - following the shores of fjords and rivers - some of the best "coastal" roads on the planet. To get to the island there is a tunnel (thankfully a new one), but it's 7km long and goes under the sea - declining quite steeply to 200m under the sea- and it's bloomin' cold.
We camp in Skarsvåg - the northern most fishing village in the world, at a campsite which is the northern most campsite in the world. After many cloudy and rainy days getting here, the sun shine and blue skies put on a show for us for the 2 days we are there making it extra special.
As with most significant land marks these days it costs a lot to actually get to the most significant bit - we wouldn't mind if it was something moderate like €10, or if we could actually camp there in our tent - but they only allow camper vans, not tents - but they charge €29 each, so on principal and budget reasons we rebel and refuse to pay. We park right by the ticket booths and are soon joined by 2 more motorbikers refusing to pay. We start to walk across the field to the cliffs close by, which are not part of the paid zone, but we hear a woman shouting in the background to come back but we ignore her and carry on walking out of hearing range. We only spend a few minutes oggling the view, taking some happy snaps and appreciating where we are. We get back to camp and treat ourselves to a couple of beers to celebrate - the first we've had since leaving the UK.
From Norkapp we head to the border with Finland. A few kms west of the border the landscape changes dramatically - we're climbing up onto a plateau - lots of trees, lots of reindeer.
We'd heard that Finland was quite flat and had lots of trees - you're not kidding. I wouldn't say Finland has a lot of trees and forests, it would be more accurate to say that Finland is a forest. We ride constantly through forests - the roads are lined with trees the whole way. I love trees and I never thought I would see too many.
We're riding through Lapland - where Santa lives and we see lots of his reindeers. I still haven't seen any moose.
We get to the Arctic Circle again - this time in Lapland where Santa lives. We visit him at his office, at the Santa Village in Rovaniemi. He's very nice to us - we have a chat for a few minutes and tell him about our trip and promise him we've been good this year (or was it that we'd had a good year?) Anyway, he was lovely and gave of his time freely as he does to countless millions of children every year, but his little elves weren't so generous - they wanted €40 for taking our photo. Budget conscious as we are, we declined the little devils and just took a photo outside.
It's getting a bit warmer the further south we go and we have a couple of opportunities to pitch our tent - interspersed with cabins when it's wet. We find some lovely spots, although like the rest of Scandinavia, Finland is also water logged, so you'd actually have to try quite hard to find a campsite that isn't by water. We head to the coast for 2 days to see what it's like but we can't see the coast from the road as there are a gazillion tress along the road blocking the view of the Baltic Sea.
We head east as there's a route through the lake district we hear is a great motorbike ride. We get a cabin near Mikkeli before heading 100km down the road through the lakes. It is a lovely road - winding through trees and across lakes. But do you know the trouble with seeing all the beautiful places we've seen? We've started to get a bit blasé about scenery. After you've seen "spectacular", "lovely" just doesn't quite do it. And I feel an ungrateful so and so.
So to kick ourselves up the butt, when we get to Imatra at the end of this "lovely"route, we take a 20km roundtrip detour and sidle up to the Russian border to get a peak of this giant and oft feared nation. Well, we feared it - we were too scared to actually go up to the Finnish border control in case we accidentally left Finland and got stuck in no-man's land. Neither able to enter Russia or get back into Finland, so we hot footed it out of there and onto Helsinki.
Throughout our ride through Finland these were quite typical views we saw (plus the reindeer above), so these photos sum up Finland for me.
We spend two days in the capital, Helsinki, treating ourselves to a meal out in a restaurant with a glass of wine - our first and only meal out in Scandinavia.
Time to leave this truly beautiful part of the world - I feel quite melancholy leaving it, but time marches on and so must we. We take the ferry to Tallinn in Estonia to begin our Eastern European tour - from the Baltics to the Balkans for another great experience.