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Polar Circular PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

A Polar Circular
A Journey to the Arctic Circle in the Summer of 2010

Jokkmokk,
August 2010

Dear friends

Having reached the Arctic Circle, 2,200 miles (3,500 km) or so from the motorhome's winter Rest Home in Cheltenham, we are taking time out to catch up on the usual things that travellers catch up on. This includes a newsletter or, better, a Circle Circular, and here it is.

Following a UK_2010_(17).JPGwinter and early spring journey through south-east Europe, Sicily, Malta and Tunisia, we returned to the UK in late April to face problems with our unrented house in Huddersfield and Margaret's 95-year-old mother, now 3 long years into dependency on care packages, care teams and care homes. Support from good friends, a new Pendle Bike Rack and swapping our Mercedes Sprinter van for the comfort of our Fleetwood Flair motorhome (with many thanks to Motorhome Medics of Cheltenham) eventually got us back on the road for a Midsummer Night's ferry from Dover to Dunkirk.

Our intention, more or less fulfilled for a change, was to follow the North Sea coast north, initially in France and then for the length of Belgium, Holland and Denmark, with a brief foray into Germany to cross the Ems and the Elbe. This journey of 1,100 miles (1760 km) from Dunkirk to Skagen at the top of Denmark, gave us many opportunities, gratefully taken, to ride our bicycles on safe roads and cycle paths.

Much has been Holland_(30).JPGwritten in praise of the cycle paths of Holland, the fietspads, but no words can do justice to their excellence. There are more miles of pads than there are of roads. Thousands of miles of long-distance paths link cities and provide several international routes, including the 3,750 mile (6000 km) 7-country North Sea Cycle Route. Everyone rides a bike: all ages, all classes, all reasons, in all seasons. A majority group in summer are the middle-aged, sailing along on their upright Dutch bicycles, two-abreast, simply absorbed in the experience of gentle exercise in a safe environment.

What a shock a Dutch cyclist would get if they were foolish enough to stray across the Channel or North Sea and set off into the battlegrounds of the British road system.

For a change of habit, and more importantly change in the pocket, we sailed overnight from Frederikshavn, just below Skagen, across the 50 mile (80 km) wide Kattegat to Gothenburg (in Swedish spelt 'Goteborg' but pronounced Yurteborry!), arriving at 2 am on Sweden's south-west coast.

There is no Sweden_(128).JPGproblem finding somewhere to stay the night in Sweden in a motorhome. There's the Alleman's Recht, a right to roam and to camp (something Tony Blair promised and then forgot in the heat of war), with many roadside rest areas even providing water and toilet emptying points. There's also a large network of relatively inexpensive campsites that really care for campers. They typically have a fully equipped kitchen, free WiFi, free drying rooms, immaculate bathrooms, barbecue pits, a sauna, washing machines, electricity, plentiful hot water and inevitably they lie on the margin where forest meets lake, invariably with swimming and fishing.

Our immediate aim in Sweden, also fulfilled so far, was to travel north on the E45, the Inlandsvagen or Inland Road, to reach the Sami settlement of Jokkmokk, just inside the Arctic Circle. Only two roads run north-south in Sweden: the E4 along the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, which we travelled last summer, and the E45 running up the centre of the country. It has turned out to be 900 miles (1440 km) on a splendid narrow road, winding between, among and sometimes over countless lakes and through endless forest.

It's another Swede_(42).JPG200 miles (320 km) to our next waymark: the end of the E45 near the top of Sweden, on the border with Norway. NordKapp (North Cape, at N71.18078, the northernmost point in the world reachable by an ordinary vehicle) is at the very top of Norway and a further 300 miles (480 km) across what is, by then, Arctic tundra. But we have been up there three times and enough is enough!

As we have come north, the summer days grow longer and the pine and silver birch grow shorter. The weather is as good as it gets, with long days (just two or three hours of gloaming), clear blue skies, light winds, temperatures in the mid-twenties by day, upper teens at night. The only thing missing so far is the Northern Lights.

The sense of space and distance in Sweden and the settlements this far north evoke Australia's Outback or the American West pioneer territory. Here the little towns are always on the shore of a lake or two, with a crossroads, service station, supermarket, library, school, police station. People drive in from miles around in their pick-ups for basic supplies and a good gossip. The stores often offer free coffee, buns and newspapers in a corner, while the sale of alcohol is strictly controlled and very expensive.

Sweden hasSwede_(57).JPG about 97,500 lakes and neighbouring Finland has 187,888. That's a total of 285,388lakes, counting only those larger than 2 acres. One of Sweden's lakes, Lake Vanern, is the largest in Europe at 5,648 kilometres squared, holding 153,000 million litres of fresh water.

The Jokkmokk Region (its name comes from the Sami words for 'River Bend'), just a small part of Lapland, has about the same area as Wales - but with only 6,000 inhabitants, 3,000 of whom live in the town itself. The Sami people are the indigenous inhabitants, who still herd reindeer, following them north and south with the seasons. In fact, Jokkmokk has the only FE College teaching handicrafts and reindeer husbandry in Sami a language that has 8 words for the different seasons, linked to the yearly cycle of reindeer keeping. The Jokkmokk Winter Market (first week of February) is the major gathering, with reindeer racing on the frozen lake, but as it's the coldest time of year we'll just imagine it!

 The reindeer live off the forest floor moss, fungi and berries. The lingenberries and blueberries are so prolific in early autumn that money is to be made picking and selling them to wholesalers at collecting points set up in remote towns. Some campsites in the Far North are taken over by Russians, come for this. We just make jam!

Warning dg_070531.jpgsigns appear by the road in Reindeer country, since they wander freely and slowly across the road and become a major cause, perhaps the only cause, of collisions. 'Only' because the Swedes are the world's most careful and cautious drivers: it's a pleasure to cycle on their roads. They consistently give cyclists at least a car's width when overtaking. This is Rule 163 in the 2007 edition of the Highway Code in the UK, but totally ignored by drivers there, as we know - often almost to our cost!

At the top of Sweden, we shall either turn left for Norway or right for Finland and then head south before temperatures cool. We would like to be in south-eastern Bulgaria as autumn leaves begin to fall and then, perhaps, Greece before the leaves are covered in snow. But 'the best laid schemes o' mice an' men [sic] gang aft agley'.

We look forward to meeting you along life's way wherever and whenever that may be.

Bons Voyages

Barry and Margaret

PS  For more of this sort of thing, follow the links:

Travel Log: UK to Denmark 2010 - http://www.magbaztravels.com/content/view/1010/241/

Travel Log: In Sweden 2010 - http://www.magbaztravels.com/content/view/1016/243/

UK: From Sprinter to Flair

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Holland: Margaret cycling into the town of Harlingen 

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Holland: On the Afsluitdijk, looking East

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Holland: A stereotypical scene

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Germany: Crossing the River Elbe

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Denmark: The northernmost point near Skagern

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Sweden: A welcome sign

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Sweden: In a rocky gorge

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Sweden: Sami Parish village in Arvidsjaur

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Sweden: Margaret with Jeff in Hand on the Polar Circle

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