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In Finland 2010 PDF Printable Version E-mail



Margaret and Barry Williamson
September 2010

Following our 8,500-mile winter and early spring journey through Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Greece, Albania, Montenegro,UK_2010_(13).JPG Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, etc, we had to settle in the UK for a while. There was much to do. There were friends and relatives to visit from Hampshire to Clackmannanshire; passports, driving licences and MOTs to be renewed; new managing agents and tenants to be organised for our rented house. We had to move our home from Mercedes Sprinter to Fleetwood Flair (image on left); visit Cheltenham's Motorhome Medics for their excellent service, accessories and fitting of a new Pendle Bike Rack (also visit: Pendle Engineering). 

And, not least, Margaret's 95-year-old mother needed comforting in her Care Home just off Beach Road, north of Blackpool (not a mile from where Margaret was born). So, the end of spring passed us by and we finally left England on Midsummer's Eve, on our way to the land of the midnight sun.

Leaving the UK on the Norfolk Lines ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, we travelled slowly along the coast of the North Sea, through northern France (briefly), Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark, before taking the Stena Lines ferry from Frederikshavn (near Denmark's northernmost point) to Gothenburg in Sweden.

We followed the E45 (Inlandsvagen or Inland Road) for 1,110 miles (1,770 km) to its end in Karesuando, having crossed the Arctic Cirlce just south of Jokkmokk. In Karesuando we crossed the river Muonio into Norway.

Travelling for 440 miles (710 km) across northern Norway (Alta, Russenes, Lakselv,Varangerbotn and along the edge of the Barents Sea), we re-entered Finland for the journey south to Helsinki.

For the full travel log of this earlier part of the journey, click: Holland & Denmark 2010, In Sweden 2010 and In Norway 2010.

Images of the Journey:

In Holland 2010    In Germany, Ferry Crossing the Elbe    In Denmark 2010

In Sweden 2010    In Norway 2010    In Finland 2010


Our Paul Hewitt Touring Bicycles   Our Fleetwood Flair Motorhome

From Flair to Sprinter     Summary of Tour of Southern Europe and Tunisia 2010

From Greece to Tunisia 2010      In Malta 2010      In Tunisia 2010

Lest We Forget     From Greece to the UK 2010 


Pendle Bike Racks From Sprinter back into Flair

In the Greek Peloponnese 2010.  In Sicily 2010.  In Malta 2010.  In Tunisia 2010. 
In Igoumenitsa 2010.  In Corfu 2010.  In Albania 2010.  In Montenegro 2010. 
In Bosnia 2010.  In Slovenia 2010.  In Austria 2010.  In Germany 2010.

1 Dover-Dunkirk Ferry

2 Afsluitdijk enclosing the Zuider Zee

3 Frederikshavn - Gothenburg Ferry

4 The Arctic Circle

5 Nordkapp

6. EU Easternmost Point


This is the information we give for each stage of the journey:

The start and end point of the day's journey
The country or countries for the day's journey
The name of the campsite or place where we spent the night
The cost of the place we spent the night (if any)
The distance covered that day in miles
The height above sea level (asl) of the place we spent the night

For example:

Nuorgam to Kaamanen, Lapland, Finland (via Norway)     Jokitorma YH & Camping     €20     157 miles       510 ft asl

On days where we don't move on, we simply give the location, country and place where we spent the night. For example: For example:

At Manamansalo, Kainuu, Finland     Martinlahti Camping     

Overall, in the travel log, distances are given in miles; heights in feet; and costs in Euros. 1 mile = 1.6 km; 1 foot = 0.3 metres and, at present, 1 Euro = about 0.85 Pounds Sterling. The current exchange rate for each non-Euro country is given in the log. The daily rate quoted for campsites includes 2 adults and an electrical hook-up (children and dogs are often extra).


(continued from In Norway 2010)

Skoganvarre, Norway to Karigasniemi, Lapland, Finland     Tenorinne Camping     €20     46 miles     490 ft asl

Less than 2 miles south of Skoganvarre down E6, we spotted the 'cultural heritage' sign with parking on the right for the 'Lasarettmoen': the ruins of a large WWII German hospital deep in the forest across the river near Banak, the site of their largest airport in wartime Scandinavia. The car park has an information board in Norwegian and English, with a marked trail to the scattered remains: about 0.75 miles return, starting with a new suspension footbridge across the Lakselv river (don't look down!)

This - the largest field hospital in Scandinavia, for German casualties from the whole of that area as well as the Northern Russian front– was, like everything else on their retreat,  burnt down and blown up by the Germans themselves in 1944, leaving nothing of use to Russians or locals. It remains as they left it, now a maze of rusty bedsteads and pipes, broken-down trucks, crumbling concrete, smashed pots, collapsed tunnels and bunkers – all overgrown in this peaceful woodland setting, with bright berries and fungi underfoot and reindeer prints along the tracks. A pleasant walk in the sunshine ended at these sombre ruins and we returned in silence, until we were cheered at the sight of a fox using the swaying river bridge.

After lunch in a sunny rest area at 8 miles (at 750 ft/230 m), we passed another 6 miles later, overlooking a lake up at 1,100 ft (333 m). Well south of the Arctic fjords now, the mountain plain was less bleak, more wooded, and it felt distinctly warmer despite the height (13ºC outside at 2 pm).

At 32 miles, down at 520 ft (158 m), we reached Karasjok, a town beating Kautokeino as Norway's Sami capital, since it's also the seat of their parliament. The population of less than 3,000 is 90% Sami-speaking and the area is also home to 60,000 reindeer during autumn and winter. Old Karasjok church (1807), Finnmark's oldest surviving wooden church, was the only building the Germans left standing in the town. There is also an open-air Sami Museum, as well as 'Sapmi' – a Sami Cultural Park with multi-media show, restaurant, tourist information and live reindeer (www.sapmi.no). We didn't visit either of these, since we'd recently seen the excellent Swedish Sami Museum in Jokkmokk – but we did meet a woman in traditional costume and red bonnet, shopping in the Co-op supermarket.

After Karasjok the E6 swings north and east to its final destination of Kirkenes. Instead we joined rd 92, which turns right for Kautokeino (with a good campsite half a mile along on the river), or left to Finland – our direction. Following rd 92 east along the Karasjok River, a wooded valley with haymaking along the banks, we passed Grensen Camping a mile before the Norwegian-Finnish border. Entering Finland on a bridge across the Inari/Teno River at 45 miles, we then turned immediately left opposite the border post, on rd 970 into Karigasniemi.

The village has a couple of shops and fuel, then a small tourist office/cafe shortly before the first of 2 campsites. Tenorinne is a delightful place overlooking the river, with good facilities in a 2-storey log cabin and a cosy reception/café. The gentle owner was very helpful – he closes in mid-September and doesn't have internet, though it's available at the tourist office at €1 per 30 mins. We were also reminded to put our clocks forward one hour.

The campsite price quoted includes a €2 discount for Scandinavian Camping Card holders (card on sale for €7 – cheaper than in Sweden, where we bought ours). Our experience is that most Swedish campsites demand the Scandinavian Card, Danish and Norwegian sites accept either a Camping Card International or a Scandinavian one, while members of the Finnish Campingsite Association usually give a discount for the Scandinavian one. The free guide/map to camping sites and holiday villages in Finland is available from any of the FCA members, or at www.camping.fi  

Karigasniemi to Nuorgam, Lapland, Finland     Nuorgam Lomakeskus      91 miles       70 ft asl

Driving north on narrow rd 970, we followed the wide shallow Teno (= Great) River, also known as Inari River south of Karigasniemi, or Tana to Norwegians. Across the water on the Norwegian side, the E6 hugged the western bank, both roads rolling through a hint of autumn. This river accounts for one-third of Norway's wild salmon stock and is Europe's best salmon fishing river, measured by total weight of fish caught (not sure how they know that!)

After 17 miles at Outakoski there was a group of cabins for anglers, with more at Nuvvus 16 miles later, below the dark brooding hump of Nuvvos Ailegas (peaking at 1,765 ft/535 m). Higher mountains away on the far side were flecked with snow, their summits lost in mist. Our route reached a maximum of 655 ft/200 m before both river and road turned east at 46 miles, where there was camping at Ylakongas, followed by more cabins for hire along the river. There are regular warnings and disinfection points for fishing tackle, as some rivers (but not the Teno/Tana) have fallen prey to a salmon parasite Gyrodactylus Salaris that threatens fish stocks and looks very ugly under a microscope on the posters.

The small town of Utsjoki at 62 miles, down at 250 ft/75 m, has the first bridge across the river (and into Norway) since Karigasniemi. Alternatively, you can turn south for Inari on the E75, or continue 30 miles (48 km) north-east along the river to Nuorgam. At the crossroads there is a general store/post office, supermarket, bank and fuel. We parked for lunch by the small tourist office and talked with a helpful English-speaking lass (though the leaflets were only in Finnish: not the most accessible of languages!)

Before leaving we enjoyed a 3-mile walk up on the fells, starting out on a long-distance footpath that climbed through forest up to a bare hilltop with a great view of the river valley and bridge below. The path then crossed a stream or two, descending through mossy woodland, before dividing. We turned left, taking the way less trodden, which led across to Galgolampi, a small tarn. The sense of emptiness, of wilderness, was tangible and we saw only 2 hikers, of the hairy-kneed heavily-laden variety, striding stolidly along. From the lake a marked 'geological nature trail' led down to the main road (E75), with several inscrutable signs in Finnish and pictures of glacial action. Another 1 km north along the road took us past Camping Lapinkyla (€18.50 all-in) back to the tourist office, the motorhome and a well-earned pot of tea, just as it began to rain. Perfect timing!

Driving on, we headed north-east on rd 970, passing a campsite at Vetsikko after 10 miles. We continued to Nuorgam – a tiny settlement, 2 miles short of the Norwegian border, that is not only the northernmost settlement in Finland but in the European Union, since Norway is not a member. It also has Finland's northernmost supermarket, expensive fuel and riverside campsite/cafe: Nuorgam Lomakeskus (= holiday centre). 'Keskusta' (town centre) is one of our very few words of Finnish – quite a useful one.

The campsite owners were away for a few days, the café closed, but the camping had kindly been left open with electricity and hot water freely available. We settled in beneath a rainbow. It was the last day of August, a month we have thoroughly enjoyed in Sweden, Norway and now Finland.


At Nuorgam, Finland     Nuorgam Lomakeskus    

On a fine afternoon we cycled to the Norwegian border, 3 miles away, pausing to photograph Jeff at the EU's Northernmost sign (70º 5' N), then continued north on rd 895 until it met E6 at Skipagurra (30 miles/48 km return ride). The border had reindeer fencing on each side, so the animals could only cross between Finnmark (in Norway) and Lappi (in Finland) over a gated wooden ramp. The first shop they would see in Finland is for reindeer meat, so it's good they can't read.

The Customs post lay a mile inside Norway, followed by the tiny settlement of Polmak. Here the store had closed down and the little Tana Museum of grass-roofed log cabins and dry turf huts is only open mid-June to mid-August. The well tended Polmak Church (1853) is one of the few left standing in Finnmark after the Germans passed through, going backwards towards the end of WWII.  

Then the road rolled along, past a motorhome dealer/garage in the middle of nowhere and an occasional farm, with a few well-wrapped sheep and hardy cattle. The campsite opposite the E6 junction at Skipagurra, Tana Familie Camping, looked open but there was no-one around and no café, so we sheltered there for a Mars Bar before returning to Nuorgam.

Nuorgam to Kaamanen, Lapland, Finland (via Norway)     Jokitorma YH & Camping     €20     157 miles    510 ft asl

Deciding to take the long way round to Inari, via Norway, we set out north across the border on the route cycled yesterday (see above).

After 15 miles at Skipagurra, the junction with the smoother E6 (linking Kirkenes in the far north-east with Sweden, via Trondheim), we turned right (east). The highway climbed away from the Tana River to a maximum of 472 ft/143 m before dropping to sea level at 23 miles at Varangerbotn, the head of Norway's second largest fjord – an inlet of the Barents Sea and famous for King Crab, which grow to world record size in these waters. En route we passed workmen erecting snow poles (Stikksetting) along the verges and hoped they were ahead of themselves!

Varangerbotn is an important junction: E75 runs along the north coast of Varangerfjord to Vadso and Vardo, while E6 follows the south coast, continuing almost to the Russian border at Kirkenes (we took both routes exactly 4 years ago). At the roundabout in Varangerbotn there is a café opposite a wonderful shopping centre, with plenty of parking space, Esso fuel (less expensive here than further north, or even than back in Finnish Nuorgam), a bank, police station and well-stocked Co-op. We bought frozen salmon steaks and fresh fruit, then enjoyed the free coffee and pastries in a corner, well remembered from our last visit!

Turning right on E6, we passed the indoor/outdoor Varanger Museum of Coastal Sami (open daily in high summer, weekdays the rest of the year). It also has tourist information and a bird observatory - a treat to save for next time, as it was now blustery and raining.

Our road hugged the bare rocky coastline, exposed to the north wind, with no soil for trees to take root. Along the shore were occasional wooden fish-drying racks and tiny harbours, with signs of fish-farming in the fjord. A pair of Whooper Swans floated on the water, a herd of reindeer migrated across our path, all too fast for the camera. At 41 miles there was a tiny Museum of the Sea Sami – what a hardy breed. This stretch of E6 has a generous number of parking places and rest areas and we paused at 48 miles, past Gandvik, for a last view of Varanger looking across the dark fjord to the fishing village of Vestre Jakobselv on the more sheltered north side.

Now E6 turned south, climbing to 600 ft/180 m over the next 4 miles, then descending to sea level again 7 miles later at the head of Bugoyfjord. Along the way we regularly saw reindeer, as well as a fox. We left E6 at Neiden at 73 miles, where there is a café (though the hotel and campsite signs were crossed out).

Turning sharp right across a bridge over the Neiden River onto minor road 893, we realised that roads leading to Finland are not a Norwegian priority! It was narrow and bumpy, as was the earlier 895 from the border to Skipagurra. We parked after the bridge to walk down to Skoltefossen waterfall on the river, on its way to the sea at Neidenfjord. It was sad to see the sign forbidding fishing here, due to the salmon parasite Gyrodactylus Salaris in this area. Neiden village, with its Finnish Orthodox chapel, is well known for the traditional East Sami casting-net fishing at the waterfall, where the equipment lay idle.

On the way to the border, we passed a woman in Sami dress (fur-trimmed red bonnet, long blue skirt and fur boots) riding a bicycle. The Norwegian Customs House preceded the border, which again had a reindeer fence with wooden ramp. We re-entered Finnish Lapland - and the EU - at 80 miles (height 285 ft/86 m, latitude 69º 40'), driving south-west on rd 971. The village of Naatamo a mile later had a shop and fuel: we were back in the Eurozone, with familiar currency to compensate for the unfamiliar language. Finland is also in the Central European Time Zone, with clocks one hour ahead of the rest of Scandinavia.

The quiet rd 971 was a delight, the landscape immediately less bleak with delicate birch trees already showing the citrus colours of autumn, reflected in the numerous lakes we passed. The map showed more blue than green as we approached the west edge of Lake Inari, one of the largest of Finland's187,888 interlocking lakes (or Jarvi). However were they all counted, let alone named?

Reaching Sevettijarvi at 100 miles, there is a large car park on the right, just past the lovely Orthodox Church. We stopped here for lunch, watching red squirrels in the trees, then walked round the outdoor Museum of the Skolt Sami, with a good indoor exhibition and handicraft shop (free of charge, donations welcome). The Skolt Sami came from the Petsamo area – a region that now lies in Russia – and were evacuated more than once during the various stages of WWII. With their own language, religion, costume and customs, they show a distinctively Russian influence, including tea-drinking. Samovars and china cups were prized possessions and they tried to make tea from the dried leaves of local berries.

A campsite 2 miles further on appeared closed and there was little else along the western shores of Inarijarvi until the junction with E76/rd 4 from Utsjoki at 155 miles. Here we turned right briefly to the youth hostel and camping on the Kaamasjoki river, 2 miles north of the junction and shortly before the village of Kaamanen. We were warmly welcomed by the owner (and the underfloor heating in the showers!) and found a superb place on the empty campsite. The interesting tree sculptures around the site are the work of the owner's father-in-law, whose home this had been. For details of youth hostels in Finland (some of which also have camping) see http://www.hihostels.com/.

Watching the sun set over the river in front of our window we saw a hare come to drink, then an otter swam by as the sky turned every shade of red and purple. What a magical place. We celebrated by cooking chicken risotto with ginger suet pudding & custard to follow – international cuisine!

Kaamanen to Ivalo, Lapland, Finland     Ivalo River Camping     €20     50 miles       414 ft asl

We might have lingered longer at Kaamanen, had not the friendly owner told us that snow could fall any time now: 'and when it comes it stays until May'! Before leaving we drove 3 miles north on E75/rd 4 through the tiny village - comprising a store with fuel, a restaurant and a small hotel - to a car park and war memorial on the right. This monument of rusty metal, near an old airfield, commemorates 'the battles of the light infantrymen in the wilds of Lapland … brought to an end in Kaamanen … end of October 1944'. The total Finnish infantry casualties in Lapland numbered 774 killed, 262 missing presumed dead and 2,904 injured.

We returned through Kaamanen, past Jokitorma YH & Camping and then the left turn for Norway on rd 971: we were now southbound on E75 (the Arctic Highway). Entering the small town of Inari at 21 miles, you can't miss the large car park and buildings of Siida (the Sami Museum & Northern Lapland Nature Centre) on the left - nor should you. The original open-air museum has been extended, with an impressive 2-storey building for exhibitions, restaurant and gift shop. Having paid a lengthy visit here 4 years ago (see Travel Log for 6 September 2006), we simply called in for lunch today, to enjoy an excellent self-service Lounas Buffet. Plenty of salads, breads, rice and stew (reindeer-in-red-wine), with fruit juice, blueberry cake and coffee: all you can eat, for €10.50 per person.

Siida car park also serves the jetty for a 2-hr cruise on the vast Lake Inari, leaving daily at 2 pm at this time of year, but the weather was cold (11ºC outside), dull and showery. Continuing through Inari (fuel, a small supermarket, one hotel and several Sami souvenir shops), there is a small campsite (Lomakyla Inari) on the lakeside a mile south of town, then another (Uruniemi) a mile later, though both are seasonal and rather makeshift.

Along E75, heading south-east for Ivalo, there were frequent views of Lake Inari's fretted shoreline and islets, with plenty of scenic rest areas. At 32 miles we passed parking and café for a tourist attraction called Bear's Cave, which looked busy (it's Saturday). There was a campsite 8 miles later at Ukonjarvi, then a 'Sled-Dog Farm with Arctic Animals' 3 miles on.

At 45 miles we crossed the wide Ivalo River into Ivalo: the largest town since Alta in Norway, with a choice of shops, good hotels and garages, though the tourist office is closed at weekends now the season is over. Two miles further down E75 we turned right, following the sign to Naverniemen Lomakyla (=holiday village), where we had camped before. Now it looked semi-abandoned, with no guests, locked facilities and a sign saying reception would be open tomorrow! Disappointed, we returned to the highway and continued.

Just a mile south a new garage/café on our left advertised camping and cabins, which may explain the demise of the earlier campsite. There are toilets and showers, as well as a cosy café with free WiFi, at the petrol station, and places with electricity for caravans (sic) on both sides of the road. We chose to settle over the road on the river bank, where we have the place to ourselves.

Ivalo to Sodankyla, Lapland, Finland     Nilimella Camping     €15     98 miles     609 ft asl

On a grey drizzly morning we drove south on E75, climbing gradually, past a reindeer farm and animals roaming free in the forest. After 17 miles at Saariselka (above 1,000 ft/300 m) there was a large fuel station with caravan/camping places. The village also offered a rest area and hotel/restaurant before the road continued across a wilderness of marshland and forest, the delicate birch already turning golden, a lovely contrast with the evergreen larch and fir (though we're told the colours are more vivid after the first frost).

At 23 miles there was another caravan/camping sign at a waterside rest area on the right. This 'Arctic Highway' is the north-south artery of northern Finland, surprisingly busy with motorhomes and caravans as well as logging trucks. Though narrow, it had recently been resurfaced (we saw the white-line-painting vehicle at work).

In the old gold mining area of Tankavaara (at 36 miles and 900 ft/270 m high) we passed the 'Gold Village' complex on the east side of E75: accommodation, restaurants, Gold Museum and a narrow gauge railway. It hosts the Finnish Gold Panning Championship, with traditional (?) dancing and karaoke. Visit the Tankavaara website and the Kulta Museum (kulta = gold) for more.

We paused 6 miles later at Vuotso, where there is fuel and parking outside 'Reindeer Village' (an expensive café and souvenir shop by an empty reindeer corral). Vuotso, Finland's southernmost Sami settlement, also has a store and a school. The Vuotso Channel flowing through the village links two of Europe's largest reservoirs, filled in the 1960s (Porttipahta to the west and Lokka to the east, where the awe-inspiring Nattanen fell area rises to 1,795 ft/544 m). The Sami are among the oldest peoples in Europe: about 70,000 in number, spread across the northernmost reaches of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola peninsula of Russia (collectively called 'Lapland') and they do appear more successful than most indigenous people in adapting their way of life to survive in modern industrialised countries.

At Yli-Kitinen at 56 miles there is a campsite with fishing and cabins by the Kitinen River, which flows south from the foot of Porttipahta lake. The E75 now followed the broad Kitinen, past another fishing campsite at 65 miles where the road bridges the river. Continuing south, the river occasionally swelling into a small lake, there was a waterside café at 72 miles.

Approaching the town of Sodankyla some 20 miles later we passed a sawmill chimney, then a couple of fuel stations. At the Hotel Karhu (Bear Hotel), on the right entering town, turn right for the car park of the world's northernmost Lidl store! Of course we stopped here (97 miles since breakfast) to fill our lockers and cupboards with familiar food at reasonable prices. The young man on the check-out spoke perfect English (as perfect as an Essex Man can). Asked what he was doing up here, he answered: 'There are only 2 reasons an Englishman would be in Finland – working for Nokia, or a woman. And I don't work for Nokia.'! He was the first native Brit we had met since Belgium, nearly 3 months ago, and the queue built up as we chatted.

Sodankyla does have 2 other supermarkets (K-Mkt and S-Mkt), as well as post office, bank and a small range of shops, providing a service centre for this huge thinly populated area of Lapland. We drove on, past these, to the municipal campsite (well signed – left at the roundabout, across the Kitinen River on rd 5, then immediate left along the river: less than a mile from the town centre). The entrance is on the right, opposite Nilimella Beach Café, with a public road running through the campsite.

It's all fully operational from early June to the end of August, after which both Café and Reception close. The campsite does remain open until the end of September, with a warden calling round each evening to collect the money and a phone number to ring about cabins. The upper pitches, which we prefer, are private, enclosed by tall hedges of mountain ash (their clusters of bright red berries attracting redwing and fieldfare). The lower part of the site is an open field with power points, as well as rows of cabins, a covered fireplace with seating and wood pile, kitchen, free hot showers, etc.

In a nearby hostel building there is a launderette (washing machines €1 per load, tumble drier free) where Margaret spent most of the afternoon. Now our curtains and cushions are fresh for another year!

At Sodankyla, Lapland, Finland     Nilimella Camping    

The weather changed overnight, from grey and cloudy to blue and sunny: perfect for the short walk over the Kitinen River into town. Across the bridge one of the earliest churches in Lapland nestles on the river bank, Sodankyla Old Church, built entirely of wood in 1689 (restored 1926). It has a peaceful graveyard enclosed by a log fence and a stonemason was at work on a headstone. It's an atmospheric little chapel, open for services, weddings and visitors in the summer until the end of August, seen on a previous visit (28 August 2006). The adjacent New Church, built in 1859 of local stone, replaced it as the principal church of the town.

Just past the churches there's a large modern library (with welcome café and toilets), where we made good use of the free internet - their machines or yours. The nearby Tourist Information also has one free computer (but not WiFi). Both places have very helpful English-speaking staff – in fact, we find Finland the friendliest of the Scandinavian countries.

Outside the Tourist Office, in the town centre, is a bronze statue 'A Reindeer and a Lapp', erected in 1970 and showing … a reindeer (with a lasso round its antlers) and a Lapp (hanging on). Reindeer husbandry is still an important way of life round here, with an annual Reindeer Race and Lassoing Championship at Sattanen (8 miles/13 km north) on Good Friday, when of course there is still snow. Christmas markets and ice fishing events are also popular in winter - when we hope to be long gone.

Back at the campsite we spent the warm afternoon cleaning the motorhome inside and out, washing off the road spray and dust, and making minor repairs (items as varied as a watch strap, trouser zip and bicycle cover – all essential).

There are more motorhomes on the road than we remember at this time of year and a few joined us on the campsite. One couple, Swedish-Finn Berit & Nils from Vaasa, invited us over to their 5-ton top-of-the-range Mercedes Hymer for a drink. The drink was a cocktail based on a 40% proof Estonian Liqueur 'Vana Tallinn' (now on M's shopping list) and the conversation was equally warm. Berit is a retired primary teacher, speaking excellent English, while Nils was a boat builder. Remarking that we knew two other Swedish-Finn motorhomers from Jakobstad (Gunnevi and Kai, met in winter in Greece), it turned out that they knew Kai (a retired dentist) as they'd been his patients!! Quite a coincidence. Berit & Nils are on their way to a Finnish Hymer Club gathering near Tankavaara, which may explain the number of motorhomes seen on the road recently – it's the autumn rally season. We wished them luck with the gold-panning in them there hills.

Sodankyla to Vuostimo, Lapland, Finland     Kuukiurun Camping     €16     51 miles     503 ft asl

Before leaving Sodankyla we drove back into the town and 2 miles north up E75, in search of 'Kylmanen Food' (left off the highway after passing the Neste garage). This is a small meat factory outlet shop, selling fresh, frozen and canned meats – reindeer, elk and wild boar, to be exact. Blame Berit & Nils, who highly recommended the cream of reindeer soup! The stock was not aimed at the tourist trade, so labels and staff spoke only Finnish. Knowing the word for reindeer – poro - but not for soup, did not help much but we finally found it and bought a 6-pack, to sample and for gifts.

Returning to the bridge over the Kitinen, we then took the extremely quiet E63, south-east towards Kemijarvi. It was another glorious morning after an early mist over the river, our road lined with delicate sun-lit golden birch.

At 39 miles we stopped at a rest area where the road met the Kemijoki River. There was a memorial to the Battle of Pelkosenniemi in December 1939: a Finnish victory in the Winter War (and how deep is mid-winter here) with over 1,000 Russian casualties. The village of Pelkosenniemi, 2 miles later, has fuel, a shop and a bridge across the Kemijoki, though we remained on E63 down the west side of the broad river.

A fondly-remembered campsite, with café, crazy golf and cottages, lies on the river bank 10 miles further down, shortly before tiny Vuostimo. Just a few places with hook-ups and a toilet, very simple, but such a beautiful peaceful place, run by a gentle old couple who speak only a smattering of English, French, Italian and German (mixed together)! Once again they offered free use of a rowing boat and once again we declined, the river being wide and shallow with sand banks here! Our host was busy sanding the wooden-planked café floor for resealing, while his wife picked currants in the garden, among the various antique farming implements.

After a late lunch, Barry cleaned and checked the bicycles while M updated the travel log and cooked New Zealand lamb chops (courtesy of Lidl). These 'Deluxe T-bone steaks' had travelled almost from South to North Pole, the pack bearing an accolade in English and French (as well as more inscrutable languages). It read 'New Zealand lamb represents nature from a healthy part of the world. For more than 100 years lambs have been left to graze all year round on the evergreen pastures of the Pacific archipelago. The pure air and clean rain provide food naturally from the fertile ground.'

New Zealand has been in the news recently, with a serious earthquake in Christchurch on South Island – no fatalities but many buildings destroyed. A friend sent us the link to http://www.crashbang.co.nz/quake040910/index.html and we were shocked to see the images of a city we know well. Both earthquake and lamb chops brought our NZ friends Pauline & George to mind, so we have an email ready to send them when next on-line. They have a wonderful sheep farm (with backpackers quarters) on North Island, and sons studying in Christchurch.

At Vuostimo, Lapland, Finland     Kuukiurun Camping

From Vuostimo there is a 33-mile (53 km) circular route on quiet sealed roads, ideal for  cycling, which we've ridden twice before (clockwise and anti-clockwise). Now we repeated it anticlockwise on a calm misty afternoon.

Riding north on E63 alongside the broad River Kemi, we met only a reindeer and her calf in the road! After 12 km we turned west on a minor sealed road to Pyhajarvi through the peace of the forest. At 18 km there is a right turn signed 'Suvanto School Museum: 9 km' north along a gravel road that we ignored. Keeping west, we passed a small campsite (Lapin Orava) on the left on the shore of Lake Pyha. A little further along is a ski hotel with caravan parking, where we had enquired 4 summers ago - price €32 for a place with hook-up in the car park. Today it looked closed (and no wonder!).

At 29 km we met road 962 (Sodankyla to Vuostimo), which runs through the Pyha-Luosto National Park - founded in 1938, the oldest in the country (see www.laplandpyha.fi/winter/ or www.outdoors.fi). The 35-km long string of fells has summer hiking trails, ski runs on Pyha and Luosto Fells, and Europe's only working amethyst mine at Lampivaara. Turning south-east for Vuostimo, we stopped 1 km later for excellent coffee and large buns at a ski-lodge/café on the right, near a beautiful modern timber church that was open to visitors. The log-altar was decorated with birch-bark vases containing white fluffy cottongrass from the peaty marsh of the fells: simply beautiful.

Here we met another cyclist, a lone woman from Helsinki, recently retired from a career with the UN. She had reached Pyha-Luosto by train (to the end of the line at Kemijarvi) and the daily Sodankyla-bound bus from there. Out for a hiking holiday, she'd hired a bicycle for the day specifically to visit Suvanto, down the gravel road we'd passed. We learnt that it is the only entire village in Finnish Lapland to have escaped German destruction as they retreated at the end of WW2. The settlement on the north bank of the Kitinen River, accessed by a cable-operated ferry, is still home to about 30 hardy people, with log cottages and a café, open year round, and a School Museum (seasonal).

Riding the next 5 km alongside our new friend, we continued on a broad cycle/snowmobile/ski path that, curiously, seemed much hillier than the adjacent highway (max height 660 ft or 200 m). We parted company at the new Pyha Skifield Holiday Resort (log cabins, supermarket, dead caravan site and a new roundabout) at her hotel. It was another 16 rolling km to the main road E63, where we turned left for the final 2 km.

It had been a very peaceful 2.5-hour ride with very little traffic. Back at the campsite there was still time to pick a few lingenberries in the woods over the road (the start of a 4-mile nature path through the forest). These berries, like perfect deep pink pearls, give an apple and lingenberry crumble a lovely colour and flavour.

Vuostimo to Luusua, Lapland, Finland     Matkatupa Arctic Circle YH & Camping     €18 (+ every 4th night free)     40 miles     480 ft asl

We drove south on E63 alongside the Kemijoki (Finland's longest river at 375 miles/600 km) to the town on Lapland's 3rd largest lake: Kemijarvi. A strong west wind had dispelled yesterday's mist, with birch leaves falling onto the road like a shower of golden pennies. After 18 miles there was a campsite on the right which looked closed. Two miles later the highway turned left for Kemijarvi, then right into the town centre at 23 miles.

Camping Hietaniemi (signed) is only open from 25 May to 31 August and was securely padlocked. There is plenty of space to park near the centre, outside Lidl or across the road by the Culture Centre/Library and Music School. We shopped and walked round, in search of a bank (there are 3) and the Tourist Office, all on the main street. This little town, the snowmobile capital of Finland (with museum), is set in the middle of its vast lake, surrounded by sparkling water and timber-logging forest: 'green gold'.

After lunch we spent an hour in the modern library (with free WiFi or computer use) before filling the fuel tank ready to continue our journey south on rolling rd 944. After crossing the Arctic Circle about 15 miles later (totally unmarked here) we soon arrived at Matkatupa Arctic Circle Youth Hostel, Camping and cafe on the south-west banks of Lake Kemijarvi, where we found such a welcome at the end of August last year.

The gentle owner, Urho (who has lived here all his life, originally farming dairy cattle and growing potatoes) remembered us well and we soon settled in. There is no-one here now the season is over except Urho, his wife Elui and his brother, Paavo. The family built the campsite (including all the wooden cottages) themselves over the last 30 years and they are still busy constructing a small open-air theatre with wooden seating and stage on the lakeside. The setting is magical and we might accept the invitation to 'stay till Christmas' were it not for the metre of snow they expect by then!

At Luusua, Lapland, Finland     Matkatupa Arctic Circle YH & Camping    

The strong wind has dropped, the weather and area are perfect for cycling. We also went berry-picking nearby in the surrounding forest, returning with 2 kg of blueberries and red lingenberries. Half were swiftly made into 4 jars of jam, the rest are in the freezer, like coloured pearls. We don't know enough to risk mushrooms, though were plenty of different shapes and sizes.

Ride 1 (56 km/35 miles) was north to Kemijarvi, returning the same way. Road 944 was wonderfully quiet, with nothing to see along the way except a bus shelter or two and the colours of the forest: evergreens, gold-leaved birch, russet rowan, bright red berries. The steepest of the regular climbs was to 659 ft (200 m) before a 10% descent into the town, with a new bike path for the final 3 km.

A welcome lunch at the Flame Pizzeria/Burger Restaurant, part of Kemijarvi Hotel (and remarkably quiet for a Saturday, as were the shops). Before returning we revisited the peaceful cemetery with war memorial and graves (the result of fighting Russians in the Winter War 1939-40 and then Germans in 1944). Our only company was a red squirrel gathering food. The stone church, built in 1951, replaced the one burnt down at the end of WW2, though the lovely wooden bell tower remains from 1774.

Ride 2 (23 km/14 miles) was a local ride suggested by Urho, who kindly supplied a detailed map. We rode south on rd 944, past the boat jetty and bathing beach, then turned left at 5 km into the tiny village of Luusua. A sealed road led past an artist's gallery, the church and Niity Willa (cabins and sauna). Then a gravel road forked left on a narrow spit of land alongside the Kemijoki River until it met Kemijarvi Lake. On the shore stands a new bird-watching platform, a solid timber construction, though only a few gulls remain to be seen.

Turning south along the river, a gravel road led to the impressive new Silta Bridge, across the Kemijoki. (We didn't cross to the other side, where there is a museum in the old school - not open - and a dirt road south, ending at the old village of Juujarvi.) We returned west on a gravel road past a reindeer farm, which soon rejoined our outward route through Luusua. The sky darkened and a fine rain fell towards the end of the ride.

Luusua to Posio, Finland     Lomakeskus Himmerki     €17 (+ every 4th night free)    63 miles     810 ft asl

Before leaving Matkatupa we were invited as 'special guests' for coffee and home-made berry cake with Urho and Elui. Visitors from Britain are extremely rare this far north in Finland (we've certainly seen none) and we really appreciated the effort our hosts made to speak English. We learnt more about their way of life here, entirely in accordance with the seasons: only 2 hours of darkness for most of the summer, and only 2 hours of light in winter!

Then it was time to head south (slowly and reluctantly) on rd 944, past road works near Luusua and through tiny Pirttikoski at 17 miles (camping on the left, closed, and a small shop). We crossed the bridge over the Kemijoki 2 miles later, then turned immediate left onto rd 81 (right leads to Rovaniemi, back on the Arctic Circle). On the corner by the bridge at Autti is a small café/shop/post office with simple camping behind, which was open.

Continuing south-east on rd 81, past a herd of grazing reindeer, we turned left at 24 miles onto a gravel road, signed to 'Auttikongas: 1 km'. There is parking and information at the end of the track, where a log cabin café and small museum are being built. The well marked Nature Trail (a circular walk of 3.5 km) soon leads to Auttikongas (a 16 m/53 ft high waterfall on the Autti River). Of special interest is the wooden log-chute alongside, that bypasses the rapids, for floating timber on its way to the sawmills of Kemijarvi. Built in the 19th C, it was in use until the 1970s.

The splendid Trail continued along duckboards, wooden staircases and forest paths, with spectacular viewing platforms overlooking the granite sides of the dark river canyon. There was even a trench cut in the forest by retreating Germans, ready for fighting the Russians at the end of WW2 – the Germans being the only men to have felled timber in this primeval forest area, for their fortifications, though no fighting actually took place here. At this point in the war, the Finns changed sides and joined the Russians, so the Germans just withdrew to fight on in Norway.

Back on rd 81, after less than a mile we parked in a wooded rest area by the river for lunch. Then the road climbed from 500 ft (300 m) to 800 ft (500 m) on the way to Posio at 57 miles. Here there is fuel, shops, bank and post, as well as the world's northernmost ceramics factory (Pentik), with factory shop, gallery and Coffee Cup Museum (visited last year).

Keeping on rd 81, straight through the crossroads at 59 miles, we drove east for another 3 miles to the right turn (signed) for Himmerki Lomakeskus. A sealed 1 km road leads to a large 'holiday village' with modern cottages, cabins, restaurant, conference centre and caravan site. The camping area (with 28 hook-ups) is deep in the forest on the northern shore of Lake Kitka, in a stunning position, yet the reception/restaurant offers free WiFi and there is a good TV signal from Posio – comfort in the wilderness!

At Posio, Finland     Lomakeskus Himmerki (Holiday Village & Camping)

We learnt that there is evidence of a Stone Age settlement right here at Himmerki, with excavations 12 km north-west on the lakeside unearthing prehistoric bones from hunting (reindeer, beaver, pine marten, hare and grouse) and fishing. Those living here 2000 years ago learned how to make iron – a skill that came from the east, along the waterways that were trade routes. The Forest Sami began to settle here, building log houses, as the custom of farming cattle and crops gradually spread from the south in the early 18th C.

The name 'Himmerki' (= Heavenly Place) was supposedly bestowed by a travelling vicar, who rested here after a lengthy distance of rowing across Lake Kitka. 'What a heavenly place' he gasped (and he should know), as he climbed the sandy ridge to the shore. This was 'in the olden days' and it still looks good. In fact the clear lake claims to rise from Europe's largest spring.

We had a useful 4-day break here, using the internet (free) and laundry (€3). As is usual in Scandinavia, a drying cabinet was available, so the rain that fell gently in the still forest was no problem. To add to our pleasures, we actually managed to tune in four channels of DVB!

Gathering a few more lingenberries by the door, Margaret made them into an excellent cheesecake. 'Lingen' is an old name for heather, but these bright red berries that carpet the forest floor in autumn are related to cranberries. One evening a passing group of reindeer paused right outside our window to graze, leaving scattered berries and nibbled fungi in their wake when another camper disturbed them.

We also had a couple of short cycle rides between showers:

Ride 1 (20 km/13 miles) was west into Posio and back, along rd 81. We set out for Posio on the forest path but found the stony track only suitable for walking, so had to resort to riding the main road. This was busy, especially around the town, with no cycle path – not recommended!

Ride 2 (34 km/22 miles) was 6 km eastwards along rd 81, then north-east on a much quieter sealed road (9471) which rolls through farmland and forest, with occasional glimpses of the western shore of long Lake Kitka. With a blackening sky, we turned back before reaching Patoniemi, where the 9471 meets the major road 5/E63.

Posio to Ristijarvi, Finland     Ristijarven Pirtti     €23.00   166 miles     635 ft asl

Back on rd 81 we drove east through a still mist, climbing above 1,000 ft/300 m in 5 miles. At 14 miles (790 ft/240 m) there was a wooded rest area by Lake Kitka (it could hardly miss!), then 3 miles later we turned south on highway 5/E63, known here as the Via Karelia.

At 30 miles, just north of Kuusamo, there are 3 campsite signs close together. One of them (at Hotel Rantatropikki) is listed as open all year in both Caravan Club and Finnish Camping guides. Kuusamo, together with the Ruka Ski Centre 15 miles north, is a popular tourist area year-round (visit http://www.ruka.fi/winter_eng/ or kuusamolapland) - and a good shopping centre.

As we approached the town we passed Kuusamno Uistin, Finland's largest producer of metal lures for fishing. There is a factory shop, with regional maps to study for fishing spots, and tips on the best lures to use. Ironically, the café has an aquarium of local species (no fishing?) Continuing, we ignored the first left turn for 'Keskusta' (town centre) and turned left at the roundabout 2 miles later (at 34 miles), straight into a parking area for Lidl, fuel, ABC Supermarket and other stores.

After restocking, we continued down E63/rd 5. At 38 miles, a left turn on rd 866 leads to a new (2006) border crossing to Russia, less than 30 miles east – but of course visas must be arranged in advance. At 44 miles (10 miles south of Kuusamo) there is a small lakeside cafe/hostel/campsite, Kuusamon Portti, that we have used (less expensive than Hotel Rantatropikki, provided you don't need a fill of water, for which they charged €5 extra last September!)

There are regular pleasant rest areas along E63 and we stopped for lunch after 53 miles, still high at 855 ft/260 m, as the sun broke through the mist. Reindeer remain a regular feature, attracted to the grass verges of the highway, unafraid of traffic and not averse to crossing suddenly – beware!

At 103 miles we almost missed the car park and closed café on the left, signed 'Hiljainen Kansa Tilataideteos' (no idea what that means). This 'Curiosity of Highway 5', a field of clothed scarecrow-like crosses, is a work of art (?) by the artist/dancer Reijo Kela. He first created these 'Quiet People' in 1994 and they are locally maintained and reclothed. What a strange setting in which to see the face of Rowan Atkinson on a tee-shirt! After we joined a couple of tourists taking photographs in the rain, the sun reappeared – very changeable weather in the Nordic autumn.

Further south the waterside café/camping on the right at 118 miles was closed. Continuing 5 miles we reached Ammansaari (also known as Suomussalmi on some signs and maps), which has fuel, library/internet and shops. Just after the town we turned left onto rd 912 for a couple of miles to find Camping Kiantajarvi, a site we'd used in August 2006, but its access lane was now firmly barred and closed.

Back on the E63, raining once more, we kept south. At 131 miles Camping Kangasjoki was signed, along a short dirt road on our right, but again it was closed. Next came the town of Hyrynsalmi (at 147 miles), poised between lakes Hyrynjarvi and Salmijarvi, with fuel and shops. Camping Vonkka is signed over the bridge on the right but we avoided this detour, having tried it last September! Many campsites close in mid- or late August, after the short summer season.

Finally, a mile south of the small town of Ristijarvi, we reached the campsite/summer café conveniently lying between highway and lake shore, remembered from last year. The camping is open all year with good facilities. Although they have no WiFi, you can use the reception computer to check emails. There is a good signal for cable TV, with a socket in the electric box for our lead, enabling us to watch Johnny Depp in 'Pirates of the Caribbean' for an evening of escapist entertainment!

A cycle/footpath leads back into Ristijarvi and we took a walk the following day. The churchyard had the familiar rows of military graves from 1939-44, the Winter and Continuation Wars, beautifully kept (and not by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission here, of course). Caught in a sudden downpour, we sheltered in a little café over mugs of excellent and inexpensive coffee – how we shall miss Finland.

Ristijarvi to Manamansalo, Kainuu, Finland     Martinlahti Camping     €22.00     52 miles     399 ft asl

Still drizzling with rain as we headed down rd 5/E63 for 8 miles, then turned west on rd 22. This runs parallel with the railway, both bound for Oulo on the Bothnian coast.

At 16 miles we crossed the Kiehimajoki river, as it emptied into the eastern end of Oulujarvi near Paltamo. Continuing west for 17 miles to Petajalahti, we turned left onto minor road 8823 which rolls along a narrow ribbon of tar through the forest, leading south-west to the little inshore island of Manamansalo in Oulujarvi (Finland's 4th largest lake). Ten miles later we crossed the only bridge onto the quiet island, which is linked to the mainland by a free ferry service at its southern end.

There are 3 campsites, the first (Martinlahti) less than a mile after the bridge, on the lake shore. Open all year, it has the only post office/store on the island (with warm fresh-baked bread), a café/bar, small marina and fuel (at a price). Calling in to post a card (for Uncle Harold's 94th birthday – 2 years junior to his sister, M's Mum!) we asked about internet: no, they wish they had it!

We decided to check the other all-year camping (Manamansalo Leirintaalue) owned by the National Board of Forestry, who must have their work cut out! This was another mile along the road, then signed right up an even narrower winding forest path for 3 miles. The large site at the end was deserted, apart from 2 unhelpful men in Reception. They had no internet either (told us Finns don't ask for it) and wanted €28 per night!

Knowing that the island's only other campsite had already closed, we returned to Martinlahti, where the natives and price were more amenable. From our pitch by the beach we have a view across the vast lake, its far shore scarcely visible. A full silvery moon rose over the big-sea-shining-water (apologies to Hiawatha). Barry took some wonderful photos of the moonlight, as it lined the passing clouds with silver and reflected in the lake, shining like an arrow pointed directly at our windscreen.

Inspired by a cookery programme on TV yesterday, M baked a tasty chicken & veg pie to round off the evening, along with a good DVD film (no TV signal here). The political thriller 'State of Play', with Russell Crowe as a journalist, is set in Washington DC but based on a BBC series played out in Westminster – something we'd like to have seen.

At Manamansalo, Kainuu, Finland     Martinlahti Camping    

Next morning the scene had changed, or rather disappeared. A thick mist shrouded the lake and we stayed home to catch up on writing. After lunch a chill wind dispersed the mist and we braved a cycle ride:

The Cycle Ride (36 km/22-mile) was a clockwise circuit of the island that we first rode in September 1999 – and nothing has changed. We saw only 2 cars the whole way.

For the first 7 km down the east side of the island the road was sealed, passing the third campsite (Kultahiekat = 'Golden Sands': closed since 23 August). Then there were 9 km of dirt road round the southern end of the island, to a road junction. From here both roads are sealed: turn right to circle up the west side, or keep straight on for 3 km to the ferry.

Riding on we reached the jetty for the little car ferry, which crosses every half hour from 5 am to 11 pm in summer. It was moored across the water, with a free phone to summon it when things are quiet. We didn't cross, knowing it would mean a ride totalling 67 miles back to the campsite via the bridge – and we did that 11 years ago!

We returned 3 km to the road junction, then turned left to complete the circle, just as it began to rain. The final 14 km was in a steady downpour, testing our new waterproof gloves (they passed but our socks didn't!)

Back at the campsite, wind and rain grew stronger and we stood in deep puddles to put the awning in and get the bikes on the rack, ready to retreat from the lake shore if necessary, though the storm eventually abated. Time to head south!

Manamansalo to Vuokatti, Kainuu, Finland     Naapurivaaran Lomakyla (Holiday Village)     €24.50     77 miles     468 ft asl

We crossed the nearby bridge to the mainland, then left at 2 miles onto rd 8823 for 10 miles through lichenose forest, back to rd 22. Heading east, we turned off at 27 miles into Paltamo, a small town 2 miles north of the highway. It has a couple of supermarkets, a library (which turned out to be closed until 1 pm) and 2 fuel stations. The automated ABC pumps rejected our 'foreign' cards (a problem unique in our experience to France and Finland) but we were able to refuel at Neste, which had helpful staff.

Back on rd 22 we met rd 5/E63 at 40 miles and turned south, past a Shell station, then a rest area with a grill/kiosk: signs of urbanisation! Passing the first exit for Kajaani (the largest town in Kainuu Province, site of a huge pulping mill and paper works), we took the next exit at 53 miles and then turned immediate right, straight into Lidl. The usual generous car park was well placed for shopping and lunch. With the weather still grey and damp, we decided against walking into the town centre, as we had done last year.

Turning right out of Lidl, we now headed east on rd 6, then left onto rd 76 at 70 miles. After another 3 miles we turned left again in Vuokatti (a ski-training area, described by Rough Guide as having a high pine-clad ridge, rolling hills and lakes – a picture that fits most of the country!) Signs led us along rd 899 to a campsite with a bird-watching tower by Lake Nuasjarvi.

It has a café, some cabins and basic camping facilities, though they hardly merit the title 'Holiday Village' (nor the price charged). No internet again, though a good TV signal from the town. The only other campers are a young Russian couple with a car and tent, who are finding the nights 'quite warm enough'. In fact they were attracted here by Vuokatti's 3-km Ski Tunnel with snow year-round! They are busy preparing a bucket full of mushrooms, collected in the local woods in 20 minutes.

Vuokatti to Nurmes, Karelia, Finland     Hyvarila Holiday Centre & Camping     €5.50 (for electricity)     60 miles     334 ft asl

Driving east on rd 899 for 3 miles to Vuokatti, we passed an impressive group of wheelchair athletes in training, racing along the cycle path using ski-sticks. Then it was south for 8 miles, following a laden logging truck until we turned left onto rd 6 which parallels the railway south-east towards Joensu. This road was remarkably quiet: no more campers and caravans heading north-south, no cars, just an occasional lorry.

Valtimo, at 40 miles, had fuel and a lakeside rest area on rd 6, though the settlement lies 1 km to the west of the highway. After another 12 miles we turned left onto rd 75 for 5 miles to Nurmes, at the head of Lake Pielinen, in the thinly populated Eastern Lake Region that stretches to the Russian border. The quiet town has fuel, supermarkets and an area signed P-Caravans (room for about 3) by the market place and bus station in the centre. Parking here (free of charge) we strolled round.

We are repeatedly impressed by the Scandinavians' care for each other. As the Tourist Office was locked - with a note on the door saying 'back at 2 pm' (or Finnish words to that effect) – we asked the neighbouring chemist's for directions to a bank. The pharmacy had a waiting area with seats, toys and free coffee. At the bank, there was a range of spectacles to borrow if need be (a nice touch, noticed frequently in libraries, post offices, banks, etc). Supermarkets too often have a free coffee corner. If it weren't for the severe winter, we could easily settle here (and spend the rest of our lives learning the language!)

Continuing east on rd 73 for 2 miles, we followed signs to Hyvarila on the north-east shore of the Pielinen. This enormous holiday centre, sprawling along the lake round a lovely manor hotel/restaurant next to a golf course, includes a youth hostel, cabins, camping and every type of sports facility, including rowing boats and a ski jump! With good memories of previous visits, we called in to check if the campsite really had closed mid-September (as listed in the Finnish guide).

The hotel and golf course were busy, a school party occupied the youth hostel, but the campsite was indeed officially closed. However, we were welcome to stay if we didn't need the camp kitchen/ablutions, which are locked. Water, toilets and electricity are available, there is free WiFi from the hotel which reaches the motorhome, and a good TV signal. Further, the normal camping charge of €23 (with every 3rd night free) has been reduced to just €5.50 a day to cover electricity!

The final piece of good news was that the lunch buffet was still being served - all you can eat of soup, breads, salads, beef casserole, vegetables, fresh fruit and berries, soft drinks and coffee - for €8.50 per person. We decided to stay a day or two!! See hyvarila.com for full details of this impressive complex.

At Nurmes, Karelia, Finland     Hyvarila Holiday Centre & Camping

The weather turned showery, the school party left, the campsite was all ours. It's a lovely place, very rural yet only a short cycle ride into town, along the lake. We appreciated the WiFi internet, catching up on emails and Voipwise phone calls, updating our website and organising photographs, all while listening to BBC Radio 4 on-line! It's wonderful to gather news of other travellers for the website too – currently we're working on Dr Bob in Portugal, after completing Kaye in Iceland.

We learnt something of the history of the scattered buildings around us at Hyvarila. The main house, now the hotel-restaurant-reception, was built in 1920 as a home for the aged of the Commune of Nurmes. The local authority also ran a farm here (with stables, cowshed and pig sties), a 'poor house' for destitutes and a hospital for the mentally and physically handicapped. The staff were housed on the site and those patients and elderly who were well enough also helped on the farm. During the 1980's both the old people's home and the hospital closed, buildings were renovated and Nurmes' camping site was transferred here from the town centre. The hotel was rebuilt and extended in 1991, followed by building camping cottages, lakeside sauna, etc.

The present youth and camping centre, alongside the elegant hotel, betray nothing of this past – except that Margaret has always found the laundry (in the youth hostel basement) a little eerie. Pure coincidence that the hostel was the original mental hospital? Time to fetch our washing from the drying room …

The autumn equinox has passed. The birch trees are losing their golden leaves, the nights are growing longer than the days, the chill wind is in the north. We had our first overnight frost, sparkling in the sunshine under a clear blue sky, the last weekend in September. The weather is probably better than in Britain at present, but when snow starts to fall in Scandinavia (about now at the top, a little later around the Arctic Circle and usually before Christmas in the south) it will, everyone tells us, last until May!

We have always left by early October but have been looking at road conditions, prompted by an email from a couple in France about the need for snow tyres, etc – see our own article on this subject.

For us it's time to migrate (very reluctantly), following the birds on their way south. There are more varieties here, with Redwings on the ground and Great Tits in the trees, as well as the familiar White Wagtails that were our companions in the Far North.

Nurmes to Koli, Karelia, Finland     Kolin Future Freetime Camping     €22.00 (+ every 5th night free)     54 miles     430 ft asl

Filling our water tank at the campsite before leaving Nurmes, we blew a plug of ice out of the end of the hose. By the end of September the water will be turned off and camping finished until the end of May, though the hotel and hostel remain open.

We drove north on rd 73 for 3 miles, then turned left onto rd 75, bypassing the town centre. Meeting highway 6 at 8 miles, we headed south, pausing for lunch in a rest area 17 miles later. The leaves are tumbling down after their first touch of frost, settling on the forest floor round enormous fungi in shades of red and fiery orange. A Finnish motorhome pulled in and we watched the driver empty their toilet cassette into the dry long-drop WC (or 'dunny' as the Australians call them). This may be acceptable but we were definitely not impressed when he rinsed the cassette out in the adjoining lake (water often used as a reservoir).

Continuing down the west side of Pielinen (the country's 4th largest lake, some 90 km/56 miles long), there is a supermarket with fuel in Juuka. In the next village, Nunnanlahti at 40 miles, we passed the Finnish Stone Centre (Kivikeskus) on the right next to a soapstone quarry. It has a restaurant and Stone Museum, with demonstrations of masonry, displays of stone structures and a stone park, none of which tempted us to stop.

At 48 miles we ignored rd 504, which turns left for the Koli National Park (with fuel and shops on the corner). Our left turn, signed 'Future Freetime', was 5 miles later onto a good but unpaved forest road. Following signs for another mile we found the splendid, if oddly named, campsite tucked away by the shore of lake Valkealampi.

The site is open all year, with excellent heated facilities including sauna and a cosy kitchen. It even offers 'a hole in the ice equipped with lighting' for winter fishing! We prefer to spend the evening indoors and enjoyed a good TV signal, watching an episode of BBC's 'Little Dorrit' – Dickens at its best. Finnish TV has many British, Australian and American programmes with subtitles, enabling us to save our new DVD films for winter nights.

The Koli National Park lies just to the east, in the Karelid mountain range. At its heart is Ukka-Koli, the highest point at 1,145 ft/347 m, rising 835 ft/253 m above the shore of lake Pielinen. There is a Heritage Centre, hiking and ski trails, summer camping at Loma-Koli, etc (see koli.fi or kareliaexpert.fi). In the summer months a car ferry crosses the Pielinen from Koli harbour to Lieksa, while in winter an Ice Road runs from Loma-Koli to Vuonislahti. Sibelius, composer of the Karelia Suite, was one of many artists inspired here, where 'Dr Zhivago' was filmed. Having learnt all this, we hope to return for a longer stay next year – summer, that is, not winter!

Koli to Hattuvaara, Karelia, Finland     Taistelijan Talo ('Fighters House' Café/ Museum)     €18.00     84 miles     640 ft asl

Back along the gravel road for a mile to join rd 6 southwards, with logging trucks the only traffic. After another 7 miles we turned left onto even quieter rd 515, where M was excited to see a male Capercaillie at the edge of the infinite coniferous forest. Our European Birds guide had many interesting facts about these birds. Larger than Black Grouse, they feed on leaves, shoots and berries (like the panda in 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves', that great book on punctuation by Lynne Truss) but migrate north in winter to eat pine needles from tree-tops above the snow! The insulation quality of feathers is certainly impressive. Like all grouse they have feathered legs but, unlike the Willow Grouse and Ptarmigan, don't turn white in winter. Does any other creature eat pine needles, we wondered? There are numerous Red Squirrels here, who eat the seeds from the pine cones they crack, but of course they will soon be in for a long hibernation.

At 18 miles, at Ahveninen near the foot of the Pielinen, we met rd 518 south for 10 miles to Eno where there is fuel and shops. Here we turned east on rd 514, passing a 'Stikk Setter' as they are called in Sweden – a van with a trailer of snow poles to set along the verges: a steady job at this time of year!

At 58 miles we passed the left turn (rd 522) we'd later take to Hattuvaara, continuing another mile into Finland's easternmost town, Ilomantsi, deep in the Karelian forest. It has a good range of shops and a Tourist Information office on the main street, with plenty of free maps and brochures on the many delights of the region (or see visitkarelia.fi). Karelia (capital Joensu) has been part of Finland since independence in 1917 (after being ruled by both Sweden and Russia) but the border has been repeatedly redrawn, most recently after World War II, when some of eastern Karelia was lost once more to Russia.

The small town of Ilomantsi is at the centre of Finland's most eastern and most Orthodox municipality, in the heart of the Karelian wilderness. It claims the oldest Christian parish in the country (Orthodox, established in the early 15th C) and also the most snow cover in the country, lasting from November to April. We made our way to the lakeside, where there are 2 splendid churches, both still in use, though only open outside service times during the summer (we'd visited them in August 2006). The large wooden Lutheran church (1796) looks plain from the outside but its interior walls are colourfully painted with about a hundred angels.

A little further along, the Finnish Orthodox Church of St Elias (1891) has a more impressive exterior, very elegant in cream-painted wood with green roof and domes, though inside it's more severe: a blend of Scandinavian simplicity and Orthodox iconography. Over the road, a path leads past the Iljala Orthodox Meeting Centre and down to the shore, where there is a little Orthodox cemetery under the trees. We parked next to the church for lunch, admiring the garden (sunflowers and vegetables!)

Returning through the town, we found that both the Teboil and Neste filling stations still rejected 'foreign' credit cards at the automatic pumps. Luckily, Neste also had the option to pay inside at the Kassa, where the attendant scrutinised M's passport, explaining they had a lot of card fraud – probably being so near the Russian border, with migrant workers (there is a berry-pickers' weighing point in the town).

Then we headed north-east on minor rd 522 to Hattuvaara. At Lehtovaara, 12 miles along, we recognised the junction with the Wolf's Trail forest track from Mohko – a route we had cycled back in 1999. It was another 13 miles to Hattuvaara, the nearest village to the easternmost point of Finland (and the mainland EU). The settlement has one shop and Finland's oldest Orthodox tsasouna (tiny wooden church from the 1720's, with cemetery).

The dominant building, next to the Border Guard army post, is the tall Taistelijan Talo or Fighters' House, built of grey stone and wood in 1988, designed as a tribute to Finland's war veterans and to those who rebuilt an independent country after the Battles of Ilomantsi. It has a good cafe/lunch restaurant and a WWII museum, both indoors and out. It also sells souvenirs and diplomas for visiting the Easternmost Point, 12 miles distant, and arranges group tours.

Back in August 2006, permission to stay on the large car park for 2 nights was freely given, with the optional bonus of an electric hook-up for total €5, and we'd cycled from here to the Easternmost Point. The museum (with exhibitions 'From War to Peace 1939-45' and 'Finnish Women at War') was also free to customers.

Times change! The new owner had installed a couple of electric points in the car park and now advertised Caravan Parking. The price was non-negotiable (“This is my new business”) at €14 plus €4 for electricity per day. Museum entry is an extra €5 per person! The toilets are available when the café is open - from 10 am to 3 pm weekdays at this time of year (probably closing altogether mid-October) - and an intermittent WiFi signal reached us from the building. We had no alternative for the night, as we'd come to repeat the atmospheric cycle ride, but it will be our last visit! A coach party arrived later, booked for museum/film/refreshments, then the place was closed up and we were alone with the ghosts of heroes, amid the dugouts and canons.

At Hattuvaara, Karelia, Finland     Taistelijan Talo ('Fighters House' Café/ Museum)    

Until earlier this year, permission was needed in order to enter the 2-mile wide Finnish/Russian border zone in the forest here. A 24-hour Frontier Zone Permit was issued (free of charge) at the Border Guard Station next to the Fighters' House. However, this restriction no longer applies to the route giving access to the easternmost point of the EU at Lake Virmajarvi (though wandering off the track is forbidden).

Cycling to the EU's Easternmost Point: After a chilly dawn the sun broke through, so, suitably equipped with ham and cheese sandwiches, brewing up kit and chocolate bars, we set off mid-morning to cycle the 25-mile round trip. Half a mile along the road, past the little church, there is a right turn opposite the village shop onto a gravel road, mysteriously signposted with various Finnish words like Ita-piste (= East Point) and an EU symbol.

It was a perfect day, dry with no wind, though more traffic than we remembered. Despite starting and finishing at around 600 ft, the newly strewn gravel track was strenuously hilly, crossing the ridges in the dense birch and pine forest. We met none of the larger mammals rumoured to live here (elk, brown bear, wolf or beaver) – car drivers were the only threat, passing too quickly, scattering dust and stones.

Along the early part of the way, near a marked trek called the 'Fighters Trail', are several WWII battle locations, foxholes and memorials. About 13,000 Finnish troops were deployed against the Russian advance in the area between here and Ilomantsi in July-August 1944. After 10 miles we saw the former border-zone barrier, with its stern warning sign 'No Entry Without Permit' for the final 2.5 miles of track through the border zone, but it was now lying abandoned on the forest floor. The gravel road ends at a parking area, then a short footpath to a wooden marker erected by Ilomantsi Rotary Club on the shore of Virmajarvi, opposite a tiny island on which the actual border posts (blue and white for Finland, red and green for Russia) can be seen. This border was defined in the Moscow Treaty of 1940 after the Winter War, and marks the easternmost point of Finland, Europe and the Mainland EU. (It did apply to the whole EU until Cyprus joined.)

After taking photographs (including dear Jeff Mason at another 'Ernmost'), we brewed up and ate our lunch in a handy little wooden shelter. We'd passed the larger 'Bear Paw Hut' (a comfortable log-house, fireplace and picnic area) one mile back down the track but it was busy with a group in a minibus, who had lit a fire around which to make a lot of noise. (Such excursions can be booked at Taistelijan Talo.) They seemed very out of place, using the border zone wilderness solely for play and for amusement – and we didn't like the loose dog, either!

We had another brew-up at a shelter about half way back, sitting by the fire with a genuine Finnish backwoodsman, who was hiking alone and camping out and cooking sausages on whittled sticks. Arriving back in Hattuvaara, we stayed for a second night (the last in September) after a strenuous 40 km ride.


Hattuvaara to Kesalahti, Karelia, Finland     Karjalan Kievari Restaurant & Camping     €11.00     127 miles     292 ft asl

After driving back 23 miles to Ilomantsi on rd 522, we took rd 74 westwards for Joensuu, passing a café/fuel station at Kovern at 40 miles. The morning was dead calm as sun broke through the early mist. Near Heinavaaara (more fuel available) the lake was like glass: a mirror reflecting the golden shades of autumn trees with crystal clarity.

Meeting highway 6 at 63 miles, we turned north for 3 miles to find the Lidl store. Ignore the exit for Joensuu Keskusta (town centre), stay on 6, cross the Pielisjoki River, then turn left into a busy shopping area, complete with Lidl opposite McDonalds. As well as Lidl food, we found a pair of speakers and a USB-set for the laptop. Joensuu, a town chartered by Czar Nikolai I of Russia in 1848, is now a busy manufacturing and university city with museums, theatre, culture, students … traffic lights, road works, crowds and parking meters. Leaving it unvisited, we simply rejoined rd 6 and headed south.

The traffic thinned out as we left the city, the sun shone, the road ran parallel with the railway in the nearby forest. Filling stations and cafes were no longer a rarity and fuel became gradually less expensive than in the north (petrol as low as €1.39, after prices upwards of €1.45. Diesel is less.) At Onkamo rd 70 turned off via Tohmajarvi to Finland's easternmost border crossing, to Vartsila just 32 miles away in Russia – for those with a visa. 

Our route remained southbound on highway 6 through Central Karelia, passing Kitee Zoo/Aquapark/Hotel at 115 miles. Ten miles later, just past the exit for Kesalahti village, there is a good restaurant (lunch buffet €10) on the right of the highway, with a grassy campsite behind. The camping extends down to lake Puruvesi, where there is boat mooring, and it has excellent facilities, free WiFi from the restaurant (or use of a computer inside), friendly staff and a very reasonable price. We happily stayed an extra day, catching up on writing and laundry.

Reluctantly, we booked the Tallink-Silja Lines ferry that would take us from Helsinki to Tallinn (Estonia) next week. Two other companies work this route (Viking and Eckero Lines) but Tallink-Silja sail much more frequently and their fares are competitive. We've found that the best way is to check times and prices on-line, then book by phone with their main office in Lubeck, Germany for a better deal (+49 451 5899222). The staff speak English and, as last year, gave us a 'Car Package' price for an 8-metre motorhome!

Kesalahti to Lahti, Finland     Messila Lomakeskus (Holiday Centre)     €29.00     189 miles     290 ft asl

South down rd 6 'Via Karelia' on a very quiet Sunday morning. Lakeside hotels, rest areas and fuel stations now punctuate the forest at regular intervals along the highway, which runs parallel with the railway and the increasingly proximate Russian border. We bypassed the town of Parikkala at 29 miles, then almost touched the border zone at the hamlet of Joukio.

There were signs of logging in the woods, Elk warning signs and deer fencing along both verges. The trees are still predominantly pine and birch but we're seeing oak, maple and sycamore in the towns and a wider range of birds. At 59 miles rd 6 became dual carriageway for 7 miles through the industrial town of Imatra, marked by factory chimneys and high-rise flats, close to another Russian border point. It felt like a different country already!

The next stretch of rd 6 around Joutseno had sections of road-widening works and there will soon be more dual carriageway. At 84 miles we passed the exit leading to Vyborg and St Petersburg in Russia – the road on which we'd returned to Lappeenranta by coach from the canal trip to Vyborg (see 10 August 2006).

At 87 miles we turned off into Lappeenranta, at the foot of Finland's largest (and that's saying something!) lake, Samaa, linked to the (once Finnish) Baltic port of Vyborg by the Samaa Canal. Following signs for 3 miles through the busy town to the lakeside, it helps to know that Satama means harbour. Plenty of free parking space by the passenger harbour, where we'd parked overnight whilst taking the Vyborg cruise, though sadly there are now signs forbidding 'Caravans' between 2200 and 0700 hrs. We had coffee and strolled past the moored boats, ranging from old steamers and the 'Carelia' canal cruiser to modern yachts. There was no sign of the sand sculptures from the annual summer competition here – indeed, that area was being 'developed', with piles of builders' sand. Fortress Hill (Linnoitus) overlooks the lake and is worth exploring (see 11 August 2006) but we still had a long drive to Lahti.

Leaving town on rd 3821, we passed a Fazer factory (Finland's best chocolate and toffee, as well as bread), then the campsite Huhtiniemi (open mid-May to mid-Sept) by the lake. We rejoined rd 6 westwards at 95 miles, noting a sign with an outside temperature of 11º C.

After Kouvola rd 6 turned south at 148 miles for Porvoo, while we continued west on rd 12. It was increasingly busy and urban, with Russian car transporters and trucks rushing past. Ten miles later, a large ABC service station/café provided a place to park for lunch.

We crossed the Helsinki motorway E75 3 miles before the centre of Lahti (meaning 'bay' – an odd name for an inland winter sports centre), continued through the town, then turned right at 187 miles for the lakeside camping (the only one open here at this time of year). It was busy, with entry barrier, number-pad-operated facilities and the highest fee we've paid this year (€31, less a €2 discount for the Scandinavian Camping Card!) That's the cost of being just 70 miles by motorway from Helsinki. They did offer WiFi internet – at €4 per day extra!! Won't repeat what we told them to do with it. Just one night and tomorrow we take the ferry.

Lahti, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia     Salzburg Hotel & Camping     300 EEK (€20)     81 miles (71 in Finland, 10 in Estonia – and 50 miles by ferry)     100 ft asl

After a last view of Finnish TV over breakfast (the Australian series 'Auction Squad' – why are the Finns interested in house prices 3 years ago in Sydney?), we were on the road. It was 3 miles back to rd 12 at Hollola, then left onto rd 296 for 5 miles to join the toll-free 4-lane motorway E75/rd 4 to Helsinki. A beautiful morning, driving south into the low sun.

At 29 miles we took exit 13 for a top-up at Mantsala Services, where both Shell and ST1 charged the same (€1.09 per litre diesel, €1.38 petrol) – a good price for Finland, though fuel will be cheaper in the Baltic Republics. There are no service stations actually on the motorway but this one is very near (and a good place to park overnight, as we have done in summer when not wanting a hook-up).

Back on E75 (busy for Finland but remarkably quiet compared with UK or Germany), there was a small rest area/café (not fuel) at 53 miles. Exit 3 at 62 miles is the one for Rastila Camping (nearest to Helsinki, open all year, generally crowded and expensive). We continued into the capital, where the motorway ended abruptly in a traffic jam at 66 miles.

Only another 5 miles to the ferry (West Terminal) but allow plenty of time for wrong turns, even using a SatNav! Turn right a mile after the end of the motorway (signed 'Västre Termin'), then weave your way between tramlines, pedestrians, road works and traffic along narrow, sometimes cobbled, streets. Signs are infrequent and inconsistent (look out for 'Toolo' or a picture of a ferry, as well as 'Västre Termin').

We arrived at the West Terminal (an area under development) at 11 am and parked by the new terminal building with a sense of relief. A great improvement on last time, when we mistakenly went to the East Terminal first and only just made the ferry! Tallink-Silja Line's check-in booth was closed until the ferry arrived at 1 pm but we checked inside the terminal building that no tickets were needed. The printout of our email confirmation was enough.

With time in hand, out came the laptops. We enjoyed editing the article on Greece that Rosemary &Andy Newton had sent for our website: 'Pippins in the Peloponnese'. Then we had a quick lunch (remembering the awful food on board last year) and drove round to check-in as we saw the ferry arrive. The queue was not very long – mostly trucks – and we were the only motorhome/camper/caravan – and the only British. In fact, we've not met any Brits since Belgium last June!

The fine 'M/S Star', a fast new vessel, sailed promptly at 2.30 pm and the smooth passage across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn (which lasted 5 hours back in 1999) took less than 2 hours! The catering looked much improved since last year, though we only tried the coffee - with half-price refills. We had avoided the weekend 'booze cruise' sailings and our fellow passengers were mainly sober business-persons or truckers.

We shopped in the spacious Supermarket for bargain chocolate, liquorice allsorts and a pack of 4 half-litre bottles of Estonia's speciality, which M had sampled back in Sodankyla. To quote our LP guidebook “Vana Tallinn is in a class of its own. No-one quite knows what the syrupy liqueur is made from but it's sweet and strong with a pleasant aftertaste. Best served in coffee, over ice with milk, over ice cream or in champagne or dry white wine.” It had also tasted good with lemonade - will 4 bottles be enough?

By 4.30 pm (same time zone as Finland) we were exiting the docks in Estonia's capital to negotiate more traffic and tramlines, following signs for E67/rd 4. Tallinn was a Hanseatic League port, with a splendidly restored Old Town that we had visited in quieter days (Sept/Oct 1999 and again in Aug 2006). Now the country is not only a tech-savvy EU member (WiFi in all public areas by law!) but is set to adopt Euro currency in January 2011. This will replace the Estonian Kroon (EEK), currently valued at about 15.6 to the Euro (or over 17 to the Pound Sterling).

Knowing that Tallinn City Camping closes during September, we drove south (Parnu direction), looking out for an overnight opportunity. Our busy road 4 (E67, the 'Baltic Highway') became dual carriageway out of the city. At exactly 10 miles from the port we passed a Caravan Parking sign at the Hotel Salzburg on the left. We recalled camping here in 1999 (when it was a Best Western Hotel, the Peoleo) and taking the bus into Tallinn.

Making the next U-turn, we drove back to the refurbished renamed Salzburg for the night. There is parking with hook-ups outside the hotel and access to toilets, shower and WiFi inside. The price of 300 EEK could be paid by credit card or cash – or with an excessive €20.

(continued at: Baltic Journey 2010)