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UK to Norway May 2011 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

FROM THE UK TO NORWAY MAY 2011
Or 'MagBaz go Caravanning'

Margaret and Barry Williamson
May 2011

This Travel Log is Continued at: IN NORWAY: JUNE 2011

Images of this journey can be found at the following locations on this website:

In the UK 2011                   In Denmark 2011                   In Norway 2011

03_Lofotens_in_Context.jpg
Norway in Perspective

Introduction

Following a UK_2011_(17).JPGwinter motorhoming in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, we returned to the UK in early April 2011 for the usual round of motorhome servicing, visiting friends and relatives and preparing for the next journey.

We had mooted the idea of trying yet another approach toSprint_(20).JPG long-term long-distance travel in mainland Europe. In the past we had travelled purely by bicycle, then by motorhome combined with bicycle (and for a number of years also combined with a motorbike). More recently, we had toured Greece, Sicily, Tunisia and the western Balkans using a short wheel base Mercedes Sprinter van (which also carries the bicycles), combined with inexpensive rooms and campsite huts.

For a short time in late April, we sampled travel in Northern Europe with a tent and the Sprinter van, leaving our Flair motorhome resting at Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham. Our thoughts turned to the use of a small caravan behind the Sprinter, with the bicycles coming as well. On Saturday 30 April, we emailed the Medics, Darren and MartinOn_the_Road_(68).JPG, from Belgium with the following request for information:

 “We are returning to the UK with the intention of buying a small caravan. Could you please help by letting us know if you know where to buy a small second-hand caravan (specification below)? Then checking the caravan over, getting it a number plate and adding an extra electrical connection to the Sprinter to charge the caravan's battery.”

The specification was quite simple:

“Small two-berth. Seats/table at one end. Kitchen at the other end. Sink, toilet, shower, fridge, wardrobe in the middle. Usual 12-volt, gas and mains appliances. Awning not needed.”

We arrived at Motorhome Medics only 4 days later, on Wednesday 4 May, after the long Bank UK_2011_(19).JPGHoliday weekend. They immediately said they could show us a caravan if we followed them. They led us down the road to nearby Briarfields Touring Park, where our Flair motorhome was already waiting on pitch No 1. On pitch No 2 was a small neat two-berth caravan! What a surprise and what a delightful little 'van the Compass Rallye 400 proved to be! Soon it became ours.

For 7 days theUK_2011_(20).JPG friendly and helpful new owner-managers of the Briarfields campsite, Scott & Jo Sanderson and Scott's parents, enabled us to work between three vehicles: the Flair motorhome, the Sprinter van and the Compass caravan. Slowly we made the temporary transition from motorhomers to caravanners so that, after a busy week had passed, the Flair had returned to Motorhome Medics for servicing, ready for our return. We were ready to set off with the caravan to Harwich for the ferry to Esbjerg (Denmark) and points north.

Many thanks from us both to everyone at Motorhome UK_2011_(22).JPGMedics and at Briarfields for their enormous help, encouragement and co-operation in this transition. Darren and Martin lived up to their extremely high standards as technicians, friends and humorists. The Sanderson family are making excellent progress in transforming their campsite into a welcoming and well-equipped place for rest and relaxation. After years of neglect and a reputation for idiosyncratic behaviour on the part of its previous owners, Alan and Patsy, the site now has a new lease of life. We also appreciated the installation of free WiFi internet on the campsite – a great help in making the many new arrangements, arranging insurance and booking ferries.

MAY 2011

The Journey to Harwich – or 'You can't  bring that White Van in here'

We left CheltenhamIMG_1167.JPG on 11 May, having phoned to book 2 nights at a simple campsite near Chelmsford which we've used before, albeit it in a motorhome. The Sprinter proved an excellent towing vehicle, the unfamiliar caravan following us obediently for over 160 miles along the M4 and round the M25, then along A12 to junction 8. After 2 miles of narrow country lane, Mill House Caravan Park at Little Baddow is on the right, a seasonal site by the River Chelm. The only facilities are electric hook-ups, water and waste disposal; current price £10.

Our evening peace was soon disturbed by the arrival of the owner – not, as we thought, to collect the money but to announce 'We don't take commercial vehicles, you must leave'. No amount of negotiation or protest would convince him that our White Van was purely for 'social, domestic and leisure' purposes. It was declared Commercial (unlike the smaller white van parked, along with a car, by a huge caravan next to us?) The best offer was that we could stay for one night only, provided we hid the offending Sprinter van behind some bushes! We had little choice.

Our neighbours, a dozen large caravans housing workmen and their families in semi- permanent residence, looked away, probably at their satellite TV screens where greater dramas were being played out.

Needing a safe haven for the next night, before the Friday 13th ferry, we immediately phoned Colchester Holiday Park to ask if a respectable married couple of retired college/university lecturers might be permitted to stay for one night with a Mercedes Sprinter van towing a small caravan. 'We don't take commercial vehicles' came the reply. Eventually it was conceded that we would be allowed in if we parked our White Van outside on the separate car park. We certainly hadn't foreseen this paranoia, with 'commercial vehicles' being a euphemism for 'gipsies'. Discrimination against the latter might be unlawful, but apparently not against the former.

Next morning we duly drove on for 30 miles to Colchester Holiday Park, signed just off A12. It's a huge all-year ACSI-listed site (current price £17), complete with CCTV and automatic barriers, where we could easily have parked both van and caravan well out of site of the entrance. The Manageress would have none of it – we must unhitch at once and return the Sprinter to the external car park until we were ready to leave - and if we didn't like it we could go now. Welcome to Colchester.

With the atmosphere far from conducive to relaxation, we spent the afternoon filling any remaining space in the Sprinter at the nearby shops (Aldi and the Co-op).

A Ferry to Esbjerg – or 'Free at Last'

With only 25 miles to drive to Harwich for the ferry, we stayed on Colchester's answer to Colditz until the check-out time of 12 noon (when we were asked if we were ready to leave!) For future reference, we phoned 2 ACSI-listed campsites near Harwich (Dovercourt Caravan Park and the less expensive Strangers Home Camping and Caravan Site) and found both would accept (or even welcome) a White Van. Next time we'll know where to go.

At Harwich the favourite waiting area for the ferry is Morrisons supermarket, about a mile before the port. It has a huge car park, fuel, toilets, ATM and a good cafe – and there is a Lidl store across the road. Lunch and the Guardian paper passed the time.

The DFDSN_Ferries_(12).JPG 'Dana Sirena' left on time at 1745 hrs, arriving in Ebsbjerg some 12 hours later at 1300 hrsN_Ferries_(15).JPG local time. It was a smooth crossing and the 2-berth outside cabin booked in advance at on the DFDS Seaways website was excellent, with a window, TV and bathroom. Many passengers were on a 'mini-cruise' and the restaurants catered for this. The only alternative to the extravagant dinner and breakfast buffets was the tiny 'Lighthouse Cafe', serving over-priced snacks with very little choice. Passengers eating their own provisions in public areas were threatened with confiscation of said food or drink! But in the privacy of our own cabin we enjoyed a thermos of coffee, a pork pie, crisps, fruit, muffins, biscuits – good seafaring fare.

North through Danish Jutland – Wet and Windy

Denmark has hundreds of campsites with excellent facilities. The 'DK-Camping Guide 2011' book (in 4 languages) covers 325 sites, comes complete with a good map and is free from any listed site. A camping carnet is compulsory in all 4 Scandinavian countries but if you don't have a valid Camping Card International, all campsites sell the Camping Card Scandinavia, price 100 DK, valid till the end of the year. The current (ever- decreasing) exchange rate is about 8.3 Danish Krone to the Pound Sterling, or 7.4 to the Euro. Many campsites will accept credit cards but do charge an extra percentage for this service. Many campsites are seasonal, with some only open from June-September.

Finally, many of the Danish campsites are part of the ACSI off-season discount scheme, so it's worth getting hold of the

Camping Card ACSI book and card if visiting outside July/August. This can be purchased on-line or it can be found at some good camping shops. This year we bought ours in Huddersfield at the Lowdham Leisure motorhome dealer and accessory shop, price £11.99. The 3 Danish campsites we visited are all members, charging just €15 (or rather 111 DK) cash per night, including electricity and hot showers, a saving of a few Euros.

Our ferry landed at Esbjerg at 1 pm on Saturday 14 May and was soon unloaded, with no Customs formalities and nowhere to park . This modern city was built in 1868 when the Germans took over South Jutland, depriving the Danes of their main North Sea port. Esbjerg's fishing harbour was closed during WW2 but it is now Denmark's largest port, thriving on the oil and gas industry and wind turbine manufacture.

The nearest campsite is the new all-year Adalens Camping, Esbjerg, just 5 miles north of the port along the flat coast road, and a short walk inland from the sandy shore. On the way we passed Esbjerg's landmark on Saedding Beach. 'Man Meets the Sea' (1995) is a 9-metre/30 ft high white concrete sculpture of 4 seated figures looking out across Ho Bay, which we thought a remarkably ugly monstrosity compared with the usual stylish Danish Design!

The Reception at Adalens is closed from noon till 3 pm but the barrier was left open for new arrivals during this time. We parked by the entrance, ate our lunch and decided to drive on, as dismal heavy rain set in for the remainder of the day.

Luckily the country roads were very quiet as we made our way north, across a flat landscape with neat hamlets. Using the Camping Card ACSI book's GPS co-ordinates, we still managed an occasional wrong turn and discovered that reversing to turn round with a caravan is even more challenging than a large motorhome! After about 50 miles we reached Bork Havn Camping at Bork Harbour nr Hemmet, on the south shore of Ringkobing Fjord. (A Danish fjord is simply a large lagoon or sea inlet, like a lake.) The large campsite (open 1 April to 31 Oct) was very busy, with its many static caravans occupied over the weekend, but there were excellent facilities including free WiFi in the large TV/dining room next to a well-equipped kitchen, typical of Scandinavian sites.

Sunday was showery, with a cold North Sea wind gathering speed across the fjord. We spent some time on-line, catching up with Bob & Sandra's adventures in Australia, then took a bracing walk round the waterfront (once a Viking harbour) after lunch. Next to the campsite is a Spar supermarket (with delicious strawberries!), an ATM, a bike hire place and a few cafes and souvenir shops. The only bargain was a fly-swat (we'd forgotten ours) for 5 DK. Ringkobing is a popular wind-surfing venue and we watched the few sailboards trying to stay upright in the gale.

On Monday it was still wet for the 195-mile drive up the west coast of Jutland to Lokken. We took rd 181 along Holmsland Klit (= Dune), the narrow isthmus between the North Sea and Ringkobing Fjord, the sea hidden from view behind plantations and dunes. At Hvide Sande (= White Sands) a lifting bridge crosses the inlet, where a lock is opened every 2 hours to maintain water levels in the fjord.

Having parked by the fishing harbour on the north side of the bridge, we had a long wait to walk back over to the town centre on the south side. A working boat had arrived in the lock to winch some unwieldy oxygen cylinders aboard, causing a long line of vehicles and cyclists on both sides. Eventually we made it across, in search of a post office to send a card, only to learn that the Post was on the north side after all!

We continued north up Bovling Klit, between the sea and Nissum Fjord, via the bridge at Torsminde. To avoid the ferry across the next inlet, over the Thyboron Canal, we turned inland at Klinkby and headed east past Lemvig, then north on rd 11 to Thisted, crossing the Oddesund on a splendid bridge that also carries a railway line.

After lunch in a scenic rest area we followed rd 11 north-east until it met rd 55, which took us north again to Lokken. We checked out 3 ACSI-discount-card sites: Camping Rolighed, 4 miles south of Lokken, offered a WiFi Hotspot at 20 DK per day. The only (sloping) space for tourers was not very appealing. At Lokken Klit Camping, 2 miles later, we found the barrier closed, reception deserted and a phone number which we didn't ring.

Then 5 miles north of Lokken, a small fishing town and holiday resort on one of Denmark's finest beaches, we turned off to Klitgaard Camping and settled for 2 nights before taking the ferry to Norway. This is an extensive all-year family-run campsite based at an old farmstead, whose whitewashed buildings house the modern facilities.

Our friendly hosts, Helle and Lief, had another 'White Van' story for us! He had spotted us on the road as he drove in the opposite direction and rung his wife to warn her that the 'Irish roadworkers' might be returning. Apparently, they'd had a bad experience with a gang of navvies, who had caused trouble and left owing money. Margaret obviously passed the entrance exam on arrival!

Next day theDenmark_(15)[1].jpg rain had gone, blown away by a fierce easterly. We caught up with dhobi but didn't tryDenmark_(10)[1].jpg the internet provision (which meant registering a credit card on-line). We had a walk over the dunes to see the sea, way below us, but it was too windy to brave the steep wooden ladder down the sandy cliff face! The campsite also has a Mini-Zoo with rare breeds of woolly pigs, speckled hens, goats, rabbits, donkeys, ponies and – rather surprisingly – a pair of small Tasmanian kangaroos, one of them an albino. She is called 'Mary' after Denmark's Crown Princess, who is also from Tasmania!

After lunch we left the caravan on-site and drove the Sprinter 20 miles into Hirtshals, from where our Colorline ferry crosses to Kristiansand on Norway's south coast tomorrow (how we hope the wind drops!) Hirtshals library had free internet and WiFi and there were good shops (including Aldi for affordable food and a well stocked DIY store, Bygma).

One advantage of travelling with a caravan rather than a motorhome is already apparent - we do appreciate having a separate smaller vehicle. On the other hand, we miss the built-in water and waste tanks of the Flair. Time will tell which we ultimately prefer.

Across the Skagerrak from Denmark – Introduction to Norway

Norway_A.jpg
Map of our route North through Southern Norway

On a much calmer morning we drove the caravan to Hirtshals to board the Colorline 'Superspeed 1' departing at 12.15 pm, arriving in Kristiansand at 3.30 pm. Colorline cross twice daily, while Fjordline are more frequent and faster. As Colorline were offering a 'Camper Special' fare for caravans and motorhomes, they were cheaper – check the best deal on-line at www.fjordline.com and www.colorline.no.

It was a modern ferry with an excellent choice of food at the self-service cafe (from memorable prawn baguettes to burgers, pizzas, hot dogs or hot dinners). On board the bank changed our remaining Danish Kroner into Norwegian Kroner (currently about 9 to the Pound Sterling or 8 to the Euro). In the Duty Free shops Norwegians were loading up with beer and other alcohol, as well as frozen food, bacon and groceries: obviously more expensive in Norway.

We collected a leaflet that tried (and failed) to explain to foreign visitors 'How to Pay Your Toll Fee in Norway' in 3 languages. Basically, you log on to www.autopass.no to register a credit card and create an account, in which you deposit 300 NK if you are under 3.5 tons. This is valid for up to 3 months. Then road tolls (not just on motorways) are paid from this account when you drive through an automatic toll point, or 'Automatisk Bomstasjon'. This includes tunnels, but ferries are extra. You must register in advance, or within 14 days of passing your first Automatic Toll (which works on number plate recognition). We have yet to confirm that 'any remaining amount on your account is credited to your credit card 3 months after the agreement period is concluded'. Motorhomers need to know that the tolls are higher (often double) for vehicles over 3.5 tons. We eventually discovered that caravans (or any other trailers) are free, so we'll be charged as a car/vehicle under 3.5 tons.

On arrival inNorway_(103)[1].jpg Kristiansand in the rain the scenery was immediately Norwegian, very different from flat sandy Denmark. We drove west for 50 miles along the busy E39 towards Mandal, Norway's southernmost town. Turning north up rd 455, 2 miles before the town centre, there is a delightful little campsite on the right after less than a mile.

Norwegian campsites are listed in a pair of free books (each with a separate map). One is published by Camping Card Scandinavia (www.camping.no), the other by NAF, the Norwegian Auto Federation (www.nafcamp.no), each showing its campsites on an excellent map of the whole country. Some campsites (like the one at Mandal) are in both publications, some are only in one or the other, and of course there are some, perhaps simpler, sites that are in neither. You can pick these books up at campsites, tourist offices, etc. If you don't already have a Camping Card Scandinavia, you can buy it at the first campsite that requires it for 120 NK (it's cheaper in the other Scandinavian countries; least of all in Finland!) Sadly, only 6 campsites in Norway give off-season discount in the ACSI-card scheme, all in the south-eastern part of the country (see www.campingcard.com).

Sandnes Camping, Mandal
Open 1 May-1 September, see www.sandnescamping.com. Price charged (cash only) 160 NK per day including electricity. Showers 10 NK. WiFi 30 NK per 24 hrs (good signal all over the site). Excellent facilities, including a cosy kitchen; a very friendly family-run place.

We spent a few days here, achieving our Automatic Toll registration on-line (after an eNorway_(101)[1].jpgxchange of emails querying the position of caravans) and catching up with our writing. From the campsite there are several marked 'nature trails' through the mixed pine forest, including a short climb to a viewpoint overlooking the site by the Mandal River. The spring flowers were out, trees bursting into leaf and birds into song, though we saw neither Hare nor Elk. 

It was a long walk or short cycle ride into Mandal, with its old quarter of white clapper-board houses as well as shops, banks, post office and tourist info. The central car parks were metered but there was free parking further out by the sports hall/baths. Significant purchases were a pair of cotton rugs to protect the caravan's new carpet (a snip at 39 NK each), a Norwegian road atlas, and a spit-roast chicken from the Co-op.

On a fine SaturdayNorway_(111)[1].jpg we made good use of all our wheels. Leaving the caravan on-site, we drove the Sprinter, complete with bicycles, along E39 to Vigeland, then south-west on rd 460 as far as Spangereid (about 20 miles). Here we parked (opposite a fuel station/cafe/shop, complete with motorhome dump), ate a picnic lunch of cold chicken and ham pie, made with the remnants of the Co-op chicken, then set off to cycle to Lindesnes Lighthouse, the most southerly point of Norway's fretted coast. It lies at N 57Ί 58' 95” wNorway_(114)[1].jpghich makes it 2,518 km from Norway's northernmost point at Nordkapp (North Cape).

The ride was only 16 miles maybe, but it certainly wasn't at sea level – in fact, none of it was level! After an exhilarating ride the lighthouse appeared, perched dramatically above the rocks. Several motorhomes were camped on the free car park, their reward for driving the tortuous narrow road. The toilets were also free but the cafe lay beyond the barrier, with an entry fee of 50 NK per person to access the lighthouse, museum and film. A very friendly ticket seller allowed us through free of charge to refuel with coffee and cakes before our return ride to Spangereid.

Mosvangen Camping, Stavanger – 126 miles
Open 1 Apr-1 Oct, see www.stavangercamping.no. Price charged 200 NK per day (credit card OK) including electricity and free WiFi internet. Showers 10 NK. Old-fashioned facilities, including a basic kitchen. Area of resident workers' vans.

Leaving Mandal with the caravan, we drove north-west on E39: a good road with many short tunnels and the occasional bridge. After 25 miles we drove through our first 'Toll Plaza', with a sign indicating the fee of 25 NK (or 50 for those over 3.5 tons). This will be automatically taken from the account we'd just set up (see www.autopass.no ).

At 101 miles in IMG_1175.JPGAlgard we turned right off E39 to Kongeparken Camping but found it only had cabins (at 800 NK per night). Though the guide books said open from 1 May, camping didn't start until 1 June. It now poured with rain as we continued to the next known campsite at Mosvangen, next to the Youth Hostel and Scout Centre in the park on the southern edge of Stavanger. Wind and rain were fierce as we settled in under the shelter of some trees.

It was a sad evening on the phone, as we learnt that our favourite Uncle Harold, the brother of Margaret's Mum, had just died after 4 days in hospital, having suffered a heart attack at home in Dukinfield. Aged 94 and a veteran of Anzio, he was the gentlest and kindest of men and we'll miss our visits, taking him out for a pub lunch and reminiscing, when back in England.

The next day was Bob Dylan's 70th birthday and it was good to hear the BBC Radio 4 programme about Bob's spiritual journey, from Bar Mitzvah to Christian baptism (thanks to campsite WiFi). Tributes included one from Ramblin' Jack Elliott, a veteran performer who we saw in concert in San Francisco with our good Californian friends, Dick & Audrey.

We used the WiFi for phone calls and emails, then went into Stavanger after lunch. Today's weather is at least dry, though still a very cold wind. A new volcanic eruption in Iceland is grounding flights in Scotland and N Ireland and we hear from Dan (also celebrating Bob Dylan's 70th) that it's very stormy in Ullapool. Probably coming our way.  

The 'short walk into town' proved to be about 3 km each way, by Mosvatnet Lake and across Mosvangen Forest Park, under the E39 and through the suburbs. In Torget, the central square, we had coffee in Burger King (the easiest way to find a toilet!), then inspected the nearby Cathedral. The Romanesque church dates from the 12thC, extended with a choir and stained glass windows by English masons in the 1270's.

After a stroll round the main harbour, we climbed up from the water's edge along the cobbled streets and narrow lanes of 'Gamle' (old) Stavanger'. There are 19thC wooden houses and warehouses from the boom years of herring fishing, with a Canning Museum in an old sardine-canning factory. The last of 70 such canneries closed in 1983.

However Stavanger, home of Statoil (the national fuel company), still thrives on the products of the North Sea. Half of Europe's gas and oil reserves are owned by Norway, wiping out the national debt and turning one Norwegian in 85 into a millionaire! Stavanger builds the rigs, as well as refining the oil. We did give the Norwegian Petroleum Museum here a miss, feeling they should pay us to visit (given what we're spending on diesel!)

We returned via a large cemetery but couldn't find the Commonwealth War Graves marked on our town plan.
The campsite was busy, with students using the sports facilities and cyclists passing through, as well as resident vans and tourers. There was just one English motorhome (the first we'd seen since Harwich), with a pair of intrepid ladies who knew our website well but hadn't recognised our caravan. They had spent the previous night on an 'Aire' at Sandnes, south of Stavanger – one advantage of motorhoming being the relative ease of free-camping.

Langenuenen Camping/Motel, Bortveit – 81 miles
Open all year, see www.langenuen.com.  Price charged 220 NK per day including electricity, hot showers and (intermittent) free WiFi internet. The seasonal cafe was closed.

Leaving Stavanger, it was right out of the campsite and straight onto E39, heading north for the first of many short Norwegian ferry rides. After 6 miles the road entered the 5.8 km (3.6 miles) long tunnel under the mouth of Byfjord, followed by the 4.4 km (2.75 miles) Mastrafjord tunnel. Both tunnels were well-lit, 3-lanes and free of charge.

At 25 miles N_Ferries_(18).JPGwe reached Mortavika and boarded the 10.30 am ferry for Asvagen (part of the E39 route). Fjordline have a monopoly on these drive-on ferries, which we would come to know well. The fare, collected as you board, can be paid by cash or credit card. The price for car or motorhome (more if over 6 m long) includes the driver, with passengers (and trailer/caravan if any) costing extra. If either of you are aged over 67 (Norwegian pension age), ask for Seniors/Pensioner rate which gives some discount. You can stay in your vehicle or get out, and all the ferries have a cafe and toilets. This crossing took 25 minutes and was fairly choppy out at sea, with waves breaking over the bow driven by a strong westerly wind.

Continuing northwards, we passed another 'Bom Stasjon' toll warning (12 NK) on the little island of Ogna, linked by bridges. Our highway E39 is well signed and surfaced, though a fairly narrow 2-lane road. The landscape is one of grassy sheep meadows and hard grey rocks, with never more than a mile to the next little harbour, lined with boats large and small. Signs for chemical toilet dumps are frequent, often at fuel stations or in rest areas.

Another tunnel, down to 260 m below the sea, emerged onto an island, linked by another bridge. We soon realised we couldn't keep count of the tunnels and bridges, let alone name them – no wonder there are road tolls (the next was 85 NK near Valevag). Some were marked on our Norwegian road atlas, though not all, and they'd be impossible to avoid.

After lunch in a rest area approaching Leirvik, we drove on along the edge of Langenuen Fjord, stopping at a small campsite with a few rooms on the right of E39. It had a magnificent view of the fjord and was very quiet – just a party of fishermen staying in the cabins, one German motorhome and one Austrian. The tourist season doesn't start until mid-June or even July.

Facilities were good, with free hot showers (unusual in Norway, sadly). The laundry only cost 30 NK total for wash and dry, and the campsite oven produced an excellent Rich Bread Pudding (thanks to Delia – and Margaret). Below we watched the small ferries crossing to Tysnes Island and some naval boats on exercise at the entrance to Hardanger Fjord.

Lone Camping, Nesttun, Nr Bergen – 30 miles
Open all year, see www.lonecamping.com. Price charged 220 NK per day including electricity. Showers 10 NK. Use of hotplates in kitchen 10 NK per 20 mins. WiFi Hotspot requiring on-line registration and credit card payment.

The wind had dropped and the rain ceased as we drove 8 miles up E39 to the next ferry, across Bjornafjord from Sandvikvag to Halhjem. This 40-minute passage was the longest (and so most expensive) on our route from Bergen to Trondheim. The boats run every 30 mins and we'd just missed the 10.45 am. It was a smooth crossing and we landed to our first sight of snowy peaks inland.

Heading ever-north on E39, we turned right at the roundabout in Nesttun, a few miles before Bergen, onto rd 580/E16, along which are several campsites. All were disappointing!

The first was Midtun Motel & Camping, signed up a side road which we missed; followed by tiny Grimen Camping, 5 miles along, which looked inaccessible. Then came grim Bratland Camping, which we did check out – a soulless gravel car park with hook-ups on the noisy road, charging too much.

And so to Lone Camping, behind a Shell fuel station/cafe, 10 miles along E16 on the right, claimingN_Camping_(10).JPG to be Bergen's largest campsite. (If using the idiosyncratic English Caravan Club's site guide, note that 2 of these are listed under Nesttun and 2 under Bergen). The Reception was closed, with check-in at the petrol station by disinterested staff. It's in a lovely  situation, by a quiet fishing lake, but quite busy due to Bergen's popularity. We are now used to Norwegian campsites' meanness in charging extra for showers, but this place even charged to use the kitchen hotplates – unique in our experience of Scandinavia, with its normally generous cooking facilities!

After lunch we left the caravan in place and drove the Sprinter back to Nesttun to shop, then a short way towards Bergen on E39 to visit Troldhaugen, the museum and home of Edvard Grieg. It's well signed off the highway, with a free car park. See www.troldhaugen.com. 

Troldhaugen N_Buildings_(17).JPG(Hill of the Trolls) was the lakeside home of Norway's most famous composer for the last 22 years of his life (1843-1907). Entry was 80 NK pp, starting with a modern museum where Grieg's life is exhaustively chronicled. It was a real pleasure to sit in the small auditorium and listen to recordings of the Peer Gynt Suite, illustrated by a slide show of Norwegian scenes – Morning Mood, Solveig's Song, the Hall of the Mountain King, Wedding at Troldhaugen – music that haunted us long after.

We explored the beautiful grounds of Grieg's villa (built in 1885)N_Buildings_(14).JPG and went down to his little composing hut at the water's edge, to peer through the windows at his piano. Above the lake is a curious tomb blasted into the rock face where Grieg was buried, to be joined later by his wife Nina. Their only daughter died in childhood. We didn't queue to see inside the villa, as it was some time until the next guided tour in English.

Though we rarely pay to visit 'tourist objects' – especially churches - this was a very worthy exception and we thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.

Forde Camping & Guesthouse, Forde – 108 miles
Open all year, see www.fordecamping.no. Price charged 230 NK per day including electricity and hot showers. WiFi 25 NK for 4 hours.

Continuing north on E16, past Bergen Camping after 12 miles, we rejoined E39 to the north of Bergen. Having visited the city twice before, we were happy to bypass its medieval charms this time. The roads were busy as we negotiated many tunnels and an occasional bridge on a lovely morning, passing Vike Camping on the left at 36 miles.

EmergingN_Ferries_(23).JPG from a tunnel 9 miles later at 1,382 ft, there was still snow in a layby and we soon climbed to over 1,500 ft before dropping to sea level for the next ferry at 68 miles. This one took 15 minutes to cross Norway's deepest inlet, the Sognefjord, from Oppedal to Lavik. A little further along E39 we lunched in a rest area overlooking the Sognefjord, which is the world's longest fjord at 203 km/127 miles.

In Forde, a large industrial town on the E39, we turned off at the campsite sign, just by a huge shopping area. We settled in on the empty campsite, then walked back to the shops, including a Co-op Extra supermarket. Food (with the exception of bread loaves) is generally more expensive in Norway and we have brought a good supply of tins and packets but we do need basic fruit & vegetables, eggs, etc. There were some special offers for holders of a Co-op card but we discovered that it costs 300 NK to buy one, so not worth it for a short visit. We did find onebargain: 3 DVD films (English with Norwegian subtitles) for total 99 NK to add to our stock (no TV in the caravan).

The Co-op included a Post Office counter and we bought a card of condolence to send to Uncle Harold's family. We were told the wording meant 'Peace over Memories' and we have many of Harold.

Back at the campsite we made good use of 4 hours' internet with emails and Voipwise calls, enjoyed long free showers and made a tomato/bacon/cheese pie for supper. Then our peace was shattered by the arrival of 3 Norwegian motorhomes (or 'Bobils'). On a completely empty site, they blocked us in until we asked them to move to allow our exit tomorrow. Not satisfied with that, they regrouped nearby and sat outside, talking and drinking until midnight. Then the men retired – and so did we. The women, however, kept up a loud discourse until 4.30 am! Norwegians are not our favourite nationality tonight.

Orsta Camping, Orsta – 89 miles
Open all year, see www.orstacamping.no. Price charged 200 NK per day including electricity and free WiFi. Showers 10 NK.

Still on the E39, now heading north-east from Forde along the western shore of Jolstravatnetfjord.N_On_the_Road_(20).JPG At over 700 ft it felt cool, with more snow on the slopes above us. After 27 miles we paused at Skei, where a Best Western Hotel overlooks the head of the fjord, to raid a bank machine. Another break for lunch in a scenic layby at 45 miles. The landscape is typically Norwegian (no surprise there!) with snow, waterfalls and lush grass grazed by sheep.

At 57 miles we boarded another ferry, from Anda to Lote, across yet another sea fjord in the rain (the first of two today!) We shared the short crossing with a huge Dutch transporter called 'Klompen (= clogs) Transport', carrying a pre-fab home, complete with police escort for the wide load. The driver actually wore wooden clogs!

It was another 28 miles to the next ferry from Folkestad to Volda. Then Orsta Camping lay 4 miles further along E39 next to a small cafe on the right, just before a bridge to the town of Orsta. The campsite consists mainly of statics with a small area for tourers, which we had to ourselves. It's not listed in either of the Norwegian guides (NAF or SCC) but has good facilities, free WiFi internet and take-away food available.

Volsdalen Camping, Alesund – 41 miles
Open all year, see www.volsdalencamping.no. Price charged 180 NK per day including electricity. Showers 10 NK. (WiFi Hotspot only available by the month.)

It was showeryN_Ferries_(27).JPG with beautiful rainbows as we headed up the amazing E39 again, north-west and then north-east, following the shore of Vartdalsfjord to Festoya for our next ferry. There is fish farming in the fjord; neat white wooden churches with stone-walled cemeteries at the water's edge. Travelling along at sea level, the snow-flecked mountains beyond gave the impression of altitude.

At 23 miles we drove straight onto the almost empty ferry from Festoya to Solavagen, from where E39 continued to Spjelkavik. Here we turned onto E136 and headed west to Alesund.

We turned off to check Prinsen Strand Camping, 4 miles before Alesund, which had a large area for tourers by the water. It looked muddy after all the rain and we were told that the price was about to rise (from 190 NK to 250 NK) on 1st June.

Continuing along E136, we found Volsdalen Camping nearer the town centre, just before the Colorline Football Stadium. (Exit right off the dual carriageway at the Volsdalen sign, then cross the bridge over the highway). This is a more informal camp, with a few workers' caravans, but a much friendlier place thanks to the resident warden, Svein. We settled in, with a magnificent view across Hessafjord to snowy peaks.

After lunch we walked through the woods, past the huge sports stadium (built in 2005) and a travelling fairground where girls screamed on the Waltzer and children enjoyed the Dodgems, like kids in our youth. A high footbridge crossed the E136 for a walk into Alesund but we turned back as rain began to pour.

Later a dozen or more cars arrived to park around us, the occupants, decked in blue and orange flags and scarves, heading for the Stadium. The roar of the crowd accompanied our sausage and beans supper, though the fans returned looking quiet and subdued. Of course, alcohol doesn't flow very freely in this country and is probably banned in public places.

One Italian motorhome with multiple occupants joined us, late in the evening, but they were uncharacteristically quiet.

Next day dawned wet and windy. We drove the Sprinter through Alesund (a fishing and ferry port, partly rebuilt in Art Nouveau style after a catastrophic fire in 1904) to the Atlantic Ocean Park, 2 miles west of the town centre. This deep-sea aquarium has attractions such as a diving show, penguin feeding, crab fishing and children's activities – see www.atlanterhavsparken.no for details of opening times and charges. We simply used the free car park as the start for a bracing walk by the seashore along one of the marked trails, past some remains of a German WW2 base.

Returning to Alesund we noticed a sign for motorhome parking, NE of the harbour on Sorenskriver Bulls Gate. Open May to Sept, it has toilets and showers and there is a daily charge. (See www.alesundparkering.no and click on 'Bobilparkering' to see a map and read some Norwegian!)

The only supermarket we saw was 'Rema', which seems to be Norway's answer to Lidl/Aldi, though it's an uninspiring place to shop. Instead we drove on for 5 miles, past our campsite, to the out-of-town shopping centre at Spjelkavik, which has a huge Co-op as well as Burger King and McDonalds. On the way back to camp we paused at a caravan/motorhome dealers to buy an extra light to fit in the caravan's kitchen area.

Our final day at Alesund was still dull and showery. B fitted the new light while M did some baking and made lemon curd. After lunch we walked into town, where a huge cruise ship dwarfed the harbour, its (mainly American) passengers browsing the souvenir shops or being towed around on the Sightseeing 'Train' (www.bytoget.no). We passed the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) Centre – a museum with exhibitions, cafe, shop etc (www.jugendstilsenteret.no) - and enjoyed an hour's free internet in the town library, where you can use your own laptop or the library computers.

Kviltorp Camping, Molde – 44 miles
Open all year, see www.visitmolde.com/en/Product/?TLp=32305. Price charged 235 NK per day including electricity. Showers 10 NK. WiFi 50 NK for 5 hrs.

The was a wonderfully sunny dry dayN_Camping_(11).JPG – the best so far in Norway! A gang of workers from Poland and Lithuania were busy on our Alesund campsite, building new cabins, and we talked at length with the resident manager, Svein Karsten. He is the happiest Norwegian we've ever met and his history is told in newspaper cuttings mounted in Reception. After a horrific car crash 11 years ago, in which his wife was killed, Svein spent 6 years in a wheelchair, completely paralysed and suffering total amnesia. He had to relearn how to walk, talk, use his hands – everything. Now he lives on site at Volsdalen, running the campsite and speaking English and German, in addition to his native Norwegian, and he never stops smiling. It's a heart-warming story, of the simple joy of living.

From Alesund we drove east on E136/E39, past the shopping centre at Spjelkavik.N_On_the_Road_(25).JPG The road climbed above 1,000 ft across a headland (with a campsite and ski-lift near the summit at Fjellstova), then dropped to sea level again by the Tresfjord at 36 miles. Here our E39 turned north, while E136 went south and east round Romsdalsfjord to Andalsnes.

Our next ferry, 6 miles later, crossed the broad Moldefjord from Furneset to Molde – N_Ferries_(21).JPGthe beautifully situated town of jazz and roses, gradually appearing as we drew near. Molde, the county capital of More & Romsdal, hosts Europe's oldest jazz festival, always in the 29th week of the year, making it 18-23 July 2011. For the programme, see www.moldejazz.no. The architecture is mainly post-war, as two-thirds of Molde town centre were bombarded by the Germans in April 1940.

Disembarking we turned right along E39, past a rough parking area where some motorhomes were free-camping, to the official campsite 2 miles along on the waterside. It's in a wonderful position, looking across Romsdal Fjord to the famous mountain panorama, still white with snow. There is a fast-food cafe at the entrance, where the warden can be found if he's not in Reception.

Parked by the shore, we had just finished lunch when a phone call from Margaret's brother changed our plans. At about noon today their mother had died, peacefully, at the Care Home where she had lived for the past 4 years. She was 96 years of age and had outlived her brother Harold, 2 years her junior, by just 10 days. A very sad time for all the family.

We quickly decided that the surest way back to England was to leave the caravan in Norway and drive swiftly to Rotterdam for a ferry to Harwich, bearing in mind that there are no longer any ferries at all between Norway and Britain. The ferry we had come on, from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark, does not run every day and could be full. Flying would mean travelling to Oslo, landing in England without transport, and – most importantly – flights might be cancelled due to Icelandic ash. There is no easy way to/from Norway!

The campsite we'd just settled on in Molde didn't look a secure place to leave a caravan for what could be a month, being wide open to the main road with a Reception that was not always staffed. After consulting site guides, we drove the Sprinter north on rd 64 and 664 to Bud, a small fishing village about 30 miles away, in search of a safe haven.

We checked Blahammer Camping, about 2 miles before Bud, but Pluscamp Bud (also on the left of rd 664 and almost in the village) looked a safer bet. When we explained the circumstances the Pluscamp proprietor, Marianne Larsen, could not have been kinder. It was agreed that we would bring the caravan tomorrow, stay for one night, then leave it parked in a safe corner until our return – with no storage fee.

Relieved, we went to Bud's only cafe for mugs of coffee, over which Margaret rang brother Alan about the funeral arrangements. Their mother, Ethel Brown, is to be cremated on Friday 10 June at Carleton (near Blackpool), giving us one week for the journey back.

Back at Molde (the 15-mile drive including a short tunnel with a 20 NK toll) we made full use of 5 hours' WiFi. We needed to inform friends in England of our imminent return (especially those we hoped to stay with), to book the Stena Line ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich on 8 June, and to liaise with Alan over details. Asked to choose a piece of music for the service, Margaret had no hesitation – listen for yourself: Grieg's 'Solveig's Song'.

Pluscamp Bud, Bud – 30 miles
Open all year, see www.budcamping.no and www.pluscamp.no. Price charged 235 NK per day including electricity and free WiFi (good signal throughout the site). Pluscamps have a loyalty card, giving every 8th night free.

We moved the caravan from Molde to Bud, agreed with Marianne where it could be parked (withN_Camping_(13).JPGout power) during our absence, then settled on a pitch for one night. It was terrifically windy, as Bud lies at the end of a peninsula scythed by Atlantic gales, without benefit of a sheltering fjord.

There was much to do, answering emails and finalising arrangements, as well as packing the Sprinter with all we would need on the journey back to England (including a tent and camping equipment). We used the washer and drier (40 NK and 20 NK respectively), made a meal and had an early night, though it wasn't easy to sleep buffeted by the winds! More like winter than early June, except for the light nights, the sun barely setting.

In June we travelled back to England for the funeral, eventually returning to Bud where we rejoined the caravan at the start of July.

This Travel Log is Continued at: IN NORWAY: JUNE 2011