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In Norway: July 2011 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

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

Margaret and Barry Williamson
July 2011

Continued from: IN NORWAY: JUNE 2011

Continued at: IN NORWAY: AUGUST 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

Much of June was spent travelling back to England for Margaret's mother's funeral and eventually returning to Bud, where we rejoined the caravan at the start of July.

JULY 2011

At Pluscamp Bud, Bud
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.

The caravan was patiently waiting under some trees in a corner at Pluscamp Bud, from where weN_Camping_(13).JPG towed it back onto the camping area. The weather was cool, damp and grey but at least the Atlantic wind had abated. We were to find the climate here very variable, not to say exciting, changing several times a day!

The site was much busier now, most of the campers either N_Camping_(31).JPGGerman or Norwegian, with an occasional Swedish or Dutch van. Many had come for the deep-sea fishing and the campsite rents all types of rowing or motor boats, sells fishing equipment and organises trips. One gift of sea-fresh haddock fillets, caught by a kind couple, Joachim and Trauthild Jagenow, who live near Lubeck, provided the best fish supper Margaret has ever cooked.

We made full use of the excellent free WiFi, listening to BBC Radio 4 while catching up with our website and all the correspondence neglected throughout June. Adding to the sadness of that month, we now learnt of the death of Nicos Kiriopoulos in the tiny Greek village of Mystraki.

On a windswept walk round the village and harbours of Bud, we climbed a steep flight of steps up to Ergan Coastal Fort, above the cliff ledges where hundreds of gulls sat on their precarious nests. The fort was built by the Germans in 1940 and various underground bunkers and armaments remain to be seen. We didn't pay to enter the new museum there.

The shoresN_Animals_(20).JPG here also attract grey heron and oyster catchers. In fact a pair of oyster catchers, N_Animals_(23).JPGnested on the turf roof of a cabin right next to our caravan, are raising a single chick. They use their long red beaks to fend off any gull or magpie that ventures too near, as well as for digging up worms to feed the fledgling (being clean out of oysters!)

Bud, once the largest coastal trading centre between Bergen and Trondheim, is still a lively fishing centre. It has a smart hotel/restaurant, 2 small supermarkets (with post office in the Co-op), a bank, a petrol station, a BMW dealer (there's money in cod!) and a take-away/cafe offering a daily set menu. Treating ourselves to lunch there on our wedding anniversary, the dish of the day was potato dumplings with sausage, bacon and lamb stew, carrots and turnips. Very filling! We rounded it off back home, with coffee and German brandy liqueur chocolates.

The minor coastalN_On_the_Road_(78).JPG road running north-east from Bud to Karvag (on Averoy island) is designated a National Tourist Road. The final 5 mile/8 km stretch known as the Atlantic Road, incorporating 8 bridges between tiny islets, has been selected by the Guardian newspaper as the world's best road trip. It has also been voted Norway's most spectacular bicycling route. This we had to see – and cycle! We awaited a break in the weather.

Leaving the Sprinter at the start of the Atlantic Road at Vevang N_On_the_Road_(79).JPG(17 miles from our campsite) we cycled across the bridges to Karvag, had an ice cream and returned (total ridden 20 km/13 miles). Never seen so many motorhomes on the road, gathered in every rest area and viewpoint, though we were the only cyclists. The seascape was superb, though the 2-lane road had no margin for error and was too busy for relaxed cycling. The Atlantic Road replaced the ferry in 1989 and its highest bridge, the Storseisundet, sweeps upwards in a steep graceful curve over the shipping lane.

We went on toN_On_the_Road_(80).JPG drive the Atlantic Road, continuing across Averoy Island and through the 5.8 km underwater (depth 818 ft or 248 m) Atlantic Ocean Tunnel (opened Dec 2009 to replace a ferry) to the industrial oil port and cod fishing/drying town of Kristiansund, which ranges across 3 small islands. Only pausing for a large supermarket in the town itself, we returned via a second underwater tunnel, the older (1992) Freifjord Tunnel measuring 5.1 km (depth 430 ft or 130 m). Both tunnels have a toll, payable by cash or credit card, though the Atlantic Road and bridges are toll-free. The whole made a spectacular round trip of almost 100 miles from Bud.

We enjoyed three longer cycle rides starting from the campsite on quiet roads around Bud:

  1. 40 km/25 miles - From Bud via Hustad to Farstad (and back) along the coast road. ThereN_Buildings_(77).JPG are 2 interesting historic sites signed on the way near Askvag. Firstly the wooden turf-roofed buildings of an old farm at Male, with barn, piggery, store-room and privy, which was worked until the 1950s. The simplest of household furnishings are visible through the windows of the tiny farmhouse, comprising a bedroom, scullery with cooking range and wash-stand, and living room with another bed. A little further along the way is a collection of Viking Graves: simple mounds of large pebbles by the shore. In Farstad we were disappointed to find the only cafe (next to the Co-op) had closed down; rain threatened and we accelerated our pace on the return ride.
  2. 30 km/19 miles – From Bud to Hustad via Gule, returning via Stavik. Taking the minor inland route to Hustad, most of the way was unsurfaced but very firm and less hilly than the coast road. It was so peaceful that a deer emerged from the forest on the path in front of us. Note that Hustad has no shops or cafe. We returned on a third route, via Skarset to Stavik – a very quiet road through dairy pastures and a surprising number of farms, the winter fodder stacked high in white plastic bales along the verges. From Stavik, the busier rd 664 to Bud had a separate cycle path that ended at Blahammer Camping, just 2 km short of our camp.
  3. 49 km/31 miles –N_Buildings_(78).JPG From Bud to Farstad via Stavik, returning via Storholmen. Reversing the previous ride we cycled back to Hustad via Skarset, then continued to the village of Farstad, tucked beneath its formidable rock face. Rather than riding straight back along the coast we made a detour, looping west to Storholmen where an atmospheric restaurant/cabins complex overlooks the old herring quays. Here we enjoyed warming mugs of coffee with hand-made chocolates in the empty dining room (though the lunch menu was beyond our means!) Reinvigorated, we continued home past the Viking graveyard etc seen on Ride 1.

Pure serendipity had brought us to Pluscamp Bud in search of a safe place to leave the caravan through June. It proved an excellent base for writing, cycling and generally getting back in touch (with ourselves, as well as others). And the weather did have 'sunny intervals'.

Ellingsgarden Grill Restaurant & Camping, Sluppen – 110 miles
Open all year. Price charged 200 NK per day including electricity and free WiFi. Showers 10 NK. Small camping area behind a good cafe/takeaway.

After 2 weeks at Bud we were ready to take to the road again, on a fine warm morning. Returning on rds 664 and 64 to Molde, via the short tunnel at 18 miles (20 NK), we turned east along E39. The narrow 2-lane highway followed the edges of Fannefjord and Batnfjord, climbing 700 ft over the intervening spur of land. Sheep grazed the lush meadows of the lower slopes and we passed a farmer's wife bottle-feeding a lamb at her gate, watched by a pair of blond children.

At 45 miles we crossed the long and graceful Krifast suspension bridge (toll 101 NK in our case),N_Ferries_(21).JPG then immediately turned right with E39/70 (rather than continuing through the submarine Freifjord Tunnel to Kristiansund). Ten miles later rd 70 turned south, while we stayed on E39 for 5 miles to Kanestraum and a ferry across Halsafjord to Halsanaustan. This was the first time we'd had to wait in line for a ferry that was packed full, with trucks and cars as well as campers and caravans. As ever, the fare could be paid in cash or by card and there was a small reduction if either of you is over 67 (but you have to mention it – even if obvious!) A man from the Tourist Office handed out leaflets to tourists in the ferry queue promoting rd 65, which turns off E39 after 5 miles and provides a longer alternative road to Orkanger. We decided against this detour, however.

Once across the water, continuing east on E39, we lunched in the next rest area. At 80 miles we passed a small campsite at Valsoyfjord (not in our listings). Then the highway gradually climbed up the Sovassdalen valley, where we spotted another unlisted campsite on the right, behind a restaurant overlooking Sovatnet lake near Sluppen. We were surprised to see our altitude was 1,160 ft (351 m).

The camping was mainly static caravans and cabins, set on terraces down the slope. There was a small area with hook-ups behind the cafe, toilets and coin-op showers, and a room with washing machine and washing-up sink. Unusually in Scandinavia, there were no cooking facilities (which might reduce the cafe's business!) We were the only resident visitors and a wonderful peace fell once the cafe closed – a lovely contrast to the crowded campsite we'd left at Bud. The view of a full moon rising behind the mountains beyond the lake was mesmerising – bright silver in the light night sky.

Norway_B7.jpg
Map of our Route North from Bud Camping

Pluscamp Namsos, Namsos – 162 miles
Open all year, see their website. Price charged 250 NK per day (with or without electricity) and free WiFi (good signal throughout the site). Showers 5 NK per 2 mins. Pluscamps have a loyalty card, giving every 8th night free.

The E39 twisted downhill as it continued eastwards for 18 miles, dropping 1,100 ft to cross the Orka River and enter Orkanger. The old road then followed the coast along Orkdalsfjord but E39 now passes an (automatic) toll point and runs through a series of new road tunnels. Between tunnels, the view is of rippling green fields of wheat and barley. Another toll station (or Bomstasjon) introduced more tunnels before Oysand.

At 30 miles (at least 5 miles of that in tunnels) our E39 met and melded with the E6, the road running the length of Norway from Oslo to Kirkenes in the far north. Following E6 from this roundabout, we passed a third toll point before pausing to refuel at Esso services at 36 miles, shortly before Trondheim (Norway's third largest city, after Oslo and Bergen). These services included a restaurant and a large overnight parking area for motorhomes/caravans, charging 150 NK per day (including electricity, water, dump and WC). We weren't tempted, as we have visited Trondheim and its fine medieval Nidaros Cathedral previously, but there was plenty of space.

The E6 became a busy 4-lane dual carriageway that thankfully bypassed Trondheim's centre (which had yet another toll in store for those turning off into the Central Zone). At 48 miles, once past Trondheim, E6 was declared a 'Toll Road' with yet another 'Bomstasjon' – lending meaning to the saying 'it costs a bomb!' These unavoidable road tolls (typically 20 NK or so for us – double for those over 3.5 tons) are automatically deducted from your credit card account (via number plate recognition), with no need to stop and pay.

After yet another tunnel, we ate lunch at 53 miles in the generous parking area (complete with motorhome dump) by a Shell services and Best Western Hotel at Stav. Another tunnel, another toll station, another tunnel ... with E6 varying between dual and single carriageway. At 61 miles we passed the exit for a town/airport called Hell, which apparently means 'prosperity' in Norwegian. Roadside stalls sold strawberries, at prices suggesting the stallholders were on their way there!

Stiklestad (exit at Verdal at 97 miles) is the site of a battle at which the early Christian King (and Saint) Olav II was killed by pagan forces in 1030. At this National Cultural Centre there is an exhibition, folk museum, medieval church, and nearby campsite for those keen to visit. St Olav's grave at Trondheim cathedral became a pilgrimage centre for Northern Europe.

However, wanting to get further today, we continued up E6 and through Steinkjer – a busy industrial fjord-port at 116 miles. Four miles later we turned left onto rd 17: the start of the 'Kystriksveien', a scenic coastal route (involving 7 ferries) that leads beyond the Arctic Circle to Bodo, offering a more tortuous alternative to E6. We were not necessarily committed to the whole route, as it's possible to rejoin E6 (now known as the 'Arctic Highway'), for example at Grong.

After 40 miles along the quieter rd 17, we crossed the salmon-rich Namsen River on the second of 2 bridges, just east of the town of Namsos. Turning right on rd 17, the lane leading to Camping Namsos is signed on the right about 2 miles later. It's a large and well organised site, with marked pitches (unusual in our experience of Norway), next to a small airport. There is a bathing beach alongside the river, minigolf, playground, pet goats – ideal for children and busy with Norwegian holidaymakers, sunbathing and barbecuing.

It's also the most expensive site to date, but we had enough Pluscamp stamps from Bud to qualify for a free night after one paid night. Nor were we charged for electricity on the free night (as Bud had done), since the price here is the same with or without hook-up!

The weather remained very warm and sunny (shorts and sandals at last, with laundry drying outside) and the free WiFi signal reached us in the furthest corner.

On our second day at Namsos we used the Sprinter to visit Grong (about 20 miles east, on E6). We were in search of a safe place to leave the caravan while we Sprinted off to Sweden to drive and camp round the 'Wilderness Road', (hoping for a better offer than that made by the nice man at Namsos Camping, who still proposed to charge 250 NK per day, whatever!)

Grong (meaning 'spruce tree') is a pleasant town at the confluence of the Namsen and the Sanddola, famous for its salmon. Here Langnes Camping, off E6 by the river, looked quiet enough but the Reception was unstaffed ('back at 6 pm'). At Harran, about 5 miles up the E6 alongside the Namsen (which turns north at Grong), we tried Harran Camping, on the right of the highway behind a Statoil garage. The camping charge was 200 NK with electricity (and 100 NK per day for unpowered storage) but it was wide open to the public.

The Namsen Salmon Aquarium lies on the river between Grong and Harran. Here (we are told) you can watch the fish climb the long salmon ladder up a waterfall as they head upstream, watch a DVD of salmon, catch your own salmon, dine on salmon (fresh or smoked) in the restaurant - or learn about the history of lumber-floating on the river (Namsos being a historic timber port, with a steam-operated sawmill museum).

On the way back to Namsos, after a riverside picnic, we're glad we checked the welcoming Bjora Camping near Overhalla, by the junction of rd 760 and rd 17. We move there tomorrow.

Bjora Camping, Overhalla – 15 miles
Open mid-May to October, see www.bjora.no. Price charged (cash only) 180 NK per day including electricity. WiFi 20 NK per day. Showers 10 NK for 5 mins.

It was a short drive east along rd 17 from Namsos to Bjora Camping, just past Overhalla on the left on the Bjora River, a tributary of the Namsen. We have the camping field to ourselves, simple facilities and good WiFi reception.

After lunch we cycled back to Overhalla village (8 miles return on a dedicated cycle path). Both supermarkets were closed (Sunday) but we raided the bank's cash machine and had a look at the 800 year old stone church (open daily 10 am-3 pm in summer). A bridge crosses the Namsen here and there is a minor road linking Grong and Namsos along the south side of the 'royal' river, which we are told is the King of Norway's favourite salmon fishing area.   

Side-trip to Sweden's 'Wilderness Road' – Day 1: From Overhalla, Norway, over the border to Gaddede, Sweden, and on to Flasjostrands Camping, Lovberga – 183 miles

Leaving the caravan at Bjora Camping, we drove 13 miles east on rd 760 to Grong, passing the wood-mill at Skogmo (Skog means wood) and the grassy mounds of Viking graves at Bertnem. Then 7 miles south on E6 to the left turn onto rd 74, which leads over the fells and the Swedish border to Gaddede. It was a fine morning and we looked forward to a couple of nights tent-camping in Sweden.

Road 74 climbed gently (from 370 ft to 420 ft) up the valley of the Sanddola River for the first 22 miles, then more steeply (7%) as rain began to fall. At 1,460 ft (50 miles from Overhalla) we reached a large rest area with hikers' shelter and stopped for lunch. The downpour was now torrential! Our road ran along the northern edge of Norway's Blafjella National Park, an area known for hunting (including bears), where about 30 Sami are still employed in reindeer husbandry in the summer. It was extremely quiet with just an occasional logging truck or car.

At 56 miles we passed Strandstua Camping , a small empty site with cabins right on the river between 2 lakes at Skjelbred. The village of Nordli, 5 miles later at 1,480 ft on the well-named Laksjoen (= salmon lake), has shops, fuel and a cafe. At Holand, at 67 miles (1,420 ft) on the Sandsjoen lake, there is a ski hotel and camping. Then we followed the northern shore of the long grey Murusjoen lake to the Swedish Border, reached at 81 miles and still above 1,000 ft. A sign announced the start of Sweden's long-distance cycling path no 1.

It was just 3 miles to Gaddede, a small town with shops, fuel, campsite and hotel, marking the start (or end) of Sweden's circular Wilderness Road – the Vildmarksvagen (www.wildernessroad.eu). As visibility was low through a sheet of rain, we set off anticlockwise round the 312 mile/500 km loop, heading south-east on rd 342, leaving the higher section over the Stekenjokk Plateau for the return leg. 82 wet miles from Gaddede, we met Sweden's Inlandsvagen road E45 at Stromsund. Sadly, because of the weather, we didn't stop on the way for the 5 km return walk to see the Hallingsafallet Waterfall gushing into Northern Europe's longest water-filled canyon.

In Stromsund we know (and have never liked) the large busy campsite that extends on both sides of E45 to the south of town across the river. Enquiring here about cabins (as rain washed away any urge to pitch a tent!), we were offered a minute and depressing 2-bunk hut in an area with dismal facilities for 350 Swedish Krone (about €35). Surely we could do better than that? The best thing about Stromsund Camping is a new 'Dollar Store' right next to it, where we shopped for bargains (boxes of biscuits, liquorice allsorts, shampoo, etc). Returning to Stromsund Centre, we obtained Swedish currency and did more shopping at the ICA and Co-op supermarkets (lower prices than in Norway).

We drove north up E45, which parallels the Inlandsbanan railway as it cuts a track through the infinite forest on its way to Lapland. Tiny Lovberga, down at 785 ft and about 15 miles from Stromsund, has a small friendly campsite on the left at the foot of Flasjo Lake. Here, as well as better 3-bed cabins for 360 SK, there were a few rooms to let, situated upstairs in the large wooden building that housed Reception, a kitchen, TV room, toilets and showers. We took a room (price 300 SK or €30), with use of the downstairs facilities, where we were soon cooking salmon and oven-chips (brought in the electric cool-box in the Sprinter). Rain persisted.

Side-trip to Sweden's 'Wilderness Road' – Day 2: From Lovberga via Vilhelmina to Gaddede, Sweden, and return to Overhalla, Norway – 297 miles

How quickly the weather changes in these climes. The day dawned and remained warm, dry and sunny as we made an early start up the Inlandsvagen highway. Swedish roads are generally much better and safer than Norway's, being wider and smoother – and they charge no tolls! Last summer we drove the length of E45 Inlandsvagen into the far north and the Finnish border and never had to cringe in the face of oncoming traffic, as we frequently do on the main roads of Norway.

There are several villages along the railway and E45 on the way north to Vilhelmina. After 16 miles, Hoting has a car museum opposite the campsite, as well as shops, bank, fuel and hotel. Dorotea, at 30 miles and 980 ft, claims to be the Southern Gateway to Lapland (Sweden's vast northern Province). It also has a campsite, bank, shops and – on the left opposite the library - signed motorhome/caravan parking. The Hunting & Fishing Museum looked dead, but there is a Caravan Museum across from the Polar Caravan Factory. Another 21 miles up E45, Meselefors has a campsite/youth hostel, a generous rest area, and little else.

By Vilhelmina, at 65 miles, we'd risen gradually to 1,285 ft. It's a historic forestry town, one of three settlements named after Fredrika Dorotea Vilhelmina, the wife of Sweden's King Gustav IV. Camping Saiva is just south of the centre, but last summer we preferred Kolgardens Camping, a couple of miles to the north. In Vilhemina we paused at the Tourist Office, a beautiful wooden villa that also houses the Court Room, to pick up a Wilderness Road leaflet. They have free parking, toilets and drinking water, plus coffee for 5 SK.

Continuing north past Vilhelmina's timber church (1792), the Wilderness Road (Vildmarksvagen) soon turned left (sign for Kolgardens Camping, which is about a mile along). Confusingly, this next section of road 360 alongside the western shores of Malgomajsjon lake, is also signed as the Sagavagen (Saga Road) – an old trading route over the mountains to Norway.

Malgovik, the next village at 79 miles, is the site of Sweden's lowest recorded temperature: an unbelievable minus 53Ί C in December 1941. Imagine all these thousands of streams and forest lakes frozen solid, blanketed in snow and reflecting what little light glimmers here in deep mid-winter!

At Stalon (just a name on the map) at 107 miles and 1,180 ft we turned left on the Wilderness Rd, where it leaves the Saga Rd. Snowpoles now marked the verges and we read that the upper section (from Klimpfjall to Leipikvattnet) is normally closed from mid-October to about 6th June. This year it re-opened on 30 May.

We climbed gradually westwards under a sunny blue sky, pausing to photograph the pretty Litsjoforsen waterfall at 114 miles. Then 8 miles later, the broad stepped Trappstegsforsen falls at 1,890 ft have a large car park and cafe: an obvious draw for the few tourists out today. It was another 4 miles to Saxnas, where the pretentious Saxnas Garden Hotel/ Restaurant/ Conference Centre advertises a campsite. There was also a simpler camping/cabins/shop.

At 131 miles a sign indicated latitude 65Ί N – but where is the Wilderness? The Sami summer church village of Fatmomakke (with camping and food) was signed on the right at 138 miles, but the unsurfaced lane was 7 km of gravel. The next event was Klimpfjall at 146 miles (1,870 ft), with the Hotel Klimpfjallsgarden, camping and cabins – the start of the section that is only open in summer.

There were very few rest areas or laybys and we finally parked for a picnic lunch by a large but deserted reindeer corral at 155 miles. We were now at 2,000 ft/605 m and just above the tree line. The road then climbed higher to Stekenjokk, where it turned south across the Stekenjokk Plateau. At 160 miles we saw the first of a couple of rough parking areas at the roadside where a few caravans/motorhomes were free-camping on tundra, up at 2,670 ft/810 m. The highest point of the plateau was signed at 876 m/2,890 ft.

As we descended to 2,000 ft, we were excited to see and photograph a huge male Elk at 171 miles, just before regaining the tree line, through stubby birches to low fir trees below. He was the only wildlife we saw, dead or alive (despite the claim that this area is one of the richest in the world in bears).

At 179 miles (1,520 ft) there was a left turn for another Sami church village, with camping and food, at Ankarede, which we ignored. Just over the next bridge, crossing a weir, there is a rest area. We stopped to read the information boards at the trailhead for hiking into the Bjuralven Nature Reserve. You can also walk 2.5 miles/4 km each way to the entrance to Sweden's longest limestone cavern, the Korallgrotten, only discovered behind a waterfall in the 1980s. Entry must be booked in advance with a guide, however.

Reaching the shores of Stor Blasjon (= big blue lake), we saw a sign for a 'Moose Farm and Cafe' at 184 miles (1,560 ft) and wondered if our Elk was an escapee?! There was also a nice little campsite and a ski-tow by the lake.

At 213 miles we completed the Wilderness Road loop, on meeting rd 342 again just south of Gaddede. It did total the promoted 500 km/312 miles, though only about 30 miles across the Stekenjokk Plateau could be described as real Wilderness or Treeless Tundra – much shorter than the section driven on the densely forested E45! Nor is it true Highlands, the maximum height on the road being only 876 m, or below 3,000 ft. It is heavily promoted in Sweden but does not compare with the Arctic wilderness in the far north of Norway and Finland. In short, a good route between Sweden and Norway but not really worth the detour if driving north-south in Sweden. For more information, see the Wilderness Road website, and a Map of the Wilderness Road. On this wesbite this is a very informative article with many links about travelling in northern Sweden and Norway in the autumn.

In Gaddede we found an excellent little cafe inside a clothes and fishing tackle shop (!) Mugs of strong coffee with free refills and a wide choice of home-made cakes (served by the owner and baked by his Mum) fortified us for the drive to Norway, returning the way we had come yesterday. It remained very warm but the sky darkened and rain fell again as we descended the Sanddola Gorge and returned to Overhalla, followed by overnight thunderstorms.

Bjora Camping, Overhalla
Open mid-May to October, see www.bjora.no. Price charged (cash only) 180 NK per day including electricity. WiFi 20 NK per day. Showers 10 NK for 5 mins.

Back at Overhalla, the weather remained mixed. The campsite internet is very reliable, ideal for updating our correspondence and writing, while listening to BBC Radio 4's coverage of the unfolding events surrounding the 'News of the World' scandal and the Greek-Euro-crisis.

We are also awaiting post from England to reach the 'Postkontor' (Post Office) in Namsos. Villages like Overhalla have a small postal counter in the local Co-op but we thought the main PO (in the Co-op shopping mall by Namsos quayside) would be more reliable.

We had an excellent cycle ride to Grong (54 km/34 miles return), crossing the bridge in Overhalla and taking the minor (and surprisingly hilly) road along the south bank of the Namsen. There was virtually no traffic - just dairy farms, fields of barley, wheat, oats and potatoes, and woodland with wild strawberries in the undergrowth - until we reached the small salmon-fishing town, where we had a welcome lunch of sandwiches and cake in the Grong Hotel cafe before cycling back.

That was on Friday 22 July and we returned from our ride to the developing story of the afternoon's atrocious events in Oslo. A car bomb in the centre of the capital had killed 7 people, soon followed by the massacre by a lone gunman of around 70 people gathered at a Young Labour Party summer camp on the tiny island of Utoya, less than an hour's drive from Oslo. Details slowly emerged as we followed the story via the BBC website and Radio 4. The killer (describing himself as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian, from the neo-Nazi Far Right) surrendered to Police as soon as they reached the island. The high death toll reflects the fact that the Police took over an hour to arrive, by car and then boat (claiming the available helicopter was unsuitable). The country reeled with shock and grief, which is now giving way to anger at the delay in response.

Flags throughout Scandinavia are now at half-mast and at noon on 25 July Norway observed a minute's silence throughout the country. We were in the shopping mall in Namsos when the announcement came over a loudspeaker - everyone stopped, heads bowed, some with tears in their eyes. Watching that day's service at Oslo Cathedral on TV was extremely moving, with huge crowds outside laying roses. The Labour Party Prime Minister, speaking in English for the BBC, was very impressive, calm and dignified. He had been due to speak at the summer camp (which he'd attended for many years) the day after the tragedy.

We went on to visit the 'Norsk Sagbruksmuseum' in Spillum, the National Sawmill Museum about 2 miles from Namsos. It lies on the south bank of the Namsen estuary, its brick chimney a landmark, and it is still working to a small extent. Only open Mon-Fri (8 am-3 pm), entry 50 NK (children free), we were the only visitors – it deserves many more. This sawmill (one of six around Namsos in the late 19th C timber boom) was founded in 1884 and originally powered by steam, replaced by electric engines in 1947. It closed down in 1986 (the workers being re-employed at a more modern mill), then re-opened as a working museum, after extensive renovation, in 1991.

That's the dry statistics, now for the self-guided tour (well signed around 13 points of interest, with a good explanatory leaflet in a choice of languages, including English). We were amazed at the size and scale of the whole mill. The combined saw house and drying building is Norway's largest wooden building. We walked round at leisure, leaving footprints in the sawdust as we took in the smithy, workshops, conveyors (to lift logs from the river into the saw house), frame saws, the massive furnace (powered by woodchips, sawdust and off-cuts, rather than coal), steam engine, circular saws, and a planer dating from 1938 and still in daily use!

The stories gave life to the industry. In the early years a worker had an accident refilling an oil lamp that caused a serious fire, but the sawmill was insured and was quickly rebuilt. Imagine oil lamps and candles amongst all that wood, housed completely in wood. Fish crates was one of the major products here, made from off-cuts, not only for Norway but for export to Britain (who ordered 240,000 crates in 1904). A huge range of boards, panels and mouldings were made (and still are, especially for restoration projects of historic buildings).

The mill also produced doors, window frames, staircases, furniture and even, to our surprise, prefabricated log cottages and cabins. When the School Law of 1889 decreed that all districts should have a school, the mill owner found a new niche, supplying 16 school buildings the following year! Children had little education in those days, as boys of 8 or 9 were employed to stoke the huge boiler. One benefit for the sawmill workers and their families, in an age where few homes had any bathroom, was the provision of a steam-powered bathroom with showers and sauna at the mill. Between the two World Wars, a new bathroom/sauna was added (women and girls on Fridays, men and boys on Saturdays).

Of course, modern sawmills still work throughout Norway but this is the best preserved mill from the age of steam power and we thoroughly recommend a visit. At the exit, we chatted with a young student on a summer job with the museum. Fluent in English, blond, blue-eyed and handsome (like a young Brad Pitt), he was the epitome of intelligent Scandinavian youth – just the kind who had been ruthlessly murdered just 3 days ago. Tragic.

Another cycle ride took us part way along rd 74, the route we'd driven on our recent side-trip to Sweden's 'Wilderness Road'. We began by taking the Sprinter van to the start of rd 74, leaving it in the first layby, before cycling up the gentle forested valley alongside the Sanddola river for 27 km/17 miles until the start of a serious climb (snow chains compulsory if icy!) As it began to rain at this point, we were happy to return to the van. The ride was notable for the enormous number of lemmings we saw (sadly all road-kill). These pretty Arctic rodents resemble large plump furry tailless mice, pale sandy colour underneath and mottled black and ginger above. We read that they survive the Arctic winter by burrowing under the snow to live on grass clippings they've taken down in readiness, rather than hibernating. Astonishing! They are noted for fluctuating populations and periodic mass migrations, during which they should avoid roads, poor things.

Skogmo Familie Camping, Nr Bronnoysund – 97 miles (with 1 ferry)

Open mid-April to mid-Oct. Price charged (cash only) 210 NK per day including electricity, WiFi and showers.

Our mail finally reached Namsos PO (7 days from UK, perhaps because it was 'To be signed for') and we were back on the road on a wonderfully warm morning  – in this case road 17, the Kystriksveien or Coastal Route, which runs north from Steinkjer to Bodo. This road (total 650 km with 7 ferry crossings, varying from 10 mins to 60 mins) is promoted as one of the world's most beautiful tourist routes – a slower but more spectacular alternative to driving north on the Arctic Highway E6. Starting on rd 17 from Overhalla meant that we bypassed the first ferry (from Lund, north of Namsos, to Hofles), leaving 6 if we followed the route to Bodo, above the Arctic Circle.

Any tourist office, ferry or campsite along the way will supply the essential free booklet 'Kystriksveien Travel Guide' in English, German or Norwegian. It's updated annually and contains maps, distances, ferry timetables and prices, general information and adverts for businesses along the route. There is a link to the more direct E6 at Bronnoysund or Mo i Rana on the way. See the Kystriksveien website for more.

The ferries all have toilets/cafe and fares can be paid by credit card. The charge (including driver) depends on length of crossing and size of vehicle, the categories in ascending price order being: Motorbike; Car up to 6m long; Car + caravan up to 10m (charged as double the car rate); Van (including motorhome/camper) 6-7m; Van 7-8m; Car + caravan over 10m. Bicycles free – and it would make a lovely ride. Extra fee for each passenger (children and pensioners half price). Luckily we fell into the 'car + caravan up to 10 m' category.

Leaving Overhalla, we kept to rd 17 (rather than 760 east to the E6), past the Skogmo industrial estate (grain silos, concrete works, wood mill, pharmaceuticals) and continued north. Hammer Bru (bridge) was signed on the right at 13 miles – one of the longest covered bridges in the world, but sadly down a narrow lane with nowhere to park a caravan and walk.

Hoylandet, a mile later, has bank, fuel, shop and library, with a campsite at Flatt another 7 miles on.

At 46 miles there were short tunnels before and after the Folda bridge, from which we emerged at 400 ft/120 m before descending to sea level again, as rd 17 twisted along a river valley linking long thin lakes. Our lunch break at 54 miles was in a scenic layby (picnic tables and toilets) on the Sorfjord, overlooked by Mt Heilhornet  (1063m or over 3,500 ft). We passed Svaberget Camping 6 miles later, then another campsite by the ferry at 74 miles.

The ferry-hop from Holm to Vennesund on M/F Lysingen took 20 minutes across the mouth of the Bindalsfjord and cost 158 NK + 15 NK for (half-price) passenger. Ever-north on rd 17, we drove through Somna at 85 miles. This town claims to be the geographical centre of Norway, equidistant as the seagull flies from Nordkapp and Lindesnes at 840 km/525 miles each way. We've driven considerably more than that, though, since Lindesnes lighthouse!

Spotting a quiet little campsite on the right, about 6 miles before Bronnoysund, we stopped at Skogmo (a common name, meaning wood mill). The NAF-listed site, with cabins and a small camping area, is tended by a friendly old couple. Claiming we were the first English to stay there, they awarded us a nice pen bearing the 'Geographical Centre of Norway' logo!

So far, we are very pleasantly surprised by rd 17, the Kystriksveien. Well surfaced, wide enough and, above all, very quiet. Neither ferry nor campsite were busy – and it's the middle of the school summer holidays all over Europe.

Offersoy Camping,Tjotta – 45 miles (with 2 ferries)
Open mid-May to 30 Sept, see www.kystferie.no. Price charged (cards OK) 200 NK per day including electricity and WiFi. Showers 10 NK for 6 mins.

The weather had changed completely overnight, the dry warmth turning to a low misty chill that shrouded the hills and hung in a windless sky. Road 17 turned right at 6 miles (bypassing Bronnoysund), past Mosheim Camping and then the much-advertised Hildurs Urterarium (herb farm and garden restaurant) at 8 miles.

The ferry at 12 miles from Horn to Anddalsvag cost 160 NK in total. It was a smaller boat and we waited until 11 am as it ran once an hour. Again it took 20 minutes, across the mouth of Velfjord. Ferries also make a longer crossing from Horn to the offshoreVega Islands, famous (indeed World Heritage listed) for their eider ducks. Generations of hardy farmers and fishermen have maintained a viable way of life here, supplemented by their wives collecting down from the vacated nests of eider ducks (which they encourage and protect). Yes, the best eiderdown for duvets still comes from Vega, with an Eider Duck Museum on the main island.

It was only 17 km/11 miles to our next ferry, which only crossed every 2 hours so we didn't linger on the drive up the coast of Vevelestad-Sound through the small municipality of Vevelstad. There was a sign for motorhome parking by the sea at 19 miles (perhaps with a fee?)

At 26 miles the small trading port of Forvik has a museum, a church dating from 1796 and finally the world's northernmost coffee-roastery (with shop and cafe) right by the ferry terminal. We caught the 11.55 am M/F Tjotta for the 13-mile one-hour voyage to the island of Tjotta, calling at Stokkasjoen en route, where a single car disembarked. Total fare 292 NK, plus lunch in the cafe. They'd run out of hot dogs but had burgers or sandwiches (nice prawns!)

At 40 miles, 2 miles after the Tjotta ferry terminal, we parked to visit the Russian War Cemetery. A monument bearing the Russian star marks the site where approximately 7,550 Soviet prisoners of war from WW2 are buried, their bodies brought from all over northern Norway. Alongside is a more recent memorial to almost 2,500 men lost in the nearby sea when the German transporter 'Rigel' was bombed by the Allies in November 1944. Sadly, the unmarked ship carried mainly Russian PoWs, with a few German deserters, as well as German guards. The wreck was only cleared in the late 1960s, when the remains of those killed were brought here for burial.

After another 3 miles we stopped at Offersoy Camping, located right by the tidal shore and popular with sea-fishermen. It was a good place to catch up on-line (laptopping, not fishing!) and we stayed a second night.

Next day, dry but windy, we had a 26-mile cycle ride on rd 17 (there is no other). First we cycled north for 8 miles, as far as Alstahaug church and rectory where the poet Petter Dass was priest until his death in 1707. The stone church dates back to about 1200 and as we arrived a wedding party was leaving, with musicians and a juggler playing. There is also a modern Petter Dass Museum, where we enjoyed coffee and delicious cakes (all baked on the premises) though we didn't pay to see the Museum and Rectory (80 NK or 60 for pensioners).

Returning, we rode past our campsite entrance and continued south for 5 miles, passing the Russian War Cemetery, to the end of the road at Tjotta ferry terminal. The small supermarket there had already closed at 3 pm (this being Saturday). Cycling back to the campsite, we noticed a llama among the free-range sheep and remembered a note in a tourist leaflet about Tjotta: “sheep graze freely in the fields ... looked after by a llama”! We had assumed it was a mis-translation.

Continued at: IN NORWAY: AUGUST 2011