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Summer in Netherlands, Germany & Sweden 2015 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

SUMMER IN NETHERLANDS, GERMANY & SWEDEN  2015

Margaret and Barry Williamson
July 2015
 

After spending May 2015 in Ireland and Scotland, then the first 3 weeks of June on a Grand Tour of Northern England and Wales, we took an overnight P&O ferry from Hull to Europort Rotterdam. A week in Delden near the German border followed, with good cycling on the Dutch 'Fietspads'.  We travelled across Germany to the Island of Ruegen for a ferry to Trelleborg near Sweden's southernmost point for a journey north to our favourite summer lands: the far north of Sweden and so into Norway and Finland.

Altogether, our journey through Sweden lasted 26 days and our Carado motorhome drove 1,630 faultless miles (2600 km).

Continued at: Summer in Norway and Finland 2015

See also our article: In the European Arctic 2015 

Photographs of this journey are in 'Travels in 2015' inMagBazPictures

Scandinavia_2015_6e.jpg
Map of Sweden with the main features of our route

JUNE 2015

THE NETHERLANDS

Europort Rotterdam to Camping Park Mooi Delden, Delden , Nr Hengelo – 140 miles

Open 1 April-1 Oct. www.mooidelden.nl  ACSI Card €18.50 inc taxes, 10 amp elec, hot showers. Free WiFi.  N 52.25451  E 6.72704

By 9 am local time we were driving off the P&O ferry 'Pride of Hull' onto a rain-misted A15 motorway towards Rotterdam. After a breakfast break on the first services, we wove our way along a maze of busy motorways, past Gouda on A20, then A12 below Utrecht, northwest via Amersfoort and onto A1 driving east towards Apeldoorn in a heavy rainstorm.

With good memories from August 2014 of Camping de Wapenberg near Ugchelen, we took exit 19 (Hoenderloo) to return to this little camp in the woods. It must have been dry that summer! Now the site was a mess of waterlogged grass, mud and puddles, with no hard pitches vacant. Afraid of getting stuck in the mud, we returned to the motorway and continued east.

Over lunch at the next services, we phoned a couple of campsites along the way to Hengelo. The pleasant receptionist at Delden assured us that they had plenty of firm standing – and so it proved.

Along A1, then A35 to exit 28 and rd N346 into the small town of Delden, with a campsite situated between the sports centre (tennis and swimming) and a canal. There was plenty of space on firm level grass, good facilities and a café/bar.

The site WiFi enabled Barry to download European maps onto his new Android phone (very smart) and we dined on English sausage, bacon and eggs, along with frites from the café.

Margaret had broken a front tooth the day before leaving England and the camp receptionist was very helpful, providing the phone number of her dentist in Delden (open 8 am tomorrow), along with a town map.

At Camping Park Mooi Delden, Delden

M duly phoned the Delden dentist at 8.30 am and was given an appointment for 10.20 am, just a 10-minute walk away. By 11 am the dentist and her assistant had invisibly filled and repaired the broken tooth, an excellent job done! No pain except for the bill of just over €100, but probably less than in the UK and certainly quicker.

We walked on into the town centre and withdrew some cash (exchange rate currently €1.40 = £1). A strange experience followed. As the ATM dispensed only €50 notes, we asked an assistant inside the spacious bank to exchange some for smaller notes - “Sorry, no, we don't have any money in here”! For shopping there is a reasonable supermarket called 'Dirk' and a small street market on Friday afternoons. Barry enjoyed coffee with Dutch apple cake at the café opposite the substantial stone church of St Blasius, though M could only manage a coffee - her mouth still numb from the anaesthetic.

Visiting the church, we were lucky to meet Derk Rouwhorst, a member of the congregation on volunteer duty. He even knew our home town of Huddersfield. This intelligent and informative retiree showed us round, telling in fluent English the history of the Oude Kerk of St Blasius. The original Roman Catholic church, built about 800 years ago, turned Protestant after the religious wars. With a lack of stone, most Dutch churches are constructed of small red bricks but this one was built of sandstone brought from Germany in the 12th C. Derk drew our attention to the 15th C frescoes of the Last Judgment, still clear on the soaring ceiling, and explained their significance for the illiterate peasantry. He was especially interested in Ley Lines and claimed that all medieval churches and cathedrals, including this one, were built where ley lines cross, often on a pagan site of religious importance. The church is well used and the splendid organ (1847) still played.

Back at the campsite we used the site WiFi, worked on our website, did the laundry and tried to follow developments in Greece. Greek banks have now closed for at least a week; Athens transport has been made free of charge; Prime Minister Alex Tsipras is to hold a national referendum on Sunday, 5 July . . .

We also planned some circular rides on the Fietspads – Holland's wonderful network of signed and numbered cycle paths. The weather improved, turning dry with a light wind and warm sun – summer at last!

Cycling from Delden (The Apple Cake Rides)

1.  Delden – Boekelo - Enschede and back (50 km): Through the back gate of the campsite onto the canal path, turn right, cross the bridge and follow quiet lanes and dedicated cycle paths (some sealed, some dirt tracks) through surprisingly wooded country via Bentelo, Beckum and Boekelo to the suburbs of the city of Enschede. A pleasant 3-hour ride with coffee and apple cake at a woodland café on the way out and an ice cream in Boekelo on the way back.

2.  Delden - Goor and back (48 km): Out through the town centre, circled to the west and returned via the town of Goor, then partly along the Twentekanaal. A mixture of quiet roads, sandy paths and wooded tracks. Coffee and apple cake (a splendid tradition!) at a country garden café with hens clucking round our feet.    

3.  Delden – Goor - Markelo – Laro and back (66 km): Along the Fietspads to Goor, where it turned out to be CarnivalDutch_Carnival_(18).JPG (the last Sunday in June). The road was closed to traffic but we wheeled our way through the most amazing and extensive collection of floats and costumes and characters waiting to set off in procession at noon. All very wacky and noisy teens & twenties themes, this was not one for the children. Strangely, to our disappointment, there were no food or drink stalls at all and the only café we saw was packed out. Cycling on to Markelo we got coffee at a snack bar, then continued to the next village of Laren, where we sheltered from a sudden shower in a café serving our favourite apple cake. Returning via Markelo and Goor, we took a shorter route along the main road (with a good separate bike lane). The rain gradually stopped and by the time we reached Delden we were dry again.

s: http://www.magbazpictures.com/dutch-midsummer-carnival.html

4.  Delden – Bornebroek – Almelo and back (54 km): North on Fietspads from Delden to the village of Bornebroek and on to the edge of Almelo, a large industrial town. Returning south, we took a different route along the canal back to Bornebroek, where we stopped for the customary coffee and apple cake at a bistro. Then return to Delden along the Twentekanaal, which carries some enormous barges.  

GERMANY

Delden , Netherlands to Camping Hainwald am Waldsee, Lehrte-Haemelerwald, Nr Peine, Nieder Sachsen – 164 miles

Open 15M ay-15 Sept. €16.50 inc 10 amp elec, hot showers. No WiFi. Good restaurant/bar.  N 52.35158  E 10.12657

The last day of June brought a heatwave over Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany – our next destination. A fill of diesel in Delden before returning to the motorways: A35 north for one junction, then A30 east, over the German border at 17 miles and on through Lower Saxony towards Osnabruck. The weather was hot!

We turned off after 66 miles at exit 20 (Natbergen) to visit a motorhome dealer, Veregge & Welz at Bissendorf, just a mile away: www.veregge-welz.de. Listed in the Bordatlas, they have a small free Stellplatz (5 places) with coin-op hook-ups outside their gate. We parked for lunch and looked round the accessory shop (free hot drinks machine and toilets). The new motorhomes were tempting but we only bought a 2-litre stainless whistling kettle, replacing the aluminium one which made tea taste odd. 

Back to the A30, a busy 2-lane motorway, heading east. There was a long slow queue through Bad Oeynhausen, where the motorway bypass is still unfinished, just as it was 2 years ago: gridlocked traffic and stifling heat. Eventually we reached the A2 and continued past Hannover to exit 51 (Haemelerwald) at 161 miles.

Following the SatNav we turned south, under a railway bridge, then along a narrow lane through forest to a charmingly simple little campsite in the woods alongside a small lake covered in waterlilies and ducks. The camping paddock was quiet – just us and 2 tents – though the lakeshore had attracted a few bathers and the bar/restaurant was busy quenching the thirst of a cycling group.

We had an excellent meal there, sitting on the terrace in the evening sun (generous pork schnitzel smothered in mushroom cream sauce with roast potatoes) and Margaret indulged in a glass of Riesling before we walked the circuit of the woodland lake.

JULY 2015

Lehrte-Haemelerwald to Campinginsel Havelberg, Havelberg, Sachsen-Anhalt – 134 miles

Open 1 April-31 Oct. www.campinginsel-havelberg.de  €22 inc 16 amp elec, hot showers. (ACSI Card €18 low season). Free very weak WiFi.  N 52.82667  E 12.07056

It was 3 miles back to the A2, then east towards Berlin. We did turn off briefly at the next junction (Peine) to restock at Lidl (less than 1 km from the motorway). In Germany everyone shops at Lidl and Aldi, with none of the 'down-market cut-price' image. These stores have an excellent range of fresh food including in-store bakeries, but note they do not open on Sundays here and do not take foreign bank cards.

At Marienborn, just east of Helmstedt, you can take exit 63 and visit the Border Post Museum at the former DDR frontier, with some very interesting displays and photographs. We continued through what was East Germany, with a lunch break at the Boerde services parked among the trucks of several nations.

After Magdeburg we took exit 73, turning north on rd B1 through Burg to Genthin, then rd B107 which parallels the River Elbe to its confluence with the Havel at Havelberg. Along the way at Jerichow we passed the impressive Kloster (monastery, gardens and museum) which is Northern Germany's oldest brick building, one of several Romanesque churches in this area. We might have paused there but the afternoon heat was intense and we needed to check in at Havelberg, which we guessed (rightly) would be a popular destination.

Rd B107 crosses the Sandauer Bridge onto the small island that is home to the Hanseatic City of Havelberg, founded in the 10th C AD. The road skirts the centre of the Altstadt (Old Town), then goes over the Steintor Bridge to the north bank and the modern town. After crossing the Havel for the second time, take the first left (Bahnhofstrasse) past the marina and follow signs left onto a smaller island, the Spuelinsel, for camping. This islet is linked to the first island by a footbridge, so it's a short walk into the old city.

Just before the campsite there is also a Stellplatz with a parking charge and coin-op hook-ups (no WiFi), though all the places were already taken. The large campsite was unusually scruffy and very crowded. Rejecting the first pitch offered, (too small and on soft sand), we were then left to find the only other place free. The WiFi barely worked, though we were right behind Reception. For a popular tourist city, the site was a disorganised disgrace.

Having booked a ferry from Rostock to Trelleborg in Sweden in 9 days' time, we had hoped to ride a section of the Elbe and/or Havel Cycle Ways from Havelberg before revisiting Berlin. Given that the temperature was now soaring into the high 30s, with a forecast of 40°C in the capital, we reviewed our plan! A phone call to Stena Line easily changed the ticket, with a small surcharge, and we now sail from Sassnitz on Ruegen Island the day after tomorrow, hopefully leaving the intense heat behind.

In the cool of the evening we walked over the footbridge for a brief view of half-timbered houses and the 12th C brick-built cathedral but the tourist crowds destroyed any historic atmosphere.

Havelberg to Wohnmobilhafen Ruegen, Bergen on Ruegen Island, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – 194 miles

Open all year. www.wohnmobil-stellplatz-ruegen.de  €14 inc 16 amp elec, WC and waste disposal. Showers €2.  Weak WiFi €2 (one-off payment). 60 litres drinking water €1.  N 54.40757  E 13.42949

Still hot and sunny next morning, as we woke to the news that yesterday had been “England's hottest day since records began”. The BBC radio gave warnings to drink more, especially children and the over-75s. We drove northeast for 33 miles via Breddin and Kyritz to join the A24 motorway near Herzsprung. The quiet country roads passed through villages that were well-kept but seemed devoid of life, with no shops or young people in this area of the former East Germany.

The A24 and A19 were quiet going north towards Rostock, with more traffic in the other direction for Berlin. Storks were on the wing and grazing the meadows in this well watered area of small lakes and rivers. We passed a trio of nicely restored Trabants, shiny as new, one towing a small caravan – they have finally become a collector's item! After junction 18 the motorway was closed to anything wider than a car, so we followed the trucks round a slow 38-km diversion on minor roads via Plau am See, rejoining A19 just 16 km north of our exit! The next rest area near Krakower See provided a welcome lunch stop.

At junction 10 we turned east along the A20 to exit 24, then north on dual carriageway to Stralsund, where we stopped for diesel. The temperature had reached 30°C inside the motorhome as we crossed the splendid 2.8 km-long toll-free bridge from Stralsund to Ruegen Island. It's a popular holiday destination, with sandy beaches and several campsites.

We turned off rd 96, which cuts northeast across the island, into the main town of Bergen. The signed Stellplatz, left at the second set of traffic lights, is listed in the Bordatlas and Camperstop Europe. It offers secure guarded parking behind a car hire and sales business, whose owner described it as his wife's “hobby”! Certainly very convenient for an overnight near the ferry port of Sassnitz, 20 miles away, but it's also possible to stay there for a longer period, with a washing machine and drier available. The only disappointment was the WiFi, frustratingly useless, but the owner did refund the €2.

FERRY TO SWEDEN

Notes:

1.  The Swedish currency is Krona (SEK), currently approx 13 SEK=£1 or 9.5 SEK=€1. With these exchange rates, daily costs in Sweden are not expensive. Diesel averages less than £1 per litre and shopping at Coop, ICA or Lidl stores is reasonable. For dining out, a good weekday lunch menu (usually a hot dish, salad buffet, cold drink, coffee and biscuits or light desert) costs around €10 or under £8 per head. There are also the usual burger and pizza places. Just avoid evening meals and alcohol!

2.  Dipped headlights are compulsory at all times (even in summer).

3.  School summer break is early June to mid-August, with 6 June (National Day) and 23 June (Midsummer) public holidays. Popular coastal sites are busy then. By the third week of August all is quiet with many campsites closing, while others stay open all year for winter sports.

4.  Around 500 sites are members of the Swedish Campsite Owners' Association (SCR), requiring campers to have a 'Camping Key Europe' card, price 150 SEK, valid till 31 Dec in year of purchase. It can be bought on-line before travelling or at the first campsite used. The card is also needed at many sites in Finland and Norway, and sometimes qualifies for various discounts (including ferries). A free booklet detailing all the member sites is available at campsites and tourist offices. www.camping.se.

5.  The campsite prices quoted below are for a motorhome, 2 adults and electricity. A non-powered pitch, if available, will be about SEK 50 less. Campsites usually have a well equipped kitchen with cooking facilities, free for use by all. On the other hand, showers are rarely free and often have little or no privacy.

6.  There are many camperstops at marinas etc – some free, some paying, with varying facilities. We had the 'Nordic Camper Guide' covering all the Scandinavian countries, which has some (but by no means all) of these: www.n-m-c.net. The German Bordatlas www.bordatlas.de also has a few entries for Scandinavian countries.  Both are available from Amazon or www.vicariousbooks.co.uk. They are not in English!

7.  Many rest areas along the highways, particularly in central and northern Sweden, offer free parking space (often with water, WC and toilet disposal) for an overnight. Tourist Info offices have a free map showing most of these: the current one is called 'Rastplatskarta 2015'.

8.  There are no motorway tolls except on the Oresund Bridge/Tunnel linking Malmo with Denmark (payable in Danish or Swedish currency, Euros or by credit card), or the Svinesund Bridge on the E6 from Sweden to Norway.

9.  Service areas are rare on Swedish motorways but fuel stations will be signed at appropriate exits.

10. Post offices no longer exist in Sweden. Some supermarkets have a postal counter and stamps are also available at tourist offices, newsagents, hotels etc. A stamp for a postcard to the UK is currently SEK 14 (about £1). Payphones have also disappeared in this age of mobile phones and Skype.

11. Parked vehicles must face the direction of traffic flow (to avoid a fine!) There may be meters or Pay & Display in larger towns but most car parking is free.

12. Finally – it is NOT below freezing, in fact not even cold, in the summer months! Indeed the warm weather and long hours of daylight are ideal for walking, cycling and lake swimming. Nor have we had much of a problem with mosquitoes and midges here, during many Scandinavian journeys by bicycle, motorhome and caravan. Northern Scandinavia remains our favourite summer territory in Europe. But we do head south in September!

IN SWEDEN

Bergen am Ruegen (East Germany) to Smygehuk Parking, Smygehamn, Skane, Sweden – 20 miles in Germany, Stena Line Ferry Sassnitz-Trelleborg, 19 miles in Sweden

Open all year. www.soderslatt.com/smygehuk  Field by Tourist Office/café at Sweden's southernmost point. Free parking between 7 am and 8 pm. Overnight charge of SEK 150. No facilities except WC in café when open. No WiFi.  N 55.33944  E 13.36028

Driving through Bergen to join rd 96 we passed a Lidl store, closed for rebuilding until autumn 2015. On to the ferry port of Sassnitz, with a slight detour at the end as the direct road was closed. The Stena Line check-in was badly signed but we were finally waiting in line for the 1 pm ferry to Trelleborg, along with several rows of mainly German motorhomes, campers and caravans which filled the lower deck once occupied by a train. Maybe we wouldn't escape the crowds in Sweden!

It was a smooth sunny crossing, arriving promptly at 5.15 pm. We passed the time over lunch -  generous open prawn salad sandwiches, strawberry cake and coffee (a special offer for Stena Xtra members, free to join!) – then watched German reports of the gathering Greek crisis on the TV screens, two days before the Referendum is to be held in Greece. A somewhat different viewpoint from that of the BBC and Guardian!

By 5.30 pm we were driving east from Sweden's largest port. We remembered a large free parking area 10 miles along rd 9, by the country's southernmost point, where we'd spent a night 4 years ago. Settling onto this field opposite the Tourist Office/café, alongside many another, we discovered that it is no longer free overnight. Taking no chances, the authorities send a pair of young men round in the evening to collect the fees, accepting Euros or card payments, so a lack of Swedish currency is no excuse! There are no facilities whatsoever, not even a tap, so this is blatant profiteering. The nearby marina car park, also used by motorhomes on our last visit, now bans 'camping'. Welcome to free and easy Sweden!

Resigned to pay and stay, we had a pleasant walk along the shore, the heat tempered by a cool Baltic breeze from the unbroken horizon. We strolled on past an old lime kiln (c 1850) and some modern sculptures to the lookout at the tip of Sweden: latitude N 55°20'3”. Then past a fish smokehouse and restaurant by the marina to the lighthouse. Its beam has guided sailors since 1883 and the old lighthouse keeper's house is now a hostel.

In the 1600s Smygehamn was a small community trading in fish and lime, the latter used in the whitewash that characterises the long low cottages in the area. The impressive large white building that houses the Tourist Office was a Merchants' Store, built at the beginning of the 19thC and reputedly used by smugglers during Napoleon's blockade in 1810. By the early 20thC, with the coming of the railway, holidaymakers were attracted to the mild coast and the Hotel Smygehus, built in 1920, is still open. Apparently the church, and the fishermen's wives, tried to get the Hotel pub closed down!

Smygehamn to Smabatshamnen Marina, Ystad, Skane – 21 miles

Open all year. Motorhome parking next to Marina. SEK 150 inc WC, water, waste disposal. Showers SEK 10. A few metered electric points (SEK 10 lasted 24 hrs). Free WiFi.  N 55.42639 E 13.81250

Continued east along rd 9 to Ystad, past a couple of campsites that appeared full of summer holiday caravanners. A popular Stallplats (camperstop) by the beach at Vasterleden, 3 km before Ystad, was also packed and the only facilities were two disgusting toilets, though at least it was free.

The motorhome park at Ystad yacht marina was almost full and we were lucky to take the place of a helpful Swede who was just leaving and had one of the few hook-up points. We paid the overnight fee at the Harbour Office and received a 'Tally Card' allowing entry to the toilets and Latrin (chemical disposal). This card could also be loaded with 50 SEK to use for showers or electricity, any balance being refunded along with the deposit. In fact there was 10 SEK already left on our hook-up, which proved more than enough until next day. The free WiFi worked well inside the motorhome. The facilities, shared with the yachting fraternity, were clean and modern, though with the customary lack of privacy in Scandinavian showers. There was also a coin-op laundry.

It was another very hot day with no wind to dispel an unpleasant smell of sewage from the sea. A notice advised against bathing, though many on the beach ignored it.

After lunch we walked into and around Ystad, to withdraw Swedish currency at an ATM and buy postcards and stamps at the Tourist Office, which was promoting the 'Wallander Trail' following the fictional detective. The cobbled centre of the medieval market town, with its flower-decked alleyways of half-timbered houses, remains quaint though we found nowhere reasonable to eat except Max's burger joint. At St Petri Kloster we watched a happy wedding party emerge from the church to take photographs in the lovely sunny gardens.

Back at the marina, the harbour restaurant and smoked fish café were both busy and every parking place, whether for cars, bicycles or motorhomes, was occupied on this balmy Saturday evening. The Swedes do make the most of their short summer, with plenty of outdoor activities.

Ystad to Skeppsbron Marina, Karlskrona, Blekinge – 121 miles

Open all year. Motorhome parking next to Marina. SEK 180 inc unmetered elec and entry to new services building with WC, showers, sauna, kitchen sink and use of washing machines & driers – all free! Free WiFi at harbourmaster's café only.  N 56.1672 E 15.5890

On the outskirts of Ystad we called at the Lidl store just as it opened at 10 am (on a Sunday, when its German counterpart would be closed). After restocking with a good range of fresh bakery goods, local fruit & veg, frozen meat and fish and good old baked beanz, we took rd 19 northeast for Kristianstad. This was a good 2-lane road and quiet on this fine morning, as most traffic opted for the coastal route we had taken on our previous visit.

After 45 miles we joined the busier A22 (from Malmo), continuing past Kristianstad, and spotted our first Elk warning sign (though no sign of this king of the forest). The E22 dual carriageway took us eastwards, searching in vain for a rest area, so we turned off at 80 miles near Morrum to park by a sawmill for lunch. Then back on E22 across a green and pleasant land of crops and woodland, turning off at 117 miles to the Baltic naval port of Karlskrona at the southeast corner of Sweden.

Between the yacht marina and the pay & display car park on Skeppsbrokajen, there is a spacious motorhome park with a hook-up at each place and a lovely view of the waterfront. Despite the long walk back to the harbour office/cafe and the brand new services building, it is an excellent place to stay, near the maritime museum and town centre.

We took advantage of the free laundry room (3 washing machines and 3 tumble driers) and watched the boats come and go, including a Stena Line ferry leaving for Poland. 'Forever One', a sleek luxury yacht flying the red ensign, attracted many envious onlookers as it arrived to moor nearby, though it was dwarfed by the massive coastguard vessel based here.   

Karlskrona to Yxningens Camping, Gusum, Ostergotland – 181 miles

Open 17 April-12 Sept. www.yxningenscamping.se. SEK 225 inc 10 amp elec and free WiFi. Showers SEK 5. (Less with ACSI Card in low season.)  N 58.28194  E 16.46333

The weather changed overnight, turning cooler with heavy rain, discouraging a walk round the spacious town that was founded in 1680 by Karl XI. The Maritime Museum, churches and old quarter are interesting but we had seen these on a previous visit.

So we drove 4 wet miles back to the E22, then north past Kalmar on the typically Swedish 3-lane road (with an overtaking lane alternating in each direction). Lunch in a good rest area (another feature of Sweden on many main roads), noticing that most motorhomes and caravans were already heading south. By August the main Scandinavian holiday season will be over.

After 178 miles the exit for Gusum took us into the rural Sweden of lakes and forest that we love, dotted with wooden farmsteads painted brick-red, their windows picked out in white, cows contentedly grazing lush meadows. From Gusum village, we followed camping signs for the last 2 miles to the friendly well-equipped little site by Lake Yxningen. Here we bought a 'Camping Key Europe' card (SEK 150, valid until 31.12.2015 and obligatory at many Scandinavian campsites) and settled on a pitch opposite the reception/café, with a good WiFi signal. A take-away pizza from the site café completed the day (morning rolls can also be ordered).

At Yxningens Camping, Gusum

During a 5-day break here the weather varied from cold and showery to cool and dry! We caught up with correspondence, did a lot of work on the websites (both text and photographs) and did the laundry. Our wedding anniversary was celebrated with a large box of Thorntons chocolates while watching an excellent film: 'Budapest Hotel' with Ranulph Fiennes leading a great cast.

A Cycle Ride to Yxnerum & return (56 km): The day before leaving Yxningen, a fine Saturday with a light north wind, we rode north for 8 km to the village of Ringerum, across a rolling landscape of red-painted farms and barns amid scented clover fields. Ringerum has just one shop (open till 3 pm Sat, closed Sun). Here we turned west for 20 km to Yxnerum, a quiet sealed road through the forest, interspersed with flowery meadows and lakes of water lilies. Two hares with long black-tipped ears bounded across the fields. Yxnerum, lying on the same long lake as our campsite, has a solid stone church and seats by its tidy cemetery, offering a peaceful break in the sunshine. Not a soul to be seen at the parsonage or the few houses and a large hotel/conference centre was closed up. We returned to camp by the same route, as continuing round the lake meant a long detour on gravel tracks.

Gusum to Kapellskars Camping, Kapellskar, Stockholm County – 188 miles

Open 1 May-30 Sept. www.fritidsbyn.se. SEK 270 inc 10 amp elec. Showers SEK 1 per minute. Free WiFi at Reception only.  N 59.72046  E 19.05045

With the intention of visiting the Aland Islands – the isles lying between Sweden and Finland at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia – our next destination was the ferry port of Kapellskar, north of Stockholm. These semi-autonomous islands are politically and financially Finnish (Euro currency) but historically, linguistically and culturally Swedish. Intrigued, we had provisionally booked a Viking Line ferry from Kapellskar to Mariehamn, the capital of the islands.

On a sunny, if windy, Sunday morning we drove 3 miles north to join E22, continuing north against the flow of returning caravans, through Soderkoping to Norrkoping. After a fill of diesel we joined E4, a good 4-lane motorway turning east for Stockholm. At 61 miles we lunched on better-than-average fast food at a 'Rasta' services, then took the next exit, 132 for Nykoping, to shop at Lidl, open and quiet with plenty of parking space.

Back on E4 the motorway grew busier as we neared Stockholm, with 3 lanes in each direction, though no heavy trucks on Sundays. With multiple exits for the capital, we had to keep a close watch on the signs and the SatNav to find the correct exit onto E18 for Norrtalje.

The final exit for Kapellskar is signed Ferry and Helsinki. The campsite lies past the port and along a gravel road, about a mile from the Viking Line and Tallink ferry terminal. It claims to be just 100 km from Stockholm. More importantly for us, it was over 1,000 miles from Europort Rotterdam!

The campsite was extremely busy and we took the last pitch with a hook-up, later arrivals being directed to the tent field.

At Kapellskar

Next morning we cycled (1.5 km each way) to the port to collect and pay for the Viking Line tickets booked by phone for the ferry at 9.30 am on the following day. The crossing to Mariehamn takes 2 hrs 15 mins and is inexpensive (€10 pp + €15 motorhome = €35). Some of the ferries continue to Helsinki. See www.vikingline.com/en 

At the Kapellskar port a massive new terminal and docks are being constructed, with building work severely restricting the parking area. Pay & Display is 10 SEK/hr or 30 SEK/day, max 3 days, but the space was full of cars with no room at all for motorhomes. We saw the amount of holiday traffic disembarking from the ferry, the long line of leisure vehicles waiting for the next departure, the queues at the ticket offices and café – and realised that the Aland Islands and their few campsites would be full to capacity! They would be best visited in May or September. The kind woman at the Viking Line desk cancelled our booking without any charge.

So it was back to the campsite to rethink our route, since we'd planned to go on from the Alands to mainland Finland and then north alongside the Gulf of Bothnia. Consulting the maps, we decided to travel up through central Sweden into the far north of Norway and return south through Finland, leaving several options open for the autumn: a ferry to the Aland Islands, or to Poland, or Tallin and the Baltic Republics …

The rest of the day was occupied with laundry and other tasks, finishing with an interesting stew made from a tin of jellied turkey. Dessert was a delicious Swedish speciality 'Princess Cake' - similar to a Victoria sponge filled with cream and raspberry jam, then covered in green marzipan (found at Lidl or the Coop, frozen).   

Kapellskar to Framby Udde Resort, Nr Falun, Dalarna – 185 miles

Open all year. www.frambyudde.com  SEK 290 inc 10 amp elec (or SEK 340 with 'lake view').  Showers SEK 10. Free WiFi.  Excellent restaurant.  N 60.58111  E 15.67675

Returned to Norrtalje (17 miles west on E18), then took rd 76 north through quiet forest and a heavy rain shower. At 56 miles we stopped at the Coop Extra supermarket near Osthammar to shop and eat lunch, then continued along rd 76 to Gavle. We detoured to check Rullsands Camping at Skutskar on the way but it was a pretentious and overpriced place at SEK 360.

From Gavle we turned west along a short stretch of motorway to Sandviken, then rd 80/E16 to the copper mining and winter sports town of Falun in Dalarna Province. At Lugnets Camping, next to the sports complex and right beneath the towering ski jump on Lugnets Hill, we checked in. On seeing the small sloping pitches and the soft muddy grass, we promptly checked out again!

It was another 5 miles through Falun to a much better campsite tucked between the forest and the shores of Lake Runn at Framby. After a long rainy day it was good to settle here – with a lake view, even from the cheaper pitches!

At Framby Udde, Nr Falun

Next morning the rain gradually ceased, after a night that grew barely dark between 10 pm and 4 am. With a good WiFi connection we caught up with correspondence and listened to BBC Radio 4. The Euro is falling rapidly in value against Sterling, with €1.44 = £1. Sadly, it's mainly due to the Greek situation.

The campsite offered an excellent weekday buffet lunch at SEK 95, served in the lovely old wooden villa overlooking the lake. We sat on the terrace and enjoyed all we could eat: a self-service spread of fish, meatballs, new potatoes, rice, salads, bread & butter, soft drinks, coffee & biscuits. The villa was built in 1897 as the summer cottage of a local city merchant.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Falun was Sweden's second largest city, producing two-thirds of the world's copper ore, and it remains a surprisingly pleasant industrial town. The mine is now a UNESCO World Heritage site with a Visitor Centre and guided tours. See www.falugruva.se/en/  'Falun Red' paint, its red pigment a by-product of the copper mine's waste material, has been manufactured here since 1764 and is still made, though the mine closed in 1992. It is widely used as a preservative on Sweden's wooden houses, lending them their characteristic deep red colour.

After the plentiful lunch we took an hour's walk by the lake, where anglers fished for pike, returning through the forest. It was hard to imagine 'Runn Winter Week' in February, when marathon speed skating competitions and other events are held on the frozen Lake Runn, between Falun and Borlange, with over 30 miles of prepared skating trails (the longest in Europe). See www.runnwinterweek.se/

Falun to Tandsjo Camping, Tandsjoborg, Gavleborg – 108 miles (1,535 ft or 465 m asl)

Open summer only. SEK 190 inc 10 amp elec. Coin-op showers. No WiFi.  N 61.69639  E 14.74178

Taking rd 50/E16 through Falun, we found a Lidl store 5 miles along with plenty of parking space on a Saturday morning (compare the near-impossibility of shopping with a motorhome in Britain!) We continued northwest on rd 69, with a sighting of the extensive Lake Siljan from a viewpoint at over 1,000 ft before descending to Rattvik, a busy tourist hub on the eastern shore. On entering the town at 31 miles there is plenty of parking space, behind and opposite the petrol station.

The town centre was packed, with a street market and entertainment. The motorhome park by a restaurant was full and the two lakeside campsites looked equally popular. Preferring a quiet forest, we took rd 70 (the Kopparleden) along Lake Siljan, with a lunch break at 52 miles by a service station/motel.

Another 24 miles to Mora, the tourist honeypot at the head of the lake, where traffic was predictably at a standstill! We'd stayed at its only campsite (Mora Parkens Camping) 5 years previously and had no wish to revisit this overcrowded site, managed by the adjacent hotel. Today we only stopped for a fill of diesel at the shopping mall by the roundabout before joining road E45, the famous Inlandsvagen (Inland Road), the spine of the country.

This highway runs the length of Sweden, from Karesuando at the Finnish border in the north, across the Arctic Circle near Jokkmokk, then south to the port of Gothenburg: a total of 1,031 miles/1660 km. The E45 continues through Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy to terminate in Gela in Sicily, forming Europe's longest North-South route with a complete length of 3,057 miles or 4920 km.

Travelling north from Mora the E45 is a narrow 2-lane road, rolling through high virgin forest to a max of 1,880 ft or 570 m on this warm afternoon (21°C). There are regular level crossings as the road parallels another of the wonders of Sweden, the Inlandsbanen (Inland Railway), the track from Mora to Gallivare in the far north: a 20 hour journey. Once an essential and busy line, especially during WW2, it now operates as a summer tourist venture from June through August, with a single daily train in each direction. Passengers break the journey with one or more overnight stops at the villages on the way. We were to learn more of the railway's history at two small museums along the line, in Sorsele and Moskosel.

About 10 miles after Mora we passed the turning for Orsa Gronklitt, Europe's largest Bear Park (open daily, campsite nearby). www.orsabjornpark.se/se/about-the-park__353 We had climbed its viewing towers and covered walkways in simpler less commercialised days, so we continued along E45 through the heart of Sweden's bear country. Several hundred brown bears roam these dense forests and we actually spotted a young one running across the road ahead of us. 'Where's Mama?' we anxiously wondered, closing the windows.

At Noppi Koski we stopped by a youth hostel/petrol station for a short walk to the waterfall. Unusually, the parking area had 'No Overnight' signs. The next village Tandsjoborg (sjo=lake) had a small campsite on the right, between road and lake, with cabins and the usual facilities in a peaceful meadow. Our only neighbours, German motorhomers, said the owners would call round later to collect money, and so they did.

In the evening we completed the Swedish forest experience by watching Ingmar Bergman's classic black & white 1957 film, The Seventh Seal - a brilliantly dark and droll masterpiece starring Max von Sidow as a knight returned from the Crusades to find his homeland in the grip of the Black Death. After some haunting scenes, such as a game of chess with the Grim Reaper for the hero's life, it was comforting that it was still light outside in the wee small hours!

Tandsjoborg to Svegs Camping, Sveg, Jamtland – 32 miles

Open all year. www.svegscamping.se   SEK 270 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi throughout site.  N 62.03241  E 14.36496

Heading north on the Inlandsvagen E45, after a few miles a warning appeared on the dashboard: 'Service Oil Now' – on a Sunday! We were puzzled, as the motorhome had been serviced, complete with oil change, back in Newark a month earlier and the level now appeared fine on the dipstick. Nevertheless, we decided to stop at the next town, Sveg, and have the oil checked tomorrow.

We settled on the busy town-centre campsite, only to be unsettled by an incident with a psychotic Dutchman in the neighbouring caravan. Management intervened and we moved pitch to the far side by the river. It's a funny kind of day! The campsite is much improved since previous visits, with new private showers, and the WiFi worked well.

After lunch we walked round the town – which claims to be Sweden's geographical centre - to locate its 4 garages. The best seemed to be 'Svegs Bil & Plat' on Kyrkogatan, along from the church, less than a mile from camp. Ice creams in hand, it was a good way of exploring Sveg, from the town centre with its mighty wooden bear sculpture to the industrial sidings by the railway station.

At Sveg

Straight round to Svegs Bil & Plat (a member of the Scandinavian Mekonomen group), where the helpful Jorgen Persson checked the oil level, said there was no problem and sold us a spare bottle of oil to carry. Setting off again, a new message appeared: 'Engine Malfunction', so back we went. Jorgen took this more seriously, sat us in front of a giant TV  with cups of coffee and drove the Carado into the workshop. Eventually, he diagnosed water in the fuel filter, which he drained. Much relieved, we paid the small bill and returned to camp.

The Folkets Haus, between the campsite and an ICA supermarket, houses the Tourist Office, a self-service restaurant, and a large hall presently occupied by a giant clothing sale of cheap Chinese imports. We enjoyed the weekday lunch there: a choice of fish or sausage & bacon, with a salad buffet, soft drink, bread & butter, coffee & biscuits, all for SK 75 (or less than £8) per person. The Tourist Office supplied the useful Rastplatskarta, a free map showing rest areas along Sweden's main roads, and gave us a 2015 calendar with beautiful photos.

Then we had a short walk round the tiny wooded island in the river, over a footbridge from the campsite, before writing some emails. Hopefully, we'll be back on the road tomorrow.  

Sveg to Lits Camping/Little Lake Hill Canoe Center, Lit, Jamtland – 133 miles

Open 1 May-30 Sept. www.litscamping.com  SEK 250 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi throughout site. Free tumble drier (washing m/c SEK 10).  N 63.31928  E 14.8651

Continuing east and then north along Inlandsvagen E45, we paused after 28 miles in little Ytterhogdal. There is plenty of space behind the Folkets Haus (café and Tourist Info), as well as a second café offering free overnight parking for motorhomes. Leaving the village we passed a white church beautifully reflected in a small lake that we photographed years ago: quintessential Sweden. Another 40 miles to Asarna, which has a ski station (1 km west of the highway), with  camping, hotel, fuel, supermarket and café strung along the E45. We are crossing a high plateau at around 1,100 ft/330 m.

In Svenstavik, 7 miles later, we parked by a Dollar Store. These sell mainly non-food stuff but are a good place to stock up on biscuits and chocolate. Also bought a new mouse mat, a DVD about Charles Dickens (in English with subtitles in 4 Scandinavian languages) and a boxed set of our favourite Sicilian detective, Inspector Montalbano. We've enjoyed the books (in translation) and seen the odd episode on British TV with English subtitles. Over lunch, we eventually realised that the set just bought was in Italian with only Scandinavian subtitles! Returning it, the check-out woman, speaking perfect English, understood and happily refunded the money.

The E45 was still busy with motorhomes and caravans (Dutch, German, Norwegian and Swedish) heading south. Soon we met the southern tip of Storsjon (= Big Lake), Sweden's fifth largest complete with mythical monster, then continued through Brunflo before turning into the university city of Ostersund on its eastern shore.  This is the largest town on the Inland Railway until its terminus at Gallivare, over 400 miles away beyond the Arctic Circle. Ostersund does have a crowded commercial campsite, as well as the last Lidl or McDonalds we were to see in Sweden! By road we could turn west for Trondheim in Norway (a snow-topped ridge was visible in that direction), or east to the Gulf of Bothnia, or keep north as we did, to the simpler campsite at Lit 15 miles further along E45

This site, well signed on the right just after the bridge, is popular with youngsters come to canoe on the river and have a campfire. Luckily a rainy evening kept things quiet! We did our laundry, taking advantage of the free drier, and dined on cauliflower cheese as a thick mist rose eerily from the river.

Lit to Kolgardens Camping, Lovliden, Vilhelmina, Vasterbotten – 130 miles (1,140 ft or 345 m asl)

Open all year. www.kolgarden.se  SEK 210 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Excellent new facilities. Free WiFi throughout site.  N 64.64998  E 16.59240

The mist evaporated in the morning sun as we headed ever-north on E45. Past a massive wood processing plant with thousands of logs, timber stacked in all directions, we came into Hammerdal at 28 miles (shop and fuel), then continued against the flow of returning motorhomes, many of them Norwegians circling round. The forest is endless, punctuated by an occasional red wooden cabin or a farm, sometimes painted in shades of yellow ochre, pale blue or green.

Another 20 miles toOstersund_(37).JPG the next town, Stromsund: a favourite of ours, though its campsite, on both sides of the road before the bridge, is not! Immediately after the bridge, turn right to find plenty of parking space opposite the Inlandsbanan railway station, by the entrance to the Hembygsgard, a delightful homestead museum in a park on the lakeside. You can meet the giant Jorm, made Ostersund_(18).JPGfor the film of the children's book 'Dunderklumpen', talking to himself! Of more interest, about 20 old wooden buildings gathered here in 1957 for their preservation are open to view: a loggers' cabin, blacksmith's workshop, schoolroom, etc. There is also a café, knitted handicrafts shop and a fascinating two-storey museum, all free to enter, with something new each time we visit. After a good lunch break and walk round here, it was north again on the next section of E45 to Vilhelmina, the main road part of the circular Wilderness Road route that we travelled in 2011. www.wildernessroad.eu/index.html.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/stromsund-museum.html

The backdrop of the forest with its infinite vista of evergreen pines and silver birch was edged with softer tones along the roadside: wild lupins in pink and mauve and colourful meadow flowers. The little town of Hoting at 78 miles has a Motor Museum with a large car park, though there is an entry fee and a No Overnight Parking sign.

We continued 14 miles to the friendlier town of Dorotea, with a small campsite. It is also home to the Polar/Solifer caravan factory, further along on the left of the main road, opposite a little Caravan Museum. www.polarvagnen.com/en/explore-polar/caravan-museum/  Calling here for the first time, we found a delightful collection of Polar caravan models dating from the 1950s to 1990s , all open to view, free of charge. We even got complimentary coffee and biscuits! The helpful guide explained that the firm still produces about two caravans a week, though much less than in its heyday. Polar specialise in well-insulated winterised vans for the Scandinavian market.

Along the wayReindeers_(11).JPG north from here, a pair of reindeer crossed the road – our first on this visit – soon followed by another two. This really made our day! About 3 miles after the pleasant town of Vilhelmina, we turned left (on the Wilderness Road route) for another favourite site on a lake. Kolgardens Camping was busy but the owner tucked us into a corner and apologised for the midges, the worst he had ever known and the first time we'd encountered them here. We lit and plugged in our various deterrents and kept the mesh screens closed. On the plus side, this campsite has the best facilities we know in Sweden, with an excellent kitchen, sitting room and individual bathrooms. It also has a good restaurant by the lake but this was already overcrowded.

Vilhelmina to Sorsele Camping, Sorsele, Vasterbotten – 86 miles (1,155 ft or 350 m asl)

Open all year. www.lapplandskatan.nu/sorsele-camping/?la=en   SEK 215 inc 16 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi.  N 65.53428  E 17.52663

Next morning it was too wet to cycle along the lakeside into Vilhelmina. We remember an interesting old Kyrkstad (church town) with an old fashioned country store, on the hill just outside the town centre. The rows of wooden houses, built in the 19thC to accommodate people from outlying villages when they came in for church festivals, weddings or funerals, are now available to tourists (book through the Tourist Office inside the town hall/court house).

Given the weather, we opted to keep driving north on our old friend the Inland Road E45, paralleling the Inland Railway. After 14 miles we passed a large rest area and small campsite on the banks of a salmon-fishing river. The flags of 5 nations hung limp in the drizzle, 20 miles later, at the entrance to a café with Camperstop (SEK 50 per night, no tents). Pausing here for coffee, we found we'd just missed the annual Christian Song Camp (16-19 July).

The next town, Storuman (= Big Man) at 42 miles, sports the club-wielding giant of Lapland as its emblem. We have a fond memory of watching an ice hockey match here while at the campsite next to the stadium, but today we just stopped for a fill of diesel and continued up E45 as the rain cleared. A pair of Cranes grazed in a meadow near Blattniksele village at 70 miles, where the petrol station had gone leaving just a shop and campsite.

On to the small town of Sorsele at 85 miles, another favourite halt. Turn left at the railway station/museum, cross the River Vindelalven Bridge and past the Coop supermarket, to a campsite/youth hostel on a peninsula in the river, complete with open-air pool, lake swimming area and tennis. The nearby Heritage Centre and Summer Café were closed, with still a week of July left. It was 2 pm and the site's 30 cottages and 20 electric pitches were empty, though the usual wave of (mostly Norwegian) outfits came in on the evening tide. As at Vilhemina, we were  plagued by midges and mozzies which the Receptionist claimed was not normal, due to unusually wet weather (?)

After lunch we walked into and around the town, decorated with the colourful (red, blue, green & yellow) flags of the Sami, the indigenous people formerly known as Lapps. The name Sorsele is from a Sami word meaning 'arm of the river' – the freeflowing Vindelalven, almost 270 miles (430 km) long and one of the few Swedish rivers not tamed for hydroelectric purposes. As we raided an ATM, a red squirrel jumped out of the litter bin by the bank! There are also two petrol stations, police and fire stations, library, church with pretty forest graveyard, a cottage hospital celebrating its centenary, and tourist information in the Inlandsbanen Museum at the railway station. All we could need!

Entry to the museum in the old parcels office is free and we spent an hour inside, browsing photographs and railway memorabilia and watching a fascinating film about the building of the line, through over 800 miles (1289 km) of forest from Mora to Gallivare, with 165 stations. Plans for the railway began in 1856, work started in 1907 and the entire railway was finally opened 30 years later by Crown Prince Gustav Adolf at a ceremony near Jokkmokk, though it was carrying passengers for some of the way before that. The line's heyday was during WW2, when enormous amounts of charcoal were freighted, as well as troops – not just Swedish, but 2 million German soldiers in transit in 1940-43, despite Sweden's neutrality. A gradual decline followed after the 1950s with the rise in car usage and branch lines closed, the Inland Railway itself facing closure in the 1990s.  Today, run  by a company formed by the 15 municipalities along its route, it is used mainly for freight, with just one passenger train per day in each direction during the short summer season (mid-June to end August). www.interrail.eu/trains-europe/scenic-trains/inlandsbanan

Back at the camp, an evening thunderstorm was blamed for the loss of our WiFi connection, albeit a common occurrence (the loss, not the storm!) The radio also reported storms in the UK.

Sorsele to Polar Circle Centre/Parking, Nr Jokkmokk, Norrbotten – 147 miles (1,040 ft or 315 m asl)

Open all year. www.destinationjokkmokk.se/en/  Overnight parking SEK 140 inc 10 amp elec, WC, waste disposal and water. No WiFi.  N 66.55014  E 19.76371

From Sorsele the E45 swings east to Arvidsjaur, then turns north to cross the Arctic Circle south of Jokkmokk. It was still rainy though warm as we drove east over the county boundary from Vasterbotten to Norrbotten and past Slagnas Camping, near the bridge over the Skelleftealvan River, at 19 miles. The road rolled gently through high forest, reaching 1,780 ft or 540 m.

Suddenly, at 37 miles, we were faced with a mile of gravel and pot-holes and no sign of any ongoing road work. The stream of motorhomes and caravans heading back to their homes in Germany/Holland/Norway/Sweden bumped slowly along, as did we in the opposite direction, drivers waving in sympathy – or to warn of a pair of reindeer on the road. The surface improved for the next 8 miles, then another 4 mile stretch of rough stones ended at a roundabout at 50 miles: the relief of tarmac! We turned off for 2 miles into the busy town of Arvidsjaur, parking outside its Dollar Store for a coffee break, near the large and highly organised Gielas campsite we once used. It was still raining.

Back on E45, the Inland Road now headed north towards Jokkmokk. At 80 miles we turned left into the village of Moskosel, following signs to the Rallar (= Navvy) Museum at the railway station: a good place to park by the track for lunch. There is a small café and crafts shop at the free museum. The Inland Railway trains stop here for 20 minutes (at 11 am and 5 pm daily). Meanwhile, reindeer were happily grazing the embankment. Inside there was an exhibition of photographs and objects as well as a short film, adding to what we learnt of the line's history yesterday at Sorsele.

Ever north Arctic_Circle_(16).JPGon E45, the afternoon turned dry and sunny as we reached our goal: the Arctic Circle. It is well marked here in several languages, with a large parking area below the café/gift shop (open 10 am- 6 pm). Pay at the café for overnight parking with hook-up (staff come round after closing tiArctic_Circle_(25).JPGme).

A wonderful peace descended, once the café closed and tourists left. After strolling over the empty road to the calm lake shore, we turned into the forest behind our car park. Exploring an old campsite that was closed and deserted, we noticed a large and unmistakeable bear-print in the soft ground. A quick retreat followed! A couple of other motorhomes joined us for the night but we were most impressed by a young couple who arrived from the north by bicycle and put up a tent. It was late evening but, of course, still light.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/on-the-arctic-circle.html

Polar Circle near Jokkmokk to Gallivare Camping, Gallivare, Norrbotten – 65 miles (1,220 ft or 370 m asl)

Open 20 May-20 Sept (cabins all year). www.gellivarecamping.com/index.php/welcome-to-gallivare-camping/  SEK 220 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free (weak) WiFi.  Free use of washer and drier for 3 hours.  N 67.1290  E 20.6776

On to Jokkmokk (= river bend) 5 miles north of the Arctic Circle, a Sami capital where the 400-year-old annual Winter Market in early February is celebrated with reindeer racing on the frozen lake: www.jokkmokksmarknad.se/home/  We stopped to shop (both Coop and ICA supermarkets open, on a Sunday) and collect a map from the Tourist Office. They suggested the superb Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum 'Ajtte' and its Restaurant. We did spend a day there on our previous visit and thoroughly recommend both: www.ajtte.com/english/  The town also has a large campsite by the Little Lule River: www.arcticcampjokkmokk.se/en/

Today we continued north on E45, soon passing the first of a series of hydro-electric dams interrupting the Lule River system. Our road followed the river gorge leading to Porjus, the cradle of hydLille_Lule_Gorge_(19).JPGropower. At 28 miles we turned left to a viewpoint car park to follow the stepped boardwalk down to the Harspranget Falls – or rather the dry gorge where they once crashed over the rocks. The dam built to hold them back was finally opened in 1952 by the King of Sweden, while a memorial recorded the names of several of his subjects killed during the construction work in 1947-49.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/the-lille-lula-gorge.html

Another 6 miles along the Inland Road (and the Inland Railway), we came to the mighty buildings of the Vattenfall Power Station at Porjus. Pausing on the visitor car park for lunch, we discovered that free guided tours operate hourly from 10.30 am-4.30 pm. It was 1.25 pm, so we quickly joined a young Swiss couple about to take the tour with an English-speaking guide, a charming and knowledgeable young graduate called Ida. She took us into the magnificent halls of the original power station built in 1918 and still functional, though now replaced by a newer power centre. Equipped with hard hats, our little party descended 165 ft/50 m in a lift to tour the underground installations.

We opted to return to ground level up the winding emergency stairs, then viewed the exhibitions above. The original control room is preserved, complete with its magnificent Art Deco lamps. A truly memorable visit: http://powerplants.vattenfall.com/porjus  Vattenfall power company is wholly owned by the Swedish government and heavily involved in renewable energy (hydro, wind and solar power) in Europe. Environmentally-friendly? When we asked our guide if the native Sami reindeer herders had been consulted about the exploitation of their summer pastures, she replied that they were neither informed nor compensated. Porjus is now a small town, with fuel, shop and hotel: it never developed the power-hungry mining industry that was envisaged when Vattenfall moved in.

After the visit and a quick lunch, we continued north-east on E45, entering the Muddus National Park just 4 miles beyond Porjus. This is the south-east corner of Laponia, the vast World Heritage site of Swedish Lapland:  http://laponia.nu/en/  Alongside our road we glimpsed regular signs for the Rallarstigen (Navvies' Trail), a long-distance hiking path along the route taken by the navvies who built the Inland Railway, still with us until Gallivare, the mining capital of Europe.

Less than a mile before that terminus, we turned into the campsite. It's a popular site with touring pitches along the riverside, a youth hostel and an area of statics housing mine-workers. The facilities are good, including free use of the laundry room (max 3 hrs per visit).

At Gallivare

The rain that poured all night continued through the next day, all but flooding the site with mud and puddles. The grey Vassara River flowed fast and high: no boats or canoes out today, though a trio of local daredevil lads were jumping in off the bridge, swinging on a rope!  Mist shrouded Mt Dundret, home to a ski station above the town and a popular site for Midnight Sun watchers.  Feeling an Arctic chill for the first time this summer (it's still July!) we cancelled plans to walk into Gallivare or cycle up the hill to Dundret. Instead we spent the day indoors, doing laundry and struggling with the frustratingly feeble WiFi.

Gallivare has been a mining town since the late 19th C. In the early mining rush there was plenty of work but nowhere to live, leading to the establishment of the shantytown where the Malmberget Community House is open daily from noon to 3 pm (22 June-9 Aug) showing photos and film. The present iron and copper mines both offer guided tours year-round for a substantial fee. The LKAB iron ore mine at Malmberget is the second largest underground mine in the world, while the Aitik copper mine (which also produces silver and gold) is the largest open-cast mine in Scandinavia. Details and tickets from the Tourist Office at the railway station: www.gellivarelapland.se/en/Experience/Guided-tours/ 

Gallivare is also an important rail hub: the end of the Inland Railway from the south, it lies on the main line (freight and passengers) northwest to the iron-town of Kiruna and over the border to the Norwegian port of Narvik, or southeast to the Swedish port of Lulea on the Gulf of Bothnia. Easier than taking the iron ore to Lulea on reindeer sleds, as in days of old!

Gallivare to Sandlovs Camping Karesuando, Karesuando, Norrbotten – 133 miles (1,090 ft or 330 m asl)

Open June-Aug. SEK 150 inc 10 amp elec and showers. (No kitchen or laundry.) Good free WiFi coming from Tourist Office across the road (no password required!)  N 68.44073  E 22.4798

Leaving Gallivare on the E45 eastwards, we passed a shopping mall with Dollar Store and Coop Forum hypermarket, so stocked up with a roast chicken, frozen salmon fillets and a fill of diesel before heading for the remote Finnish border at Karesuando.

At 12 miles E45 joins E10 (the highway from the Gulf of Bothnia to Kiruna), turning north until the road splits at Svappavaara. The trees grew shorter and sparser the further we travelled, mostly silver birch up at this latitude. 70% of Sweden is covered by forest (much of the remainder being lakes) and the trees are 80% pine and 18% birch. Today the rain has stopped, the sun shines and the going is good, apart from a 2-mile stretch of bumpy gravel where road works await a layer of tarmac. Crossing the broad River Kalix at 39 miles we passed a large rest area on the left, suitable for an overnight, as we once did. The river flows southeast to the north shore of the Gulf of Bothnia at Kalix.

At Svappavaara, 11 miles later, we turned east with E45 (now named Via Lappia though we assume the Romans didn't get this far), leaving E10 to make its lonely way northwest to gritty Kiruna and beyond. Another 9 miles to lunch in the next rest area: a brand new one, with toilets and a lone pine tree surrounded by a fence. Other visitors were taking photographs – of a tree? 'It is very old and special' was the only explanation given!

In the village of Vittangi at 66 miles our road turned north once more across the mighty Torne River, past the little Trollsparvens Fishing Camp (left after the bridge). The Torne flows southeast to meet the Muonio River at Pajala and then continues south, forming the Swedish/Finnish border all the way to the Gulf of Bothnia at Tornea.

Road signs have given names in 2 languages since entering Norrland (Sweden's northern region) but now they show 3: presumably Swedish, Sami and Finnish, though we understand there are 12 Sami tongues, 2 of which are becoming extinct. Understand is not the right word but we do occasionally recognise a similarity with some Finnish words, eg Jokki (River) or Jarvi (Lake). That about exhausts our Finnish!

We are nearing the end of the Inland Road E45 that we joined at Mora. The highway runs the length of Sweden from Gothenburg to the Finnish border at Karesuando, a total of 1,031 miles/1660 km. In fact it continues through Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy to terminate in Gela in Sicily, forming Europe's longest North-South route with a complete length of 3,057 miles or 4920 km.

Approaching Sweden'sFinnish_Border_(14).JPG northernmost campsite in its northernmost village, the Sami settlement of Karesuando right on the river border, we saw more reindeer than cars, including beautiful white ones (deer, not cars). Beyond the shrubby silver birch loomed a view of treeless tundra. We love the feeling of space and light up here, as we settled happily on the simple campsite, opposite the church and the bridge to Finland.

There is no camp WiFi but we found a good connection to the signal coming from the Tourist Office on the bridge, which required no password and was not turned off after closing time!  

At Karesuando

Next day was very wet again and we spent the morning on-line, catching up with eFinnish_Border_(12).JPGmails and writing, thanks to our mysterious connection.

After lunch we donned raincoats to visit Sweden's northernmost tourist office, bridge, church, museum and school! A dozen Arctic Terns wheeled gracefully above the Muonio River, noted for its salmon, and there were young in the nests atop the tall street lights on the border bridge. The tourist office has a café, souvenir shop, free use of a pair of computers (as well as the WiFi) and plenty of information, though nothing on Finland, less than a mile away!  www.karesuando.se/kdo/turist/info-eng.htm

We learnt that in 1809, when Sweden lost its war with Russia resulting in the seFinnish_Border_(22).JPGparation of Finland, a new river border was formed here, dividing the Parish of Enontekio whose church now lay in Finland. A new Parish of Karesuando was formed on the Swedish side and the church erected in 1816, to be replaced by the existing wooden church in 1905. From 1826-1849 the pastor was the rural dean and botanist Lars Levi Laestadius, founder of the Laestadian Revival Movement which found followers in the United States. The simple wooden cabin in which he lived is a listed building.

The cabin was locked up but we were lucky to find the church door open. A young man setting up a sound system inside kindly played an audio tour in English for us, though he spoke not a word himself. The church interior is beautiful in its simplicity and very well maintained since renovation in 1954, with new windows and organ. The pulpit, font and altar rails are original. The colourful crucifixion sculpture in painted cement that hangs above the altar was made in 1961. Interestingly, the figures at the foot of the cross below Jesus are the pastor Lars Laestadius, his friend the preacher Johan Raattamaa, and a girl in Lappish costume, his 'disciple' Maria!

The large modern school at the heart of the village was built in 1993, its shape and central open fireplace inspired by the traditional Sami tepee. The strange structure on the roof represents reindeer antlers. It didn't work for us, but serves the surrounding population of around 1,000 with a welcome centre in the long darkness of the winter days.

Our final visit was to the Folklore and War Museum, café and assembly room, known as the White House. The imposing white wooden house, built as the district police residence in 1888, was used by the police until 1965. Its sauna was used as a 'louse sauna' during the evacuation of 1944-45. Unfortunately we discovered no more about WW2 and the activities of the Norwegian Reserve Police in this area, as the museum was closed.

INTO FINLAND

Most of the earlier points about Sweden apply to neighbouring Finland. Note that:

1.  The Finnish currency is the Euro (currently €1.4=£1).

2.  Finland is 1 hour ahead of the other Scandinavian countries (so 2 hrs ahead of the UK).

3.  LPG is NOT available in Finland.

4.  There are no motorway tolls.

5.  Many sites are members of the Finnish Camping Site Association. They are listed in a free booklet available at all member sites, and on www.camping.fi.  Most of them give a discount to holders of the 'Camping Key Europe' card and some have offers of an occasional free night.

6.  In summer reindeer roam the far north, particularly in Finland. Delightful – but devoid of road sense! They may graze the verges and cross the roads without warning including the E75 Arctic Highway, especially between Rovaniemi and Ivalo. If unfortunate enough to hit one, it must be reported to the police (ring 112). The same applies to Elks but they are far less common (we've seen only 2 in many visits to Scandinavia, compared with hundreds of reindeer!)

7.  Dipped headlights are compulsory at all times (even in summer).

Karesuando, Sweden to Tundrea Holiday Village, Kilpisjarvi, Lapland, Finland – 70 miles (1,635 ft or 495 m asl)

Open all year. www.tundrea.com/en/accommodations/tundrea-caravan   €25 inc 10 amp elec and unreliable WiFi. Showers €2 for 4 mins (no privacy).  N 69.01413  E 20.88235

Less than a mile from Karesunado, across the Muonio River bridge, we entered Finland and turned north on the E8, a quiet well-surfaced 2-lane road. On the Finnish side, the divided village is called Kaaresuvanto – a tiny place with a fuel station (diesel at €1.39 or around £1) and a souvenir shop. As we followed the 'Northern Lights Route' towards Norway, via Kilpisjarvi, the signs announced 'Area of Reindeer Husbandry' and we soon saw a pair grazing the verge.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/on-the-finnish-border.html

About 12 miles along E8 we passed the Lapland War Museum and café (open 22 June-18 September) where a section of the Jarama Fortifications (a WW2 German defensive position) have been restored, but the cold drizzle and dark sky didn't encourage a visit. The scrubby birch trees were very sparse as we followed the Muonio River border northwest along this salient of Finland. The mobile phone and SatNav readjusted to Finnish time, while the radio remained Swedish.

The E8 climbed gently through an uninhabited and almost treeless landscape, past an occasional ramshackle dwelling or reindeer corral. These are the Palsa Moors, peat bogs of the permafrost region (perennially frozen below the marshy surface). At 42 miles we lunched in a layby at 1,400 ft (425 m), by the high and fast-flowing Muonio. The occupants of a Finnish motorhome, dressed in wellies and camouflage kit underneath transparent plastic macs, were busy chopping up small branches for the fire to cook fish they'd caught. Salmon perhaps.

The road undulated for another 16 miles to reach Muotkatakka at 1,866 ft (565.6 m on the sign) – Finland's highest national road. Over this watershed, we drove alongside a long lake with the Swedish/Finnish border running through it. There was almost no traffic, just one bus heading south for Rovaniemi on Finland's Arctic Circle.

At 65 miles we entered Kilpisjarvi and what a mess this frontier town looks! On the right is a K-Market supermarket and fuel station, on the left a terraced campsite below a hotel (Tundrea Holiday Village). The view across the dark lake was of bleak fells flecked with snow and it was still raining. Unimpressed, we drove on a couple of miles to check out the second campsite (Retkeilykeskus), opposite the boat landing stage. Its restaurant buffet meal on offer at €14.90 until 9 pm looked tempting but the site itself was very muddy, gritty, scruffy and overpriced at €28.50 (inc showers and WiFi). We returned to the earlier site.

Here we were welcomed with free coffee and biscuits before finding a pitch between the many cabins. It was slightly cheaper, provided you didn't take a coin-operated shower in the sauna. Then we walked across to the K-Market, selling absolutely everything: food, clothes, knitting wool, tools, toys, household goods . . . After all, there are no other shops for many miles around.

We hoped the weather might improve next morning for an excursion to 'Treriksroset', a cairn at the meeting point of three countries: Sweden, Finland and Norway. This involves a 30-minute 8-km boat trip across Lake Kilpisjarvi (leaving the landing stage opposite Retkeilykeskus campsite at 10 am, 2 pm or 6 pm), then a hike of 3 km each way to the Monument, over a board walk onto a man-made island in Lake Koltapahtajarvi. The boat waits for around 2 hours before returning. This is only possible during the summer months as Lake Kilpisjarvi is frozen for 220 days a year! Alternatively, there is an 11-km hiking trail to the Three-Nations-Border through the Malla Strict Nature Reserve, home to rare fell plants and butterflies.

AUGUST 2015

Kilpisjarvi, Finland to Fosselv Camping, Straumfjord nr Storslett, Troms, Norway – 112 miles (sea level!)

Open 10 May-25 Sept. www.fosselv-camping.no  NOK 230 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Good WiFi.  N 69.83880  E 21.21058

Next day the rain had stopped but the lake and fells were blanketed in a thick cold mist, so we reluctantly decided against the boat trip and walk to 'Treriksroset'.

Before leaving Kilpisjarvi we did visit the Information and Nature Centre (entry free), a mile south down the main road. As well as interesting exhibitions and films about the environment of the wilderness area, flora and fauna, and the Malla and Saana Nature Reserves, it sold souvenirs, maps, permits and wilderness hut keys for those undertaking long-distance hiking or ski trails. We learnt that our onward road, following the line of an old cart track to the coast of Norway at Skibotn, was only built during the Second World War. Kilpisjarvi did not have a shop or electricity until much later and in fact only developed as a tourist centre in the last 10 years.

Driving north the E8 skirted the sacred fells of Saana and Halti to our right, Halti being Finland's highest fell at 4,370 ft (1324 m). Their spirits were once worshipped to ensure a good hunt; now they are popular for winter sports. At 5 miles we passed the old customs post, a mile before the Norwegian border. Entering the Troms Region, the scenery soon changed, with towering snow-flecked hills rather than bleak moorland – and the sun came out! Welcome to Norway.

Trees reappeared as we descended to sea level. Meeting the E6 highway at Skibotn at 32 miles, we turned north for Alta (rather than south for Tromso). We soon passed 2 campsites, before parking for lunch by the little fishing harbour. A separate cycle path alongside the E6 ended here, a mile out from Skibotn. With a blue sky over the broad blue fjord and cloud sitting on the surrounding mountains, this was picture-perfect Norway.

Continuing north on E6 alongside Lyngenfjord there was a short tunnel, then two more as we turned southeast along a side arm of Kafjord to Biertavarri at Kafjordbotn. The tunnels are well lit and free (no road tolls north of Tromso). Biertavarri had a Coop shop, fuel and a free-camping spot but no bank. Turning north up the other side of Kafjord, E6 twisted its way over a headland at 750 ft (227 m) then descended to follow another shore to Sorkjosen and Storslett. Stopping here, we did find a bank that was closed, with a sign saying 'No Foreign Exchange', but luckily it had an ATM that worked. On the way out of town we noticed a service station with LPG, which is not common in Norway.

It was another 7 miles to Fosselv and a campsite in a lovely setting on the Straumfjord. We settled in by the shore and Margaret asked the Receptionist for change, as the showers had a coin-op machine requesting 10 NOK for 8 minutes. 'No need, they are now free' was the answer. We wondered how many people still put money in!

Continued at: Summer in Norway and Finland 2015