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Summer in Norway and Finland 2015 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

SUMMER IN NORWAY AND FINLAND  2015

Margaret and Barry Williamson
September 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 of 1,630 miles (2600 km) to that country's northern border with Norway.

Described here is our journey through northern Norway and down through Finland which lasted 44 days as our Carado motorhome travelled 2,550 faultless miles (4080 km) to Helsinki and a ferry to Tallinn.

Continued from: Summer in Sweden 2015

Continued at: Summer in the Baltic Republics and Poland 2015 

See also our article: In the European Arctic 2015 

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


AUGUST 2015

INTO NORWAY

1.  The Norwegian currency is Krona (NOK), currently approx 12.7 NOK=£1 or 8.9 NOK=€1. Norway is not a member of the European Union, though it is in Schengen.

2.  There are autopass toll stations on motorways and main roads which operate on number plate recognition. See www.autopass.no/en/visitors-payment for full details of how to pay. In the far north, there are no more tolls beyond Tromso. Even the undersea tunnel to the island of Mageroya, where Nordkapp is situated, is now free.

3.  Campsite information is on www.nafcamp.no/en/ and www.camping.no/en/. Each of these also has a detailed booklet listing member sites, available free from campsites and tourist offices.

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

Map_Top_of_Norway.jpg
 Our route in the far north of Norway

For more information on the above map and route, click: In the European Arctic 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!

At Fosselv Camping

It poured steadily for the whole of the next day. The opposite banks of the fjord all but disappeared in a low mist that never lifted and the view of a high waterfall a mile or so inland had also vanished. We cancelled a proposed walk to the waterfall and spent the day on laundry and emails, with excellent facilities for both.

After a supper of corned beef hash, we watched an excellent BBC programme 'Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music', with some early film of Cash and June Carter touring in a Winnebago.

Straumfjord to Alta Strand Camping, Alta, Finnmark – 104 miles

Open all year. www.altacamping.no  NOK 270 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi.  N 69.92735  E 23.27075

On Sunday morning we woke early to a light drizzle and the sound of bells - rung by a flock of sturdy thick-fleeced sheep wandering through the campsite!

We drove everReindeers_(37).JPG-north on the E6, in the face of a lemming-like procession of RVs and caravans heading south. After 48 miles we crossed from Troms into Finnmark, the northernmost of Norway's counties. The road mainly followed the coast, with regular climbs over the headlands between fjords. The first such ascent took us up into the clouds with a motel and viewpoint at the top at 1,320 ft (400 m), though no view was to be seen. Signs warned of elk and reindeer on the misty birch-clad hillsides where a few patches of snow lingered.

Villages along the way, such as Badderen, had a store or two (Coop or Joker), fuel, a community hall/library and perhaps a Tourist Info Centre or a small museum. All the shops remained closed on Sundays. It was rare to see a café, so motorbikers or cyclists always stopped at those open. The 2-lane E6, which runs almost the length of Norway, is not good for cycling, being narrow and busy with no shoulder at all and many tunnels – as we know from past experience.

We passed many small campsites that were no more than a cluster of red-painted cabins by a shore with little space for tourers, as well as larger sites flying flags of allegiance to the NAF or ACSI groups. Tiny fishing harbours with a wooden jetty and a couple of boats were dotted along the coast.

It was very slow-going through Talvik at 77 miles, where the road had been washed away on both sides of a short tunnel. Then the E6 down the west side of Altafjord ran along a scenic corniche, perched above the sea and below rocky cliffs. A second stretch of pot-holed rubble was being bulldozed (working on a Sunday!) before another tunnel. 'Rekkverk Mangler' said the sign – indeed!

After Flintnes, at 92 miles, an impressive new bridge and tunnels cross the southwest corner of Altalfjord, shortening the route to Alta. This short cut does bypass the village of Kafjord, home of the Tirpitz Museum a mile or so along the old E6, so we drove to the museum first before returning to the bridge.

The Tirpitz Museum is signed up a side lane and it's a short walk through woodland from the small parking area. A large collection of pictures and artefacts tell the story of Germany's largest WW2 battleship, the Tirpitz, which was finally sunk by Lancaster Bombers off Tromso in November 1944. The private museum is only open mid-June to mid-August from 10 am-5 pm, entry NOK 80 (Seniors half-price). See www.tirpitz-museum.no for more.

Then it was back to the bridge and on to Alta, passing the Alta Museum (World Heritage Centre with ancient rock carvings). When we first saw the carvings, made by hunters some 7,000 years ago, they were freely accessible along a footpath above the sea. By the time of our second visit, a new indoor museum/visitor centre with entry fee blocked the path and we paid to go through. So today we just drove past – but it is one of the largest and most diverse sets of rock carvings in Europe and well worth preserving, which they appear to do with red paint. Open all year, NOK 105 (Seniors NOK 95). www.alta.museum.no and www.visitalta.no 

Shortly before the centre of Alta, we turned down rd 93 to the best of the three campsites at Ovre Alta, on the bank of the Alta River. It is popular and expensive but has good facilities, including free use of kitchens with cookers (as so often in Scandinavia).   

Alta to Havoysund Harbour, Havoya, Finnmark – 126 miles

Open all year. Free parking for motorhomes with free water and waste disposal. Coin-op hook-ups: NOK 10=3 kWh. Internet at Library.  N 70.99496  E 24.67205

Back to the E6 and on to Alta, the largest city in Finnmark. We parked at Bossekop, the old Dutch sailors' quarter, to stock up at a rare choice of supermarkets: Rema, Coop and Bunnpris. Pleased to find a hot roast chicken and fresh bakery goods including croissants, we also filled up with diesel before continuing north, soon crossing 70° N latitude where the real Far North begins (the Polar Circle was at N 66.55014, while Nordkapp is N 71.17250).   

After 16 miles Reindeers_(11).JPGwe left the coast of Altafjord to head northeast on E6 through a barren landscape of small scrubby birch trees and low cloud. Booms stood ready to close the road in winter. As we climbed to 825 ft (250 m) at Sarves and on to 1,270 ft (385 m) across Sennalandet it became increasingly bare, a treeless marshy tundra supporting only Arctic cotton grass and summer reindeer herders. We passed a couple of tiny Sami settlements advertising reindeer meat for sale, then the Sami village of Aisaroaivi with a few caravans and shacks and a small wooden church.

At 45 miles, down at 595 ft (180 m), we lunched in a large riverside rest area, disturbing a group of reindeer. They crossed the road, then obliged by grazing along the verge and posing for photographs. Two of them were white and all magnificently antlered.

Driving on in a fine drizzle, we turned east with the E6 at 57 miles in Skaidi, a small town with fuel, shop, hotel and café. At Olderfjord at 72 miles it was left onto E69 to head north, passing the Olderfjord Hotel and Russenes Camping after a mile. Another mile later, the E69 road turned right for Nordkapp but we have already made that pilgrimage three times (the first involving a ferry, in the days before the submarine tunnel opened).

Instead we now drove north on rd 889 to a new destination: Havoya Island. We had no argument with the National Tourist Route designation 'Scenic Arctic View Road'. It wound its way alongside the Arctic Ocean amidst wild natural scenery where bare mountains plunged straight down to the sea. In a layby at the tiny settlement of Lillefjord at 94 miles we stopped to walk and look up in awe at the dramatic cliffs of sedimentary rock abHavoysund_(32).JPGove the road. There was no traffic, no buses, no caravans or campers – all were on the tourist trail to/from Nordkapp.  At 118 miles at Selvika there was another good viewpoint by the water and another herd of delightful reindeer. We never tire of seeing them.

At the end of the road we crossed a bridge to Havoysund, the fishing and ferry port 2 miles further, on the small island of Havoya. By the harbour we found several free parking places for motorhomes with coin-operated hook-ups. We didn't explore further as it was now pouring with rain.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/havoysund.html

Havoya to Stabbursdalen Holiday Centre/Camping, Stabbursnes, Nr Lakselv, Finnmark – 88 miles

Open all year. www.stabbursdalen.no  NOK 250 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi at Reception/Café only.  N 70.17835  E 24.90909

It was still wet next morning, when we were woken at 8 am by the hooter anHavoysund_(10).JPGnouncing the arrival of the southbound Hurtigruten boat (next stop, Hammerfest). Originally an essential daily steamer carrying goods, fish, passengers and mail along the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, the ferries have grown into small cruise ships mainly carrying rich Americans, though it is still possible to travel between any of the stops – at a price. The return voyage takes 12 days: www.hurtigruten.com/travel-suggestions/norway/the-classic-round-voyage-bergen-kirkenes-bergen. Every port of call receives harbour dues from the two daily visits, an important source of income for the tiny fishing communities in the far north.

After breakfast we went over to the quayside to watch the Kirkenes-bound Hurtigruten 'Richard Worth' leaving to round the North Cape on its way to Honigsvag. There was also a smaller ferry taking a few cars to Hammerfest via a couple of nearby islands.

The rain eased as we walked round the small harbour town of Havoya, finding Havoysund_(18).JPGa library (free internet), police station, ATM (out of order), Coop supermarket, school and sports centre, hairdresser, florist, hotel, guesthouses and fishing trips on offer. At the far end stood the church, opposite a small Museum of Coastal Culture in the wooden house built as the priest's residence in 1950 (supposedly open 9 am-3 pm Mon-Fri, entry NOK 20). Both were closed.

Leaving at Havoysund_(22).JPGnoon, over the bridge to the mainland we paused at a viewpoint overlooking Havoya. A monument commemorated King Olav opening road 889, which was only completed in August 1988, reminding us of the importance of the coastal steamer. Even now, it serves settlements where roads may be closed in winter. We continued down this Arctic View Road along the western shore of the Porsanger Peninsula, stopping for lunch at 8 miles in the layby at Selvika with its curious concrete shelter. A herd of graceful reindeer were still grazing near the shore.

After another 35 miles of stunning coastal scenery we turned off briefly into Kokelv, a small Sami village with church, shop, harbour and tiny museum. Then rd 889 turned inland following the Russelva river for 13 miles until we met E69 (the road from Nordkapp). Two miles south we parked briefly at the enormous souvenir shop/tourist info/cafe by the Olderfjord Hotel, opposite the affiliated Russenes Camping. The shop sells everything from knitwear and jewellery to cheap souvenirs; takes Euros, US dollars, Swedish money and credit cards; speaks languages – everything tourists want and nothing that we need! Visit www.olderfjord.no  Every bus to/from Nordkapp stops here and the shop was swamped with German coach passengers. The campsite was charging NOK 200 (+ coin-op showers) but there was very little space and we decided to continue 30 miles down E6, following the shore of the massive Porsangerfjord to Stabbursdalen.

Just past the Stabbursdalen National Park Centre & Museum, there is a campsite/café on the right of the E6. It is a scruffy place (the high price reflecting its position on the E6 Nordkapp route). The 'holiday centre' is mainly cabins for anglers catching salmon in the Stabburselva river that runs alongside, though curiously there is also a wooden church on-site. We reluctantly parked on a muddy pitch, regretting that the alternative campsite nearer Lakselv has closed down. The camp kitchen was full of men preparing or cooking King Crabs and fish (apparently there are 4 other great salmon rivers within an hour's drive, not to mention lakes with char and trout); the WiFi in the café wouldn't connect; and the warden couldn't care less. To round it all off, the young son in a neighbouring German motorhome spent the evening beating his teddy bear into submission! What secrets could it confess?

Stabbursnes, Nr Lakselv to Mehamn Harbour 'Adventure Camp', Finnmark – 155 miles

Open all year. www.nordicsafari.no  NOK 280 inc 10 amp elec and use of shower and toilet at reception building. Free WiFi. No kitchen or washing up facilities. N 71.03677  E 27.83422

Before leaving Stabbursnes we walked across to the Nature House & Museum/National Park Centre (open daily in summer, 9 am–8 pm, NOK 60 for exhibition and video): www.stabbursnes.no. We learnt that the short shrubby pine trees in the Park constitute one of the world's northernmost pinewoods, some of them up to 500 years old. Exploring the Park (on foot or skis) means a 6-km gravel drive to a car park, beyond which 'anything with an engine' is banned. We chose to take a circular walk (no charge) in the much smaller Stabbursnes Nature Reserve, around the fjord behind the Nature House, but the signed path to the river estuary ended abruptly where an uphill section had been washed away, making it too slippery to tackle. Turning back, Margaret was rewarded with spotting a Red-Necked Phalarope on the water – a rare treat on this dry sunny morning.

Driving south down E6 to Lakselv (10 miles) there was a dead reindeer on the verge, the first such road kill we'd seen in Scandinavia. Lakselv (= Salmon River) proved a useful if soulless shopping centre, with 2 fuel stations, 3 supermarkets, an ATM and a Tourist Office inside a tepee (or Lavvo, as they are called here). Then we left the E6 to make its way to Karasjok, while we took the quieter and narrower rd 98 northwards, up the east shore of Porsangerfjord, shining a beautiful blue today.

At 18 miles we lunched on a large fjordside rest area along with a couple of other motorhomes. Continuing north we passed more parking areas, one of which was the starting point for a '2.8 km Nature & Geology Trail' round the water's edge to view Ice Age beach formations. At Borselv village (parking with WC, Coop, fuel) our road 98 crossed the river bridge and turned inland, climbing to 560 ft/170 m with a view of Borselv River down in Silfar Canyon, one of the deepest gorges in Europe. Continuing east, the gentle climb reached 610 ft/185 m as we crossed barren fells, the short trees rickety due to lack of sunlight.

Down in Kunes at 65 miles we checked out a very simple campsite with level gravel pitches and hook-ups. The facilities and reception were all locked, with a phone number and price list on the door: NOK 250 a night, or NOK 150 if staying a week. On through the tiny village (a church and a shop) and along the emptiest of roads, past Adamselv Power Station by Storfjord, then climbing away northeast to Ifjord, at 93 miles.

A campsite behind the petrol station and café at Ifjord crossroads sounded promising (NOK 220, WiFi in café). We parked, walked down the steep rough track to the camping, saw the state of the place and made our excuses. What were theirs? Rd 98 now turned east for Tana, but first we would take rd 888 north to the Mehamn and the world's northernmost mainland lighthouse at Slettnes.

It proved to be an excellent road, first following the coast, then reaching 1,150 ft/348 m, with some snow along the high verges before dropping to sea level once more at Hopseidet. The final climb was across the Nordkinn Peninsula, a black treeless rock-strewn wilderness, yet with enough sedge grass to sustain the plentiful reindeer. Fences and corrals were being erected, ready for the autumn round-up.

At 147Mehamn_(12).JPG miles rd 894 turned left to Kjollefjord but we stayed on rd 888 to Mehamn, 8 miles later. On entering the town, turn left to the Youth Hostel/Camp Reception by the harbour. There is no campsite, just an overpriced parking area with hook-ups between the road and the water. The only facilities are the use of toilets and showers at Reception, the Hostel café/restaurant was only open for booked parties, and the young man behind the desk could hardly be prised away from his computer. Small wonder that there were only two other campervans for company!

As we heated a pizza for supper, the eastbound Hurtigruten boat called in at 7.15 pm, causing a flurry of activity on the quayside.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/mehamn.html

Mehamn to Slettnes Nature Reserve Car Park, Nr Gamvik, Finnmark – 16 miles

Open all year. www.slettneslighthouse.com  Free parking at start of Nature and Culture Trails. WiFi and WC at nearby lighthouse café (open 8 June-16 Aug).  N 71.09066  E 28.1884

From Mehamn there is a marked hiking trail NW to Kinnaroden, the northernmost point of the Lighthouse_(19).JPGEuropean mainland, just 7 hours' walk each way in the summer months! We opted to drive via Gamvik to the world's northernmost mainland lighthouse, Slettnes Fyr.

Rd 263 climbed east over bare rocky tundra to 360 ft/110 m, then down to the tiny fishing village of Gamvik (12 miles) at N 71.05466 E 28.24911 with shop, church and a small museum of local history and coastal culture (open 7 June-17 Aug, 10 am-4 pm). A single-track road with gravel shoulders continued north for a mile, turning into a narrower gravel road for the final 2 miles (past a bird observatory which can be rented for NOK 400 per day) to the Slettnes lighthouse at N 71.08865 E 28.21773. This heritage building has a small parking area, café, accommodation and guided tours (open 8 June-16 Aug, 11 am-6 pm). The next tour (for NOK 50) was at 1 pm but we demurred, as it involved climbing the internal spiral stairs of the 128 ft/39 m high lighthouse.

We took in theLighthouse_(25).JPG exhilarating view and had an interesting lunch in the café. The fishcakes and bread were home-made ('by my neighbour in Mehamn' said the cook), followed by traditional waffles served warm with butter, cheese and jam. An exhibition told the history of the lighthouse. Built 1903-5, it was damaged by the Germans in WW2 and rebuilt in 1948. Manned until 2005, it is now automated. It felt a world away from Norway's southernmost lighthouse that we had visited by bicycle in the past, Lindesnes Fyr.

A track led west for half a mile to a much larger parking area Lighthouse_(64).JPGby the Slettnes Nature Reserve, where we joined a lone Dutch campervan. Two marked footpaths begin here - the Nature Path and the Culture Path. We followed the Culture Path round to Dutchman's Cove, with fantastic views over the Barents Sea and across to the lighthouse. The ground was covered in wild flowers, chives and red cloudberries (an Arctic delicacy, they turn pale pink when ripe in the autumn). The area is home to Norway's largest breeding colony of Arctic Skuas and we also saw many Wheatears gathering to migrate south. A magnificent reindeer stag watched us go by.

In the evening we watched a film of Shakespeare's 'Henry V' and compared it with Bernard Cornwell's version of the battle in 'Azincourt'. It was a calm night, only disturbed by the late arrival of two Norwegian motorhomes and a French family who put up a tent! The lighthouse beamed out across the sea, although it scarcely goes dark up here at this time of year.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/slettnes-lighthouse.html

Slettnes to Kjollefjord Harbour, Finnmark – 35 miles

Open all year.  NOK 200 inc 10 amp elec, water, waste disposal and WC. Showers NOK 10. Free WiFi at Tourist Info. No kitchen or washing up facilities. N 70.94883  E 27.33226

The weather was still calm and dry, though overcast. Reluctant to leave such an atmospheric place, we had a morning walk down to the shore in search of the cave where the folk of Steinvag fishing village hid in 1944. The Germans' scorched earth policy forced evacuation of their homes. That policy meant that houses were burnt down, fishing boats sunk, animals slaughtered, telephone links destroyed . . . often in winter.

Then it was Kjollefjord_(77).JPGsouth along the gravel road to Gamvik, to return west on rd 263 across the treeless fells to Mehamn (15 miles). After 7 miles south along rd 888 we turned west on rd 894. This climbed to 925 ft/280 m before descending through 'Norway's northernmost woods' (short spindly birch and willow) to Kjollefjord. Turn left on entering the sheltered harbour town, along to the Hurtigruten quay where there is a stony parking area for motorhomes, with 5 hook-ups and a small toilet block. A sign instructeKjollefjord_(29).JPGd campers to phone or call at the Tourist Info, or pay the collector who called around 6.30 pm.

After lunch we walked into the town (3 miles return) and shopped at the Coop. It was a pleasure to meet the charming Swiss student working at the Tourist Info office, who recommended a visit to the church. This beautifully simple chapel was rebuilt inKjollefjord_(88).JPG stone in 1951, thanks to the Danes, after the wooden church (in fact the whole town) were burnt down in December 1944, thanks to the Germans.

Back at the harbour all was quiet until the Hurtigruten 'Kong Harald' docked briefly at about 5 pm on its way from Honigsvag to Mehamn and ultimately Kirkenes. Later we had a good view of the sunset over Finnkirka, the churchlike rock formation at the entrance to the Kjollefjord, a sacred Sami site and landmark for sailors. www.visitnordkyn.com/Places/Landmarks-Sights/Finnkirka

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/kjollefjord.html

Kjollefjord to Ildtoppen Restaurant/Motel/Overnight Parking, Austertana, Finnmark – 157 miles

Open all year. Parking NOK 100 inc 10 amp elec, water, waste disposal. WiFi and WC in restaurant/bar when open. No shower, kitchen or washing up facilities. N 70.44173  E 28.48566

Back along rd 894, climbing east through Norway's northernmost Skog (woods) onto the stony tundra, where snow-fences stood ready. After 13 miles we turned south on rd 888, crossing once again the empty rock-strewn landscape, where snow still lingered in shady hollows. We dropped down to sea level at Hopseidet on the Eidsfjord, before an 8% ascent across Nordkinnvegen to a max of 1,140 ft/348 m. Wheatears darted in front of us. At 36 miles we had a coffee break in a rest area, complete with shelter and WC, by the bleak Reinoksvatna Lake up at 995 ft/302 m.

Then it was a 13-mile descent to sea level at Bekkafjord, where green mosses, sedge and cotton grass flourished. We were curious about a parking area here, next to a raised barrier and a public building with 'Kolonnetider' (convoy timetable), sitting room, dining room for 8, and WC. It's for the use of motorists waiting for the next snow-plough-led convoy north over rd 888 in the winter months. At one time a ferry had run between Kalak and Kifjord when the 888 was closed – now replaced by the convoys.

Continuing round the coast via Lebesby (church and shop/café), there was grass enough for cows and horses, below a wilderness barely supporting reindeer! At 69 miles we turned east onto rd 98 at Ifjord, past the café/campsite and over the Ifjord Fells (max 1,220 ft/370 m). Lunch was in a rest area at 83 miles, up above 1,000 ft at 330 m, where we were joined by a pair of Finnish motorhomers who went fishing in the nearby tarn. Reindeer were already gathered inside rough fencing along here, ready for the round-up.

There were then 3 miles of rough unmade road, before another 4 miles of tarmac down to the little harbour at Sjursjok. Unsurprisingly, the 21-mile stretch of road from Ifjord to this point is closed in winter. We continued along the still bumpy rd 98, meeting the mighty salmon-fishing Tana River at 108 miles, where we turned south through Tana village to follow the river downstream for 20 miles to its first bridge at Tana Bru, a busy service centre with fuel, supermarket and accommodation. Motorhomes circled like predators at this vital crossroads!

After a fill of diesel and shopping at Rema, we checked out the Elva Hotel & Camping. The charge was NOK 260 a night, plus showers at NOK 20, for a scruffy pitch behind the hotel by a busy road - an offer easily refused. We crossed the river on the famous bridge and turned south for a couple of miles to Skippagurra and the busy Familie Camping site: another disappointment, though cheaper (NOK 220 inc showers). It had a rough area of grass for campers surrounded by cabins, with hook-ups at the end of long dangerous cables trailing on the ground.

Leaving, we drove north on rd 890 up the eastern side of the Tana River, anticipating a night on the road. A surprise awaited us at Austertana, a village at the foot of the Tanafjord, where a hotel/restaurant next to the petrol station, opposite the church, had a motorhome sign! The friendly receptionist indicated that we could park at the rear, with a hook-up from a cabin wall. We settled in and continued watching the BBC's 'Singing Detective' serial on the laptop as rain began to fall. 

Austertana to Berlevag Camping & Apartments, Berlevag, Finnmark – 56 miles

Open 1 June-30 Sept (rooms all year). www.berlevag-pensjonat.no  NOK 240 inc 16 amp elec. Good free WiFi. Showers NOK 10. Excellent facilities. N 70.85716  E 29.09933

From Austertana rd 890 turned inland, with a raised barrier and snow-plough-convoy timetable 5 miles along. We continued northeast, soon leaving the sparse birch trees behind as we climbed to 1,090 ft/330 m on Kongsfjord Fell. At 20 miles we turned north for Berlevag, rather than rd 891 to Batsfjord. Scattered Sami settlements of turf-roofed cabins and wood stacks dotted the greener fells as we descended to sea level at the fishing village of Kongsfjord, 16 miles later.

Kongsford Landhandel og Café, the lovingly restored Guldbrandsen Trading Station (established 1894 by Savaldus Guldbrandsen), is now a small café/shop/bakery/museum still run by the family: www.kongsfjordlandhandel.no. One of very few pre-war houses in the far north, it was probably saved by the fact that a German WW2 coastal fortress (with a staff of 350 Nazis) lay nearby. In the 1920s Kongsfjord had a population of 300 and 21 fish processing plants, compared with 30 people and 2 plants today: these fishing communities in the extreme north are in serious decline. There is also a guesthouse, restaurant and hostel in restored 19th century farm buildings on the Veines Peninsula accessed by a 1-km gravel road from Kongsfjord. We decided to investigate on our return journey from Berlevag, as it was now raining heavily.

The magnificent Arctic Road threaded its way north for 20 miles along the weather-beaten coast to Berlevag. The forces of nature have folded, twisted, eroded and shattered the cliffs above the road, while out to sea Eider Ducks were diving and the rocky outcrops were thick with Cormorants. On the way into the fishing port there is a modern hostel and campsite of which we'd heard excellent reviews.

The officiousBerlevag_(66).JPG Swiss owner, Dieter, showed us round the exemplary spotless facilities: kitchen, laundry, sitting room and toilet/showers, all part of the hostel accommodation. The camping area was less salubrious, being a muddy grass field with no marked pitches. Dieter's wife, Danielle, is a glassblower and artist who runs the Arctic Glass Studio – the largest shop in the town – while he is an artistic photographer. We made full use of the laundry, showerBerlevag_(31).JPGs and kitchen, under the watchful eyes of the control freak in charge, who had taken exemption to our pointing out the contrast between the impeccable hostel and the unkempt campsite.

Every evening Berlevag sees two Hurtigruten ships at once, one in each direction, with much sounding of ships' horns. We went out at 10 pm to watch the 'Midnattsol' boat enter the harbour, leaving just as the smaller 'Lofoten' arrived at 10.15 pm. A lovely and well choreographed sight – especially for the town which needs the jobs and the harbour dues.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/berlevag.html

At Berlevag Camping & Apartments, Berlevag 

Talking to Marike next day, the friendlier Finnish receptionist, we learnt that the Swiss owners had started the business here 20 years ago, after coming up on motorbike holidays in the 1980s. On a fine, if windy, morning we walked round the town, which has a Spar shop, pub, take-away, church, school, hairdresser, fuel, library, ATM, male voice choir and harbour museum. 'All you need' said Marike, who also works at the Glass Studio.

Ride 1 (24 km):Berlevag_(34).JPG After lunch we cycled round the Hurtigruten Quay, side-tracked to see the Graves of two Pomor (Russian) traders from around 1910, then rode east along rd 890 into an Arctic head wind as far as the Kjolnes Lighthouse (8 km), a small square lighthouse that was being repainted. Accommodation in simple twin-bedded rooms is available in the former keeper's quarters, where there was a very welcome café serving coffee and waffles from noon until 5 pm, summer only.

Returning to Berlevag, we cycled on for anotherBerlevag_(72).JPG 4 km west of the town, past the cemetery and a small airport, to the end of the bitumen where we turned back. A gravel road continues southwest for another 18 km to the abandoned fishing village of Molvik, burnt down in 1944 (guess who?)

After a dinner of salmon risotto (frozen salmon fillets are the bargain buy in Norway), we responded again to the Call of the Hurtigruten, watching the two ships manoeuvre below a beautiful double rainbow over the harbour in a brief rain shower.

Next morning was spent onBerlevag_(78).JPG domestic chores and emails. Then a sunny afternoon and lighter wind tempted us out on the bicycles.

Ride 2 (33 km): Cycled past Kjolnes Lighthouse and on towards Kongsfjord, along the wonderful Arctic Road between the ocean (calm enough to reflect the clouds overhead) and the towering rocks tumbling down in a rolling scree. We paused only to watch the Eider Ducks, Gulls and Shags – and a majestic reindeer – but turned back at 16 km as dark clouds threatened. We just made it back to camp for a pot of tea before thunder rumbled and huge rain drops fell.

Berlevag to Batsfjord Harbour Parking, Batsfjord, Finnmark – 58 miles

Open all year. Parking NOK 100 inc elec (honesty box system). Water available, no other facilities. No WiFi. N 70.63181  E 29.71650

Before leaving Berlevag we walked across to the Harbour Museum (open 10 am-6 pm, NOK 40) and were very impressed with the exhibits about the harbour, fishing, shipping and the Second World War. The super young guide, Emma from Ystad in Sweden, showed us a 20-minute film about the building of the mighty breakwaters and harbour walls completed in 1975, an astonishing construction made up of concrete tetrapods. Then we browsed among the photographs, boats and locomotive engine, glad that the port appeared to be thriving.

Then we travelled the lovely Arctic Road for the last time, driving south to Kongsfjord. We did turn off for the Veines Peninsula, along half a mile of gravel road to the old wooden farm/guest houses and site of the German WW2 command, but there was nowhere to park and explore. In Kongsfjord, at 22 miles, we stopped for lunch opposite the Guldbrandsen Trading Station, which was serving coffee and waffles (naturally!)

Continuing on rd 890 over the bleak fells past Sami settlements, we climbed through a downpour to 775 ft/235 m at the junction with rd 891 at 38 miles, where we turned northeast for Batsfjord. There was a now-familiar raised barrier and convoy timetable at the junction by the Highways Depot. The sky brightened as we drove over Batsfjord Fell (max 1,180 ft/358 m) where a small herd of reindeer was on the move between the pockets of perma-snow.

Descending to the fishing port of Batsfjord, which rivals Berlevag for the title 'Biggest fishing village in Northern Norway', we found the Tourist Office on the mBatsfjord_(11).JPGain street. They supplied a town map and directions to the new motorhome parking area, where we were lucky to get the last available hook-up. We didn't explore further as it rained heavily all evening. The weather changes by the hour up here. The Hurtigruten called at about 8 pm en route to Berlevag; the eastbound ship arriving around midnight.

After dining on tuna-pasta bake and home-made jam and coconut sponge, we watched the final episode of the Singing Detective, the end of 6 evenings of amazing drama.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/batsfjord-and-hamninberg.html

Batsfjord to Vestre Jakobselv Camping, Vestre Jakobselv, Finnmark – 99 miles

Open 1 June-31 Aug (rooms all year). www.vj-camping.no  NOK 200 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free use of laundry with washer and drier. Free WiFi at Reception only. Excellent restaurant.  N 70.11888  E 29.33370

On a fine morning, we shopped at the Coop in Batsfjord before heading back along rd 891, climbing over the treeless fells. Such a pity that there is no road round the north of the Varanger Peninsula linking Batsfjord to Varda.

Joining rd 890 after 20 miles, we continued southwest over the 1,070 ft/325 m plateau, then down to Austertana on the Tanafjord, a verdant area with cows grazing at a farm. At 40 miles we passed the Ildtoppen Motel where we'd parked overnight, with a view across the fjord to a working quarry. Retracing our route south, we lunched by the river at 68 miles, just beyond the Tana Bru bridge, in a rest area where a sign suggested '6 Hours Maximum Stay'. At Skippagurra we turned east on the E6/E75, past the campsite, over a low hill (460 ft/140 m) and down to Varangerbotn (at 78 miles) at the head of the wide blue Varangerfjord. Here there is a useful supermarket, ATM and fuel, as well as a small Sami Museum (closed).

Taking the E75 National Tourist Route along the north shore of Varangerfjord, we passed the pretty white church of Nesseby on a little promontory. There were numerous picnic areas and viewpoints, the Varanger being popular for bird watching (Puffins, Eider Ducks, Guillemots, Gannets) and King Crab fishing - and for motorhoming, with plenty along this route.

In Vestre Jakobselv (small shop, school and fuel), we turned left at the sign, 1 km to the campsite. It is actually a Christian Mission with a camping area and cabins. The warm and friendly Reception is at the central building, where there is more accommodation, games room, dining room and a meeting/service room.

Margaret made full use of the free laundry, before dinner booked in the Mission restaurant for 7 pm. Although we found ourselves the only diners, we were served an excellent dish of reindeer stew, potatoes and salad, followed by coffee and biscuits. And no-one questioned our beliefs.

At Vestre Jakobselv Camping:

A drive of 169 miles return, to Hamningberg and back

Next day we drove the E75 National Tourist Route (one of 18 in Norway), through Vadso and Vardo to the end of the road at Hamningberg, then returned to Vestre Jakobselv for a second night.

Our first stop was 10 miles east at Vadso, a large harbour town with supermarkets, etc. A couple of miles later we passed Vadsoya's historic Mooring Mast, where the airship of the Amundsen-Ellsworth Transpolar Flight was tethered on its way to overfly the North Pole in 1926. Continuing past small settlements with sheep grazing the roadside, we followed the coast northeast through Skallelv, a tiny village and church at 30 miles.

The small fishing village of Kiberg, 20 miles later, was presaged by drying racks of fish, a field of herded reindeer and a cemetery with a white picket fence. In a strong NW wind, a white-haired woman was mowing the grass, chopping the heads off a lovely array of daisies in front of her house. Why bother, we wondered – it will snow soon enough! We parked by the Partisan Museum and War Memorial, listing the names of 16 men from Kiberg plus 9 from nearby villages, killed in 1940-45. A newer Russian monument commemorated 'The 9 men of Russia and Norway who fell in the battle against Fascism on 9 May 1940'.  Sadly the Museum was closed and we learnt no more.

Our next stop was at the port of Vardo, the easternmost point of Norway, on the same longitude as Istanbul. Actually on an offshore island, it is accessed by a toll-free 3-km long underwater tunnel that drops 55 ft/88 m below the sea. We lunched by the harbour and Hurtigruten quay at 59 miles, then parked near the well-signed Steilneset Monument and walked the path to a weird modern artwork in memory of 91 people condemned to death for witchcraft in this part of Finnmark in the 17th century. Entry was free, but it's not for those who feel nervous in a dark confined space. Vardo's other attraction is the neat Vardohus, the world's northernmost and Norway's oldest active fortress, in a highly strategic position. It was built in 1738 on the site of two older forts, dating back to 1300.  Open all year, entry NOK 30, but we didn't linger as we have visited it before.

Returning to the mainlaHamningberg_(26).JPGnd through the tunnel, we turned north at Svartnes on the minor rd 341 up the coast of the Varanger Peninsula National Park (Norway's largest) to the abandoned fishing village of Hamningberg – a new experience, which would have been impossible in previous larger motorhomes! The narrow road led through a craggy landscape between cliffs and the Barents Sea, where jagged pink rocks sliced into the water. On the empty fHamningberg_(18).JPGells we saw reindeer, a scattering of Sami dwellings and a couple of people picking cloudberries.

At the end of this 25-mile road there is a large gravel car park at the entrance to the tiny fishing village (N 70.54159  E 30.60387). We walked past empty turf-roofed shanties and larger houses, then out along a rusting rail track to the former harbour, all abandoned. Ironically, Hamningberg escaped the destruction of WW2, only to lose its battle with the Norwegian government over post-war harbour development. The pier needed to accommodate larger fishing vessels did not materialise and the population was finally resettled in 1965.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/batsfjord-and-hamninberg.html

We returned on the same road (there is no other) in a fine misty drizzle, marvelling again at the barren landscape of rock and stone, with esker-ridges plunging to the shore and lichens of every hue. At 113 miles we rejoined the wider E75 at Svartnes and followed the coast back to Vestre Jakobselv.

A Rest Day

Our final day at the friendly Christian Mission campsite was spent writing, planning, baking (bread and a chocolate cake) and making further use of the free laundry. We also had another excellent pre-booked meal in the restaurant: fresh salmon with a variety of vegetables, coffee and biscuits, again dining alone. How kind of them to cook just for us.  

Vestre Jakobselv to Ovre Pasvik Camping, Vaggatem, Finnmark – 150 miles

Open mid-April to mid-Oct (Cabins all year.) www.pasvikcamping.no and www.pasvik-cafe.no  NOK 250 inc 10 amp elec. Showers NOK 10. No WiFi. N 69.21257  E 29.15610

We returned west on E75 for 20 miles, back to Varangerbotn and a fill of diesel, before joining the E6 for Kirkenes. After following the southern shore of the Varangerfjord for the next 26 miles, we paused in a large rest area (picnic tables and WC) for a final view of the fjord, across to Vestre Jakobselv. This was at N 70.00071 – our last stop above latitude 70° N - before the E6 turned south and inland. An information board described the Varanger Peninsula National Park as one-third boulder-field with willow shrubs and heath; a glacial moraine with ridges formed by melting rivers; the domain of Arctic Fox, Skua, Arctic Tern and Snowy Owl, as well as rare flowers such as the Varanger Poppy. There are also ancient Sami sacred sites. It had been a privilege to travel its boundary – there are no vehicular roads through.

Then it was south, passing nothing but a few rest areas and scattered reindeer, to the bridge and road junction at Neiden (2 churches, hotel and pub), just 6 miles from the Finnish border on rd 893 which we would later take. Continuing on E6 towards Kirkenes, the sight of Russian cars on the road reminded us of that more sensitive border. As we drove through 5 miles of 'Military Restricted Area' past the South Varanger Garrison camp and airfield, we noticed how much smoother the onward road became!

At 93 miles we stopped to check Kirkenes Camping (actually at Hesseng, 4 miles before Kirkenes). It was open and empty, with a notice that the owner would call around 6 pm for payment. After making lunch we decided to take a minor road south down the Pasvik Valley, covering new ground for us. We turned right between twin petrol stations onto rd 885, which follows the river border with Russia and ends in an unsealed track to another three-country-border cairn (Norway/Finland/Russia), the 'Treriksoysa' in the Ovre Pasvik National Park. This is Brown Bear territory, in one of Norway's largest surviving areas of virgin pine forest – an extension of the Siberian 'Taiga'.

The bumpy road toVaggatem_(15).JPGok us through Bjornevatn (= Bear Water), an unlovely iron-mining town with road works and heavy mine traffic. The borderland scenery of lakes and forest improved as we drove south, through increasingly taller trees and along the River Pasvik, while the neglected road seriously deteriorated. There were regular signposts in several languages prohibiting crossing the river into Russia, or even communicating with the other side.

At 115 miles in the village of Svanvik (school, shop and church), we turned off to the Ovre Pasvik National Park Centre, open daily 9 am-8 pm (weekend 10 am-6 pm) from 8 June-17 Aug; and Mon-Fri 9 am-3 pm for the rest of the year: www.pasvik.no. The site also houses the Bio-Research Earth & Environment Centre, and there was a Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority van in the car park next to the lovely botanical garden. Entry to the information centre is free, with an extremely helpful assistant, toilets and an overpriced café.

One important purpose of the Centre is to research the forest's Brown Bear population, in co-operation with Russia and Finland. For NOK 50 (Seniors 30) there is a splendid exhibition about the flora and fauna of the area, including the bird life, some of the world's northernmost elk and of course the bears, with a fascinating film. We learnt a lot but still hope not to meet Ursus Arctos (known in the US as the Grizzly), second only to the Polar Bear in size, even if they are not mainly carnivorous! Bears really do like honey – and ants, plants and berries.

Before leaving Svanvik, we drove down to the river bank, with a view of the nickel smelter across the water in the Russian settlement of Nikel: an eyesore and an obstacle in Norway-Russian relations for decades. The Pasvik River, rising at Lake Inari in Finland, is regulated by the dams of 5 hydro-electric schemes (3 Russian, 2 Norwegian) as it flows through the borderland to reach the sea near Kirkenes. 

Having confirmed that Ovre Pasvik Camping was open and only 35 miles further, we continued south, swaying and bumping along the terrible rd 885 at a maximum of 15 mph  - a journey of over 2 hours that we later regretted. At Skogfoss, 12 miles after Svanvik, we passed the watch towers of a Norwegian garrison guarding a power station. It was a great relief to reach the small riverside campsite with its café, cabins, bike and canoe hire, where the owner's daughter directed us to a small area for tourers. A beautiful setting among ancient woodland, bogs, lakes and river meant plenty of mosquitoes, but we had other problems – not least, a blinking dashboard warning light.

Inside the motorhomeVaggatem_(16).JPGeverything was securely fastened down but when we opened the 'garage' we found the stacked plastic crates in dreadful disarray, wrecked or cracked, contents spilling out. The next 2 hours were spent emptying and sorting the garage, securing the stuff as best we could and checking the bicycles over (fortunately undamaged). Any plan to travel further south on Norway's Worst Road was rapidly abandoned!

After dinner we met the other campers: a group of 16 bird-ringers, here for a fortnight working on a project run by Stavanger Museum and the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology). They had flown out from Manchester via Oslo to Kirkenes (the volunteers, that is, not the birds) and hired cars from Rent-a-Wreck (ideal for rd 885). The dedicated group showed us the fine nets strung between trees in the forest in the hope of ringing a Great Grey Owl, though mostly they had trapped Willow Warblers. It was their third summer in Norway, based last year at Nesseby on the Varangerfjord's northern shore and before that at Slettnes Nature Reserve near the lighthouse, both spectacular places we knew.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/vaggatem.html

Vaggatem to Kirkenes Camping, Hesseng, Nr Kirkenes, Finnmark – 65 miles

Open 1 June-1 Sept. (No website currently available.) NOK 240 inc 16 amp elec. Showers NOK 20 (too much!) Free (weak) WiFi. N 69.69911  E 29.95000

Before leaving we had an interesting talk with the owner of Ovre Pasvik Camping, who lVaggatem_(19).JPGives on a nearby farmstead where her husband's Sami grandfather once farmed reindeer. She explained that he had to give them up, as there were too many deer for the local food supply. She did confirm that brown bears are fairly common hereabouts and showed us photographs of bear cubs playing in her meadow. Her two teenage sons are bussed to school in Svanvik every day - 66 miles return on the wreck of a road – and that is also her nearest shop. The road is in such a poor state because it was built across unstable marshy bogs through a landscape shaped by the last Ice Age.

We reluctantly retreated from the Pasvik Valley, crawling along on rd 885, wondering all the time what further damage the motorhome might suffer. We stopped at the National Park Centre in Svanvik to chat to the Receptionist about the ornithologists and eat lunch (our own – the café was charging NOK 165, about £13, for a single bowl of reindeer soup and bread: expensive even by Norwegian standards).

As we left Svanvik we photographed the replica of the Three-Country-Border cairn with its three posts in national colours. Access to the actual cairn, at the remote southern end of Ovre Pasvik National Park, is difficult even in summertime, and circumnavigating it is prohibited as it means crossing the Russian frontier. The junction of Norway, Finland and Russia is one of the few points in the world where three different time zones meet.

Approaching the northern end of rd 885 we passed the iron mine at Bjornevatn, with signs of civilisation – road works, cycle path and shops – before meeting the E6 at Hesseng, turning west for one mile and seeking refuge at the campsite.

The offhand owner did indeed call round in the early evening to collect money from the few campers: clearly the only interest she took in the site. When Margaret pointed out that NOK 20 for a short shower was double the usual price, she retorted that showers had to be cleaned. There was little evidence of that!

At Kirkenes Camping, Hesseng, Nr Kirkenes

It was only 4 miles to the end of the E6 in Kirkenes, where there is free parking for motorhomes on the harbour by the Hurtigruten terminus.

We heard Russian spoken in this frontier port and the signs in streets and stores are in Norwegian, English and Russian. There are many memorials to victims of the Second World War when Kirkenes, held by the Germans yet less than 10 miles from Russia, was the most bombed town on the European mainland, its air raid siren sounding over 1,000 times. The history is told in the Borderland Museum & Art Gallery, open daily 10 am-6 pm (closes 3.30 pm in winter), NOK 50, Seniors 40.

We bought new crates for our 'garage', stocked up with food and diesel and had the motorhome checked over, the latter causing some delay to our onward journey, but at last we were ready – and more than ready for a change of scene and weather. The windswept Arctic coastal villages, plateaus and wilderness of Eastern Finnmark had proved a fascinating new experience but the gentler forests and lakes of our favourite Nordic country, Finland, beckoned, with hopefully more opportunity to cycle.

FROM NORWAY BACK INTO FINLAND

A reminder that:

1.  Unlike Norway, Finland is an EU member and 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).

Kirkenes to Jokitorma Holiday Village, Kaamanen, Lapland, Finland – 104 miles (530 ft or 160 m asl)

Open 1 June-30 Sept (Youth Hostel and cabins all year). www.jokitorma.net/en  €23 inc elec (including €2 discount for Camping Key card, which also gives 5th night free). Free showers. Free WiFi inside and outside Hostel/Reception only. N 69.09270  E 27.18118

Driving west on E6 weVaggatem_(46).JPG soon met serious road works on the bridge over Langfjord and waited to be led in convoy along a one-way section. On past the military airport, then down the side of the calm blue Munkfjord. At 23 miles in Neiden we turned left on rd 893 towards Finland, parking just past the junction to walk down a short path to watch the waterfall. The Neiden is a great salmon river, with a Salmon Fishing Festival in July.

Continuing down rd 893 we passed a fishing camp by thFIN_Border.JPGe River Neiden at 25 miles, 4 miles before the Finnish border and customs post. Signs (in Norwegian, English and Russian) marked the end of the 'Local Permit Zone' for Russians, with no entry to the EU without a visa. Reindeer can move more freely, with their own stile to cross the fence!

Advancing our watches from 1 pm to 2 pm, we drove southwest on rd 971 through the border village of Naatamo, which offered camping at the Raja Motel and diesel at €1.33. Nice to see a familiar currency. Welcome to Lapmi (Finnish Lapland), with its mixed trees, blue lakes and blue sky - an Area of Reindeer Husbandry. A magnificent specimen of antlerhood ran across the road near the sign to prove it!

Following the lie of the land and the water, our empty road wound its way between dozens of shining lakes and tiny settlements, past Sevettijarvi (a café/handicrafts shop and camping by the lake) and on to Partakko. The birch leaves were already tinged with gold, as Ruska (autumn) approached in the third week of August. At 83 miles we passed a small lakeside campsite at Hietajoki on the western shore of huge Lake Inari, 20 miles before meeting the E75. Finland's 'Arctic Highway' runs the length of the country, from the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, across the Arctic Circle at Rovaniemi and ever-north to the Norwegian border at Utsjoki. www.e75lapland.com

We turned north along E75 for one mile to the youth hostel and camping, a mile beKaamanen_(11).JPGfore the village of Kaamanen. Run by a very gentle and friendly couple, it's a peaceful place by the Kaamanen River, an idyllic setting apart from swarms of mosquitoes. The interesting tree sculptures around the site were made by the woman's father, who started the 'holiday village'. Breakfast can be ordered and naturally, this being Finland, there is a riverside sauna.

WiFi is only available in the hostel building, so we took the laptop up to the comfortable sitting room to catch up with emails. The visitors' book made interesting reading, signed by guests from all nations (including Japan) staying in winter to witness the Northern Lights and learn cross-country skiing.

At Jokitorma Holiday Village, Kaamanen

The next few days were beautifully sunny with a light south wind, perfect for cycling.

Ride 1 – A circular route on E75 and minor roads (40 km): Cycled north with a baKaamanen_(19).JPGck wind on E75 for 1.5 km to Kaamanen village (shop, fuel and café) and on to pause at the War Memorial 2.5 km later, a stark monument of rusty metal. The information board says it all: '… The battles of these light infantrymen in the wilds of Lapland were brought to an end in Kaamanen, Inari, towards the end of October 1944. 774 killed, 262 missing, 2904 wounded'. As we read these poignant words, we were joined by a Finn and his wife from Helsinki, driving to Utsjoki on holiday. He told us that his father's brother was one of the 774 dead, and he was named after the uncle he never knew. An amazing coincidence, we felt honoured to hear his story.

Continued up the E75, past the junction where rd 92 turns of for KKaamanen_(22).JPGarigasniemi (at 6 km), to a café that was signed in another 5.5 km. The Sami-run café/hotel/campsite was excellent, with good coffee and home-made pastries and buns. We chatted with the young male assistant, also from Helsinki. Tattooed and intelligent, he had worked in London and Paris but now intended to stay up here until November to see the Aurora Borealis. 'It can reach minus 40° C here' he said 'but at least it's a dry cold'.  

We returned south to the road junction and took rd 92 for 1 km west,Kaamanen_(25).JPG across the Kaamasjoki River bridge. Then we turned left along a dirt road that rolled gently through the forest. No bears here, just one red squirrel, 2 reindeer stags splashing along the edge of a lake to cool down, and one dog that chased us from its remote master's gate. After 10 km of gravel, we were grateful to join a minor tarmac road that led past a massive wooden bird observation tower, then by a Sami settlement village and a reindeer research centre, until we finally crossed the river again and met the E75 highway 10 km south of the campsite. Turning north, we had an easier road and a tail wind home.

Back at the campsite we were surprised to find a dozen new arrivals: a Finnish caravan/camper rally that stayed only one night.

Ride 2 – Inari and return (55 km): Cycled south down E75 to Inari. The road was quiet until we approached the lakeside town that is the Sami capital of Finland - home to the Sami parliament, radio station and educational institute. At 'Siida', the splendid modern Sami Museum & Nature Centre, the car park was busy with coaches and motorhomes. Entry to the café/restaurant, shop and information desk is free; tickets for the museum (including an outdoor section in summer) cost €10, Seniors €8. Open daily 9 am-8 pm from 1 June-19 Sept; 10 am-5 pm (closed Monday) the rest of the year. This national museum of the Finnish Sami is the best in Lapland and, from a previous visit, we can also recommend the lunch buffet served from 11 am-5 pm. www.siida.fi  Today, though, we rode on into the centre of Inari and had lunch at the Pa-pa-na pub next to the bus station (excellent burgers with freshly cooked chips and free coffee, while the TV showed 'Last of the Summer Wine' with subtitles). We watched seaplanes taking off for scenic flights over the lake (Finland's third largest), then retraced our route along the E75 to the campsite.

We were impressed to find a pair of Swiss cyclists putting up a small tent but it transpired that they had only ridden from Inari (17 miles)! On a 3-week 'cycling holiday' they had travelled by train from Basel to Luebeck, taken a 29-hour ferry to Helsinki, then a train to Rovaniemi and the bus to Inari! Their plan was to ride into Norway and use the Hurtigruten to reach the Lofoten Islands. We wished them luck.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/in-the-far-north.html

Kaamanen to Inari Holiday Village, Inari, Lapland – 19 miles + 14 mile detour (400 ft or 120 m asl)

Open 1 June-15 Sept (Cabins all year). €25 inc 16 amp elec and showers.  Free WiFi on pitches near Reception. N 68.90252  E 27.03793

Leaving Kaamanen, we drove 7 miles north up E75 to park the motorhome at the café we'd ridden to earlier (see Ride 1, above). The aim was to spend the morning cycling, then drive down to camp in Inari.

Cycling the Arctic Highway (40 km): As the southerly wind had turned, we cycled 20 km north on E75 towards Utsjoki into a head wind, then turned back for an easier return to the cafe. The road was virtually empty, with more reindeer than cars.

After a lunch of sandwiches, buns and coffee at the friendly café, we drove south past Kaamanen to Inari. The K-Market store resembled a wild frontier shop, selling all the essentials from mosquito coils, stamps and postcards to food and hardware. Then we checked out the two campsites to the south of the town.

The first site (Inari Holiday Village) was busy and expensive but much better than Uruniemi Camping, 2 km further along. The latter cost less at €21.50 but was scruffy with rough uneven pitches, no WiFi and hostile notices: 'No use of electric heating allowed' 'Extra charge for credit cards' etc. We returned to the friendlier Holiday Village, where the WiFi was good enough to listen to BBC Radio 4. That's worth a bit extra!

At Inari Holiday Village, Inari

The next morning was spent on laundry, on-line and on cooking (prepared sausage casserole and a trifle). The weather was still good, though cloudy, tempting us out for a short afternoon ride.

Cycling around Inari (16 km): Rode south on a dedicated cycle path alongside the E75, past Uruniemi Camping, until the path ended after 5 km (as so often in Finland, there are cycle paths around the town centre, often doubling as ski routes in winter). Returned north through the town to the Siida Museum, where the bike path again ended. Just past the museum, we turned right onto a lane signed for the Pielpajarvi Wilderness Church. After 2.5 km the partly-sealed road ended at a car park, from where there is a 2.8-km marked trail through the woods to the little wooden church (accessible only on foot or by boat across the lake – not by bicycle!). Built in 1760 at what was then a Sami settlement, the church is still used twice a year, at Easter and Midsummer. Riding back through Inari, we took a short detour on a cycle path out to the school on the riverside.

Back at camp we wrote a few emails before dinner.

Inari to Naverniemi Holiday Centre, Ivalo, Lapland – 25 miles (380 ft or 115 m asl)

Open 15 May-30 Sept (Cottages all year). www.narkka.com/in-english/  €24 inc 10 amp elec (including €2 discount for Camping Key Card). Free showers. Free WiFi near Reception. N 68.64285  E 27.52369

Driving south down the sunny E75, the road wound its way between lakes, islands and autumnal trees, to cross the Ivalo River bridge into the town centre at 23 miles. A left turn at the roundabout was signed 'Murmansk', a 300-km bus ride away! Yes, there is a direct bus service every weekday morning, though a visa has to be pre-arranged in Helsinki. Unprepared for Russia, we drove straight on to the K-Market, which was bigger than the branch in Ivalo, with fresh bakery produce including croissants, and a coffee corner. The store signs were also in Russian.

Two miles south of the town we turned right to a quiet campsite by the broad Ivalo River, shared with only one other motorhome. A herd of reindeer was resting on the beach on the far river bank, right opposite our spot.

After lunch we went a short cycle ride to explore the vicinity. The temperature was a warm 25° C.

Cycling around Ivalo (20 km): A cycle path alongside the E75 took us soIvalo_(11).JPGuth for 7 km, where it ended at Tormanen just past the turning for Ivalo airport. We returned along the path and past the campsite into Ivalo. Over coffee in the garden of the Kultahippu Restaurant/Hotel (Kulta Hippu = Gold Nugget) by the bridge, we admired the statue of gold-panners from the late 19th century gold rush along the Ivalo River.

In the evening a fine pair of white-ruffed proudly-antlered reindeer stags trotted through the campsite, then rain set in overnight.

At Naverniemi Holiday Centre, Ivalo

Next morning, cooler and cloudy, we stayed at the beautifully peaceful site, watching the river slowly reveal itself as the morning mist lifted. Ivalo_(10).JPGAn interesting talk with Henri, the co-owner of the holiday centre. Born in Ivalo, he left at the age of 2 when his parents moved south. After a degree from Tampere, an MBA from Jyvaskyla and a banking career in Helsinki, he left the stress of city life in 2007 to return to Lapland and restore a previously derelict campsite. 'Best thing I ever did' he enthused, explaining that the main business is in the winter when visitors fly into Ivalo for skiing, snowmobiling and husky sledge safaris. His restaurant and cottages are full then, though the campsite is closed.

We spent much of the day writing and reading. After finishing the fifth of C J Sansom's Shardlake novels 'Heartstone', which covers the sinking of Henry VIII's warship 'Mary Rose', Margaret vowed to visit the exhibition in Portsmouth when possible.

In the campsite kitchen, M had two memorable meetings while cooking salmon risotto. The first was an Australian woman from Canberra, who had visited her daughter and Norwegian son-in-law in Trondheim before touring Lapland. Due to return the hire car at Ivalo airport that very evening, before flying home via Helsinki and Singapore, she had a lot of surplus food to leave behind, mainly packets of rice, muesli, oats, tea bags, etc. Could we use any of it …?! Thank you so very much.

Later a man from Munich came in to cook sausages with his young son, fresh off the plane in Ivalo. Tomorrow they begin a long-distance hiking trek across the wilderness to Norway, with backpack and tent, though he seemed considerably keener than the lad. They appeared very ill equipped and were grateful for the matches and spare camping cutlery M gave them. We hope they made it past Utsjoki.

Finally, a whole herd of reindeer stampeded through the campsite in the early evening, the ground vibrating to the thunder of hooves! No-one stood in their way!

Ivalo to Camping Nilimella, Sodankyla, Lapland – 100 miles (600 ft or 185 m asl)

Open 1 June-30 Sept. www.nilimella.fi/camping_eng.html  €25 inc 16 amp elec (including €2 discount for Camping Key Card). Free showers. Free (very weak) WiFi near Reception. Free tumble drier (washing m/c €1).  N 67.41740  E 26.60868

The only way was south now, on the E75 Arctic Highway, soon making an emergency stop for a blue-collared kamikaze reindeer that we narrowly missed. After 18 miles, up at 1,040 ft/315 m, came the Saariselka ski resort with fuel, tourist info, hotel and buffet lunch offer at €9.95. Sadly it was too early to stop. The road gradually rose and fell across the 1,000 ft/300 m contour line, a clear demarcation with bare tundra and snow-fencing above it and plentiful trees below. The sun shone, abundant berries were ripening in the undergrowth and there were numerous rest areas along this tourist route.

At 37 miles (and 925 ft/280 m high) we passed the wooden arched entrance to Tankavaara Gold Village, 0.5 km along Santa Road. It has a restaurant, Gold Prospector Museum, gold-panning opportunity, accommodation and camping. The Tankavaara gold area was discovered in 1936 and this claims to be an authentic gold village, though it looked more like a theme park: www.tankavaara.fi. Next time, perhaps. Six miles later in Vuotso 'Reindeer Village' there was a small supermarket, a sadly neglected souvenir shop and a derelict fuel station.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/reindeer-in-the-north.html

At 54 miles, where the highway crossed Porttipahdan Lake, there was a café with a full car park. We stopped for lunch 11 miles later, on a large gravel area next to a dammed lake on the Kitinen River. Continuing south down the Kitinen, Café Harianna at 74 miles looked delightful, perched by the wide river and offering Cloudberry Pancakes & Coffee at €5. We might have been tempted but the small car park was already too busy with motorhomes.

Reaching Sodankyla, the service centre for a large area and the biggest town we'd seen for a long time, we headed straight to the World's Northernmost Lidl – a well-stocked store and our first since Ostersund, south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden! After stocking up with bakery goods, frozen food and fresh meat, we drove over the Kitinen bridge to the family-owned campsite at Nilimella, just a mile away.

We soon settled on one of the pitches near Reception, each privately hedged with red-berried rowan trees, rather than in the open and rather boggy field below. The WiFi wouldn't connect but Jenna, the young student in Reception, was very helpful, checking the weather forecast and telling us about her course in Administration & Management at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi. Like most Finns she speaks fluent English, and hopes to work in the nursing sector.

At Camping Nilimella, Sodankyla

Next morning we caught up with laundry, thanks to the campsite facilities. Jenna, (summoned to get the elderly washing machine working) told us that two families own the whole site, along with the pub and a pair of holiday cottages across the road by the riverside beach, though the land itself belongs to the town. The wooden housing blocks on the site were once a residential school but are now rented to resident or temporary workers and are fully occupied, with plenty of local jobs in industry, mining and a wood processing plant. The total population of Sodankyla and its surrounding villages is listed as 8,826 (including about 300 Sami people) and 22,500 reindeer! That is less than 2 inhabitants per sq km.

We also cycled over the bridge into town (2 km each way) to change our remaining Swedish and Norwegian currency into Euros. The bank is open weekdays from 10 am-1 pm and a passport is needed for foreign exchange. Waiting for our number to be called, it was fascinating to watch the various customers, from a very old lady on the arm of her grandson (complete with multiple tattoos and piercings) to a young black woman with a delightful baby girl in a pram. Everyone chatted, it seems a very friendly town.

After lunch we had a short walk to the tiny log-built church just across the bridge but found it locked. Built in 1689 for the surrounding Lappish villages, it is Finland's oldest wooden church to survive intact. We strolled round the beautiful cemetery, then set off along the 3-km 'nature path' along the shore of the Kitinen, turning back when it began to pour down.

Sodankyla to Kuukiuru Holiday Village, Vuostimo, Lapland – 45 miles (495 ft or 150 m asl)

Open 1 June-30 Sept (Cottages all year). www.kuukiuru.ru/eng/index.shtml  €20 inc 16 amp elec for first day (after which €17, and every 5th day free!). Free showers. Good free WiFi.  N 66.98122  E 27.53299

Next day it was still wet with a cold wind. Time to head south – we're still above the Arctic Circle! From Sodankyla the choice is the E75 (rd 5, the Arctic Highway) to Rovaniemi – the main tourist route - or the quieter E63 (rd 4) towards Kemijarvi. We took the latter, keeping further east, with virtually no traffic as all the RVs were bound to/from Santaland at Rovaniemi.

The E63, narrow but well surfaced, rolled along through the forest. Reindeer grazed between the ever-taller trees, the birch showing the tints of Ruska. After Aapajarvi the road follows the Kemijoki river on its way south to lake Kemijarvi. At 33 miles, 3 miles north of the village of Pelkosenniemi, we parked at a war memorial. In the Battle of Pelkosenniemi, 16-18 December 1939, the Finns drove the Russians back in a victory in the Winter War of 1939/40.

It was a further 13 miles to a favourite little campsite/cafe on the western bank of the Kemijoki river. The elderly owners we remember had gone but we found a Russian man, busy mowing the grass. Though he spoke very little English (or Finnish!) he made us very welcome. Boris and his wife had come on holiday from Russia to visit their son and family, who now own the campsite. Then the family had left, to resolve some problem in St Petersburg, leaving the parents in charge!

The peaceful site was the same as ever, with the welcome addition of WiFi. There is no kitchen or laundry but a hot shower is available in the rustic sauna cabin. We were also offered free use of the mini-golf course, the pool table in the café and the rowing boats on the river! With a severe weather warning issued for tonight and tomorrow, it was a wise decision to stay, rather than continue 22 miles to the town of Kemijarvi with its officious and expensive (€30) Hietaniemi Camping.

We made a sweet'n'sour pork casserole for dinner and watched an episode of the TV series 'Marple'. No-one else arrived.

At Kuukiuru Holiday Village, Vuostimo

It was indeed wet and windy next morning, ideal weather for writing, updating our website, watching the red squirrels and listening to the radio. Thanks to the good WiFi connection, we enjoyed Bill Nighy reading 'Animal Farm' in 5 x 15-minute episodes on Radio 4 Extra. In the evening the wind dropped and a fine mist replaced the rain.

The following day was warmer and dry, so we set out with a packed lunch on a circular ride:

Cycling a clockwise circuit via Pyha-Luosto and Pelkosenniemi (50 km): Rode 17 km northwest from Vuostimo on the quiet rolling rd 962 to the Pyha Mountain Ski Centre, with a couple of small shops and fuel. Sitting at a picnic table outside the K-Market, we supplemented our sandwiches with coffee and Pulla (traditional cinnamon buns) from its café. A cycle path runs for a couple of miles each way from the Centre. Continuing along this, we soon turned right on a minor sealed road, past the small lake Pyhajarvi, heading east until it met the E63 (at 38 km), 4 km south of Pelkosenniemi. Then it was 12 km south down E63 to our base, seeing very little traffic and only two reindeer.

On a very clear starry night, with no light pollution, the full moon reflected in the river was pure magic.

Next day we had planned to cycle north but, with a strong wind now blowing from the south, that would mean a hard ride back - never a good idea! Instead, we drove 10 miles north to leave the motorhome in Pelkosenniemi and cycle from there. The village, the nearest to Vuostimo, comprises a small supermarket, fuel, chemist's shop and café. It also has the only bridge over the Kemijoki river until Kemijarvi, 32 miles south. We parked on the riverside next to a statue of the punk 'Rock Star' Andy McKoy, born here as Antii Hulkko in 1962, though he left at age 9. This wooden painted statue, made by a relative and erected in the square in 2009, hardly flatters him! A pair of friendly inebriates sharing bottles of beer on a nearby bench promised to watch the motorhome. They knew enough English to say 'Good Luck' as we rode away – and were still there when we returned!  

Cycling south from Pelkosenniemi and back (35 km): Rode across the bridge to the east side of the broad Kemijoki, then turned south to follow a good dirt road alongside the river bank. Quite firm, with just a few potholes to avoid, it runs all the way to Kemijarvi. We passed an occasional farm in a forest clearing, each supplied with a bus stop. The only traffic was one tractor and a couple of cars. After 17 km of pushing into the wind we stopped to sit in the woods and eat our pack-up, with a view of the river opposite Vuostimo. The return ride to Pelkosenniemi was much swifter and easier with a back wind.

As the next day was our fifth at Vuostimo, and therefore free, it made sense to stay. The wind had turned round, now blowing much colder from the north, so we packed the bicycles away and spent time writing and baking (pineapple & coconut sponge). Boris was busy cleaning and gutting fish that his wife had caught in the river, ready for the freezer – buckets of them, some still alive. Barry was glad that Margaret doesn't fish, enjoying macaroni cheese with bacon & tomatoes!

SEPTEMBER 2015

Vuostimo to Camping Matkatupa, Luusua, Lapland – 40 miles (545 ft or 165 m asl)

Open 1 June-20 Sept (Youth Hostel and Cabins all year). www.matkatupa.fi  €19 inc elec and €3 discount for Camping Key Card (which also gives every 4th day free). Free showers. Free WiFi in and near Reception/café.  N 66.51279  E 27.24227

It remained cold next day, as we drove south on E63 in a fine rain. In Kemijarvi (22 miles), Finland's northernmost city at a major crossroads on its large lake, we filled with diesel and shopped at the well-stocked Lidl (genuine Cheddar cheese all the way from the UK!) Then continued south down minor rd 944, narrowly missing a pair of red squirrels that ran across in front of us, coincidentally on a zebra crossing. They made the fastest U-turn ever and disappeared up a passing tree! Further along the rolling road, a reindeer almost dived under our wheels – our closest encounter yet. Luckily, there was no other traffic – the wildlife is danger enough!

At 36 miles, 4 miles before our campsite, we crossed the Polar Circle (66.56° N), last seen near Jokkmokk as we travelled north in Sweden. We'd spent 40 days within the Arctic Circle from late July to early September, staying in 24 places in 3 countries and travelling 2,075 miles (3320 km). See our Reflections at www.magbaztravels.com/content/view/1735/393/

Approaching Camping Matkatupa (= Travelling House) a mile of road works ran past its entrance, where a new bridge was under constructionMatkatupa_(12).JPG to take heavier trucks. We turned in at the peaceful site on the southern shore of Lake Kemijarvi, to a warm welcome from Urho and wife Eli who remembered us from previous visits, and settled next to the football field where the WiFi worked well.

After lunch the sun came out and all was perfect except for a plague of tiny black flies, though the Wagtails probably liked them. A reindeer and her calf wandered through the meadow to graze on the football pitch – unperturbed by the arrival of a German campervan, with children jumping out to take photographs. We enjoyed Lidl's cod-in-batter for dinner, followed by another episode of the incomparable Geraldine McEwan in 'Marple.'

At Camping Matkatupa, Luusua

On a bright sunny morning after a cold clear night, Barry helped our host to work on his winter woodpile – a two-man job with the electric log-splitter. Urho's sheds wMatkatupa_(22).JPGere stacked high with timber from his land, ready for the winter stoves and sauna. He said the lake freezes over with ice one metre deep: enough to drive a car on until the snow comes, when snowmobiles take over. Ice-fishing through holes is popular and Eli is a very keen ice-fisher!

Then, over coffee and Eli's freshly baked Pulla buns, we talked at length with the gentle couple. Urho and brother Paavo (who also lives here) grew up on their parents' farm at Matkatupa. Their father fought in the Second World War, first against the Russians and then the Germans.

Until the 1970s the family grew potatoes and kept cows. They also had 2,000 hens, housed in a building with no windows, so that electric light and heating provided a 12-hour day all year round. This encouraged the chickens to lay well, supplying eggs to supermarkets in Kemijarvi! The brothers helped their late father to create the campsite, complete with hostel, café and log cabins - and they still grow potatoes, though the cows and hens are gone. We did wonder about the site's future, as Urho's two sons have moved away. We met one son who works for Nokia in Tampere (where the firm started in 1865 as wood pulp manufacturers), visiting over the weekend with his family.

After lunch we had a brisk walk around the campsite, through the adjacent cemetery and along the lake shore to the beach, where there is a picnic place, fire shelter and volleyball court. It was hard to imagine the winter conditions and easy to resist Urho's invitation to stay for Christmas!

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/matkatupa.html

Next day, cold but sunny, we ventured out with the bicycles for a short but bracing ride:

A circular cycle ride from Maktkatupa via Luusua (20 km): Rode 5 km south on rd 944, including a stretch of road works foMatkatupa_(54).JPGr the new bridge, to tiny Luusua village. Turned left here, past the church and towards Itaranta for 3 km, then left on a good dirt road that led north along a narrow peninsula. This 1-km finger of land ran past a sturdy log-built bird observation platform, then ended by a 'Lavuu' – a 3-sided wooden shelter round a fire pit, where anglers sit and cook their catch. The smouldering embers were soon revived and we sat by the fire looking across the vast dark lake, stirred into waves by a stiff wind behind us. A lovely spot for a Mars bar before turning back 1 km along the promontory and then right on a stony forest track. After a slow 6 km through the woods, it met rd 944 just north of Luusua, and so back to camp with a good tail wind for the final 4 km.

The rainy afternoon was spent writing, before a meal of burgers and apple strudel (thanks to Lidl again).

On our last day at Matkatupa (the fourth, free of charge), rain stopped, wind dropped and Matkatupa_(41).JPGthe warm cloudy sky had patches of blue – ideal for exploring the woods. A signed path saying 'Luontopolku 2.5 km' led from the campsite beach, across the road and away on forest tracks. It was incredibly still and silent under the trees, not a soul or a bird or even a reindeer to be seen. The path crossed four sections of marshy ground on boardwalks of varying length, then ended abruptly at a picnic table by a small lake, inaccessible by road. Is that all there is at Luontopolku? Returning whence we came, we discovered from Urho that 'Luontopolku' simply means 'Nature Trail'! It was a lovely walk, the birch trees really turning gold now. 

Luusua to Kylmaluoma Camping, Tyrovaara, Kainuu – 129 miles (810 ft or 245 m asl)

Open 15 Feb-30 Oct (cabins all year). www.hossa-kylmaluoma.fi/index.php/in-english  €26 inc elec and €2 discount for Camping Key Card. Free sauna and showers. Free WiFi in Reception/restaurant only. Daily lunch buffet €10.  N 65.58549  E 28.89884

Farewell to Urho, Eli and Paavo on another wet morning. 'Take care of the reindeer' were Urho's wise parting words as we set off south on the quiet rd 944. Soon after Pirttikoski village (18 miles and Matkatupa's nearest shop), we crossed the Kemijoki river and turned east at Autti on rd 81.

At 24 miles we passed the left turn for Auttikongas Falls - a gravel road to a car park and café at the start of a splendid 3.5-km walk round a rushing waterfall and log-chute on the Kemijoki (once an important log-floating river). Since we've followed this before, we didn't repeat it in the rain. It grew misty as we climbed gradually to 925 ft/280 m. Margaret was excited to spot a Black Grouse, as well as a Great Spotted Woodpecker. How did it know where to start?!

A cycle path shadowed the road as we entered the town of Posio at 56 miles, with the usual shops and fuel. We lunched on lovely fresh donuts in the ABC supermarket car park, then on past the Himmerki Holiday Centre, 4 miles later, where we'd camped 5 years previously. We remembered Urho's words when we had another close encounter with a blue-collared reindeer. Is that the badge of a Learner?

At 88 miles we met the E63/rd 5 'Via Karelia', and turned south through Kuusamo, 9 miles later (a large town with Lidl etc). Continuing south, road signs warned of Reindeer, Elk and Bears! We passed a left turn (rd 866) to a Russian border crossing some 30 miles east, a reminder that the historical province of Karelia is divided between Finland and Russia, with some Finnish territory ceded to Russia after the Winter War of 1939-40.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/reindeer-in-the-north.html

We eventually turned right at 127 miles, along a lane through the forest to a lovely campsite inevitably set by a wooded lake. Unusually, this site had a barrier, with Reception closing at 5 pm, and the warden was just locking up! He kindly let us in, supplied a couple of tokens for the washing machine, and explained that the campsite name Kylmaluoma means 'Good Fishing Place'. The other campers all seemed to know that.

Tyrovaara to Hyvarila Camping/Recreation Centre, Nurmes, Karelia– 187 miles (295 ft or 89 m asl)

Fully open 1 June-31 Aug. www.hyvarila.com/en/frontpage/  €24 inc 16 amp elec and €2 discount for Camping Key Card (which also gives every 3rd day free). Free showers. Free WiFi in or near Reception/restaurant. Daily lunch buffet €11.50.  Rest of year, overnight parking inc hook-up for €13, with use of WC/shower inside hotel and free WiFi (no kitchen facilities off-season).  N 63.53151  E 29.19970

We returned a mile through the forest to E63/rd 5 and turned south. On the left of the highway at 35 miles stand the 'Silent People': up to 1,000 straw-headed figures, created by the artist-choreographer Reijo Kela, have occupied this field since 1994, changing their appearance with the seasons. The wooden cross frames are now clothed and maintained by the Youth Workshop of Kela's native town, Suomussalmi (about 20 miles to the south) and there is a  little Field Café at the site offering pancakes and coffee during the summer months – though not on a wet Monday in September. More, including a video, at www.suomussalmi.fi/en/tourist/attractions/other_attractions/the_silent_people.

In a heavy rain shower, we continued down E63 to Ammansari at 58 miles, then turneRaate_War_Museum_(14).JPGd east on rd 912 (still signed Via Karelia) across the lake and past Suomussalmi. The only traffic was an occasional campervan or logging truck, as fir trees were being felled in the forest of green and gold. At 70 miles a dramatic war memorial and museum stood at the junction with the Raate Road, a gravel road leading due east to the border village of Raate (no Raate_War_Museum_(13).JPGlonger a crossing to Russia). Here we parked to eat lunch and discover more about the Winter War Battles in 1939-40, deep in the Karelian forest around Suomussalmi and along the Raate Road.

Tickets for the Raate Museum indoor exhibition cost €8.50, while entry to the café/shop and toilets is free of charge (all open 1 Aug-30 Sept). The memorial site is freely accessible at any time and we walked round a field of boulders representing both Finnish and Russian dead. A carillon of bells has one for each day of the 6-month Winter War.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/raate-war-museum.html

We didn't take the Raate Road, which looked rough and muddy, but learnt that aloRaate_War_Museum_(12).JPGng the way there are dug-outs and trenches and a memorial to the Battle of Raate. It ends at a Sentry Museum (open 1 June -31 Aug) in the original Finnish Frontier Guard House, restored to how it was when the Red Army made a surprise attack across the frontier on 30 November 1939. The Finns recaptured the building in January 1940, after which it played its part in the War of Continuance until peace descended in March 1940, with heavy losses on both sides. The outnumbered Finnish troops were helped by their familiarity with forest warfare, and the fact that the ice on local waterways was strong enough to carry infantry soldiers yet not thick enough to support Russian tanks and heavy equipment. Later, German troops retreated through Raate in autumn 1944, pursued by Russians, until the Guard Post was again in Finnish hands from mid-November 1944 (a very brief summary of a complicated period in Finnish history). For the full story see: www.suomussalmi.fi/en/tourist/attractions/war_history_in_suomussalmi

Turning down rd 192, the rain showers brought autumn leaves tumbling down and we spotted our last reindeer. About 30 miles later, a left turn on rd 89 signed Kostomuksa would have taken us to the nearest Russian border crossing, only 10 miles to the east (visa essential). Instead we kept south through forested hills and lakes, then bypassed the centre of busy Kuhmo to join rd 75 (still the Via Karelia) and continue to the pleasant town of Nurmes at the top of large Lake Pielinen.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/reindeer.html

We've camped before at the Hyvarila Holiday & Youth Centre next to the golf course, with a good hotel/restaurant, youth hostel, cabins, sports facilities and a campsite that officially closes at the end of August. Luckily, M had phoned to check and was told to come along anyway! The Receptionist indicated 8 parking places (with electric hook-up) where we could stay for the 'winter rate' of just €13, alongside two Germans who needed a Unimog to venture this far!

A group of teenagers in residence at the hostel had just returned from an excursion and so the 'Lunch Buffet' (of which we had fond memories) was being served until 5.30 pm. We just made it! The staff kindly laid tables in a back room for us, away from the noisy crowd, to enjoy all the shrimp & coconut soup, bread, salads, sausage casserole, beef stew, vegetables, fruit juice, fruity semolina pudding and coffee that we could eat!!

A perfect end to a busy day – even the WiFi worked well inside the motorhome.

Nurmes to Fighter's House Museum, Hattuvaara, Karelia – 98 miles (645 ft or 195 m asl)

War Museum & café (open Wed-Sun, summer only).  www.taistelijantalo.fi/index-en.htm  Overnight parking inc elec (and WC & shower during opening hours) €10.  Off-season parking is free of charge.  N 62.93032  E 31.27992

Before leaving Nurmes we drove 4 miles back through the old town centre, with its lovely Lutheran church, on a peninsula in the lake. It looks a nice place to live - a service centre for the area, with railway and bus stations, schools, FE college, hospital, market and shops. There is even a sock factory (with outlet shop), as well as the usual wood pulping plant. In the newer Porokyla area, we got a roast chicken at the K-Market and found a new 'mouse' at the Sports & Electrical shop. Leaves fluttered down in a cold wind: 12°C at noon.

Then we drove southeast on rd 73 to Lieksa (38 miles), the next town along the shore of Pielinen, which has a railway station, a ferry across the lake to Koli, and a Lidl store. After crossing the railway track we turned left onto minor rd 522 (still dubbed Via Karelia), heading for Finland's easternmost village at Hattuvaara. After 20 empty miles, the hamlet of Hatunkyla consisted of one house, a café (closed), a bus stop and an old wooden windmill now dwarfed by the trees. We made lunch in the next lay-by, hidden in the forest, the treetops sighing in the wind. The road had deteriorated, becoming pot-holed and bumpy.

At 74 miles rd 522 turned into a dirt road for the next 19 miles. There was no warning, no road works – and no other traffic! Fortunately, the surface was dry and we crawled along at 20 mph for the next hour, meeting tarmac with great relief about 5 miles before Hattuvaara. Past the village shop and the old wooden chapel, we turned into the car park of the Fighters' House. The museum and café were closed and deserted but the electric hook-ups for campers were live, so we parked for the night and went over to the little shop to ask about payment but it had closed down and no-one came round.

The museum has a good outdoor collection and information about the Winter War (1Hattuvaara_(84).JPG1 Nov 1939 - 3 March 1940) and Continuation War, as well as the Battle of Ilomantsi, part of which was fought around Hattuvaara on 27 July 1944. It's an evocative place, so near the Border Zone and next to an army camp. We have cycled more than once from here along woodland tracks (24 miles return) to the easternmost point of the continental EU (only Cyprus is further east), where the Russian and Finnish frontier markers stand on an island in remote lake Virmajarvi.

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/hattuvaara.html

Hattuvaara to Ruokkee Holiday Village, nr Kesalahti, Karelia – 117 miles (290 ft or 87 m asl)

Open 1 May-30 Sept (cottages all year). www.ruokkeenlomakyla.fi/eng/   €22.50 inc elec and €2 discount for Camping Key Card. Free excellent showers. Free WiFi. N 61.89716  E 29.67268

Next morning was bright and sunny, ideal for a lovely walk along the 'History Path' Hattuvaara_(19).JPGthat starts at Hattuvaara's tiny Orthodox chapel (or tsasouna). Dedicated to St Peter & St Paul and built entirely of wood in the 1790s, it is the oldest in Finland. The chapel door was locked, to preserve the precious icons inside, but a small log cabin opposite had a display of photographs of the annual name-day celebrations in June, when Orthodox priests come from Ilomantsi to take the icons walkabout, followed by a party of local and former villagers, with food and a traditional game using wooden pegs and bats.

The path led on past the sadly defunct village shop with its antiquated petrol pump, then through the Old Cemetery with some unusual wooden tombs, finally arriving at Makkola Museum Farm, in a 19th century farmstead. Supposedly open all year, 11 am-4 pm, entry €6, we found it closed for restoration.

However, two men working on the outbuildings spotted us and interrupted their lunHattuvaara_(41).JPGch break to unlock the main farmhouse and show us round. Refusing to take any money, they even insisted we keep the English 'Guiding Book for a Visitor', which clearly stated 'Please return after tour at the desk'. We very much appreciated their kindness. The furnished farmhouse, a real breath of the old times, has provided the setting for several Finnish movies, most recently a war film made in 2005. The outbuildings include barns, granary, smoke sauna, threshing house, hay shed, bottle cellar, sleigh shed and stone wells.

Dating from 1812, the substantial farm was owned and extended by the Hoskonen famHattuvaara_(24).JPGily – Maria & Mikko with their 4 sons and their families - from the early 1900s. As well as agricultural work, they tended cows, horses and sheep, supplementing this income in winter with hunting and logging. During the war years the farm provided an important base for the soldiers, including war hero Lauri Torni and his group (one of them a future President of Finland). After the war the village declined, with the mechanisation of logging work and migration from country to towns, but two of the brothers remained at the farm. The last Hoskonen moved into a local retirement home in 1996 and work on the Museum started in 2003.

As for Lauri Torni (alias Larry Thorne), he continued his legendary military career, reachinHattuvaara_(81).JPGg the rank of Major in the US army. Larry and his crew were finally lost in a helicopter accident in the jungle of Vietnam in 1965 – the inspiration for an event in the John Wayne film 'The Green Berets' made in 1968. So much to learn, and we had just set out for a walk! See www.taistelijantalo.fi/index-en.htm.  

Rd 522 (Via Karelia) continued south from Hattuvaara (thankfully on tarmac) to the town of Ilomantsi. We parked for lunch 5 miles along, by a memorial to the Finnish victory over Russia at the Battle of Ilomantsi - the last big battle fought against the Soviet army in the summer of 1944.

After another 23 miles, we joined rd 74, still signed Via Karelia, through Ilomantsi (a fine Karelian town on a lake that we've explored before) and continued west to Heinavaara. Here we turned south along rd 494 for 5 miles to Kiihtelysvaara at 58 miles, then right onto rd 492 for 10 miles. This met highway 6 (Via Karelia) near Hammaslahti, where we reluctantly turned south, heading for 'civilisation'.

There were no more reindeer to watch for in the forest - just speed cameras and roadside cafes. At Kitee we passed an Aquapark and Zoo, only 100 miles south of Hattuvaara which seemed a world away! At Kesalahti, 11 miles later, the Karjalan Kievari hotel/restaurant and lakeside campsite that we'd used previously was closed ('from 31 Aug to Summer 2016' said the sign). All access was barred.

Disappointed, we continued south, then spotted a camping sign 3 miles later, pointing right along a narrow forest road to another site on the same lake, mainly empty holiday cabins and static caravans. It proved to be a very peaceful place with excellent facilities.

At Ruokkee Holiday Village, nr Kesalahti

A fine still morning followed, just right for doing the laundry and hanging it out in thKesalahti_(15).JPGe sunshine. Our peace was only disturbed by the arrival of two coach-loads of Seniors, brought for a gentle exercise routine, a short walk, a game of mini-golf or darts, and a good lunch! Sadly, the buffet was only for reserved groups now the summer season is over.

We finally decided on a date for the Tallink ferry (Helsinki to Estonia) and booked it on-line for 13 September (3 days hence), at a cost of €136.

In the afteKesalahti_(13).JPGrnoon we walked along the shore of Lake Puruvesi and into the forest as far as we could, until blocked by Private Property signs, fencing and pictures of guard dogs. Margaret wanted to pick lingonberries to make jam (a Scandinavian staple) but they were very sparse after the cold wet summer. Pity the poor bears, who like to fill up on berries before their winter hibernation.

On the third day at Ruokkee we wrote emails and cleaned the motorhome. The weather was lovely, 19° C at noon, though the days are shortening rapidly and it now goes dark by 8 pm. After lunch we had our last bicycle ride in Finland:

Cycling to Kesalathi and back (31 km): Rode 6 km along the wooded lane to the E6, then about 2 km north on theKesalahti_(10).JPG busy highway. Escaped the traffic and trucks by turning right into the forest on a gravel path. The next 5 km was quite hilly, sometimes on a good dirt road, sometimes more difficult stretches of gravel and pebbles. Eventually we emerged onto a bike path alongside the E6 for the last 2 km into the small town of Kesalathi. As neither of the supermarkets had a coffee machine, the café was closed and the only bar we found was busy with noisy beer-drinkers, we sat in the park to drink apple juice from our bottles, then turned back. Taking a slightly different route in the woods, we managed to avoid the worst of the sandy uphill tracks, arriving back at camp before 5 pm.

Ruokkee to Camping Mukkula, Lahti, Southern Lake Region – 183 miles (320 ft or 97 m asl)

Fully open 1 June-31 Aug. During September, open for €25 inc 10 amp elec and €2 discount for Camping Key Card. Free showers. Free WiFi around Reception. No kitchen facilities off-season.  Due to close down and relocate on 30.09.15 (see www.mukkulacamping.fi/en.html  for details). N 61.01653  E 25.64073

Another superb autumn morning on which we're sad to be leaving Finland. We headed southwest on the smooth tarmac of E6 (Via Karelia), running parallel with the railway line, close to the Russian border.

At 60 miles the E6 became a 4-lane motorway briefly, past the industrial town of Imatra, then the highway continued alongside Lake Saimaa, turning into motorway again approaching Lappeenranta. Exit 55 was signed for a Russian border crossing (18 km), Vyborg and St Petersburg – the road on which we'd returned to Lappeenranta by coach after the canal boat cruise to Vyborg, a visa-free day-trip made in August 2006. It was a great experience, including a tour of the Baltic port of Vyborg (Viipuri in Finnish) which was ceded to Russia in 1944.

Now we took the next exit 54, at 86 miles, from where it was 2 miles to a Lidl store. After shopping and lunch, we rejoined the motorway at junction 53. It soon reverted to a 2-lane highway bordered by forest, with Elk warning signs and fencing. The traffic, roadside cafes and fuel stations increased in number as we headed south through a series of settlements, each with its own network of cycle paths in and around the centre, though not between the towns. By 3 pm the air temperature was 20° C, the road 24° - an Indian Summer (or Nordic Autumn).

After Kouvola we left the E6 which turns south to the coast at Porvoo, and took rd 12 west for Lahti, our last staging post in Finland. Three enormous ski jumps overlook the town, a popular winter sports centre for the capital less than 70 miles away. At Lahti we turned north on the E75 motorway from Helsinki, leaving it one junction later to take rd 24 northwest to the campsite by lake Vesijarvi. We had phoned earlier to check it was open.

The site looked closed, barrier down, but the Receptionist responded to a second phonLahti_(10).JPGe call and arrived by car 10 minutes later. The facilities were minimal but the WiFi worked well enough outside Reception to listen to the radio and hear of Jeremy Corbyn's victory today as Labour leader. Good news or bad? 

We walked round the empty site and photographed our last Finnish sunset through the trees over the lake. The only neighbours were a large flock of Barnacle Geese grazing by the water, on migration from the Arctic to Scotland or Ireland. Next morning they left at dawn, waking us early.

Lahti to Tallink-Silja Ferry Terminal, West Harbour, Helsinki  – 80 miles (sea level!)

The harbour is poorly signed 'Vastra Hamnen' and is at N 60.1523  E 24.9191. Bookings on www.tallinksilja.com/en/web/int/tallink-shuttle-tallinn-tips

A minor panic as we set off next day – the campsite barrier was down and padlocked, the Receptionist's phone number was engaged, and we had a ferry to catch! When the phone was finally answered, the young lady would not believe it could be locked. Just as Margaret was getting insistent, a night watchman we'd never seen wandered over to unlock it, to our great relief. We won't be going back to Camping Mukkula (actually, it closed and moved at the end of the month, so nobody will).

Back to the E75/rd 4 motorway, with 4 busy lanes southbound for Helsinki, still running through forest with Elk signs and fences. 'Radio Nostalgi' on the cab radio was a treat, mainly hits from the 1960s. After 30 miles we took exit 13 to the Mantsala services, a good place with a choice of 2 petrol stations and plenty of room to park overnight if needed. A fill of diesel and coffee, then another 34 miles down the motorway to exit 3 for rd 101, the Keha ring road.

Rather than continuing through Helsinki (a route we previously regretted), we followed the ring road west until it met rd 51, where we turned east and through some road works to the West Harbour (signed Vastra Hamnen). We reached the check-in in good time for the 1.30 pm ferry 'Superstar', arriving in Tallin 2 hours later. The crossing was good, the food terrible. We should have eaten before boarding!

FERRY FROM FINLAND TO ESTONIA

Note that:

1.  Estonia is an EU member and the currency is the Euro (currently €1.36 = £1).

2.  Estonia is in the same time zone as Finland (so 2 hrs ahead of the UK).

3.  There are no motorway or road tolls.

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

5.  Tallink-Silja Line shuttle between Helsinki (West Harbour/Vastra Hamnen) and Tallinn takes 2 hours, crossing several times a day, on 2 large modern ferries: 'Star' and 'Superstar'.  www.tallinksilja.com

IN ESTONIA

Tallin Ferry Port to Lahemaa Kohvikann Restaurant & Camperstop, Palmse, Lahemaa National Park, Estonia – 53 miles

Open all year.  www.kohvikann.ee  Overnight parking €12 inc elec, waste disposal, fresh water, WC & shower. Free WiFi inside excellent restaurant/café (open noon-9 pm, closed Mondays). N 59.50674  E 25.96204

Continued at: Baltic Republics and Easterern Europe 2015