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A Journey to Scandinavia Summer of 2017 PDF Printable Version E-mail

A Journey to Scandinavia in the Summer of 2017

Motorhoming via the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden & Finland

Margaret Williamson


After travelling in Spain and Portugal in the winter of 2016/17, we returned to England in the spring via France, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Much of June and into July passed in the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire, before we were able to recommence travelling and the writing of this travel log.

Our overall aim is to reach Greece for the winter, travelling through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic Republics, Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Let's see how it goes!


JULY 2017

Harwich to the Hook of Holland on the Stena Line Ferry

Hook of Holland Ferry Port to Farm-Camping Hoeve Bouwlust, Maasland, Zuid-Holland – 11 miles

Open 31 March-31 Oct.  www.hoeve-bouwlust.nl  €18.50 inc elec and showers. Excellent free WiFi.  N 51.955585  E 4.287047

The two modern Stena Line ferries linking Harwich with the Hook of Holland claim to be the world's largest passenger ferries, with a choice of day or overnight crossings. Once again we have booked the daytime sailing with an outside cabin through the Camping & Caravanning Club, which gives a good discount and a free upgrade to Flexifare (more than saving our annual membership fee!) Leaving from Harwich avoids the hassle of the drive to and security around the Channel Ports, and you can stock up at the Morrisons store (with larg car park and fuel) shortly before the port.

The ship, busy with holiday traffic in mid July, sails at 9 am. The crossing is smooth, with lunch in the self-service restaurant (M's chicken curry proved a better choice than B's fish & chips), before docking on time at the Hook at 5.15 pm local time (it's still 4.15 pm in the UK). It's still very warm and sunny this side of the North Sea.

The SatNav leads us to a dairy farm/camping a few miles east of the Hook, sited on road N468, that we have pre-booked for 2 nights. It sells delicious ices made with their own cream and milk, as well as eggs and milk by the bottle.

Next day we plan to cycle along the canal into the nearby villages but the sultry weather breaks into heavy rain showers. At least the free camp WiFi works well, so we catch up on-line and write some emails and review the site for ACSI:

"A small popular campsite on a working dairy farm, with great activities for children. Found it a convenient stopover, only 11 miles from the Hook of Holland ferry. Fresh milk for sale, as well as delicious ice cream made on the farm. A pizza van was due on Saturday. We would have stayed longer but the site was fully booked for the weekend. Free showers and WiFi throughout the site, all for a very reasonable camping fee. Next time, we will book ahead!"

We'd like to stay longer and sample the Pizza van that calls on Saturdays but the small site is full for the weekend. A phone call to a favourite (and much larger) site further east at Otterlo confirms our next move.

Maasland to Camping Beek en Hei, Otterlo, Gelderland – 77 miles

Open all year. www.beekenhei.nl. High season rate €23.93 inc 10 amp elec and taxes. (ACSI Card reduction low season.) WiFi €3 one day, €4 for two days, €1.50 per day for three days plus. Showers €0.50.  N 52.09214  E5.77072

Warm and sunny again for the drive along Oostgang (N468) past Schipluiden – a canalside scene of ducks, bicycles and windmill – to join the A4 near Delft. Then A12 past Utrecht to exit 23 (Ede), onto the A30 northwards for exit 2, and the N304 to Otterlo. We turn left before the village for our favourite of several campsites in the area: 'Beek en Hei' meaning brook and heath. I reviewed it for ACSI last year:

"A very well kept campsite tucked away in quiet woodland, just 1 km from the village of Otterlo with its shops and cafes. Extremely friendly helpful staff and good clean facilities. Breads, ices and fresh eggs on sale. Site-wide WiFi at a small cost was very reliable. Excellent base for cycling in the Hoge Veluwe forest, with bike paths in every direction. We came for a couple of nights and stayed 3 weeks!"

It's an extensive site, on each side of a gravel road/bike path in the forest, with separate areas for different campers - tents, families, long-term or short-stay. We find a quiet, privately hedged pitch and settle in with the resident rabbits. Not forgetting the hens, whose eggs we buy.

The WiFi works well and the facilities are good, apart from a meagre 6-amp hook-up which the microwave soon trips! Meanwhile, Barry removes a tiny nail from the soft rear tyre of my bike, ready to take to the Fietspad tomorrow.

At Camping Beek en Hei, Otterlo

Click: magbazpictures.com/cycling-in-the-netherlands

Over a 2-week stay we regularly stroll into Otterlo (1.5 km) to visit its well-stocked hardware shop, Spar supermarket/post office/bakery with free coffee dispenser, and the excellent cycle shop (Geerts Tweewielers) where we buy a new tyre. There is a memorial to the Canadians, British and civilians killed here in April 1945 in the last battle for the liberation of the Netherlands, following Operation Market Garden in September 1944. 

On a few rainy days we have emails to write, the travelog of Spring in Ireland to finish, Radio 4 and the Guardian to keep us in touch with events, and films for entertainment. Local TV showed a lovely film 'Brideflight' set in 1950s New Zealand, following the lives of a group of Dutch women who answered an appeal for immigrant females. We also start watching the 'Boardwalk Empire' series, which is addictive.

One evening there is a free slide show and coffee in the camp Common Room with a very enthusiastic naturalist talking about moths and their caterpillars. Difficult to follow in Dutch but he answers questions in English. After dark a 'moth tent' is erected with lights to attract disappointingly few specimens. Apparently heathland would be better than the forest, where many moths are eaten by bats.     

But the beauty of Otterlo, the reason we are back, is to cycle the Fietspads (cycle paths) that radiate in all directions, fuelled by plentiful coffee and apple cake!

Cycling by Numbers

The Fietspads of the Netherlands form a complete network, with signposts and maps at numbered junctions. They vary in width and surface but provide well-used and safe routes around and between every town and village. See our Guide to Cycling in the Netherlands. We enjoy 6 rides from Otterlo, some new and some old favourites.

  1. Cycling to Kootwijk village & back (30 km): Many cyclists are out on Saturday morning as we ride into Otterlo to buy cheese & ham croissants with free coffee at the Spar before riding north on the path alongside rd N310. After Harskamp we turn along a minor road northeast for 5 km to Kootwijk village. A welcome ice cream break at Restaurant de Brinkhof, and back on a narrow Fietspad through the woods to meet and cross N310, then south on lanes returning to Otterlo.
  2. Cycling to the town of Ede & back (26 km): On a cloudy morning we ride through the forest and across the Ederheide heath on excellent sealed Fietspads, much quieter mid-week. In the modern town of Ede, completely rebuilt after 1945, we sit by the market square outside our favourite 'Lunch Café de Markt' (11 km) as the church clock strikes noon. Lunch is Granny's Pea Soup with ham sandwich for M, a Hawaiian toastie and salad for B, followed by coffee served with a small pot of whipped cream and Advokaat liqueur, as well as the customary biscuit. The café also does wonderful Appelkoeken met Slagroom (apple tart with cream).

We return on a more direct woodland route and circle round by Otterlo's entrance to the Hoge Veluwe National Park before riding back to camp. The Hoge Veluwe, planted as a royal hunting forest and still home to deer and wild boar, is a large fenced private nature reserve with entrance fee to park and museum, art gallery fee, parking fee, coaches of Oriental visitors, horse-drawn carts etc. There is no reduction for simple entry to cycle through the park, even for seniors. Hoge does mean 'high' and it's one of the three highest places in the Netherlands, at 33 m or 109 ft! The prices are certainly steep.

  1. Cycling to Radio Kootwijk & back via Hoenderloo (38 km): On a cool morning with a hint of rain we ride the cycle path alongside N310 to Harskamp. Here we turn off on a dirt track through the sandy woods to the eerie 'Kathedral Radio Kootwijk', a huge 1920s concrete building used as a signal station during WW2, rising high above the open heathland. The restored edifice is now open to visit for €5 but only on Wednesdays, 11 am-3 pm – and today is Thursday. We continue on the Fietspad to Hoenderloo, a smoothly sealed but more strenuous route that crosses hilly open heath and winds through rolling woodland before meeting the road about 1 km before the village.

'Broodhuis Lokaliteit', the bakery café in Hoenderloo, is popular with cyclists who can freely refill water bottles, consult maps or even recharge e-bikes here! We just tuck in to generous servings of blueberry cake with our coffee. We return to Otterlo on a separate path alongside the main road for the final 10 km.

  1. Cycling the perimeter of the Hoge Veluwe National Park (48 km): Armed with a packed lunch, we complete a wide circle anticlockwise round the edge of the Park. Going east from Otterlo, then south alongside N310, east on N311 and north on a separate path alongside the A50 via Terle, we come to Groenendal (20 km) and sit under the trees to eat our sandwiches. On through Woeste Hoeve before turning west to an applecake break in Hoenderloo, then the final 10 km to Otterlo. The varied ride follows paths on tarmac, as well as gravel paths through forest and moorland.
  2. Cycling to Lunteren & back via Ede (40 km): We ride some paths that are new to us, west from Otterlo via Roekel to Lunteren on a mixture of tracks through woodland and alongside roads. In Lunteren (20 km) we eat our sandwiches in the park by the splendid new library, which has toilets, an art exhibition and a small coffee bar. Then we turn south to Ede, where Tuesday is market day, filling the square (and our favourite café). Enjoying ices from the Italian ice parlour, we watch the crowd, with music playing and a performer blowing giant bubbles! Return to Otterlo by the most direct route, the path alongside N304. 



Otterlo to Camping Aschenbeck, Wildeshausen, Niedersachsen – 160 miles

Open all year. www.aschenbeck-camping.de. €19 inc 16 amp elec. WiFi €3 per day, €8 per week. Showers €0.80.  N 52.93400  E8.40200

As July slips into August our peace is invaded, with daily activities for the children and grandchildren on site. We phone 4 other sites around Otterlo but all are full! This is a popular holiday area with the Dutch, away from the windmills and canals of the tourist trail, and the weather is fine and sunny.

It's only 11 miles northeast on N304 to join the A1 bound for Germany. We cross the broad River Ijssel near Deventer before reaching the border (61 miles). There is a large service area on the Dutch side but no checks or delays, and no Autobahn tolls if under 7 tons. Continuing east on the German A30 to exit 14 at 101 miles, we turn north on A1 towards Bremen, stopping for lunch on the Dammer Berge services (which even has a small church!)

On to exit 60 at 156 miles, then follow the SatNav to a campsite to the north of the A1. The last half-mile is single-track road, thankfully not busy. My ACSI review:

"A simple campsite, mainly statics, down 0.5 km of single-track road on the edge of a wooded nature park. There are two areas for tourers, plus a field for tents by 3 small lakes. The site restaurant has closed down but the owners were serving meals in a marquee from 6 pm: pizzas, burgers, sausages etc. Enjoyed huge portions of Schnitzel with tasty roast potatoes. WiFi available for payment. Shower tokens cost 0.80 Euros."

We only stay one night, breaking the journey, but will long remember the generous Schnitzel! If we'd seen the portion size we'd have ordered one plate between us. The unreliable free WiFi of 6 years ago has been replaced by a pay-online system, which we don't try.

Wildeshausen to Camping Lübeck-Schönböcken, Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein – 130 miles

Open 1 March-11 Dec. www.camping-luebeck.de. €24 inc 6 amp elec. Free WiFi. Showers €0.50.  N 53.86943  E10.63086

Only 5 miles from Camp Aschenbeck to Lidl on the Wildeshausen Ring Road (south of the A1), with plenty of parking space. Restocked, we join the Hamburg-bound A1, busy with trucks from all over Europe on this fine Monday morning. Some road works and lane closures cause delays, while we listen to two CDs found at Lidl – Cat Stevens and Johnny Cash!

Crossing the wide River Weser near Bremen, we remember cycling along the Weser Radweg to the river's source in Hann-Münden. At 92 miles we cross the Elbe, with more memories of taking the now defunct (and much missed) ferry from Harwich to Hamburg and cycling alongside that mighty river.

The A1 continues to Lübeck, where we take exit 23, cross the motorway and turn right on Steinrader Damm to find the convenient campsite. It's very busy but we settle into a place at the far end and find that our TV doesn't work here. Barry eventually discovers that some German cities have changed to a higher definition system, which would require a set-top box or a new television! At least we have BBC Radio 4, thanks to the WiFi, and are able to work online, including an ACSI review:

"Second visit to this busy campsite, convenient for the motorway and the city. Pitches are crowded too close together and the site is by a noisy road. Easy cycle ride, less than 5 miles, along bike paths into the picturesque centre of Lübeck. WiFi is now free throughout the site. The facilities are barely adequate when busy. Queue for showers, costing 0.50 Euros."

Tomorrow we'll cycle into the city (or you can take a bus).

At Camping Lübeck-Schönböcken – Cycling 16 km into and around Lübeck

Next afternoon with a helpful map from Reception we ride along Schönböckener Strasse and Fackenburger Allee (on safe dual-use cyclepath/pavements) until turning left over the Puppenbrücke bridge. Near the historic salt warehouses, we cross the Holstenbrücke over the Trave River, entering the Altstadt (Old Town) by the Gothic Brick towers of the 15thC Holstentor gate, the symbol of the city. This medieval capital of the Hanseatic League lies on a small island, surrounded by the river and the Trave Canal. By the 17thC Lübeck was extremely wealthy and important, with rich merchants trading especially in salt. Today it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/272

We find the central market place, with its magnificent Rathaus and soaring spires of the Petrikirche attracting the tourist cameras, then ride to the waterside at the Hansahafen harbour. What a contrast between the shops and cafes in the centre, thronged with groups, and the emptiness of the quaint side streets and cobbled lanes round the edges!

A clockwise circuit of the island's 5-mile perimeter takes us along An der Untertrave to the Burgtor bridge and tower, then via Kanal Strasse to the Huxtertor bridge, where we descend steps to a canal-side foot/cyclepath. Here we pause over coffee and raspberry cheesecake, sitting in the sunshine outside a little restaurant by the canal, waving to the passing barges, pleasure boats and kayakers. The path takes us on to Mühlendamm (site of an old mill near the Cathedral), where we join the riverside and follow An der Obertrave back to the Holstentor gate. After seeing the wooden sailing ships, we return to camp before it starts to rain.     


Note: DKK (Danish Krone) approx 8 = £1

Lübeck to Maribo So (Lake) Camping, Maribo, Lolland – 56 German miles to Puttgarden for Scandlines Ferry to Rodbyhavn, plus 13 Danish miles to Maribo

Open 31 March-22 Oct. www.maribo-camping.dk. DKK 246 inc 10 amp elec and show*ers. Excellent free site-wide WiFi.  N 54.77260  E11.49463

Warm and sunny as we drive 2 miles to join the A1, junction 22, to face an immediate Stau (traffic jam – Germany's favourite spread) as one half of the motorway is closed. Five minutes later we're moving again, with a much longer hold-up for traffic coming into Lübeck. The motorway ends at 43 miles, when we continue on E47/rd 207, across a bridge to Fehmarn island and on to Puttgarden at 56 miles for the Scandlines ferry to Rodbyhavn in Denmark.

We arrive in time for the 12.15 pm sailing (ferries leave every 30 minutes for the 45-minute crossing). Booking ahead would have saved €9, but paying at check-in I am given a discount for the Camping Key Europe card – even though mine expired at the end of 2016 – and save more than €9! Only later do we learn of a 'Sweden Combi-Ticket' - including either the ferry to Helsingor or the Oresund Link Bridge to Malmo - which can be booked online: www.scandlines.com. If there is a next time, we will know!

From Rodbyhavn the E47, a 4-lane motorway, takes us straight to Maribo (exit 48). Entering the town, there is plenty of space to park at Lidl or Aldi by the roundabout, with a convenient bank ATM nearby for Danish currency. Then it's less than a mile to the busy campsite set among Bangshave Woods on the side of Sonderso Lake, next to an Open Air Museum.

The newly installed site-wide fibre broadband is good and fast, but otherwise the camp is disappointing and overpriced. My ACSI review:

“Since my visit and review 6 years ago, there is now free WiFi internet but the camping fee has risen substantially. Convenient stopover for taking the ferry to/from Germany. It's an easy walk into town or cycle ride round the lake (24 km). There are many permanent caravans and a lot of the touring pitches were out of use due to soft ground and mud (in August, high season). We drove round the whole site 3 times before finding a suitable place. It needs investment in some hard-standing for motorhomes.”

We settle in a corner with a view of the lake and stroll down to feed the ducks, coots and a lone moorhen with chicks.

At Maribo Lake Camping – Cycling 24 km around the town and Sonderso Lake

Another warm day, though cloudy and sultry. Cycling into the town centre, we find a food and craft market in full swing. One stall has 'English Fish & Chips', though at DKK 80 (£10) each for a small helping we are not tempted! We ride on, clockwise round Sonderso Lake, following a signed bike route for much of the way: a splendid ride, on which we see barely a soul and no other cyclists.

The route takes us through Maribo, then along quiet lanes past the kayak club, golf club and youth hostel. With the water rarely in view, we pass the modern St Birgitta Convent, on the site of its medieval forebear, and the old Engestofte Kirke.

Half way round, towards the eastern end of the lake, the cycle/footpath leaves the road and runs through lofty mature woodland. Just before the short bridge separating Sonderso from the smaller lake Hejredeso there is a bird hide and picnic tables, next to a pumping station. We take a break to watch the coots, ducks, swans and gulls, then cross the bridge and turn west on a gravel path through the woods before joining a long straight lane along a former railway line, back to Maribo. We take a lakeside short cut, turning north on the narrow track up the west side of Sonderso, through Maribo Nature Reserve and past the Frilands (Open Air) Museum, next to the campsite.

Maribo to Heino's Camping, Tappernoje, South Zealand – 42 miles

Open all year. www.heinoscamping.dk. DKK 130 inc 10 amp elec. Token needed for showers. 'Free WiFi' didn't work. Cash only (DKK or Euros).  N 55.16568  E11.98195

Next morning, drizzling with rain, we leave Maribo's overpriced site (where one camper has a stall selling Tupperware!). A quick stop at Lidl by the roundabout, then onto the E47 towards Copenhagen. After 14 miles a tunnel takes us from Lolland (Denmark's southernmost island) onto Falster, then crosses to Zealand over a bridge. There are no tolls on the motorway or on these short links. 

We leave E47 at exit 40 and continue north on rd 151 (the old north-south road) to the small agricultural village of Tappernoje, with a campsite we know signed on the right. It's a quiet farm site - home to chickens, turkeys, rabbits and bees - with level grassy hedged pitches, a few cabins and simple facilities (no washing machine here). Heino, the friendly old owner who lives on site, calls round in the evening for the money and to round up his hens. He proudly gives us the password for the new site WiFi, though we get no signal at all! 

We do get Danish TV, showing Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Elizabeth I (with subtitles)


Note: SEK (Swedish Krona) approx 10 = £1

Tappernoje to Vinslovs Camping, Vinslov, Skane – 142 miles

Open all year. www.vinslovscamping.se. SEK 200 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. No internet.  N 56.10988  E13.91245

It's raining as we drive 2 miles to rejoin E47 at Junction 38 and continue towards Copenhagen/Kobenhavn. 50 miles later, near the capital's Kastrup airport on Dragor island, we enter a well-lit 2.5-mile submarine tunnel at the Danish end of the Oresund Link. Emerging, the road crosses the tiny artificial island of Peberholm before arching 60m/200 ft above the shipping lane on a 5-mile double-decker suspension bridge, carrying the railway beneath the 4-lane dual carriageway.

Continuing towards Malmo, we cross the border at 58 miles at the height of the bridge. The 16 km/10 mile Link is a magnificent engineering achievement: a road and rail tunnel/bridge linking Denmark and Sweden that provides an alternative to the short ferry ride across the Oresund Strait between Helsingborg and Helsingor. By coincidence (?!) the charge for the Link is the same as for the ferry! www.oresundsbron.com/en/start
The whole breath-taking feat – Sweden's only road link with mainland Europe, except via Finland, Russia and St Petersburg – was completed in 1999. It was opened with a symbolic embrace, halfway across the new bridge, of Sweden's Crown Princess and Denmark's Crown Prince (ahh!). The crossing is sometimes closed to high-sided vehicles in strong winds but today we have a light tail wind, with a poor view through a haze of mist and rain. The toll booth is at the Swedish end of the bridge, payable by card or cash (Swedish, Danish or Euro currency).
Whichever way, the charge is steep for a vehicle over 6 m long. There is no exchange facility or bank machine.

Now in Sweden, we follow the E22 motorway/dual carriageway past Lund, parking at the first service station for a lunch break. Still no change or ATM! Turning off into Hörby, we find an ATM for local currency at the ICA supermarket (usually reliable throughout the country). Back on E22, we take the next exit (32) to check a camperstop listed in the Bordatlas at Ekerödsrasten but find only a wet sloping field with hook-ups, the other facilities locked. A sign says 'Pay at Restaurant' (SEK 200 a night) but it's closed and there are no other campers.

So we go for 'Plan B', via country lanes to a municipal camp in Vinslov, opposite the open air baths. The site is fairly busy, although it's mid-August and the last weekend of the school holidays! The Receptionist insists we buy a Camping Key Europe Card (or rather a membership app for the phone, as she has run out of cards). This is obligatory on many Swedish sites and costs 160 SEK but at least it's now valid for 12 months, rather than expiring at the end of December.

In the evening the Swedish TV shows the 2016 Edinburgh Tattoo, a real treat!    

At Vinslovs Camping, Vinslov

The sky is now clear and blue, with a cold wind. We enjoy a restful Sunday, waving the other campers off in an array of motorhomes and caravans, as well as a young couple towing their toddler in a cycling trailer. The holiday season is over; the open air pool closing. There is no queue for showers and laundry (washer 20 SEK, drier free).

With the well-equipped camp kitchen to myself, I make toad-in-the-hole and apple flapjack for dinner, after which we watch 'Mamma Mia' on Swedish TV. Yes, an absurd story, but it's well acted, has super-trooper songs, a great setting on a Greek island – and Colin Firth!

Vinslov to Ojaby Camping, Växjö, Smaland – 77 miles

Open all year. www.campingkartan.se/053513/Ojaby_Camping. SEK 250 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free use of washing macine & drier. No internet.  N 56.899723  E14.739704

We drive NW on road 21, with a short detour into Hässleholm after 10 miles to stock up at Lidl, delighted to find 'Hatherwoods' (English-style) frozen pies: steak & ale or chicken & leek. That's dinner sorted! Then road 23 (with warning signs for Elk and Wild Boar) leads us NE for Växjö.

It's a fine sunny day but clouds are gathering over the forest, the wind shivering the birch leaves. We lunch in a wooded rest area behind a fuel station, noting that diesel at 13.4 SEK is much more expensive than in Denmark (where it was 8 DKK).

Leaving rd 23 on the edge of Växjö (pronounced Veck-shur), it's a couple of miles to a small campsite next to the tennis courts, accessed through a public car park by Lake Helgasjo. At the entrance a kiosk sells burgers, sausages and ice cream, while a temporary stall has lingenberries and blueberries by the kilo. The berry-picking season has begun.

A friendly English-speaking woman emerges from her caravan to check us in (no camping card required) and explains that it's a municipal camp staffed by volunteers. All the facilities are on the far side of the car park, quite a walk, but they are excellent and include free use of a washer and drier!

At Ojaby Camping, Växjö

Click: magbazpictures.com/camping-at-ojaby

08-Ojaby_(24).JPGStill sunny and warm enough to wear shorts for cycling into the centre of Växjö: 6 km on signed bike paths the whole way, quite separate from the traffic. The Forex Bank changes our remaining Danish notes (but not coins) into Swedish money and the assistant directs us to the elusive Post Office counter, hidden inside a stationer's in the Tegner shopping mall. A stamp for a letter to the UK costs 20.10 SEK (over £2) so we won't be sending many cards! After surprisingly good coffee at McDonads, sitting at its pavement café watching jackdaws begging and stealing chips, we return to camp for lunch.

Back at the campsite a large furry cat jumps into the motorhome 'garage' as Barry puts the bicycles away – and disappears! Then a distressed head pokes out of a small round aperture in the gas boiler cupboard and we realise the animal is too fat to get out! No idea how or why it got in? Barry fetches tools to dismantle the locker, I try coaxing and the thing finally breathes in and struggles out. A reminder not to leave the 'garage' door open!   

Taking a short afternoon walk in Ojaby, we follow a sign uphill to a prehistoric 09-Ojaby_(45).JPGgrave-field of stone-covered mounds, about 3,500 years old, with a view over the lake. There are several such sites in the area though we could find nothing more about them on-line.

After making moussaka for dinner we turn to Swedish TV, which carries many British and American series with original soundtracks. Not so interesting tonight though: a BBC programme about religion and sex.

Växjö to Hätte Camping, Tranas, Smaland – 99 miles

Open all year. www.hattecamping.se. SEK 270 (high season) inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. ACSI Card €17 from 23 Aug. WiFi SEK 10/1 hour; SEK 25/1 day.  N 58.03548  E15.0309


The weather turns wet as we drive 2 miles to join rd 30 and continue north through a typical landscape of forest and lakes. At 23 miles we go through Lammhult, a pleasant little town with a sports hall and outdoor pool - and a queue of migrants at the bus stop, the women fully covered. We wonder what they will make of a Swedish winter. 

After another 10 miles we turn off left to a quiet rest area (4 miles south of Vrigstad) by the 12thC Old Hj
älmseryd Church, restored from a ruin and reconsecrated in 1934. A wooden bell tower was added in 1937. Sadly it is locked, except for regular Sunday services, so we just stroll round the tidy cemetery full of flowers.


In Vrigstad we turn onto rd 127 to Savsjö, then left onto rd 128 to Eksjö (sjö=lake). On the way in, at 68 miles, we park at another Swedish favourite, the Dollar Store (motto 'Mighty Fine Prices Every Day'), to eat lunch and browse. No need for the huge array of toys, household stuff etc, but we do buy chocolate, biscuits, cake and shampoo.

Then north on rd 32 to the exit for Tranas at 94 miles, through the town centre and along rd 131 to the large campsite. It's a former municipal, now privately owned, near the west shore of Lake Sommen.

As the low season rate doesn't start for another 3 days here, we are charged the exorbitant full rate. No wonder the site is almost empty! We decline to pay extra for internet and decide to leave tomorrow! I post the following ACSI Review:

"A large site with access to a lake and public beach, with boating, bathing, kayak hire and cafe. All facilities need smart-key entry. Only one of the two shower blocks has private cubicles. The site was dead, the season was over - only three days to go before ACSI Card discount began - and the high price charged was excessive. WiFi cost extra. Only stayed one night."

When the rain stops, we take a walk round by the lake, with no sign of life at all. The season really is over.

Tranas to Liens Camping, Riddarhyttan, Västmanland – 150 miles

Open all year. www.lienscamping.se. SEK 230 inc 10 amp elec and cooking facilities. Showers SEK 5. Free WiFi on pitches near Reception.  N 59.80877  E15.53401

Fine and sunny again as we return through Tranas, pausing at Lidl by a roundabout, and join rd 32 north for Mjölby. After refuelling on the Mjölby ring road we cross the E4, which goes to Stockholm, and continue north on rd 50.

A lunch break at the spacious rest area just before the bridge over Storahammarsund at Hammar. Then on to Hallsberg at 87 miles, to join E20 northeast. Traffic is very busy round Orebro, where we take exit 115 at 105 miles and continue north on rd 50 towards Falun. The landscape varies: some forest broken by pasture for sheep and cows; some land cleared for growing wheat and oats.

After Lindesberg we fork right at 130 miles onto rd 68 for another 19 miles, then turn left into the large campsite. Our pitch number 40, near Reception, gets good free WiFi and encourages us to linger and catch up with emails and route planning. I also write a favourable ACSI Review:

"A large site with pitches among the statics near the lake or in the woods nearer Reception, which has a small cafe and shop. Friendly English-speaking staff. Good clean services, with coin-operated showers and a kitchen with full cooking facilities. Free WiFi near Reception, which worked on our pitch. On Saturday afternoon the site managers lit a campfire and provided pancake batter to cook over it in long-handled frying pans. Very popular with the children!"

A tasty dinner of Steak & Ale Pie followed by a Swedish favourite, Princess Cake, all thanks to Lidl. We'll miss them once we're north of Ostersund. Princess Cake is similar to a Victoria Sponge, filled with plenty of cream and raspberry jam, then the whole is covered in pale green marzipan. Irresistible!

At Liens Camping, Riddarhyttan

The next 2 days are wet with heavy rain at night. Between showers we walk round the campsite (mainly statics terraced on the side of Lake Liens) and along the lane to Riddarhyttan. The village has a well-stocked store/post office, a restaurant (closed down) and a Youth Hostel sign pointing into the woods.

The self-service fuel station is on the site of the old railway station, the lines long gone. It served passengers until the early 1950s and freight into the 1960s, carrying iron and copper from local mines. The former station building houses a small café, now closed out of season, with an exhibition upstairs and monochrome photos visible through the windows.

We don't join the long queue to cook pancakes at the campsite grill, though it's a nice gesture to mark the end of summer.

Local TV shows an episode of 'Last Tango in Halifax' – a touch of home.

Riddarhyttan to Västanviksbadets Camping, Leksand, Dalarna – 97 miles

Open 29 April-17 Sept. www.vastanviksbadetscamping.se. ACSI Card €17/SEK 170 (from 17 Aug) inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. WiFi available to pay online.  N 60.73061  E14.95221

On Sunday morning we take rd 68 for 15 miles towards Fagersta, then turn left onto rd 66 for Ludvika, the forested road now starting to roll a little reaching 130 m/430 ft high. At 32 miles, during a break at a typical lakeside rest area at Barka, the black clouds bring rain while the sun creates a perfect rainbow below us over the water. It disappears just as Barry points the camera! Ten miles further in Ludvika we turn right onto rd 50, a busier and wider 3-lane road, towards Borlange.

At 53 miles our lunch break is in a large rest area by a lake (what else!) with picnic tables, WC and a small café – a good overnight spot. Shortly before Borlange we call at Lidl (open on Sunday), then turn left at 68 miles onto rd 70/E16 signed for Mora. Taking the exit for 'Leksand South', we follow a road round the foot of Lake Siljan to the campsite on its western shore.

11-Leksand_(22).JPGThe Dutch-run site developed from a simple bathing place on the lake shore opposite Leksand, 5 miles away by road. The quaint two-storey wooden Reception building dates from the 1700's and most of the wooden rental cottages that have been gathered here are 150 years old, differing in layout and size. Now it's low season with a good ACSI Card price on all pitches, though in high season lakeside pitches cost extra.

Leksand is a popular venue for Midsummer festivals, with church-boat races on the lake and dancing round the maypoles (erected in June – in May there could still be snow and few leaves on the trees!) and the camp has only 3-day packages available for 22, 23 and 24 June, with a need to book early! Today, we have the place almost to ourselves.

At Västanviksbadets Camping, Leksand

Click: magbazpictures.com/leksand-town--camping

Next day is dry with a cool north wind. We cycle into Leksand (8 km), on a bike path/pavement as far as the town bridge. The ICA supermarket/post office is open, though the Tourist Office is closed (Monday).

02-Leksand_(45).JPGRiding on alongside the lake (in search of a café but finding none open) we reach the graveyard and onion-domed church that can be seen from the campsite directly across the water. One of Sweden's biggest churches, it is freely open (10 am-5.30 pm), the interior peacefully painted in pale blue and grey, with a splendid organ, carved wooden pulpit and large crucifix above the altar. It stands on the oldest church site in Dalarna Province, dating from the 13thC, though the present church was rebuilt in 1709 following a fire.

05-Leksand_(53).JPGOn the way back to the campsite we look at the harbour on the Osterdalalven river, between the town bridge and the Highway 70 bridge. A couple of old steamers are moored there and another sails past sounding its hooter. On the south bank a curious wooden paddle-boat, shaped like a rowing boat, stands on display. Dated 1810, it carried 12 passengers and a crew of five: four to turn the paddles and one to steer the rudder.

Leksand to Ljusdals Camping, Ljusdal, Gävleborg – 134 miles

Open all year. www.ljusdalscamping.se. ACSI Card €19/SEK 185 (from 20 Aug) inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Excellent free WiFi site-wide.  N 61.83894  E16.04059

From Leksand it's 17 miles north on rd 70 to Rattvik, a larger lakeside town, where we leave Lake Siljan and take rd 301 for 23 miles to Furudal, a village set on the Ore River between two lakes, with an ice-hockey-school and ice-hall. We continue via Edsbyn to Bollnas on the quiet 2-lane road 2296/301 between lakes, rivers and forest, with wooden houses old and new. There is some tree-felling and an occasional logging truck. New bus shelters line our route, with half for seating, half a covered bike rack. What a good way to get to school, in a safe country.

After lunch on Lidl car park in Bollnas, rd 83 parallels the railway northwards along the Ljusnan River valley. At 131 miles we cross the river, turn left by the large church and belltower and continue to the campsite on the right of rd 83 by the shore of Lake Växnan, which flows into Ljusnan River and so to the Gulf of Bothnia.

It's a friendly Dutch-run site, where they remember us from last September. We settle on a pitch overlooking the beach and the lake, ruffled into waves by a cold north wind. A good place for a short break, catching up on laundry and emails.

At Ljusdals Camping, Ljusdal

Click: magbazpictures.com/ljusdal-old-town

03-Ljusdal_(14).JPGNext morning we cycle the bike path/pavement past Lake Växnan's bathing shore towards town, turn right at the church (3 km), then first left and 1 km along the south coast of the smaller Kyrksjön lake to the Volkpark, lying between lake and the Ljusnan River. The extensive park area has a splendid collection of 17th and 18thC wooden buildings (bake house, threshing mill, grain store etc) to look at, set around the large Hembygdsgarden (= homestead).

This farmhouse is now a wonderfully atmospheric restaurant, 06-Ljusdal_(20).JPGrecommended for lunch by our campsite hosts. With two busy dining areas, as well as outdoor seating, the self-service buffet (11 am-3 pm Mon-Fri; noon-4 pm Sat-Sun) is very popular, especially with Seniors who get a discount, the weekday set price of SEK 90 being reduced to SEK 75! It's amazing value for an array of salads, rolls and crisp breads, fish, meaty burgers, roast spuds, boiled potatoes in a creamy sauce, apple juice, good coffee and home-made biscuits. The only extra would be drinks from the bar. www.rest-hembygdsgarden.se

07-Ljusdal_(22).JPGAfter this feast we ride on past the sports fields, with an inflatable marquee left over from last weekend's Skogstransport exhibition, the largest in the country. Skog = Wood, and the crowds for this annual display of log-transporting machinery and vehicles had filled every bed in the town, including the campsite cabins! A bike path takes us round the Kyrksjön lake and over the railway track into Ljusdal, a pleasant town with several shops including Lidl. Timber is piled high along the railway lines, so the logs don't all go by road.

On the way back to camp we visit the church, freely open. A leaflet tells the history of a 01-Ljusdal_(48).JPG12thC stone church built here on the site of a pagan sacrificial temple. The small church was lengthened at the end of the 15thC, galleries being added some time later. After a fire in August 1753 the ravaged church was reconstructed and enlarged to the size it is today, renovated and repainted in 1914-15, and finally cleaned and improved (a fire escape from the gallery!) in 1992. Its treasures include a triptych made in Antwerp around 1500, a 15thC crucifix on the north wall and a carved pulpit made in 1773.

04-Ljusdal_(58).JPGThe massive detached bell tower has a big bell dated 1754 and a smaller one from 1633, which carries an interesting inscription, translated in the leaflet as:

Dear Christian, What I give is nothing but a dead sound but bear in mind, you who have a living spirit to know what you should do while you are alive and can hear me. When I ring do not stay longer outside the house of God and do not enter without devotion and prayer. Remember when you hear me ring at the funerals of your friends that I shall soon be ready to serve you for the last time. And so I wish to serve everyone until I must be consumed with the whole world, when all living creatures will hear the last ringing of the bells, which is the last trump on Judgement Day.”

Or to summarise: Ask not for whom the bell tolls …

Our last day at Ljusdal is cold and damp. I do some mending while we listen to the play 'Educating Rita' on BBC Radio 4, with the wonderful Bill Nighy taking the role of Frank, the OU Lecturer played by Michael Caine in the film version. Willy Russell's brilliant script has hardly dated since 1980.

My ACSI Review of Ljusdal:

"Second visit to this grassy lakeside camp, just 3 km from Ljusdal on road 83, with easy cycle path into town. Swimming beach just below campsite. Very friendly Dutch owners give off-season ACSI Card rate. Good facilities with private showers. Kitchen with microwave and hotplate. Excellent free WiFi throughout the site. Ljusdal has a good range of shops and an interesting old church. Can also recommend the weekday lunch buffet at the historic Hembygdsgarden (Homestead) Restaurant in the Volkpark, 4 km from camp - with pensioner discount!"

Ljusdal to Camp Viking, Gallo, Jamtland – 112 miles

Open all year. www.campviking.se. SEK 250 inc 10 amp elec, cooking facilities and non-private showers. Free WiFi zone in reception/bar only.  N 62.917989  E15.251596

We drive north through forest on quiet rd 84, with a break in Ramsjö after 34 miles. Parked by the white wooden church, we watch a couple arrive by car, quickly measure and photograph a headstone in the graveyard, then leave. We find it bears one name (male, died 2002 age 73), so perhaps his widow is about to be added to the inscription.

Rd 84 runs parallel with the railway line to Ange, threading its way between lakes and forest. After Ange, at 71 miles, it meets the busier E14 linking Sundsvall on the Gulf of Bothnia with Östersund. We turn east (Sundsvall direction) for 3 miles to Borgsjö services, to refuel and stay at the Träporten Restaurant & Camping, a site we used in October 2016 for a night: www.traporten.eu. Today the wet sloping field is very soft and we're glad to get out, tyres spinning.

So it's back on E14 northwest, stopping 30 miles short of Östersund at Camp Viking in Gällo (pronounced 'Yellow'). The campsite's main feature is a bar with real Belgian beer (open) and a bistro called 'Beaucoup de Bla Bla' (closed). The Belgian owner (eventually found in the bar) tells us it is 'Oktoberfest' in Gällo. Asked why this happens in August, she explains it is too cold in October! She doesn't tell us that the music from the town will keep us awake till 2 am. My ACSI Review tells the rest of the story:

 “Unkempt camping between a lake and the busy noisy road E14. Site entrance next to a petrol station. The owners seem more interested in running the on-site bar/bistro than attending to the campsite or welcoming the campers. Plenty of Belgian beer available (but no food). Free WiFi, but only in the bar. Overpriced in comparison with other Swedish sites off-season.

There is a kitchen with microwave and hotplate. The other facilities are dreadful. The women's washroom has only two open showers and no privacy cubicles. The WC is unisex, with unscreened urinals opposite the handwash basins. Unbelievable! The ancient electrical hookups were 2-pin with ceramic fuses of unknown amperage. Checkout time was 11 am, after which I was told the exit barrier code would not work! It was a relief to get out of the place next morning.”

Gällo to Camp Route 45, Hammerdal, Jämtland – 70 miles

Open all year. www.camproute45.com. SEK 220 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi throughout.  N 63.57500  E15.34333

Away well before the 11 am deadline, we continue on E14 to Östersund, slipping off at the roundabout to shop at the huge Coop Forum. The parking area is busy with Swedish, Norwegian and German motorhomes heading south. We know from experience that the Lidl in the town centre has only a small car park, so leave that to the locals. This is the largest town we'll see until Gällivare, over 400 miles away inside the Arctic Circle. The last Lidl, McDonalds, crowds, traffic – now for the real Sweden!

Our route is ever-north for Swedish Lapland, soon meeting the Inland Road E45, the Inlandsvägen, past Lits and into the endless forest, shadowing the Inlandsbanan (Inland Railway) line to its terminus in Gällivare. Pausing for lunch in a roadside rest area, we see a Crane on the edge of the woods, though no Elk despite the signs.

Hammerdal_2.JPGEntering the small town of Hammerdal, we turn left along the short lane to a delightful camp tucked away in the forest. It's very quiet (just two German motorhomes here). We were really pleased to find this site in autumn 2016 and it feels like visiting old friends as we catch up with the owners, James & Julie. Luckily we have just missed the annual Joel Mässan festival in mid-August (www.joelmassan.se) when both campsite and town are full. James had enjoyed hosting a team of Irish double-headed axe throwers, come to compete in the championship!

Settled by the Fyran River, we enjoy a dinner of roast chicken (Coop Forum) and defrost the 'Hatherwoods Afternoon Tea' cream cakes (from Lidl in Ljusdal), followed by an episode of Midsomer Murders on Swedish TV. A decidedly better evening than yesterday!

At Camp Route 45, Hammerdal

Over the next 5 days we have some clear sunny skies, though the nights are down to a chilly 7°C. There is time for laundry and cleaning, writing and reading. It's good to see James & Julie again, with easy conversation over James's blueberry pancakes. He also presents us with Chanterelle mushrooms, gathered along the Wilderness Road to the north, and proposes that we relocate into Squirrel Cottage, one of the campiste Stugas.


Along the 40-minute forest trail, we pick lingenberries and blueberries to be turned into jam.Hammerdal_3.JPG We also stroll into Hammerdal (1 mile) to use the ATM inside the supermarket and enjoy a lunchtime Dagens Rätt (meal of the day) at the bus station grill: salad bar, crisp breads, hot dish, soft drink, coffee & biscuits for 80 SEK. The cheesy fish & pasta dish is excellent, cooked by the Turkish chef who has run the grill for over 30 years.

Hammerdal_1.JPGAn afternoon cycle ride (total 22 km) takes us past Hammerdal school, through the churchyard, along a path by the lake, then westwards on 8 km of quiet forested road to the village of Sikas on the Inland Railway line. There are a few houses and farms, a stable yard and one shop/fuel station. As the sky darkens, heralding rain, we swiftly return the way we came rather than extending the ride.

Click: magbazpictures.com/hammerdal-camping

Talking with James & Julie and their children, we are grateful to learn so much about life in Hammerdal and the Swedish education system, summarised in my article 'Life in a small Swedish Town'.

Hammerdal to Kolgardens Camping, Vilhelmina, Västerbotten, Lapland – 103 miles

Open all year. www.kolgarden.se/camping/. SEK 250 inc 10 amp elec, excellent showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi throughout.  N 64.64998  E16.59240

On the last day of August, after a lengthy farewell Fika (the Swedish custom of coffee and pastries) with our generous hosts at Hammerdal, we head up the E45, against the flow of German, Dutch and Norwegian campers going south. The only other traffic is logging trucks. After 21 miles we go through Stromsund (where the Wilderness Road loop joins E45), then on past the deserted lakeside camp at Lövberga, 13 miles later.

At 61 miles we enter the Region of Lapland, the E45 Inland Road now marked with new snow poles as it rolls through the forest alongside the Inland Railway at an average altitude of 1,000 ft. We take a break in Dorotea, a nice little town on the Inlandsbanan with a campsite, shops, a hotel/restaurant and the Polar Caravan Factory & Museum, all of which we know well.

Then on to Vilhelmina, a historic forestry town on the Inland Road and Inland Railway. It's one of three settlements in Lapland named after Fredrika Dorotea Wilhelmina of Baden, Queen Consort 1797-1809 (married to King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden). After the town centre, with a timber church dated 1792, we soon turn left off E45 onto Sagavägen (the start/end of the Wilderness Road loop). Just a mile along is a well-kept campsite with first class facilities (large kitchen, dining room, sitting room, individual heated bathrooms, laundry) and we settle on a pitch overlooking the extensive Lake Volgsjön.


The Vildmarksvägen (Wilderness Road) is a 500 km loop into the Swedish mountains, almost reaching the Norwegian border. The top section, above the treeline over Klimpfjäll and the Stekenjokk plateau, is only open in summer (early June to mid-Oct). Having driven round it more than once in the past, we can recommend it for waterfalls and – well - wilderness. The motorhome is ideal for this circuit, allowing a leisurely journey with an overnight stop on the way. www.vildmarksvagen.com  


At Kolgardens Camping, Vilhelmina

1._Vilhelmina.JPGNext day a strong cold wind deters us from cycling into Vilhelmina; a short walk round the campsite and by the lake is more than enough! Two of the Stugas here are occupied by hunters, complete with hounds, and I'm sad to see game bags hanging on their porches with the distinctive black (male) and brown (female) heads of Capercaillie poking out of the top. This is what was meant by a camper in Hammerdal, who said it was the season for shooting 'black birds'. If only they could shoot back! A much nicer sight is a red squirrel carrying a large fungus up a tree, then holding it to nibble in safety. There are also plenty of Wagtails and Chaffinch.

In the well equipped camp kitchen, the Hammerdal berries yield 4 jars of jam.

My ACSI Review of Kolgardens written on our first visit in Sept 2011 still holds true:

“A real gem of a campsite, 5 km from Vilhelmina on the 'Wilderness Road', set by a beautiful lake. It has a summer restaurant, sauna and excellent camping facilities, with Hotel standard family bathrooms, kitchen, comfortable lounge (with internet and free WiFi) and a laundry. A favourite!”

Vilhelmina to Slagnäs Camping, Slagnäs, Norrbotten, Lapland – 104 miles (alt 415 m/1,370 ft)

Open all year. www.slagnascamping.com. SEK 230 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi throughout.  N 65.58458  E18.17284

A fox crosses the E45 as we head north, pausing after 14 miles in the rest area by the peaceful salmon-fishing campsite on the Vojma River. At 33 miles at Nybyggarland we pass a Sami souvenir shop offering overnight parking for SEK 50 (pay at Café - closed).

In Storuman (= Big Man), 7 miles later, we shop at the Coop store conveniently placed on the left of the E12/E45. The E12 continues west to Norway, while we stay on E45 Inland Road, following the Inland Railway north. Lunch break at 84 miles by Sorsele railway station/museum/café/tourist office, all closed (at weekends). The Inland Railway itself only operates in summer (12 June-20 August 2017). See Inlandsbanan timetable for 2018! A sign on the platform tells us we are 920 km from Stockholm, at a height of 340 m (over 1,100 ft).

1._Slagnas_2.JPGContinuing to Slagnäs, we find a quiet campsite off to the left by the Skellefteälaven River, just before the E45 bridge. It's a super site with a kitchen and community room (also used by the local football team etc), run by a Swiss couple: Tobias & Frau Stowasser.

Before dinner we stroll into Slagnäs. History trail signs show1._Slagnas_4.JPG that it was once an important logging and manufacturing centre. Colonisation and settlement began after 1800, around a saw mill by the river. From the early 1900s with the coming of the railway, Slagnäs developed businesses and acquired a smithy, post and telephone office, local paper and radio station, school, library, Milly's café/boarding house, church and graveyard. 

Now the village, with a few houses, a petrol station and the campsite, is just a dormitory for Arvidsjaur, 30 miles away. The shop and railway station are only open in summer, while the small church (Arjeplog Diocese) built in the 1950s holds services in June and July, when tourists and anglers are around.


At Slagnäs Camping, Slagnäs

Next day1._Slagnas_1.JPG, a lovely Sunday morning, we take the boardwalk alongside the Skellefteälven to the rapids, gingerly cross the river on the wooden-planked railway bridge, then return on the other side, passing under the old road bridge and along to the new E45 bridge, where the boardwalk ends on both banks. It's easy enough to scramble up to the road, cross the river and return to camp. The boardwalk was built 3 years ago for the use of anglers.

Back at camp, the only other residents tell us that they have seen eight Elks while walking in the surrounding forest – or the same Elk eight times! Who says Germans have no sense of humour?

We also learn some interesting statistics about Arjeplog Kommun, where the population density appeals to us:

  • Arjeplog Kommun (Municipality), Norrbotten County, Swedish Lapland (bordering Norway):
  • 2,868 inhabitants over 14,494 sq km = 0.2 people per sq km. The most sparsely populated municipality in Sweden, and the only one with 50% women and 50% men.
  • If this population density was exchanged with Berlin, the German capital would have 204 inhabitants and Arjeplog 47.5 million.
  • There are 8,727 lakes (Harnavan is the deepest in Sweden); 9,573 islands and 3 major rivers (plus infinite number of brooks and streams).
  • It contains 1 Natural Park, 28 Nature Reserves, and 2500 km of hiking trails (including part of the long-distance Kungsleden or Royal Trail, from Norway to Finland).
  • The highest recorded summer temperature is 31.2° C; the lowest in winter -52.6° C. 
  • The water is so clear that it is not purified for drinking.
  • Arjeplog produces 130,507 kWh per inhabitant of water powered energy.

    No wonder it feels so peaceful here!

My ACSI Review:

“A peaceful grassy campsite just off the E45 Inlandsvagen, alongside the Skelleftealven River. Helpful Swiss owners, speaking German and French. The services building is warm and clean, with free showers and a kitchen with electric cooker etc. The site-wide free WiFi works well. There is a 1.5 km boardwalk along both sides of the river, for strolling or fishing, or walk into the old village - a station on the Inland Railway. The site makes a very peaceful base for exploring the area or a comfortable night stop when driving the E45.”

Slagnäs to Skabram Camping, Jokkmokk, Norrbotten, Lapland – 130 miles

Open all year. www.skabram.se. SEK 200 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi.  N 66.60500  E19.76200

Ever-northwards on another beautiful sunny September morning, with the E45 to ourselves apart from the odd truck or southbound motorhome. Our SatNav reports a 'delay with light traffic' followed by 'now flowing'. Where on earth is she looking?

We turn off into Arvidsjaur to fill up with diesel at 33 miles, then continue north on the 1._Reindeer.JPGeerily quiet highway. The only turn-offs are gravel roads signed (sometimes 80 km) to farmsteads. At 66 miles we lunch in a large rest area before the Pitea River bridge, a popular camperstop with water, latrine and WC. Twenty miles later we see our first reindeer on this journey - always a delight – grazing in the forest.

1._Arctic_Circle.JPGA few miles before the Arctic Circle we meet road works and stretches of rough gravel, traffic lights, a 5-minute wait and a control van! Turning into the Polar Circle Café & Camperstop at 125 miles we are surprised to find nobody parked there, the café closed and electric hook-ups turned off, though WC, latrine and water are available. Not keen on spending a night alone here (we've seen bear prints on the ground on a previous visit), we drive on to the Jokkmokk roundabout and consider the options. There is a simple Dutch-run site at Skabram, 3 km west of town; the huge 'Arctic Camp' with water slides and pools, 3 km east of town; or a large rest area (no facilities), 3 km north up E45.

We go for the farm site at Skabram, which proves not the best choice but OK for one night. My ACSI Review:

“A rather unkempt site on a former cheese farm, just above the Polar Circle and 3 km west of Jokkmokk. The Dutch owner speaks good English but could hardly be bothered to show us where to park or plug in. Nor did he explain how to get the free WiFi, which barely functioned. The facilities were just about adequate, with a hotplate and microwave in the kitchen. A handful of farm animals (goats, hens, a rabbit) to be seen and eggs for sale.”  

Jokkmokk to Gällivare Camping, Gällivare, Norrbotten, Lapland – 61 miles

Open 15 May-24 Sept (cabins all year). www.gellivarecamping.com.  SEK 230 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi.  Free use of washer and drier (book at Reception).  N 67.1290  E20.6776

Two miles back into Jokkmokk, the Sami capital of Sweden, where all is quiet. The Coop on the main street has warm Fika pastries on offer (3 for SEK 20); I buy 6. Länge levet fika (long live fika), as it says on the bag! We've previously visited the wonderful Ajtte Museum of Sami Life and Culture, as well as the Lapp Church, so don't linger this time.

North again on E45, past the many pylons of Lilla Power Station at 16 miles: a huge scar on the land. Our road crosses the dam on the Lilla Lule River, with bare rock to the right and water to the left. To the south-east it joins the Stor Lule river, flowing southeast to Lulea on the Gulf of Bothnia.

1._Lille_Lule_Gorge.JPGIn another 8 miles there's a car park from which we walk down to two viewpoints above the Harspranget Falls, via a sloping boardwalk and 133 wooden steps. We have time to count them on the way back! A memorial lists the 10 men killed building the dam here in 1947-50.

At 30 miles the enormous Vattenfall hydro-electric power station complex at Porjus hoves into view. It has a Visitor Centre offering free guided tours of the original station that opened in 1915 and we spent a memorable hour there in July 2015. Porjus village has a café, fuel, station on the Inland Railway and a hostel/B&B called Arctic Colours.

Delayed by roadworks, we lunch on Coop pastries on a gravel parking area (at 418 m/1,380 ft) 5 miles before Gällivare, below Dundret Mountain, which rises to 821 m/2,700 ft. The autumn colours are illuminated as the sun breaks through, the slender birch trees shivering their golden leaves in the wind.

On to the campsite alongside the Vassara River, with a good view of Dundret. It's a short walk into the centre of Gällivare, the northern terminus of the Inland Railway and the largest town since Östersund. Here you can arrange to visit an open-cast copper mine (Sweden's largest), or the world's second biggest underground iron ore mine - for a considerable price. Blasting can be heard and felt.

The new hard-standing pitches by the river are a big improvement since our last visit, when the site was very boggy. The free laundry room has to be reserved and I take the next available slot, from 8-11 am tomorrow! My ACSI Review:

“A large site with new hard-standing pitches alongside the river, as well as a gravel area with some statics. Short walk into Gällivare, 'the mining capital of Europe' and the northern terminus of the Inland Railway, with shops and places to eat. .

Free WiFi worked well. Also appreciated free use of the laundry room with washer and drier, bookable at Reception.

Very good kitchen and dining facilities with cookers, etc.

My only criticism is the lack of privacy in the showers. There is a large changing room and a few small cubicles with only a curtain - and nowhere secure to leave belongings.”

Gällivare to Pajala Camping, Pajala, Norrbotten, Lapland – 91 miles

Open all year. www.pajalacamping.se.  SEK 270 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi (but out of order).  N 67.20381  E23.4084

Up early to collect the laundry key and complete a wash & dry before leaving, we are delayed by the machine's refusal to move on from the wash cycle. The two nice women in Reception 'can do nothing'. We agree with them! Barry eventually forces the washer dial to rinse and empty and we leave the machine for the 'technician' to fix later.

While waiting I chat with a Scottish couple in the kitchen. They had flown to Stockholm, taken an overnight mainline train from there to Gällivare, a 4-hour bus ride into the wilderness, then a boat across a lake, to the start of a camping trek which finished here, ready to fly home via Stockholm and Amsterdam, all in their 2 week holiday time. How good is retirement!

We finally get away after lunch, southeast on E10 for 15 miles, then east on rd 394, turning right at 73 miles onto rd 395 for Pajala. The only traffic we see on these back roads is one large bus, carrying goods and parcels at the rear: a service called Bussgods.

We drive through the small town of Pajala, under a road bridge and along to the campsite on the bank of the Torne River. The price is exorbitant, the bank card machine isn't working (?), the WiFi is down, the couple in Reception are unsympathetic. Tomorrow we leave for Finland! My ACSI Review tells the story:

“This was the most expensive of the 13 Swedish camps we visited in August-September 2017, and one of the unfriendliest. The price was far too high considering it was low-season, the 'free WiFi' was not working at all, and my bank card wouldn't work, requiring a cash payment. (Strange, since it had worked well at all the other sites, fuel stations, etc.)

The argumentative owners finally offered me 'third night free', but no reduction for one or two nights. One night was more than enough and we only stayed because it was quite late in the day and there was no alternative nearby.

Facilities included a kitchen (no cooker) and a sitting room with a wood-burning stove labelled 'Do Not Light'.”


Note: Finland's currency is the Euro; currently €1.08 = £1

Finland is one hour ahead of Sweden – put clocks forward!

Pajala to Harriniva Camping/Hotel/Arctic Sledge Dog Centre, Muonio, Finnish Lapland – 95 miles

Camping open 25 May-24 Sept. www.harriniva.fi.  €25 inc 10 amp elec, showers and basic cooking facilities. Free WiFi at and around Reception.  N 67.934407  E23.656090

Two miles back into Pajala to spend our remaining Swedish coins on croissants and Fika pastries at the Coop, then north on rd 403 alongside the border river, its name changing from Torne to Muonio. At 18 miles we cross the river that divides 'Ruotsi' from 'Suomi' (as the Finns call Sweden and Finland), park in the small town of Kolari and take to our bicycles to look round.

The bank is open but no, they don't change Swedish currency – after all, Sweden is 3 miles away and in a different time zone! Kolari seems to be dying, the supermarket and post office both closed down, and the pub/pizza place closed until 2 pm. We cycle along to the junction with the main road E8, where there is a filling station opposite the 'Eight Seasons Café' (the Sami name 8 seasons through the year, based on the cycle of reindeer husbandry). This proves an excellent place for lunch (Lounas) with a generous buffet for €11 each: pea soup (traditional on Thursdays), salads, meat patties or fish, vegetables, pancakes with jam and fresh fruit, soft drink and coffee. Complimenting Nina, the owner, on her food and her language skill, we discover that her husband is English. They also run a small summer café at the railway station.

We follow lunch with a short sunny cycle ride, out to the railway station, then back through Kolari, over the bridge to Sweden and return to parked motorhome – on bike paths all the way.

As Nina had warned of road works and delays on the E8 up to Muonio, we re-cross the bridge to drive 16 miles north on a minor road on the Swedish side. It turns to gravel, empty and slow going, but we see two fine reindeer grazing and a man planting snow poles along the verges. The late afternoon sun casts long shadows and the autumnal trees glow. After meeting tarmac on rd 99, we continue north to Muodoslompolo, then turn right along rd 404 for the bridge over the Muonio River. In Finland once more, we turn right onto E8 after the bridge, then it's a mile to the Harriniva entrance.


With good memories of camping here years ago at a husky dog farm/river rafting centre by the fast-flowing Muonio River, we find things have changed! It is all about the new smart hotel and expensive restaurant, where the receptionist can hardly be bothered with the scruffy campsite at the back. The only information is that tickets for the Husky Farm guided tour cost €8 per person and the WiFi won't work beyond the hotel. Disappointed, we find a place on the unkempt uneven site and have an argument with a Dutch camper about his loose noisy dog.

We find the WiFi does work in the motorhome (whatever Reception said) but otherwise the campsite is truly awful. Not surprisingly it's not a member of ACSI. The dingy little kitchen has 2 rusty old electric hot plates and an ancient washing machine that is padlocked. There are only 2 women's showers inside the one cubicle; when I venture to complain, I am told that new facilities are planned! The chemical toilet dump is at ground level in the middle of the coach park, a long way from the camping area and, in any case, too disgusting to use.

Time to go south!

Muonio to Camping Nilimella, Sodankylä, Lapland – 107 miles

Open 1 June-30 Sept. www.nilimella.fi/en/camping.  Late season offer: €20 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. (Normally €27 with Camping Key Europe card; €29 without.) Free WiFi near Reception.  N 67.4163889  E26.6075000

A mile back to Muonio, then right on rd 79 through the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, which has long-distance hiking trails with unlocked cabin-shelters. A light drizzle falls on the sturdy hikers setting off from a car park. Road signs warn it's an area of Reindeer Husbandry, the trees glow in shades of Ruska – the lovely Finnish word for autumn (seasons 6 and 7?)

At 40 miles in Sirka, below the scarred hillside of Levi ski resort, we check out the camping at the Levilehto Apartments, which does not appeal. After another 18 miles on rd 79 to Kittilä, where it is 8°C at noon, we turn left on rd 80, past a simple campsite that looks open, and head east for Sodankylä. Parked for lunch at 74 miles, by a white-fenced forest cemetery near Tepsa (just a few houses), we watch two couples visit their family graves. They plant heather and tidy up, though the plots will soon lie under permanent snow for months (typically the end of October until mid-May! There is a shed with tools and a well with a bucket and chain to get water.

Arriving in Sodankylä we drive straight to the 'World's Northmost Lidl' (above the Arctic Circle!) and find some Hatherwood's frozen favourites: Chicken & Leek Pie, Steak & Ale Pie, English Fish & Chips and a Lemon & Lime Meringue Tart! Only another 2 miles, over the Kitinen River bridge, to a spacious campsite we know and love.

As rain sets in, we settle on a nicely hedged pitch behind Reception, where the WiFi works well. A good dinner, thanks to Lidl, is followed by the BBC1 Last Night of the Proms, live on Finnish TV because the conductor (Sakari Oramo) is from Finland. Quite a treat.    

At Camping Nilimella, Sodankylä

The weather 16-Vuostimo.JPGturns much colder with an easterly wind and some heavy rain. This is a good place to pause for a day or two, writing and planning. The Finnish TV shows many films in English (with subtitles) including Morgan Freeman in the Stephen King story 'Shawshank Redemption'.

Between rain showers one morning we walk into town to change our Swedish notes at the bank (open 10-4) but discover that the Cashier is only there until noon and we've just missed her! But we do get a nice lunch at the bus station café: thick veg soup, bread & butter, moussaka and salad, soft drinks and coffee for €10 each. On the way back we look at the new (stone-built, 1859) and old (wooden, 1689) churches before the bridge. The old church, set by the Kitinen River, holds services in the summer and is popular for weddings.

Next day we walk over to the bank after breakfast and finally succeed with the exchange (commission €5).

The camp facilities are good, as described in my ACSI Review:

“A short walk across the river bridge to the town centre. Sodankylä has plenty of shops (with the world's northernmost Lidl) and places to eat, as well as riverside walks and a 17thC wooden church.

The spacious campsite has individual hedged pitches near Reception, with more places down on the open field nearer to the services.

There is free use of a good kitchen with cooker and microwave, as well as showers with private cubicles. Free reliable WiFi works only on a few pitches by Reception.

Laundry has washers for 1 Euro, plus free drier.

With an end-of-season price reduction, the site forms a welcome break on the north-south route above the Arctic Circle.

The only negative is a lack of security, with a public road running through the site and Reception only staffed for an hour each evening at this time of year.”

However, the above was written before using the laundry! On checking the washing machine that I'd set on 40°, I found it literally boiling and expelling clouds of steam into a room resembling a sauna! Barry to the rescue again, persuading the machine to stop heating and complete the rinse and empty cycle. My dressing gown had changed colour, a light shirt was ruined and the duvet covers are now permanently crinkled! The Warden was very apologetic when he came on duty and granted us one free night in compensation. New machines are apparently on order!

Sodankyla to Camping Kuukiuru, Vuostimo, Lapland – 49 miles

Open all year. www.kuukiuru.fi/eng/.  €20 inc 16 amp elec, shower and good free WiFi. €18 for 2nd and 3rd day, then €15.  N 66.98122  E27.53299

1-IMG_0071.JPGBefore leaving, we drive into town to shop at Lidl, refuel and find the Kylmänen Food outlet, selling local produce (mainly reindeer and elk: fresh, frozen or tinned). The simple factory shop that we remember was a mile north of Sodankylä on E75 but it had closed, with a sign on the door 'Moved to Kasarmintie 10, behind the S-Market'. We'd actually passed it in the town centre! It's now a shiny new store with a coffee corner (coffee + donut €1.50), selling reindeer hide rugs and other souvenirs as well as meats. I buy a 6-pack of the delicious Poronkeitto (Cream of Reindeer Soup).

Then we are away, over the bridge and southeast on E63/rd 5, a rolling black ribbon of empty tarmac, threading its way between gilded silver-birch trees. The verges are turning red and gold, grazed by a small herd of reindeer in a fine mist of rain. This is Ruska at its best.

At 37 miles we pause at a memorial for the Battle of Pelkosenniemi, 16-18 December 1939, which was 14-Pelko_1.JPGa Finnish victory in the Winter War (Nov 1939–March 1940) when Finland fought back the Russians. Pelkosenniemi is another 2 miles along our road, the only village between Sodankylä and Kemijärvi. It has a bridge over the Kemi River, 2 shops, health centre, fuel/cafe and a parking area with a statue of local songwriter and guitarist Antii Hulkko, better known (if not to us) as Andy McCoy who played with Iggy Pop!

Another 10 01-Cuckoo_(12).JPGgolden miles to a peaceful rustic campsite, cabins and café by the Kemi River – another favourite of ours. The genial Russian owners are from Murmansk, which is nearer than Helsiniki! Boris has a very little English, his wife none, but we get by. Use of the snooker table, the crazy golf or a rowing boat on the river are all free, as is the reliable WiFi and a hot shower in the old wood-fired sauna. It does lack a kitchen, though there's a washing-up sink, toilet, water and dump.

We are soon enjoying a dinner of Chicken & Leek Pie and Princess Cake from this morning's shopping trip. The reindeer soup will be saved for Christmas or for gifts (but not for small children!)

Click: magbazpictures.com/camping-kuukiuru

At Camping Kuukiuru, Vuostimo

We easily linger for a few days, while the price mysteriously diminishes! Sadly, the cold north02-Cuckoo_(24).JPG wind and threat of rain deter us from cycling our usual circular route in the Pyhä-Luosto National Park. We walk around the site and by the Kemi River, as well as following a rather boggy 3-km Nature Trail in the forest across the road, where the silence and the colours of Ruska are wonderful. Notices about reindeer farming in the area tell us that the animals outnumber the human population three to one!  

In the Travel Section of the Guardian, I notice a request for readers to send in tips on where to see spectacular autumn colours. The ten best entries will be chosen to print, with a single first prize. That's a good challenge for a rainy day and I submit the following piece on Finnish Lapland, along with a photo Barry had taken in the forest. Didn't win the prize but it was among the chosen ten:

1._Finland[1].jpgA cycling trip in Finland, north of the Arctic Circle, in September is incredibly colourful. Autumn is one of the eight seasons for the indigenous Sami people: time to round up their free-roaming reindeer. The Finnish word for autumn colour is ruska: it's the time when silver birches turn gold, the forest floor becomes thick with jewel-coloured blueberries and lingonberries, and mountain ash is heavy with scarlet berries. All this is set against a backdrop of evergreen firs, the taiga stretching from Norway to Siberia, and the silver of Finland's 180,000 lakes, soon to turn white with ice and snow. The midnight sky joins in too, illuminated with the greens and reds of the northern lights.”

My entry, albeit with an inferior stock photograph, was published in the Guardian on Thursday, 21 September:

the guardian travel/2017 autumn-colours-readers-travel-tips

This vivid description of the Finnish autumn is something that Barry could not attempt. He is colour-blind!

Vuostimo to Lomakeskus (Holiday Centre) Himmerki, Posio, Lapland – 100 miles

Open all year. www.himmerki.com.  €21 (inc €3 discount for CKE Card) with 16 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. 4th night free (pay electricity only). Free WiFi at Reception/Restaurant. N 66.080586  E28.284026

Heading south now on rd 5 we follow the Kemi River to Kemijärvi. The silver-birch leaves are falling like golden pennies while the fir trees guard their evergreen needles. Less than a mile down the road we pass a reindeer herd grazing in a fenced field; the autumn round-up has started. At 22 miles we turn into Kemijärvi, at the head of a vast lake, and shop at Lidl. The nearby seasonal campsite is already closed.

Rd 944 now continues south, rolling through the forest of green and gold, home to a few more reindeer. At 35 miles we cross the Arctic Circle, a poignant moment leaving the Far North. A layby on the west side of the lake, 3 miles later, is an idyllic place for lunch. At 39 miles we slip past Camping Matkatupa, another favourite, sad that it's now getting too cold and too late in the season to pause awhile with Elvi and Urho. Next time (we do hope there'll be a next time!)

After crossing the Kemijoki River at Autti, 20 miles later, we meet the more main road 81 (Rovaniemi-Kuusamo) and turn east, past the café we once cycled to from Matkatupa. On past the gravel road turning for Auttiköngäs, where there is parking for a lovely walk we have done before, through a forested canyon with a waterfall, wooden log chute, hiking trail and a rustic cafe open in summer. Not today, though. The small town of Posio at 95 miles has fuel and supermarkets. Four miles later we turn right at the sign and follow a 1-km rough track to the splendid 'Holiday Village' tucked away in the forest on the side of lake Kitkajärvi.

Reception is at the large café/restaurant (open 7.30 am-9 pm), where you can use the WiFi or eat (eg breakfast buffet €7, till 9.30 am). The lake is good for angling or swimming and the area is a base for hunting, berry picking, hiking trails and cross-country skiing. Himmerki (= Heavenly) has a large range of cottages and cabins, as well as the 28-pitch campsite.  The name is said to derive from a travelling vicar who 'in olden times' rested here on a sandy ridge after rowing across the lake and declared 'What a heavenly place' – a good story! But it is true that the Municipality of Posio is the most water-rich in Finland, with some 3,000 lakes and ponds. Here lake Kitkajärvi claims to be Europe's largest spring, giving unbelievably clear water and an abundance of fish.   

We find our peaceful place under the trees and watch the roaming reindeer feast on plentiful berries. The evening turns showery as I bake a 'Hatherwoods' Steak & Ale pie in the new services building kitchen.

We gave the site a good review in 2010, which I now update:

(2010): An excellent site, very peacefully located 1 kilometre off the main road on a lovely lake. Reindeer ambled past our door, eating the berries on the forest floor! Brilliant heated facilities, good laundry, restaurant with breakfast and lunch buffets. Free WiFi in the restaurant. Very good price inclusive electricity and every 4th night almost free. 

(Sept 2017): Second visit to this beautiful lakeside site, tucked away in the forest off the main road, 5 miles south of Posio. Reindeer still amble by, eating the berries on the forest floor! Super new service house with well equipped kitchen. Restaurant with breakfast and lunch buffets. Free WiFi only in the restaurant/reception area.

Posio to Camping Hossan Lumo (Erä-Hossa), Hossa, Karelia – 84 miles

Cabins open all year, Camping services June-31 Oct. www.hossanlumo.fi.  €24 (inc €1 discount for Camping Card International) with 16 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi on pitches very near Reception. N 65.44293  E29.55108

Over a cold and rainy breakfast we are cheered by the sight of a stately stag reindeer grazing on the copious berries right outside our window! On the way out of Himmerki we park by the restaurant/reception to get a WiFi signal and answer a couple of emails, then take the 1-km track to meet rd 81 and head east. The SatNav gives a warning of 'animals in road' and, sure enough, we have to slow down several times for reindeer.

At 28 miles we turn south on rd 5/E63 for 6 miles to Kuusamo, an industrial town, where we turn off at the roundabout to a large parking area with fuel and shops, including Lidl. After a bite of lunch we continue south on rd 5, now signed as the Via Karelia though I don't think the Romans came this way! Five miles later, rd 866 turns off to a border crossing for those with a visa – a stark reminder of the proximity of Russia.

We leave rd 5 at 52 miles, turning left on rd 843 for about 30 miles to Hossa (an area rather than a village). A right turn is signed to the Visitor Centre and campsite for Hossa National Park (the country's newest, established in 2017). The new Visitor Centre, with displays, a film and a busy lunch buffet in the restaurant, is surprisingly crowded. The distracted Ranger on the information desk tells us the campsite is almost full (!), costs €25 and has no WiFi except in the Centre. At least he supplies a free map covering the 110 sq km of National Park. Driving round to investigate the campsite, we find it packed, with only 2 empty places to squeeze into. This amazes us, after weeks of near-empty sites!

Back to rd 843, to check out a second campsite a couple of miles further along on the side of a lake, which proves to be much quieter, only 5 miles west of the Russian border. The friendly young woman in the Reception café speaks with a perfect Irish accent, so I ask where she comes from. 'From here, but my husband is from Dublin'! We take her advice and park right by Reception to get a WiFi signal, though it is bitterly cold there with an icy wind and cold drizzle sweeping across the lake. The few other campers are sensibly sheltering among the trees and we're told it has been much wetter and colder than usual for the last month.

At a warmer time of year, this would be a good site for boating, angling or hiking the 90 km of marked trails but activities will soon turn to skiing and ice-fishing. The cabins remain open but the abysmal unheated camping services are only suitable for summer. My ACSI report:

“A lakeside site in the Hossa National Park, ideally placed for hiking or sailing. Friendly English-speaking reception with small cafe.

Only suitable for summer camping, as the facilities were unheated and poorly insulated. The kitchen was dismal and much too cold to spend time in. There is a washing machine but no drier and nowhere to hang clothes.

Cabins remain open through the winter. Free WiFi if very near reception.”

At Camping Hossan Lumo (Erä-Hossa), Hossa

Next day remains very cold and wet, a day to keep indoors and deal with correspondence. We certainly don't envy the small group who gather for a day's hiking, kitted out with serious waterproofs and small backpacks.

This part of the Karelian Forest has a long history of occupation, with traces of logging, reindeer husbandry and meadow culture among the eskers (long gravel ridges formed in the Ice Age). There are even two cliff sites with 4,500-year-old rock paintings, showing reindeer, figures and rippling water, but they are only accessible on foot – or possibly by mountain bike or 'fat bike' (to be hired from the campsite).

Our hosts recommend a visit to the nearby Hossa Reindeer Park. On checking its website, however, it appears to be a farm rather than a park, with an expensive restaurant serving reindeer! We stay home and braise some pork chops instead.

Hossa to Camping Ristijärven Pirtti, Ristijärvi, Eastern Finland – 105 miles

Open all year. www.ristijarvenpirtti.fi.  €27 inc 10 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi on pitches near Reception. N 64.48979  E 28.18267

Still cold though the bitter NE wind has dropped as we drive south on rd 843, dodging reindeer on both sides of the road. The tiny settlement of Juntusranta, 17 miles along, has a small shop, fuel, a lakeside rest area and a left turn signed 8 km to a place that's only 3 km short of the Russian border, though there is no crossing point. Continuing through a fine drizzle, along the ribbon of tarmac which winds through the golden forest rolling over eskers, we meet no vehicles except an occasional logging truck that emerges on a track. Another left turn is signed 13 km along a rough road to Pirttivaara, a summer Bear-Watching Safari centre, just 2 km from Russia (again, no border crossing except for bears).

At 5017-War_Museum_(12).JPG miles we meet the junction with road 912 and turn left for 5 miles to the Winter War Museum (open May-end September). Before walking round the outdoor memorial site, we lunch in the museum café: pea & ham soup (it's the Thursday tradition again), bread, salad, fruit juice, pancakes with strawberry jam, coffee) for €9 each. Fortified, we wrap up for the partly-boarded walkway in the woods leading to a lakeside shelter and returning past reminders of the fighting here from 1-7 January 1940 (a 3.2 km or 2 mile walk in total).

The museum supplies two free leaflets in English describin18-War_Museum_(21).JPGg 'The Winter War Battles in Suomussalmi and Events along the Raate Road 1939-40' and 'The Raate Frontier Guard Museum'. The Raate Frontier Guard post is the only remaining example of the guard-houses built before WW2 by the independent state of Finland, standing at the eastern end of Raate Road at the Russian frontier. Unfortunately it's about 10 miles of gravel track away – too far to walk, too rough to drive our motorhome and too cold to think of cycling today.


Returning 5 miles to the junction, we turn west on rd 912, cross a wide bridge 4 miles later at Suomussalmi and join rd 5/E63, turning south. It's faster going on this highway, with nothing to delay us until Ristijärvi. After passing through the town, the campsite is on the right by a lake (of course). It's expensive but has good warm facilities and reliable WiFi. I can use the washer & drier (€5 all in) 'as soon as my washing is finished' says the warden, before disappearing in his car to fetch some cigarettes. It does all get done, after dark. The nights are drawing in – tomorrow is the Equinox.

Ristijärvi to Hyvärilä Holiday & Youth Centre, Nurmes, Karelia – 97 miles

Campsite open 22 May-17 Sept (€26, less €2 discount and every 3rd night free with CKE). www.hyvarila.fi/en.  Motorhome parking available rest of year (as now): €15 inc 10 amp elec, use of WC/showers in hotel and free WiFi (3rd night reduced to €6). N 63.5327778  E 29.1983333

After a leisurely breakfast we learn from a sturdy biker, arriving to occupy one of the camp cottages at Ristijärvi, that a Convention of 50 (fifty) motorbikes are due for the weekend and 'it may be a leettel noisy'! He does give us a Finnish flag badge each by way of apology. We pay the warden (who had somehow forgotten to warn us about this!), phone Hyvärilä to check winter opening and beat a hasty retreat from the cold lake shore.

11-Nurmes_(30).JPGIt's 24 miles south down E63/rd 5 to Kajaani, a large town (there are even parking meters). Here we turn southeast on rd 6, soon pausing at Lidl on the right of the highway before continuing to the junction with rd 73 at 90 miles. Left here onto rd 73, through the pleasant town of Nurmes and on to the Hyvärilä complex, another old favourite on the side of Lake Pielinen.

Between the hotel and the youth centre buildings, there are eight parking places with hook-ups for winter campers, where we are joined later by two vans. The free WiFi works here and we have the use of hot showers in the hotel basement sauna. In the low season, devoid of holidaymakers, it suits us perfectly; this is our fourth stay. My ACSI Report:

“An extensive holiday centre on Lake Pielinen, next to a golf course, 308-Nurmes_1.JPG miles from the small town of Nurmes. All types of accommodation, ranging from seasonal camping and cabins to a youth hostel and a hotel. Out of season, motorhomes can still park here, with electric hook-up and access to shower and WC in the hotel, for a small charge.

Free WiFi at or near the hotel. Breakfast and lunch buffets served daily - excellent value. Washing machine and drying room also available.

There is a great variety of indoor and outdoor sports facilities, plenty of space to walk by the lake or in the forest, and even a winter ski jump!

Highly recommended at any time of year.”

There is good TV reception, with a National Geographic programme about Alaska in the evening.

At Hyvärilä Holiday & Youth Centre, Nurmes

Next day, 09-Nurmes_(10).JPGovercast but dry, I pay €5 for the key to the Pesutupa (laundry room) in the hostel basement. There is a new washing machine and a heated drying room down there, in the former mental hospital. The scattered buildings all have an interesting history. The main house, now the hotel-restaurant-reception, was built in 1920 as a home for the aged of the Kommun of Nurmes. The local authority also ran a farm here (with stables, cowshed and pig sties), a 'poor house' for the destitute and a hospital for the mentally and physically handicapped. The staff were housed on the site and those patients and residents who were well enough also helped on the farm. During the 1980's both the old people's home and the hospital closed, buildings were renovated and Nurmes municipal camping site was transferred here from the town centre. The Manor Hotel was rebuilt and enlarged in 1991, followed by the building of camping cottages, lakeside sauna, etc. The Youth Centre is partly financed by Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture.

At the moment the elegant hotel is being extended further, with its popular restaurant temporarily moved to the Youth Centre. At 12.30 pm we go for the €9 lunch of the day, served from 10.30 am-1.30 pm: a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet of lasagne, vegetables, salads, bread & butter, soft drinks, chocolate mousse, red berries in jelly, and coffee! Finns eat early and, as we leave, the staff gather to share what is left!

Tempted by the ping-pong table in the entrance hall, I round off the meal by beating Barry10-Nurmes_(25).JPGt table tennis, a game neither of us has played for decades. Great fun!

Then we wrap up for a walk round the vast empty campsite, returning along by the lake and through the woods, lush with berries and fungi. The many sports facilities include beach volleyball, tennis, basketball, Frisbee golf, skateboarding, sailing, canoes and cycles for hire, snomobile routes and even a ski jump, which we bravely climb for an overview. There is also an indoor sports centre and a golf course a short walk away, as well as a 3-mile cycle path into the town.

Tempted by the 'third day free' offer (just €6 for the hook-up), we spend the next morning catching up with correspondence and finishing an article entitled Autumn in Finland that describes something of our way of life. We're not tempted to another lunch buffet as it's Sunday and the restaurant is much busier, with a wider range of dishes at a higher price.

By afternoon the wind has dropped, the sun shines and we take a cycle ride into and around Nurmes: a total of 13 km, entirely on cycle paths. The Orthodox church is a reminder of the Russian influence in Karelia.

The town 
12-Nurmes_(100).JPGitself has genuine character, with tree-lined streets of 19thC wooden houses. The cemetery around a wooden church, on the edge of the forest overlooking the lake, has a War Memorial area with the graves of those killed in the Winter War (1939) and the Continuation War (1941-45). They are beautifully kept – and not, of course, by the CWG as Finland was not an ally,

On the way back we cross the railway to the lakeside in search of a café but find none open. Better luck at a Kioski opposite the market place and bus station, where we sit outside with large coffees and buns, all for €5. Finland is still our favourite Scandinavian country.

Nurmes to Ilomantsi, Karelia – 120 miles (alt 150 m/500 ft)

Free car park by lake, next to Orthodox Parish Church of Prophet Elijah. No facilities. N 62.68069 E 30.91942

The last Monday of September brings a change in the weather, colder and very misty with no wind. Needing a fill of water before leaving Nurmes, we fix our hose to the tap at the back of the restaurant kitchen, by permission of the kind cook, though she can't help with a dump point as the campsite facilities are locked up. Driving southeast along rd 73 we soon spot a layby with a latrine – problem solved.

Lieksa, the next town down Lake Pielinen (34 miles), has shops (a choice of Lidl or K-Market) and we eat lunch on K-Mkt car park. After the level crossing we turn off rd 73 onto the minor rd 522 (Via Karelia again). It leads us east through the suburb of Pankakoski, then deteriorates into a little-used and poorly-maintained road through the silent rolling forest. The tiny village of Hatunkyla is just a memory, with a name plate, a café/hostel (closed) and an old wooden windmill. We drive on, wondering if the road still goes through to Hattuvaara, a remote settlement and army base close to the Russian border at the easternmost point of the mainland EU.

At 70 miles the bitumen turns to dirt road, firm but bumpy for 15 slow miles through the misty forest, devoid of traffic. Meeting tarmac with relief at Hattuvaara, we pass the old shop and tiny church and turn into the large car park at the Taistelijan Talo (Fighters House) Café/Museum next to the Border Guard army post. We have spent the night here in the past for a small charge, using it as a base to cycle out to the Easternmost Point of the EU, or to walk the local historical trail to the Old Farm Museum. The tall building of grey stone and wood was designed in 1988 as a tribute to Finland's war veterans and to those who rebuilt an independent country after the Battles of Ilomantsi. When open, it has a good cafe/lunch restaurant and a WWII museum, indoors and outside. It also sells souvenirs and diplomas for visiting the Easternmost Point, 12 miles distant, and arranges group tours.

Today, though, the Fighters House is locked up, the 4 electric points in its car park are switched off and everywhere is deserted. With the mist coming down, we decide to continue on rd 522 for 25 miles to the next town for a less lonely night.

Ilomantsi is Finland's easternmost town, at the heart of its most Orthodox municipality deep in the Karelian forest. It has fuel, a good range of shops and a Tourist Information office on the main street, with plenty of free maps and brochures on the many delights of the region. It also claims the oldest Christian parish in Finland (Orthodox, established in the early 15th C) and the most snow cover in the country, lasting from November to April. Karelia (capital Joensu) has been part of Finland since independence in 1917 (after being ruled by both Sweden and Russia) but the border has been repeatedly redrawn, most recently after World War II when some of eastern Karelia was lost once more to Russia.

We make our way to the lakeside, where there are two splendid churches, both still in use though only open outside service times during the summer (we visited them in August 2006). The large wooden Lutheran church (1796) looks plain from the outside but its interior walls are colourfully painted with about a hundred angels.

A little f02-Ilomantsi_(10).JPGurther along is a military cemetery and empty parking area, where we park for the night. It's a short walk to the Finnish Orthodox Church of St Elias/Prophet Elijah (1892) at the end of the road. The largest wooden Orthodox sanctuary in Finland, designed by an architect from St Petersburg, it has a most impressive exterior, very elegant in ochre-painted wood with green roof and domes, though inside it's more severe: a blend of Scandinavian simplicity and Orthodox iconography. The doors are locked but information boards (in Finnish, English and Russian) tell its story.

There has been a church on this site since the 6th century (the fifth building being w07-Ilomantsi_(26).JPGrecked in 1917) and reference is made to an Orthodox priest here in 1500. What is now Western Finland turned Roman Catholic during the Crusades of the 13thC, then Lutheran after the Reformation in the late 16thC, while Karelia remained Orthodox. Today there is still a working Orthodox monastery/convent at Valamo (between Joensu and Kuopio) that we visited in September 1999,  the only such institution in the Nordic countries, both moved after WWII from what is now Russian Karelia.  

Over the road from St Elias, a path leads past the Iljala Orthodox Meeting Centre and down to the shore, where there is a little Orthodox cemetery under the trees. By 5.30 pm, dusk and thickening mist obscure the onward path through lakeside woods and we are content to return to the car park, keep warm, have a meal (burgers, followed by French Apple Tart, à la Lidl - or is Lidl masculine in France?) and read. There is no TV signal here.


Ilomantsi to Ruokkeen Lomakylä (Ruokkee Holiday Village), Kesälahti, Karelia – 94 miles

Open all year. www.ruokkeenlomakyla.fi.  €25.50 inc €2 discount for CKE Card, with 16 amp elec, excellent showers and cooking facilities in new service house. Free WiFi throughout. N 61.9052778  E 29.6838889

Still misty next morning as we drive southwest on rd 74 to Heinavaara (30 miles). Here we turn south on rd 494 to Kähtelysvaara (dictionary: vaara = risk or danger!), then rd 492, to join highway 6 at 45 miles, south of Joensu. This has neatly bypassed the industrial/university city. Rd 6 (part of the Blue Route and still signed Via Karelia) is a major thoroughfare on the eastern side of Finland, one of the 7 highways radiating from Helsinki, yet it's just 2 lanes with a 100 km speed limit! The light traffic includes logging trucks.

At 87 miles near Kesälahti we stop to check out a campsite by the lake behind the roadside Karjalan Kievarille (= Karelian Hostelry). The restaurant is open (serving a €10 lunch buffet) but the empty campsite is muddy, with soft uneven grass pitches, cold uncleaned facilities and WiFi only in the restaurant. Declining to pay €22 for this, we continue 4 miles down rd 6, then turn right for 3 miles on a narrow sealed road to a better site we used 2 years ago, at the end of a peninsula by a large lake at Ruokkee.

It costs a little more but has excellent modern heated facilities (and a café, though the restaurant is closed). My ACSI Report:

“This is a large holiday village on a lakeside, with many static caravans, cabins and bungalows for rent. There is also an area for tourers, which is very quiet now the summer is over. It is set on a forested peninsula, a 5 km drive from main road number 6, along a narrow lane (not gravel).

Out of season the restaurant is closed but there are good facilities, including a large kitchen equipped with cookers etc. The lake is ideal for boating and fishing and there is a children's playground with mini-golf. The free site WiFi worked most of the time! 

This is our second visit: a useful stopover on the Via Karelia.”

At Ruokkeen Lomakylä (Ruokkee Holiday Village), Kesälahti

Opening our kitchen blind next morning, I am thrilled to see a pretty little Crested Tit for the first time, perched on the trunk of a tall pine tree right outside the window. Excitedly reaching for the Birds of Europe book, I learn that they are the only Tit to stay in the southern part of Scandinavia throughout the year. Their habitat is indeed coniferous forest, where the female will make a hole in a rotten tree stump for nesting. Amazingly, they survive the winter by hiding seeds behind the bark of trees for a winter store, so that is what it was doing. I wonder how that works, how many seeds are needed, and why they don't migrate south?

Making good use of the camp WiFi, I book the Tallink-Silja ferry (Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia) for the afternoon of Sunday, 1 October, to make a reluctant departure from Finland. I also phone the final two campsites on our route to check opening times. Camping Huhtiniemi at Lappeenranta confirms they will be open (closing 1 Oct), while Messilä near Lahti have a receptionist who doesn't speak English/German/French and hangs up on me. We'll have to trust that they're open all year, as listed.

After lunch we have a 2-hour walk in the woods: longer than expected as one path leads to another with no landmarks of any kind. With lake shore on three sides, we lose all sense of direction, the occasional holiday home is empty and dusk is falling before we regain a recognised track. Next time, take the SatNav! But the silent forest is magnificent, walking beneath tall trees on springy moss, studded with berries and fungi, it's like stepping on memory foam.

Approaching the campsite again, I notice another little bird, a Coal Tit, trapped inside the glazed veranda of a lakeside cottage and trying to exit through the glass. Luckily, it's not locked and we manage to rescue this inhabitant. A quick meal (omelette and the last of the French Apple Tart) is followed by a National Geographic documentary on Finnish TV – the tragic events of JFK's last days in Texas.

Next morning, another fine autumn day, we take an hour's walk in the other direction but all the paths end at weekend hideaways, some still under construction, some with nasty guard dogs. City-dwelling Finns come here to get away from it all, and bring it all with them.

In the afternoon Barry cleans the motorhome down at the camp's pressure-hose car wash (price €2), while I have the excellent camp kitchen to myself to do some baking (lemon drizzle cake and steak pie – one in each oven at different temperatures). After dinner there is another National Geographic programme to watch, one of a series reporting on plane crash investigations. It does not encourage flying; I hope they don't have one on ferry disasters before the weekend!  

Kesälahti to Camping Huhtiniemi, Lappeenranta, Karelia – 97 miles

Open12 May-1 Oct. www.huhtiniemi.com.  €25 inc €4 discount for CKE Card, with16 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi near services building. N 61.0513889  E 28.1361111

Returning 3 miles to highway 6 we turn south parallel with the railway, sad now to be leaving for Helsinki and the ferry. At Särkisalmi we have a coffee break at the ABC truck stop (plenty of parking space, fuel, self-service café). It is OK to park overnight at any ABC services in Finland, though it would not be very quiet. The cafés and toilets are popular with the truckers at all hours.

Continuing down rd 6, we pass very close to the Russian border, lying across a lake to our left at Jouko. At about 60 miles, we slip past Imatra on 5 miles of dual carriageway, busy with logging trucks. The smoking chimneys of a couple of factories and wood processing plants are a shock to the system after weeks of near-pristine wilderness. Rd 62 from Imatra leads to Svetogorsk, just over the border, but not for us.

Before Lappeenranta, we turn left at 83 miles onto rd 13, along which our SatNav marks a Lidl shop. It seems unlikely, as this is the empty road to another border crossing, but 3 miles along there is not only Lidl but also a huge store called Rajamarket (similar to Sweden's Dollar Stores). All the cars and customers are Russian and we assume they have a local entry agreement at the border, just 13 miles away at Nuijama. We stock up at Lidl, take a quick look in Raja (buying nothing) and eat our lunch under the curious scrutiny of Soviet shoppers. It is 8°C outside, at 2.30 pm.

Back on rd 6, we take exit 51 at 95 miles and follow the signs for 2 miles to Lappeenranta's campsite on the edge of Lake Saimaa. The youth hostel at the entrance has closed down and there is only one other caravan on the campsite, where the season ends in 2 days' time. The facilities are barely adequate, in need of a clean and smelling of bad drains. I heat a pizza up in our own oven and report to ACSI:

The campsite was soon to close for the winter but that is no excuse for the grubby state of the kitchen and the smell of sewers in the uninviting toilet/shower block. The only cooker in the kitchen was unusable, having no shelves, and the microwave needed a good clean. The youth hostel at the entrance looked abandoned, with camp reception now in a new cabin. There was no sign of a restaurant, just a small cafe (closed) at reception.

The free WiFi worked only on pitches very close to the services.

It is surprising that this popular tourist town on Lake Saimaa has such a dismal campsite, charging far too much due to its position. With no control at the entrance, and Reception only staffed from 3 pm to early evening, there was no security and an itinerant couple used the showers and kitchen next morning!

One night was enough for us.”

We have better memories of a previous visit in August 2006, when we took the summertime visa-free day excursion by boat along the Saimaa Canal to the once-Finnish port of Vyborg in Russia, returning by coach – but on that occasion we parked on Lappeenranta harbour overnight, a much better option.

Lappeenranta to Camping Messilä, Hollola, Nr Lahti, South Finland – 98 miles

Open all year. www.campingmessila.fi.  €31 inc €2 discount for CKE Card, with16 amp elec, showers and cooking facilities. Free WiFi near reception/restaurant. N 61.0180556  E 25.5627778

On a cold drizzly Saturday morning, the air temperature reaches 7
°C by 10.30 am as we continue along rd 6, which soon turns into a dual carriageway with Elk fencing on both sides. We're following Autumn as it also travels south, gilding the forest and the verges of the highway that runs between railways tracks to our left and a lake, Kivijärvi, to the right. The cab radio finds 'Radio Nostalgi' playing Elvis and the Beach Boys, as well as Finnish pop and Abba. Who says nostalgia isn't what it used to be?!

After passing Kouvala, rd 6 turns off for Helsinki via Porvoo but we continue west on rd 12 to Lahti, where three enormous ski jumps and twin radio masts overlook the busy town. It is almost a suburb/winter playground of the capital, only 65 miles away by motorway. A dual carriageway takes us through the centre of Lahti (= Bay) to Hollola, where a quieter road turns off north to Messilä. We pass a golf course and ski runs before arriving at an extensive campsite on Lake Vesijärvi. It is very nearly full, with both statics and tourers, and the price is unreasonably high. However, we have a ferry booked for tomorrow and we know that the other site near Lahti (used 2 years ago) - Mukkula Camping - has closed. Nor does the alternative of a noisy night on the motorway services en route to Helsinki appeal.

The Receptionist explains that the site is so full because they are having an end-of-summer celebration, with a free lunch of soup and cheese! After she suggests a distant pitch which doesn't get WiFi (whatever she said), I persuade her to let us have one of the places behind Reception that are 'reserved', though for whom she doesn't know! My ACSI Report expresses disgust at our treatment:

 “Allocated a non-negotiable place for our motorhome that was a long way from the services. We were assured the WiFi worked all over the site but this was a lie – it only worked on very few pitches directly behind reception. When we asked to move there, we were told that all the free places were reserved. This was another lie, since we were given a pitch there when we threatened to leave! And the price was outrageous – the most we'd paid in a long tour of Finland.”

We do partake of the lunch (tasty goulash soup, crackers & cheese, cold drinks) served in the courtyard from 2 pm-4 pm, then have a stroll by the marina. It's a long way in every sense from the peaceful atmospheric lakes further north!

Our last night of Finnish TV is rather sad: Glen Campbell's farewell tour, when he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. The Rhinestone Cowboy died only last month (Aug 2017) at the age of 81. This is followed by an American film 'Still Alice' about a woman with early onset Alzheimer's, which makes us think about a couple of friends who are suffering this dreadful disease and the effect it has on their families.


Lahti to Tallink-Silja Ferry Terminal, West Harbour, Helsinki – 79 miles (sea level!)

The harbour is poorly signed 'Västra Hamnen'. The terminal check-in is at N 60.148626  E 24.913754. Timetable and Bookings on www.tallinksilja.com/en/web/int/tallink-shuttle-tallinn-tips

Away at 9.30 am on a damp Sunday morning, 1st October, we drive 8 miles via rd 296 to join rd 4/E75 at junction 16. The motorway sign says 'Helsinki 100 km' and the weather is calm; no wind to deter us from sailing. We're always sad to leave Scandinavia but it's time to retreat south with the migrating birds. It is already snowing in the north of the country.

After 28 miles we slip off at exit 13 for a fill of diesel at the large services, then back on E75 to exit 3 for the Keha Ring (rd 101) westwards. This is a longer route to the ferry terminal but we find it much easier than driving through central Helsinki. The ring road is very quiet, with no roundabouts and little traffic on this cold drizzly morning (air temperature 9°C at 11.30 am).

We turn east on rd 51, a dual carriageway, at the end of which there are signs for Västra Hamnen (West Harbour) for the sharp-eyed to follow through various junctions. At the ferry terminal we join the check-in queue one hour ahead as advised, with time for a quick bite of lunch before boarding for the 1.30 pm departure on the good ship 'Superstar'.

The 2-hour crossing to Tallinn, Estonia's capital, goes smoothly. We pass the time reading over a coffee and browsing the on-board supermarket (for a supply of chocolate and liquorice allsorts which may, or may not, be kept for Christmas!). The ferry is busy, mainly passengers returning from a weekend in Helsinki or a bus tour in Finland. There are no other motorhomes on board!

(continued at: Through the Baltics to Greece Autumn 2017)