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In Norway September 2006 PDF Printable Version E-mail



The Log of a 1,800 mile Journey

September 2006

Margaret and Barry Williamson

This dailyNor3_(48).JPG log gives an account of our 1,800-mile motorhome journey through Finnmark and Troms, the northernmost regions of Norway.

After winter and early spring in Greece, we left the UK in mid-May 2006 and travelled 1,650 miles via France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary for a 5-week, 1,000-mile journey in Romania. In mid-July we left Romania to travel a further 1,500 miles to Finland via eastern Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. We entered Finland by ferry from Tallinn (Estonia), arriving in Helsinki on 4 August 2006.

For a further 1,500 miles, we enjoyed some of Finland's 187,888 lDSCF0006.JPGakes, its limitless forest (covering 70% of the land area) and glimpses of its 180,000 islands! Our bicycles have given us great exercise in several rides on quiet forest roads and gravel tracks. We visited Russia by canal, cycled to the easternmost point of the mainland EU and got up close to reindeer and elk north of the Arctic Circle.

Now we aim to pass through the northernmost town in the EU, reach Kirkenes and Grense Jakobselv, in the far northeast of Norway close to the Russian border, spend time in Vadso and Vardo on their lonely Arctic peninsula and, of course, visit Nordkapp (North Cape), the northernmost point in the world reachable by motorhome (or bicycle). To get there and back, we will have to pass through 32 km (20 miles) of tunnels, including the world's deepest submarine tunnel.

We then aim to travel south down Norway's fiord and glacier-indented coast, perhaps detouring into Sweden.

To see how we got on and discover what we actually did, read on!

DisDSCF0019.JPGtances are given in miles; heights in feet; and costs in Euros. 1 mile = 1.6 km; 1 foot = 0.3 metres and, at present, 1 Euro = about 0.7 Pounds Sterling. The current exchange rate for each non-Euro country is given in the log. The daily rate quoted for campsites generally includes an electrical hook-up.

A Table of Distances, Fuel and Costs will be included at the end of this journey

To read our illustrated account of travelling north from Helsinki, through southern Finland and Karelia (with a visit to Vyborg in Russia and the easternmost point of the EU), up to Lapland and the Arctic Circle, click: Finland August 2006 and Finland September 2006.

To view a slide show of our journey through Finland, click: Images of Finland

To view a slide show of our journey through Norway, click: Images of Norway

To read Jane and George Swindail's illustrated account of their 11-week journey the length of Norway, click: Jane & George in Norway

Margaret and Barry Williamson

7 September  121 miles  KAAMANEN, Finland to KIRKENES, Norway    Kirkenes Camping

Over the Finnish Line to Norway and down to Sea Level

On a very cold morning we drove north-east on the quiet road 971, along the west side of Lake Inari. The birch trees reflected their autumnal shades in the water. After about 20 miles we passed a simple campsite right on the shore, then another signed off to the right as we left the lake (despite Inari TI's assurance that there was nothing along this road). Our height was a steady 460 ft and new snow posts stood along the verges.

55 miles from Kaamanen we saw another campsite, a couple of miles before the village of Sevettijarvi. We lunched in a rest area, complete with a small Sami museum/gift shop, and learnt that the area is home to the Skolt Sami, who moved here from an area annexed by Russia. They have a distinctive language and religion - the village has an Orthodox church, a school and a cafι (but no diesel).

Naatamo, 22 miles later, is the last village before Norway, at latitude 69 degrees 40', height 270 ft. We stopped to buy diesel (price above average for Finland, but less than Norway) and bread (ditto). The border, 2 miles on, was marked by a cattle- (or rather reindeer-) grid and a high fence. The animals cannot cross from Lappi (Finland) into Finnmark (Norway) but we could and the customs post did not halt us.

Norway is part of Schengen (free movement between member states) but it is not a member of the EU and has its own currency (NOK - Norwegian Krone - about 12 to the pound sterling). The language, akin to Swedish and Danish, is thankfully much more accessible than Finnish! It lies in the Central European Time zone (GMT + 1), so our clocks went back an hour.

The difference in scenery was immediately obvious, with a narrower rougher road, the grey fells more bare and rocky, the russet birch trees more stunted the farther north we drove. 6 miles from the border at the village of Neiden we met the busier (but not much wider) E6. This highway runs from Kirkenes along the rugged (to say the least) Norwegian coast for over 1,250 miles, ending south of Trondheim.

We had made a rapid descent to sea level in Norway, as Neidenelv (elv = river) opens into Neidenfjord. The campsite/motel of Neidenelven claimed to be full – it's also a Norwegian husky dog centre and some kind of canine event was due. Given the barking which greeted our arrival, we didn't mind leaving! Turning east towards Kirkenes we passed another campsite, which looked closed, and Neiden's Turist Hotel offering parking by the road, with hook-up and use of showers, for 120 NOK (or €14), but see later!

Continuing 30 miles to Kirkenes, we made a circuit of Norway's second most easterly town (less than 5 miles from the Russian border), then backtracked a few miles along E6 to the only campsite, near the village of Hesseng. It seemed deserted but the facilities were open, the water hot (though showers needed tokens) and the power on. We rang the phone number posted outside the office and were told that a man would call that evening to take our money (he never did)!

Later we were joined by a BritisDSCF0108[1].jpgh motorhome and met an interesting couple, Mike and Christine, who were catching the Hurtigruten coastal ferry from Kirkenes all the way to Bergen – the complete voyage of 5 days. They had a special price of ₤830 (including cabin and all meals – no charge for vehicles if you sail the whole way). The maximum headroom was listed as 2.4 m and their Hobby measured 2.42 m, so they had bought a foot pump in case they had to let their tyres down! Mike and Christine had driven here via Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, ferry to Sweden, and then Finland and Norway! They left Devon in February this year. Even more astonishing, they had never heard of the MMM magazine!

A message from Fiord Line ferries on our mobile phone meant a sudden change of plan for us! We had booked and paid for their weekly ferry from Bergen to Newcastle on 26 October, giving us plenty of time to drive down the Norwegian coast. A nice Geordie voice now informed us that the fare would be refunded, as the route and the boat had been bought by DFDS and our ferry would be in dry dock for a refit on the 26th! Checking websites, we couldn't find when Fiord Line stop sailing and when DFDS start again – just 'sometime in early November'. So we turned out attention to the Kristiansand–Newcastle route by DFDS for late October, only to learn that they were selling that ship and giving up the route, since they had just bought the Fiord Line one!

Our new friend Mike suggested we follow their example and take the Smyril Lines boat from Bergen to Lerwick (in the Shetlands), then drive down via the Orkneys and Scotland. We decided to sleep on the idea.

8 September  104 miles  KIRKENES to NEIDEN, Norway   Turist Hotel

Into Kirkenes and out to the Russian Border at Grense Jakobselv

We drove the few miles into Kirkenes, a port busy with Russian and Norwegian freight and trawlers. It's the terminus of the Hurtigruten coastal express, which has plied the coast round Nordkapp and down to Bergen, 2,500 nautical miles, for an unbroken 112 years, carrying mail, goods and passengers. (Details on www.hurtigruten.com.) The sea, the traffic, the bustle, the industry – it was a real contrast with Finland's soft landscape and quiet calm. We are further east than Cairo and the North Pole is considerably nearer than London! We are actually at the same latitude as Siberia, Greenland and Alaska, but with the benefit of the Gulf Stream, Norway has the longest ice-free coast in the polar regions.

We visited a bank for NOK currency, the Tourist Office for maps and an STA Travel Agency to learn more about ferries back to the UK. They knew less than we did, so we tried the Library, which had just opened (11 am) and offered half an hour's free internet use each. No news on Fiord Line/DFDS, but we did discover that the Smyril Lines (HQ in the Faroes) boat from Bergen to Shetland (which goes on to Iceland) doesn't call at Lerwick outbound after the end of September. We would have to go to Iceland first! An email in from Barry Crawshaw (MMM Foreign Travel Editor) confirmed that he would welcome an article on motorhoming in Finland – surprisingly, he had no record of any previous pieces on this beautiful land of lake and forest. We also picked up 6 good books in English for one krone (less than 10p) each, from the Library's book clearance table!

The Hurtigruten boat was due to leaveDSCF0115.JPG at 12.30 pm and we went to wave Mike and Christine off, only to find them on the quayside! The problem (of which they had not been warned) was that the real maximum vehicle height for boarding depends on the tide, since the ramp into the boat is angled according to the position of the moon! It was impossible to drive onto today's boat, the Nordlys, andDSCF0118.JPG they were told to come back tomorrow (it goes every day, operated by 14 ships in total), since the tide and the ferry would both be higher! We wished them luck and are waiting to hear the result. All this makes the average Greek ferry drama seem quite boring!

We hope they make it onto 'the World's Most Beautiful Voyage'. Back in 1990 we enjoyed 3 days on board the Hurtigruten, from Tromso to Alesund (for a further ferry to Newcastle), after cycling up into the Arctic from England via the newly reunified Germany, Poland, the Gdansk-Helsinki ferry, Finland, Sweden and Norway – a busy 7 week summer holiday!

Leaving Kirkenes,DSCF0154.JPG across the Pasvik River at Norway's narrowest point, we took E105 east to the nearby Russian border crossing at Storskog/Boris Gleb. Those with a visa can continue to Murmansk but there was no queue. Lunching in a rest area on the way, we watched an amazing one-man machine Stikksetting – it drove alongDSCF0159.JPG drilling holes and placing snow-markers along the verges and round the lay-by, all by remote control from the one-man cab. The temperature was 10 degrees C or 50 F and we wondered how rapidly it would drop to zero.

Staying in Norway, we continued north-east on the minor road 886 (closed from December-MaDSCF0160.JPGy), climbing to 600 ft /190 m – a bleak landscape of grey rock, dwarf birch and no pines - before dropping to meet the Jakobselve, the narrow river which forms the northern endDSCF0145.JPG of the Russian border. Turning north alongside the river, the road (unsealed for the last few miles) took us to the river mouth at Grense Jakobselv, ending abruptly, 40 miles from Kirkenes, on the Arctic coast of the Barents Sea! This stormy fishing haven, Norway's easternmost point, feels as remote as it sounds. It is also one end of Russia's border with the world which stretches away for thousands of miles to the Pacific Ocean.

A notice board,DSCF0168.JPG with an old photo of men catching eels in the estuary, told the story of the grey stone church perched on the hillside – King Oskar II's Chapel (King = Kong). The border was drawn in the early 19thC but disputes between Russian and Norwegian fishermen DSCF0167[1].jpgand whalers continued. The chapel, built in 1869, was a more peaceful statement than a gunboat and it proved useful – painted white by the lighthouse service! It was restored to its former and proper glory to mark its centenary. We climbed up to it and walked round the little cemetery, with a mixture of Norwegian, Finnish, Russian and Sami graves – both Lutheran and Orthodox. A brief walk to the shoreline, for a view of Russia a 100 metres awaDSCF0170.JPGy on the opposite bank, the sound of the ocean, the call of the sea birds, and back inside for a pot of tea and a digestive biscuit!

Whereas in Finland, Russia was the enemy during WW2, bravely repelled in 1944, Norway has a different history. This Chapel was one of the few churches to escape the German scorched earth tactics at the end of the war, when towns and villages were burnt, leaving their people to perish in the Arctic winter. In Kirkenes (which suffered 320 German aerial bombing attacks) there is a memorial to the Red Army, welcome liberators in 1944. For more on the war in this border area, the air raids and bombing, the Murmansk convoys, etc, visit the Grenseland Museum in Kirkenes.

Grense Jakobselv was our turning point. There was nowhere else to go but back - and that we reluctantly did. We returned the way we had come, past Kirkenes and Hesseng, remarking that the GPS screen is now a maze of green contour lines rather than a flood of blue water as it was in Finland. Stopping at Neiden's Turist Hotel (marked by a white concrete statue of a polar bear holding a salmon), we found the owner about to close for the weekend, as his 3 staff had all gone down with flu (and he felt none too good!) He was puzzled that the sockets on his outside wall were dead, rang his electrician without success, then offered us a parking place (and use of hot showers) free of charge! Turning on the gas heater and popping a steak & kidney pie in the oven, we made the best of it (what a hard life!)

9 September   76 miles   NEIDEN, Norway to NUORGAM, Finland    Nuorgamen Lomakeskus €20.00

Back over the Border to the Northernmost Town and Campsite in Finland (and the EU)

On a cold wet day, we headed back into Finland to stay on the northernmost campsite in the EU, in the northernmost town in the EU, near the northernmost point in the EU!

From Neiden, we drove north up E6, meeting the south shore of Varangerfjord near Gandvik after about 25 miles. Stunning autumn colours and red berries, shining in the rain, clothed the scrubby heath and we spotted our first pair of Norwegian reindeer. West along Varangerfjord (the country's second largest) for another 25 miles, past isolated farms and clusters of small fishing boats. Wooden racks held hand-cut hay in the fields, though the fish-drying frames were empty at this time of year. Varangerbotn, at the end of the fjord, had a town hall/fire station in a wooden building, petrol station, busy shop and cafe, bank and post – but no public phone. They appear to be as rare as they are in Finland (actually, Kirkenes had one but it didn't work!)

At Skipagurra, another 10 miles along E6, the Tana Familie Camping site was open, on the right just before we turned left on road 895 for another 10 miles to the border. The road follows the Tana river, which runs south from Tanafjord to form the border with Finland, where it becomes the Teno, as far as Utsjoki. Just before the border (another reindeer fence and grid), a Norwegian police patrol stopped us to check driving licence and vehicle document. Then over the Riksgrens and Welcome to LappiDSCF0184.JPG/Sapmi, Finland – and the EU at its northernmost DSCF0203.JPGpoint.

The first town, Nuorgam, is really just another clearing in the trees with a shop, a gas station and one cafι/campsite/cabins – but on the fast-flowing river Teno, famed for its salmon, rather than by a still lake. At latitude 70 degrees 4 minutes, it's a good place for a break – at least until it stops raining – and much less bleak than the world's northernmost campsite, which we also know, near Norway's Nordkapp.

10/12 September   At NUORGAM, Finland    Nuorgamen Lomakeskus

A Break at the Top of the EU and a Cycle Ride along the Teno

A cool spell of sunshine, showers and rainbows gave us time to catch up on laundry and writing. We started on theDSCF0194.JPG third edition of the A to Z of Long-term Motorhoming for DSCF0189.JPGour website (the first 2 editions were published by the MMM). No longer limited to 10,000 words spread over 4 articles, we are now free to write more fully – visit: The A to Z of Long-term Motorhoming. We also prepared the excellent account and images of a 6,000-mile, 2-month motorhome journey to Turkey and back, sent to us by Keith and Jenny Dear, who we met in July in Romania. Click here to view: To Istanbul by Campervan.

Alarmed by an unexpected bill from Vodafone (already paid by direct debit), Barry had to spend an hour or 2 working out the detaDSCF0183.JPGils and emailing our protest. Having answered all their questions, we await the next move – but doubt we shall renew the contract!

We took to our bicycles to photograph DSCF0192.JPGthe 'EU Northernmost Point' signs, 3 miles away, and had a longer ride (31 miles) towards Utsjoki, following the Teno River. Part of this was several kilometres on a stretch of the old gravel road alongside the Alakongas Rapids. Handcarts and then horse-drawn carts were used to portage the cargo of boats past the rapids, until the new road and trucks made the whole process unnecessary in the 1930's. Now all is peace, with information boards, toilets and a shelter/fireplace for anglers.

13 September  112 miles  NUORGAM, Finland to VARDO, Norway

To Norway's (and West Europe's) Easternmost Town

On a bright dry morning, a strong back wind tailed us down the Teno DSCF0196.JPGValley, over the border, leaving Finland and the EU once again. After 3.5 miles the first village in Norway, Polmak, consisted of a farm offering B&B and a small museum of grass-roofed riverside cabins (closed).

We followed the 895 to Skipagurra, then E6 as far as Varangerbotn, about 20 miles from the Finnish border. Here we shopped (the supermarket has a corner with free coffee and cake, discovered as we returned from Kirkenes a few days ago!) It's also a good place for refuelling if you're about to take road E75 to Norway's remote north-east corner and Vardo island, as prices rise steadily along that route! The Varanger Sami Museum by the shore documents the culture of the coastal Sami.

Along E75 passing the Nor3_(11).JPGpretty white church (1858) on the shore at Nesseby, then the Sami cultural heritage site at Mortensnes, with traces of settlement since 10,000 years ago – sacrificial sites and graves. (Why did people settle so far north after the last Ice Age, we wondered?) After 20 miles we came to Vestre Jakobselv, a busy fishing village with several huge wooden racks for drying fish or spreading nets. Even out here, cycle paths provide safe routes round the centre and children'Nor3_(10).JPGs bikes were stacked outside the school. Signs warn of the traffic-calming humps, called Fartsdampers! It has the only campsite along E75 (which runs for about 100 miles, beyond Vadso and Vardo, out to the summer-only fishing village of Hamningberg.)

Following the north coast ofNor3_(12).JPG Varangerfjord, with stunning views across its broad waters, it was another 10 miles to the surprisingly large town of Vadso, a port of call for the Hurtigruten (northbound only). We parked in the centre and wrapped up to brave the wind (48 deg F or 8 deg C outside!) The town has a good range of shops (Barry bought warm waterproof gloves for cycling), a small Tourist Office (with free internet) and a beautiful modern library, also offering free internet on which we spent an hour. We lunched back in the motorhome, watching an amazing double rainbow playing over the water. Vadso is famous for its King Crabs, which grow to world record size in the Varangerfjord. It also has several museums. Sadly, the Airships and Boats Museum was closed but we saw the airship mast to which both Amundsen and Nobile tethered their craft when they landed here, en route to the North Pole in 1926 and 1928.

About 10 miles east of Vadso, we turned off briefly to the Ekkeroy peninsula with its tiny fishing village, a cottage offering accommodation and a former fish factory with a cod liver oil steam machine (open in summer as a museum). Ekkeroy is best known for the cliff-top nature reserve, where 40,000 kittiwakes – and many other species - nest, just a short walk from the car park. Margaret took the path but theNor3_(13).JPG nesting season is over. There were more traces of the German occupation of 1940-44, the concrete bases of their camps littering the hillside.

Continuing north-east across a treelessNor3_(14).JPG wilderness, we shared the empty road with a few well wrapped sheep, hardy cattle and ponies. After one more tightly built fishing village, Kiberg, we climbed to 412 ft/125 m, over the bleak hill called Domen, before dropping to Svartnes. From here, Norway's oldest submarine tunnel goes beneath the Barents Sea to the tiny island fortress town of Vardo. The tunnel is 2.89 km (2.3 miles) long, 88 m (290 ft) deep, well lit – and free of charge! Cyclists and pedestrians are also allowed through (it beats swimming).

In VardoNor3_(15).JPG (pop 2,400) we parked near the quayside in the lee of a warehouse and battened down for a stormy night. The terraced wooden fishermen's cottages had a lamp twinkling in every triple-glazed window, curtains open – perhaps the tradition, lighting up the haven. A weather-beaten Sea Eagle perched on a post nearby. We were woken by hailstones on the roof and by the Hurtigruten boat calling at 4 am on its way to Vadso. (Southbound, it arrives from Kirkenes at a more reasonable 4 pm.)

14 September  98 miles  VARDO to SKIPAGURRA, Norway    Tana Familie Camping NOK 150 (c €18.00)

A Morning inside the Arctic Climate Zone before returning West

Vardo, separated from the mainland by the Busse Sound at NorwaNor3_(20).JPGy's north-east corner, claims to be West Europe's only town in the Arctic Climatic Zone (not warmed by the Gulf Stream). Easily believed this morning, as we walked round! The Tourist Office was closed (open mid-June to mid-August, it's a short summer) but a plaque informed us that we were in: the world's northernmost fortified town, West Europe's easternmost town, the oldest town or fishing village in Finnmark (the County covering the top of Norway) … and it felt like it. We also read that road E75 runs from Vardo to Crete (yes Crete)! Checking our road atlas, we traced it as far as Athens (with a little help from the Helsinki-Gdansk ferry). Now there's an idea … but via Serbia and Bosnia?!

Vardo has been Nor3_(18).JPGan important defensive site since its first fort was built around 1300 (the first church here was consecrated in 1307). The second Vardohus Fort was the scene of Norway's biggest witch hunt - in the 17thC, 90 were found guilty of consorting with the Devil on the Domen hill, known as Witch Mountain, and burned at the stake. The present fort (1738), inside stone and turf ramparts forming an 8-pointed star, opens its gate at 10 am and we made a windswept visit. Nobody was on duty to collect the NOK 30 entry fees aNor3_(19).JPGnd the grass-roofed interior buildings were off limits.

The town remained an important listening post throughout the Cold War and there is still an active Forces Station on the hilltop, with 3 'golf ball' radar stations overlooking the cold grey Arctic Ocean, monitoring the naval and airborne comings and goings from Murmansk and Archangel.

Vardo's Museums Nor3_(16).JPG(which we missed, as they didn't open till 4 pm when the Hurtigruten arrives) cover the town's history, including the importance of the Pomor frontier trade with Russia up until the Russian Revolution, and the explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who reached the North Pole in 1883 aboard the ship 'Fram'. (So that's the Unknown Norwegian whose statue stands in the Square!) The Old School (1888) is one of the oldest wooden buildings in North Norway (that is, one of the few missed by the Germans in 1944) and there are some listed 19thC wharves. A few shops - and that's Vardo. What an amazing corner of Europe, still living on fishing and minimal tourism. Nor3_(17).JPGVisit: www.varanger.com.

Retreating through the tunnel, we decided against following the narrow road north from Svartnes to Hamningberg (closed Nov-May and of uncertain surface). We retraced our route (there is no other), over DomenNor3_(22).JPG Mountain to Kiberg. This village has an impressive WWII Partisan Museum (open June through August), while out at Kibergnesset Point (the easternmost point on the Norwegian mainland) there are large gun emplacements from that time.

Returning west along the side of the Varangerfjord, backed by bleak treeless moorland in a fine rain, we passed isolated wooden houses painted in red, ochre or battleship grey. 17 miles from Vardo, we came to the scattered settlement of Komagvaer (a cafι and some bushes). 14 miles later, Krampenes had a few sheep behind dry-stone walls, fish racks and a tiny whitewashed school, 5 miles before the turning for Ekkeroy Peninsula. We saw various ducks Nor3_(23).JPGand gulls on the fjord and another Sea Eagle (or Osprey?)

Trying to imagine living out here, we reached Vadso (43 miles from Vardo) – a big town with trees – and stopped for lunch. It was too cold and wet for an outing and we continued for 33 miles, through Vestre Jakobselv, past Mortensnes and Nesseby Church, back to Varangerbotn. A stop to buy bread (and enjoy the free coffee and cakes!)

Meeting the E6 at Skipagurra, 10 miles on, we passed its campsite and turned north for 3 miles to Tana Bru (Tana Bridge), on the other side of the Tana River. The campsite behind the white wooden Comfort Hotel was 'closed for winter', so back to Skipagurra's Family Camping for a night in a sloping and bumpy field, plugged into a cabin.

This was the first night we paid to camp in Norway on this visit. Compared with Finland, the facilities were not impressive, with showers costing an extra NOK 10 each and lacking any privacy or room to change (so we used our own). Nor were there any discounts for International or Scandinavian Camping Cards.

15 September  149 miles  SKIPAGURRA to STABBURSNES, Norway   Stabbursdalen Feriesenter NOK 170 (c €20.00)

Across the Fells to Porsangen Fjord

After refuelling in Tana BruNor3_(25).JPG (diesel at NOK 10.12 a litre or about ₤0.84, still cheaper than in the UK), we left E6 to turn north on road 98, following the Tana River up to Tanafjord. 15 miles on, after Boftsa School, we turned west at Rustefjelbma filling station (no prices displayed!) The narrow road wound between the fingers of the fjord and small lakes, the spindly birch trees shone with gold and we had a first glimpse of snow lying in pockets on the high fells.

25 miles later a Vegbom (road boom) stood ready to close the next section in snow. We zigzagged up to 370 m/1,200 ft, over the Ifjord Fell. Passing the second Vegbom, we dropped into Ifjord (a small campsite/cabins/cafι) and stopped to lunch in the sunshine. Nor3_(26).JPGThese roads will close next month until about May! At Kunes, the foot of Laksefjord 80 miles from Skipagurra, we noticed another Vegbom before a more gentle climb to 177 m/584 ft over Borselv Fell, the headland separating Laksefjord from Porsangen. In Borselv Wood, a sign indicated the world's northernmost natural-growing pine trees. What will be our next '-ernmost'?

Regaining the coast, we drove south down the eastern side of Porsangerfjord to Lakselv (= salmon river), population 3,000, 54 miles from Kunes. Camping Solstad, about a mile before the junction with E6 in the town, was closed. Continuing north on E6 for 10 miles, up the west side of Porsanger through the Stabbursdalen National Park to Stabbursnes Nature Reserve – an important wetland for birds and plants – we spotted an open campsite/cafι/minigolf (popular in Norway!)

The Stabbursdalen Holiday Centre was more like a work camp, with resident families in caravans, yet for us tourers the price was high (NOK 180, reduced to 170 under protest!) Showers were again NOK 10 each – and they didn't even have curtains! But we did get a fill of water and a copy of the Norsk Camping Guide, listing all the members of Norway's Federation of Camping Sites, with a good map. Details on www.camping.no and www.campingeurope.com.

16 September  109 miles  STABBURSNES to SKARSVAG, Norway

Through the Nordkapp Tunnel to the World's Northernmost Fishing Village

The long PorsangerfjordNor3_(27).JPG runs out into North Cape and has the world's northernmost skerries (presumably a Scandinavian word, since it begins sk-) supporting unique flora and birdlife. We followed the E6 up its west coast, sheep straying across the quiet road, gulls and cormorants on the water. Cars parked here and there in the wilderness betrayed the presence of hunters or berry-pickers.

After 30 miles we reached Olderfjord and called at the Tourist Centre/Hotel//Bar/Cafι/ Campsite - just past the filling station/post office/supermarket/pharmacy – which is all there is in Olderfjord, beautifully sited on an inlet of the Porsanger. We found that the campsite is open (unlike the 4 campings north of here, on Mageroya Island near Nordkapp) and we promised to stay on our way back.

Leaving the E6 (which turns south-west for Alta), we took E69 on iNor3_(28).JPGts lonely way up Porsanger to the deep underwater tunnel for Mageroya. We passed 3 laden cycle tourists, battling rain anNor3_(32).JPGd wind on their northern pilgrimage – the first seen in a long time. 16 miles along, after a 3-km tunnel through a hill, we lunched in a truly scenic layby, watching a small rowing boat with 4 fishermen come ashore as we ate our toasted teacakes.

The road clung to the shore, with grey cliffs rising on our left in horizontal layers like the Pancake Rocks of New Zealand's South Island. There was another short tunnel (0.496 km) before reaching Kafjord's quay, 44 miles from OlderfjNor3_(30).JPGord, where the ferry used to cross to Honningsvag on Mageroya. We had taken it on our first trip to Nordkapp in the summer of 1994, before the building of the world's deepestNor3_(35).JPG undersea tunnel made the boat redundant. Cyclists must regret its passing, as the new tunnel is far from bike-friendly, with 2-way traffic, a stiff climb and no shoulder.

Another 4 miles to the Nordkapp Tunnel's forbidding entrance, with no indication of the price to be paid at the other end! It is 6.87 km long (4.3 miles) and falls sharply to 212 m (700 ft) below sea level, bNor3_(36).JPGefore an equally steep ascent. The price for motorhomes over 6 m long is also steep: NOK 445 each way, compared with NOK 140 for a car or van below that length. Passengers (excluding the driver) cost NOK 46 each. Even more annoying, a caravan or trailer goes free, included in the car price! We paid up at the toll booth, looming out of the mist, and continued to Honningsvag, the island's main town and port, through 2 more (free) tunnels,Nor3_(39).JPG of 4.44 km and 0.19 km.

Watching our GPS, we reached latitude 70 degrees just before turning south for a couple of miles into Honningsvag. We parked on the quayside in time to watch the northbound Hurtigruten boat sail at 3.15 pm (it docks for 3.5 hours to allow the passengers an expensive bus-trip to Nordkapp). This being Saturday, the Tourist Office was firmly closed for the weekend, as were the Museum and most of the shops, but we did find a supermarket open.

Another 20 miles north (is it ever north!) to the top of Europe, past thNor3_(43).JPGe little airport and Youth Hostel/Camping (closed) at Skipsfjord, 5 miles along. The mist got thicker as we climbed over the barren black fells, reaching almost 1,000 ft. Just before Skarsvag is the turning for Nordkapp (13 km on) but we knew there would be better shelter in the world's most northerly fishing villaNor3_(40).JPGge. It has 3 small campsites, the last, Kirkeporten Camping, being – guess what – the world's most northerly. We had stayed there in August 1999, sharing it with a herd of reindeer, but had missed our chance this year – the owners have gone to Spain for the Nor3_(42).JPGwinter (and who can blame them!)

In Skarsvag the little Tourist Centre (the world's most northerly at latitude 71 deg 6'50 N) was actually open and we obtained permission to park alongside, by the fishing harbour, joining the seagulls for a stormy evening. A pair of Danish riders on Russian-built motorbike-and-sidecars (copies of early BMW's) were less fortunate – they found the hotel and guesthouse both closed and had to return to Honningsvag for the night.

17 September   102 miles   SKARSVAG to OLDERFJORD, Norway    Russenes Camping NOK 100 (c €12.00) – and every 4th night free

Nordkapp Revisited

FortifiNor3_(44).JPGed by bowlsNor3_(45).JPG of porridge, we took the road to Nordkapp. After 5 miles, climbing from sea level to 900 ft, we were in a thick mist of low cloud and drizzle, out of which loomed a few reindeer. The animals in Norway appear to be paler than their Finnish cousins, with a few albinos. In another 5 miles we reached the pay booths, at 916 ft, to find the barriers down. Winter opening hours: Noon to 3.30 pm (for the Hurtigruten passengers). The mist was being dispelled by a cold gale-force wind, carrying heavier rain.

Nordkapp (North Cape), Nor3_(47).JPGat latitude 71 deg 09'59 N, is the northerNor3_(49).JPGnmost point of mainland Europe – indeed, of the world - accessible by ordinary vehicle: and it's privately owned! During opening hours there is an admission fee of NOK 190 (₤16) per person in order to park on the gravel area for up to 48 hrs, enter the weird Visitor Centre known as Nordkapp Hall, watch a film about the area and spend some more money. You can even pay a lot more money to join the Royal North Cape Club and take champagne and caviar in its bar.

Having done this Nor3_(48).JPGbefore (apart from the Club bit), we were quite pleaNor3_(51).JPGsed to find the place closed. It meant we could park by the barriers free of charge, walk in and around, take photographs and renew the experience of this monumental plateau for free (as it should be), the sea pounding on the cliffs 1,000 ft below. Looking out across the Arctic Ocean, there is nothing until the North Pole, 2,053 km/1,283 miles away and much nearer than London! We did have a little company – a Russian car, a trio of Japanese photographers and the Danish motorbikers all came and went.

The most poignant sight Nor3_(52).JPGfor us was a pair of rusting bicycles and a trailer, abandoned round the back of the Hall. Having made it, their owners had taken a lift or a bus back and never come to reclaim them! On our previous visit, we had taken a German cyclist (and his bike, bags and trailer) down to Honningsvag Airport after he'd spent a night camped on the gravel. Nordkapp has no provision whatsoever for visitors except inside the Hall – no shelter, no picnic table, no place to leave a bike or motorbike under cover, no toilets when the Hall is closed, nowhere to camp. Nothing but the view – and a couple of strange monuments (an iron globe and a set of cheap and childish modern sculptures representing world peace).

Back inside the motorhome, we hung our dripping coats, drank Nor3_(53).JPGcoffee and made our escape well before noon. On the way back along E69 there is a signpost/car park at the start of the world's northernmost marked hiking trail, to Knivskjellodden - an 18-km round trip to Europe's actual northernmost point at 71 degrees 11'08 N. We were astonished to see a German-owned Land Rover Discovery parked there and hoped its occupants found their way back through the now dense mist and horizontal rain! Apparently, this trail-end has a hiking association book to put your name in, a cairn and a good view of Nordkapp Plateau (but not today).

We continued south, past the left turn for Skarsvag, climbing again over moors that were bleak as bleak, the fine ribbon of a waterfall occasionally relieving the grey/green. Passing a right turn leading to Gjesvaer (no doubt the world's second most northerly fishing village), we remembered going there previously, for a boat trip around the nesting cliffs of a puffin colony with up to 3 million assorted seabirds, but it had been too rough despite being in season (May-August). No chance today! Visit www.birdsafari.com for more on that, and www.northcape.no for general information about Europe's Top End.

Back in the relativeNor3_(56).JPG shelter of Honningsvag harbour, we were ready for hot soup before a short walk to its oldest building – the smaNor3_(57).JPGll stone church of 1884. As the only building to survive the German burning of the town, it housed the small remaining population during post-war reconstruction. When open (June to mid-Sept), it contains a moving exhibition of photographs from that time. Honningsvag Museum, open all year, tells more about life on this Arctic coast and during WW2 – see www.nordkappmuseet.no.

As we left Honningsvag,Nor3_(60).JPG the northbound Hurtigruten was already an hour overdue and a crowd was gathering on the quayside. The evening TV Nor3_(61).JPGnews had no hint of a ferry disaster, so we hope it was just delayed. Back on E69, we soon met the first tunnel, 4.44 km through the hillside to Sornes (a few houses, a jetty, an abandoned school). Another short 190 m tunnel, then the toll booth for the 6.8 km-long steep underwater tunnel back to the mainland. We were soon left behind by the Danish motorbikers, who overtook us on the way through.

Continuing, we were amazed to see a pair of cycle-tourists, yellow capes billowing in the wind, walking their machines into the wind, towards us and the tunnel. We had seen 2 pairs earlier today, struggling into Honningsvag, and they all have our complete admiration – though we'd certainly have waited for a better day, ourselves!

We paused at the Nor3_(62).JPGold ferry terminal at Kafjord, just 9 miles across the water from Honningsvag, now deserted. A little further south we turned off the main road for a mile or 2 into the fishing village of ReNor3_(65).JPGpvag, at 71 miles since breakfast. It had a hotel - camping, a neat little church with graveyard and a couple of shops – one advertising whale meat at NOK 120 per kilo (for scientific purposes?) There were 2 more short tunnels (length 2.98 km and 0.496 km) which gave a total of 16 km (or 10 miles) of tunnel, one-way to Nordkapp or 32 km for the inescapable return journey. Admire, then, the cyclist who achieves this along with several thousand feet of climbingFinMark_(19).JPG. We continued in driving rain to Russenes/Olderfjord, where we were only too glad to keep our promise and set up camp.

This beautiful campsite, right on the shore of a Porsanger inlet, is part of the Olderfjord Hotel complex across the road, with a tourist centre/souvenir shop and cafι/bar, all run by 2 very friendly couples. The place is busy when the long-distance coaches call, but otherwise the static caravans and cabins are empty - the peace is tangible.

18/20 September   At OLDERFJORD, Norway   Russenes Camping

A Site for the 3 R's – Resting, Reading and Repairing

The first morning was calm and sunny, the weather gradually turning colder until a little snow fell during our last night here.

We bought Norway calendars from the tourist centre and chatted with our host, FinMark_(10).JPGwho comes from Honningsvag. It was her son's birthday and she reminisced about bringing him home from Hammerfest Hospital through an early snowstorm, 13 years ago! Margaret posted one of the calendars to Dukinfield near Manchester, to mark another birthday – her Uncle Harold's 90th on 23 SeptembFinMark_(18).JPGer. He has just become a great-grand-dad, but has always been a great-grand-person. We visited him last November and remember his dignified humour: 'no-one wants to be 90' he said 'until they are 89'.

We caught up with laundry and mending, including repairs to our FinMark_(11).JPGdoorstep and the step-ladder (pop riveted), the bicycle cover (stitched) and the insect screen's door handle (super-glued). We walked along to Olderfjord's only other shop – a cosy establishment at the petrol station, selling everything from fresh bread and deep-frozen local salmon to chain saws and fishing flies. It was also a post office/betting shop, and all run by one man, who spoke excellent English (as has every Norwegian we've met so far). He would even rustle up coffee and hot dogs if the Hotel's cafι were closed!

We enjoyed FinMark_(15).JPGsalmon steaks for dinner (a bargain at NOK 62.55, or just over ₤5, per kilo) with a bottle of Hungarian Tokaj wine, and made a spotted dick (that's a currant pudding, for those who don't hail from the north of England!) and custard to follow – international cuisineFinMark_(13).JPG indeed!

Watching Hooded Crows scavenging on the shoreline outside our window, we were surprised by the appearance of a pair of waders resembling large grey heron. According to our 'Birds of Europe' guide, no self-respecting heron strays this far north. The only other contender might be cranes, but they have a shorter beak than the two birds we saw fishing, through the binoculars. It remains a mystery.

21 September   77 miles   OLDERFJORD to ALTA, Norway    Strand Camping NOK 170 (c €20.00)

South-west over a snowy watershed to Alta

On a sunny morning FinMark_(26).JPG(temperature just above freezing, with a dusting of snow even at sea-level), we turned west along the E6, climbing to 238 m (785 ft) before dropping to Skaidi, 15 miles from Olderfjord. Here, road 94 turns off for 35 miles to Hammerfest, which claims world's northernmost town status. We've visited before (without joining the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society), so we continued south-west to Alta.

A second climb on the dangerously narrow E6 crossed a high plateau, reaching FinMark_(23).JPG385 m (1,270 ft). We lunched near the top, watching a herd of reindeer roam the marshy grey-green moors dotted with white cotton-grass, the surrounding hill-tops white with fresh snow. Then a rapid descent into russet birch woods above the Altafjord and down along its shore to Elvebakken, where we passed Kronstad Camping before the bridge over the mouth of the Alta River, 5 miles before Alta itself.

This university town (the largest in Norwegian Lapland, pop 18,000) was a sudden bewilderment of traffic, parking meters and crowded streets. We followed an arrow for Tourist Information, which led to a No Entry sign (and no TI). Turning round with difficulty, we abandoned the idea of finding a library or internet place or phone box or supermarket or anything else, since there was nowhere to park, even if we paid!

Exiting 'the City of the Northern Lights' (a title it adopted for the year 2000), we turned south down road 93 for 3 miles and came to a row of 3 campsites along the Alta River, all open. We chose the last one, Alta Strand, with excellent facilities including under-floor heating in the showers and – best of all - FREE Wi-Fi HI-SPEED RELIABLE INTERNET! Alta looks better already.

The Aurora Borealis (= dawn of the north) or Northern Lights are supposedly visible here on every clear winter night - but when is it clear, where cloud and rain persist? The world's first Northern Lights Observatory stands on a peak above Alta so it must happen!

22/23 September    At ALTA Norway   Strand Camping

A Site for the fourth R – Writing

The weather stayed cold and rainy, encouraging full use of the Wi-Fi. We both caught up with overdue emails, website and photograph management, diary updates, etc.

First the good news – Fjord Line have given us a full refund for the ferry they cancelled, and Ian Hibell has sufficiently recovered from his accident after 3 weeks R&R in a Chinese village to be back in the saddle, heading for the Chinese/Russian border. The CTC have published the items we sent about Ian and some members are emailing him their best wishes, via us. What a wonderful web we weave!

But now for the bad news – Vodafone are not relenting on their mysteriously large bill (see 12 Sept entry). That's the end of a beautiful friendship, which began with our first mobile phone, purchased when we'd cycled into Portsmouth one freezing day in December 1998.

24 September   108 miles   ALTA to STORSLETT, Norway    Fosselv Camping NOK 150 (c €18.00)

South-west from Finnmark to Troms through Snow Flurries

Reluctant to leave Alta's excellent campsite, we spent the morning emailing and baking, lunched on cheese scones hot from the oven, then set out. The showers were wintry, the surrounding peaks dusted with fresh snow.

The World Heritage site (prehistoric rock paintings and carvings on the cliff near Alta's new museum) lies a few miles west of the town, alongside the E6. We had intended to walk the path to the cliff but access is now part of the NOK 80 per person entry fee to the whole museum complex (open daily 9-6). We visited the museum a few years ago (at which time the cliff walk was free) but those days are gone! See www.alta.museum.no and www.altatours.no for details of this, northern Europe's largest area of rock art dating from 2,500 to 6,500 years ago.

We continued south-west on the precariously narrow E6, along the edge of Altafjord to Kafjord, then north-east up the other side of the long inlet. We made this kind of slow progress all day, travelling about 3 times the distance that the hooded crow would fly!

Kafjord, 12 miles from Alta, was once important for copper-mining. FinMark_(36).JPGThe Germans had their largest marine base here during WWII, with up to 20,000 soldiers. The battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst were at anchor, hidden at the end of the long fjord between the mountains. The Tirpitz Museum covers the events, including the bombing and destruction of what was then the world's largest battleship at the Battle of Kafjord. Sadly, the museum is only open for 3 months in summer (June-Aug). As the rain turned to sleet, we had to agree that summer was over. The snowy hill-tops were shrouded in mist.

It was a magnificent drive, roundFinMark_(30).JPG the many inlets of Altafjord, then west along the bottom of Langfjord. The land rose steeply to our left, the tumbling waterfalls carried under the road in pipes or over it on concrete shuttering, to join the saltwater. At Langfjordbotn the campsite was open but we'd only covered 50 miles. Another 4 miles to a significant boundary marker, leaving Finnmark (the northernmost county of Norway) for Troms.

At Burfjord, 15 miles later, the road climbed south over a headFinMark_(34).JPGland reaching 900 ft. This stretch had been gritted (a week before the end of September!) and snow was settling on the verges. Dropping back to sea level, over a bridge at Sorstraumen, we turned north-west again. A second and longer gritted climb took us to 1,286 ft over the next headland, driving through horizontal sleet. Snow fencing had been erected along the west side of the road, ready for the drifts - the scenery was amazing.

South once more, down the side of Straumfjord, we were glad to see a little campsite on its blustery shore, where the Foss FinMark_(37).JPGRiver Waterfall drops sheer for 64 m to join the sea. We had the place to ourselves for a wild night, rain and wind pounding our windows through which a snowy view across the water appeared and disappeared with the clouds.

Storslett, the nearest settlement, lay 11 km further down the road but, amazingly, there was a good TV signal on one channel (out of 3). Luckily, this showed Roman Polanski's award-winning film 'The Pianist', based on the autobiography of a Polish Jew who survived the events of the Warsaw ghetto. A harrowing story beautifully filmed.

25 September  176 miles   STORSLETT to BARDU, Norway   Fosseng Camping NOK 100 (c €12.00)

7 miles down the E6 (as ever), the small town of Storslett had shoFinMark_(39).JPGps, library and school, surrounded by snowy mountains. Buying bread, we asked if the winter had come early – 'not really, from now on the snow can come, but the worst months are November to February'. We hope to be gone!

After the next little fishing hFinMark_(42).JPGarbour at Sorkjosen we climbed to 781 ft over another headland, the road gritted and marked with snow-sticks. Today the wind has dropped and the showers are of rain, but snow still lies above 500 ft. Then southwards, down the side of Rot Sound and Lyngenfjord to Oldersdalen, 30 miles from Storslett, from where a car ferry crosses the fjord to Lyngseidet (for a short cut to Tromso via road 91 and a second ferry).

Not aiming for Tromso (having been before by bicycle), we stayed on FinMark_(50).JPGE6 south to Birtavarre, 13 miles on at the bottom of the fjord, then turned north-west again. A pair of tunnels cut through the rock (3.5 km, then 2.3 km) to Skardalen. Cyclists were forbidden in the first one, as the old road over the top was still there. At least both were well-lit. Thinking linguistically about Dal - plural Dalen – we made the link with German Tal and Northern English Dales.

South down the FinMark_(53).JPGeast side of Lyngenfjord once more. There was another 0.5 km tunnel before Skibotn (82 miles out), where we lunched by the fishing harbour and tourist info/cafι. Camping Olderelv, south of the town before road E8 turns off for Finland, was open but the weather had now improved and we enjoyed driving on. The sunshine reflected off the mountains, which appeared higher and snowier than those to the north.

After Storfjord we cut across the low hills to Nordkjosboten (30 mFinMark_(55).JPGiles from Skibotn). It began to feel less remote – this town even had a caravan and motorhome, or Bobil, dealer. Bobil, literally 'house-car', is a nice word. We started calling our home 'Rosie Bobble'. Sad!

From here, the E8 turns north up the Balsfjord to Tromso – home to the world's northernmost university, also known for its modern Arctic Cathedral. It was the termiFinMark_(59).JPGnus of our 1990 cycle ride from England and we have many memories of arriving there to catch the Hurtigruten boat back down the coast.

Today we decided not to return to the town which now dubs itself 'the Paris of the North', so we stayed on the E6 – suddenly broader, 3 lanes leaving town southwards. The FinMark_(60).JPGsnow thinned out on the hillsides, there were pockets of grass and sheep along the bottom of the fjord. Just as we felt we'd left the Far North behind, we climbed inland to 234 m or 772 ft at Takvaknet. A snowy scene at the summit, with a Sami tent or two by a reservoir, then down to Andselv. The E6 bypassed the town and the anticipated campsite had ceased to be, so we continued for 17 miles down the splendid Bardu Dale to Setermoen. Still no camping, until we saw the sign for Fosseng about 8 miles later.

The site is 'sort of' closed, but the old couple let us stay. Now we are past the equinox, a cold darkness falls suddenly at about 7 pm.

26 September  168 miles  BARDU, Norway to KIRUNA, Sweden   Ripan Hotel & Camping SEK 170 (c €18.00)

Inland over the Border to Sweden's Iron-Town

After a literally frFinMark_(63).JPGeezing night (our external locker doors were frozen shut), it was back on the E6, south-west for Narvik. After 5 miles we passed a left turn 'Polar Zoo, 2 km' which has motorhome parking and dump-point. Probably the world's northernmost zoo, since the Arctic Zoo we once visited at Ranua in Finland is just below the Arctic Circle.

Starting from 350 ft, we climbed through aFinMark_(65).JPG snowscape up to 1,060 ft, icicles forming a curtain on the rock faces at the edges of the road. Down to 670 ft, then up again, the road clear but the barriers standing ready. At 1,135 ft we passed a laFinMark_(62).JPGrge (closed) campsite near a lake, so perfectly still that we stopped to photograph the reflections of the white mountains and clear blue sky. The top of the pass, 15 miles from our start, was at 1,356 ft. Coming down to sea level we had a view of Gratangen below at the end of a fjord, the water so still that it looked frozen.

Up again to 1,057 ft, then down to the coast again at Bjervik, 29 miles FinMark_(66).JPGout. Here the E10 turns off west to the Lofoten Islands but we cFinMark_(68).JPGontinued to Narvik. For the next 22 miles our road E6/E10 ran south down the fjord edge, then east along a side-water, through a 550 m tunnel, past the junction with E10 inland into Sweden (of which more later), over a fine bridge, then back on ourselves going west to reach Narvik. There is no such thing as a direct route down the Norwegian coast!

Narvik's small campsite, perched above the Ofotfjord less than 2 miles before the town, was 'Closed because holiday' according to the sign at ReceptionFinMark_(70).JPG. We drove on into Narvik, past a military cemetery, last resting place for many British sea- and airmen who fought here in WWII. The town has a good museum covering the events, which we've visited previously. Today the centre was busy, with nowhere to park. A sign indicating Tourist and Caravan Parking led us nowhere – must be summer-only, like the campsite. We returned to the campsite for lunch, shopping at a Rema Supermarket (Norway's lowest prices!) on the way. The local driving school was using the campsite to practise 3-point turns!

We returned northwFinMark_(77).JPGards on E6 for 13 miles, then turned right onto E10, the surprisingly minor King Olav's Road into Sweden. The border was just 17 miles along, climbing through a rocky snowy scattering of little lakes up to the Riksgrens at 1,637 ft – Welcome to Sweden's Lapland. 2 miles later, at 1,540 ft, is a 'ski resort' with a large (closed) caravan park and the Riksgransen Hotel, standing ready to welcome weary trans-Scandinavian cyclists who've just ridden the 82 miles from Kiruna (we stayed here in 1990, on our way to Tromso).

From the border a railway line parallels the E10 to Kiruna, built to transport irFinMark_(76).JPGon down to Narvik for shipping. Our road, only slightly wider than Norway's E6, ran empty across Sweden's wilderness, its edges marked with luminous yellow snow-poles. With the rail tracks on the right and enormous lake Tornetrask for much of the way on the left, we crossed a high plateau at about 1,200 ft through the Abisko National Park, past Abisko railway station. The snowline was higher than in Norway, with just the very tops white.

Leaving the lake toFinMark_(78).JPG turn south, we climbed yet higher (maximum 1,686 ft). Our first herd of Swedish reindeer crossed the road, lingering, seeming unused to traffic! The first sight of Kiruna is a shock: a row of modern windmills in front of mining spoil heaps, then a railway marshalling yard. Smoke from an industrial chimney billowed into the clear blue sky – a sky with the promise of viewing the Northern Lights tonight (a promise not kept!). Iron is the reason for both town and railway, isolated up here at 1,670 ft in the wilderness of Sweden's Lapland. Kiruna claims to have the largest underground mine in the world, 540 m or 1,780 ft below the surface. Visit www.lappland.se for more.

The Ripan Hotel/Camping was signposted on the northern edge of the town and we soon settled in, along with a few caravans housing local workers. A hot meal, a Wi-Fi signal on the computer, 3 channels and a good old Western on the TV, an electric blanket through the freezing night – we're told winter has come a month early here!

27/30 September At KIRUNA, Sweden Ripan Hotel & Camping

Rugging Up Warm and Eating Well

A time for catching up with laundry, baking, writing, internetting and so on.

We tried the set Lunch of the Day in the hotel's restaurant – delicious home-made bread and herb-butter, lamb-beans-mushrooms stew with salad, rice and potatoes, orange juice, coffee and home-made biscuits – for 80 SEK each (Swedish Krona: about 13.5 to the Pound Sterling). It set us up for a 20-minute walk into the town centre, where we bought warm shirt and socks, an extra duvet, and cable and connectors to link with the campsite's cable TV. We only drew a blank on a new fan-heater (ours is starting to protest at over-use!) Both electrical stores in Kiruna (including 'Giganten' at the out-of-town shopping mall) had sold out! Temperatures fall below freezing after dark now (ie for 12 hours).

We emailed some images of Lapland in the Snow to friends and had a good response. Daniel Pop praised the Lord for the wonders of his creation and asked again when we shall return to Romania. Lovely.

We'd intended to leave on 29 September, the day that snow began to fall and settle after breakfast! Postponing our departure, we walked into Kiruna in the afternoon, braving snow flurries to post a letter and buy a new outdoor electric plug and lead. (Ours had just burnt out and we were using our only spare.) On the 30th, the weather was worse! The temperature remained below freezing outside, the snow still lay, the paths were icy, visibility poor. So we're still here, using the time to send emails and text messages, update our website, keep warm by the TV and talk to a newly arrived motorhoming Swiss couple. Things could be a lot worse!