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From the UK to Finland 2009 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

THE ROAD TO FINLAND - SUMMER 2009

The Travel Log of a 1,825-mile (2920-km) Motorhome Journey from England to Finland via Holland, Germany and Sweden

Margaret and Barry Williamson
July 2009

This illustrated travel log describes our motorhome journey from England to Scandinavia in the summer of 2009. We had spent the spring in the south-east corner of Bulgaria, based at the quiet Sakar Hills Camping in Biser. After driving back to England for essential repairs, service, MOT and family visits, we took a ferry from Harwich to Rotterdam. Once again, we were on the edge of that great land mass known as the Continent of Europe.

From the UK to Finland: 1,825 miles (2,920 km)
In Holland: 127 Miles (203 km)
In Germany: 456 miles (730 km)
In Sweden: 1,242 miles (1,987 km)

For a Gallery and Slide Show of Images, click: In Holland 2009
For a Gallery and Slide Show of Images, click
: In Germany 2009
For a Gallery and Slide Show of Images, click
: In Sweden 2009

Details of how we got to Bulgaria in April 2009, click: Grecian Journey 2009

A full account of the journey from Bulgaria back to England, click: BG to GB

A description of our motorhome, click: A Flair for Travel

Details of six bicycle routes in south-east Bulgaria, click: Cycling in SE Bulgaria

Our project to help deprived Bulgarian children, click: Bulgarian Woolly Project

The Motorhome Route from Finikounda in Greece to the Arctic Circle in Finland

Arctic_Route_Map.jpg

18-19 July 2009  At Little Baddow, Nr Chelmsford, England   Mill House Caravan Park   £10.00  

Preparing for the Sea Crossing

With the Flair Flair_(29).JPGfully restored by Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham, we'd driven via Oxford and the busy motorway network of southern England to a surprisingly rural Essex. Just 2 miles along a narrow lane from the A12 (junction 18), Mill House Caravan Park (www.millhousecaravanpark.co.uk) lies opposite the mill house on the River Chelm. Spacious and level, with plenty of trees, hook-ups and water (but no 'facilities block'), it made an ideal stop-over on our way to Harwich.

During the windy and showery days spent here we caught up with some writing, phoned our farewells and took a walk along the Chelm, past a lock and tea-rooms.

20 July 2009   101 miles   Chelmsford, England to Tienhoven, Holland   Camping Koekoek   €13.70  

A passage on the 'Stena Britannica' and into the depths of the Netherlands

For a Gallery and Slide Show of Images, click: In Holland 2009

An early start for the hour's journey along A12, past Colchester to Holland_(16).JPGHarwich (46 miles). A convenient Morrison's by the entrance to the port provided a last fuel stop before boarding the Stena Lines ferry to Europoort Rotterdam, which was busy but not full. We sailed punctually at 9 am for a very smooth 6.5-hour crossing, despite recent gales. Lunch in the cafeteria, reading, a purchase of Engelse Drop (= English liquorice, or 1 kg of Bertie Bassetts best) and we were there at 4.30 pm local time.

The wet motHolland_(18).JPGorways around Rotterdam were busy but well-signed and we found our way east along A15, then north on A27 for one junction (to exit 25). After another 6 miles north along a narrow dyke-top road, past lovely low-roofed houses (some thatched) through the villages of Ameide and Tienhoven, we reached Koekoek, right by the River Lek - a campsite found in the DutHolland_(22).JPGch ACSI guide.

It's a huge site, mainly static or long-term residents, with excellent facilities (even entertainment, bingo, etc in the bar). Happily settled on a quiet spot above the river bank (which the GPS located as below sea level), we watched the impossibly long barges sliding past our windows. A few swans and ducks completed the picture, with no other tourers in sight.

21-22 July 2009   At Tienhoven, Holland   Camping Koekoek  

Living below sea level

A terrific thunderstorHolland_(21).JPGm brought sheets of grey rain sweeping down the river, the opposite bank disappeared in mist and the colony of rabbits took to their burrows. We thought of 'Watership Down' and wondered how often the site flooded.

The rain continued for 2 days, encouraginHolland_(23).JPGg us to send a few emails and finish writing the log of our recent journey from Bulgaria to the French port of St Malo. Taking advantage of the WiFi, we also planned our onward route, booking a ferry from Sassnitz (on the East German island of Rugen) to Trelleborg in Sweden.

In between showers we did the laundry and took a walk along the rising River Lek. The barges went by day and night, along with a few pleasure boats and water skiers.  

23 July 2009   100 miles   Tienhoven, Holland to Xanten, Germany   Wohnmobil Park Xanten   €10.00  

The past is another country - in Roman Xanten

For a Gallery and Slide Show of Images, click: In Germany 2009

AHolland_(25).JPGfter returning atop the dyke through Ameide (1 mile) and Sluis – tiny settlements divided by lush pasture for grazing sheep, goats and cattle – we followed the Paralellweg to rejoin A27 southwards at junction 25. In another 4 miles we turned east for Nijmegen on A15/E31. It was still cool and rainy, more like autumn weather.

At 50 miles we turned south to cross the Holland_(26).JPGRhine (aka the Waal in Holland) on A50, then east again to join A73 towards Koln (aka Cologne in the UK) at 55 miles. As we turned onto A77 (westwards for Goch) at 68 miles, the rain became torrential. Soon we crossed the River Maas, then the German border at 74 miles. As in Holland, the motorways are toll-free (unless you're over 12 tons).

At 90 miles we lefGermany_(18).JPGt the Autobahn at Sonnsbeck to take the road north-east to Xanten (the only town in Germany that begins with an X, its name derived from 'Santen' or 'Saint' after the 3 early Christian martyr-saints buried there). Following the signs to 'APX' (or Archaologischer Park Xanten), it was easy to find the huge car park outside the reconstructed walls of this important Roman settlement and port on the Rhine. Parking (until the site closes at 6 pm) is free, entry to the whole complex costs €9 per person (allowing you to leave and re-enter the site at any time during the day).

We had visited Germany's largest open-air museum a few years ago andGermany_(15)[1].jpg now returned to see the latest development: the indoor Romer Museum (opened August 2008) covering the vast complex of the Roman baths. Margaret's memories of XaGermany_(41).JPGnten (or Colonia Ulpia Traiana – founded by Emperor Trajan) go back 40 years, to a summer working on the early excavation of the site, during her days as a Durham University student of Roman Archaeology. Investigation still continues here, in the only Roman city north of the Alps not built over since it was abandoned in around 400 AD.  Germany's other Colonia (giving its name to Cologne) disappeared beneath subsequent development.

Rain was flooding the footpaths as we made a Germany_(44).JPGdash to the new museum, then stood awe-struck at its spectacular glass and steel architecture before spending a totally fascinating couple of hours inside among the many artefacts and interactive displays. It is simply sensational, stunning, the best archaeological museum we've ever visited – and we've seen a few! Visit www.apx.de to see for yourself.

In need of lunch Germany_(13)[1].jpg(which could have been taken on-site at the Roman restaurant, featuring original recipes!) we walked along Siegfriedstrasse and through the medieval Klever Tor gate into the walled town of Xanten, which dates back to 1228. Kriemhild's Mill, set into the wall nearby, still grinds flour for the small bakery and cafe it houses.  At the centre of the old town rises the twin-spired cathedral of St Victor, built over the graves and pilgrimage shrine of thoGermany_(12)[1].jpgse early martyrs, its interior a fine example of Rhenish craftsmanship. Xanten is also the legendary home of Siegfried, the dragon-slaying hero of the Nibelungen saga, and an associated museum is due to open next autumn.

Furthermore, Xanten lies on Germany's longest cycle route, with a new passenger ferry plying across the nearby River Rhine. More about this unique town's attractions on www.xanten.de and www.niederrhein-tourismus.de.

We had a good hot meal (chicken roulade in tomato sauce, rice and salad, coffee and biscuits), sitting at a table in a corner of the butcher's shop. You are never far from food in Germany, where many bakeries also have small cafes.

It had temporarGermany_(20).JPGily stopped raining and we returned to the APX to wander through the rest of the Park. Stone was robbed from the abandoned settlement to build the medieval town and cathedral but the foundations and ground plan of the town remained, to be excavated and now brought to life with some skilful reconstruction. The harbour temple is especially impressive and the amphitheatre is used for summer performances. Children are well catered for, indoors and out, and can learn Roman games in a house dedicated to Romans at Play. A row of dwelling houses is currently being rebuilt, so a future visit is a must.

After a full day's absorption in the past, we drove back just 2 milesGermany_(49).JPG to the Motorhome Park we'd passed, signposted on the eastern side of town (see www.dammertz-partner.de, or www.wohnmobilparkroemerschlucht-xanten.de). Offering a place with water and dump facilities for €8 per night, plus a weak (4 amps = 1 kilowatt!) hook-up for €2, it's one of 60 such sites in the Lower Rhine region of Germany – some free, others for a small fee – listed at www.reisemobile-am-niederrhein.de. How backward the UK is in providing this type of overnight parking (similar to the French Aires). Frau Dammertz told us the British Hymer-owning Group was booked onto the rally field later this month, and they have much to look forward to here in Xanten.

A perfect day was made complete with an excellent DVD film: 'Atonement' based on Ian McEwan's best-selling book: one of a pile of DVDs we'd recently bought in British supermarkets. Great value for the money!

24 July 2009   199 miles   Xanten to Gyhum, nr Zeven, Germany   Waldcampingplatz Hesedorf   €20.00

Of rain and roadworks - North-east on the Autobahn past Osnabruck and Bremen

From the MotorGermany_(53).JPGhome Park we were soon on the B57 and cut across to Wesel, where we crossed to the north bank of the Rhine. The roads were quiet and we had no problem joining the B58 heading east for Haltern.

In Haltern we passed a small Roman MuseuGermany_(52).JPGm, recalling the 2000th anniversary of the Battle of Varus in the year 9 AD. This was an important turning point in Roman (and European) history, when the campaign to conquer the tribes beyond the Rhine ended in the death of over 20,000 Roman soldiers. The legions withdrew to the left bank and fortified their base at Xanten, leaving the natives beyond the Rhine free of Roman domination (and civilisation). Among the fallen was a centurion named Marcus Caelius, whose gravestone (found and displayed at Xanten) is the only tangible evidence of this crucial battle in the woods.

However, we'd coGermany_(57).JPGme to Haltern to shop and found plenty of choice on the far side of town, with Lidl, Aldi and a Penny Market, all on the road going south. Retracing our tracks along B58, we joined motorway A43 a couple of miles west of Haltern (at 38 miles) and turned north-east. It was still showery.

At 63 miles near Munster we met the A1 and headed north for Bremen. This was much busier, with traffic coming from Cologne and the Ruhr. In the next 30 miles we crossed the Dortmund-Ems Canal (linking to the sea port of Emden), passed Osnabruck airport and climbed a short hill (all of 490 ft).

At 112 miles we lunched at aGermany_(51).JPGn Autohof (truck service area – much roomier than the normal service stations or parking areas). Replete with truckers' food (Burger King and donuts), the journey seemed to be going well. Then we met the Stau (traffic jam) – a word soon learnt on Germany's motorways! Road works and widening schemes from 2 to 3 lanes meant one long queue after another, while rain began to lash down again.

Crossing the River Wesel near Bremen, the motorway turned NE and into another Stau. By 4 pm, making very slow progress through road works and weather, we decided to turn off at junction 49 for a campsite near Gyhum. To find the woodland campsite/restaurant/swimming pool, drive about 2 miles north, turn right into Gyhum village, then right again, across the motorway, following campsite signs to Hesedorf. See www.waldcamping-hesedorf.de.

There is a large colony of statics, a spacious meadow for tourers and all the usual facilities. We watched a string of Dutch and German caravans arrive for the night, presumably also escaping the never-ending rain and delays on the nearby motorway.   

25 July 2009   At Gyhum, nr Zeven, Germany   Waldcampingplatz Hesedorf  

The German word for weather is 'Wetter'

Appropriate this summer, anyway! We spent a day sheltering from the rain, struggling with the slowness of the campsite WiFi (at €5 for 4 hours) and recovering from cold symptoms (hoping it's not Schweingrippe). Management had to postpone their annual campsite cycle ride (4 hours inc coffee stop).

Enjoyed another good DVD: Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep (a powerful combination) in 'The Bridges of Madison County' - a few years old but a timeless story.

26 July 2009   243 miles   Gyhum nr Zeven to Sassnitz, Germany   Wohnmobil-Oase-Rugen   €13.00

Across the Elbe at Hamburg, into east Germany and over to Rugen Island

Sunny and dry at last, we were away early on a truck-free Sunday morning, circling for 5 miles to rejoin Autobahn A1. Heading north-east for Hamburg, there were more road works along the next stretch but little delay. At 22 miles we passed exit 46 to Heidenau in Lower Saxony, where there is another ACSI-listed campsite in the woods that we once used.

The A1 turned north, to cross the Elbe (at 47 miles) on the east side of the mighty river port of Hamburg. From here it became a 6-lane motorway, so the road-widening works were behind us. It was also much busier with holiday traffic from Germany, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Almost every vehicle was a motorhome, caravan or fully loaded car carrying bicycles.

At 83 miles, 5 Germany_(55).JPGmiles before Lubeck, we turned east onto A20, a recently completed and much quieter motorway. We crossed the Trave (on its way to the ferry port of Travemunde) and continued through a landscape of wheat fields, storks and wind farms, past Wismar at 124 miles. This area, Mecklenburg, was once part of the DDR (Communist East Germany), now indistinguishable from the West after 20 years of German Unity.

Shortly after the exit for the port of Rostock at 155 miles, we stopped for lunch in a rest area. The A20 had no service stations (fuel being indicated at some of the exits) - just large rest areas with toilets and perhaps a cafe.

At 200 miles a new dual carriageway B96 turned north off the A20 forGermany_(59).JPG 18 miles to Stralsund, then crossed a 2-mile bridge (toll-free) to Germany's largest island - tiny Rugen. The narrow road 96, which crosses the flat and windy island to the port of Sassnitz, was not coping with the influx of holiday and ferry traffic. At the first little town, Samtens, it was a relief to join the queue at a Shell filling station, the first seen since leaving the A1. The next garage we passed (Total) also had LPG and we filled the domestic tank, aware that it's less common in Scandinavia.

At Bergen in theGermany_(63).JPG middle of the island we turned right (east) on 196, then left up a leafy lane 196a, and left again at traffic lights (signed Sassnitz) along the narrow isthmus between the Baltic Sea to the east and the Kleiner Jasmunder lake on the west. One mile after the lights we saw the entrance to a motorhome park in the woods on the left - 'Motorhome Oasis Rugen'

This oasis is a very large concrete parkingGermany_(65).JPG area with coin-operated hook-ups - but where is the water?! The facilities comprised one dump point and one fresh water tap, each requiring one euro to operate them, in a separate area. Checking in, we asked the overnight parking price. 'Whatever you want to give' was the enigmatic answer, though the man added 'the average paid is €10'. Not wishing to appeGermany_(66).JPGar below average, we conformed.

Had we realised that the fee didn't include water and dump - nor how quickly the electricity meter would gobble money (causing us to switch to gas after the first €2) - we might have been less generous. Apparently a toilet/shower block is due to open, after which the price will be fixed at €10 a night in April, May, September, October and €13 from June to August. See www.wohnmobiloase-rugen.de for more details.

27 July 2009   15 miles   Sassnitz, Germany to Smygehamn, Sweden   Car Park at Smygehuk

Across the Baltic on Scandlines Ferry  to Trelleborg and along the coast to Sweden's southernmost point

For a Gallery and Slide Show of Images, click: In Sweden 2009

An easy morning's drive - just 5 miles north to Sassnitz for the 1245 hrs boat to Sweden (a 4-hour crossing, shorter and less expensive than Scandlines ferry from Rostock). The F/B 'Sassnitz' was busy with holiday-bound Germans and returning Swedes, all heavily laden with alcoholic booty from the large Duty Free store. Foot passengers dragged trolleys full of cans and bottles, while even some of the many cyclists had wine boxes stuffed in their front baskets!

Motorhomes were directed onto the lowest car deck, parking bSweden_(12).JPGetween empty railway lines. Returning later to disembark, we found ourselves squeezed between two freight trains! This route has provided the rail and postal link to Sweden for 100 years - and our ferry looked almost that old.

The Baltic was very calm and surprisingly warm, with sunbathers on deck. Finding all comfortable seats taken (except in the fuggy smoking room), we passed the voyage in the cafe, eating and reading. The exchange office gave about 10 Swedish Krona to the Euro (less commission fee).

Once docked in Trelleborg, we followed the trains off (without even a passport check). By 5 pm we were heading east, past the railway station and huge royal mail post office, along coast road 9 towards Ystad.

After 10 miles, Sweden_(40).JPGapproaching the little fishing port of Smygehamn, we saw a large grassy parking area with a few motorhomes and a sea view. Quite by chance, we had happened on Smygehuk, Sweden's Southernmost Point! We settled in and checked at the nearby large white building that parking was free (wonderful!). This former grain warehouse now houses Sweden's southernmost souvenir shop, cafe and tourist info. We posted some cards and collected a free map of Skane (the SW region of the country) complete with campsites.

A walk along the shore to the marina - with another free car parkSweden_(25).JPG lined by motorhomes - was full of interest. There was a fish-smokehouse and shop (redolent with kippers) and every off-shore rock was topped by a cormorant drying its wings. The lighthouse, housing a museum, could be climbed during opening hours. An old stone lime-kiln stood by a Bronze Age burial mound.

And this point of geographical interest was not even mentioned in our new Rough Guide to Scandinavia!    

28 July 2009   23 miles   Smygehamn to Ystad, Sweden   Marina Car Park   140.00 Kr

A short drive to Ystad - and another surprise

Continuing east,Sweden_(55).JPG road 9 followed the coast through picturesque hamlets with long low houses, many of them now cafes or offering a Rum (room). A separate cycle path carried both locals and laden cycle-tourists.

Driving through Ystad, we saw rows of motorhomes parked by the yacht marina, to the west of the railway station and ferry terminal. We joined them, went to the marina office/cafe and paid for one night. The fee included free use of showers and toilets, water and chemical toilet emptying point. There was also a launderette. The boat moorings (costing 200 kr) also had hook-ups, but electricity was not yet available on the motorhome park.

It was a short walk into the town, to find a bank and explore. From the mSweden_(62).JPGain square Stortorget, we wandered along some of the cobbled lanes past the half-timbered houses and flowery gardens of the well-restored centre. St Maria's church, Ystad's oldest building, dates from the 13th century. It's surprisingly ornate inside, with medieval German woodcarvings (sculptures and altar screens) and a baroque pulpit of black limestone and white alabaster. It was good to find a church freely open, with no pressure to buy or donate anything. In fact DVDs of the church music were gratis.

The town museum is inside the nearby 14th century monastery (Sweden's oldest), next to St Peter's church. The Franciscan friars were evicted during the reformation of the 1530's and over the centuries the building has been used as a hospital, a distillery and a grain store. More on Ystad at www.ystad.se/tourism.

Returning to theSweden_(61).JPG motorhome for lunch, we saw the stage and speakers being erected for some kind of middle-of-the-road pop concert in the middle of the marina, well within deafening earshot. The event, sponsored by Radio-Aktiv, is tonight from 8 till 10! The queue to enter the concert area began to form before 6 pm - a long line of mostly middle-aged adults and families, all carrying folding chairs and picnic hampers. Having heard enough, as the band practised through our afternoon's reading and writing, we walked back into town for an evening meal at Max's. Apparently there were no tickets for the concert left today, though the crowd around the marina could certainly hear well enough.

We walked back via the ferry terminal, offering a short crossing to the DaSweden_(64).JPGnish island of Bornholm or a 7.5 hour voyage to Swinouijscie in Poland. Memory stirred of taking that ferry to Poland with our bikes in the summer of 1989, when we cycled from England to Istanbul via all the Iron Country countries.

Back at the marina we watched the live music for a painful 2 minutes, then retreated. It sounded like the worst of the Eurovision Song Contest - with apologies to Abba!

29 July 2009   117 miles   Ystad to Karlshamn,  Sweden   Harbour Car Park  

Via Simrishamn and a Bronze Age burial tomb at Kivik

Keeping east on Sweden_(107).JPGthe coastal road 9, it was warm and sunny. For the first few miles the band of woodland lying along the shore had regular free parking areas, each occupied by at least one motorhome as well as cars. Conversely, the 2 official campsites we passed were packed awning to awning with caravans and tents, scarcely a motorhome among them. Motorhomes are clearly welcome on car parks and harbours and other empty spaces - all very relaxed and civilised.

After 9 miles, at Nybrostrand, the road turned inland to avoid low cliffs, reacSweden_(68).JPGhing the coast again 17 miles later at the small port of Simrishamn. Here we found a large free car park next to the railway station, handy for walking round the town to shop and collect a guide to Swedish campsites from the tourist office. The modern library offered free internet access but all the terminals were taken, with a booking system.

Continuing north up Sweden_(73).JPGthe coast, we turned right off road 9 at Kivik, following the sign to Kiviksgraven at 41 miles. The 'King's Grave' has a free car park, small thatched cafe and a fee of 20 kr (about €2) each to enter the chamber when open during the summer months (15 May till 31 August). It is promoted as Sweden's largest Bronze Age burial mound (about 3,000 years old) and it's certainly big - 75 metres in diameter, neatly covered in boulders. Excavated in the 1930's, it revealed a single tomb, lined with 10 stone slabs inscribed with pictures of animals, ships, Sweden_(82).JPGwheels and weapons. We walked in via the short passage but were disappointed to find a tiny chamber inside, crudely concreted, with the stone slabs, their symbols repainted in red ochre, standing upright round an empty space. It did not compare with contemporary tombs we've seen elsewhere in Europe, such as Newgrange in Ireland, nor with the prehistoric rock carvings at Alta in northern Norway.

Kivik is also known fSweden_(69).JPGor its September apple festival and we passed the orchards as we headed north-west to Brosarp (at 48 miles), before joining road 19 north and onto the 118 up the coast to the port of Ahus (at 64 miles). From here the 118 ran inland towards Kristianstad, through woodland, strawberry fields and low hills (max 270 ft). At 76 miles we joined the E22 (partly dual carriageway) eastwards. In search of a place for the night, we turned off to the coast after 12 miles at Nymolla but only found a huge paper mill and a harbour stacked with logs. Across the county border from Skane into Blekinge (Sweden's smallest county), the next port of Solvesborg was equally industrial, with no public parking.

We returned to the E22 highway, exiting at 115 miles for Karlshamn. We joined a solitary Dutch motorhome on the very large free car park by the harbour at about 5 pm. By sundown (which is late at this latitude) there were about a dozen of us!

When a crowd began to gather we feared another live concert, but found they were waiting for a ferry across to a theatre performance on a tiny island in the bay. A friendly Swede from Stockholm exchanged information with us, recommending the off-shore island of Oland which lies ahead, over a 6-km bridge.

30 July 2009   34 miles   Karlshamn to Karlskrona,  Sweden   Harbour Car Park  

A short drive to the World Heritage Naval Port

Returning to highway E22 on a windy morning, we headed east through Sweden_(86).JPGforest, seeing our first Elk warning sign. At 29 miles we turned off for Karlskrona, the capital of Blekinge county. Just before the city centre, a left turn (signed to the Marine Museum) led us along the east harbour. This had yet another large free car park, with plenty of space for the motorhomes already lined up facing the sea. We had lunch with a splendid view of the passing yachts, by the berth of a replica Danish sailing ship 'Gerda' that offers day cruises.

After lunch, between rain showers, we walked round the centre of the town, established in 1680 around the shipyards and naval base. See www.navalcity.org. Karlskrona is one of Sweden's 14 World Heritage sights, though after our visit we couldn't understand why - we found Ystad much more interesting.

The official World Heritage Justification reads: “Karlskrona is an exceptionally well preserved example of a European planned naval town … Naval bases played an important role in the centuries during which naval power was a determining factor in European Realpolitik and Karlskrona is the best preserved and most complete of those that survive.” Perhaps we should have visited the port and Marine Museum to appreciate the reasoning but the town itself certainly doesn't compare with Portsmouth or Plymouth.

We did go to the Sweden_(88).JPGcentral square, with a town hall and a pair of neoclassical churches. Frederick's Church looked quite ugly from the outside, in dire need of repainting. The domed Holy Trinity Church, founded in 1709 for the German merchant community (and rebuilt in 1802 after a great fire in the city), was clad in scaffolding. Inside Sweden_(87).JPGwas much lighter and plainer than medieval churches, with pale grey woodwork. The huge altar cross, simply draped in a sculpted cloth rather than a gruesome crucifix, was striking, as was the pulpit in a similar style. We were most impressed by the huge domed ceiling, which appeared to be carved in stone. Looking more closely, though, it is formed of wooden planks painted with rows of hundreds of trompe l'oeil rosettes, cleverly shaded as if in three dimensions.

Heavy rain set in mid-afternoon and we sheltered in the motorhome, updating this log off-line and watching another film – Sergio Leone's astonishing 'Once Upon a Time in America'. Made in the 1980's, shortly before this Italian director of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns died, it stars Robert de Niro at his very best. Our DVD has the 4-hour version, which was drastically cut on release in America, causing the subsequently incoherent story to be a box office flop. Over the next few evenings we watched it twice, along with a film critic's commentary (in the extra features), and were astonished at the complexity of the characters and the plot, which has become a cult movie.

31 July 2009   162 miles   Karlskrona to Vastervik,  Sweden   Town Centre Waterfront Car Park  

Up the east coast via Kalmar and a return crossing on the bridge to Oland

It was 4 miles back to the E22, on which we continued east through a low wheatscape of rolling fields of gold. At Jamjo, near Sweden's south-east corner, the road turned north up the east coast, shadowed by the long thin offshore island of Oland.

Over the border from Blekinge to Smaland, we stopped at 35 miles at a Preem filling station near Soderakra. Petrol cost 12.50 SKr per litre, which compares with Britain (current exchange rate almost 12 SKr to the pound). Diesel was slightly cheaper and both would have cost a bit less if we'd been able to squeeze under the low (3.5 m) roof at the automatic credit-card pumps seen earlier at a Netto store! LPG is scarce – we have seen none yet and hope to find it around Stockholm.

By the E22 Kalmar exit, at 56 miles, there was a huge shopping mall with generous parking – Lidl, a vast Co-op supermarket, Onoff (a chain of electrical stores), etc. Browsing and buying, we found prices on average about the same as the rest of Europe, especially the basics in Lidl (with the exception of alcohol, which is very expensive). It's interesting to notice what foods are popular – fish, crispbreads (in the home of Ryvita), breads, donuts and pastries, nuts, berries and jams, along with northern delicacies like baked beans, good biscuits, porage oats, root vegetables. Very different from shopping around the Mediterranean, where they don't even make marmalade with the oranges! Cigarettes (cheaper than the UK), pipe tobacco and snuff replace alcohol as the drug of choice – never seen a fridge full of snuff in a Lidl before! Glass and plastic bottles are all sold with a deposit (2 Skr on a 1.5 litre PET bottle) to encourage their return to the store (as pop bottles were in our childhood), and waste is diligently sorted into different recycling skips.

Having restocked Sweden_(105).JPGand eaten, we gave Kalmar's 17th century town centre and Renaissance palace-castle (Kalmar Slott) a miss and continued up E22 for 3 miles, leaving it at the next junction to cross the 6-kilometre bridge which has replaced a ferry to the island of Oland. Cyclists are banned from riding across during the summer months (it's a narrow 2-lane affair with no margin), though a free bus shuttle is available for them. There's also a ferry from the northern tip of the island to Oskarshamn, taking over 2 hours (see www.olandsfarjan.se).

It's a hugely popular holiday island, with a royal summer residenceSweden_(92).JPG, and the agricultural landscape of southern Oland has earned another of Sweden's 14 World Heritage Site designations. However, seeing the continuous line of caravans and leisure traffic in both directions, we decided not to join the many thousands of visitors. Once on the island, we circled a roundabout and returned, the almost-4-mile bridge proving an experience in itself, with a view of Kalmar and the fairytale castle on its own island.

Rejoining E22 at 70 miles, we passed an enormous Ikea store, reminding us of Sweden's reputation for good design. As we drove north through forest it began to rain, as a small deer bounded across the road in front of us near Monsteras. Those Elk warning signs are not just for photos! At 112 miles we turned off to the port of Oskarshamn (with ferries to Oland and the Baltic island of Gotland) and drove to the harbour in search of a parking place. Finding only a working port with stacks of timber, piles of salt and railway trucks labelled 'China Shipping', we rejoined the E22 and continued to the exit for Vastervik at 154 miles.

Again, the harbour offered no public parking but in the town centre there was a large pay & display car park by the waterside. In the area for motorhomes, 2 of the 12 places were empty. Parking fees (8 SKr per hour) only applied from 9 am–6 pm so we enjoyed another peaceful free night with sea view.

After dinner we took a short walk round the genteel town. Sweden's street furniture and architecture in public spaces is of a very high standard – as it is throughout Scandinavia.

1 August 2009   55 miles   Vastervik to Gusum,  Sweden   Yxningens Camping   190.00 Kr 

Via Valdemarsvik to an inland campsite by a forested lake

In need of a place to fill and empty tanks, do the laundry and recharge our batteries (literally and metaphorically), we phoned a small campsite away from the coast, described as 'friendly and informal' in 'Your Guide to Sweden: Camping & Cottages'. The booklet is free from any tourist office – or visit www.camping.se). Amazingly, they had space (the end of July marks the beginning of the end of the Swedish holidays).

Returning 4 miles to E22 we kept north for 36 miles, turning off to pass time in Valdemarsvik, a port at the head of a long inlet with an archipelago of offshore islets that can be cruised (www.valdemarsvik.se).

From the next Sweden_(32).JPGE22 exit, we turned a short way inland to the large village of Gusum, from where signs led to a small campsite on the shore of Lake Yxningen (see www.yxningenscamping.com). Set in the forest, the site has the usual excellent Scandinavian facilities, including a kitchen with cookers, microwave and fridge/freezer (much appreciated by cyclists and other tent-campers). The lake is ideal for fishing, boating, swimming – and cooling off from the lakeside sauna.

After lunch we made the most of the services, emptying and filling tanks Sweden_(26).JPGand catching up with laundry, hung in the sun to dry. Also made good use of the campsite WiFi at 25 Skr (about £2) per 3 hours.

As this was Sweden_(34).JPGour first campsite in Sweden this year, we had to purchase a 'Camping Card Scandinavia' (available at all member campsites) for 130 SKr – valid until the end of 2009 in all 4 Scandinavian countries. Most campsites here require it (and the Camping Card International, which we have, is no substitute!) It also qualifies for price reductions on some ferries and at various tourist attractions.

2-7 August 2009   At Gusum,  Sweden   Yxningens Camping  

Cycling and writing in sunny South- East Sweden

Sunday dawned dull and many of the campers left, with that back-to-Sweden_(15).JPGwork-or-school feeling. It's a short summer here, the mossy forest floor already showing autumn berries and attracting bilberry-pickers.

For the following week the weather was glorious with temperatures in the mid-70's F (20+ C): ideal for cycling the quiet roads through rustic hamlets and mixed forest. Taking advantage of the campsite offer 'stay 7 nights and pay for 6', we decided on a week's break with time for reading, writing and riding.

Our first cycle ride sinSweden_(10).JPGce leaving Biser (Bulgaria) in June was an afternoon outing of 51 km/32 miles. We rode 7 km north to the small village of Ringerum (one shop), then 18 km south-west, on a gently rolling road past numerous tiny lakes dappled in waterlilies, to Yxnerum at the head of the larger Lake Yxningen. The anticipated cafe was sadly closed but we had a break on the bench in a peaceful and immaculately manicured graveyard by the little church before returning the same route. The lack of traffic and perfect weather make cycling here a delight and there are gravSweden_(18).JPGel tracks through the forest for those who prefer off-roading.

Another afternoon we did a circular ride of 54 km/34 miles, this time leaving via Gusum (3 km south – the nearest village and shops). We crossed the E22 and circled north through Borrum (another graveyard break!), then south to the town of Valdermarsvik. Here we found coffees and ices near the harbour before the final 14 km, re-crossing E22 and returning via Gusum. This route was more hilly (rolling, but never reaching 200 ft!) and carried more traffic to/from the coast, though it was mainly pastureland and forest. We saw no separate cycle paths but the car drivers are used to cyclists and leave plenty of space as they overtake.

On our last afternoon Sweden_(21).JPGat Yxningens we had another 51 km/32 mile cycle ride, out via Ringerum again. We took in a short stretch north on the busy E22, riding the narrow margin, then traced a wide clockwise circle back towards Gusum. We passed no settlements, just the odd summer house tucked among the trees, or spacious farms growing mainly wheat, oats, rye or barley where the forest had been cleared. It was the first time we'd seen bales of hay being shrink-wrapped in white plastic in the fields, with a tractor-attachment. The cattle have a long winter inside their huge wooden barns (uniformly painted in brick-red with white windows) and need plenty of fodder.

Scandinavia has a reputation for being extremely expensive, but we are fSweden_(30).JPGinding Sweden more than reasonable. With the current exchange rate at 12 SKr to the pound (10 to the Euro), fuel costs about the same as in England (and cheaper than in France now). This campsite is 16 pounds or 19 euros a day (and the 7th night is free): less than most countries of Western Europe or Greece charge during July/August – and it's much better in terms of facilities and cleanliness. All campsites have a kitchen with cookers and microwaves, saving precious gas (there are only about 16 LPG outlets in Sweden). Food is a little more expensive but by shopping at stores like Lidl and Netto when we can, and bringing a stock with us, it's not a problem.

All this is Sweden_(24).JPGoutweighed by the ease of free overnight parking, often by harbours or marinas with access to toilets and coin-operated showers and washing machines provided for sailors. We have settled on a campsite for a few days to use the WiFi internet and explore the area by bicycle, but a motorhomer could easily tour Scandinavia without using campsites at all.

The really expensive items are alcohol Sweden_(25)[1].jpg(bring your own supply or cut down!) and dining out – with the exception of the week-day buffet lunch for workers and shoppers (not excluding tourists!), which is tremendous value. While in Valdemarsvik, we lunched at a simple self-service restaurant above the ICA supermarket. The all-you-can-eat buffet consisted of good pea & ham soup, bread, crispbread, butter, salads, roast and boiled potatoes, beans and beef stew, followed by pancakes with jams and ice cream, tea or coffee – and a soft drink, light lager or water with the meal. Total 59 SKr or 5 pounds each - and remember you help yourself! The main course changed each day – and it was all very good. The only problem for cyclists is that you couldn't ride far in the afternoon!

We were alsoSweden_(27)[1].jpg very impressed with the Swedish health service, when one of us had a minor ailment – the first time we've used the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The campsite staff phoned the Health Centre in Valdemarsvik when it opened at 8 am and got an appointment with a nurse at 10 am. The receptionist there took a photocopy of the EHIC card, which qualified for the subsidised rate of 100 SKr (about 8.5 UK pounds). If the nurse then passed the patient on to a doctor for consultation (which she did), this required another appointment and another 50 SKr. The doctor's appointment was made for 2 pm the same day, so we passed the time shopping and having lunch (see above!)

The doctor took 30 minutes, with no sense of hurry or pressure, anSweden_(35)[1].jpgd there was nothing further to pay for a blood test (with immediate result). The prescription given was taken to the town pharmacy, where the tablets cost 66 SKr (5.5 UK pounds). The health centre for the district was spacious and modern, all the staff we met spoke excellent English and took great interest in what we were doing (with the motorhome easily parked in the large car park!) The upper storey housed an old people's home, each with their own room and balcony. It was actually a pleasant day out!

We noticed the health centre offered a 'tick clinic' on weekday mornings, reminding us that tick-borne encephalitis can be a problem here, the ticks being carried by cattle and deer. Wear trousers and boots if walking in long grass or forest, or get vaccinated (visit the masta website).

8 August 2009   195 miles   Gusum to Knivsta, Sweden   Parking area on E4 

North past Stockholm - no place for motorhomes!

After a last morning at Yxningens, busy with laundry, internet, tank emptying and van cleaning, we set off north on the E22 highway. It bypassed Soderkoping at 16 miles, then swung west round Norrkoping (Sweden's 'Manchester', its wealth founded on cotton textile mills) 9 miles later. Here we linked to the E4 - a busy dual carriageway heading NE for Stockholm.

Continuing to Sodertalje, we turned off in search of a place to park overnight - a mistake that cost not a little time, frustration and fuel! Though appearing to lie between a sea-inlet and a lake, it was in fact an industrial town, hemmed in by forest with no open space or parking to be found.

Back on E4, past endless business or commercial property, we checked out the campsite signed to the left at Bredang, 10 km before Stockholm. (See www.bredangcamping.se) As expected, for a campsite so near the capital (and 5 minutes' walk from a tube station), it was full. That is to say, there were no vacant pitches with electricity - we were welcome to see if we could find a place on the unpowered and unmarked area (which also looked full) for a fee of 250 SKr (over £20). Resisting this offer, we made a drink and resigned ourselves to driving on into the evening, through and past Stockholm.

The E4 took us smoothly right through the city, via busy flyovers and tunnels, across some of the 14 islands on which Stockholm is built, where the land seems to dissolve into the Baltic. There are no motorway tolls but a new congestion charge applies on leaving the E4 to drive within the city. We didn't - not wishing to spoil our memory of 15 years or so ago, when we parked a motorhome for 2 nights on the waterfront in the city centre, along with a row of others - with no problem or fee - to explore the elegant boulevards and baroque architecture on foot. Those were the days!

Keeping north on E4 towards Sweden's earlier capital, Uppsala, we paused at a service area (with just 2 parking places for a truck/bus, the rest being beyond a height barrier). We could only grab a bite at McDonalds and carry on.

At 182 miles we passed 'Eurostop' - a huge shopping mall, fuel station and hotel - but the shops were now closed and the vast car park completely empty. This didn't look a good place for the night!

In another 13 miles, and after passing the turn-off for Arlanda (the international airport serving Stockholm and Uppsala), we finally saw a large welcoming rest area, where we spent a quiet night along with a couple of caravans. It had been a long day.

9 August 2009   144 miles   Knivsta to Lake Angersjon, Sweden   Husvagen (=Caravan) Camp   140.00 SKr  

A walk round Gamla Uppsala and a drive up the Bothnian coast

After just 7Sweden_(36).JPG miles north up E4 we passed the historic city of Uppsala, home of Scandinavia's largest cathedral and Sweden's oldest university. The ancient royal capital lies 3 miles beyond the present town, accessed from the second Uppsala exit - follow the signs to Gamla Uppsala (= Old Uppsala), with a large free car park by the museum (at 12 miles).

It was still early on a sunny Sunday mSweden_(40)[1].jpgorning, the museum didn't open till 10 am and the quaint old wooden restaurant Odinsborg was also closed. Perfect: we had the place to ourselves as we followed a path round the perimeter of 3 grass-covered burial mounds, with information boards - and a good view across the fields to the twin spires of Uppsala's medieval red-brick cathedral.

Strangely, thesSweden_(38).JPGe round-barrows (loosely described as 'royal tombs') are not Bronze Age but date to the 6th century AD! Christianity was late in reaching Scandinavia (the first Swedish king to be converted was Olof in 1008) and heathen practices continued at a pagan temple here into the 11th century. Excavation of the mounds has revealed artefacts and bones from a cremation in each, with some finds on display in the museum.

The nearby stone church, with a tall wooden shingle roof, marks the sSweden_(45).JPGite of the first Christian Cathedral, which later burnt down. Sweden's patron saint, King Erik (beheaded by the Danes around 1160), lay there. Erik's remains were moved to the new cathedral in Uppsala in the 13th century, where they still lie in a golden coffin. For 300 years, they were carried in solemn procession from new to old Uppsala on St Erik's day, along Erik's path.

Altogether Gamla Uppsala was a pleasant and peaceful place compared with the nearby busy city – and very low-key for the country's earliest royal capital.

Back on the highway driving ever-north, we were on a new stretch of dual carriageway to the east of the old E4. This caused our Garmin SatNav great consternation, describing our route as 'unpaved road', with instructions to turn left through the forest - until it was swiftly muted! At 72 miles we turned off into Gavle, a port at the centre of Gavleborg County, passing the Swedish Railway Museum to park at a shopping centre, refuel and make lunch. In the 'One Dollar Store' (mainly non-food) there were a couple of bargains: 1 kg of liquorice allsorts (a favourite in these Nordic lands) and a useful plastic tub of Pepparkakor, a Swedish speciality like thin gingerbread biscuits. Very nice too.

The next part of the coast (for 200 km/125 miles) is promoted as the Jungfrukusten (Maiden Coast), named after the largest off-shore island along this stretch. It's a tourist promotion, to encourage traffic to turn off to the fishing villages along the sea, but there isn't a continuous road linking them. See www.jungfrukusten.se if you have the time.

Keeping to E4 we passed the link to the harbour of Soderhamn and continued, now through heavy rain. The landscape was changing, more typically northern with pine forest and shimmering lakes, as we ran parallel with the east coast railway line, currently ending at Sundsvall (though a new line through to Umea is under construction and due to open in 2010).

After 142 miles Sweden_(47).JPGwe crossed the E4 for a break at a large rest area/cafe by Lake Angersjon, 3 miles south of Enanger. Rain continued to the rumble of thunder, so we were pleased to find that, tucked away in the forest beyond the cafe, there were 10 caravan pitches with electricity, along with a few small huts for rent. The price paid at the cafe included a key for a cabin with toilets and a good hot shower – an excellent arrangement. Only one pitch was taken, on a site right by the E4 in August, with sauna and lake swimming! The season ends this week and most of the traffic is heading south and home.

10 August 2009   167 miles   Lake Angersjon to Ornskoldsvik, Sweden   Swedbank Arena Car Park

Finding LPG near Sundsvall and crossing the High Coast Bridge in Vasternorrland

North again on E4, still keeping a few miles inland of the fretted Jungfrukusten coast, we passed the coastal town of Hudiksvall after 20 miles.

At 60 miles we turned off into Kvissleby, where a German internet Sweden_(55)[1].jpgsite listed one of only 16 LPG outlets in Sweden (and none in Finland!) Just 4 of these lay on our route, with 2 in Stockholm that we'd skipped and another in Pitea, further north. With the help of the SatNav, we easily found the exact location in Kvissleby, where the LPG station had closed downSweden_(58).JPG! Disappointed, we continued up E4 and about a mile later at Svartvik saw a sign for LPG (Motorgas or Gasol) pointing down an unlikely lane to the right. It led to a railway siding, where 2 men ran a depot refilling gas bottles. LPG-powered cars are obviously rare here but they were very interested in the RV and filled our domestic tank with 20 litres. Thanks to: Gasol Depan, Svartvik, off E4, 12 km south of Sundsvall.

Spotting a Lidl store at 70 miles, as we approached Sundsvall, we stopped to shop and eat lunch. Heading ever onwards, still on E4 which became a 4-lane dual carriageway, we passed Sundsvall's saw mills and port, then had a glimpse of fine architecture in the city. It was rebuilt in stone with wide fire-break avenues after burning to the ground in 1888 (a familiar story in many a Swedish town).

From here to Umea lies the Hoga Kusten or High Coast, of which we saw little, as it requires a detour and a boat trip to an island or two. The High Coast/Archipelago of Angermanland features in Sweden's 14 World Heritage Sites, as a unique stretch of Baltic Sea coastline, where the phenomenon of isostasy was first studied. Apparently it's the uplift resulting from deglaciation after the Ice Age, which has caused the coast to rise slowly ever since, just a few millimetres a year. See www.highcoast.net for more.

The E4 along here was memorable for the 'Delta Way' starting at 83 Sweden_(66).JPGmiles at Timra, where the road crosses the head of a bay, continuing north-east to meet the sea again at Harnosand at 101 miles. Even more impressive was crossing the High Coast Bridge at 114 miles, high above the wide mouth of the Angermanalven River – a suspension bridge in the style of San Francisco's longer Golden Gate (or the even longer Humber Bridge near Barry's native place of Hull). Once across, we paused at the High Coast Hotel rest area for views and photos.

Along the next stretch, the E4 highway climbed to 615 ft (a record for us so far in Sweden), soon dropping again to around 150 ft, with only brief glimpses of sea-inlets. It was still warm (21ºC) in the late afternoon as we turned off into the port of Ornskoldsvik at 165 miles. Passing a busy caSweden_(69)[1].jpgr park with Pay & Display ticket machines operating from 9 am-6 pm, we came to the Swedbank Arena - a huge new ice hockey stadium on the shore, with an large free car park that lay empty!

The nice man inside on the reception desk assured us there was no problem parking there overnight, with no match on this evening. A few players were swishing round the rink at breakneck speed, practising for next week's big gaSweden_(71)[1].jpgme.

It was a short walk into the bright modern town centre, to check out the opening time of the magnificent new library (10 am-6 pm) – part of Norrland University. The harbour was overlooked by a couple of cranes and a cement factory; the town by a ski-jump towering above the trees. The new Hamam (Turkish bath), a falafel stall and an Indian Restaurant (called Mumbai Town) all showed the cosmopolitanism of the  population.

Local digital TV gave excellent reception in the motorhome and we enjoyed a few programmes in English, including Jonathan Dimbleby in Russia – no doubt part of a series (and a book).

11 August 2009   118 miles   Ornskoldsvik to Anaset, Sweden   Lufta Camping   180.00 SKr

Visiting Umea, the largest city in Northern Sweden, and its Museums

During an hour's free internet use in Ornskoldsvik's beautiful library, we arranged our next mail drop at Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle in Finland (but not into Santa's post box!)

Then it was north on E4 once more, past Nordmaling at 37 miles. We saw much of the new single track Botniabanan (Bothnian Railway) linking Sundsvall with Umea, opening next year. It looks impressive, built up on embankments and bridges or disappearing in tunnels. Our highway was back to 3 lanes, alternating which direction has an overtaking lane, with high deer fencing alongside and Elk warning signs.

At 68 miles we crossed the broad River Ume into the city of Umea, then immediately turned right to a large car park along the bank that we'd seen from the bridge. Pay & Display applied from 9 am-7 pm and we stayed for 2 hours while we had lunch and walked into the centre. It's another modern city rebuilt after a great fire of 1888, with wide boulevards planted with birch trees. As the main campus of Norrland University, it has a young population, all of them seemingly out shopping and eating ice cream. We did the same, buying a couple of books from a wide selection in an excellent bookshop, and a new 12-v lead for the SatNav, which had broken!

Before leaving, we drove to Gammlia, Vasterbottens Open Air Museum, about 2 miles NE of the centre of Umea. Parking and entry were free. It has a collection of old buildings (chapel, bakery, farmhouse, manor house, school, etc) gathered and brought together here in the early 20th century. Visit www.vbm.se. The adjacent indoor Skidmuseum (Ski Museum) contains a wooden ski claimed to be over 5,000 years old – it didn't look it! There was also an art gallery.

Heading north on E4 again, it began to feel lonely! The railway had turned inland, the highway was down to 2 lanes and any traffic was going south. Passing no suitable rest areas or places to park, we stopped at a campsite on the left (west) side of the road, just before the little cheese-making town of Anaset. Uphill from a swimming complex (closed) is a restaurant set in a quiet wood, with cabins, camping and excellent facilities.

We settled in, ate and watched the final part of a DVD of the thrilling four-hour German war film of deep sea U-boat disaster, Das Boot.

12 August 2009   At Anaset, Sweden   Lufta Camping  

A rest day in Vasterbotten – Sweden's 'Cheese Kingdom'

Showery, after heavy raiX_(44).JPGn overnight – a good rest day, reading, writing and baking bread.

On a walk into Anaset we found a neat settlement of houses with nice unfenced gardens, mostly growing a few vegetables and flowers round the lawn. The petrol station doubled as a shop. Next to the school was a small library, which had been closed for a month due to illness. A health centre/dental clinic/cottage hospital and a sports field with outdoor ice rink (not in use in August) completed the village. Its exit from the highway was marked by a pair of giant cheese slicers!

13 August 2009   144 miles   Anaset to Gammelstad, nr Lulea, Sweden   Friluftsmuseet (Open Air Museum) Car Park

Into Norrbotten and a night in a Parish Village

Leaving Anaset on E4, we turned left after 2 miles at a sign for theX_(46).JPG Ostlager (cheese store). Claiming to be the world's largest cheese warehouse, it stores 110,000 huge round cheeses, traditionally made for over 130 years in Burtrask (about 20 miles north-west of Anaset). Vasterbotten is both the name of the county and of Sweden's 'King of Cheeses'. We didn't linger for the Ostlager tour at 20 SKr each, but visited the display in the cafe, had a free taste and bought a wedge of Vasterbotten, with a lovely rich taste and texture – similar to a good mature Cheddar (and far superior to anything the French produce).

After this diversion, it was north on E4 again. A rest area with picnic tables by a lake at 26 miles was a perfect example of Scandinavia at its best. The clean, modern toilets had good provision for babies and the handicapped, as well as a 'latrine' for emptying chemical waste, all free of charge. E4 continued as a 2-lane road through quiet forest, with regular warnings of Wildpassage below a picture of an Elk. Where trees had been felled, new ones were planted – sustainable forestry in this land of lumberjacks, whose emigrants settled easily in Canada and northern USA.

At 42 miles we reached Skelleftea and Sweden's largest Co-op hypermarket, on the right before crossing the river into the modern city centre - a good place to buy a hot roast chicken and a DVD or two. At 3 for 99 SKr (about £8), with a good choice of English-language films, Sweden proved ideal for stocking up with movies for the winter months to come.

A cool dry wind blew from the north today, making it 17ºC at 2 pm. There is still warmth in the sun, though, and it rose to 20ºC by 3 pm. We are told it doesn't snow until Christmas in this part of Sweden, but snow poles stand in readiness along the highway. Car parks at shops and offices have hook-up points to plug in to keep engines from freezing in winter!

The E4 was a dSweden_(67).JPGual carriageway for the next 20 miles north, serving sawmills busy with logging trucks. At 79 miles we crossed from Vasterbotten into Norrbotten (North Bothnia) County, which covers the top of Sweden. Just after crossing its river estuary at 97 miles, we turned off for a mile into the port of Pitea to check the existence of an LPG outlet there. Sure enough, the OKQ8 filling station had a pump for Motorgas and the attendant confirmed it was the last in Sweden, going north. We did try, but sadly, we couldn't squeeze any more into our tank, filled 3 days ago near Sundsvall.

At 129 miles we took the exit for Lulea, the last city on the Bothnian coast 5 miles east of the highway. Its port is at the end of the railway line from the iron-working centre in inland Kiruna and ice-breakers stand by in the harbour to keep it open in winter.  (Kiruna also sent ore by rail to Narvik in Norway, supplying the Allies in WW2 – the cause of much fighting.) In the centre of Lulea the car parks (pay & display until 6 pm) were all busy, with little space for a motorhome, and the harbour was industrial.

Returning to the E4 highway, we crossed it and continued west forX_(48).JPG 2 miles to the Church Village of Gammelstad (= Old Town), a well-signposted World Heritage site. Following signs through the village to the Open Air Museum (Friluftsmuseet), we found a free visitor car park, empty as the museum had closed at 5 pm. The girl in the adjacent gift shop said that motorhomes often parked there overnight, and indeed we were later joined by one Swedish and one French camping car.

During the longX_(57).JPG light evening we walked round the largest remaining example of a traditional church village, once common in northern Sweden. Much larger than we'd anticipated, it's a collection of 408 small wooden houses set along lanes around the substantial stone church, dating from the early 1600's. The buildings include a dance hall, a tithe barn, a court and a house for the 'Separatists', a protestant splinterX_(52).JPG-group. The parish church served a large area of scattered farms and the church village was also a commercial centre, providing weekend accommodation for the distant parishioners to come to market, to socialise and to attend church (which was compulsory). It also provided a place to gather in times of danger (notably from neighbouring Russia). When its harbour on the Lule River became too shallow, it was replaced by the pX_(54).JPGort built at Lulea. For more info visit www.lulea.se/gammelstad.

Many of the cottages are still occupied - some privately owned; some rented for holiday lets; some used by the village pastor and mayor. Parishioners come for weekend services on special celebrations and youngsters stay in the village for the annual Confirmation classes before mid-summer. Winter photos show deep snow on every roof, like a row of iced cakes.

14 August 2009   160 miles   Gammelstad, Sweden to Rovaniemi, Finland   Napapiirin Saarituvat Camping   €25.50 (with every 4th night free)

After 1,300 miles in Sweden, into Finland at Tornio and almost to the Arctic Circle

Warmer and sunnier, air temperature 15ºC at 10 am as we rejoined E4. The road temperature (both are shown on road signs) is always considerably higher than the air, as its black surface holds the heat – as do the shallow lakes.

We passed the little port of Tore at 29 miles (the first campsite north of Lulea listed in Sweden's SCR camping guide, available at any Tourist Info – but we'd passed a couple of smaller sites.) Just 2 miles later we spotted our first reindeer this year – a mother and calf grazing in the forest beyond the catch-fence – always an exciting moment! The trees (conifers and silver birch) are starting to look shorter, the further north we go.

Kalix at 46 miles was the last town before the Finnish border. It had a Co-op (with 2 hours free parking), where we spent some of our remaining Swedish currency on fruit and biscuits, using the rest to buy fuel (usually bought with a credit card but we had cash to use up). As usual, the cheaper Preem garage had a very low panoply so we had to go to the OKQ8.

The Tornio River at the northern tip of the Gulf of Bothnia marks the Swedish-Finnish border. Haparanda on the Swedish side and Tornio across the river now form one Euro-city, with an international golf course half in each country! Haparanda (at 77 miles) was a bustle of supermarkets, filling stations and stores, including a huge Ikea - Sweden is less expensive and attracts the Finns to shop. On the other hand, Finland has cheaper alcohol and Tornio has the country's largest brewery, producing the Lapin Kulta beer advertised everywhere.

Still on E4, we crossed the first Tornio bridge onto a small island X_(64).JPGand stopped at the Green Line Tourist Office there, to collect free maps and a campsite booklet for Finland. Prices are now in Euros and the language totally inscrutable – though throughout Scandinavia most people speak excellent English, which they use as a common second language amongst themselves. The Tourist Office served travellers in both directions and was busy with motorhomers heading back into Sweden. Its large car park was a good place for lunch – and to put our clocks forward one hour for Finland (the same time zone as Greece).

E4 continX_(63).JPGued across the river on a second wider bridge, then headed east towards Kemi. At 88 miles, before Kemi, it turned north, becoming E75 'The Arctic Highway', which we took – a 2-lane road through a forest of short pine and birch trees, with more Elk warnings painted on the tarmac! No more reindeer but we spotted a red squirrel running along the verge. The small villages set in the outback looked homely, with cycle paths and little traffic – apart from a convoy of 13 Italian motorhomes all heading south! We hoped that would mean space at Rovaniemi.

To continue with this journey, click: In Finland 2009