Denmark; the journey south

On our northward journey we only spent 4 nights in Denmark and Annie in particular felt a connection with the country so we were excited to be able to spend a bit longer exploring on our return journey.

Well, we can honestly say it’s a treat the Danes are lovely people and their country is fabulous if a little flat! It was an 8pm arrival from our ‘cross-border’ ferry to our campsite close to Skagen and we received the warmest of welcomes and armed with several booklets and maps of the area we settled into our pitch in the evening sunshine. Not having a guidebook for Denmark wasn’t an issue because every campsite and town has armfuls of glossy brochures, maps and leaflets promoting the attractions, walks and cycle paths in their particular area.

A day of blazing sunshine was perfect for a cycle ride (via a designated cycle route) to the town of Skagen 12km away. En-route we stopped at Den Tilsandede Kirke, a partially sand covered former parish church of the town that since 1775 has been buried in 4–5 metres of sand with only the tower remaining above ground.

Cycling through the lively harbour area of Skagen which was busy with tourists and visitors, we carried on a further few kilometres north to the very tip of the headland at Grenen which is the northernmost point of Denmark. Here a 30 minute walk through the sand dunes and along the beach took us to a stunning spit of sand where you can stand with one foot in the Skagerrak Sea and the other in the Kattegat.

The water was so clear and inviting but sadly (for Annie not Richard) we hadn’t thought to pack our swimming kit in our backpack. There was so much to see in this area, the following day saw us climbing a 45 metre high sand dune they call Råbjerg Mile which as a result of the wind is migrating at a rate of 15–20 metres a year. It was lovely but didn’t quite live up to expectation and perhaps we have been spoiled having seen and climbed Dune 45 in Namibia and the Dune du Pilat in Arcachon, France.

We decided to concentrate on the west coast of Denmark and so after a much needed stocking up on supplies in Lidl (slightly cheaper chocolate and beer being top of the shopping list) we headed to the much heralded town of Løkken. h Denmark 2 Lokken (5)Despite a whole brochure dedicated just to this small town we were disappointed to find it filled with empty holiday homes and very little else besides a long and wide sandy beach which didn’t seem too attractive on this, our first dull, windy and overcast day for 5 weeks. As a result we only stopped for lunch but unusually this was spent parked out on the sandy beach right in front of the surf. Before this trip it would have qualified as one of our more unusual lunch stops but since we have recently eaten our lunch looking at towering mountains, vast snowy plateaux, ice lakes and deep fjords this stop was just added to our special lunch stop list.

h Denmark 9 Ribe to Tonder via Gram Slot (93)Pottering on along the western side of Jutland was not as much fun as we had hoped as the weather has finally broken with high winds and dark foreboding skies making long walks or bike rides distinctly uninviting. Along the way we stopped briefly at places randomly chosen off one of the many tourist maps we picked up and loved seeing places such as Nøtre Vosborg, a stunning old manor house now a classy hotel, Vendersø Kirke, a typical coastal church and Nørre Lyngvig Fyr, the last lighthouse to be built in Denmark.

The 500kms of coastline is really rugged and wild consisting of wide white sand beaches and undulating grassy sand dunes or Klit as they call them here.

We called into a number of towns, some lively such Løgstør, situated on an inland waterway where we enjoyed a walk along the canal running parallel to the sea and Ribe (apparently the oldest town in Denmark) which was very picturesque with cobbled streets and medieval buildings that was not so lively but did sell some great waffles!

Others such as Tarm, which on a Monday morning lacked any life at all (although a quick walk around looking at their sculptures did reveal an unusual view of a woman diving into a pond – why?!) and Skjern where we hardly saw a soul, were disappointing and meant we beat a hasty retreat.

h Denmark 6 Vederso Kirke (3)The churchyards in Denmark are very special with many of the gravestones being large inscribed boulders surrounded by low well maintained hedges. Something that really intrigued us was finding ‘The Seamarks’ which are high three legged structures all along the west coast used in the past as navigational aids to show ships and sailors where they were. Each one is a different design and unique and although no longer used have been preserved as part of Denmark’s cultural heritage.

Sunday 10th June bought us our first really heavy rain in the daytime since we left the UK. It poured for a few hours leaving us with an overcast showery day and the next few days were windy, cool and very cloudy.

This impacted our enthusiasm for exploring and resulted in us moving south quicker than planned and Tuesday 12th June found us spending our last night in Denmark at Tønder close to the German border.

Here we tried to get rid of all our Danish Kroner cash by buying a fuel credit at a local garage but couldn’t fit it all in the tank so took our rebate in Maltesers!

h Denmark 8 Hvide Sande to Esbjerg via Skjern, Tarm & Henne Strand (5)

 

Bergen, East to Telemark and the South Coast

g Norway 17 Bergen (3)We arrived in Bergen a day earlier than intended as despite a glorious drive from the end of the Snow Road at Aurland we couldn’t find a campsite or parking area we liked anywhere along the main road and as we got close to the city it was simply tunnel after tunnel. Clearly we should have turned off to one of the small villages, but all were a little way off our route. We settled on a site east of the city close to a lake that had a bus stop outside with buses that took us to the Tram stop and into the centre within 45 minutes. Our arrival in the city coincided with the P&O cruise ship Britannia disgorging its 1500 passengers to join us!

A detour into the lovely back streets and less popular places to visit kept us mostly ‘crowd free’ until they left at 2.30pm for their trip back to Southampton

at which point we could take the funicular railway to the hill overlooking the city, enjoy a wander along the old wharf (Bryggen), pop into the fish market and see the ancient fortified area.

It’s an attractive and quite small city with loads of museums and we went into none of them! On our way back to camp we jumped off the tram to visit another stave church at Fantoft but as it was so small baulked at the £6 adult ticket charge.

From Bergen it was a drive east starting with another Scenic Route, this time the Hardanger but as we tried to head over the first mountain pass we were barred from this part of the route by the police due to a Bergen to Voss bike race and sent, police map in hand on a rather annoying but quite picturesque 1½ hour detour.

At the end of the detour we found ourselves driving along very narrow fjord-side roads back amongst the bike race riders and from here our progress was hindered by them, becoming more and more challenging to make any progress above bike speed, we couldn’t have been happier to eventually part company with them especially those who rode in a big peloton.

The scenery through the whole drive was wonderful but arriving in a small town called Eidfjord at the head of one arm of Hardangerfjord we encountered another cruise ship and their clientele as we searched in vain for a waterfall called Vøringsfossen that plunges 145 metres apparently into ‘a formidable gorge’. Only later did we discover it was 17 km away!

g Norway 18 the Hardanger Route, Bergen to Kinsarvik (34)

Anyway, a long driving day in difficult conditions saw us arrive somewhat weary at a campsite in a lovely village called Kinsarvik at the confluence of the Sørfjorden and the Eid Fjord. Annie set off immediately hiking map in hand and returned 2 hours later much happier having walked uphill and enjoyed glorious views down the fjord in the evening sunshine.

After a hot night (not complaining) we hit the road again determined to have a shorter day. The best laid plans… After a surprise sighting of the thundering Låtefoss waterfall, our first stop was to see another stave church at Røldal (again £6 for a peek and again declined) then as we rose through the hills following a bit of a non-verbal altercation with a large posse of aggressive Danish motorbike riders who thought they could dominate the road we were rewarded with quite stunning views of the snow and ice covered mountain plateau.

A perfect place to stop for lunch with views to die for and a walking opportunity for Annie. From here we continued through numerous tunnels (one even had a roundabout within it), for which the Norwegians must be the world’s expert builders given the hundreds we have endured so far, entering one with snow, ice and rock all dominating the landscape, emerging from the darkness 6km later into snow free hills clad in thick pine forests.

 

Leaving the main highway we motored onto narrow hill roads with our brake pad warning light shining brightly and continued uphill and down dale alongside reservoirs looking for Annie’s perfect wild camping spot which to date remains elusive (we have in fact seen it several times but always far too early in the day to consider stopping for the night!). We pulled in for a short stroll to a deep sheer sided ravine overlooking the hydro-electricity plant made famous in the Kirk Douglas film “The Heroes of Telemark” when the Norwegian Special Forces blew up the German heavy water factory in WWII. So, 7½ hours after setting off on our ‘short driving day’ we limped into a campsite at Rjukan. A virtually empty field but with hot showers and Wi-Fi ready for a short driving day the next day!

And what a day, a 20 minute journey uphill with the peak of Guastatoppen (1881 metres high) looming in front of us all the way took us to the car park from which both of us had different experiences of this incredible mountain.

Annie took the hiking trail, 3.1 kms uphill to the summit crossing the snow line several times and clambering over boulders. At the top she met up with Richard who had taken the in-mountain funicular called Gaustobanen. Yes, literally inside the mountain we were told it was originally built for military purposes but is now a tourist transport system and consists of an 855 metre ‘miners train’ journey and then a change to a funicular for a steep vertigo inducing 39° ascent of over 1080 metres to the summit.

The views at the summit were breath-taking and apparently on a clear day, which we had, one can see 1/6 of Norway. We then both descended in the same manner although a bit more treacherous for Annie given the loose scree underfoot.

g Norway 23 to the top of Gaustatoppen under & over (73)After a scenic stop for lunch it was a 2 hour onward journey through the very different pine clad valley in Telemark region to our campsite in Seljord. Again we had a fantastic waterside pitch and Annie enjoyed a quick cold swim in the lake.

Another gentle driving day south took us to our third and final Stave Church at Eidsborg, this time no charge but locked like many of the Norwegian churches and on to Dalen, a small town and the start of the famous Telemark Canal.

The afternoon saw us driving up and down with hair-pin bends once again through the Setesdal Valley to a fabulous campsite again on the edge of water at Biglandsfjord. Here we did a load of washing, Annie walked up another steep hill and Richard utilised the Wi-Fi to research and plan our last days on the South Coast in Norway.

In the event the planning wasn’t needed as we hit the coast at Lillesand, a lovely small seaside town with whitewashed wooden houses and after treating ourselves to our first meal out in Norway

we parked up at the town AIRE by the marina. It was fine if a little expensive for what it offered and that included a 7am wake-up as two trucks arrived, one to take a yacht out of the water and another to load building materials into a barge both right outside our doorway!

g Norway 27 Byglandsfjord to Lillisand (45)From here we called into two other south coast towns, Grimstad and Risør both charming and very white! The intention was to camp in Langesund for the night but since we were arriving at 1pm and there was a ferry to Denmark at 2.30 we decided to hop onto that a day early. An ultra-modern ferry whisked us across a flat sea to Hirtshals at the northern tip of Denmark in 4½ hours.

We are sad to be leaving wonderful Norway that has exceeded our expectations in so many ways and given us memories and stunning views that will last a lifetime.

g Norway 29 Langesund to Hirtshals, Denmark (28)

Continuing south through the Fjords

g Norway 14 Borgung Stavkirke (41)We have realised a few things about Norway:

  1. Norway is spectacular! A tourist brochure we were given sums it up; ‘You don’t travel to see the attractions in Norway, you travel through them.’
  2. You have to keep stopping to admire the stunning scenery which adds to every journey time
  3. The winding and a lot of the time narrow roads invariably go steeply up and equally steeply down, again adding to journey times
  4. You either have to drive around a fjord or cross it on a ferry, both take longer than you anticipate.
  5. There are so many fabulous places to see.

g Norway 9 Geiranger to Olden (57)As a result we know we can’t do everything we planned in the time available so have had to make some compromises so out has gone a visit to Oslo (which is out of our way), we won’t get to the famous Pulpits Rock or the Flam Railway, we can’t do all the ‘Norway Scenic Routes’ that run in our direction, beautifully listed and summarised by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (see www.nasjonaleturistveger.no) or get to Stavanger. So back to what we have done…

We have recently been planning each days journey around the ‘Norway Scenic Routes’ and tried to combine doing a road route with a destination or add on of something or somewhere we have picked out of the guidebook or off an internet search.

Leaving Geirangerfjord we decided not to take the £100 ferry but instead drive the mountain route south-east via the Dalsnibba Skywalk which is Europe’s highest fjord view from a road at 1500 metres above sea level.

Two things stopped us visiting the Skywalk, firstly the views on our way were so fantastic we thought they would be hard to beat as they were only 300 metres or so lower and secondly there was a £14 fee to pay to get access, so we abandoned this idea, but attach a photo from the internet to show what we missed and it’s the platform itself that is spectacular! One of the things the Norwegians do so well is design and build attractive stopping places and viewpoints as some of our photos will show.

Before the steep descent we crossed a high mountain plateau with spectacular still frozen lakes and partially snow covered mountain tops. As we drove something quite bizarre occurred. For the past two weeks or so we have been following a blog we stumbled across at ‘http://homeonwheels.co.uk’ about a couple travelling through Norway about a week ahead of us, so we’ve been able to glean lots of tips and advice from them. Well, blow us down if we didn’t spot them driving the other way towards us in this remote mountain pass where they shouldn’t have been!

We waved frantically and luckily they stopped and we were able to introduce ourselves to David and Anne (who was also a Nurse) they were staggered that not only were we reading their blog but that we recognised them. We almost blocked the road for 15 minutes as we chatted and they were such a nice couple, we’re hoping we might bump into them again. Unfortunately amongst the excitement we forgot to take a photo.

g Norway 9 Geiranger to Olden (52)We had hoped next to complete the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen 27km scenic route but after a couple of kilometres found the rest of the route was closed so had to settle for a couple of 5km poorly lit tunnels instead.

Never the less it was a pretty run to Olden, where once again we camped by water.

The following morning we were up early to see the nearby Briksdal Glacier before all the cruise ship passengers piled in. We enjoyed a 45 minute walk up to the glacier and whilst we had never seen one up close before it was a little underwhelming for which we both felt very guilty!

Sadly it is shrinking at an alarming rate and as we climbed towards the small part we are allowed to view we read that the meltwater surging downhill beside us was running at the rate of 10,000 litres per second. The Briksdal is actually just an arm of the larger Jostedal (Jostedalsbreen in Norwegian) Glacier which is the largest in continental Europe at some 487 square km (188 square miles) the thickest part of the glacier is 600 metres (2,000 ft). The bit we could see was somewhat paltry by comparison!

We are humbled by how the majority of Norwegians are fluent in English. We had a very entertaining chat to a man with a red flag who was managing the flow of traffic around some pretty major road works (they were actually blasting out the rocky mountain to widen the road). He talked in perfect English about Sellafield Nuclear Waste, plastics polluting our rivers and oceans and the abortion vote in Ireland. He even mimicked the Chinese and Geordie accents. What a lovely, memorable and entertaining encounter that we would have missed if they hadn’t been working on the roads.

From the glacier we were back on ‘scenic route’ driving, this time tackling the ‘Gaularfjellet’ at a length of 100 km from Moskog to Balestrand. Once more we were treated to the most amazing waterfalls, a wonderful high lookout point and multiple hairpin bends on a very steep descent (read the smell of burning brakes and amber low brake pad warning light).

On completing the route we decided to journey on and two ferries and some long tunnels later we were checking into our campsite in Lærdal for two nights. We had a happy and gentle day off which included a wander around the pretty town based at the very end of the fjord and surrounded by mountains, doing our first shop in a Norwegian supermarket (everything at least double the UK price), sitting in the sunshine reading our books and Annie managed a couple of hours walking in the hills on a marked walking route. A lovely thing we have found on some walking routes is little metal boxes with a notebook inside that you sign and date and leave a comment if you wish.

Lærdal was the starting point for our next ‘scenic road trip’ called Aurlandsfjellet (47km) on what the locals call The Snow Road (the alternative was a 24.51-kilometre-long (15.23 mi) road tunnel connecting Lærdal and Aurland and it is the longest road tunnel in the world!) but before we set off on this we did a 60 km detour to see Borgund Stavkirke, the only stave church in Norway to have remained unchanged since the Middle Ages. Sadly for the photos it was having some major renovations done but it was still very beautiful.

It is hard to begin to describe the landscapes we are experiencing in Norway, they are majestic, breath-taking and awe inspiring at virtually every turn in the road.

g Norway 15 Aurlandsfjellet 47km Snow Road (41)

g Norway 15 Aurlandsfjellet 47km Snow Road (45)Everything is so magnificent and above all BIG. The stopping off or viewing points are all rather classy with cutting edge architecture and sleek walkways, always with information boards in Norwegian and English.

The Snow Road delivered yet another memorable and wonderful day and lots of snow plus hot brakes and wonderful views! We then headed towards Bergen in the hope of some city culture and a rest from sensory overload.

PS the weather continues to be in the high 20°’s and wall to wall sunshine – unbelievable for Norway and weird to be standing beside snow and ice in shorts and T shirt.

Norway, Trondheim south to Geirangerfjord

As we drove out of Sweden along the E14 we found ourselves looking at mountains, valleys and hills all covered in the requisite pine forest which gave us a taster of the landscape to come. Before entering Norway we stopped close to the border at a ‘bulk buy’ supermarket (designed to attract the Norwegians with lower Swedish prices!) to stock up on essential food items and wished we hadn’t as most of what we bought was of very poor quality. The first thing we noticed as we crossed the border was that the houses aren’t predominantly red, some are roofed in turf / grass and that the pine trees were of a different species (how sad that we are now recognising different types of pine tree!)

Before we left our campsite in Ǻre we noticed we had a small oil leak so arriving in Trondheim our first stop was a very swanky Fiat Garage, they couldn’t have been more helpful and two hours later with a new oil filter and £330 worse off (£140 for an hours labour and £100 for oil) we headed for our city ‘Aire’ for the night – £25 for 24 hours for a concrete car park – same price as the lovely campsite we had just left beside the waterfall with all amenities.

We really enjoyed a few hours in the sunshine exploring Trondheim, the old part of the city centre being completely surrounded by water consisting of old wooden buildings, picturesque warehouses and wharves, a fish market, the ancient wooden bridge (which of course we shared with a group of Asian Tourists) and the Cathedral which is the site of the end of the pilgrim route and where King Olav is buried.

g Norway 1 Trondheim x (46)

We found Trondheim to be a vibrant, lively and ‘very young’ city later discovering that 17% of its population are students, many of whom must be pretty well off as the bars were all packed even at £8 a pint.

The following day our aim was to drive the Atlanterhavsvegen (the Atlantic Road) which has been described as the world’s most beautiful drive. It is 36 kms of absolutely spectacular road that, includes eight bridges all connecting lots of rocky expanses, islets and bigger islands with fishing villages.

g Norway 3 Atlanterhavsvegen the Atlantic Road (7)

The journey was made really easy as you are encouraged to pull into the various stopping points en-route and experience the viewing platforms and superb picnic spots overlooking the windy Norwegian Sea and it really was stunning.

Once again, getting to the start of the drive necessitated a 5km long tunnel costing £13 and this after a number of road tolls. The unusual thing about this tunnel was the steep downhill drive on entering and the severe uphill on leaving, even necessitating a 2km long crawler lane, all in rather dim lighting.

A word about tolls. We keep passing toll points, having registered for the Auto Pass system before we left home (there are no toll booths, it’s all automated) whereby we will receive our bills within 2 months via email. However we have no clear idea what we are going to be charged and some of the sums quoted by toll signs are quite frightening!

Our first night on a campsite in Norway found us in Molde, home of the fantastic ex-Manchester United footballer Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but he wasn’t the reason we ended up there.

We wanted to see ‘The Molde Panorama’ and found a campsite where if we were so inclined we didn’t need to leave our seats to see it. We had a front row pitch on the edge of the Fjord facing the stunning mountain range which is part of the Molde Panorama. Guidebooks differ between 88 and over 200 hundred mountain peaks making up the Panorama, we didn’t bother counting but it was beautiful.

g Norway 7 Trollstigen to Geiranger drive (128)

Ferry journeys across the Fjords are becoming a familiar experience and make getting around the long waterways easier but expensive, so far prices have varied between £25 and £46 for journeys between 20 and 40 minutes and are based on the size and length of your vehicle, so being 7.5 metres long is not good news for the wallet! Prices are more than 50% less for vehicles under 6 metres.

A morning in Ålesund, a pretty town of several islands joined by bridges and full of Art Nouveau architecture and obviously on the cruise circuit was fun even on a partly cloudy day.

We enjoyed a quick walk around town which included a climb up the 418 steps and paths to a view point and ended the day in yet another stunning setting surrounded by mountains at Åndalsnes. An unexpected and very moving surprise that Annie stumbled across whilst having an early evening walk was the only ‘train chapel’ in Norway.

Sunday 27th May turned out to be a very special day which started with a hike up to a view point 500 metres above Åndalsnes, this was a steep uphill walk classed in the guidebook as a moderate hike warning that the last 100 metres are challenging.

We made it up there in just over an hour and took our turn for photos on the rather scary overhanging platform with stunning views up and down the Fjord and down onto the massive cruise ship that had docked in the town.

Arriving back at the motorhome it was time to tackle the infamous 104km Geiranger-Trollstigen drive albeit that we were doing it backwards. The Norwegian tourist board say: “Geiranger-Trollstigen offers numerous highlights, and the eleven hairpin bends of Trollstigen as well as the view from Ørnesvingen down to the Geirangerfjord may set your pulse racing. Lush valleys, sheltered strawberry-growing areas, precipitous mountains and vantage points guaranteed to make you dizzy offer some of Norway’s most scenic views”. They weren’t wrong, the whole drive was truly amazing if a little daunting at times when 50 seater coaches come at you on one of the hairpin bends.

g Norway 7 Trollstigen to Geiranger drive (89)

The views were of a sort we have rarely experienced, the viewing points built to enhance the visitor experience were fantastic and the landscape totally stunning and so BIG!

After crossing another fjord from Linge to Eidsdal on a ferry we ended our day by descending the very steep Ørnesvingen Eagle Road to the Geirangerfjord with the smell of burning brake pads strong in our nostrils. We found a campsite right on the edge of the fjord to experience what we’re told is the most renowned fjord in the world.

The Geirangerfjord, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List reaches depths of 260 metres and whilst it is 100km from open sea still has over 100 cruise ships visiting every year probably because of the beauty of the sheer mountainsides that tumble to the water and several renowned waterfalls.

We’re sitting in awe looking at the snow topped mountains and beautiful still waters as the sun sets. What can be better than this?

Sweden: North through the Forests and Lakes

f Sweden 21 Leksand Campsite (8)The glorious warm, sunny and totally unexpected weather we have experienced on this trip continues and we decided not to continue east to Stockholm but to start our journey north. As we headed for a small town called Leksand and a campsite by yet another lake we stopped for a break at Falun to see their huge abandoned copper mine. At its peak two thirds of the worlds copper was produced here. This copper is also the source of Falun Rödfärg (Falun Red Paint) that is seen everywhere on Swedish houses. It used to be used as a sign of wealth but now is a ‘symbol of Sweden’ that nationals are justifiably proud about and use in abundance.

We then glimpsed the stunning and somewhat awe inspiring ski jump in the distance and resolved to hunt it down. The sheer size and height is staggering and to think that when covered in snow people actually launch themselves off this gave us new respect for Eddie the Eagle!

Continuing north we stopped in Rättvik to admire the 628 metre long Långbryggan pier built in 1895 to allow steam boats to moor in the shallow waters close to the town.

It was a long driving day of some 250 miles and over 5 hours on the move almost entirely through pine forests dotted with numerous incredibly beautiful lakes but very little else.

The beauty and peacefulness of this landscape slowly morphed us into a state of semi boredom with more and yet more of the same for mile upon mile – oh yes, and interspersed with the odd small town or hamlet here and there (with a pizza take away in nearly every one even if there were no other shops at all) plus of course the red houses and occasional Volvo, now with spot lights along their front bumpers and the odd truck laden with logs.

We eventually reached the E14 (the main road from Sweden’s east coast to Norway’s west coast) and turned left towards Norway where the signpost informed us it was 364 km all the way to Trondheim on the Norwegian west coast and a place we plan to visit.

We spent the night on a small campsite at Gällö right on the edge of a beautiful lake where we took too many photographs of trees and sky reflected in the water.

f Sweden 24 Camp Viking, Gallo (10)

In fact most of our campsites in Sweden have been next to or very near lakes or rivers.

This was the furthest north we have been so far and we decided it would be fun to see what time the sun set and rose. Well we had a glorious red sky that started at around 9.30pm and stayed with us well past 2am when it seemed to get light again, so we had no real night at all as you could have gone for a walk and not needed anything to light your way. The internet suggests sunset at 22.21 and sunrise at 03.35 today but real darkness doesn’t happen in between! The birds were singing all night too which was somewhat disconcerting. See our two photos – sunset taken at 12.40am and the second was the next night at 01.45 and neither were taken with a flash – some night!

f Sweden 25 E14 going west (7)The following morning we had a short 45 km journey briefly broken to look and photograph an unusual church with a separate low level wooden bell tower then on to our next stop at a campsite near Ǻre, Camping Ristafallets. Here we were right next to the Ristafall which is one of Sweden’s largest waterfalls that right now is in full spate given that the last of the 2 metre deep snow in this area only melted in the last 10 days or so. The falls are a total of about 50 m wide and 14 m high and once again we took far too many photographs of the falls from both sides of the fast running river.

Whilst walking in this area we noticed signs that indicated we were on a path for Pilgrims. We seem to stumble across Pilgrim routes in Europe and this time we have found ourselves walking on marked trails for the St Olaf Pilgrims route to Trondheim. It seems that this pilgrims trail from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic Ocean in Norway (580 kms) is Scandinavia’s version of the Camino Trail and is in honour of King Olav who in 1030 marched his army along the route to Norway with the aim of converting the country to Christianity and to win back his throne after several years in exile.

Ǻre is Sweden’s premier ski resort with access to Mount Ǻreskutan via a cable car which takes one to within 150 metres of the 1,420 summit. So having decided to stay an extra night and explore Ǻre and the top of the mountain, the next day we set off in high anticipation but had our hopes dashed when the girl running the campsite said ‘enjoy the ghost town that is Ǻre’! Well she was absolutely right, all the chair lifts were stationary and the cable car closed until 21st June when their summer season begins.

We walked around the ‘ghost town’ which is set in the most dramatic scenery and returned to our campsite by the waterfall where we enjoyed a lazy afternoon reading, sleeping, cleaning the motorhome and utilising the free WiFi to research some recommended scenic road trips in Norway.

Sweden has been enjoyable but hasn’t captured our hearts, we have seen some stunning scenery, enjoyed walking and running (Annie) in the easily accessible and beautiful nature reserves and national parks whilst being blessed with exceptional weather for this time of year. The travel has been easy (if at times a tad boring) as the roads are very quiet and the people are so friendly and helpful. We noticed a few things which may or may not be particular to Sweden; at weekends there are a lot of vintage American Cars being driven about, we wonder if this is a particular Swedish hobby or whether we will continue to see them in Norway;

there are no toll roads (apart from two bridges and peak times on two city roads); parking is nearly always free with everyone having a time clock on their windscreens and finally nearly every garden has a flagpole proudly flying the Swedish flag. It was wonderful to see patriotism displayed that isn’t remotely nationalistic as Sweden is known to be a country that has welcomed so many refugees.

Our Sweden experience whilst positive can in part be reflected by quoting Chris Stewart from his book ‘Driving Over Lemons’ (p166) when he says “I have been going to Sweden twice a year for fifteen years but somehow that Nordic utopia has failed altogether to find a place in my heart…swamped by the uncontaminated but dreary landscape and the dullness of its spiritless towns and cities.” For us, many towns seem to lack any heart and the inland landscapes whilst wonderful are so vast and so much the same that in a way it dulls your senses.

f Sweden into Norway 27 E14 (7)

Norway beckons although we understand that the Norway roads will be toll heavy and expensive ferry’s a necessary additional expense!

Sweden – Bohuslän coast and the drive east

Leaving the huge Lake Vänern in blazing sunshine we decided to spend a couple of days exploring the Bohuslän coast area which is the west coastline north of Gothenburg.

It is a stunning region of islands, fishing communities (historically Herring fishing), picturesque villages with higgledy piggledy streets of typical Swedish wooden homes from huts to grand mansions all surrounded by nature reserves that are made up of huge granite boulders and mossy forests.

f Sweden 9 Marstrand - West Coast (32)

On our first stop we took a ferry to Marstrand and had a lovely walk across the rocky outcrops to see some of the archipelago (aka ‘a sea or stretch of water having many islands’) and rounded this off with two small beers for a mere £12, interestingly at a hotel that is now cash free, it’s cards only. This seems to be the way in Sweden with very few people seeming to ever using cash any more even for the smallest purchases.

We took the motorhome on narrow roads from one island to another, several necessitating a short car ferry and to our surprise all of which turned out to be free.

We’ve also been to other car free islands on some passenger only ferries and these have cost over £15 for us both for only a 5 minute journey.

f Sweden 10 Marstrand to Gullholmen (2)

One particularly memorable visit to an island called Gullholmen involved us meeting a lovely old local man called Thor-Bjorn who told us all about the history of the island and took us to see his nature exhibition in the island community centre. He had created the most amazing display of over 70 birds and mammals on which all but 7 of them he had performed the taxidermy.

f Sweden 11 Gullholmen Island (82)

He then introduced us to the ‘Summer Priest’, a delightful man who kindly unlocked the church for us and told us stories about the history of many of the things inside the church. In fact they were both competing to tell us stories and kept telling each other to stop it was their turn now!!

Although very picturesque and in stunning locations some of the villages we visited have been almost deserted and lacking any heart or atmosphere, they are clearly places for holidays or summer homes.

So we were delighted when we arrived for two nights in Kungshamn to spend a day cycling around the town and after crossing the high bridge on our bikes, the island of Smögen both of which had shops, restaurants and an obviously active fishing community.

f Sweden 14 Kungshamn and Smögen (39)

We were even extravagant enough to spoil ourselves with lunch at a fish restaurant, sitting in the sun next to the market where the catch had only been landed a few hours earlier.

f Sweden 14 Kungshamn and Smögen (4)Since the public holiday weekend has ended we have found the campsites almost empty and we are often almost alone parked in a field surrounded by permanent caravans. We guess these places f Sweden 15 Fjallbacka (15)must get busy at the weekends although their high season doesn’t start until mid-June.

Our last coastal stop was at a small town called Fjallbacka that was Ingrid Bergman’s summer home and the area is full of mementos, pictures and buildings named after her.

Leaving here we headed inland and stayed overnight at a place called Ed by yet another lake, this time Annie walked around the whole lake! There was also a Moose Farm opposite but sadly this was closed.

There were a large number of Norwegians on the campsite and yes, you’ve guessed it there was another public holiday this time it was Norway’s Constitution Day (May 17th) and there were Norwegian flags all around the campsite. If we had been in Norway we would have seen colourful parades in almost every town with people dressed in traditional folk costumes or national dress (Bunad). Like the Swedish they are deeply patriotic.

f Sweden 17 Dalsland Canal (6)From Ed we drove up part of the Dalsland Canal. The central feature of the canal is the amazing aqueduct and series of locks at Håverud designed and built by Nils Ericsson in the 1860’s where a set of rapids had previously existed making the whole waterway navigable, a feat many thought was not possible.

Our journey east ended at Örebro, the seventh largest city in Sweden and one of the largest inland hubs of the country.

f Sweden 19 Orebro (19)

Here we visited Örebro Slott (castle), Wadköping which is an area to which a number of original old city buildings have been relocated, a building called Allehandaborgen that used to house the local newspaper’s former offices and bizarrely a Svampen, a water tower known as the mushroom where we took a lift to the top for some city views.

f Sweden 19 Orebro (30)Our campsite in Örebro was fabulous with nice big pitches even having TV aerial plug points, hotel style toilets and showers, an amazing communal kitchen and a lovely bar and restaurant, we almost didn’t want to leave except it was our most expensive campsite to date.

f Sweden 20 Falun (2)

 

 

Next it’s time to head north.

Sweden – the first few days

f Sweden 4 coast at Frillesas (1)Arriving in Sweden one of the first things we noticed was that we were again in good company as there were so many motorhomes on the roads. In Denmark we were very much in the minority as the Danish prefer a caravan and car combination probably due to their campsites in the main being situated away from any towns or attractions and that towns don’t have anywhere for motorhomes to park. f Sweden 7 a visit to Lacko Slott on Vanern Lake (1)We also noticed the even quieter roads with miles and miles of green fields either side of the roads and the occasional typically Swedish red house or farm building. The journeys can feel long with very little change in the scenery but so far we haven’t had to resort to inventing any silly games like counting whether there are more Volvo cars than motorhomes in any given distance, but give it time!

We broke our journey to our chosen campsite in Haverdal to explore Båstad, a small very classy town on the coast which is home to Sweden’s Open Tennis competition every year and to find an ATM and have some cash in our pockets.

When we got to the campsite we were told we had to pay an extra £16 for a ‘Camping Key Card’ and that it was compulsory for many campsites in Sweden but the good news was that we had a lovely large pitch and it was only a 10 minute walk from a long almost empty beach with big sand dunes and a few kite surfers.

The following day we drove up the coast road south of Gothenburg stopping to enjoy a few sights on the way. Most memorable was Varberg where they have an unusual Moorish style bathhouse for saunas and sea bathing in the nude, separate sections for men and women but all very private, a beautiful marina, plenty of walking and biking routes along the coast and a lovely old fortress on a small promontory overlooking the sea shore.

The afternoon brought a happy couple of hours spent with an old friend from our Reading days, Matt Dry who now lives east of Gothenburg and it was a chance for us to meet his wife Hana and their daughter. It was wonderful to catch up having not seen Matt for 15 years. Matt also opened our eyes to the size of Sweden saying that from the south to the north of the country is the same distance as Malmo (Sweden) is from Rome in Italy!

f Sweden 6 Alingsas Camping at Lovekulle on the cheap (3)Our second night was spent ‘lodging’ on a full campsite on the edge of one of the hundreds of lakes in Sweden at Alingsås. By ‘lodging’ we mean that they kindly found us a corner of grass to park on overnight and charged us a nominal rate, we had to pay to use the showers though! Yes you have guessed right we have chanced upon yet another public holiday weekend. We have also found that few campsites in Scandinavia have a restaurant or bar, they seem just to be a field (often in beautiful surroundings) with a small shop, showers, toilets and if we’re lucky Wi-Fi. Not only are they of very high quality but they have communal kitchens which are very well equipped with several cookers, microwaves and some have communal dining areas where you can eat with other campers.

Setting off from Alingsås we thought we had better see Sweden’s largest lake, Vänern, and after driving for a couple of hours on near empty roads we started our day with a visit to Läckö Slot,

f Sweden 7 a visit to Lacko Slott on Vanern Lake (37)

an imposing castle on the southern shores of the lake where Richard managed to get some very atmospheric photos with the mist rolling in off the lake and then driving south-west on to a lake side campsite at Vanersborg for the night and an afternoon of laundry and chores.

Sweden (and we gather Norway as well) has something called Allemansträtten which is an ancient right to roam and camp anywhere as long as you honour the principle of ‘do no damage and do not disturb’. The only other rule seems to be that you can’t be within 100 metres of someone’s home and that if you are on private land you must ask permission from the owner.

f Sweden 1 Bastad, east coast (24)Disappointingly we were in the Gothenburg area a week or so too early to meet up with Annie’s second cousin Clare and her husband Harry who also live nearby but were on holiday themselves in Italy. We were so grateful for some really helpful advice from them for places to see in Sweden and it would have been lovely to have a few hours with them too.