So here it is. My last night on the continent on my Scandinavian AdVANture. This epic journey is reaching it’s conclusion and I’ll be heading for Rotterdam and the ferry home tomorrow.
It has been life changing for me and has made far more of an impression on me than I envisaged.
I have been overwhelmed by some of nature’s most spectacular landscape and I have found that I am very much emotionally involved in the landscape and nature’s importance in my life. I have gained a very small insight into the way that Scandinavian people live, particularly those in the far north and the journey has reinforced my belief that travel is the most important part of any person’s education. If we don’t meet and communicate with other peoples and cultures, in their own country, then we become xenophobic and remain ignorant of the other’s point of view.
A couple of facts and figures –
After over 500 hours of driving I have covered over 14,100 miles (22,700 kilometres) and visited 6 countries, 4 of them twice and 2 of them three times!
Not forgetting that I have made the 12 mile walk to the most northerly point of the European mainland, Knivskjelodden, and raised £1095 for the Alzheimer’s Society in the process. I must say here that I am so grateful to all those lovely people who contributed to my donation pages. Thank you.
I do feel guilty about the amount of pollution I’ve caused by making this journey but when I compare it with the amount of HGVs on the road, my minuscule contribution is put into context.
I’m currently in a rest area in the small Dutch town of Zaltbommel (love that name, it could only be Dutch!) and I’m going to get my head down and leave early in the morning to make my way to Rotterdam.
I’m hoping to get an exhibition together sometime next year of the images I’ve captured and I’m creating a couple of different presentations of the Scandinavian AdVANture. Details in the New year.
Saw Fi to the airport to catch her flight home and I began the journey home.
This journey will take me three days and I’m now in a rest area just west of Odense on the E20 near a village called Skallebolle.
This part of the journey I’m not really looking forward to. The landscape is flat and mainly agricultural. For the most part of the last four months I’ve been on a real natural high and now I really feel I’m coming down to earth to return to my “normal” everyday life.
So I’m heading to Rotterdam via the fastest and easiest route.
Straight after breakfast I headed to Borgund to see the world famous stave church there. The place was deserted as most things are at this time of year. I had to smile at a notice on the door of the visitor’s centre that said “Closed until April 2020”. The centre was a large building with lots of facilities inside for video shows and lots of souvenirs, etc. Are there really so few visitors at this time of year to justify closing the centre for so long?
Anyway, the church itself was available to look at, although I couldn’t get inside, which was a shame, but I’m getting used to the fact that places here are only open for a short time in the summer. I took quite a few pictures without the intrusion of lots of tourists which is a bonus I guess.
At almost a thousand years old, the church is exceptionally well preserved and is dedicated to the St. Andrew. It features lavish carvings including the roof carvings of dragons’s heads. The church here is one of Norway’s oldest preserved timber buildings.
There’s more information about the stave church at Borgund here
My next stop, not too far away the small village of Flåm. I was surprised to see as I approached the village, the same cruise ship I had seen in Geirangerfjord, the AIDA Mar. As before the huge liner dominated the village and its passengers seemed to fill the village shops, stuffed full of souvenirs. Flam centre is a good example of a place created just for tourists and in particular cruise ship tourism. The ships dock very close by in the deep water fjord (Aurlandsfjord) and passengers only have to walk 100 metres or so and they are right in the middle of all that’s on offer.
There’s quite a bit to see and do here like the Flåm railway. This will take you on a two hour return journey to Myrdal at the top of the mountain. Here are some facts about the journey
The Flåm Railway is 20 km long
It has 20 tunnels
It took 20 years to build
Approx. cost NOK 20 million (when completed in 1940)
The Nåli tunnel (approx. 1,300 metres) between Kårdal and Pinnalia took 11 years to build
In addition to the railway, Flåm can also offer a cruise along Aurlandfjord in the world’s first all electric carbon fibre cruiser, pictured below.
If you prefer, you can take your car (or camper van!) up the winding, twisting, hairpin bend filled road up to the Stegastein Lookout Point as I did. A specially built platform that sticks right out from the mountain side, gives you a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains and fjords. It was evening and well into the “blue hour” when I got to the top, but well worth the drive.
The journey back down to Flåm was ‘interesting’ with it’s many hairpin bends in the dark and an occasional meeting with large red deer stags in the middle of the road!
It was just about dark by the time I got down to sea level again and just in time to see ‘AIDA Mar’ leaving the village for it’s next stop on the cruise. These vessels do look spectacular as they leave port with all lights blazing.
It had crossed my mind this morning to return to a place near Geiranger called Dalsnibba Mountain Plateau but it meant a 5 hour round trip from where I was and though it was somewhere I wanted to photograph, I decided against it and instead headed towards Sogndalsfjøra through the mountains on route 55.
I joined route 615 and came to Lake Lykkjebøvatnet the morning mist was rising from the lake and I knew it was one of those moments when everything is right and you know you’re in the right place at the right time. I spent over an hour photographing this scene from every angle I could think of and the small details of reeds and plants in the lake.
I then came to a village called Byrkjelo in Nordfjord, where artist Stig Eikaas displays his creative collection of large sculptures. Some of the pieces are humourous, some are poignant and others memorialise characters from the area. They are certainly worth some of anyone’s time to observe carefully for a while.
From the sculpture park I could see the mountains that form part of the Jostedalsbreen National Park. The mist was rolling around the peaks and it looked fantastic.
I put the 100-400mm lens on to get as close as I could to those snowy peaks.
It was now around lunchtime and in a village further on called Byrkjelo I found a superb local bakeri, BakearJon, selling huge cinnamon buns. Unfortunately they were only sold in twos and again, unfortuantely, they were baked the day before, so were being sold for 30NOK (c£2.60) for two! Well it would have been rude not to buy two wouldn’t it 🙂
I thought the day couldn’t get any better until I joined the E39 and drove into a very deep valley called Stardelselva and spotted a small tree, picked out by the sun, with gorgeous autumn coloured leaves between two green trees. Out came the camera again.
My wildcamp site for the night was the parking area for Bøyabreen glacier. It might be the 13th of the month but this was certainly my lucky day!
Got up at 6.0am this morning. It was freezing last night but I was snug as a bug in rug with my quilt and blanket and didn’t need the heater on at all. It was still dark but there was a feint glimmer of dim light in the east. I had breakfast and got the camera gear together for a short hike.
The rest area was completely empty when I arrived last night but another camper van had arrived and parked right next to me. Why do people do that?!
I was in the Nysætervatnet Nature Reserve so I took the path at the back of the rest area and began walking, watching the light all the time to see which of the mountains were going to light up in the morning sun first.
After a bout a mile the sun rose and I saw some potential images beginning to appear. The light wasn’t great but certainly worth a go. There are lots of small birch trees or perhaps they’re aspen, I don’t know how to tell the difference, anyway they’d make good subjects if I could find a good composition.
I took a few images and made my way back to the van.
I intended to go and see the Trollstigen pass today so off I went .
Trollstigen pass is a unique piece of highway. I am amazed that, what was obviously just a pony track, has been made into a perfectly good vehicle roadway. You can see in the pictures what I mean. A very robust and extensive viewing platform has been built, together with a centre that explains the history of the road and, of course, a souvenir shop. You won’t be surprise when I tell you that the centre was closed and only opens in the summer months.
I then made my way back to the same rest area for a good night’s kip!
Woke up to a fine morning and sorted the van out ready for travel. I’m now about two and a half hours drive from Bodø, so a gentle amble in that direction and see what I come across on the way.
A change of plan! Before setting off I decided to take a little wander in the area of the rest area and found a gem of a place made up of small pools containing water plants with really good reflections. I ended up spending 2 hours photographing small details.
And so I made my way south on the E6 passing through Moan (I’m sure it doesn’t mean the same in Norwegian!), Sildhopen, Vesterbotn and Straumen where I stopped and checked into the Strømhaug Camping campsite, having decided it was time I had a shower!!
I spent the rest of the day tidying the van up and giving it a clean inside (it has to be done sometime) and tidying myself up with a shower and washing some clothes.
The evening was spent processing photographs and writing this blog.
Left Flakstad beach with some sadness. It’s been a good place to spend time there. Fiona and I had a great time here and on my last visit I met some great, interesting people with whom I exchanged contact details.
Stopped at Kilan and walked along the banks of the fjord but though it looked like an ideal setting I just couldn’t find a composition I was happy with.
However a few kilometres further on I found a small lake where the reflections of the trees on the bank was just perfect.
I also photographed a house by a lake because occasionally I see a house that to me is in the perfect location and this was one of those houses. It was by a lake, in the mountains, surrounded by trees and in what can only be described as a beautiful part of the world.
Making my way now to the campsite at Sandsletta but changed my mind and booked into the site at Brustranda Sjøcamping. I stayed there with Fiona about a week ago. Lovely setting and good facilities.
As the sun began to set, the reflection of the cabins on site, built in the style of the traditional rorbu fishing huts, just had to be photographed.
I got the van all sorted out, had a shower and a meal and now I’m parked in a lay-by up the road because there was too much light pollution at the site to watch and photograph the aurora that’s happening right now.
The two images above were taken just over a minute apart and you can see the Aurora changes shape very slowly. Twenty minutes later and it looks like the mountain is engulfed in green flame.
By 9.30pm the show was over and it was time to return to the campsite and turn in for the night. Another great day supplied by the landscape of northern Norway.
Up at 6.0am, sorted the van and down through the tunnel into Hamnøy before breakfast and before sunrise. I parked next to the bridge on some spare land where there were already a number of photographers making preparations for the sunrise shoot on the bridge. I joined them and got myself a spot where I thought I could make a good composition. The weather could not have been better for a sunrise image and as the sun made its way over the horizon it lit up the face of the cliff overlooking the harbour. I was so pleased that my plan had worked out and all the elements had come together as I planned. I am so pleased with the resulting image. Yes I know it’s been done thousands of times before, but this is my interpretation.
I then moved down the road a little way and got a reasonable image of the tiny island of Sakrisøy with the rising sun now creating some great contrast and side lighting on the mountain above the village.
The Reinebringen Trail is a short, steep climb up 1560 stone steps to the top of the 448 metre high mountain of the same name. The reason why the steps were built (by a Nepali Sherpa team between 2016 and 2019) was because so many people were trying to climb the very steep mountain side to get the view from the summit. And what a view! It took me around 45 minutes to climb the staircase and when I got to the top I realised why so many people made the effort. It’s estimated that around 800 – 1000 people a day make the climb in summer, but on this day I had around twenty people around me at the summit.
So, after the serious effort of making the climb up to the summit of Reinebringen and the very, very steep decent of all those steps, I made my way back to the van that was parked a couple of kilometres away. There was some indication in the Aurora forecast that there may be a Northern Lights show tonight so I decided to return to Flakstad Beach where I might get a good view if the Aurora did show.
I set off back to Flakstad via Ramberg and decided to give it one more go at a composition there. I did make one image that I’m actually quite pleased with, so Ramberg is in the bag!
I arrived back at Flakstad just as the sun was going down and managed a couple of shots before it got really dark.
Then I waited. This time I was more or less on my own and it was much colder on this evening. Unfortunately on this particular evening, although the Aurora did show for a little while, it was nowhere near as intense as the previous occasion. Well, some you win and some you lose and so I retired to bed.
I had spent the night at a campsite called Sildpollnes Sjøcamp in a tiny community called Valan, which sticks out on a small peninsular in the area of Vågan, Nordland. It was a really pleasant site and the location was very picturesque. There was a white church a few metres from where I parked the van and later, as I prepared to leave, I put the drone up to get an aerial view of the site. The water was completely still and the reflection of the mountains in the fjord was stunning.
I left Valan but stopped about a kilometre up the road at a rest area that gave a great view over the fjord and the harbour I had just come from. I spent more than two hours making images from all kinds of angles and perspectives. I watched as a small fishing boat returning to the harbour was dwarfed by the huge mountains in the background where it had been fishing.
The weather was perfect. I’ve been so lucky with the weather, it could have been so different had the weather not played the game for me.
Passing a tiny harbour called Nappsvågen I noticed three large trawlers moored up in a row with the afternoon sun lighting them up. Well I couldn’t miss an opportunity like that.
I had decided to spend a few more days on the Lofoten Islands before I had to start thinking about heading south, so I headed for Flakstad beach where Fiona and I had really enjoyed our time a few days previously. Also the Aurora forecast promised a bit of a spectacular this evening.
On arrival at Flakstad I headed straight for Skagsanden Beach (its real name) and the colours of the dying sun did not disappoint. The setting sun was lighting up the west face of Trolldalsvatnet mountain and using the 16mm lens I was able to get an image using the foreground rocks on the beach as leading lines pointing straight at the mountain. I really like this image.
There were quite a few people on the beach and many of them were on road trips like me. I met and got talking to a couple from Luxembourg/Belgium who were travelling together with no end date for their journey. There were also two German guys, one of whom was married to an Australian woman, who were all travelling together on a long holiday from their home in Munich. She was an excellent portrait and wedding photographer. Take a look at her work here. She was also a great talker!!
As the evening wore on and the sun sank lower creating beautiful deep yellows and then reds in the sky, everyone was getting more and more excited at the prospect of a really special Aurora show.
Sure enough around 11.0pm the Northern Lights spectacular began! It was just awe inspiring! The Aurora seemed to fill the sky and wrap itself around everyone. It was like a multi tentacled green monster about to devour whatever it felt like. Yet it also seemed that I could just reach out and touch it, even though it was many miles high, because it filled the sky it felt so close. This was certainly something I shall never forget.
And then it was all over. After around 30 minutes, everything just faded away. But everyone on the beach was just speechless. We all then went back to our vehicles to ponder on what we had just witnessed and how we could describe it to our friends and families. What an end to an unforgettable day.
This is the day Fiona flies home to the UK from Tromsø. We spent the night (and most of yesterday) at the Tromsø Camping which, even though it looks like a car park and is very clinical, has some excellent facilities, including a sauna.
We packed everything up and sorted the van out then headed for the centre of Tromsø to a bakeri coffee shop called KaffeBonna. http://www.kaffebonna.no/ We had coffee and cake (delicious and a bargain at only £22 !!!!) We had a quick look around the street market that was happening and then headed to the airport.
Said goodbye and safe journey to Fi and off she went.
I headed off to an island called Kvaløya to the west of Tromsø and had a good look around before I found a place to wildcamp for the night. It was at the head of ….fjord. Snow is forecast for during the night so I hope I can get away in the morning!
Message from Fiona to say that she was home safe 😊
(Most of this post written by FIONA Illingworth, whilst enjoying her well deserved holiday with me here in Norway)
We stopped in a rest area last night, shared only with some sort of tanker. It was bitter cold and windy, so we slept with the roof down. We had a good meal of pasta with sausage and tomato sauce and managed to catch up on some writing. John’s blog has not had the same attention since I arrived and he has used a lot of text from my journal to update the days we have shared. He will have to get back into the habit of doing it more regularly when I go home.
It has snowed in the mountain tops overnight and they look spectacular this morning as we drive along the E8 with the Balsfjorden to our left. The E8 was traditionally a track built for reindeer and sled, built along the borders of Northern Norway, Sweden and Finland for market trading. It was only navigable in the winter. It has a number of border crossing points along its spine into Sweden. It was the Germans who built a road for traffic when they occupied Norway during the Second World War. Now it is open all year round and is an impressive road, it must be said, stretching for 622 kilometres.
We don’t have far to travel today and our plan is to spend most of the day in the very expensive campsite at Tromsø, where I need to pack my bag and John needs to use the laundry facilities. It will be good to get a shower as it feels like it’s been a while!
The cooking gas finally gave up this morning. I think it has done really well to last this long given the amount of usage it has had, particularly whilst I have been here. It was a bit of a struggle to get the new bottle in the locker. The trick, we learnt, is to put it in head first. The new bottle should last John the rest of his trip, with a bit of luck. He won’t cook as much as I have done for a start!
5.30 pm Well, I have managed to pack my rucksack without much of a problem. There is something rather depressing about packing dirty clothes into bag, not nearly as much fun as packing clean clothes in a bag to set off somewhere. I managed to get everything I needed for the plane in the little crappy black rucksack that John brought with him. He is pleased about that: I can leave him the far superior orange rucksack that I brought out with me.
I wasn’t too sure about this campsite as it seemed expensive and looked huge and rather regimental. I thought it might be somewhat impersonal. But actually the facilities are brilliant. We have eaten boiled eggs for lunch, had a shower and John has done one load of washing. We’ve also enjoyed a fabulous sauna, all included in the cost Great site!
So we’re all packed and ready to take Fiona to the airport tomorrow. It’s been a great three weeks and it’ll be back to talking to myself tomorrow afternoon!
(Most of this post written by FIONA Illingworth, whilst enjoying her well deserved holiday with me here in Norway)
The site of our wild camp last night was stunning. There were three vans parked up overnight. A couple of Norwegians next to us, must have been easily in their 60’s, were out under their awning almost all night, the bloke feeding a small wooden fire whilst his wife read the newspaper. Completely mad! Having said that, the weather looked and sounded far more foreboding from inside the van than it actually proved to be when we went out ourselves to take some video and stills. The start of the sunset was beautiful but then low cloud on the horizon deprived us of a final peek at the sun going down behind the waves. It was magical to be out watching it unfold.
The sun is shining this morning and we are heading across to Langøya to camp at Myre, which is on the outer side and facing Prestfjorden out to the north west. The campsite has good reviews and is somewhere new. John suggested the campsite at Bleik but I fancied a change of scenery.
It is good that the sun is out; it brings out the fabulous autumn colours. There are so many shades of green, yellow and red. The leaves are slowly turning and I’m sad to say that I think I will miss the best of it. John is in search of a single yellow or red tree against the green backdrop of other trees but we haven’t found one. All the trees are turning around the same time so there are few lone trees standing out from the crowd.
We had a wonderful drive through fabulous autumn colours from our wild camp just outside Nøss in Andøy to Myre. We have had mixed weather this afternoon … rain showers followed by sunny spells, with plenty of rainbows. I have never seen so many rainbows in such a short space of time. I am glad we gave the Versterålens more of a chance.
I think we were both tempted to give up on them yesterday as the landscape, though beautiful, appeared nothing like as breathtaking as the Lofotens. But, actually, though it is a gentler landscape, it is truly beautiful. Today we were blown away by the autumn colours, reflected well during the bright sunny periods. We could easily have been in the Trossachs or the Canadian Rockies.
The sea on the outer side of the islands can get quite rough and we watched some significant waves crashing against the rocks in Andøya first thing. When the sun is out it looks lovely but there is a cold breeze. I managed to go out for a run in Myre this afternoon. It started to rain just as I planned to go, but I waited half an hour and, lo and behold, the sun came out again. I found I could run along very quiet roads the whole time and just saw a glimpse of Myre before I turned back. Apparently, Myre is a modern fishing village and its port is one of the world’s biggest exporters of seafood. I saw a large factory out of town, presumably where all the seafood is processed, but other than that there was nothing to suggest this accolade!
The campsite here is excellent. After my run, I had a brilliant shower and had to turn it down a bit as the pressure was so strong! This evening I have cooked meatballs in the kitchen: all mod cons and very clean. It is good to be able to save on the gas in the van. I worry that John will run out and he cannot buy more cooking gas in Norway as they don’t sell it here (because it freezes in the winter).
I have managed to persuade John to attempt The Queen’s Route tomorrow. This is a 15km circular walk along a marked trail. It is classed as a hard route mostly due to some steep sections I think. It is called the Queen’s Route because HM Queen Sonja walked this route in 1992. In 2015 it was voted amongst the top 10 most spectacular hikes in Norway. It is just up the road. How can we not give it a go? I am sure we will both be fine with it. The route is between two fishing villages, Stø to the north and Nyksund slightly further south. On one leg of the trip you follow a coastal path and on the other you follow a mountain path. Sounds awesome and I can’t wait. The walk is said to take between 5-8 hours. Knowing us, stopping every hundred metres or so to take photos, it’ll probably be the 8 hours!