Category Archives: Sweden

12 & 13 July 2015 – to Plasencia and Caceres

Wow it’s getting hot! I’m pretty used to it being warm, but the last few days have seen temperatures ramp up a notch as I cycle through central Spain. The hot weather is accompanied by an unforgiving sun, and a wind that rises in the afternoon and dries your mouth out, leaving you feeling dehydrated if you don’t drink constantly; I’m carrying a lot of water. The only solution is to start early and finish before it get’s too hot; I’m aiming to finish riding by 15.00 at the latest, getting up at 06.00 to ensure and early start. The Spanish lifestyle is dictated by these conditions, with stuff happening in the morning, then not a lot going on between 13.00 and the evening, whereupon everywhere comes alive again; kids and adults will all be up late taking advantage of the cooler temperatures. Even the Spanish are saying the current weather is exceptional though, with it due to go on for another couple of weeks!

Here are my routes and stats for the last couple of days:

–> 12 July – to Plasencia, a great day’s riding
I did some fast pedalling today, covering 137km in about 7 hours, including an ascent up to 1,202 metres, following by a lovely descent that resulted in my quickest 40km on Smaug. In total  I climbed about 1,200 metres, but descended about 1,600 metres, so the Mediterranean must only be around the corner, surely!?

It doesn’t get light until about 06.30 at the moment, and I struggled to wake up this morning, which might have been due to the cheap yet entirely satisfactory Rose wine I had the previous evening. I still managed to get going by 07.30, pedalling away from Salamanca and joining the N630 again.

The N630 runs alongside the autovia (motorway), but is much quieter, as all the traffic is on the bigger road. At times I didn’t see another vehicle for over an hour, so it’s a bit like cycling down a really wide cycle path. I did see lots of cows and bulls, and was somewhat alarmed when at one point a large number of the latter ran into the road being herded by a farmer to another field. They ran straight towards me as I pedalled straight towards them, wondering what to do. I was just about to turn around, or get off by bike and hop over the wall, when another farmer arrived with a big stick and turned them into the other field, accompanied by lots of shouting. He smiled at me and said something in Spanish. I nodded back and said thank you, relieved to have not had re-enact the Pamplona bull run with little in the way of escape options. I don’t think turning around and pedalling off would have worked as they were running pretty fast.

Early on I passed another cycle tourer, Pedro, who was mending a puncture by the side of the road. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and to see if he needed a hand, which he didn’t. Pedro has done a lot of touring and is also on his way to Tarifa. He did some of the Camino de Frances on foot earlier this year, but it hurt his knees and shins, so he’s back on the bike now; a wise decision, much more efficient form of travel. Pedro usually aims to ride 100km a day, but was stopping earlier today due to the heat; it’s entirely possible I’ll bump into him again further down the road to the coast.

I cycled onwards as mountains loomed in the distance, which was slightly worrying. I kept hoping the road would turn slightly West, to take me through a shallower section, but the big climbs grew inexorably closer until I was pedalling upwards for quite some time.

It being Sunday there were a lot of road cyclists out and about, mostly overtaking me or zooming downhill in the opposite direction. They all said hello, wished me ‘Buen Camino’, or said something else in Spanish; the same phrase each time but not sure what it means. There was also quite a lot of ‘allez allez’, sometimes from people just by the side of the road, which spurred me on to the top of the climb. I eventually made it, after a series of switch-backs and with no pushing involved despite the soaring temperatures, passing over the Puerto de Vallejera at 1,202 metres.

After that I got to go downhill for a while, towards the large town of Bejar. The scenery on the other side of the mountains was less arid, with lots more trees providing some shade, and with it more birds singing away, or in the case of the kites and buzzards lazily soaring about using the thermals. There are some different bird species down here which I’m going to have to look up; some of the bird calls sounded pretty unusual, almost something I’d expect to hear in the tropics.

I really enjoyed the descent down to Bejar, and beyond to Banos de Montemayor, however the road started to get busier, which I thought a little odd, until I found the source of the plume of black smoke I’d seen from further up the mountain. There was a lorry fire on the motorway which meant a lot of traffic was being diverted on to the N630. Many people had also stopped to watch the fire, which crammed the road up even more. To be fair I stopped too and watched for a bit, as a fire engine arrived and started to put it out, with clouds of steam rising off the burning wreck; I hope the driver got out alright, and that the lorry wasn’t full of pigs, as I’d seen several that were today, although not on fire when they passed me. I don’t think the lorry was a pig transporter, as I couldn’t smell any bacon, mostly just burning rubber and tarmac, which had no doubt melted due to the heat.

On the way down to Banos de Montemayor, which was a really enjoyable descent, I passed lots of houses with swimming pools, and 3 expensive looking cars, the drivers of which were enjoying the bendy mountain roads; there was a Ferrari and two American muscle cars – Fords but I didn’t catch the make. The all made an impressive noise as they tore up the road, and the drivers waved to me; still prefer my bike though. Maybe this area is where some of the Spanish rich live?

I also passed a few Pilgrims walking the other way, all looking a bit tired and hot. Whilst I was really enjoying the ride I wouldn’t have wanted to cycle up that mountain from the other direction, let alone walk it.

The last 30km to Plasencia were pretty taxing. I stopped at a garage to refuel on a bottle of chocolate milk and some fruit, then pressed on, completing a last climb over a particularly hot pass into the city. When the wind drops, and with the sun beating down, the temperature really rockets and I felt it as I pedalled down to the old Roman viaduct; dunking my head in the fountain really helped though.

After a pause, drenching by buff in the fountain, and downing another litre of water, I pedalled the last 3km to the campsite East of Plasencia; La Chopera, which I’d found using the ACSI app. The campsite is right next to the river which flows through Plasencia, and perhaps explained why La Chopera was much cooler; the receptionist explained it has its own microclimate, at least I think that’s what she said, and not ‘you smell’ or something similar (I probably did smell though).

The campsite was very crowded but I found a shady spot, just, and a nearby family lent me their hammer to aid with tent peg insertion into the rock hard ground. They were really nice, also supplying some ice-cold water, complete with ice cubes. With a mixture of bad Spanish, pantomiming and English I explained what I was doing, at which point they supplied more ice-cold water and I think suggested I see a psychiatrist.

After a bit of a siesta I washed the day’s dust and sweat out of my cycling gear, then visited the campsite bar for a cerveza or two whilst I used their excellent wifi to update my blog, as well as try to work out my route for the next few days; there’s a bit of a long stretch between Merida and Seville without very much, but I can always wild camp for an evening.

Post a walk along the river to stretch my weary legs, I had dinner at the campsite restaurant; a simple affair of pork, egg and chips, which just hit the spot. I hadn’t passed any open supermarkets today anyway, so was a little limited on options, it being Sunday. Whilst eating I got to listen to some classic 80’s and 90’s music, including ‘Don’t worry be happy’ and ‘It’s my Life’ by Dr Alban; awesome stuff that put a smile on my face and brought back some memories from holidays long past.

I retired to my tent relatively early, with the intention of rising early to avoid the heat again; we’ll see how that works out. Tomorrow it’s on to Caceres.

P.S. Ants are amazing creatures, watched some for ages today.

–> 13 July – to Caceres
A moderate 94km covered today, moderate in comparison to yesterday’s 137km anyway. After yesterday’s fun today was a bit on the boring side, and very hot and dry.

It was quite hard getting up for starters, especially after a restless night due to a very noisy campsite; it’s so hot during the day I think people are saving all their energy for the night-time. After a bit of confusion packing up my panniers as the sun rose, I managed to get everything in the right place, and was still on the road by 07.30. I pedalled back past Plasencia on a cycle path next to the river watching as the sun started to bathe buildings in the city in light; was going to be another hot one!

I rejoined the N630 and headed South once again, coming down out of the mountains and into what could instead be described as hilly terrain; lots of ups and downs anyway. The descent was lovely, as was the ride alongside the lakes fed by the Rio Tajo, where I watched a herd of cows walking along the edge of the lake, mooing quite a lot, and spotted several old ruins. The N630 diverted away from the motorway for quite a long stretch, and had a bit more traffic as a result, but was still nice to cycle on despite the hills, heat and dry wind.

The colours on the lake were stunning compared to the arid landscape surrounding it, and I saw several large splashes from fish as a cycled along; or perhaps it was Spain’s own version of Nessy. There were also two large railway bridges under construction, which looked a bit out-of-place in the otherwise remote and fairly inhospitable landscape; I think it’s part of a new high-speed railway link.

After passing more fields full of cows and bulls, but thankfully none on the road, I made it to Caceres by about 13.00, and had to cycle past the campsite to go into the city to get some cash. I successfully accomplished this, and a visit to Lidyl for some supplies, but nearly came flying off my bike a one point due to a hidden curb; luckily no-one saw so dignity intact this time.

I’d have liked a look around Caceres as there are lots interesting parts to it, many Roman, but it was just too hot and I was feeling a little light-headed as a result. Besides, I’ve seen a lot of old Spanish towns and cities recently and there’s only so much you can take in; will instead spend some time in Merida tomorrow. I headed back North a few kilometres to the campsite, and checked-in, happy to be out of the sun for a few hours, and to drink lots of water.

Caceres camping is expensive at €21, very expensive comparatively, but does have nice shaded pitches, and an ensuite bathroom with toilet and shower, and two sinks, one of which I used to keep my Sangria chilled. The campsite wifi is also pretty good, and each camping plot has a plug socket on the outside of the toilet block which was very handy. I had a fairly productive afternoon after a siesta, taking my pedals off and cleaning and greasing them, which seems to have stopped the annoying click on the right hand side; big relief as very irritating; thanks for the tip Phil.

I think I really needed a ‘time-out’ for the afternoon, out of the sun and not pedalling, and felt very relaxed and fully fit by the evening. I’ve also been in touch with a few of my Marseille friends and have plans to meet up with at least some of them in August; very exciting after 20 odd years!

Tomorrow it’s on to Merida, a short leg, then probably a place called Monesteria, before Seville on Thursday; getting close to Tarifa now.

Over and out.

31 May 2015 – to Denmark

It feels really good to be writing this from a new country, having spent about 3 weeks pedalling through Sweden. Whilst I enjoyed Sweden, the weather over the last week has been dubious to say the least, and whilst it may not improve in Denmark it’s like a fresh start, with new adventures ahead.

Here’s a link to today’s ride, 103km in about 6.5 hours, although 4km of that was on the ferry from Helsingborg to Helsingor; got to get over the Oresund somehow!

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/790146713

It was good weather for ducks again when I woke up, quel surprise! Seems to have been a consistent theme over the last few days. At least I was feeling energised after last night’s feast of hot dogs and potato salad, with a side of tomatoes and chocolate milk.

Hearty dinner in Markaryd

Hearty dinner in Markaryd

Nice weather for ducks

Nice weather for ducks

I was up early to try and get to Helsingborg in good time, and then over to Denmark, so I packed up quick after a breakfast of cheese and tomato sandwiches.

Morning on the lake in Markaryd

Morning on the lake in Markaryd

As with yesterday this involved packing stuff into panniers inside my tent, however I had the added bonus of a porch to scurry to, to get out of the wet. Still had to pack my tent up damp though.

Packing up in the porch

Packing up in the porch

I was pedalling out of Markaryd by 08.15, through a very sleepy looking town, with evidence of last night’s festivities strewn along the main street and around the central square; food wrappers and empty cans/bottles in abundance. It must have been a good party! In fact I knew it had been a good party as I could hear it from the campsite last night, although it didn’t stop me falling asleep – noise rarely does when I’ve cycled a long way.

From Markaryd I rode South West, following small roads alongside the E04. Passed a sign warning about moose again, but I still haven’t seen any in Sweden.

Still not seen a moose in Sweden

Still not seen a moose in Sweden

The weather initially improved, with the rain abating, and sun coming out; nice to feel the warmth after being damp and chilly for  while. I got some singing going to keep morale up as the dark clouds gathered on the horizon.

Biscuit break on the road to Helsingborg

Biscuit break on the road to Helsingborg

I liked this bridge, marvellous masonry

I liked this bridge, marvellous masonry

Around Orkelljunga the weather turned again, with a fierce squall coming through, leaving in its wake a blustery headwind. To add a little bit of the exotic to the weather menu it started to hail at one point, a break from the rain at least, but it stung rather; nowhere to hide when your pedalling along an exposed road through fields. I did spot a bear though.

Closest I'm going to get to a bear in Sweden

Closest I’m going to get to a bear in Sweden

On the outskirts of Helsingborg, with only about 15km to go, I retreated to a Max Hamburger restaurant feeling somewhat beaten and bedraggled, but at least the sun had come out.

Feeling a bit bedraggled, burger stop!

Feeling a bit bedraggled, burger stop!

Having frequented Max several times whilst in Sweden, it felt only right that I partake one more time of the bacon cheeseburger meal, a morale booster in itself, and perhaps my last meal in the country; okay so not very flash or healthy, but loads of calories.

Last stop at Max burgers?

Last stop at Max burgers?

Then it was just a case of getting into Helsingborg, how hard could it be? Quite hard as it turned out, due a few confusing road signs and lack of cycle paths taking you into the city. Yesterday I cycled along deserted country roads, that had wide cycle paths running alongside them, through forest. How come when you get to a big city like this there aren’t any? Maybe they were there and I couldn’t find them. At least the drivers were their usual patient and polite selves. After a bit of cursing, partly due to the wind, and partly due to navigational issues, I made it into the centre where a plethora of cycle paths spring up, which was a bit maze like until I found some signs pointing me in the direction of the ferry. It wasn’t really that tricky as I just needed to head SW until I hit the coast, I was just in a bad mood due to battling headwinds and hail.

My sour mood evaporated as I got into Helsingborg and saw the Oresund for the first time; the narrow stretch of sea/strait that separates the Baltic from the Atlantic. It was exciting to see Denmark just 4km away, with pastures new to be pedalled. The strait looks very busy, with lots of ships going back and forth, or through it; apparently the Helsingor-Helsingborg car ferry is the busiest the world. I wondered how submarines make it through without bumping into something, or in the case of the Russians, undetected; maybe they don’t.

I had a look at the old Keep above Helsingborg, the only remaining building from the once mighty Helsingborg Castle. The original castle was built by the Danes, and has origins maybe as far back as the 11th century, however the present form was built in the 13th century. The castle was demolished in the 17th century when the Danes were kicked out by the Swedes, with only the keep remaining; think the keep was meant to be demolished but the Danish king never gave the final order. Here are a few pics from my brief tour of Helsingborg.

After the Keep I rode down the hill to the Skandlines Ferry terminal, taking the lift, with my bike, to the ticket office on the 2nd floor. I purchased a ticket, 35 SEK, a bargain, but as it happened I could have just pedalled around to the car embarking point and bought one there. Still, it was fun taking my bike in the elevator. There were a lot of other road cyclists getting the ferry over, presumably after whizzing about in Sweden for a Sunday afternoon ride.

I got out of the wind for a bit and raided the onboard shop for a few supplies of a confectionary nature; Toblerone and Haribos mostly. I was trying to use up my remaining Swedish Krone, so I bought a celebratory beer too. I must have looked a bit of a sight swigging beer from a bottle, looking rather dishevelled and weather-beaten. I got a few curious looks from other passengers and MAMILS, but just smiled back at them, feeling very satisfied that I’d completed the Swedish leg of my tour.

Arriving in Helsingor I was first off the ferry, along with all the other cyclists who quickly left me in their wake; they weren’t carrying +25kg of gear! Unfortunately I managed to forget about Kronborg castle, which I had intended to have a look at, it being the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet and an impressive edifice. I think I caught a glimpse of it from the ferry, and have just looked at pictures of it on Google anyway; the wonders of the Internet. I could go and take a look tomorrow but hate going backwards, so unlikely.

Arrived in Helsingor

Arrived in Helsingor

Instead I pedalled along cycle paths alongside the coast road towards Copenhagen, noticing immediate changes from Sweden. The road signs are different colours, as are some of the road markings; blue around roundabouts for cycle lanes. Some of the house are very similar, whilst others are covered in carvings and have thatched roofs. It also seemed busier, more built up and more people, but that might just be the proximity to Copenhagen.

I made it to Niva and found a good campsite for the night, after being passed by dozens more road cyclists out for a spin; cycling seems to be as popular if not more-so in Denmark, compared to Sweden.

Double thumbs up for Denmark

Double thumbs up for Denmark

It really was a relief to stop for the day, in a new country and somewhere that felt a lot warmer; which is odd as it’s only a few kilometres from Sweden; might just have been on my head. It was just nice being out if the wind and having some sunshine to relax in, and even nicer to have a hot shower. I was slightly concerned by the campsite goats, which I think are used to keep the grass short; I hoped they didn’t nibble my tent, not sure how I’d fix such colossal varmint damage.

Niva campsite goats - friendly varmints

Niva campsite goats – friendly varmints

Once set up I headed down to the Marina to the restaurant recommended by the campsite owner, for a celebratory meal and a couple of beers. It turned out to be an excellent meal, of lamb, new potatoes, green beans, asparagus, red current sauce and gravy; nicest meal of the tour yet.

Feeling relaxed I rode back to the campsite, to do some planning and write this. I chatted to a fellow cycle tourer for a bit, out on her first 2 week tour and enjoying it despite the weather. As always you learn lots on your first tour, and I think she’s caught the bug!

To finish up here are a few stats from the tour so far.

  • Distance covered: 1,738 miles, that’s about 2,800km
  • Number of days pedalling: 26 since Nordkapp
  • Average distance per day: approx 108km
  • Number of punctures: 0 (touch wood)
  • Number of brake pad changes: 1 – rear set
  • Number of new chains: 0 – but might need to consider new one soon, will check stretch
  • Number of wild/stealth camps: 3
  • Night’s indoors: 5 I think – hostel or cabin
  • Beard growth: significant, but not sure whether to keep it still
  • Chafing: was getting bad (7 out of 10) until I replaced saddle, now fine
  • Cleanliness: not too shabby, been washing things as I go along, although reckon some of my clothes smell a bit from the damp
  • Morale: dipped due to weather but now back on track

If you think of any other interesting stats to share let me know.

P.S. It’s raining again…

29 and 30 May 2015 – the road to Helsingborg, & the gloves are off

–> 29 May

I burnt a lot of calories today; 4796 according to my Garmin device, not that I entirely trust it. It’s hard to eat enough to replace all the calories you burn when cycling every day, but good fun trying. This isn’t normally an issue when not cycling, when it’s usually the other way around.

I wasn’t sure how far I’d get today, and had planned several possible ‘outs’ should the need arise. The uncertainty was down to the weather, with a strong headwind and showers forecast, which isn’t a pleasant combination. At least it was dry and sunny when I packed up.

Packing up at Oninge Camping

Packing up at Oninge Camping

I bid goodbye to the friendly campsite owner, and pedalled my way towards Lake Vattern, back through Odeshog.

Leaving Oninge campaign - windy

Leaving Oninge campaign – windy

As it turned out today was one of my most successful days yet on this tour. I was on the road by 09.30, after a slightly late start due to laziness, but made good time after that. This was despite the weather; the initial sunshine disappeared behind clouds, and then the rain literally rolled in across the lake.

Lake Vattern through the trees

Lake Vattern through the trees

I could see the squalls coming in, as a dark line moving across the surface of the water, with the area behind it very grey and obscured by rain. I took shelter behind the occasional large tree, however in the end there was nothing for it but to keep pedalling and not worry about it. Needless to say I got a bit damp, but my core was dry under by anorak, and my legs are waterproof anyway.

Verdant flora alongside Lake Vattern

Verdant flora alongside Lake Vattern

The sun came out between the showers, helping to dry me off prior the next soaking, and allowing a moment of respite from the elements. During these periods it was a lovely ride, with the birds singing, and the smell of Wild Garlic infusing the air. The sun quickly dried off the roads too, which meant less spray from passing cars and lorries.

Lake Vattern - next squall approaching

Lake Vattern – next squall approaching

Another view of the Lake

Another view of the Lake

I arrived in Granna, one of my possible ‘outs’ should I have needed it. It looked like a nice town, and set up for the tourist trade, however as it was still raining I pressed on heading towards Huskvarna.

Strange building on hill near Granna

Strange building on hill near Granna

As I pedalled along I started to pass a number of teenagers on bikes, replete with rucksacks,  rain coats, and a support van. They must all have been on a charity or challenge bike ride, and appeared to be struggling somewhat with the hills and headwind. I passed more and more of them, strung out as they were over a couple of miles, with some resorting to walking up the hills. It made me realise my legs have got a lot stronger over the past few weeks. I soon left them behind but it was nice pedalling along saying hello to them all for a while.

Road to Huskvarna - sun comes out

Road to Huskvarna – sun comes out

It was a bit of a wriggly route to Huskvarna, including a few biggish hills, and passing lots of apple trees in blossom; must be a few weeks behind the UK.

Apple tree orchard - lots of blossom

Apple tree orchard – lots of blossom

I avoided Jonkopping, and had to deal with a big climb up to over 900 feet as I rode South. My Garmin device thought I was below sea level at one point, but I’m pretty sure it was just having a senile moment.

Heading South from Jonkopping

Heading South from Jonkopping

After the big climb it was a lovely ride down through pine forest, interspersed with the odd lake, and the headwind eased up; a big relief.

I crossed under the E04 and flew the last 40km down to Varnama, pushing hard to get to the campsite.

Biscuit break before the push to Varnama

Biscuit break before the push to Varnama

Varnama was my stretch target for the day, but with little in the way of wind, and the rain holding off, I decided it was worth the effort. It also put me in a good position to get to Helsingborg and over to Denmark on Sunday.

Some great cycle paths alongside deserted roads

Some great cycle paths alongside deserted roads

I cycled 143km in 8hrs 12mins, and felt pretty chuffed by the time I stopped. Here’s a link to my route and stats:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/788333282

In other news I’m very impressed with my new Brooks saddle. I’m still wearing it in, and will be for a while, however there’s no chafing and it’s already more comfy than my old saddle, if a little hard still.

And another major breakthrough; I took off my cycling gloves! This seems to have alleviated the problems I’ve been having with my right hand in a major way. I’m not getting any pain in my hand or elbow anymore, and whilst it’s still a bit wonky it is recovering. I still need to remember to change my grip regularly to avoid numbness but seems like I’ve sorted the biggest issue; either my gloves are too small, or they don’t work with Ergon grips. I read somewhere that sometimes gel padded gloves can be counterproductive with Ergon grips. It does mean I have slightly cold hands, but I’ll change to wearing thin gloves with no padding instead; got some somewhere in my panniers, along with other excess baggage!

Set up at Varnamo camping

Set up at Varnamo camping

Other points of note from today include seeing a Red Squirrel, with very tufty ears, and lots of biker posses out on tour. I could hear the rumbling of motorbikes from a long way away, with the roar increasing as they got closer, sometime numbering 20 to 30 bikes in total. One of the larger groups had Swedish Fire Rider badges on their jackets; I looked this up and it’s a biker association for active or retired Swedish Fire Fighters, pretty cool. I love bicycle touring but reckon a tour by motorbike as part of a large group would also be a lot of fun, and something I’ve thought about doing since I was a kid; maybe something to explore if my legs go on strike.

Oh, and dinner was excellent; I opened the can of baked beans, delicious.

Baked beans and noodles for dinner

Baked beans and noodles for dinner

After a bit of planning I retired to my tent, and wasn’t long before falling asleep, listening to the rain as it renewed its efforts at dampening everyone’s spirits; a few very bedraggled looking hikers had appeared at the campsite after my arrival.

Listening to the trees in Varnamo

Listening to the trees in Varnamo

–> 30 May

Today was tough riding, and in contrast to yesterday not fun at all. It was still satisfying to cover 94km in about five and a half hours, putting me within striking distance of Helsingborg and Denmark, despite the wind and rain; crazy weather today. Here’s a link to my route and stats:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/789136788

Morning in Varnamo - raining outside so slow start

Morning in Varnamo – raining outside so slow start

Whilst I’ve enjoyed Sweden I’m looking forward to pastures new, having been here for a while; it’s a very long country. I’m still not sure if it would have been better to come down through more of Norway, however I think that would have involved a lot more hills, and distance, and is perhaps one to save for a standalone tour in the future.

It was raining hard when I woke up, so I put off getting up for an hour, instead going over my maps with Lobster who was his usual ‘helpful’ self. I eventually emerged after packing up as much as possible inside my tent, and was on the road by 10 o’clock. I had to pack up my tent wet which I hate doing, as it means it’ll be wet when I put it up in the evening.

Leaving Varnamo campsite - brief respite from the rain

Leaving Varnamo campsite – brief respite from the rain

I pedalled out of Varnamo as people were setting up stalls for what looked like some kind of carnival; there was a marching band and baton twirlers getting ready too. It being the last weekend in May there must be similar events going on around Sweden, and probably Europe, as there was a carnival finishing up in Markaryd when I arrived. I say finishing up,  the day time stuff was being packed away, but from the sounds of it the party is still going on as I type this up; there’s a disco playing some classic tunes (including Grease) enthusiastically, and a lot of roaring of motorbikes and classic cars.

Varnamo - setting up for a carnival?

Varnamo – setting up for a carnival?

Varnamo - not sure what these figurines were about; a celebration of farming or animal worshipping cult

Varnamo – not sure what these figurines were about; a celebration of farming or animal worshipping cult

My route South West took me down a road with a lake on one side, and the E04 on the other, accompanied by worsening weather as the showers and wind got more blustery and intense. I followed the Lagan River to Ljungby, feeling a bit damp, then on through several small towns and villages to Markaryd.

Close to Ljungby I passed a lot of rally cars parked up for a break/lunch; they later starting passing me on the road South, before turning off on to tracks through the forest. I’m not sure what rally it was, however there was a mixture of old Volvo estates, Subarus, Vauxhalls, Saabs, all sorts really, and all making growling noises. The unfortunate side effect was me getting covered in a lot of spray, however I was already pretty wet where not under my anorak, so it didn’t really matter and was a welcome distraction.

Not a lot else to report from the ride, which was generally unpleasant, however these cows amused me.

Under scrutiny from a group of cows/bullocks

Under scrutiny from a group of cows/bullocks

Bovines again, because they were amusing

Bovines again, because they were amusing

Break from the wind and rain

Break from the wind and rain

Double thumbs up despite the conditions

Double thumbs up despite the conditions

Markaryd is an average sized town with a good campsite – Sjotorpet. I could have cycled further, but with the weather as it is that was enough for today, and puts me within 80km of Helsingborg. Reception was open, an excellent start, and after pitching my wet tent I went for a hot shower whilst it dried a bit; the damp seeps into the inside when it’s packed up. I went for a wander around town but the food stalls from the daytime session were packing up, perhaps calling it a day due to the foul weather, so I grabbed some food from the Coop and retreated to the campsite kitchen.

I did pass a ‘disco tent’, which had a lot of enthusiastic children jumping up and down to the sound of rap music; bad rap music in this case.

Markaryd's answer to Ant and Dec?

Markaryd’s answer to Ant and Dec?

Disco tent - party is still going on by the sounds of it

Disco tent – party is still going on by the sounds of it

The campsite restaurant was closed due to the festivities in town – which now include fireworks by the sounds of it (or cars backfiring), bit concerning with the wind still blowing quite hard – however I was able to sit in it to plan out my route roughly for the next few weeks. I think it’ll go something like this:

Next few weeks, maybe: Helsingborg to Denmark – Helsinger – Copenhagen – round islands to Sonderborg – Hamburg – Bremen – Amsterdam – Brussels – Mons – Saint Quentin – Compiegne- Paris

I’ll be incorporating parts of Eurovelo routes, and my own navigation to get between them, or to places I’m interested in not on a Eurvelo route. As always my plans remain pretty flexible, other than wanting to get to Tarifa in July. Pretty excited to be getting to some new countries, although the rain has reminded me I must do some washing soon, otherwise they might not let me in.

Finally got a pic of an American classic car; so popular in Sweden

Finally got a pic of an American classic car; so popular in Sweden

I noticed some kids swimming in the lake in the photo below earlier, pretty brave if you ask me, however I’ve heard it’s the norm here in Sweden. The campsite owner says the kids often go swimming as there is little else to do.

Markaryd Lake - still a bit cold for a dip if you ask me

Markaryd Lake – still a bit cold for a dip if you ask me

So tomorrow it’s on to Helsingborg and over to Denmark, and my next blog post will probably be from Copenhagen. I’ll leave it there as the yodelling appears to have started from the direction of the disco/live music tent now. If I wasn’t planning an early start, and if today hadn’t felt like the dampest and coldest of the tour so far, I’d go an investigate; fiestas will have to wait.

Thanks for all the comments and tips on here or on Twitter! Useful advice and morale boosting banter always welcome. Drop me an email or leave a comment if you’ve any questions, and charity donations to the Big C always appreciated.

26 to 28 May 2015 – heading South from Stockholm, and a saddle change

I’m in a place called Odeshog now, close to the shore of Sweden’s second largest lake; Lake Vattern. It’s been a busy few days since leaving Stockholm, mostly involving pedalling, a headwind, getting a new saddle, and today getting a bit damp. All good though and feel like I’m making real progress with over 1,500 miles cycled, and only about 2,200 to go until I reach Tarifa; something like that anyway, I tried to work it out earlier and it really depends on the route I take.

Quick mention of the campsite I’m staying at tonight; Oninge Camping. It’s probably the best campsite I’ve stayed at in Sweden, it being cheap at 70SEK for the night, with excellent facilities, free Wifi, a very reasonable and open restaurant, and someone actually present at reception who’s really friendly and helpful. All in all excellent; plus I was very glad to set up my tent up and get out of the wind and rain.

Here are my routes and stats for the last few days.

26 May: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/786446324

27 May: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/786450488

28 May – finding a new saddle: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/787078306

28 May – actual ride: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/787374076

 

–> 26 May 2015

After a somewhat broken night’s sleep, probably due to it being too hot in the hostel, and noisy in the dorm with people coming and going at all hours, I was keen to get on my way. It had been a good stopover, and excellent to see some of Stockholm; I’d recommend the City Backpackers Hostel.

I had breakfast in the hostel cafe before leaving, which set me up nicely for the day ahead at just 65SEK for a breakfast roll, fruit, orange juice, tea, and yoghurt; pretty healthy too I reckon. I didn’t end up leaving until gone 10.00, and just as it started to rain, but thankfully it didn’t last long.

City Backpackers Hostel, Stockholm

City Backpackers Hostel, Stockholm

I pedalled South through Stockholm, over a few bridges between islands and through the Gamla Stan. It was a bit tricky finding the right route out of the city, maybe because of the beer I’d consumed the evening before, but I eventually made it despite going around in a bit of a circle at one point. Again there were good cycle paths to follow alongside the main roads, so I didn’t have to worry about the traffic, although I did have to divert into a town due to road works at one point.

As I headed South West the sun came out and quiet countryside ensued, which was like a soothing balm after the business of Stockholm.

Heading back into the countryside after Stockholm

Heading back into the countryside after Stockholm

The landscape appeared tamer than North of Stockholm, with more deciduous forest, pastures, and more Oilseed Rape. Everything was just a bit warmer and softer, with the sunshine making everything look vibrant and alive.

Oilseed Rape in abundance

Oilseed Rape in abundance

I saw my first flock of sheep, which those that followed my Bike around Britain tour may realise could cause me some mental trauma; I pedalled past quickly but could feel their beady little eyes tracking me.

After cycling through sunlight and shadows, on a winding road through a wonderful smelling woodland, I descended to my first ferry crossing of the tour. It was only a few hundred metres to cross an open stretch of water near Nasskansen, over to Skansen, but the ferry was the only way to do it and thus avoid the main roads around Sodertalje; don’t want to go anywhere near the E04 again!

The ferry pulled away just as a rode up, so I just missed it, and when it came back the crew went on lunch break for 30 minutes. This really wasn’t an issue, I just sat in the sunshine and had some lunch myself.

After the ferry I encountered a cold headwind on the road to Nykoping. It wasn’t very strong, just annoying, and took all the warmth out of the day. That coupled with a sore bum from my saddle turned the afternoon into a bit of a struggle, however I persevered and was rewarded with a view of some Canada Geese and their goslings, as I crossed another bridge between islands; they must breed up here once they’ve finished their migration.

Onwards into a chill afternoon

Onwards into a chill afternoon

Canada Geese goslings - bit of a tongue twister

Canada Geese goslings – bit of a tongue twister

I spotted a few woodpeckers today (Lesser or Greater Spotted), but they were too quick for the camera; heard the distinctive laughing call of a Green Woodpecker too, and a cuckoo.

A bit later on, near Vagnharad, I met a German couple cycle-touring up to Nordkapp, and stopped to say hello and swap tips on the road ahead; always good to meet fellow tourers and gives you a boost.

German couple of their way to Nordkapp

German couple of their way to Nordkapp

Once they reach Nordkapp they’re going to cycle back to Germany via Norway, which sounds like a very nice route. They cycled to Tarifa last year, and have been all over the place previous to that, so are definitely more accomplished tourers than me!

After 10 minutes chatting we pedalled our separate ways. I reached Nykoping about 18.00, and stopped at a Lidyl to get some supplies; I was glad I did as the camping area at Strandstuviken was deserted when I arrived about 19.00; no-one at reception, this is getting to be a bit of a theme in Sweden.

I pitched up anyway, after trying to phone to check-in – no answer. I wasn’t too bothered as even though I couldn’t get into the shower or kitchen block, as I needed a key card for that, there was a public loo 30 metres away, and I could do without a shower for one night.

This looks to be a popular spot in the summer for people wanting to swim, and camp in a secluded spot. It was certainly peaceful, with only a few other residents from what I could tell. After a dinner of tomatoes, bread and pate, peanuts and fruit, I settled down to chill in my tent for a bit; I fell asleep pretty quickly, listening to owls hoot in the forest.

I’d pedalled 125km today, in about 7 hours 30 minutes. Tomorrow’s intended destination was Linkoping – a lot of ‘kopings’ around here.

–> 27 May 2015

After today’s ride I decided I really had to get my saddle changed. A long ride, into a head wind, with a sore posterior just isn’t much fun, and that’s without including my wonky right hand which is still playing up; bit better now I’ve adjusted my Ergon grips and bars, but still need to remember to alter my hand position more often.

I woke up early in Strandstuviken, and with no-one around to pay packed up and pedalled off pretty swiftly; hurrah for a free night’s stealth camping. I didn’t feel particularly guilty as I hadn’t used anything other than a patch of earth for my tent.

It was a nice sunny day, and warm, and I successfully picked up the right route out if Arno heading West, then turning South West.

The trail leads South West, tarmac disappears

The trail leads South West, tarmac disappears

My first destination of the day was another ferry just West of Kvarsebo, and the ride to get there  was the best part of the day. I followed off-road trails, which made me feel like I was on a proper expedition, and is what this bike is made for really. I was glad of the strong wheels as I bumped along, through pine forest dotted with farmsteads, each with their own patch of land for crops, or a paddock for horses.

Forest trail - good expedition riding

Forest trail – good expedition riding

I saw a lot of horses today, must be a thing round here.

Peaceful in the pines

Peaceful in the pines

It was lovely in the forest, with birds singing and lots of wildlife around to spot; and unfortunately a few sheep regarding me with suspicion, the feeling was entirely mutual.

Me, in the pines

Me, in the pines

Saw a grass snake, which you might be able to make out in the photo below, near the bottom; unfortunately I don’t speak parseltongue so couldn’t ask it to pose for the camera.

Grass snake slithering along in the sunshine

Grass snake slithering along in the sunshine

There were lots of small purple flowers too, but I’m not sure what they’re called; are they violets?

Purple flowers along roadside

Purple flowers along roadside

The route was helpfully, if intermittently, signposted with ‘Cycleparet’ signs, however I tended to rely on my map, Garmin, and sense of direction more than these.

Cycleparet

Cycleparet

I got to the ferry over to Vikholandet, and again and to wait for it, which again wasn’t an issue with the sun shining and calorie replenishment required. There were quite a few touring motorcyclists who turned for the ferry too, so must be a popular route.

After the ferry the day turned into a bit of a slog to get to Linkoping, joining gradually busier roads, and into a moderate Westerly which proved taxing. At least the hills were fairly mild, and despite an aching rear I made good progress; not going to break any records though. I stopped for a break at a church and considered asking for divine intervention on the headwind front; it would be great to have a few days of just no wind!

Church rest stop

Church rest stop

Unfortunately divine intervention was not forthcoming

Unfortunately divine intervention was not forthcoming

After a banana, which wasn’t very ripe but did the job, I rode on to Linkoping, passing a cycle tourer with a trailer going the other way, but it was too busy for either of us to stop; enthusiastic waves were exchanged instead. Upon reaching the outskirts of Linkoping I found a Max hamburger joint, which couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment as I was famished. I pulled in and joined the ranks of police cadets who were also taking a break for some fast food; I hoped I didn’t smell too bad, didn’t want to get deported for vagrancy.

Max hamburger break, this is becoming a habit

Max hamburger break, this is becoming a habit

Feeling energised I got back on my bike, rather tenderly due to the aforementioned reasons, and cycled through Linkoping to find the campsite at Glyttinge. Linkoping looks like a nice city, however I was somewhat distracted by tiredness and soreness, so didn’t really take much in apart from the plethora of cycle paths. I resolved to find a cycle shop as soon as possible to change saddles, as the gel one I have (Bioflex) just isn’t suitable for long distances; rubs in the wrong places after a while.

I reached Glyttinge camping and low and behold there was no-one at reception, who’d have thought it. I wasn’t alone in my disgruntlement; there were 2 or 3 camper vans trying to find somewhere to book in, and a code for the gate. You can call the number to book in, but only if you already have an SVC card, which luckily I do, so wasn’t an issue for me. The camper vanners however didn’t have a card, having just got to Sweden, but eventually managed to corner a caretaker who let them in. I was a bit annoyed at having to call to book in as it meant having to use my phone, again, which cost  me £3, again, but at least then I could use it for the rest of the day and get Internet.

Pitched up in Glyttinge - washing drying

Pitched up in Glyttinge – washing drying

On a positive note I got a tweet from a helpful soul back in the UK (thanks Ed Blackmore), with a link to a few Brooks saddle stockists in Sweden, including one right here in Linkoping. This was a real bonus as it’s the only shop until Copenhagen that sells Brooks saddles, and I didn’t really want to go with anything else. I’d definitely visit Bertil Anderssons tomorrow, and splash out on something that in the long-term will be a lot more comfortable.

Feeling more positive now I had a plan to alleviate pains in the posterior, I settled down for the evening, cooked some noodles, and did some route mapping. With a shopping trip in the morning it would be a shorter ride tomorrow, which was fine considering I was pretty tired and sore.

Today’s ride was 126km, taking 7 hours and 42 minutes of actual pedalling.

–> 28 May 2015

My tent was getting pretty hot when I woke up, which was useful as I realised I’d left the washing out, so hopefully it had dried. Excited about getting a new saddle (touch wood), I left my tent and stuff where it was and rode to the bike shop, Bertil Anderssons, aiming to get there soon after it opened at 09.00. Unfortunately the shop was on the other side of the city, necessitating a 20km round trip, but it’d be worth it. Bertil Anderssons also sell lawnmowers, which seems an odd mix, but isn’t unique for a Swedish bike shop from what I’ve seen.

Sunny morning in Glyttinge, bike shop awaits

Sunny morning in Glyttinge, bike shop awaits

I navigated to the bike shop using the Bike Hub app on my phone for the first time; seemed to work pretty well, but not something I could use on a long day’s ride as a bit too intense, and drains my phone battery quickly.

The shop staff were really helpful, and they did indeed stock Brooks, yippee! I chose a classic Brooks B17 in the end, rather than the Cambium C17. The Cambiums are really nice, partly made of rubber so they don’t need to be worn in, but more expensive and wouldn’t look so good on my bike. The B17 would take a few hundred kilometres to wear in and after that be really comfortable, and besides, it just looks cool.

Goodbye old saddle (bioflex)

Goodbye old saddle (bioflex)

Hello new Brooks B17

Hello new Brooks B17

The staff spoke excellent English and were interested in my tour and bike; they were intrigued with my SP dynamo, which has worked fantastically to date, charging my Garmin and Phone when needed (most days). They were also very efficient and the saddle was fitted, instructions relayed on how to care for it and what to tighten in a few weeks, and I was on the road and cycling back to the campsite by 09.30. The saddle felt a lot more slippery than my old one, but immediately more comfortable, not rubbing in the same places. Needless to say I donated the old one to the shop, someone might find a use for it.

Note to self; need to start thinking about where to get bike serviced soon, as might need a knew chain and rear cassette at some point.

I pedalled back through Linkoping feeling a lot happier about the miles to come. Whilst the Brooks would take a while to wear in, it would pay dividends in the long run, and save my butt, quite literally.

Biking back to campsite, nice boat

Biking back to campsite, nice boat

Another view of new saddle

Another view of new saddle

I got back to the campsite, quickly packed up, and set off for Odeshog, stopping in at reception to buy some chocolate; it was open for a change, but the caretaker was having to stand in as the duty staff member was off sick – he’s a really nice chap and can’t help feeling he was having to make up for other people’s failures, bravo sir.

Big church in Linkoping

Big church in Linkoping

A great cycle path took me West, on roads running roughly parallel to the E04, and through some nice countryside. I passed a lot of people out walking dogs, running, or rollerblading/cross-country skiing on wheels; nods and ‘hej hejs’ were exchanged. Quite a lot of helicopters buzzing abut today too.

Pedalling past fields of Oilseed Rape again

Pedalling past fields of Oilseed Rape again

A lot of the fields had been sown with Oilseed Rape, making everything yellow again. The road seemed quite flat, however it was in fact steadily rising, and before I knew it I was open over 600 feet without really realising; not very high I know, just didn’t notice the ascent.

As the day progressed the weather unfortunately took a turn for the worse, and I was forced to don my waterproof jacket as the rain set in; I don’t bother with waterproof trousers, as they’re another thing and I figure my legs are waterproof.

Bad weather sets in as I cycle through Vaderstad

Bad weather sets in as I cycle through Vaderstad

Cycling through Vaderstad put the Imperial March from Star Wars in my head for the next few kilometres, which I was forced to purge after a while with a bit of Top Gun, and some other classics including the Muppet Show and Fraggle rock; helps the miles fly by.

As the weather was bad and the landscape reminiscent of Lincolnshire there aren’t many photos from today. I arrived in Odeshog and stocked up with a few supplies, before cycling the few kilometres out to the campsite. It was a relief to get there and the tent set up, then out of the rain, which was decidedly chill.

Arrived at Oninge Camping

Arrived at Oninge Camping

Oninge - bit damp and blustery as squalls move through

Oninge – bit damp and blustery as squalls move through

As mentioned at the top of this post Oninge is probably my number 1 campsite in Sweden so far, not because of the scenery, but because it’s staffed, the staff were really friendly, welcoming and helpful, it only cost 70 SEK, the facilities are perfect, there’s free wifi, and there’s a restaurant and shop. All in all pretty splendid. It’ll get really busy here soon, especially as there are a few cycling events coming up near the lake.

I cooked some hot dogs for a late lunch, consuming all 6 of them, and some fruit, and some chocolate, then had a shower and retired to the restaurant after a FaceTime session back to the UK. Still hungry I couldn’t resist the Snitzel, and a beer from the shop – came to about 130SEK in total so very reasonable. Forgot to take a photo of it in my haste to consume.

I did however remember to take a photo of the find below, which I’m particularly excited to discover in the supermarket in Odeshog. I’ll save them for another day, gonna be great.

Particularly excited about baked bean find in supermarket

Particularly excited about baked bean find in supermarket

So despite the weather a really positive day, with the new saddle already feeling more comfortable than the old. I’ll update after tomorrow’s ride on how that’s working out, long may it continue!

Today was a Say Yes More day

Today was a Say Yes More day

I’m heading South West tomorrow, unless the weather is really bad, along the shore of Lake Vattern towards Jonkoping, and then hopefully on a bit however we’ll see how we get on. Lobster wants to be in Denmark by Sunday to sample their pastries, but it might not be until Monday, he’ll just have to wait.

Total distance pedalled today was about 90km, if we include the saddle shopping trip. Now done over 1,500 miles!

25 May 2015 – a day off in Stockholm

A whole day off to do some sightseeing, and generally just be a tourist, what a luxury. It did feel a bit strange waking up in the hostel and not having to pack everything onto my bike for another day’s riding, however I was refreshed after a good night’s sleep, even if I was woken up by drilling from next door at 07.30.

Stockholm is well worth a visit, and no doubt warrants a few days exploration, however I only had one so picked just a few places to go and see. I started with a general wander about, heading vaguely South East towards the Vasa museum on one of the islands.

Kungstrad Garden

Kungstrad Garden

Stockholm is built on lots of different islands, and there are bridges, ferries and canals connecting it all up.

Lots of open water, canals, and ferries

Lots of open water, canals, and ferries

Plenty of cyclists too, and cycle lanes everywhere, all clearly marked so you know where to walk as a pedestrian, and where to cycle, and never the twain shall meet. We should do this more in the UK.

Cyclists abound - parliament building in background

Cyclists abound – parliament building in background

It was quite a long walk to the Vasa museum, so much for a rest day, however it was nice to be using different muscles, and not be in any particular rush. On the bike front Stockholm has its own version of the Boris bike scheme by the looks of it; lots of the same hire bikes whizzing about anyway.

Lots of nice looking older style boats too

Lots of nice looking older style boats too

Monuments indicating water quality and pollution levels; I think, pretty funky

Monuments indicating water quality and pollution levels; I think, pretty funky

I got to the Vasa museum about 10.15, just as loads of coaches were arriving and depositing mostly Chinese tourists in their droves. Luckily they were in a different queue, and mine moved pretty swiftly anyway.

I could go on about the Vasa museum for a while, it was great, but better if you go and visit it yourself should the opportunity arise. The Vasa is a Swedish warship built in 1621, that sank on its maiden voyage, but was raised in the 1960’s and is now housed in a museum. It’s a massively popular tourist attraction and I could see why; my first thought was ‘it’s the Black Pearl’, from Pirates of the Carribean.

First look at the Vasa

First look at the Vasa

I was called upon to take quite a few photos of couples posing in front of the Vasa, but here’s one of me on my day off.

Me at the Vasamuseet

Me at the Vasamuseet

The Vasa was commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, to assist in the war versus Poland-Lithunia which was raging at the time. In fact Sweden seemed to be at war with several of its neighbours; the 17th century was perhaps its period of military might. The ship was finished too quickly, as the King was demanding its presence as flagship of the reserve squadron immediately, lest someone suffer his royal displeasure.

The Vasa - panorama

The Vasa – panorama

From what I learned the Vasa set sail too early, without enough ballast on board meaning it was top heavy. I don’t think they could put more ballast on board otherwise the lower gun ports would be underwater; basically the ship was structurally unsound. The gun ports, all 64 of them, were all opened to fire a salute as it left harbour, which was a bit over the top as usually just one cannon was fired. A squall hit which pushed the ship over to one side, letting water into the lower gun ports, and whilst the ship righted itself it was doomed and sank shortly afterwards with the loss of 30 to 60 hands. It sank after sailing just 1.5km; not really an auspicious moment for a ship bearing the Royal Family’s name – Vasa means sheaf of wheat I believe. I learnt a lot of this by latching on to coach party tours, but there are also free tours in English you can join at set times.

Here are some pictures of the Vasa, in all it’s glory, a truly amazing vessel to have been raised from the seabed and restored. It’s cannons were salvaged in the 17th century, via a primitive diving bell, but it was then largely ‘forgotten’ about (probably due to embarrassment), until it was ‘discovered’ and raised in 1961. Excuse me for not accurately naming bits of the ship; don’t have all that knowledge, or time to look them up.

The pictures probably don’t do it justice, but you get the idea; more impressive than the Mary Rose. There are lots of exhibits on topics such as life on board, the sinking, the raising and archaeology, Sweden at the time; 1 in 10 people were ‘recruited’ into the armed forces apparently. Aside from the Vasa there is a side exhibition which is equally interesting, that goes around the world telling you what was going on in other countries in the 17th century, such as:

  • 30 years war in Europe – big armies with modern weapons, pretty horrific
  • North America trading and colonisation – disease kills lots of Native Americans
  • Gallileo versus the Inqusiiton – the Earth goes around the Sun
  • Trading in new and exotic goods – the world opening up
  • India and the Mughal Empire in ascendance, religious tolerance
  • Ottoman Empire expands, stopped at battle of Vienna – learnt about the fierce Jannisaries
  • End of the Ming dynasty in China – Manchus seixe power, Emperor commits suicide, Qing dynasty starts
  • Japan opening up, then closing up (Edo period)
  • Africa – slavery and exploitation
  • Persia and Baghdad

I think I spent about 2 hours there, but could have stayed longer. Well worth a visit.

After the Vasa I grabbed a hot dog and hot chocolate, and continued my wanderings around Stockholm, heading over to the old town or Gamla Stan, where the Royal Palace is, via the Parliament building.

After having spent nearly 3 weeks in the ‘wilds’ the architecture is pretty impressive, and a nice contrast. I headed on to the Royal Palace, passing some guards marching around its perimeter.

Swedish Guard on the march

Swedish Guard on the march

I’m assuming these guards are professional soldiers and not cadets or actors; they marched well, but weren’t keeping very still at their guard post – not like the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. They had cool helmets though.

Swedish Guard on the march 2

Swedish Guard on the march 2

I went into the free bits of the Royal Palace, which included the Royal Chapel – very ornate – then continued my wanderings, stopping for another hot chocolate to refuel.

By this point I was getting a bit tired, having walked 12km on my rest day, so decided to head back to the hostel for a rest, before heading out to get some food somewhere.

Heading back to hostel - these lions are everywhere, thought they looked like Dougal from Magic Roundabout

Heading back to hostel – these lions are everywhere, thought they looked like Dougal from Magic Roundabout

Whilst sightseeing I also played a bit of Ingress on my phone, Stockholm being full of portals to explore. It’s quite a good way of getting around and seeing bits you might miss, as has a map and portals are usually interesting places. By the end of the day I’d levelled twice due to unique hacks and captures; this won’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t play Ingress, and needless to say I won’t be playing it much on tour!

Ingress level 12 - got to 13 by the end of the day

Ingress level 12 – got to 13 by the end of the day

I forgot about this picture of a map from the Vasa museum, which I liked because I could see how far I’d come.

Map from Vasa museum - I've pedalled a long way

Map from Vasa museum – I’ve pedalled a long way

After chilling out and updating my blog in the hostel, which was a lot busier today, I headed out to find food.

Double thumbs up to Stockholm

Double thumbs up to Stockholm

I initially thought I’d grab some Sushi, however that plan was quickly set to one side when I discovered the Dubliner, an Irish pub in Stockholm, full of ex-pats, or people working here a lot, or people like me who are on holiday and just stumble upon it.

The Dubliner

The Dubliner

It has a friendly atmosphere, good beer and good food. I settled on the Swedish meatballs, figuring I really aught to have some whilst in Sweden.

The Dubliner - Swedish meatballs

The Dubliner – Swedish meatballs

I discovered shortly afterwards that Monday night is pub quiz night! I joined a team consisting of two Aussies, over here for a sports competition, a Brit working here for a week, a Swede who works for Quatar Airlines, and a slightly mad Finnish woman; great company all round. The Brit, who’s name I think is Paul (sorry if my memory is failing), knows Norwich and the Fat Cat pub, as his Dad lives or lived on Nelson Street; small world. All interesting people anyway; chatted to Gordon (Swede – again sorry if name wrong) for a bit, very interesting life living in Quatar, which doesn’t sound very pleasant, and travelling a lot in between work.

New Aussie friends

New Aussie friends

The pub quiz was long, and needless to say quite a lot of beer was consumed. We didn’t win, or even come close, but it was great fun and a great break. Paddy and Alan ran a very witty ‘multi media’ quiz, with lots of banter with the locals; a lot of Irish.

Dubliner pub quiz - run by Paddy and Alan

Dubliner pub quiz – run by Paddy and Alan

Despite an invite to go on to another bar I said my goodbyes post quiz, and wended my way back to the hostel. If I’d stayed out I know it would have just got messy and I’d have felt terrible the next day; not good with lots of kilometres to pedal.

So a great day out in Stockholm; thoroughly recommend the city for a visit. Could see myself happily working there for a while should the need arise.

Also got some planning done; think I know the way to Copenhagen now. I’ve adjusted my handlebar grips a bit too, which will hopefully fix my wonky hand problem, or at least ease it a bit, just need to sort the saddle now.

Apologies for any spelling or grammar errors; Stockholm was two days ago and I’m in Linkoping now, having pedalled 250km since, quite tired, but should be getting a new saddle tomorrow which’ll help.

24 May 2015 – to Stockholm

I woke up at 07.00 excited about getting down to Stockholm, my first major milestone after Nordkapp, and time for a day off, or maybe even two if the mood takes me. I also need some downtime to work out the route post Stockholm, down into Denmark; there are several options and I’m not sure which one to take yet, will probably just head South West and see what happens.

A bird had deposited a gift on my tent overnight, it must be good luck right? I cleaned it up, packed up and got underway after a meagre breakfast; I’d forgotten to buy bread and fruit yesterday, however the cheese and flapjack was more than sufficient for the miles ahead.

Sunny start to the day in Uppsala

Sunny start to the day in Uppsala

I pedalled through Uppsala following the river South in the sunshine along a cycle path. It very much felt like a lazy Sunday morning, with people out for a stroll, chatting idly or lounging in parks.

Riding alongside the river

Riding alongside the river

There were of course the obligatory Swedish fitness fanatics, either out running, rollerblading or cross-country skiing on wheels. As I cycled along I overheard the familiar accents of people from England; obviously someone who lives here showing his folks about, and talking about how high the river gets when it floods; must come up a fair way.

Leaving the river behind I took the 255 South, or the cycle path alongside it, down to Vassunda, then onwards winding through the Swedish countryside to Stockholm.

The road to Stockholm

The road to Stockholm

The traffic got steadily busier as I closed in on the capital, however as always the drivers were considerate to cyclists.

Pedalling through the Swedish countryside on the way to Stockholm

Pedalling through the Swedish countryside on the way to Stockholm

There were loads of cyclists out today, either individuals, small groups, or larger clubs. I passed a few pelotons steaming down the road, heading North, one of which must have had over 30 riders in it; Swedish drivers must be very patient as not easy to get past.

I arrived at the outskirts of Stockholm, after a stop at a Burger King for some lunch, with perhaps 25km to go; then the fun began. Trying to navigate to the city centre and the City Backpackers hostel, my destination for the next couple of nights, was a bit of a challenge. I needed to avoid the busy main roads and motorways, which I couldn’t cycle on, but which criss-crossed my intended route. Luckily I mostly just had to keep heading South, and the cycle path were pretty obliging. I stopped to ask directions from fellow cyclists or walkers a couple of times, and everyone was really helpful. One lady seemed to be in disbelief that I’d cycled from Nordkapp, whilst another gentleman got exited about what I was doing, having bicycle toured a lot in the 80’s. He remembered pedalling for days through Europe, having an adventure, camping down between big camper vans and life on the road, with a wistful look in his eyes. It’s amazing who you randomly bump into, and always gives me a boost.

Part of route into Stockholm alongside a lake

Part of route into Stockholm alongside a lake

Part of the route into Stockholm passed alongside a lake, with some lovely paths through the trees.

Paths through the trees 2

Paths through the trees 2

Then it was back onto tarmac for the remainder. It got a bit confusing when the cycle route signs disappeared, usually around building work, which there was a lot of. I soon picked up the trail again and got to within 500m of the hostel before I had to consult the map in detail; by zooming in on my Garmin, and using the location finder option to pin point the hostel, very handy.

I checked into the hostel and a 6 bed mixed dorm for the duration; could be interesting. It’s comfortable, clean, very convenient for the city centre, and much cheaper than a hotel. The staff are very friendly and helpful, pointing out places of interest to visit, and cheap bars and restaurants to get a beer or eat out. There’s an Aussie working behind reception at the moment, and he gave me a few tips. He’s waiting for his bike to be shipped over before embarking on his own mini-tour of southern Sweden, on a fixie (fixed gear) bike; luckily it’s pretty flat.

After chilling out in the ‘Yard’ common area, I took an initial wander around Stockholm centre, getting my bearings.

I walked through the large shopping district, keeping an eye out for potential places to eat, before getting to the bridge over the river to the Swedish Parliament House, and the Old Town. I stopped there, as I’d have time to explore further tomorrow and was hungry. Walking back I spotted the homeless fox sculpture, or ‘Rag and bone with a blanket’ as I think it’s titled. It represents the fact that there’s still more that can be done to improve the Swedish welfare system; the same could no doubt be said for most countries. As I’ve seen elsewhere in Sweden there are a lot of people begging on the streets in Stockholm, and living rough.

I settled on a restaurant not far from the hostel, at the cheaper end of the shopping area. The all American diner did me proud, with nachos, a huge steak (the Governor), and a couple of pints of Swedish Ale; Sleepy Bulldog, a very pleasant pint, especially after over 2000km on the road.

Eating out; carb loading in Stockholm

Eating out; carb loading in Stockholm

I realised earlier that I’d passed the 2000km mark at some point in the last few days, having cycled a total of 2116km since pedalling away from Nordkapp 19 days ago. That’s an average of 110km a day, which I’m pretty pleased about, and a reason to celebrate with a steak; need the protein for my muscles anyway.

All American Diner; steak providing valuable protein

All American Diner; steak providing valuable protein

I’m not entirely sure how far I have left to go to get to Tarifa, perhaps 3500 to 4000km, depending on the route I take. So another 40 days meaning I could get there by my birthday if I push it, but it’ll more likely be the middle of July as I originally envisaged. I guess it’ll depend on how many rest days I take, or if I get lost or want to divert somewhere interesting, both of which are always possibilities.

After dinner I retired to the hostel and caught up on the last episode of ‘The Island’ with Bear Grylls; if they can survive on an island for 6 weeks I can cycle to Tarifa I reckon, quite motivational. Then of course it’ll be on to Istanbul, but I’m not thinking about that at the moment.

Here’s the link to my route and stats for today’s ride – 82km in about 5 hours:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/783300749

Tomorrow is all about being a tourist in Stockholm. Going to visit the Vasa museum and Old Town, and have a bit of a rest and feed. Need to plan the route to Copenhagen too.

23 May 2015 – to Uppsala

I had a bit of a lie in after yesterday’s epic ride, not getting out of my den until 8 o’clock; what a luxury! I still felt tired however at least my legs didn’t feel stiff, just slightly achy knees, and a wonky hand, and a sore posterior. All in all ready for another day’s ride, and this one would be shorter without a doubt.

Alvkarleby Fiskecamp

Alvkarleby Fiskecamp

Alvkarleby Fiskecamp - nice riverside spot to camp

Alvkarleby Fiskecamp – nice riverside spot to camp

Here’s a link to today’s ride, 86km covered in nearly 5hrs of pedalling:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/782548730

I left Alvkarleby about 10.00, cycling on the 291. I’d be off the E04 all day, and might never have to use it again with any luck, although I’d be running parallel to it as I headed South. I crossed under it at one point, passing a rather incongruous looking building for Sweden, labelled Dragon Gate; it would have suited Japan or China better.

Dragon Gate - not sure what the building is actually used for - sorcery maybe

Dragon Gate – not sure what the building is actually used for – sorcery maybe

The initial headwind turned into a crosswind as I rode through Swedish countryside; more pines, and then some fields.

Road to Uppsala, getting flatter

Road to Uppsala, getting flatter

I passed fields full of yellow; lots of oilseed rape growing, which reminded me of cycling through Lincolnshire a few years ago – same sort of landscape.

Passing fields full of yellow

Passing fields full of yellow

Whilst the sun was out, there was still a chill in  the air due to the wind, and when the clouds obscured the heating. I stopped for a break in a nature reserve, topping up energy reserves with  chocolate.

Break time - Lobster dolls out the chocolate rations

Break time – Lobster dolls out the chocolate rations

Double thumbs up for nearly being in Uppsala

Double thumbs up for nearly being in Uppsala

For the final 20km to Uppsala the crosswind turned into a slight tailwind, a joyful experience, and one that sped me to my camping destination for the night; Fyrishov campsite. As I approached the city I could see the twin spires of its cathedral from miles away; prompting another memory of cycling through the fens in Norfolk and seeing Ely cathedral from a long way away.

I passed quite a few other road cyclists out today, I guess because it was Saturday and people were indulging in some weekend riding; received lots of friendly waves and hellos as a result.

I rolled into the campsite about 15.00, got set up and clean, then headed into the city for a look around. Uppsala is Sweden’s 4th largest city, has been its ecclesiastical centre since 1164, and the university founded in 1477 means it’s the oldest centre of higher education in Scandinavia; thank you Wikipedia. I thought it had a very pleasant atmosphere to it, and the temperature was positively scorching at 15 degrees centigrade, all the way up to half past nine.

I had a ride around taking in the sights, as I looked for options for an evening meal.

As I pedalled about I passed people sitting out having picnics by the river, eating and drinking in outdoor restaurants, listening to live music, and just sightseeing like me. There was almost a Mediterranean feel to the city, and with it being Saturday night, and Eurovision, I guess people were out to have fun; or avoid their television sets and the trial that can be that ‘European’ song contest. Sweden won this year, pretty cool, and the first time I’ve been in the winning country at the time of the contest for a long time; not sure how many points the UK got but hopefully better than ‘nil points’. Did we beat Australia?

I settled on an Italian restaurant in a small square close to the river, and in the old town, and ensconced myself under the canopied area outside where I could keep an eye on my bike; not that I think I really need to in Sweden, just a habit, and not a bad one to maintain. It was a bit of an extravagance eating out, however one can only keep pedalling for so long sustained by noodles, cheese and salami, and I really had a yearning for a salad. Needless to say the meal did not disappoint.

You can see the salad to the right of my pasta main course; just need to prove to those that worry about such things that I’m attempting to eat a healthy diet! I can recommend the Villa Romani if you’re ever in Uppsala, although I’ve no doubt there are loads of good places to eat, such as that Greek restaurant down by the river.

As I sat taking my repast I kept noticing old classic America cars roaming the streets of Uppsala, doing circuits. They seemed to be out in force, maybe because it was Saturday night, and certainly put the cruising that goes on in Great Yarmouth, along the promenade, to shame. I’ve looked this up via t’internet and apparently it’s a big thing in Sweden, with thousands of American 1950’s classic cars imported every year, which explains why I keep seeing them everywhere. I couldn’t tell you all the makes, but they were certainly lovingly restored and looked after, aside from one which was a bit beaten up, but persistently driving around the city blaring out some classic tunes, with a big American flag; some things never change.

Getting to Uppsala after a few week’s hard graft, enjoying a great meal, and just relaxing whilst taking in the sights and sounds, reminded me of why I do this. I think it’s partly about contrasts; you put yourself through the challenge of pedalling miles, in some pretty rough conditions, to really appreciate these sorts of breaks. If I’d just turned up on a plane post my office job, with no real effort put in to the journey, whilst I’d still have enjoyed it I don’t think it would have had the same level of satisfaction.

I recently read a blog post by Dave Cornthwaite on ‘the space between living and dying‘, which he wrote after the sad deaths of two American climbers and extreme sports fanatics whilst wing-suiting. Some people question why individuals put themselves in harms way, but I think I get it. I don’t think I could have sat in the office doing the same job for the next few years without doing something, and whilst not as extreme as those guys this is my way of breaking the mould, and filling the moments I have on this Earth with something, that in my view, is exciting, worthwhile, and will leave me with thousands of great memories. If doing this means I’ll not live to be a hundred, that’s fine, I’d far rather fill my life with fun and satisfaction, rather than end up frustrated and bitter. I know it’s all relative, and one person’s adventure can be another’s day job, or vice-versa, however I intend to keep on pedalling for the time being, and saying yes to any adventures that cross my path.

Anyway, having enjoyed a great meal, and pondered such things, I pedalled back to the campsite and my tent. A large hare bounded past me as I rode into Fyrishov; they really are big out here. I resisted the temptation to follow it, and instead booked a hostel for a couple of nights in Stockholm.

One last thing; want to mention how good the cycle paths and Swedish drivers are. Everything is very ordered and no-one breaks the rules of the road, exhibiting patience, always indicating (as far as I’ve seen), and letting cyclists cross. I’ve not had a bad experience cycling through a Swedish town or city yet, aside from getting slightly lost which is my own fault.

Next stop Stockholm for a couple of days off

21 & 22 May 2015 – Sundsvall to Hudiksvall to Gavle

It’s been a busy few days bicycling, with little in the way of Wifi, so I’m a bit behind on the blog and need to catch up. I’m in Uppsala now, just a stone’s throw from Stockholm, so got a couple of days R&R coming up.

Here’s are links to my ride stats from 21 and 22 May:

21 May: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/780619461

22 May: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/781972493

22 May extra bit: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/781972503

The extra bit will become clear; I discovered I wasn’t quite there yet!

I pedalled 86.6km on 21 May, taking about 5 hours, a shorter ride than I have been doing but I knew I had some bigger days coming up.

It was getting hot when I woke up, a novel sensation on this tour so far. Bright sunshine greeted me as I unzipped the tent door and clambered out.

A new day at Flaisons

A new day at Flaisons

Blue skies and sunshine

Blue skies and sunshine

I was on the road by 09.00, but wasn’t sure exactly how far I was going today; Hudiksvall or Soderhamn, the latter if my legs felt up to it. I set off down smaller roads, enjoying the sunshine and quiet for the first 20km or so.

A ship out of water

A ship out of water

Sunshine and peace

Sunshine and peace

On these smaller side roads I rarely saw another car.

Cake break, quiet roads

Cake break, quiet roads

Roads looking like this are becoming something of a feature of Sweden.

Swedish road through the forest, not uncommon

Swedish road through the forest, not uncommon

Unfortunately I had to rejoin the E04 to avoid going the long way around, however it wasn’t too bad a ride, aside from one section where they were resurfacing. In preparation for this they had removed the top few inches for several kilometres, making the available road even narrower than normal. I endured the usual buffeting from passing lorries, but I’m getting used to it now.

After a long stretch on the E04 I turned off at Hudiksvall, deciding I’d stop there for the night. I needed to buy some food anyway; running low on calories is never a good thing. Just before turning off I passed a sign; only 310km to Stockholm, wahey, looking forward to a break and some sightseeing.

310km to Stockholm

310km to Stockholm

On the way into town I stopped at a MAXI supermarket and bought far too much food relative to pannier space. Thus ensued a feast just outside the supermarket, involving chocolate milk, pastries, fruit, crisps and suchlike; all most welcome. The moral of the story is don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry, and don’t have a car. Not really an issue though, especially as I stopped for a couple of cheeseburgers a few kilometres later, still feeling peckish. It would have been rude not to and 10SEK a cheeseburger! Despite all this eating I think I’ve still lost quite a bit of weight. This isn’t really a problem, as I had weight to lose, but worth keeping an eye on as you burn so many calories each day pedalling; upwards of 3000 on top of normal burn.

I got to the campsite, which cost a very reasonable 120SEK, and lay down in the grass amongst the pine trees for a while, enjoying the sun and warmth, before putting my tent up. I could have quite happily gone to sleep there and then.

Hudiksvall camping - Malnbadens

Hudiksvall camping – Malnbadens

Watching the clouds draft by

Watching the clouds draft by

Malnbadens is another nice campsite, with good facilities, situated amongst pine trees a few kilometres from Hudiksvall; there’s a beach a short walk away too. It was quiet whilst I was there, but apparently gets very busy in the summer.

Sleepy selfie

Sleepy selfie

My slumbering was interrupted by the popping of a cork from the direction of a neighbours camper van, stirring me into action. I needed to change my rear brake pads, a task I completed successfully might I add, with no swearing involved. I also trued my back wheel slightly after hitting a few potholes badly over the last few days. I had lots of practice dealing with buckled wheels on my Bike around Britain tour, and it was good to know I could still do it.

Post bike maintenance I feasted on baguette, cheese (Vache qui Rit), salami, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, banana, haribos, and pastries; I really did buy a lot at the supermarket, but as mentioned really need the calories. I’d definitely need the energy tomorrow if I was going to pedal all the way to Gavle,  distance of about 140km.

I took a walk down to the beach after dinner, just in a t-shirt so it must be getting warmer; I wonder if it was warmer than Norwich or if I’ve just got used to it? Malnbadens would be a good spot for a short break, if you can get here easily from Stockholm. Lots of opportunities for kayaking, swimming and maybe sailing.

I sat outside as the sun went down, contemplating tomorrow. I was hoping for no headwind so I could make good time, and planned an early wake up call to get on the road in good time.

–> 22 May 2015

I managed to get up early, never an easy thing for me! I was awake and up at 06.15 preparing for a big ride down to Gavle. It was a lovely sunny day again, with seemingly little wind; oh how appearances can be deceptive. In a fit of efficiency I was packed up and on the road by 08.00, and looking forward to the day as I’d be able to completely avoid the E04.

Malnbadens - packed pirate ready to pedal

Malnbadens – packed pirate ready to pedal

I rode back through Hudiksvall, pausing at the harbour to look at the sailing boats.

Hudiksvall harbour

Hudiksvall harbour

Pedalling is all well and good, however a nice sailing boat and a Mediterranean cruise wouldn’t go amiss either; I reckon wind power is still self-propelled.

Hudiksvall waterfront

Hudiksvall waterfront

Unfortunately almost immediately the wind, which is good for sailing but bad for bicycling, got up, a South Westerly that more often or not seemed to be in my face; isn’t it always the way. Although the weather was good, all my effort tended to go into pedalling today, so not many photos.

Back roads to Soderhamn

Back roads to Soderhamn

I took the back roads to Soderhamn, which were quiet and picturesque, if a little up and down. It reminded me of the West coast of Scotland, which is similar from the point of view of pines and lots constant up and downs; all good for the legs I’m sure. At least it was more sheltered from the wind in the forest.

Random church near Soderhamn

Random church near Soderhamn

I actually rode around Soderhamn, choosing not to enter the town as it would have been a diversion of several kilometres on an already long day. Instead I crossed under the E04 and got pedalling down to Gavle.

Break on the road to Gavle

Break on the road to Gavle

By this point it was a bitter one-on-one fight versus the headwind, which I wasn’t going to lose. I find getting angry with the wind helps, spurring me onwards over the small hills, with each kilometre done a small victory in the longer war versus the elements. At least it was dry, and the road was quiet; it would have been horrible if it had been raining. The road runs alongside the railway for a bit, and I was passed by the occasional train speeding its way to Stockholm; pah, why take the easy option!

I’ve been passing an abundance of Wood Anenomes for a while now, so here’s a photo of them.

Wood anenomes; loads to be found long the roadsides

Wood anenomes; loads to be found long the roadsides

After several hours I eventually got to Gavle, and found my first option with regards to a campsite wasn’t there. I rode on into the city using very good cycle paths; they seem to use all the roadside pavements as cycle paths in Sweden, splitting them half and half, cyclists versus pedestrians, works well. Swedish drivers are also very good at stopping to let cyclists cross the road at junctions. It just seems automatic, as if we have right of way, however I’m not sure of the exact rules.

Gavle centrum

Gavle centrum

Seeing as I was in the city anyway I stopped for a few of those 10SEK cheeseburgers I’ve previously enjoyed. The establishment purveying these shall remain nameless, but needless to say ‘I’m lovin’ it’, and the free wifi. I experienced a bit of culture in the ‘restaurant’, a gathering place for many of the city’s teens. I was amused and impressed at their use of English; they spoke to each other using a mixture of English and Swedish, with phrases obviously often coined from pop songs and movies. I wonder if it’s seen as a cool thing to be speaking English to each other rather than Swedish?

Gavle centrum 2

Gavle centrum 2

Feeling slightly more energised I rode out of Gavle, all on cycle paths,  to Furuvik, where there’s an amusement park as well as a campsite. Unfortunately the campsite didn’t open until tomorrow, d’oh, Loki must be playing a trick on me. I could only laugh as the staff stocking the camping shop shelves told me this. I’d already pedalled 100 miles, so what would another 15km to the next campsite be?!

Thankfully I’d started early, but it was getting late as I cycled on to Alvkarbey, where there’s a campsite next to the river which was thankfully open. As you’ll see from my route, via the link at the top of this post, I took the road along the wrong side of the river to get to Alvkarbey, so could see the campsite but not get to it. I had to ride past it, then over a bridge, and double back; another trick courtesy of Loki no doubt.

It’s a big fishing spot, and there were quite a lot of camper vans and caravans already enjoying the site. As I arrived late I had to call to check-in (not doing very well at not using my phone), however that done I quickly found a spot down near the riverside, and set up my tent; just in the nick of time as it happened, as the heavens opened and it threw it down.

After emerging from the short but sharp shower I found myself surrounded by a gaggle of kids, all no more than 10 years old, firing questions at me in English and Swedish about what I was doing. It was good fun chatting to them, and learning a bit of Swedish whilst I was at it. They did keep tripping over my guy ropes, but the encounter lifted my spirits after a tough day, especially when they tried to get me to do hand stands; not very successfully I might add.

I was too tired to cook, but retreated to the kitchen for some peace and a cold dinner, whilst trying to get online to plan the next day. I’m getting slightly frustrated with my phone, as it doesn’t seem to want to roam in Sweden. It’ll take me about 20 minutes of manually selecting networks to get online, and then it’ll cut off after another 20 minutes for some reason. Apparently it’s not Vodafone’s fault, but something to do with the Swedish networks; it’s annoying and they need to sort it.

I eventually got online, and tethered my phone to my laptop to look at the next day’s route, and options for Stockholm. I’d pedalled 175km in 10hrs 40 mins today, a new record for this tour, and not one I’m keen to break in the near future. Tomorrow’s ride would be a much shorter 85km to Uppsala, and then similar to Stockholm the day after, where I’m looking to stay at a hostel for a couple of nights.

Feeling tired but accomplished I lay down in my tent, listening to the rain which had returned with a vengeance, and vaguely hoping the river didn’t flood (it didn’t). It’s great being cosy and dry in your tent whilst the elements rage outside, and I quickly nodded off.

Quick physical update; right hand not getting any worse, but need to adjust handlebar grips to see if that helps. I really want to replace my saddle soon, as this one is getting painful, especially after a long ride. I don’t think the Gel Bioflex is good for really long ride, and it might be giving me blisters in bad places! Will see about replacing it with a Brookes soon. Also want to see how much weight I’ve lost, a shirt I’m wearing tonight feels a lot looser than it used to; will have to find some scales somewhere.

Off to find something to eat in Uppsala now – might even do today’s blog later so I’m up-to-date, will wonders never cease!

20 May 2015 – Sundsvall…finally

The title of this post refers to the fact I’ve been seeing Sundsvall on signposts for at least the last 400km, and now I’ve finally made it! It appears it’ll be replaced by Stockholm now; looking forward to being a tourist when I get there. Any recommendations on a cheap place to stay? I think I’ll look up a hostel or backpackers.

Today started off cold, misty and drizzling. I was loathed to emerge from my tent, and still tired from yesterday’s efforts, however I wasn’t going to get very far by just thinking about it, and besides, I needed the loo, so I crawled out of my pit to a new day.

Misty and damp morning at Snibbens campsite

Misty and damp morning at Snibbens campsite

As always it was alright once I was up, however I quickly packed up my sleeping bag to avoid the temptation to get back in it. Taking a quick walk around the campsite, saying good morning to those who were up, I noticed lots of different nationalities represented by the camper vans. There were Swiss, Belgium, German, Dutch, Swedish, Austrian, and Finnish, and no doubt others that I missed; everyone likes a touring holiday it seems. I had a chat with a German couple on their way up to Nordkapp; they were hoping to see some reindeer, I confirmed this wouldn’t be a problem, just try not to run them over.

I packed up my wet tent, which would still be wet tonight unfortunately but needs must, and pedalled off, bidding goodbye to the owner who gave me a few route tips; can’t beat local knowledge.

Seen a lot of churches like this

Seen a lot of churches like this

The first part of the ride was all off the E04, taking the older side roads, some unpaved, down to Harnosand. At one point I passed a convoy going in the other direction transporting a wind turbine blade. It was huge!

Wind turbine blade being transported, it was huge close up

Wind turbine blade being transported, it was huge close up

It was lovely riding through the forest, without any traffic, although I did have to keep an eye out for pot hole ambushes.

Taking the back roads to Harnosand

Taking the back roads to Harnosand

The forest was so quiet, apart from the birdsong, and I stopped for a few minutes just to listen. Any concerns I had about the next few days just drifted away as I listened to the birds singing, and to top it off the sun emerged from behind the clouds.

The quiet road was replaced by slightly busier roads as I approached and then pedalled into Harnosand, passing a few cows on the way in, the first I’ve seen in Scandinavia; Lobster moo’d at them, the rascal.

Harnosand Centre; biscuit break

Harnosand Centre; biscuit break

I didn’t stop for long, just to grab some cash from an ATM, and munch a few biscuits to keep up my energy levels; Oreos are superb touring sustenance.

Guardian of the biscuits, demanded a password

Guardian of the biscuits, demanded a password

To continue my journey to Sundsvall I had to rejoin the E04 down to near Timra, which was mostly alright as there was a wide hard shoulder, and only a bit of buffeting from passing artics. The worst bits were crossing the bridges over the estuaries near the airport, where the hard shoulder runs out, plus it started raining.

Taking a break from the rain, in a lay-by close to Timra

Taking a break from the rain, in a lay-by close to Timra

Then it all got a bit confusing. I wasn’t sure where the E04 turned into motorway, which I’m not allowed to cycle on, and had no desire to anyway. I turned off, crossing the River Indalsalven (again), and heading slightly North, but couldn’t find the right road or cycle path to take me on a direct route to Sundsvall. It got a bit frustrating as I pedalled through suburbia, twisting and turning along various small roads marked as cycle paths, which gradually took me in the wrong direction, and then onto the 331 which goes in completely the wrong direction. Approaching meltdown I stopped and re-evaluated, then backtracked slightly and cut across to the 330.

The 330 headed roughly North West up the valley through which the Indalsalven flows. I really needed to get across it, but had no choice but to continue up towards Karsta and Indal, where there’s a bridge. Despite the rain, and the detour which added at least 25 kilometres on to my ride, it was nice pedalling up the valley, with little or no traffic to speak of, just mountains, pine forest, and bird song.

Pedalling up the 330 in the rain

Pedalling up the 330 in the rain

The smell of pine sap was really strong as I cycled along, probably enhanced by the damp. It was refreshing and invigorating, and I began to enjoy myself again after the earlier frustrations. I did have one strange thought; I hope the pine sap isn’t like the blood of Dryads and Ents slain by the loggers cutting down trees – you do think some weird things when pedalling for hours, or at least I do.

After reaching Karsta I turned left on to the 86 heading South again, crossing the river and immediately having to pedal up a large hill. My Garmin got confused at this point and decided I was going downhill, and I was suddenly below sea level; perhaps the pine sap had gone to its head.

I was rewarded at the top of the climb by the sun coming out, and the rain stopping, revealing a patchwork landscape of fields, forest and small dwellings nestled here and there; I like the word dwelling…dwelling…go on, say it…dwelling…it sounds nice.

Sun comes out on the 86, pedalling to Sundsvall

Sun comes out on the 86, pedalling to Sundsvall

As I pedalled along, passing various farms, I noticed more people out mowing their lawns. This has been a frequently observed activity over the last few days, and is probably the first mow of the season. People seem to mostly have ride on lawnmowers over here; I approve. There’s all sorts of spring cleaning going on, not just mowing; strimming, pressure washing, pruning, digging, it’s all happening now spring has sprung.

Riding through sun, then rain, then sun, and repeat, I eventually reached Sundsvall, and cycled through the town. It’s another big University town, built in the early 17th century. It’s burned down 4 times, which sounds a bit unlucky. The Russians did for it the first time in 1721, in the Great Northern War, and the last time was in 1888, after which they decided stone might be a more durable building material.

Sundsvall, a big town and port on the Gulf of Bothnia

Sundsvall, a big town and port on the Gulf of Bothnia

I noticed far more shops, bars and restaurants here, compared with anywhere else in Sweden I’ve visited so far, and lots more people out and and about, including many of the youth of today lounging about in the central square, complete with various forms of fashion and hairstyle; pretty much like Norwich city centre really.

Made it to Sundsvall, bit damp

Made it to Sundsvall, bit damp

As it was getting late I didn’t dally, especially as it was raining again, and pedalled on to find the campsite near Stockvik. I spotted a Max burger joint on the way out, just off one of the ‘Cycleparets’, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity for some hot and calorie rich food.

Another stop and Max; working my way through the menu

Another stop and Max; working my way through the menu

Their burgers are much nicer than Mcdonalds; they actually taste of beef!

Continuing on through the rain, and passing a pretty impressive bridge complete with rainbow, I reached the Flasians Campsite, whereupon then sun came about again, hurrah. Oh, and I passed a tandem tourer going the other way, giving them a wave; first tandem tourer I’ve seen this tour.

Sundsvall Bridge and rainbow

Sundsvall Bridge and rainbow

Flasians occupies a lovely spot right on the coast, with a small beach and a lovely view. I unpacked and put up my tent, then went for a walk on the beach whilst it dried out in the sunshine.

Arrived in Flasians, tent drying out

Arrived in Flasians, tent drying out

Flasians Beach 3

Flasians Beach 3

As usual there weren’t many other people about, just a few camper vans, and one young Norwegian couple touring by car for a month whilst they rock climb in various places. I chatted with the latter for while, and it got me thinking about doing some climbing when I get down to the Callanques in the South of France (near Marseille), if I can meet up with a few of my old friends from round there.

For the first time I felt slightly nervous about leaving Smaug unattended, having seen a note pinned to one of the campsite doors asking that whomever ‘borrowed’ a tablet return it to reception, so I locked him up before going for a shower and food.

I’ve noticed my right hand is going a bit numb when I’m cycling, and I now have a slight case of Ulnar nerve compression/inflamation. It’s not particularly painful, and is a common cycling complaint if you’re riding for hours, day after day; just means I have a slightly weak grip for some hand motions. I’ll have to adjust my riding and hand position a bit and it should fix itself. A day off in Stockholm will help.

Before bed I went of another walk along the beach, gazing out across the sea to a lighthouse with its slowly spinning light. Again it was very peaceful, serene and beautiful. Even the three factory chimney’s off to one side looked pretty; they’ve put different colours lights around each of the chimneys, giving them a nice glow.

Here’s a link to today’s ride, route and stats:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/780619434

75 miles (121km) covered in about 7.5 hours, so getting the average up, however thinking about a shorter ride tomorrow.

P.S. Blog posts are a day behind, and I’m now in Hudiksvall. Will catch up tomorrow, depending on how the ride goes! Probably going to be a long one to Gavle.

 

19 May 2015 – riding the High Coast of Sweden

I think I’m now roughly on the same line of latitude as the bottom of Iceland, having pedalled nearly 1000 miles from the Northernmost point of Europe in 2 weeks; no wonder my legs are aching tonight. Nordkapp seems like quite a long time ago, and the scenery has certainly changed. The frozen lakes and snow have given way to pine forest, and clear blue water glittering in the sunshine.

Sunshine on the lake at Mosjon Camping

Sunshine on the lake at Mosjon Camping

I was chatting to the campsite owner this evening and he reminded me that I’m still in northern Sweden really, having pedalled to the Snibbens Campsite near Ramvik; Harnosand is the nearest big town. This country really is very long! I think I’m only about 300 miles from Stockholm, depending on to what degree I avoid the E04, so definitely getting there.

Leaving Mosjon, clouds about making it chilly

Leaving Mosjon, clouds about making it chilly

Here’s a link to today’s ride; 120km down the High Coast, which lived up to its name as far as hills go:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/779203970

It took me 7.5hrs of pedalling, with climbs totalling 1,355 metres; this could again be why my legs, and especially my knees for some reason, are aching. And my hands, did I mention my hands? And my arms. In fact most things.

It rained overnight, quite hard. You hear these things in a tent, in fact you can hear anything and everything in the immediate vicinity pretty well. There was one particular bird that didn’t shut up all night, flying around the lake tweeting constantly; not tweeting as in Twitter, but twittering as in squawking, if you see what I mean, or hear what I’m saying, or something. It didn’t keep me awake long but it was definitely a flying varmint! I was consequently a bit slow setting off this morning, not leaving until getting on for 10.00.

I initially joined the E04, having little choice in the matter, and rode to Ornskaldsvic, a medium sized pleasant town.

Ornskaldvic, looking at it from the South

Ornskaldvic, looking at it from the South

On the way in I almost literally bumped into another cycle tourer, Tomak (sp?) from Germany, who has cycled up from near Hamburg, and intends to travel around the whole Baltic coastline before returning home. He mentioned Estonia, somewhere quite a few cycle tourers have spoken about lately; sounds like a place to add to the list to visit. We both took a break to exchange tips on the routes ahead. Tomak told me he’s been following the black cycle route signs, which I’ve only seen a few of so far, but apparently get more frequent. These take you on routes that avoid the busy main roads, like the E04, but add on a lot of kilometres as a consequence; so more pleasant riding but will add on a lot of time. It was good to meet another tourer; we’re a scarce breed up here at this time of year. We wished each other luck before pedalling off in opposite directions.

Blossom out in Orsnkaldsvik

Blossom out in Orsnkaldsvik

Leaving Ornskaldsvik I passed a rather incongruous sight; the Bishops Arms, down by the docks, maybe pubs will be increasing in frequency now. If so beer could be back on the menu; abstinence is over-rated.

The Bishop's Arms, Ornskaldvic

The Bishop’s Arms, Ornskaldvic

Ornskaldsvic docks

Ornskaldsvic docks

I left the E04 after Ornskaldsvik, taking quieter roads for a bit. In fact I reckon I spent at least 50% of today’s ride off E04, which although introduced more hills and distance, was a welcome relief. I saw this sign riding up out of the town; not sure what it was about.

Cycling sign out of Ornskaldsvik

Cycling sign out of Ornskaldsvik

The side roads are so much quieter, and the scenery was lovely to cycle through, if a little taxing on the legs.

Pausing to admire the view near Ornskaldsvik

Pausing to admire the view near Ornskaldsvik

I compensated for tired legs by eating lots of Haribos. These were a staple on my Bike around Britain tour, and I’m pleased to report they sell them in even more varieties in Europe; great for topping up your energy levels.

Ski slope without the snow

Ski slope without the snow

As I cycled along winding roads, up and down hills, passing lakes and glimpses of the Baltic, I saw much wildlife. A fox regarded me suspiciously as I rode past, before dashing into the undergrowth. I can also report Sweden has hedgehogs and badgers, although I only know this because I’ve seen them squashed on the road, sadly.

Some dramatic rock faces - there's a via ferrata at this one

Some dramatic rock faces – there’s a via ferrata at this one

The Hoga Kusten (High Coast) has lots of interesting places that would be good to come back and  visit over a few days. There’s a centre in the park in the above picture, where you can climb a Via Ferrata; I haven’t done one of those in years, and would love to again. I might see if I can do a bit of climbing when I get down to southern France, where I hope to visit a few old friends from when I lived in Marseille.

Blue waters of the Hoga Kusten

Blue waters of the Hoga Kusten

Back on the nature front; I saw some of those Emus again, although I’m not pretty sure they’re not Emus but White Storks. They’re really big, and a couple flew off as I rode by – enormous wingspan. I spotted a Swallow too, or it might have been a House Martin. Now I’m cycling a long way, however these birds can give me a run for my money, migrating over 10,000km from Africa.

Break by a lake, more Haribo power required for hills

Break by a lake, more Haribo power required for hills

Here are a few more photos from my ride along the back roads away from the E04.

Sadly no beavers to report; I kept an eye out for them as they’re supposed to live in these parts, but they must of all been hiding from Lobster.

The alternative route meant I covered more kilometres than I expected to. One advantage of the E04 is it does get you down the coast quickly, relatively speaking, but you can miss a lot if you stay on it all the time. Saying that several of the sections I rode on today were quite nice, with a wide hard shoulder; it’s just the constant lorries which get annoying, and their buffeting.

I passed under the E04 and pedalled up to a town called Klockestrand, then crossed the high bridge over the River Angerman; think that’s what it’s called. It’s a really wide river, and it was a long way down from the bridge.

Crossing the river Angerman

Crossing the river Angerman

There were actually two bridges to get over this river, the second being a bit further on over another section of it, and even higher. The campsite owner later told me this is the old bridge, and there’s a newer one on the E04 you can cycle over, but there’s no cycle path so you take your life into your own hands; glad I went the way I did.

Made it over both bridges, phew, and first day I haven't had to wear a coat!

Made it over both bridges, phew, and first day I haven’t had to wear a coat!

Feeling tired I stopped at a service station for a hot dog, and bought some Pringles for extra calories, before completing the final stretch down to a campsite near Ramvik – Snibbens campsite. The owner was out walking his dog as I pedalled down to reception; the 2 year old labrador greeted me enthusiastically, finally a dog that doesn’t bark at cyclists.

Snibbens campsite - lakeside view

Snibbens campsite – lakeside view

I can recommend Snibbens campsite. It’s a lovely peaceful spot, next to a lake, with friendly owners who live on site. I had a great chat with the owner about my ride, and about northern Sweden. One of the things he mentioned shows how people have the same concerns all across northern Europe; immigration. On my cycle down I’ve been noticing a lot of people begging outside shops, on the street and probably living rough. He said that this is a relatively new thing, only having started in the last few years as more people move to Sweden from eastern Europe and beyond. We both agreed it’s a sad thing to see so many people living rough, probably having come here seeking a better life, or escaping something worse at home. It would be good to do more to help them, but it would be better perhaps if the problem could be fixed at source, so people don’t feel they have no alternative but to move to wealthier countries, and then find themselves homeless and penniless. It will be interesting to see how this varies as I progress through Europe; I know it’s the same in France.

Snibbens panorama

Snibbens panorama

Being the only camper on site I had use of the communal room to myself for the evening – a chance to chill out after a hard day’s ride, and look at my maps. I need to work out where I’m going after Stockholm, and how to get over into Denmark.

Double thumbs up to a hard won day

Double thumbs up to a hard won day

Off to just South of Sundsvall tomorrow, if all goes according to plan. Hopefully I’ll be in Stockholm Sunday or Monday.