Tag Archives: Nordkapp

Cycling Europe – the final scores

That’s it, tour done, a weird feeling after being away for nearly 6 months. It’s still quite hard to take it all in, having pedalled from Nordkapp, Norway, in the Arctic Circle, the Northernmost point of Europe accessible by road, all the way to Tarifa in Spain, the Southernmost point, then across to Istanbul and Eastern Europe before pedalling back to the UK alongside the Danube. Today was my first day back at work, which mentally drove home that this adventure has come to an end, however I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future.

Overall I’m very happy with how it all went, having encountered no insurmountable obstacles, and visited lots of great countries and places. It’s all about adding brilliant memories to the bank, by filling the time I have on this planet with new, exciting and varied experiences whilst I have the chance. To choose but a few; I’ve swum in the sea and rivers, lazed in the sun, climbed mountains, whizzed down valleys and gorges, slept in forests and under the stars, tried lots of new food…and drink, stayed with old friends in France and made lots of new ones across Europe, met my parents in Spain on the Camino de Santiago route for my birthday, and challenged myself to see just how far I can pedal, in all sorts of conditions, and on a variety of road and trail! As with my tour around the UK coastline in 2013 I was reminded of how friendly, generous and welcoming most people are, something the media have an unfortunate tendency of distorting at times. Even the weather was mostly kind to me, although I won’t miss cycling in temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius in Spain, or the headwinds and rain of Denmark.

Here’s my final route map:

Cycling Europe - final route map

Cycling Europe – final route map

And a link to this in Strava, where you can zoom in:

https://www.strava.com/athletes/11810278/heatmaps/7c5e7d05#10/52.63298/1.25881

One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘What was your favourite bit?’. I find this almost impossible to answer as it was a journey of such contrasts; Scandinavia with its wonderful wilderness and nature, snow and ice abounding whilst I was in the Arctic Circle, the Camino de Santiago, the dizzying heat of Spain with its ancient towns and cites, France that I just love anyway, the fantastic Croatian coastline, crazy Istanbul, friendly Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary, and cycling alongside the Danube through picturesque forests and gorges in Germany and Austria – very good food and again friendly people in the latter two too. The more I think about it the more I remember great experiences, with any bad points or anxieties I felt at the time slowly fading into the background. I still think one of the best ‘bits’ is all the people I met along the way, especially those with whom I pedalled for a bit. Finishing the tour with a stop off at the Yestival festival, with more great people, buckets of inspiration and motivation, topped it all off; it also added a certain symmetry to the tour, having started at the Cycle Tour Festival in May, which along with Yestival is going in the calendar for 2016.

Here are some updated tour statistics and facts you might find interesting, or not, depending on how much you like numbers.

  • Start point: Honningsvåg (Norway)
  • End point: Norwich (UK)
  • Number of countries visited: 23
  • Distance pedalled: circa 10,230 miles or 16,460 km
  • Longest day: 120 miles (193km)
  • Number of days on tour: 175
  • Number of rest days: around 31
  • Average distance per day including rest days: approx 58 miles or 94km
  • Average distance per day excluding rest days: approx 71 miles or 114km
  • Number of punctures: 8
  • Number of new tyres: 4 – back on the Schwalbe Marathon Plus now
  • Number of new spokes: 6 (all at once due to chain slippage spoke mangling incident in Sweden)
  • Number of new chains and rear cassettes: 2 of each
  • Number of new chain sets: 1
  • Number of new brake pads: 6
  • Number of new cables: changed them all once
  • Number of new saddles: 1 – the Brooks saddle has been a wonderful replacement
  • Min temperature: -2 degrees Celsius
  • Max temperature: About 42 degrees Celsius in Spain
  • Windiest conditions: Denmark – about 5 hellish days of headwind mixed with rain
  • Favourite stop: With friends in France (Ardeche, Provence, Marseille), followed closely by Tarifa and Istanbul.
  • Most useful gadget: SP Dynamo Hub, for recharging my phone and Garmin
  • Friendliest country: Not had an unfriendly one, however Albania or Serbia probably win – Eastern Europe in general; can’t count France as was with good friends there anyway!
  • Scariest encounter: the dogs in Greece, and specifically when I was surrounded by a feral pack when cycling up the hill out of Thessaloniki
  • Weight lost: about 2 stone (13kg), although I’ve about a half stone on since I’ve been back due to still having a huge appetite but not cycling 100km each day; gonna have to fast soon.

If there are any other stats you’re interested in let me know, and likewise shout if you’ve any questions.

I’m also very happy to have raised £1,600 for charity, which equates to nearly £2,000 with gift aid, which I know the Big C will really appreciate. Thank you all for your sponsorship; definitely helped keep me motivated at times. If you haven’t already and would like to make a donation you can do so via the link below:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=james

Another common question, which people ask me nearly straight away, is what’s next? I’m starting to respond by asking them what adventure they have planned instead! I have lots of ideas, but I doubt they’ll be anything quite as long for a while; need to save up some money if I want to go on a long tour to Canada, South America, Morocco, or South East Asia, which are all on the list.

I’ll be attempting to write a book about this latest tour, mainly to see if I can write a book rather than earning lots of money off it, and I hope to continue filling life with great memories by going away on shorter adventures. Things on the list so far include mountain biking around bothies in Scotland and perhaps Wales, hiking the Coast to Coast route along Hadrian’s Wall, kayaking and camping on the Norfolk Broads, starting to rock climb again and visiting the Peak District, learning how to kite surf, taking my Kendo 1st Dan grading, and lots of local micro adventures in Norfolk; just sleeping out under the stars whenever possible, after cooking over a campfire or stove, and waking up as the sun rises. Always up for company on trips if you fancy getting outside and enjoying life.

I’m going to pick out some of my favourite photos from the tour over the next couple of weeks, to help prepare for book writing, but I’ll also post them here for folks to enjoy, and to hopefully give you ideas for places to visit. To kick things off here’s where it all began, in Nordkapp Norway, after flying out form the Cycle Touring festival in Clitheroe, UK:

Thanks again for reading and support along the way; as with the sponsorship it’s really appreciated and helped keep me going. And Travelling Lobster says hi; he still needs a wash!

18 & 19 July – to Tarifa and end of Stage 1

The last two days of stage 1 of my tour, routes and stats below; I felt very excited to be getting close to Tarifa, after what for me has been an epic pedal across Europe, from its Northernmost to Southernmost points.

–> 18 July – Cadiz and Conil de la Frontera
I travelled 61.65km today, but only pedalled about 51km, as I took the ferry to Cadiz from El Puerto de Santa Maria. Cycling into Cadiz from my overnight stop would have proved a very roundabout route, as cyclists aren’t allowed over the bridges. I decided to split the ride down to Tarifa over two days, to allow time to see a bit of Cadiz, and permit a more leisurely pace.

I thought the Catamaran ferry to Cadiz started running at 09.00, however it turns out it doesn’t start until 10.00 on Saturdays, so I had an hour and a half to burn by the time I arrived at the ferry terminal. El Puerto de Santa Maria was quite busy as I took a quick tour around its streets, with a bustling market, and lots of people eating breakfast in the many street cafes. At the market I saw a couple of stalls selling Prickly Pear fruits, and watched a lady deftly peeling pears one after another, in rapid succession, using a short knife; they look a bit like kiwi fruit when peeled.

After a swift look around and realising I might have been here before, when I visited my brother at flying school in Jerez several years ago, I returned to the ferry terminal and bought a ticket; very reasonable at €2.85. The ‘voyage’ over to Cadiz only took about 20 minutes, but it was lovely to be on the sea, with a cool breeze, and the deck gently rolling in the swell. If I wasn’t cycle touring I’d love to sail around the coast; bit more expensive though. Smaug wasn’t particularly happy about being out on open water, so I left him below decks in a cubby hole for the duration. I was privy to some great views of Cadiz during the crossing, and saw lots of small boats bobbing about, either fishing or sailing.

Once off the boat I visited to the nearby Tourist Information Office to get a map, and also checked with them about cycling East out of the city; yes it was alright to cycle on the Autovia for a bit. The ancient city of Cadiz was originally founded as far back as 1104BC, by the Phoenicians, although some say the city was founded by Hercules after completing his 10th labour. The Phoenicians were a massive trading culture around the Mediterranean, from 1550BC to 300BC, and sound pretty advanced for their time; I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeology that can be attributed to them has been blown ISIS recently, b*st!!ds! Of course the Romans also figure in its history, as do the Carthaginians, so a really interesting place to visit.

I spent a few hours wandering about, taking in the cathedral, the narrow city streets packed with small shops and people, several parks including a lovely botanical garden, and the city’s several beaches as I cycled a circuit around perimeter. The beaches were packed with people basking in the sun; I don’t see the attraction myself, however the beach volleyball was entertaining to watch for a bit. I also passed several stalls selling Churros, and really must try some soon; they’re like doughnuts – fried dough, cooked fresh, and often served with chocolate sauce.

Cadiz is definitely a big tourist trap, and very busy, so it was quite a relief to make my way East and out of the city. I had to join the Autovia for several kilometres, to Chiclana de la Frontera,  as there’s no other road to use on the narrow strip of land that connects Cadiz to San Fernando. Although cyclists are allowed to cycle on the Autovia, it was still very busy. The hard shoulder was nice and wide but I had to be pretty careful but assertive when crossing the slip roads.

I stopped for a cheeky Mcdonalds in Chiclana, but shouldn’t have bothered as it wasn’t very nice, and the Wifi didn’t work which was a first for this particular fast food chain. It was only a short ride down to Conil de la Frontera, which turned out to be bigger than I expected, and a resort in its own right. The town was thronged but pleasant to walk around, and even better once I’d found a cold can of Kas (Fanta equivalent) to drink. There was a 3 piece band busking near the beach as a walked through, with a merry crowd of Spanish holiday makers dancing to the drum, trumpet and saxophone combination; I think the band may have been English, nothing like music to bring people together.

A couple of kilometres riding brought me to a campsite picked at random from the several situated around Conil de la Frontera; Rosaleda Camping. It has a good ACSI review, and to be fair the facilities and pitch were fine, but it turned out to be the most expensive campsite of the tour so far at €24. I couldn’t be bothered to find somewhere else, so settled in for the evening on my own private and well shaded pitch, enjoying a siesta before doing anything else. I hope this isn’t the beginning of expensive campsites as I travel up the South coast of Spain, however it could easily be the case; might have to throw in the odd wild camp to balance the books, however I’m not going to worry too much about it until after Tarifa; one day to go!

The stars were lovely and bright this evening, and I spent a long time lying down gazing up at them, enjoying the darkness and falling temperature. I really must give some thought as to exactly what I’m doing post Tarifa; I know I’m heading to Marseille, to hopefully meet up with old friends, and then on to Istanbul, but need to decide whether to visit Africa or not.

–> 19 July – Tarifa, end of stage 1
The day was finally upon me, the final leg to Tarifa and the end of this stage of my tour; I felt pretty excited when I woke up, but did faff quite a lot packing up, and was consequently a little late leaving. A late departure isn’t such a problem down on the coast, as it’s several degrees cooler than inland thanks to a sea breeze and the odd bit of cloud.

Conil was quiet as I cycled through it, and then on to El Palmar, passing fields full of cows regarding me suspiciously; at least they don’t have a tendency to start following me, or even chasing me on the other side of the fence, like they did when I toured in Scotland, don’t know what all that was about.

After Zahora I hit a steep climb up through a natural park, but in general it was fairly easy riding compared with the rigours of central Spain. I even cycled under cloud cover for a bit, which came as a welcome surprise; lovely cool breeze with moisture in the air. Other features of the today’s ride:

  • Snails on fence posts, thousands of them
  • Wind farms; Spain must produce a lot of its energy from renewable sources, which is great to see, especially after perusing a few recent climate change reports which aren’t happy reading in the slightest. I worry that it’s too late to reverse a lot the changes that are going to happen over the next few hundred years, with sea levels rising; what sort of world are future generations going to be left with?!
  • Fences made out of cactus; these make an excellent barrier to just about anything I imagine, and you get to harvest prickly pear fruit as a secondary benefit. Note: must include equivalent in my parallel novel idea.
  • Cycled past Trafalgar and its lighthouse, no naval battles in evidence today.

I had to head inland at Zahara, as the coast road stopped, taking the main road (N340) the rest of the way to Tarifa. The road was moderately busy, but fine to cycle on, especially with the hard shoulder to use. A French family passed me, slowing down to ask for directions to Tarifa; I pointed down the road and said ‘vingt kilometres’, slightly bemused at how they could be lost when there are lots of road signs, but happy I could help out.

After a final climb I came down out of the hills to a long stretch alongside the beach that runs all the way to Tarifa, which has various sections for windsurfers and kite surfers, but never the twain shall meet. I passed the Rio Jara campsite, where I intended to stay for a few days, before heading into town to complete this stage of my tour; Nordkapp, the northernmost point of Europe accessible by road, to Tarifa, the Southernmost point, awesome.

Here are some stats covering the ride from Nordkapp to Tarifa (haven’t included the few hundred miles I did in the UK):

  • Distance pedalled: 4,452 miles or 7,165km (need to double-check Garmin has counted it right but appears correct)
  • Number of days: 75
  • Average distance per day (including rest days): approx 96km or 60 miles
  • Number of rest days: urrr, maybe 3, need to check, people keep saying I should have more, and I will when I feel like one, but I enjoy the pedalling
  • Number of punctures: 5
  • Number of new spokes: 6 (all at once due to chain slippage spoke mangling incident)
  • Number of new chains and rear cassettes: 1 of each
  • Number of new saddles: 1 – the Brooks saddle has been a wonderful replacement
  • Min temperature: 0 degrees Celsius, although might’ve dipped below that some nights
  • Max temperatures: About 42 degrees Celsius
  • Favourite stop: Got to be Tarifa, however loads of great stops along the way
  • Next target: Probably Marseille area

I felt pretty elated cycling into Tarifa itself, letting out an involuntary whoop as I approached the beach and Isla de Tarifa. The island can be reached by a causeway, but you can’t get onto it without a permit as there’s a Guarda Civil base there, as well as a lighthouse. Crossing the causeway to the gate was enough of me, with the Atlantic on one side, the Mediterranean on the other, and Africa just 12km across the Straits of Gibraltar. I hadn’t quite realised how close Morocco is, it being clearly visible and almost looking within swimming distance; wouldn’t like to try it though, lot of ships and I bet the currents are pretty fierce.

I paused for quite some time at the end of the causeway, reflecting on my journey and the things I’d seen along the way. I’d made it, stage 1 of my tour completed, with a travelling Lobster, Smaug and the road being my constant companions, along with some great people met as I pedalled through 10 countries to get here (including England). It had been a journey of considerable contrasts, from the frozen North, with lakes covered in ice, and snow abounding, to the verdant stretches of forest in Sweden and down into Denmark and central Europe, amazing old cities, points of solitude followed by great companionship on the Camino de Santiago, and then hot arid stretches through Spain to get down to the cooler coast. Wow. One constant thing, as always, is just how friendly and helpful most people are when you’re on the road, often interested in what you’re doing and ready to assist should the need arise. The majority of the human race really are the same, good and hospitable people, often with their own stories to tell.

After a quick phone call to say hello to my parents, I made my way back into Tarifa town itself, watching a traveller lead a laden horse across the causeway; his horse was packed with tent and equipment in the same way Smaug is, I wonder where he’s travelled from. I took a stroll around, mostly taking in the old town which has a lovely atmosphere, with lots of small shops and restaurants, and with a lively atmosphere but in no way trashy like some coastal towns can get. Definitely looking forward to spending a few days here.

Feeling relaxed and happy I pedalled the few kilometres out-of-town to the Rio Jara campsite, my home for the next few days. It’s a great campsite, and not as expensive as I feared at €15  night, with a bar/restaurant, small supermarket, shaded pitches and access straight onto the beach. Once set up I watched the kite-surfers out on beach; lots of kites zooming back and forth. A bit later on several were careering up and down the river next to the campsite, doing some pretty impressive jumps in the process.

As night fell I could see many lights twinkling across the straits in Morocco, which appeared if anything closer in the darkness. I still need to decide what I’m doing next; Morocco is very tempting, despite a few Foreign Office warnings to the contrary, however it might be better to plan a more extensive trip for some point in the future. I’m also keen to start my journey back up to France to meet up with friends I haven’t seen in about 20 years. All stuff to mull over during my stay here.

Thanks for following my  blog thus far, I hope you have found it interesting and enjoyable. As always if you have any spare pennies please consider making a donation to the Big C via my charity page.

17 & 18 June – Paris & Fontainebleau

Scandinavia and Nordkapp seem like quite a long time ago now, but they aren’t really, it just appears that way when you’re filling each day with new sights, sounds and experiences, and lots of pedalling. If I’d been at work for a month and a half instead I’m sure I find it difficult to distinguish one day from the next; on balance this is much better, however one does of course fund the other!

Nordkapp did look and feel a bit different though…

Nordkapp - Smaug made it - that's the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Nordkapp – Smaug made it – that’s the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Here are my routes and stats for the 17 & 18 June, which took me to Paris and then on to a little town and campsite South of Fontainebleau, where I’m having a day off; very pleasant it is too.

17 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/807014462

18 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/808001165  & https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/808001251

–> 17 June
Today was mostly about getting to Paris, where I thought I might spend a couple of days, however I changed my plans once I got there; great place to visit but expensive and noisy. I covered 123km in about 8 hours, so a long day, but worth it.

I left Vic-sur-Aisne pretty early, riding up to Attichy and Berneuit-sur-Aisne thinking about how the area must have looked and felt during both World Wars, when it was on the front line; there are lots of cemeteries and markers that testify to this.

Vic-sur-Aisne

Vic-sur-Aisne

I could have headed up to Compiègne, or to the nearby Armistice site, however I decided to cut through the forest to Pierrefonds instead. The Armistice site has a duplicate of the railway carriage – Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage –  used in World War 1 to sign the agreement bringing an end to hostilities. The same carriage was used in World War 2 when Germany forced France to surrender; Hitler brought the carriage from Paris especially, to humiliate the French, then took it to Berlin to display before it was destroyed by the SS in 1945.

But I skipped all that, as thoughts of the War were leaving me feeling a bit chilly. Riding through the Compiègne Forest was much more pleasant, and then I turned a corner and saw the Chateau in Pierrefonds, which is just like something out of a Disney movie; I think it might have inspired the Disney Castles you see.

Pierrefonds Chateau is truly magnificent, and the surrounding town very picturesque. It was however quite tricky getting a good photo of it due to the sun being in the wrong place. Leaving the town involved a steep climb, followed by more ups and downs as a made my way through the forest and out into open farmland. It was very pleasant riding even if I was burning a lot of calories in getting anywhere; I passed several other cyclists out enjoying the shaded lanes and lovely scenery.

As I cycled slowly over the bumpy cobbles in Orrouy a Belgium tourer with fat tyres caught me up; he was having an easier time with the terrain. We had a quick chat and cycled together for a short while, before he turned off towards a campsite on the outskirts of Paris – probably better move than one in the middle of Paris but we live and learn.

My map ran out on the outskirts of Paris, before getting to the suburbs, so I was reliant on my Garmin to successfully penetrate the city’s outer arrondissements, and get to the centre. It was no easy task, with a lot of twists and turns, and pretty slow due to all the traffic and traffic lights. I was also feeling pretty tired, both physically and mentally, after a few days hard riding and the hot weather, and had to step up my alertness a few levels due to the crazy Parisian driving tactics; they don’t give you much space, are fast and pretty aggressive. I managed to get on cycle paths for some of it, Greenways I think, but not sure if any of it was the actual Avenue Verte; London to Paris route. I shared one section with a few rats out routling about for food; good to see them cleaning up after us humans.

I made it to the centre and slowly walked/cycled through to my campsite in the Bois du Boulogne, a story best told through pictures. Needless to say Paris was as impressive as ever, with stunning architecture, wide boulevards, and a great atmosphere. It is strange to think the last time I was here was with Lucy several years ago.

Riding up Les Champs-Élysées dodging buses, taxis and cycle taxis, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, is an experience I’ll never forget; it was great to reach this iconic landmark in the centre of Paris. I spent quite a lot of time dodging people taking photos and selfies too – I wonder if they actually take the time to take in what they’re seeing; the street traders selling selfie sticks were doing well in any case.

After a long, hot, and dusty day I finally made it to my campsite in le Bois du Boulogne, the latter being slightly tricky to navigate through, and I did nearly go the wrong way down a one-way cycle path with pelotons coming the other way, which could have proved disastrous!

Camping Bois du Bologne

Camping Bois du Bologne

The campsite was expensive at €17, very noisy being next to main roads, and getting tent pegs in proved challenging to say the least, but I’d not expected anything less of somewhere in the middle off Paris. It has good facilities, as well as a restaurant, bar and snack van, although I couldn’t get the wifi to work. I enjoyed a ‘Rosbif’ dinner from the snack van, as well as a cold beer, and slept well despite the rock hard ground and noise from traffic.

'Rosbif' dinner - Camping Bois du Bologne

‘Rosbif’ dinner – Camping Bois du Bologne

I decided to head straight for Fontainebleau the next day; Paris was just too busy and expensive, although I want to come back without my bike for visit, to go round the catacombs and a few other bits I haven’t seen before; perhaps a visit to La Moulin Rouge!

–> 18 June

I was up early and on the road by 8 o’clock, keen to get down to South of Fontainebleau for a rest. I realised I was pretty tired as was finding it harder to speak French than a couple of days ago, so definitely time for a pause. Still covered about 100km, but it was slow going, especially getting out of Paris.

Leaving Paris - top of the Eiffel Tower in the clouds

Leaving Paris – top of the Eiffel Tower in the clouds

If Charleroi had been a akin to Mordor, then Paris is more like Minas Tirith, however I can’t help feeling it’s a bit under siege from the surrounding arrondissements, not all of which feel that friendly. It was a struggle to reach the outer limits, and took ages to finally reach countryside again. It didn’t help that it was a grey and drizzly day, however it was quite nice to be out of the sun for a bit.

I pedalled alongside the Seine for a bit, and generally followed it South to Fontainebleau, through lots of towns and villages, including Melun, where I think there must be a prison on an island in the middle of the town.

Fontainebleau proved to be a useful town; I reached it in good time, having started early, and checked Smaug into ‘A La Petite Reine’ for a service, as well as a replacement chain and rear cassette. I’d emailed the shop from Paris and they proved helpful, good value, and efficient; cost me about €75 for a new chain and cassette, as well as new rear brake pads, and the mechanic threw in a replacement part that I can fit to probably mend by bike stand. I just need a Allen key I don’t have with me to do so, however my parents are visiting in a couple of weeks so – Dad, will be in touch ref what tools to bring!

Whilst my bike was being serviced I had a wander around Fontainebleau, had a 12 inch Subway sandwich, followed by a Tuna baguette from a boulangerie, and a pain-au-chocolat for good measure. I also picked up a Michelin map for central France so don’t have to completely rely on my Garmin, which is a relief; I prefer paper maps, far more interesting.

It’s a relief to have a new chain and rear cassette fitted, as the old chain was starting to slip, and whilst I could fix a broken link it’s a messy job. I don’t think I’ll need to get them replaced again until I’m on my way back from Istanbul, and perhaps not until the UK, however I’ll need new tyres before then so might get everything done at once. The chain and cassette did over 3,000 miles which I don’t think is bad, however I’d be interested to hear opinions on how often you should change chains, cassettes, and the front chain ring for that matter, and also on how often people clean their chain, and how they do it, whilst on tour? I’m pretty amateurish when it comes to bike mechanics so advice is always appreciated.

It was only a short ride down from Fontainebleau to Grez-sur-Loing, and my campsite for a couple of nights; Camping Les Pres. It did however start rain quite hard, and that coupled with the spray from passing traffic left me quite damp.

By the time I reached Grez the sun had come out again, and I dried off quickly. The small town proved lovely, and has in the past been a place frequented by many artists. It has narrow streets, some cobbled, pretty architecture, a great small shop and boulangerie. In short I could probably spend at least a week here exploring, and doing some climbing in the surrounding area; loads of people come here for the outdoor activity, especially climbing. Les Pres camping is also a brilliant place to stay; fairly basic, but that’s fine, and only cost me €12 for two nights, which makes up for the wifi being expensive.

I’ll write about my day off in Grez-sur-Loing, and doing a bit of bouldering on an elephant tomorrow, however for now I’d better figure out where I’m going next; towards Orleans I think. I’ve also downloaded eBooks reader on my phone, as I’ve been missing a good book; been working my way through Alice in Wonderland as it was on 50p, and been ages since I read it. Might revisit LOTR next, so be warned; they’ll be more analogies with the landscape of Middle Earth. Thinking about it the area surrounding Fontainebleau is a bit like the Shire, without those pesky hobbits. A demain tout-le-monde.

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…

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.

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.

06 and 07 May 2015 – Nordkapp and heading South

Right, where to begin? It’s been an exciting few days and I’ve covered quite a few kilometres; I’ve decided to work in kilometres now, seeing as I’m in Europe and all that. I hear there’s also been an election in the UK, jolly good, carry on, I think I’ll stay in mainland Europe for a few more months until things calm down.

I’d turned up the previous night in the wind and rain somewhat nervous about the conditions for the ride ahead, however I awoke in the Hostel Vandrerhjem with sunshine pouring through the curtains; this was about 3am, it doesn’t stay dark for very long at this time of year.

Vandrerhjem Hostel

Vandrerhjem Hostel

The friendly landlady gave me a dorm room to myself, and a buffet breakfast was supplied each morning, setting me up for a good days cycling. You have use of a communal kitchen, as well as showers, and a washing machine. It costs 350 NOK (Norwegian Krone) a night, which bearing in mind Scandinavia is expensive is good value for money. I’m using a prepaid Travel Card on this tour (Caxton FX), which I load up with the currency I want from my current account, then use abroad as required; no charge for withdrawing from ATMs and much better than using my debit or credit cards from an exchange rate and fees point of view. Check out the Caxton FX Global Traveller card if you’re thinking about using a prepaid card abroad, I reckon it’s one of the better ones, Caxton being its own foreign exchange house.

I’m going to try a new approach to this post, using mainly pictures with minimal words, for two reasons really; 1 because I don’t think most people want to read a version of war and peace each time I post something, and 2 it’ll also be a lot quicker for me, touch wood. I haven’t edited any of these photos yet, again to save time which I need to spend on planning. This may or may not work, but we’ll see how it goes. See it already isn’t working because I’m typing drivel.

I set off about 09.00 and headed down to the tourist information, about 2km south from the hostel.

Honningsvag Harbour

Honningsvag Harbour

There was a troll, or maybe it’s a gnome, they seem interchangeable in some places. It was also pretty cloudy and ominous looking; the sky, not the troll/gnome.

Troll, or maybe a Gnome

Troll, or maybe a Gnome

Troll and me - he seemed like a friendly chap

Troll and me – he seemed like a friendly chap

Can’t remember what the St. Bernard was about. Probably a harbour master’s dog from an earlier epoch.

St. Bernard statue

St. Bernard statue

Having checked at the tourist information that the road was indeed open, and having a conversation about wild flowers, I started pedalling North towards Nordkapp. It’s about 41 miles there and back, going up a total of 1,548m, quite slowly at many points. Here’s a link to my ride: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/766943093

Almost immediately it started get hilly, or rather, mountainous.

Refuge hut, halfway up first mountain

Refuge hut, halfway up first mountain

A strong cross wind attempted to blow me off course several times, mostly into the snow, as the road wound up the mountain.

Road stretching up mountain

Road stretching up mountain

There were lots of scenes like his.

Road to Nordkapp, pretty snowy

Road to Nordkapp, pretty snowy

And this.

Frozen lake on way to Nordkapp

Frozen lake on way to Nordkapp

The strong wind made it chilly, but at least it was mostly behind me on the way there, mostly, the road does twist around a fair bit. At one point I heard hooves crunching in the snow off to my right and saw a herd of reindeer making their way through the rocky scree parallel to me. I hadn’t expected to see them, very exciting.

Reindeer herd

Reindeer herd

I did make take a video of them, but haven’t worked out how to deal with that yet, a task for another day, so here’s another pic to compensate. Cycling here at this time of year is obviously just a silly idea, a jolly coach driver affirmed as much a little later the same day.

Reindeer herd 2

Reindeer herd 2

After a couple of hours I made it to Nordkapp, through some pretty awesome but bleak scenery, meeting hardly anyone else on the road, and certainly no other cyclists.

Nordkapp monument 1

Nordkapp monument 1

Nordkapp is the northernmost point of Europe accessible by road, and not actually the northernmost point, which causes some arguments apparently. It’s a fitting place to start or end a tour, and is the starting point to Eurvelo 1, the cycle route that runs all the way to to Italy.

Eurovelo 1 marker stone

Eurovelo 1 marker stone

I spent a couple of hours at the visitor centre, entry for which I got at student rates because I was on a bike; should be free after pedalling over those mountains!

Nordkapp visitor centre, or Bond evil villain secret base?

Nordkapp visitor centre, or Bond evil villain secret base?

There’s a monument erected in the 19th century by King Oscar II marking Nordkapp as very much part of Norway. It’s very monumenty.

Monument erected by King Oscar II

Monument erected by King Oscar II

I paused for several minutes near the Nordkapp globe like monument, for a few selfies and pictures of my bike, just to prove I made it, and because I wanted to get a picture of the Cycle Tour Festival bottle in this far flung location.

Nordkapp - Smaug made it - that's the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Nordkapp – Smaug made it – that’s the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Nordkapp - Cycle Tour Fest bottle, and a travelling lobster

Nordkapp – Cycle Tour Fest bottle, and a travelling lobster

Nordkapp - view West

Nordkapp – view West

Nordkapp - view East

Nordkapp – view East

Nordkapp monument again - are you bored yet?

Nordkapp monument again – are you bored yet?

It was pretty blustery outside, so I was glad of my polartec Buff; did an admiral job keeping my head warm over the last few days and fits under my cycle helmet snugly.

Me at Nordkapp

Me at Nordkapp

During my tromping about outside I was spotted on the webcam by folks at home, who now appear to be successfully stalking me by various Norwegian webcams; I think there might be a job in MI6 for one or two of them.

I retreated inside in need of a warming brew, lobster helped.

Hot chocolate required

Hot chocolate required

There were a lot of trolls knocking about the visitor centre, here are a selection, all seem pretty friendly but maybe that’s just their tourist face.

There were several layers to the visitor centre, making it an ideal Bond villain base. Features included a cave of lights, which wasn’t overly impressive, a peaceful chapel, and rather bizarrely a Thai museum.

Chapel - peaceful spot

Chapel – peaceful spot

Apparently King Chualalonkorn of Thailand visited and has his name carved in the rock at the Cape.

Thai museum

Thai museum

There was also a stuffed sea bird exhibit, a cinema where I didn’t stop to watch the film because several coach loads of tourists turned up, and a museum detailing the sea battle off the cape in the second world war. The latter sounded pretty dramatic with the sinking of a German battleship with nearly all hands.

Having done Nordkapp, I was pretty excited to be starting my tour in the Arctic Circle, and got back on my bike to pedal to Honningsvag and the hostel. It was amazing to think about all the countries, places and faces that await me on this tour; inspirational place.

Excited to start tour

Excited to start tour

This was easier said than done, as the wind had got a lot stronger and was now in my face (about 25mph reducing speed to 3mph at times). It was really hard work, aside from a few downhill stretches where I just had to be careful not to get blown of course. Needless to say the air turned blue a few times; many cyclists will empathise with this, it becomes personal versus the wind.

Nice downhill stretch

Nice downhill stretch

It took about 3.5 hours to get back, as opposed to the two to get there over the same hills and distance. I was somewhat relieved to make it back to the hostel, after picking up some supplies at the local supermarket – Remo.

After a warming shower and a lot of pasta I settled into an evening of route planning, ably assisted by a travelling lobster and chocolate milk; very happy they have chocolate milk in Norway. I’m also using the ACSI app to find campsites, which is proving quite handy so far.

Lobster helping with route planning

Lobster helping with route planning

I awoke the next day surprisingly non achy, and after a large breakfast courtesy of the hostel packed up and pedalled off to Olderfjord. This was a 97km ride through several tunnels and into a strong headwind again, for most of the day. Not a lot to report other than hard cycling, through arctic tundra, however the tunnels made things novel.

Packed and ready to pedal

Packed and ready to pedal

The first tunnel was from Honningsvag through the mountain, it felt like entering the mines of Moria.

Honningsvag tunnel entrance

Honningsvag tunnel entrance

The tunnel was fairly flat, and went on for about 5km.

Honningsvag tunnel 2

Honningsvag tunnel 2

The echoes were fairly dramatic, and I enjoyed making Orc noises, as well as singing a few songs to speed me along.

Honningsvag tunnel 3

Honningsvag tunnel 3

A few cars passed me, and one lorry, they all sounded very loud. I made it to the other end, where the road continues to follow the coast past the occasional fishing village, and not much else.

Road follows the coast south

Road follows the coast south

I soon got to the next tunnel, under the sea to the mainland. This was a more challenging affair descending for 3.5km before ascending 3.5km to the other side.

Nordkapp tunnel entrance

Nordkapp tunnel entrance

Nordkapp tunnel - down into the depths

Nordkapp tunnel – down into the depths

It was very hard work pedalling up to the surface, however thankfully I wasn’t chased by any Balrogs, Trolls, Orc or Goblins, just the occasional car.

Nordkapp tunnel - phew made it out

Nordkapp tunnel – phew made it out

On I pedalled, into the headwind.

Handlebar view

Handlebar view

Stark scenery in places

Stark scenery in places, but dramatic

I passed lots of interesting rock, which is probably fascinating if you’re into geology.

Rock strata - is this metamorphic rock?

Rock strata – is this metamorphic rock?

The road continues to undulate around the coast, and I continued to shout at the wind, to little avail, passing the occasional herd of reindeer,  a few startled crows, and finally the first trees of my trip, a veritable mini Lothlorien.

Road following the cliffs

Road following the cliffs

Mini Lothlorien

Mini Lothlorien

I made to Olderfjord after a 7 hour cycle, at about 17.30, to be greeted at the campsite by more trolls.

Olderfjord campsite troll guards

Olderfjord campsite troll guards

I had to call the campsite to book in, which was a bit annoying as I’m trying not to use my phone to save on money; costs me £3.00 a day to use my phone abroad, chargeable only when I use it during a given day, but will get expensive if I persist.

Satisfied I’d found a sheltered spot mostly out of the wind I pitched my tent, cooked up a vast amount of noodles, then promptly feel asleep for a solid 10 hours. I’m happy to report I was plenty warm enough in my sleeping bag and down jacket.

Unpacked and tent set up, a room with a view

Unpacked and tent set up, a room with a view

Wonderful view of the Norwegian 'Ocean'

Wonderful view of the Norwegian ‘Ocean’

One other thing to report; my SP Dynamo is working brilliantly for charging my GPS and phone. Much easier than the PowerMonkey solar charger which I have as a back-up. Actually the solar charger would no doubt work well here given it’s not dark very much.

I was going to try and type up today’s ride too, however it’s late and I ought to get a good night’s kip before tomorrow’s ride; a short one of about 50km got Karasjok. I’ll blog again from there hopefully, if I make it up the big hill.

If you’re enjoying my blog please consider donating to the Big C, a Norfolk based cancer charity very close to my heart. Every little helps and keeps me motivated in those headwinds and over those hills. You can donate here via my Virgin Money Giving page here: www.virginmoneygiving.com/james