Most of the time we set up our tent in camping sites, sometimes just anywhere in the countryside. Hotels are exceedingly expensive in Scandinavia and anyway, very scarce in remote areas.
In July 1987, my wife Danielle, my son Yannick and I drove 9872 km to the North Cape in a small Mazda 323 packed to the top with food and camping equipment. Going there was just like driving as far as Turkey!
You get all sorts of roads there and you can't trust the maps. Some roads which were described as very bad had just been repaired and others, which were supposed to be very good, were undergoing heavy works for stretches over 20 km long. No hoardings spoil the scenery. There were very few trailers then but many RVs and lorries high-tailing on the bumpy roads. One of them smashed my windscreen when it pelted me with gravel. There were almost no motorways then except the ones I used when driving across Germany and Denmark. Nobody ever checked either my identity or my speed during the whole journey.
You drive with your lights on in the daytime, even when the sun shines and it makes driving much safer. On the four-lane roads, you drive near the white line and move to your right when someone wants to overtake you. Of course, just like everywhere, some people don't like being overtaken and they refuse to budge.
You've got to be extra careful because, besides the deep potholes which you may find in the middle of an otherwise beautiful road, goats, horses, reindeer or Moose roam on the roads just like in a meadow. Hundreds of km of wire netting have been set up along the roads but this was not enough to protect the two reindeer which were run over by a hurried motorist right in front of me.
1 July 1987. We left Forbach (East of France), drove across Germany and arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark where we spent our first night.
3 July 1987. We reached Linköping and went further to Stockholm, the Venice of the North.
4 July 1987. Visit of the very pleasant Swedish capital where the Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisea) are very friendly. The view from the tower of the Town Hall is beautiful and we made a very democratic visit of the Royal Palace and took a stroll in Gamlan Stan, the historic part of the city. After that, we drove through the Gävle area, the part of Sweden most affected by the Chernobyl fallout and camped in Sundvall.
A few cheeky Black-headed Gulls
5 July 1987. We drove through Harnösand and looked at the scenery which made me think of the mountains of the Vosges where I was born and passed through the Skuleskogen National Park In the middle of a path in the taïga, near Umeå, I found an Adder (Vipera berus), black all over, probably killed by a local inhabitant. Nobody seems to like snakes anywhere. Near Skelleftea, while taking a stroll in the tundra, I almost stepped on another Adder, just as black, coiled up on the lichen. I suppose snakes are black in these areas in order to absorb more solar heat. We met our first Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) and our first mosquitoes at the Töre Lake. The mosquitoes and midges didn't land on our skin which we had soaked in insect repellent but we had forgotten to put some on our jeans and we soon lived to regret this gross mistake. Huge blisters soon covered our legs or any square inch which was not protected and we scratched our bodies raw for several days. However, there were more and more birds from then on : Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos), Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata), Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Little Gull (Larus minutus) and Common Raven (Corvus corax).
The Adder I almost tripped on!
Our first Reindeer
6 July 1987. We reached the border with Finland at Turmio, in the middle of large forests which leave very little place for ever smaller birch-trees. Soon, we would only see crawling dwarf birches because the wind is usually so strong in the tundra that they can't grow as they do elsewhere. We also saw that wood is being floated on rivers, as in Canada. We drove through Rovaniemi, Father Christmas's town, where the sun was shining. Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) were uttering calls like those of our European Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris), some Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava thunbergi), could be seen, as well as Common Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) but the Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) was undoubtedly the commonest bird. We had to drive very slowly to Vuotso for 19 km because a road was under repair. This is where we decided to camp for the night and enjoyed the sauna. It was full day light till 11.30 p.m. .
The taïga in the Ivalo region
7 July 1987. We went on driving towards the border of what was yet called the Soviet Union. I took a stroll in the taiga and soon became aware that you can get lost very easily by constantly having to walk round peat bogs. The ground was wobbling under my feet and it was like walking on an air mattress. Still, I saw very interesting birds: a Rustic Bunting (Emberiza rustica) a Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator), a European Pied Flycatcher (Fidedula hypoleuca), a Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) and the footprints of a Brown Bear (Ursus arctos). We made a break in Ivalo where we found a supermarket equipped with ideogram scales, something I had not seen in France at the time. I found this very useful for people who don't understand the Finnish language. We had a beautiful view from a road overlooking Lake Inari even though no birds were visible, which made it look even more isolated. We visited a Lapp outdoor museum presenting a series of wooden houses and we thus learnt that not all Lapps live in huts the shape of Indian teepees. Before reaching the Norwegian border again Neiden, we saw a Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) on a pine tree, which is rather surprising at first, a Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) and our first Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudus). We went through Kirkenes where the distances indicated on road signs make you understand how far away from home you are.
In the Neiden area
8 July 1987. After we had gone to the Soviet border in Grense-Jakobselv where communist soldiers using binoculars watched us from their observation posts, we had a look at the granite chapel with its shutters against the wind. Actually, it was blowing quite strongly and the temperature was only 3°C. Fortunately, the birds were there. Besides the usual gulls, there were numerous Arctic Skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus) and Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle). We drove back west and rented a fully equipped hut in a camp site. How comfortable we felt after so many days spent under our tent!
9 July1987. We were now heading towards the North Cape and in Vestra Jakobselv,we were attacked by a colony of Arctic TernsS. You should have seen how bravely they defended their chicks. So much so, actually, that Danielle had to take refuge in the car. At several places we saw Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) and 2 Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus). We were a bit surprised at the colourful houses with their roofs covered with peat. We were in the Varanger Peninsula, a hot spot of ornithology, and of course, we visited the little village of Ecckerøy and its cliff. Then, we drove through Vadsø and the tunnel leading to the isle of Vardø. The sea was choppy, the wind strong and as I couldn't find anyone to take me to the isle of Hornøya to sea the colony of sea birds, we had a look at the fish factory. We turned back and set up our tent in the tundra near Vadsø. The wailing calls of the Eurasian Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) and those, just as melancholy, of the odd Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) added to the howling wind created a very strange atmosphere.
Arctic Terns swooping down near Vestra Jakobselv
An Arctic Tern chick
10 July 1987. We had to pack up at 4 in the morning because the wind was threatening to rip our tent to pieces so we decided to leave that inhospitable place. A little later, we passed an articulated lorry driving at full speed and we were pelted with gravel. This was too much for my windscreen which cracked. We boarded the ferry at Käfjord heading for the isle of Mageroy and the North Cape. Honningsvåg is not much of a little town and the Cape itself was clouded in the fog. Seeing the midnight sun was out of the question even if we had already driven 4335 km for this.
11 July 1987. We waited and waited till the sky would clear up to see the midnight sun, but to no avail. As the weather did not seem to brighten up and as the temperature was only 3°C in the tent we made up our minds and left the island. We went through Hammerfest whose proud boast is to be the northernmost town. Well, everything depends on what you call a town.
12 July 1987. We drove all through the night. Actually, the only difference with the daytime was the even fewer number of people on the roads. The countryside is desolate but beautiful, even though you have to be careful because of the black ice. Near Altafjord, just after a Lapp camp which looked like a shantytown, we saw a Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) feeding on a Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) or maybe a Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus). The bird being only 30 metres away, I will remember this site as long as I live. A little farther away, in the area of Burfjord, a shocking event took place. A car hit 2 Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). They did not die on the spot, but looked a poor sight when they finally managed to limp away. The mountainous area is very beautiful but we still had to drive almost 450 km before we found a place to have something to eat. Fortunately, the Finnish breakfast we had in this hotel was worth it. We then took several ferries before driving through the taiga again near Tromsö.
13 July 1987. After a short visit of Tromsö we drove to Narvik.
14 July 1987. This is Bastille Day in France and we celebrated it, buying salmon in Narvick. We had been surprised to see how difficult it was to buy any in Scandinavia. We then drove south across the Vesterålen islands. They are very beautiful, especially because of the contrast between the black soil and the white snow covering the mountain tops. We then took ferry at Westopolen to go to the Lofoten islands.
15 July 1987. Between Straumnes and Hemmningsvaeg which we visited very quickly, we saw a Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) with its chicks, cows on a beach and fish drying in the sun hanging on a contraption made of huge wooden poles. The sweet fish cooked in tomato sauce didn't agree with us too much but as the weather was fine and the isles very beautiful, Danielle and Yannick had a dip in the ocean although we were still way north of the Polar Circle. At Lilleidet, we took the ferry to Napp and set our tent between Flakstad and Ramber where we managed to see, at long last, the marvellous sight of the midnight sun which makes as if it were going to set into the sea just to go up again for a new journey.
Hemmningsvaeg in the Lofoten Isles
16 July 1987. The sky was still blue even if the temperature was only 11°C. We saw a Northern Hare (Lepus timidus) and a drake King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) at Hamnøy, and Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) nesting on the window sills of houses. Danielle and Yannick were speaking endlessly of the good meals they were going to have once they were back home. The bites of the midges were still itching 11 days days later. In Lilleidet, a beautiful Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus) was showing off on a small lake. Once in Svolvaer we took the boat for Skutvik and said goodbye to these beautiful isles.
17 July 1987. The temperature was already 21°C at sunrise. We drove to Krakmö, across the mountains and along roads cutting through birch forests. We stopped by the roadside to taste some local berries and as the temperature reached 29°C our morale went higher accordingly all the more so as we were again able to find some decent food. We crossed the Saldasfjorden and Salsfjellet and after 6339 km we were again at the same latitude as the Polar Circle. We set our tent in Krobstrand.
18 July 1987. We didn't note anything particular between Svartisen and Mo i rana except that it was warm.
Close to the Svartitsen glacier
19 July 1987. We drove along the western coast of Norway, heading south to Mosjoen, the Laksfossen waterfalls and finally Braseth, where we put up our tent..
20 July 1987. The weather was still beautiful and we learned later on that this was due to some anticyclone located much farther north than usual, which also accounted for the horrible weather they were having in France at the same time. After we had driven across Steinkhjer and Trondheim, we made a pause in the Dovrefjell Natural Reserve, near Drivalen where we finally managed to see a Moose (Alces alces). Lying thrilled in the grass but bitten all over by mosquitoes, we watched the sight.
A railway station near Drivtua
21 July 1987. We pulled over by the Rauma waterfall and drove through Andalsnes. The view from the top of the winding Trollstigveg is wonderful and after a pause there, we left and took the ferry to Eisdal. In the evening, we camped in the Geiranger, the most famous fjord in Norway.
22 July 1987. It was the season of strawberries and you could see vendors all along the road leading to Stryn. We took a stroll up to the Briksdal glacier, crossing Kjendall.
In the Stryn region
In the Briksdal region
In the Briksdal region
23 July 1987. We went further down south, through Byrkelo, Amla, took the ferry to Revsnes and tried to find the Viking church of Borgund. It wasn't easy because this wooden church is actually in Laerdal, contrary to what we had read in our guides.
24 July 1987. We camped in Laerdal and took some time to visit the Borgund church. It was really worth it. A bizarre blending of Viking and Christian traditions generated the construction of very peculiar wooden churches, most of which have been destroyed by fire. When we reached Oslo, we had logged up 7805 km.
25 July 1987. We visited the Norwegain capital city, especially the Royal Palace, the Cathedral and above all the Vigeland Park where a lot of statues representing the cycle of human life are exhibited.
26 July 1987. We left Norway, heading towards Sweden. We passed through Srinesund and the Halleberg Natural Reserve. We were really pleased to find Swedish food again which we enjoyed much more than the Norwegian meals. The rain started falling in Vänersborg.
27 July 1987. The trip went on, uneventful through Göteborg, Helsingborg, where we took the ferry to Helsingör, Denmark and we arrived in Copenhaguen in the evening.
28 July 1987. We visited the capital city of Denmark and took a stroll in the Park of Tivoli.
29 July 1987. We spent another day in the city to have a look at the Cathedral, the Little Mermaid and the Royal Palace with the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, just as in the United Kingdom.
30 July 1987. We had to return home on that day and when we reached home we had logged up exactly 9872 km.