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Published: September 4th 2009
Motorhome News from Europe 28.
Finland July 2005.
Out of Finland into the wastes of Norway’s Finmark
There is not a lot in Inari at first glance. It’s one of those places you could just pass through on your way to somewhere else and there are, after all, few roads from Finland through to Norway in the north. For most people Inari is on the way to, or from, Nordkapp, (North Cape) on the island that claims to be the most northerly point in Europe. We were on our way there too, but first we wanted to visit the outstanding Sami (Lapp) Museum, built since Janice’s last visit to Inari umpteen years ago. There are many such museums in Scandinavia, but this one should rank amongst the best, for not only does it truly value these special people but it also superbly reflects the nature and wildlife of the vast northern region of Finnish Lapland.
Inari was the first place in Finland where we encountered more than a handful of people, a number of tourist coaches and a car park full of cars. In addition to all of the usual nick-nacks, there were fox, reindeer and
Janice - inside The Sami Museum
bear-skins on sale in the souvenir shops; doubtless the fox are farmed purely for their fur, though we did also see bear meat along with the elk and reindeer cuts in a supermarket. We met our first English couple since we left Stockholm four weeks ago when we pulled into the campsite. Mike and Ronnie left home on their retirement in their new caravan the day after us, and they have no planned date to return. Like us, they have rented their house and their furniture is all in store; which goes to prove that there are other people as daft as us.
To celebrate my birthday, we travelled southwest along the Menesjoki river, anticipating an adventurous boat trip into the park, ten miles up-river and inaccessible by road. Unknown to us, there was only one boat that day - and it left ten minutes before we arrived! Never mind, we had a good hike and returned for a traditional lunch (lounas) at the Sami restaurant near the quay.
You all know the result of the ‘email me for my birthday’ competition of course; and a special ‘thank you’ to all 15 who kindly responded, too many to
..on my birthday
mention here! Sadly all of our email sessions in libraries and internet cafes are somewhat restricted; usually to half an hour or less, often only sufficient to read incoming mail and send the newsletter, leaving little time to respond. We’ll make up for it on our return to the UK - promise.
The road runs due north out of Finland, long and monotonous between the gentle, tree-covered slopes. It was easy driving; set the throttle at 55mph and watch as every ten minutes or so we would pass a car or motorhome going in the opposite direction. Gone now, the purple cranesbill and summer buttercups beside the road, replaced with bright yellow alpine ragwort and the subtle mauve of the understated rosebay willow herb; a colour contrast of nature at its best. Gone now too, the spruce forests - leaving pine and birch in a blanket of green stretching to the horizon.
Cost conscious as ever we stopped for groceries and diesel at Finnish prices in Utsjoki at the Norwegian border, using the opportunity to pop into the library, (in the school - how sensible) to access the internet. Utsjoki has a fine school, a gravel football pitch
(how painful) and an outdoor winter ice-hockey rink. It has a population of about 20 at a guess and 40 of them were in the library! Prices in Finland are generally a little lower than in Sweden or Norway. That said, vegetables and fruit, all sold by the kilo, are extremely expensive. You even have to weigh your cucumber (how painful!). The area is famed for its very long hiking trails (which we declined), into the Nature Park and it is serious salmon fishing country. The tackle shop - a marquee, was the busiest place in town after the library!
The Finns are said to be a shy and retiring race. English is spoken widely, particularly amongst the younger set, but it was hard to get a nod of greeting or a ‘hei’ from passers-by or even a ‘thank you’ for stopping to let them pass on a narrow bridge. But, perhaps I’m being too British! Unlike the Swedes, they will overtake you on the roads though their driving is generally very polite and reserved and not 'rally style' as one might imagine. Mind you, with only 5 million of them and all that space why rush about anyway?
...and we entered rolling arctic tundra; mile after mile
of grey-green and brown lunar landscape dotted with boggy meres.
We have learned to love Finland, her great National Parks, her deserted roads and wilderness, her clean air, sparkling lakes and passive rivers. From here on, it’s back into Norway, the land of trolls and tolls, mountains and fjords, and breathtaking scenery unlike anywhere else in Europe. It’s easy to tell when you are in Norway: by the continuous gasps of ‘Wow!’ - and the big hole in your pocket.
There was a light-switch in Norway just across the bridge. In the flash of a Sami arrow, the grass was greener on the northern side of the river, the hills turned to mountains, the pine trees vanished leaving a sea of birch and willow groundcover and mountain-tops gleamed with the last winter snow in the gullies. The roads were narrow and winding as we turned northeast, following the salmon-rich river Tana (Tenojoki in Finn) towards the sea, clusters of houses and Sami boats lined the sandy banks and patient fishermen up to their waists in water cast their lines amongst the rocks in the fast flowing waters. There were more farming homesteads visible along the valley than we have seen for some days and the first cattle for many
weeks. We saw wild mountains with deep valleys, great craggy gorges, upland moors straddled between high scree and fast flowing mountain streams akin to the best of Scotland.
Gas is a serious problem on this journey. We use it for cooking, the fridge when we free-camp, and heating and hot water if we have no electricity. The long-term plan was to use one UK cylinder of Propane and two French Camping Gaz bottles. We need to keep some UK gas for our return to Lerwick on the 24th August and replace the now empty Camping Gaz, but despite advice to the contrary, it’s not obtainable here. We now also discover, that despite assurances from the guy who sold us a very expensive new gas cylinder in Sweden, that our Scandinavian Aga gas cylinder can’t be exchanged anywhere in Norway or Finland as they have different bottles! That’s called ‘up the creek without a paddle’. We were also using our portable one-ring cooker to help eek things out. It was beginning to look like we would have to buy a new Norwegian cylinder and take the old one back into Sweden when we next crossed the border, to get our
Gamvic - North Norway
..we 'free' camped surrounded by 200 screaming Parasitic Skuas!
It had not occurred to me before that Norway spreads its wings across the top of both Sweden and Finland all the way to the Barent Sea where you have to stop if you travel by road! That’s where we were headed first, to the remote wastes of Gamvic; Nordkapp and its commercial wonderland will wait. There is a lighthouse at Slettnes directly to the north and it claims to be the most northerly lighthouse in the world with some good walking and rather special birds. That night we free-camped just two hundred yards away from the lighthouse across the rocky moorland with a dozen other motorhomes, surrounded by barren moorland and dramatic rocky outcrops; and more than two hundred screeching arctic skuas!
This area is wilderness indeed and there are insufficient words to describe the fascination of this wondrous peninsular. The narrow winding road ran in for 83 miles past tiny brick-red farmhouses, hay being gathered in and sunlit snowy mountains across the fjords where rafts of goosander gathered in the shallow silver bays. Graceful arctic terns swept the blue-grey skies as we drove the lonely road until the trees ran out and we entered
A coachload of Germans arrived
we forgot to put our towels out
rolling arctic tundra; mile after mile of grey-green and brown lunar landscape dotted with boggy meres. It’s also 83 miles out of this place; back down the same road!
Deep inside the Arctic Circle at latitudes on a line with northern Alaska, we were prepared for cold winds, sleet and even snow, but the weather stayed dry for us and surprisingly mild. A red-throated pipit posed on a twig in front of us on our walk along the Gamvic coast that first evening, a red-necked phalarope preened in the water just twenty feet away, a Steller’s eider herded her brood at the water’s edge and arctic (parasitic) skua chased everything in sight including our heads! Long-tailed skua fled through the skies on leaden wings, a great skua skulked amongst the black backed gulls, a whimbrel sat atop the wind-vane of the bird observation hut and black guillemot bobbed up and down on the gentle Barent waves. Now, that’s what you call a fantastic day, one we shall remember for a long, long, time. Somebody, somewhere, had definitely sprinkled some magic powder on our trail.
Our coffee stop at the nearby fishing town of Mehamn brought home the reality
of living on the edge of the earth when we joined the locals for coffee and strawberry waffles with cream. The ‘hotel’ lounge was decked out in black and maroon with 1960’s furniture and fittings; only the stainless steel teapot was missing. It’s a long way to the nearest furniture shop and most things arrive by boat, small aeroplane or the specially fitted bus towing a cargo store on the back.
The dry little old dear in Gamvik Museum at the northernmost point of mainland Europe (71’5”N), gave us a personal tour of the artefacts on show. ‘It’s never summer in Gamvik,’ she told us, (It must average 10C for it to be classed as summer.) 'and every day has five different types of weather.’
I’m not sure I could live in a town with 24/7 darkness for several months and snow ploughs operating 237 days of the year as they did apparently in 2003.
The Germans were here too and left their mark by burning everything standing as they retreated in 1944. The museum shows photographs of the before and after. We did notice a comment from a German person in a visitor’s book when we, (Todd
...the magical midnight sun
and Ronnie), signed in.
‘We are so sorry for what Germans did to your country. God bless you all.’
I’ll drink to that.
It’s a 300 mile trip from the Gamvik peninsular all the way round to Nordkapp though it’s probably only about forty miles as the fly crows. We paid the outrageous sum of 186NOK (about £20) for the tunnel toll to reach the island after some discussion over the length of Smiley. I claimed that we were only 6m (a bit of a fib, we’re actually 6.48m) and the cashier asked to see the vehicle registration for proof. UK registration documents don’t show this important detail and he eventually gave up looking. We managed to avoid the ‘lorry length’ charge; more than double for a vehicle over 6m! As far as we could tell, you have to pay the same again to get out!
Rather than hitting the commercial route straight to Nordkapp we headed to the west of the island to Gjesvaer and with the money saved on the toll we took a birdy boat trip around the many tiny islands just offshore. That was yet another wow! The bright evening
- by day, at the very tip of North Norway.
sky was full of puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, gannets and fulmars - and ten, yes ten, white tailed eagles! There were as many birds again on the cliffs in secular groups and in huge rafts on the sea.
In all our birdwatching years we have never seen so many birds. It would be a while before Janice stopped grinning and I, too, can’t believe we have witnessed such a spectacle.
The Fred Olsen cruise liner ‘Braemar’ was moored at the quay in the port of Honningsvag on its way around the fijords. They won’t get to live our experience, though they may get a coach trip, in rain and cloud, to Nordkapp.
Monday brought good news on the gas front. Without any nonsense a young lad at the Shell garage exchanged our empty Swedish bottle for a Norwegian one - a different size but the same fitting. We took it and fled before he could change his mind! Panic over - and hopefully we can get our deposit back in Norway.
At midnight the sun was still high in the sky shining bright as an acetylene blowtorch on the harbour in front of where Smiley parked us for
the night. There is little concept of time when the sun shines all day and all night. Ten year-olds were still playing in the street at midnight, teenage girls with shiny plastic handbags cycled home from the disco at 1am, a crane hoisted a boat into the harbour shortly afterwards and people were still walking past chatting quite loudly at 2am. That’s a bit late for us oldies, so ‘good night,’ until next week.
David, Janice and the cuddly things.
The Grey Haired Nomads
Some other birds seen this week: Siskin, brambling, redwing, arctic warbler, great black-backed gull, common tern, common gull, cormorant, shag, black, and red-throated divers, turnstone, ringed plover, redshank.
And some we forgot from before: Marsh sandpiper & smew (both at Ruka), bullfinch, dipper, teal, golden eye, tree pipit, common sandpiper, curlew, house martin, swallow, brambling, tufted duck, hooded crow (of course), mistle thrush, greenfinch.
Seals in the bay and reindeer on the beach!
And flowers: Harebell and white clover, Siberian chive, false helleborine, dwarf saxifrage, dwarf cornel, euphorbia (sea spurge), grass of Parnassus, common butterwort, mountain avens, ?thistles, Alpine ragwort, tansy, spiked speedwell, marsh lousewort (it’s actually rather pretty), an unidentified orchid,
northern milk vetch and white campion.
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