A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017
A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017
6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost? A look at our spending, activity and overnights stats by month and by country.
So, our 2017 Scandi trip; it wasn’t quite six months, but close – We had a total of 170 days away, from late-April until mid-October. We left the UK via Harwich to Hook of Holland and travelled through the Netherlands to Germany before reaching our first Scandinavian country, Denmark. A month there (to the day) and we ferried over to southern Norway to drive a wiggly route by fjords, mountains and tunnels to reach Trondheim, where we headed east to Sweden. We crossed to the Baltic coast before turning north to eventually reach Juoksengi and our midnight time-travelling Arctic Circle Swim. From here, a straight run north to Tromso was followed by a visit to the Vesteralen and Lofoten islands, before turning sharply south all the way to Oslo. We crossed back to Sweden and, via many lakes, we reached Stockholm then followed the coast to Malmö and back into Denmark. A few further weeks exploring then led us back into northern Germany and the Netherlands, before heading home by the same route.
Our route map (sketch)
Our Scandi trip overview in key figures:
Length of trip – 170 days
Countries visited – 6 (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland)
Overall expenditure – €5419.37
Average daily cost – €31.88
Miles driven – 9087 ( Aaron – 4452 [49%], Nicky – 4635 [51%] )
Miles per gallon – 31.3
Cost per mile – €0.17p
Distance cycled – 596km
Distance walked – 619km
WorkAways undertaken – 4
Time-travelling swims – 1
Scandi Skinny dips – 16
Our Trip costs by category
The above image outlines our spending for this trip. With the distance driven (9087 miles), it is of little surprise that diesel for Benny (29%) has been the biggest expense we encountered, closely followed by food shops (inc. booze) at 27%. The next largest cost, at 18%, has been our campsite fees, with many more stops in ASCI campsites than on previous trips. Transport costs also featured highly, at 12%, as driving through Norway brought with it the necessity of many ferry journeys and also 953 NOK (billed so far) of road tolls. Several bridges between neighbouring Danish islands also carry a hefty cost.
Our trip costs by country (with daily averages)
Note: Germany and Finland costs are not indicative of travel in those countries as both were transition countries where we filled up with diesel and undertook large food shops.
Our trip costs by month, with accommodation, exercise & driving stats
Our Accommodation / Stopover synopsis
We stayed in free aires where we could, but on this trip we were a lot more inclined to slip into the comfortable ease of a campsite when the opportunity arose. Certain key places demanded it (Råbjerg Mile, Flåm, Melkevoll Bretun) but others we chose over available nearby free stops as we were passing during ASCI-applicable dates. We still only paid for around one third of our nights away, the rest being either wild camps or free aires. Our take on the difference may be specific to us, but we only rate it as a true wild camp if we have found it ourselves without the CamperContact app (or similar).
Almost two-thirds of our overnight stops were free (65%, or 111 out of 170 nights), with the remaining stays averaging out at a cost of €5.63 per night. (a €957.07 total spend).
In summary, for the entire trip, from when we left home to our return all those months later, we spent a grand total of €5419.37, for an average daily cost of €31.88. At current exchange rates that means the entire 170-day trip cost us around £4825.00, or, simply speaking, under £5000 all-in, which is much less than we had expected after all the horror tales of scandalous Scandinavian prices. Back in our salaried years, we had on occasion spent more than that on a special two week holiday, so to be able to experience over 24 weeks of such varied, interesting and fun travel for a similar amount – bargain.
Our first year full-timing in a motorhome – how much did it cost? Here’s a look at the costs, annual and daily, associated with our chosen lifestyle choice.
(4th September 2016 – 3rd September 2017)
It’s been a full year now since we took the plunge, leaving our professions, friends and family behind for life on the road. We thought it might be useful to others who may be considering a similar lifestyle change to see, for their planning purposes, how much we’ve spent over a full year, and on what.
Of course, what we’re happy with on the road may not suit you, and vice versa, so we should say first that our spending levels are absolutely personal to us. Our costs are at a level we’re comfortable with, and they suit our current financial situation; but everyone is different. If required it would be possible to live on much less, with patience and frugality. And it would certainly be very easy to spend much more too, if eating out, guided trips and expensive attractions are what interest you on your travels.
We like cooking, so eating out only very occasionally is fine for us. Most of what we really enjoy doing is free, like hiking in the mountains, wild swimming, cycling off-road or running trails. The one big exception to this is skiing, which is definitely an expensive week (or two) whatever way you look at it, even if bringing your own accommodation helps reduce the costs a little. We like seeing cultural sites too, but we’ve learned to be selective, as paying into every church, museum, fort, gallery or other attraction we pass would be exorbitant. We have occasionally volunteered our time at WorkAway projects and these social, volunteer efforts offer a variation that invigorates us, offers a welcome change of scene and keeps our costs for that time at a minimum. We also have a few winter house-sits coming up which will enable us to live a more rooted, normal life for a time, and allow a more detailed exploration of specific portions of rural France.
More detailed country Route Maps: (paper maps marked up by hand)
Our travels during our first year were split into two long trips of roughly six months (France, Spain & Portugal) and five months (Northern Europe and Scandinavia) respectively. We had a month or so in between where we returned to the UK for servicing, maintenance and a catch-up with friends and family. We sneaked in a quick two week trip to Scotland (no map) during this time too. The Scandinavia trip is still on-going as our ‘one year on the road’ anniversary has fallen mid-travels.
We have tracked all our costs and distances as we travelled, noting down spending and mileage counts at driver changes or stops as they occurred. We added these to a bespoke spreadsheet set up to record, count and analyse our activities month by month and county by country. Synopsis tabs with some complex formula then collate each category into, hopefully, easy to understand tables or charts, for a quick overview. Yes, indeed we do have too much time on our hands.
France / Spain / Portugal trip:
Scandinavia Trip: (note: still on-going)
After the completion of our first six month trip we tweaked the spreadsheet categories a little, adding in new columns to allow for a more accurate breakdown of our spending. This meant the spend percentages between each portion of the trip were not perfectly aligned, but the spend totals remain unaffected and it’s these we have used for this post. We also added in a column for type of accommodation, to track where we spend our nights. Here’s a typical (actually, untypically expensive) month from our current spreadsheet (June 2017) , for interest. (note our serious lack of cycling in Norway!)
Outside the daily costs of living on the road we also had many one-off or annually reoccurring costs that enabled the trip to proceed initially. (note: these are all included in the totals and are shown here purely as examples of other costs that you will / may incur)
This doesn’t include purchasing our Benny (a new Benimar Mileo 201) in the first instance, so the cost of your chosen van, whether new or used, should also be factored in here. All our ferry costs to and from mainland Europe, or within each country are included within the daily cost totals under the category ‘transport’.
We tracked everything in euros, as this was the predominant currency of our first six months and it made sense to continue with the same base. All Scandinavian currency spends were recorded in euros at a fixed exchange rate, that of what it was when we first entered the country, so there may have been some fluctuation in value during our time (in either direction) that we didn’t capture.
Our annual totals by portion of year:
This equates to (at current exchange rates) an approximate spend of £13354.00 for our first year travelling in Europe, or an average spend of £36.59 per day, all in for us both.
On the Road spending pie:
FOOD – Food from a supermarket/shop. Includes wine & beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & day parking
EATING OUT – Eating & drinking in restaurants & bars (includes snacks & ice cream)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
CLOTHING – This includes personal items such as clothes & shoes and laundry costs
ENTRY FEES– Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals and other events etc..
MISC. – All other items not separately designated (from stamps to ski passes)
If we removed all the up-front facilitating costs and only looked at expenditure on the road, we are spending under €950, or £870, per month, and for the incredible experiences we’re having and the beautiful places we are seeing, this seems like a very good deal to us – long may it continue.
Two days of visiting Norway’s capital city Oslo in glorious sunshine
After spending a noisy night in the midst of late-arriving refrigerated trucks that ran their generators all night, we were glad to be on our way from the aire at Andelva for the last fifty kilometre stretch into the centre of Oslo. We decided the simplest option was to check into the expensive but convenient campsite at Ekeberg and bus into the city centre from there. We checked in, finding our place at the far corner of the site away from the crowds and on the only flat grassy area we could see. The day was beautiful; still, cloudless and warm, a rarity for our time in Norway, and very welcome. We made and packed a lunch, organised some 24 hour bus/tram tickets, downloaded the requisite google maps off-line for Oslo central, and set off for the city.
We met a group of young English students at the bus-stop, who were currently in Norway to complete their Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. They hadn’t yet quite mastered the requisite skills for buying a Norwegian bus ticket yet though. The bus arrived on time and after a winding fifteen minute downhill journey later we were deposited near the central station, right by a square housing a giant bronze tiger. On the ride in we had decided to first concentrate on sights around the peripheral of the centre. After stepping off the bus we stood a moment to get our bearings, had a brief look in the tourist information centre then headed towards the dramatically sloping roof of the Opera House. We passed through the impressive foyer first, then returned to the sun and climbed up the sloped stone roof.
We watched joggers running sprints up the roof, as photographers captured action shots of posing models; it had clearly become an integral part of the city fabric, a well-used public space. From the roof vantage point we could see the enormous amount of construction underway throughout Oslo, especially the new buildings all along the aptly named ‘Barcode’ area. This was a stretch of closely positioned tall corporate buildings, each alternatively conceived in either almost entirely black or white materials. We watched tall wooden sailing ships glide past water-based sculptures with a backdrop of cruise ship and rolling hills. Below we could see most of the sites we hoped to visit next, our slow-paced walking route mapped out for us. The day was still and dry, perfect for gentle exploration.
Returning to street level, we walked the waterline, following a designated boardwalk path from the Opera house to the outskirts of the town, enjoying the pleasant, chilled atmosphere of the sunny promenade. We passed through small, pretty parks by the high fort walls of the Akershus Festning then through sculpture-filled squares near the Rådhuset, the City Hall. A new National Museum in the heart of the city was deep into its construction phase, closing off several main streets to traffic until its grand unveiling, currently planned for 2020. We continued on along the busy shore line, where lots of restaurants, bars and boutique stores lined our route, interspersed with colourful artworks injected into the city fabric.
We reached Renzo Piano’s latest building, the Astrup Fearnley Museet, a museum of Modern Art in a complex of shops and high end apartments. We crossed pretty pedestrian bridges over stretches of water resplendent with sculptures to reach the central avenue. We looked inside at the complex roof structure and the airy lightness of the public spaces, but with the beautiful weather we were being treated to we didn’t spend much time exploring inside. Instead we found and sat still at a purpose-built city beach and swim pontoon area at the end of the development, soaking up the sun and the sights. A few locals were enjoying a cooling dip, with many others simply enjoying the beautiful day, sun-bathing or picnicking on the grass or strolling by with skateboards, prams or designer shopping.
Everything in Oslo seemed neat, relaxed and unhurried. The people, places and overall ambiance shone through with a productive small town buzz, rather than a big-city coldness. Even with the widespread extent of construction projects, the disruption seemed to only affect drivers, with walkers like us continuing unaffected. We returned along the water ferry docks and back near to the Rådhuset. The direct ferry to Bygdøy was no longer included on our 24 hour travel pass, so we walked on to a nearby main road and caught a bus heading west. This took us around to the ‘island’ of Bygdøy and on to the port at Bygdøynes, where two places awaited our attention. We first looked into the Kon-Tiki museum, as I had read Thor Heyerdahl’s iconic book in my youth and long held an interest in his, unfortunately now discredited, hypotheses. But we were here mainly to feed our Polar exploration addiction, by visiting the Frammuseet, The Fram Museum.
The museum was packed to bursting with information and artefacts on polar travel and heroic expeditions. We first watched an introductory movie about the history of polar exploration, setting the scene for the displays to come. We walked through all rooms and galleries, but it would take many days to read every board or examine all of the displayed objects. We saw the Gjøa, a polar ship whose model we had admired in the Polar Museum in Tromsø. The highlight of the visit was definitely getting to explore the depths of the Fram, a ship originally commissioned by Nansen for his polar expeditions and later bought and utilised by Amundsen on his. We stood on deck, surprised a little by how small it seemed for such long expeditions. The cabins were tiny, each bed offered to crew members no longer than 1.5m and the width of a standard bench – we had no idea how they would have managed to grab a restful night’s sleep on them in perfect stillness and silence, never mind on a high sea or when stuck fast in ever-cracking pressure ice, as the ship was specifically designed to do.
Mindful of the rare sun outside, we reluctantly returned to the brightness, passed by the South Pole monument, before catching a bus back, not towards the centre of the city but slightly north, to visit Vigelandsparken, an open air statue park filled with the life’s work of Gustav Vigeland. It houses over 200 sculptures, all of the human form in various guises, created in bronze, granite or iron. We wandered the leafy gardens admiring the open space and often strange poses of the myriad statues, to reach the tall obelisk centrepiece, itself a mass of writhing, interlocked bodies. Many visitors took photos of their friends in poses mimicking the statues grotesque or overtly sexual poses, whilst we watched on with amusement and a welcome ice cream.
We looped around the expanse of gardens before returning back over the central bridge to catch a tram back to the city centre, alighting at Det Kongelige Slott, the Royal Palace. We slowly walked back along the bustling Karl Johan’s Gate, passing the Nasjonalgalleriet and Stortinget, mindful of our plan to leave this area for closer inspection on our second visit. The tree-lined streets were busy with locals and tourists, skateboarders and businessmen, artists and shoppers, all sharing the same flower-lightened spaces. We watched and absorbed as we slowly reached Central Station, before returning on the easy bus to Ekeberg camping to relax, rest and plan our activities for tomorrow.
The following morning we repeated our bus journey into the centre, using the same still-valid ticket as the previous day to get us there. The day was not quite so sunny, but dry and still bright, and we were glad to have left the majority of internal visits until now. We arrived at the Norsk Arkitekturmuseum to find it didn’t open until 10am, so instead wandered around the fort Akershus Festning until opening time. The fort public area was huge and the high walls afforded great views all around the city, with stationary guards on watch duty throughout. We returned to first visit the Samtidskunst, the Contemporary Art museum, where we were left distinctly unimpressed by both the quality of the photographs on display and the basic, almost school-level rationale for their initial creation.
So we crossed the road to instead spend our time in the Norsk Arkitekturmuseum, the museum of Architecture. Here we wandered the exhibitions and explored the display models of many varied projects, examining the preliminary sketches and presentation drawings created for each. The displays were informative, innovative and thought-provoking, in vast contrast to the works in the Samtidskunst. They sharply reminded me of my deep love for the design process of creating architecture and how much I miss specific aspects of that previous life; it’s the flawed nature of construction that drove me away, but the creative, problem-solving aspects will always be my muse.
We moved on to visit the Dronningparken surrounding the Royal Palace, meandering through the gardens, before returning to the front to visit the statue of Queen Maud. We walked again along Karl Johan’s Gate, before turning off to visit the Nasjonalgalleriet. This was our third free museum or gallery of the day, we found Thursdays were a great day for visiting Oslo. We explored the usual linear history of painting, from the religious motifs of gilded antiquity, to stodgy baroque through wild Romanticism and into free impressionism and surrealism. We saw Munch’s Scream and Madonna, the latter being mostly ignored as queues formed for pictures with the former. We joined a ten minute sketch class drawing a mother and child statue and now I proudly have a drawing hanging on the wall in the National Gallery. (bottom central of the photo for mine, if you’re interested ).
We ate lunch on a bench in a tidy square behind the Stortinget as we sat people-watching. After, we doodled around the local side streets, with no goal in mind. The weather turned a little and, clouding over, the rain beginning to spit gently. We visited Oslo Cathedral for a short look at the almost austere interior, before calling our wandering of the capital, and of Norway in general, to an end. We slipped onto another bus out of the centre and back to Ekeberg, to spend our last night in Norway in the company of noisy nesting birds and a very nice bottle of red. Sweden awaits.
Leaving the Lofoten Islands and following the Atlantic Coast Road south, passing Saltstraumen, Mo I Rana and Trondheim to reach the outskirts of Oslo.
We said our goodbyes to Mummy Finch and the Lofoten islands and headed along the E10 in the direction of Narvik. We’d already had a long drive from our base on Vestavågøy to reach the airport drop-off at Evenes, so had no desire to push on too far. We started looking for a place to pass a quiet night, and we found a suitable place at our second attempt, at a small marina in Bjerkvik. It was a little scruffy but it was also supremely quiet and we parked overlooking the water on a beautiful still evening. The overnight fee was an honesty box noting that they would be delighted if we chose to donate 50 NOK (about £4.50), and we were glad to. We had drinking water and could have had electric too if we parked on the other side of the groin, but preferred to forego that in preference of a sea view.
Later a group of four backpackers, couples from both Poland and Germany, turned up looking to camp on the only patch of grass on site at the marina, which meant right by where we were standing. They politely asked permission from us, as if we could or would refuse, but this endeared them to us immediately and also earned them a slice of yummy fruit cake each. They invited us to sit around their improvised cooking fire, but we were tired and opted for an early night. The following morning we gifted them cereal bars and carton drinks, as they looked malnourished and because we felt guilty that everything was so casually easy in Benny and camping was just such hard graft.
We followed the coast of the fjords and the North Atlantic, arriving in the northern hub of Narvik soon after. We had considered making this a base for a week of local activities, but after we stopped for an hour we decided to push on, instead stopping at an island aire at Storøya to sit out the newly arrived rain. The next morning we caught a short ferry across to Bognes, then continued the route south, arriving in the town of Fauske in early afternoon. This was to be our only paid aire on our long journey south, in a motorhome-only area of the neat seafront of this pretty town. We took the day to catch up with shopping and reorganising Benny back into order. We also decided to skip the regional centre of Bodø in favour of a quicker route south. Our first stop next morning was at Bobil-Nord, a local Benimar dealer where we checked a few warranty issues with their helpful staff then it was on to Saltstrumen.
Touted as the world’s strongest tidal current, the Saltstrumen is a narrow 2km long channel between two deep fjords. At its peak flow, under a full moon, the tide drags over 400 million cubic metres of water through a channel only 150m wide, causing a wildly powerful maelstrom with eddies and whirlpools popping up erratically in the rushing force of water. We watched, transfixed at the swirling power of the surging incoming water, some areas looking more like a hot fissure below the surface was boiling the water. We half expected Godzilla to rise out of the wildly bubbling water. Tourist-loaded boats skirted the whirlpools with familiar ease, utilising the central thin band of smooth current as a respite between excursions into the extremities of the frothing fray.
The jagged mountains behind formed a stunning back-drop to the continuing maelstrom, moody and grey against the sky. We watched one brave fisherman in a small dingy with a wheezing outboard slowly cutting through the flow, heading upstream. A few hundred hard won metres later his chugging engine cut out and in the time it took him to restart it, he had been forced back beyond the point where he’d started. We walked up to look at what we thought was a visitor centre, but it was closed, the grass uncut and external seal enclosure area outside empty and dried up. The whole place carried an air of sad abandonment. The building itself looked quite new, so perhaps it was a seasonal thing and had closed up for winter, but in mid-August this seemed a bit of a stretch.
We pushed on south, eager to make good time, passing through Storvik and Oanes to reach the aire at the Hovden Tourist centre, directly overlooking Svartisen, Norway’s second largest glacier. We passed a lazy afternoon and a colourful night watching the light change on the glacial tongues and undertaking short local walks. We ate our breakfast under the gaze of the glacier and a clear blue sky before driving the short distance south to catch the early ferry to Ågskaret. On board we floated past a large Polar Circle marker, denoting that we had now left the Arctic Circle, again further south than we were many weeks ago when we completed our Arctic Circle Swim. We stopped in at several nice aires with ample parking and beautiful sea views, but we decided to overnight at Stokkvågen museum, where we had the opportunity to see the ruins of a fort, complete a coastal walk and visit a nearby sandy beach.
We walked up the hill to see the fort ruins, clambering into the creepy old tunnels and seeing the bases of the gun emplacements. The views out to sea were far-reaching. We walked around to the wide bay with the sandy beach with all intentions of swimming, but a biting cold wind was whipping though the bay and this discouraged us from undertaking more than a paddle. We wandered in the shallows looking at crabs and small fish that darted around our ankles as they slowly turned white with cold.
We walked instead around the stony headland, and happily found a wonderful, sheltered rock pool filled with sun-warmed water. We stripped and dipped here, in our own personal hot-tub with a fantastic sea view. Refreshed, we returned to Benny for a quiet dinner, before spotting a wild sunset out the window. We clambered back up over the ruins of the fort to view the spectacle from a height, marvelling in the full, deep red glow that reminded us of Île de Ré.
We woke early and moved quickly on, leaving the coastal National tourist route Helgelandskysten for a more inland and quicker, straight route south. We passed through Mo I Rana only to pick up some shopping, before eating up the miles south on a straight, empty road. We spent a few minutes at the tourist-trap of Laksforsen waterfall, before reaching Grong many miles later. We crossed a blue metal bridge into town and parked in a very pretty parkland picnic area only a few minutes from the town centre. The heavy rains in Norway that seemed to follow only a few moments behind us every day arrived on schedule so we spent another evening listening to the patter on our roof.
Next morning we arrived back in Hell, crossing our initial Norway east-west path as we now moved North-South. We skirted around Trondheim picking up a few tolls on the way, before stopping in to a campsite at Kvikne. After a few minutes looking around we decided it wasn’t for us, so continued on. We were seeing wide fields of golden barley for the first time, sparking memories of Ol’ England. The road was more gentle and Sweden-like here, no majestic peaks or deep blue fjords, just hundreds of miles of easy rolling, tree-lined tarmac. We arrived at a large lay-by picnic aire just short of the busy town of Tynset. Here we enjoyed a quick walk to the nearby lake side before the inevitable rains began in earnest and we hunkered down for the night.
The following morning we followed a long, flat, smooth and (some might say) boring road, making fast progress with nothing but trees for company. We saw two young elk cross the road in front of us, reminding us to take care and stay alert on these stretches. Colourful, striped elk antlers were hung from trees as artwork to both brighten the trip and act as a subtle reminder of the dangers of migrating elk, a call for drivers to remain vigilant. We stopped in at a rest area to swap drivers, only to find we’d chosen the place where the world’s largest Elk statue, created in shiny stainless steel and standing at a height of 10.3m (and a length of 11.3m), stood proud. It was impressively formed and provided a dominant reflective presence in the midst of an otherwise solid green band.
We continued on to another roadside aire at Andelva, where we enjoyed a long walk around the adjacent lake coast to reach a small marina on the opposite side. We picked wild blueberries in the surrounding woodland and enjoyed a bit of quiet downtime.
Winding roads, ferries, maelstroms, glaciers, rock pools, beaches, lakes and sunsets. Eight quite variable days and over 1100 miles away from our stay in the Lofoten islands we were finally parked up less than 50km from Oslo; we had made good time whilst seeing lots of interesting sights, managing to experience a lot of the central region and also rest well along the way. We were recharged and ready for a few days in the big city.
Spending a week exploring the Lofoten Islands with special guest Nicky’s mum
DAY 5 (Saturday) – Eggum coast + beach walk
This day we planned a more local explore, so we headed west a short while before turning off the E10 to follow a narrow road around the headland in the direction of Eggum. We reached the end of the road and paid a voluntary 20 NOK to continue along a gravel track and park up next to a stone fort ruin. There was a closed café built into the side of the small hill the fort sat on, within a stone circular courtyard outside. We braved the high winds to look around the fort then set off to walk along the path by the sea front. We soon came upon another of the notable artwork installations that dominate the tourist literature, such as the previously visited The Man from The Sea. This one was a partial statue of a head, layered and cut back from various perspectives. It was much smaller than expected from photos of the artwork, and distinctly disappointing.
We followed the path that led past a deep lake surrounded by high, craggy mountains with sharp ridges that reminded us of Helvellyn in the English Lake District. We reached a point a few kilometres along where we could view into the next valley, a scene lit bright by the sun escaping through an occasional break in the clouds. The day was grey and overcast, but the air was fresh and there was a wonderful, light-enhancing glow that belied the weather; perfect for painting or photography. We all sat on a nearby rock to enjoy the view before returning the same route back, the strong cross winds still blowing us sideways all the way.
We tried to visit Eggum’s sandy beach but could find no way to access it, but a few kilometres out of town we found a parking place at a small harbour and walked back along other similar beaches. The white sands and large, sea-carved rocks made these beautiful stretches of sand resemble those in the Seychelles, or the Western Isles of Scotland, especially when the sun came out and lit them up. We enjoyed a wander and scramble across the sands, the temptation to swim never too far from our minds. Instead we headed back home to set up for a party. Today was designated as Nicky’s mum’s ‘on tour’ birthday, as we’d not yet be home on the actual date in September. Starting with G&Ts on the terrace, we had birthday balloons, candles and a home-cooked meal planned. We found and played a few tense games of the Viking board game Hnefatafl as many more drinks were rolled out and a night of drunken, giggling silliness soon followed – what better way to spend your 70th year on our beautiful planet?
DAY 6 (Sunday) – LOFOTR Viking Museum
We waited until Sunday, the final day of the annual Viking festival, to visit LOFOTR, the Viking museum. The weather was kind that morning, and with the site less than 15 minutes from our cabin we arrived and parked up right on time and were amongst the first visitors through the door. The reception building was bright and modern, its curved glass roof structure based on the Viking longhouse. Shops lined the sides of the central seating area. We decided to see the outdoor items first as the weather was bright and dry, so bypassed the audio-guided museum and headed to the reconstructed longhouse. The building dominated the site from the road, nestled solidly on top of a hill as if growing directly out of the earth.
The approach uphill showed off the longhouse building wonderfully against the sky. The timber detailing of the doorways and carved roof tiles added a level of convincing authenticity to the recreation. We enjoyed the attention to detail, as even when modern life intruded on the longhouse, insisting on statutory fire escape signage, it was made tongue-in-cheek as a running Viking man complete with helmet and sword. Inside we explored the various rooms and chatted to the costumed staff, before playing dress-up with Viking clothes and weaponry. Nicky’s mum posed with an axe, wearing heavy chain mail that was quite a complication to remove. We lay on a bed lined with thick, soft furs, saw intricate deep wood carvings and swung axes and swords with abandon; it was quality, child-like fun.
The main festival tents were at a remote portion of the site, on the banks of a lake. We walked there, passing foundations from discovered Iron Age settlements and a stone pen with two huge boars and their many cute piglets. There were market stalls within billowing white tents all over the bottom site, selling all manner of items from jewellery to knitwear to bows and arrows. We visited the blacksmith hut with hope for a demonstration, but the smith was struggling to light his forge, even with his inauthentic cigarette lighter, so we left him to his struggles. We passed another Viking who loudly announced his upcoming story-telling intentions in the boathouse, so we headed there to listen. We were seated and regaled with ancient tales of adversity and intrigue, of mischievous Gods and the hapless or greedy mortals who fell foul to their scheming. It was a great thespian performance.
Outside the boathouse we had spotted a Viking ship, awaiting its crew. We put on the necessary life jackets and hopped on board, and when enough others followed we were set to sail. The wind had picked up to such a level that the long oars were discarded and our lake circumnavigation would rely solely on travelling under sail. The square sail was quickly raised, caught sharply in the wind and the ship took off, cutting through the water at a rate of knots. The expert guys sailing the ship trimmed the sail and jibed with the wind in order to achieve an out and back route by sailing close to the wind, the best way to manage the strong wind conditions in a simple way with a dozen guests on board and a limited time slot. Seeing the traditional striped Viking sail taut in front of a lovely green hilly landscape and rippled sea was simply beautiful.
After our exhilarating sail, our next stop was to try our hand at both archery and axe throwing. We shot weighted arrows from long-bows at the target boards only 15 metres or so away, nicely clustering them on occasion. The ‘axes’ were formed from a single piece of cut metal, a little bent and blunt, so were much harder to control, but we managed a few satisfying throws that sunk deeply into the battered fibrous target. We returned to Benny for an hour to grab a bite of lunch, and during this time the rains returned, dampening the day. This was our cue to now visit the internal exhibitions, so we collected audio guides and walked the display rooms, listening to descriptions of various items. We watched an informative and moving short film on Viking life, all filmed on site, some rooms being familiar to us from our morning’s explore.
We returned to the festival site where we browsed the stalls before watching the Viking ship sail by again. A puppet show, all in Norwegian, entertained us until the festival finale began, with fire-juggling, music and wonderful soulful singing drawing the day to a close. We returned slowly back via the longhouse and reception and returned home tired, full of Viking memories.
DAY 7 (Monday) – Ballstad fishing village + Haukland beach
Today we headed west again, first to the town of Leknes. We simply passed through again, before turning of south to visit the fishing village of Ballstad. We parked up on the empty harbour front and walked a little around the town, but with a constant light drizzle in the air we found little to inspire us. There were colourful houses and huts across the water, somewhat reminiscent of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. We completed a slow loop of the central village through what was mostly residential areas, deciding which pretty house we’d prefer to live in, and why. It was a nice walk to clear away the cobwebs from the previous night’s exuberance.
We headed back north of Leknes, this time turning onto a different headland and following the road around to visit Haukland Beach. The rain was on with a force by now, coming in sideways in sheets. We had a bite of lunch as we sat out the weather and enjoyed watching the wildness roll over the beach outside. We thought we could fit in a short walk in a window when the rain had quietened, but as soon as we were far enough along the sands, the heavens opened fully again and we got utterly drenched on the beautiful beach. The wind blew the rain at us from all angles and we couldn’t have been wetter if we’d had a dip in the sea. It was strangely invigorating and exciting though, even if we were all a dripping mess on return.
Still damp but feeling alive, we headed back home to spend a cosy afternoon, our last, in the quirky red cabin. We mostly packed up and readied ourselves to leave, eating and drinking up all the remaining provisions, our week on the Lofoten Islands at a close.
Day 8 (Tuesday) – Return to Evenes and goodbyes
We cleared up and headed out, saying our goodbyes to the red cabin and, for the final time, disappeared down the narrow coast road. We joined the E10 and retraced our steps back through Svolvær and beyond, passing all the familiar places and viewpoints we had stopped at on the way in. We made good progress and had enough time to pause in a picnic place for a last lunch together before Mum’s flight was due. We chatted about the islands, disappointed that the weather had driven so much of our experiences and activities, but still excited about the parts we had managed to include; beach, coast and mountain walks, Viking ship sailing, axe wielding, sea swimming and a special birthday meal.
We left mum at the airport and said all our goodbyes, until our return to the UK for a pit stop in a few months. We were two again, back on the open road and now with exactly nothing in our diary until mid-October. What to do? We guessed it was time to turn ourselves south and see what the central west coast region of Norway had to offer.