Category Archives: WorkAway

WorkAway in the Dordogne (with Kate & Dave)

During three days of house-viewings (more on this later), where we mostly over-nighted in the surprisingly quiet aire in Châlus next to a popular lorry park, we were contacted by Kate and Dave, registered WorkAway hosts.  They were a well-travelled British couple who now run a large gîte complex in the Dordogne, offering high end lettings.  We had had no specific intention of undertaking WorkAway projects at this time due to being busy with our house search, but as they had been let down at short notice by other WorkAwayers who unfortunately had to cancel due to a family emergency, they proactively contacted us via the WorkAway website to ask if we could possibly step in and help.  We were not too far from where they were, only a couple of hours’ drive, so after discussion we decided that we could.

Workaway Dordogne (our cottage)

Workaway Dordogne (pool cleaning)

We finalised arrangements with Kate and the next morning we were off, heading south to find them in the wilds of the Dordogne, near to Bourniquel. We were greeted with grateful smiles and first given a tour of the extensive properties and grounds.  We were offered the opportunity to enjoy staying in one of their luxury couples studios, a nice break from Benny, and to enjoy their home cooking in exchange for our help.  The site was set on the edge of rolling countryside, overlooking Dordogne meadows with beautiful Limousin cows and their very young calves roaming nearby.  It was a very peaceful, tranquil place.  We enjoyed exchanging stories with our fellow Brits, learning from their experiences of living in France, before settling into our spacious studio to rest up before the work began.

Workaway Dordogne (tub planting)

On this Workaway we would be tasked with mostly gardening and maintenance tasks around the two hectare site. For our first project, we started with the group activity of planting up 160 separate geraniums into many, many pots.  On a large sheet of tarpaulin, we mixed batches of the old, exhausted soil with bags of new compost and re-potted the multitude of containers and hanging baskets.  Varied mixtures of different coloured geraniums were added to each container for maximum effect then all were repositioned under the covered verandah ready for setting out round the complex.  Nicky then redressed and positioned several scarecrows (or more accurately in this context, scaredeers), utilising her innate fashion sense and artistic skills to make them look as scary and as French as possible.

Workaway Dordogne (scare deers)

Workaway Dordogne (sunset scarecrow)

Over the course of the week we learnt more about our amiable hosts.  Kate and Dave had both been involved in high end sports, sports training and teaching sports ethics for most of their lives, Kate a gymnast, Dave a Judo champion. They had travelled all over Eastern Europe and beyond with their training camps, and had lived in Zimbabwe, building a centre of excellence and helping setting up the international sports structures there.  We enjoyed the wild and colourful stories of their trials and tribulations during their varied working lives.  After the constant rains of our first day, the weather backed off and we were lucky enough to enjoy some hot and sunny weather for the next few days.  We had a hot run one night in the evening heat, finding a loop of around 6km through the local woodland.

Workaway Dordogne (shutter sanding)

Workaway Dordogne (shutter painting)

Over the coming days I rescreened two gates with mesh, constructed some makeshift anti-deer fencing to protect young trees and organised and re-covered the woodshed piles.  I cut and collected grass as Nicky weeded borders and planted out additional lavender plants.  I helped construct a sun shelter on the end of the cottage and stained an area of decking, readying it to receive an outdoor hot-tub.  Nicky & I sanded, filled and painted (twice) the external timber window shutters to the exposed façade of the main house.  We scraped, cleaned, filled & painted a curved garden wall, before cleaning and repainting the adjacent decking, creating a neat, peaceful corner to watch the sunset.  We strung solar lights between the creeping plants on an arched structure defining a well-worn garden path.

Workaway Dordogne (deck staining)

Workaway Dordogne (n painting)

But it certainly wasn’t all work.  One evening we visited Couze-et-Saint-Front, a local village, to see an old mill and ancient caves, before enjoying apéro in a local, friendly tabac with a wonderful view of the slowly meandering river.  We briefly met the owners as we swapped stories.  Another, we had an early evening visit to the nearby beau village of Limeuil, set beautifully above a slow, curved bank of the Dordogne river where the Vezère joins. We sat on a terrace outside and enjoyed waiter service drinks as we watched kids play in the river shallows.  The hot day had tempered to a delightfully comfortable temperature and we stretched out and relaxed, chatting and sipping as we soaked up the stunning view.  It was exactly moments such as these that prompted our decision to move to France.

Workaway Dordogne (Limeuil view)

Workaway Dordogne (Limeuil drinks)

One bright morning we were driven to Issigeac Sunday market, one of the largest in the entire Dordogne region.  We walked the streets soaking up the quintessential Frenchness of the morning, snails included, even if there were more than a few English accents scattered throughout the busy streets – it is Dordogneshire after all.  The white stone of the circular bastide town was thrown into contrast by the colourful stalls stacked high with produce and colour.  The buzzing streets were filled with a happy liveliness, with the many wares of local artisans proving to be a very popular draw.  We stepped away from the crowds and into narrow backstreets, learning a little of the town’s history and of prominent local characters from informative plaques positioned on select medieval buildings; a wonderful morning’s distraction.

Workaway Dordogne (Issigeac market)

Workaway Dordogne (Issigeac square)

We completed a few outstanding jobs then spent our last afternoon relaxing in one of their two swimming pools, in welcome sunshine.  We slid back the pool cover to allow views of the surrounding countryside and bring the outside light pouring in as we splashed around and cooled off. It was a fitting, relaxing way to end our days in such a tranquil spot.  A family of hoopoes were nesting in the grounds and we could occasionally hear their distinctive calls, but unfortunately never managed to photograph their colourful crowns, an ornithological challenge given to us by a friend at home.

Workaway Dordogne (us in pool)

We packed up the following morning, said our sad goodbyes to Dave & Kate, before heading off back up north to sort out more than a few things about a property we had recently viewed.  Before arriving at the Workaway we had had an offer on a house accepted; times they were, as Dylan would say, about to be a-changing.  (more to follow)

A&N x

 

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2017 – A wonderful year of travels remembered in select panoramas

A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017

 

WorkAway – Ringstad (Part 2)

Ringstad Part 2:  Cooling swims at local lakes, foraging for berries on local islands, midnight camp fires and mountain hikes.

Ringstad - (Seahouse from sea)

Ringstad - (island across still bay)

Our work continued day to day, with each day a simple variation on a theme.  The weather stayed bright and clear, the views out to sea remained spectacular, the beauty never diminishing with familiarity.  The restaurant was busy and the house and apartment turnover high, so there was always plenty to be done.  I chipped in with cleaning a house when required, but managed to avoid the kitchen or restaurant in favour of more outdoor gardening work.  Each night Nicky and I drank and chatted late with Karina, learning more of the history and future of their busy lives and business.  The more we heard of the wild beauty of the Vesterålen islands in winter, its pristine snow glistening bright under green aurora skies, the more we vowed to return.

Ringstad - (setting sun over sea)

Ringstad - (barbecue hut)

Ringstad - (pink clouds)

One night, after closing the restaurant, we all walked a short way around to a comfortable timber shelter and spent the remainder of the late evening barbecuing on an open fire.  The site was kitted out with woolly blankets, cushions and lots of seasoned firewood, all we needed for a good night.  The sun turned the sky pink over the barbeque place, reflecting the lines of coloured-in clouds on the still, dark water of the adjacent sea.  When the flames died down a little, we devoured tender slabs of steak and pork straight from the metal grill, with sides of various potato salads.  Afterwards we sat around the dying fire sipping red wine, chatting into the small hours under the midnight sun.  Nicky and I were the last to leave, reluctantly abandoning the fire and the mesmerising pink skies around 2.30am.

Ringstad - (firestarters)

Ringstad - (barbecue hut chat)

The next morning, after a few hours work, the full group of Workawayers decided to take kayaks out to visit a few small islands to forage for berries, and perhaps wild mushrooms if they were ready.  We all paddled as a group out to a nearby spit of sand joining two small islands and exited our kayaks, with empty tubs in hand.  We walked through the low, springy bushes searching for ripe cloudberries, but we were a week or so early, as we could only find hard red fruit on each plant.

Ringstad - (view from beach)

Ringstad - (foraging beach spot)

Ringstad - (a kayaking on calm sea)

To compensate, there were many ripe wild blueberries, so we picked those instead.  We then kayaked to another grassy island, again landing on a small sandy beach between pointed rocks.  We all foraged for blueberries and found there to be an abundance, and ate many as we picked.  The collected blueberries were later made into very enjoyable sweet dumplings by our lead kayaker and resident chef, Xervin.

Ringstad - (A & N kayaking)

Ringstad - (second beach stop)

Over the week, we had a few short sea dips to cool off from the heat of the day, lasting only a few minutes each time but we emerged from the chilly sea water cooled and refreshed.   One afternoon we had a quick cycle to a popular sandy beach set on the end of a local lake.  It was only 3km away, an easy free-wheel down past a few other small lakes, huge expanses of wild lupins and a neat strawberry farm.  The tiny stretch of beach was packed with families, the parents sunbathing and the kids playing raucously in the water.  We slumped onto the short grass at the side of the sand and lazed a while, then tried to have a swim in lake.  The only issue was the shallowness of the water, and we had to walk a long way out to get deep enough water to cover our knees.  It was perfect for small children to splash around in, but not ideal for a proper swim.  Still, it cooled us down very nicely in the warm afternoon sun.

Ringstad - (sunset on seahouse)

Ringstad - (pre-dinner drinkspot)

On our last day in Ringstad, we worked through the busy morning shift to help out, even though it was a scheduled day off for us. Mid-afternoon we borrowed our host’s battered old jeep to drive a short way around the coast to where we could begin a climb of a nearby peak.  The 467m high hill, Vetten, had formed the solid backdrop of our stay and we had long talked of standing on its top to look down over the islands we had kayaked around, and the time was now.  It was a short walk, around an hour and half up to the top, with an initial steep climb turning into easy walking for most of the well-worn route.  We passed and examined a neat green cabin available for hikers to use before continuing up to the top of the hill where another small hut had been built for walkers to seek shelter.  We sat inside out of the chilling wind to eat our lunch, signing the scrappy visitor book as we took in the expansive view.

Ringstad - (view from Vetten)

Ringstad - (hut on Vetten)

Even on this rather dull, cloudy day, the setting was incredible; below us there were calm, protected bays scattered with rocky islands covered with green vegetation and nesting sea birds. It was an eye-opener to see the scale of the area in one vista.  Ringstad, where we had based ourselves, was visible on the end of a small peninsula, and we could just pick out Benny awaiting our return in the car-park behind the main house.  Ringstad was positioned on one of many small inlets scattered throughout this small tongue of the mighty fjord, with many other stretches of water and tall dark hills stretching to the horizon and beyond.  We could see why boat traffic and travel was so important here; a thirty minute jaunt on a fast boat to cross the fjord could be a three hour drive around the difficult, winding coast road.  Our high overview literally gave us a different perspective on the terrain we had immersed ourselves in.

Ringstad - (climbing Vetten)

Ringstad - (from top of Vetten)

Our ten days in residence in Ringstad proved to be a wondrous experience.  We worked hard, and played just the same, taking all kayaking opportunities, swims and hikes whenever possible.  The eagle viewing on the rib-boat nature safari was a visual treat, and the calm, ever-changing views of the surrounding inlet and far-away mountains were a constant delight.  We enjoyed the long chats with our hosts and our quiet, contemplative row boat trip under a cloudless sky.  We were hesitant to leave but equally hesitant to stay on, as we could easily have become trapped by the visual enchantments of such a place.  It was sad to drive away, but life is but a series of meetings and partings, that is the way of it, as a wise frog in a muppet movie once reminded us all.

WorkAway – Ringstad (Part 1)

Part 1:  Arrival at our WorkAway in Ringstad and settling in with our hosts, our allocated jobs and our responsibilities.

We left our fjord-side aire in Årstein and headed west, deep into the Vesterålen islands.  The weather was incredible on the way over; clear, bright skies with light wispy cloud and the temperature stuck around 24 degrees.  The bodies of water we passed as we crawled our way through to the Vesterålen islands were of such luminous light green colour, mineral rich with blonde sand visible below, each framed with brooding, dark mountain peaks.  We passed through the main town of Sortland on our way, pausing for a quick look at the famed blue houses at the harbour.  We also passed the town’s bronze statue of their recently retired, very dedicated and much loved litter-picker.

Ringstad - (beautiful route in)

The winding route we followed hugged the coast, avoiding any of the large, jagged mountains that formed the ever-present backdrop to our scenic drive. We arrived into Ringstad , at Huset på Yttersiden, after around three hours driving, where we met the proprietor Ian, originally of Cornwall, and several of the other current WorkAwayers, who were mostly young students from various places around Europe.  The WorkAwayers were all living in the same house and we were offered a tiny room with bunks alongside them, but politely declined, deciding to live in Benny instead.  The house’s clutter, grime and noise was just a little too much of a reminder of our own student days, times we had left behind us twenty years ago, and we didn’t want our old, grumpy heads to cramp their laid-back student style.

Ringstad - (first kayak tour)

Ringstad - (n on the water)

After having been on site for less than an hour we got invited to join a beginner’s kayak trip, out around the local skerries, but with only one spare kayak remaining Nicky bagged the only available spot.  She was to be trained up to perhaps lead future kayaking trips, once she learned how the site was set-up and where the standard local route goes.  She followed the group out, led by Ian, taking in the direction of the route and learning how best to deal with novice kayakers in what could be a dangerous environment if the winds or weather were to quickly change or someone went over.  The trip took a leisurely three hours or so, and Nicky enjoyed every minute on the calm water.

Ringstad - (kayak store shed)

Ringstad - (the setting)

That evening we finally met the lady of the house, Karina, when we all sat down for dinner.  Ian and Karina had met many years ago in Germany, before returning to Karina’s homeland of Norway where they had now run their hospitality and tour business for over ten years.  Along with many kayaking trips, Ian led rib-boat bird-watching and photography tours, local hiking tours and hired out fishing boats to guests.  There were bookings to manage for their houses and apartments, along with all associated house cleaning, laundry and daily maintenance.  On top of that, they ran a busy bar and restaurant, the only one in the local vicinity.  No wonder the welcome assistance of keen, hard-working WorkAwayers was something they relied upon.

Ringstad - (row boat at night)

We all sat on the external decking as we ate dinner, looking out to sea, the night still and beautiful.  Seagulls were nesting on a nearby island and they were the only disturbers of the peace, with their raucous calls and squawking the main background noise.  With the skies entirely cloud free the views out to the far mountain ranges were simply incredible, but the temperature had cooled dramatically and we shivered in the cold air for a while, until thick, woollen blankets were brought out to help warm us.  Even in the summer, being this far north we should have expected to experience cold, crisp nights.  Wrapped up well, we talked late into the night as we continually stared out at the island-filled view, enchanted by its simple, still beauty.

Ringstad - (cutting the grass)

Ringstad - (site plan sketch)

I was put on gardening and maintenance duty, a job that suited me just fine.  I strimmed edges and pathways, raked off moss, trimmed hedges, weeded and cut grass all around the site on their sit-on mower.  It was sticky work under the hot afternoon sun, but it involved a level of pleasant effort that kept me very active and produced immediate, satisfying results.  I also engraved a couple of fishing gaffs with personal messages, to be presented as a small token of their appreciation to long-term returning guests.  I was also tasked with sketching up a quick site plan for both WorkAwayers and customers, so they would know where each property was located for cleaning or visiting respectively.  I was later asked to help with producing fire plans for each of the properties, and sketched up quick floor plans of each, noting escape routes and positions of fire extinguishers and break glass points, that were later to be framed and hung in the properties.

Ringstad - (a kayaking)

Ringstad - (nicky in kayak)

Nicky had been on cleaning duties, either in the kitchen or turning over apartments between guests.  But with our host Ian feeling rather ill one morning, Nicky was tasked with leading her first kayak group, with my back-up support.  Nicky led them out of the bay, after explaining all the basics; how to put on spray decks, how to get in and out of the kayak safely, and how to paddle correctly and efficiently.  I followed behind, carrying the safety tow line, medical kit and spare paddle, staying at the back to keep a watchful eye over the novice paddlers.  I had to correct a few, those somehow using their paddles upside down or back to front, and taught several how best to steer their kayak, but generally they all managed to muddle their way through the peaceful island tour with no real issues.  The sea was mirror-calm and the warm sun glimmered lightly off the flat surface, making the whole experience quite idyllic, perfect for their first ever sea paddle and for Nicky’s first kayak guiding experience.

Ringstad - (nicky on rib-boat)

Ringstad - (island lighthouses)

Afterwards, as we hadn’t lost any paying guests to the sea, we were rewarded with seats on the rib boat for a Nature Safari trip.  There were ten paying guests so we sneaked on at the back as the last two extras.  Before setting out we were all dressed in full fleece overalls and life vests, with hats and gloves optional. The powerful rib could run at over 60 km/hour, bouncing smoothly over the small waves.  We visited Hellfjorden, a spectacular, narrow strip of water with high cliffs, and the site of many nesting arctic terns.  We watched the very pretty but highly territorial birds until they grew slightly irate with our presence, then moved off before we disturbed or upset them too much.

Ringstad - (arctic tern)

Ringstad - (cormorants)

After a fast crossing of the wide Eidsfjorden, we reached a scattering of small rocky outcrops where a large colony of cormorants nested.  They sat dramatically on the top of rounded bumps thickly coated with guano, their bodies neatly silhouetted against the greying sky.  We next travelled to view a colony of yellow headed gannets, where they similarly stood around in large groups, resting in the afternoon sun.  We cruised past many small lighthouses or stone day-markers, and later passed a very remote house on a small island that the current owner was transforming into a hotel to offer an exclusive, peaceful experience.  It was perched precariously on a steep, rugged cliff and reachable only by boat.

Ringstad - (gannets on rock)

Ringstad - (sea eagle swoops)

On our return leg, close to home, Ian suddenly veered the rib boat violently to the left, turning a sharp bend and then cutting the engines to glide towards a small island.  He had spotted the main focus of the trip, a sea eagle, watching us from its high perch.  Ian threw a fish into the water, knowing that an eagle could spot it from up to 2km away, and we sat back with pregnant anticipation. In only a few moments, we saw the huge sea eagle take off, with its wing span of two and a half metres, then elegantly swoop down and take the fish from the water, talons first.  It was the definite highlight of the rib-boat trip, and we felt privileged to have witnessed it at such close quarters.

Ringstad - (a rowing)

Ringstad - (n rowing)

That night we were offered a la carte in the restaurant, and we both chose to have peppered steaks with frites from the menu, which was a very tasty, richly sublime and rare treat. We later celebrated our wonderful day, and dinner, with a fun trip around the sheltered bay in a small rowing boat, peacefully floating around and absorbing the view.  After a few days we have expected the beauty to wane and our enthusiasm for it all to wear off, even a little, but we were both still deeply enthralled by the subtlety of the changing light on the islands and on the extensive saw-tooth mountain backdrop.  We could see the peaks of the Lofoten Islands far to the back, with the island of Hadsel standing tall in front, set just across the deep blue Eidsfjorden.

Part 2 to follow.

WorkAway – Norrsken Lodge, Overtorneå

Volunteering for a WorkAway week at Norrsken Lodge in Overtorneå.

We drove north on the Finland side of the river Torne, until we reached Overtorneå.  After a quick look around the town, we moved on and parked up at Norrsken Lodge, quietly admiring the scale of it all.  It was a long, thin site, with over 300m of prime riverside frontage, with a small forested area to one end and a cycle path back to town on the other.  We parked up and wandered a little around the site’s pretty location and timber buildings, where we ran into the owners Max and Yasmine, along with their two boys and their huge slobbering bloodhound Brian.

Norrsken Lodge - main house

Norrsken Lodge - reception area

They had moved their lives from Switzerland to build a new, more relaxing, lifestyle.  Over many years of visiting they had fallen in love with winter in the north of Scandinavia; the crisp nights under the Northern Lights, the outdoors lifestyle around a crackling campfire, from learning simple survival and bush craft skills, to the thriving cultures of supportive friendship, reindeer herding and smoke saunas.  Max had once been a global supply-chain manager, but suffered from burnout and was seeking a new, much less stressful and much more rewarding, path in life.  His long-term plans included the possibility of setting up a high-end burnout treatment centre on this quiet stretch of river, to help introduce those in a similar situation to the enduring qualities of peaceful reflection.  In the shorter term the goal was simpler – to ensure all visitors here had a ‘Fantastic Time’, the chosen strap-line for his Norrsken Lodge re-branding.

Norrsken Lodge - (river view)

Norrsken Lodge - (evening tea on rock)

Norrsken Lodge - (1am glow)

We picked out a spot to base ourselves for the week, at the far edge of the site and right on the banks of the river, and settled in. Later we met some of the other WorkAwayers – there were six other volunteers on site presently.  One girl, Akiko, arrived directly from Japan on the same day as we did, to make a total of nine WorkAwayers on site.  Many others were volunteering for a month or more, but we had only one week to spare. We all had a beautiful salmon dinner and a local beer in the site restaurant as we chatted to each other and learned a little of the history of Norrsken Lodge and that of the new owners.  Max and Yasmine had bought the lodge only four months ago and this was to be their first summer in charge.  The ice and snows had receded only in late May and its transformative disappearance had highlighted the extent of the maintenance work required in order to ‘bring back the shine’, our motto for the week.

Norrsken Lodge - (nicky rows)

Norrsken Lodge - (midnight sun)

Our first evening, around 10.30pm, we took a small wooden rowing boat out on the river, under the slowly setting but not quite managing to set sun.  We took turns rowing up the river and back, slowly relaxing and soaking up the idyllic setting and enjoying the late sunshine.  The water was clear and still, reflecting the campsite frontage and nearby tree-line with exceptional clarity.  We returned to Benny and stayed up until nearly 1am watching out our window as the mirror-calm water glowed with the redness of the midnight sun.  It was quite difficult to finally close the privacy blinds and make ourselves go to sleep, although we really needed to; we were to start work at 8am.

Norrsken Lodge - (reindeer herd approches)

Norrsken Lodge - (local catchers)

On our second evening we drove Benny, with two other WorkAwayers on board, an hour north and east, to visit a local reindeer farm.  We had been invited to watch the herding and collating of new births on the site where the reindeer were seasonally penned, numbered and tagged.  The last 5km of road was a tight single-width gravel track with huge bumps and ruts, making our progress very slow, with the constant worry of grounding on our minds.  We finally made it to the small car-park and walked the last few hundred metres to where the timber corral was positioned.  There were lots of cars in attendance; all locals holding interests in the herd were here to check on their investment and count the new generation of herd members.

Norrsken Lodge - (losing winter fur)

Norrsken Lodge - (in the corral)

Soon the silence of the forest was disrupted by the incoming herd.  It was wild, chaotic and very noisy with the deep bleating and echoing low grunts of the stampeding reindeer.  Temporary fencing and many volunteers shepherded the deer along the required path to the pen. Many hundreds were finally gathered up, with a few lost stragglers running wild around the corral, feeling obvious separation anxiety.  The reindeer were in the process of losing their thick winter fur and looked rather mangy and ragged, patchy and mottled.  The blotches of lost hair looked, from a distance, a lot like areas of rotted flesh.  They seemed were like how a horror movie might imagine undead zombie reindeers to look, the white ones especially having a ghostly, unreal presence.

Norrsken Lodge - (campfire dinner)

Norrsken Lodge - (campfire)

Whilst the tagging of the new-borns took place, we toggled between watching the myriad reindeer herd scatter and regroup within the corral and sitting around the nearby birchwood campfire, cooking sausages on sticks for dinner.  We enjoyed the process of cooking over an open fire, searching out the best glowing embers to evenly cook our meat.  We were joined by the locals who cooked salmon and large chunks of thick sausage as they chatted animatedly in Swedish.  We enjoyed setting our own fires and learning how best to strip bark thinly to provide suitable kindling that would take under a single flint spark.  The evening in the forest was a small but powerful introduction into the collaborative, sociable lifestyle that had so intoxicated Max to move to these Northern Wilds.

Norrsken Lodge - (beach building sand)

Norrsken Lodge - (early sketch)

We were both drafted onto a beach project, where a slightly sad stretch of sand was to be expanded and tidied up to provide a focal point for the site.  Nicky was given the task of researching SUPs, kayaks and canoes, weighing up which would be most suitable for the business to offer for paying clients on this river.  She produced detailed spreadsheets, price comparisons and contacted suppliers to set up ordering accounts.  She created sign-out sheets for hired equipment, standardised liability forms and other essential items for management to consider, allowing them to get started on offering water sports services for the summer months.

Norrsken Lodge - (barbecue night)

Norrsken Lodge - (big steaks on)

Norrsken Lodge - (serenity on the river)

Although I was much happier being left to brushing up, raking sand and digging out stones, I inevitably got dragged into providing professional services for various larger projects around the site.  I attended meetings with building suppliers, redesigned layouts for future cottages, and directed builders on site, providing them with basic drawings and setting-out dimensions.  I had to double check their built foundation levels, ensuring the site was set up and properly prepared to receive the soon-to-be relocated timber sauna buildings.  I was architect, site engineer, foreman, labourer and general dogsbody all in one.  But it was all very interesting, helping out and being a small part of the far-reaching vision Max had for the future of his business.

Norrsken Lodge - (setting the levels)

Norrsken Lodge - (sauna foundations)

Away from our daily work responsibilities, we had a few long swims in the pretty side-branch of the river Torne facing Benny.  One late evening, under a reddening sky, we got suited and booted and swam up stream in totally still water, the glassy reflection just stunningly beautiful.  The water was warm, around 17 degrees, so we were in no hurry to return, and dawdled a slow mile up and down the river.  Another day we swam a 2km loop out to the main Torne river, around an island on the junction where our small branch met the main flow, and back.  We swam around 5km in total in the few days we were camped on the grassy banks.  We mentioned our upcoming Arctic Circle swim to the group and two young Frenchman, David and Alex, were both very keen to see if they could attend the event, so we helped where we could to make it happen for them.

Norrsken Lodge - (ready for swim)

Norrsken Lodge - (nicky swims)

Norrsken Lodge - (calm water)

Our final work day brought the moving of the smoke sauna.  I removed the old timber boards from the external porch that would later be replaced by a new decking area.  This allowed the 3m long forks on the digger to slide in under the concrete base and lift it entirely whole to its new position.  Two side strips of concrete, essential for supporting the timber roof, were strapped up around the roof for additional support as only the internal rebar was stopping then from snapping off when lifted.  The slow, careful move went well, two separate diggers nudging the sauna around, with only minor tweaks to the pre-prepared gravel base required to level up the smoke sauna in its new position.

Norrsken Lodge - (smoke sauna deck removed)

Norrsken Lodge - (agreeing the plans)

Norrsken Lodge - (relocated smoke sauna)

It was a good finish to our WorkAway week efforts, seeing the first of several big changes that would happen in the coming weeks after we’ve moved on. The final morning there was torrential rain as we packed up and said our sad goodbyes to Max, and to Norrsken Lodge.  We had only a short journey north, to the village of Juoksengi, where our next adventure was to swim back in time, across the Arctic Circle from Finland to Sweden.

Sweden’s north Baltic Coast to Overtorneå

Sweden’s north Baltic Coast to Overtorneå

Leaving the north entrance of Skuleskogen National Park and with it Sweden’s beautiful Höga Kusten behind, we drove north following the E4 along the coast.  The weather had changed, our blue skies replaced overnight with a solid grey mass of muddy cloud and the constant threat of rain.  We passed through the towns of Örnsköldsvik and Umeå stopping only briefly in each to have a look around.  We kept motoring along, making good distance under the grey skies.  We turned east off the main road just after Lövånger and proceeded up a narrow side road that terminated at a noted lighthouse called Bjuröklubb Fyren.  Just short of here was a quiet grassy aire near a small sandy beach where we pulled in to spend the night as the rains arrived.

Bjuroklubb Fyren

The next morning we drove a few miles further along the small peninsula to the end of the road, parking where it terminated at Bjuröklubb Fyren.  It was rainy and grey, the sky a single flat colour with no sign of an edge. We walked over the nearby hillside first, seeing the ruins of old Russian-built buildings and ovens once used to support raiding parties during a long-past war.  We then reached the lighthouse on the rocky headland by way of built timber walkways, where we had a rather wet and dismal view out to sea, before deciding to return to Benny and move on.

Bjuroklubb Fyren - walkways

Back on the coast road we passed Skellefteå and Piteå as we made our way to the outskirts of Luleå.  Our goal was to visit Gammelstad Church town, a UNESCO world heritage site, just to the west of the main town.  We parked at what we thought would be our overnighting aire, to find that signs had been put up that very morning by Q-Park to turn it into max. 3 hours parking.  We asked in the nearby tourist shop and they seemed a little apologetic about it, all beyond their control.  We parked anyway and walked into town, with the visitor centre our first stop for information.

Gammalstad - (visitor centre)

Gammalstad - (museum)

We learned that there were two other areas very near the town where we could overnight, so that solved our first dilemma.  Then we visited the beautifully presented free museum upstairs, watching a video on the local area and scanning all the displays.  We also noted the official UNESCO heritage certification letter for Gammelstad Church Town was framed on the side wall, a nice touch.  The winds and rain continued outside the large windows, so we lingered longer and learnt more than we might have had the day been bright and clear.

Gammalstad - (central church)

Gammalstad - (approaching church)

At the centre was the late Medieval Nederluleå church, with over 40 different types of rock used in the construction of its fieldstone walls.  There were some areas of brick detailing high on gable ends and within window reveals, breaking up the expanse of stone.  Inside, the gilded altarpiece had a detailed wood carving depicting the passion of Christ, said to be one of the finest in Sweden. A wall-mounted and ornately decorated pulpit overlooked the single nave, set below the simple, plain white vaulted roof.

Gammalstad - (church interior)

Gammalstad - (UNESCO world heritage site)

We walked on through the town, following a short dictated route that picked up most of the historical items of interest.  There were once hundreds of such church towns scattered around Sweden, but of the 16 now remaining in existence Gammalstd is said to be the best preserved. There are 408 small red-painted timber houses positioned around the central church.  The houses were built to allow parishioners who lived long distances away the opportunity to visit the church for worship and then stay over before making their long journey home.  Many of the church cottages are still utilised in this traditional way.

Gammalstad - (traditional houses)

Gammalstad - (main street)

Gammalstad - (wandering the streets)

We spent the night in the recommended car-park near a rarely used railway line, under a deluge that cut up the hard gravel into a swamp.  We didn’t venture out at all, but watched our unfortunate neighbours parked across the yard struggle with attempting to fix their clearly leaking door in the driving rain; we didn’t envy them their task.

Next morning we drove into Luleå, where we called into a large caravan showroom to enquire about buying propane gas and the required Swedish connection.  They sold both, but the prices were staggering – over £60 for the small connection adaptor needed, and an additional £150 for a standard 11kg propane bottle (the same sized ones that are £9 in Spain) and this was one that could only later be exchanged with them.  No thanks, that was much too expensive and limiting, and so for the first time we decided to wait until back in Norway to buy something at a more reasonable price.

Nikkala marina

Crossing into Finland

We continued on through Kalix, before turning off to overnight at Nikkala marina.  We initially decided to park nose-out to have a view, but we gave up this prime sea view spot and instead cowered behind the service building, safe and protected as the incredible cross winds battered the entire site into submission.  We lost our view but stayed stable and unrocked as we slept.  We passed through busy Haparanda the following morning before crossing into Finland to visit a nearby Lidl we had spotted on Google maps.  We stocked up as necessary, then rather than return to Sweden we drove north on the Finnish side until we reached the bridge back to Overtorneå, our primary destination.

Overtornea church - exterior

Overtornea church - interior

We entered the village and noted there were several signs pointing the way to our goal.  We were here to stay at Norrsken Lodge for another WorkAway volunteer week.  First we visited the small town and looked around the pretty, decorative church before progressing to meet our Workaway hosts and learn what tasks awaited us.