Monday, 30 June 2008

Midnight sun in Andenes

Everything seemed to go really well today. I left Nigel and Ingvild Turrell's cabins at 9 o'clock, my earliest start of the month, with the weather overcast but promising improvement during the day - which indeed I soon felt because by 10.00 I was changing out of my woolen Icebreaker top for the first time in four or five days, and into a short sleeved shirt. I was curious - as were all the other tourists staying at Andøya Friluftlivsenter - as to what the function was of the tall wood-boarded funnel shaped buildings next door to the hut I was staying in. Initially I decided they might be huge composting bins (15 metres tall) but eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I opened the near one to find out ... it turns out to be a wooden roundhouse for feasting inside, with a large open fireplace in the center and reindeer-fur rugs on wooden trestles all the way around the circumference. I'd almost decided before opening the door that, given the number of times it was being pulled open by inquisitive visitors, it could be attached to a dynamo to generate power for the center. Inside it was dark, smoke-black, and primeval ... large dried cod-heads swinging in the shaft of sunlight lighting up the fireplace.

The rest of the ride today was fine, gentle with few hills, but a little tough at times later as the breeze picked up. It's a very quiet road up the west side of Andøya with just the odd bobil and some lovely white beaches. I'll upload some pictures when I've gathered a few more.

In the end I covered 74 km today in just over 5 hours, which tells you something about the headwind - without it, I was contentedly cruising at 22 kph, but when I came around a bend into it my speed dropped to 9kph.

Andenes is famous for its rocket testing ground - I saw only one, mostly as a peculiar vertical contrail in the sky five kilometers away, with a "pop" at the end of the flight. This side of the island is also studded with radio listening posts and radar domes - so there's obviously sensitive military work going on here too.

I've met several other cycle-tourists today, including a tall but whippet-thin Norwegian from Bergen with a name like Åtler (? must check) who is riding a gorgeous Thorn Raven Tour (the later model of the bike I have) from the North Cape to Lindesnes, the furthest southern point of Norway, in five weeks. We exchanged details of good places to stay and took photographs of each other's bike for good measure. Sensibly, he is traveling with half the weight that I have.

Andenes camping (where I'm staying tonight) is fine - the tent is again at the top of a spectacular white beach, and this time the campsite has a shower block and toilets just a few minutes walk away. Other people are very friendly and those with dogs are keeping them a respectful distance away from my tent.

At the moment I'm planning to watch the midnight sun (perfect evening for it), and tomorrow I'll try to catch the 13:00 ferry to Senja after getting enough cash out to see me through a week of travel in areas with no cashpoint machines... or supermarkets.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Rest day at Traneber Hytte, Andøya Friluftsenter

It's not a large room, in fact it is nearly the smallest of the trip, but it is nice and warm and comes well equipped for cooking, and with duvets and pillows. The view from the windows is of waving cotton-tufts on the bog on three sides, and of the mountains and wide fjord two hundred meters away and below on the other. The holiday season seems to be picking up, nearly all the huts are occupied this weekend.

This is a cosy place run by Nigel and Ingvald, who bought about 100 acres of peat bog above the road here in 1993 and have gradually transformed it into a little hut ground with hard standing for about twenty caravans, and those little sheds that Norwegians like to park their caravans next to (with the sliding door that connects the shed to the caravan when they've set up). Nigel seemed a little forbidding at first, but I suspect that he may find English visitors irritating now. Hope he won't mind me saying that is a dead ringer for Alan Rickman playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves'.

Relaxing after a hot shower and a day spent riding hard into the headwind, I spent a good hour or two sitting on the porch of the cabin, talking to a Dutch couple in their seventies who have driven here to Andøya Friluftsenter in a hire car picked up in Svolvær last week. I should probably have dressed a little more warmly because I picked up a bit of a chill. This morning it's cloudy and cool, but promises sunshine and warmer weather tomorrow, so I am staying here - 300 kr for the cabin and good mobile phone coverage (430ms ping times to the Blogger servers, 10 times better than I was getting in Bø!)

I'm going to explore the area on foot a bit and wash my cycling clothes I think.

This ... is Sortland

Saturday 28 June, midday: This is a hasty photograph of the main shopping street in Sortland, taken as my bike was starting to topple over, and a little bit too dark perhaps. The crowds were out, and I was racing to buy food for the exposed two or three day ride up to Andenes before the shops started to shut.

There really doesn't seem to much to the largest town in the islands besides this street and a preponderance of blue buildings (Sortland has been through something of a make-over in the last ten years to make it more attractive to visitors). But it certainly bustles on Saturday mornings, and made me think about how my perspectives on crowds have changed after just a short time in this landscape of wide open vistas and very small settlements.

Fortunately I found everything I needed, including a liter of Coleman fuel for the petrol stove, and two "turmat" dehydrated meals in foil sachets to be used as 'reserve proviant' in case I have to hole up somewhere to wait out bad weather (it's a fair way to Andenes). The two front panniers are bulging with food, and I'm looking forward to supper tonight already- grillpolse with pasta sauce, mash potato and courgettes.

The sun is out but it's cold - 12° with a fierce Northerly wind blowing in my face as I ride North along Andøya towards the Andøya Friluftsenter about 35 km away at Buknesfjorden. The wind is keeping my speed way down at about 9kph, and I am thinking seriously about whether I should catch the Hurtigrute from Risøyhamn to Tromsø to tackle the big island of Senja with the prevailing wind behind me for a change.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Porridge, anyone?

IMG_1809.thumbPhoto taken at 01:30 this morning of fish racks on the beach outside - the schoolhouse I'm staying in is the orange yellow building just behind the left-hand-most rack.

Oh dear, I think I'm going to have to lie down for a bit longer. I made the mistake of absentmindedly cooking up porridge with bananas and sultanas for a family of three this morning, and since there's no bin here I felt obliged to eat it all - about 1.5 litres of it...

Never mind, the sun has come out during the night and there is now more than enough blue sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers. I plan to launch myself on a porridge-powered odyssey to Nyksund at the top of the archipelago, which was rescued from the elements by an enterprising group of young people a decade ago after being abandoned by its former inhabitants. It is something of a holy grail for German cyclists to get there and stay in a rebuilt rorbu apparently.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The old schoolhouse, Hovden

Hovden is a tiny settlement at the end of a long and winding single-track lane from the crossroads at the center of the Bø commune at Rise. I arrived in a rain squall two hours ago, and it looked for a time as though I'd be camping tonight on a patch of ground next to the village hall, which is situated on some flat land between Hovden's two outstanding white sandy beaches. Which would be ok if there was a washblock and toilet, but the site seems to be without facilities and fairly windswept.

This settlement has been a fishing village since the Iron Age, and is famous for being the place where the Gulf Stream is closest to the Norway coast. It's also a great place to see the Midnight Sun on the horizon as it comes close to touching the waves before it starts to rise again - however the clouds tonight preclude that.

So it seemed like a natural overnight stopping place - the furthest western point settlement in the Vesterålen islands - until I found that the campsite has nothing more than an honesty box (30 kr) and a tap. The chill weather had got to me. So I cycled around until I found a small notice explaining that the old school house could be rented by the week, with a contact number. The lady I rang was in Sortland, but put me on to Gunnar who lives in Hovden - after a brief chat in Norwegian he cycled down from his house to me with the key for the school. I have free run of the upstairs, comprising a kitchen and living room with two divan beds plus a hot shower downstairs next to the schoolroom, now converted to a cafe that opens in the peak season. I must say I feel I've done very well for myself!

Last night I was able to get a room in the Sjølys sjøhus at Vinjesjoen, a squat concrete building that is 90% freezer storage for fish from the boats, and 10% accommodation for the trawler crews during the peak season. Interesting building - very industrial looking with few concessions to interior design, but great big drying cupboards with warm air blowers; I got my washing bone dry in an hour after arriving there. Unfortunately I haven't been taking many pictures of the landscape for the last two days because the weather has been poor enough for the SLR to stay under wraps in an Ortlieb dry bag. Olaf who runs the place is in his late 30's and seems to have worked himself to the bone during the peak fishing season - now he and his crew seem to have plenty of free time. He's off to the Bahamas for two weeks in September with his wife so he can't be doing badly out of it; we chatted for about two hours yesterday and this morning, particularly about the Hurtigruten fleet which is burning a big hole in the company accounts now that the price of fuel has gone through the roof. He has heard rumours that they may cut the daily service to the bone next year, because they just aren't getting the volume of customers for cruises that they need on the legs above Trondheim. He also told me that the newer boats have had some alarming design defects exposed by the winter weather - basically they don't shed water as well as the older designs, and there have been a couple of fairly serious incidents with the Fram and the Nordlys in recent years. These have been kept out of the press, fortunately. He tells me that the smaller M/S Lofoten is currently in Svolvær, so I may try to catch this higher up the coast to get back to Stamsund. He also tells me that spring is very late in the Troms region, and indeed had pictures on his cameraphone showing banks of snow by the roadside on the way to Tromso a few weeks ago. It looks like I may have come a little early for the season this year!

The picture above was taken on the way to Vinjesjoen as I cooked boiled eggs and chicken noodles in a post stand shelter out of the rain, by the way.

The rain and cloud of an hour ago are lifting - I'm off out for a walk along the white sandy beaches here. Everything looks gorgeous in the evening sun, but I know that this is likely to change again in an hour or so.

More pictures on Flickr

I've had to be selective with my bandwidth because mobile reception is very poor here, and is about to get worse again as I head out towards Hovsund and Nykvag - pictures from the last week are now at though.

I'm on the Vesterålen islands now

This bridge over Långøysundet separates the Stokmarknes district from the island of Långøya, and the famous Eidsfjorden, which a hundred years ago was crammed with fishing boats pulling up vast numbers of sild for sale in Europe. The fish stock has collapsed now, so the communities are much smaller. I cycled along the east side of the fjord to Stranda two days ago, and then turned down the 820 towards Bø, sitting out a day and half of very heavy rain and low cloud at cabins at Skjellebogen just before the Ryggesdalen tunnel. The mountains here get a lot of rain, because they break the strong winds funneled along the coast and stick out as the most westerly land on the Atlantic seaboard. The cloud is just starting to lift here in Vinjesjoen, so I've packed the bike up ready for a dash up the coast towards Nykvag and Hovsund between showers.

Sankthans two days early

Sunday 22 June, 06:00 - I had my Sankthans bonfire on the beach last night (a small one, for cooking over, rather than for celebrating midsummer and driving off the witches) because I appreciated that the weather was taking a turn for the worse. This photo was taken as I sat shivering in the tent the next morning, warming it up with the tent heater, which consists of Thermos #2, cotton wool, and about half a bottle of methylated spirits.

Fortunately everything inside the tent remained dry after a night of heavy rain, and lighting this took the chill off the inside quite quickly. It seems to burn for about forty minutes per fill.

Fantastic afternoon at Grunforfjorden

Saturday 21/06: The colours were just amazing this afternoon - I don't think this hasty thumbnail shows them off very well. The ride from Svolvær to Laukvik started uniformly grey, but by lunchtime the sun had burnt off all of the cloud, and the shallow water of this fjord was turquoise. No-one else around. I took about a dozen photos on the causeway but I've had to be selective in what I have uploaded to flickr because the mobile reception is so poor where I am at the moment. I could have stayed in Laukvik but it seemed a better idea to get to this beauty spot before the clouds returned, and indeed by the time I'd found somewhere to camp on the shoreline they were already rolling down to cover up the view again. A really magical place when the sun shines though.

The wind vane on Straumnes Church

I didn't spot this last time I came this way. The weather improved dramatically after I left Svolvær and it became very hot and sunny. I stopped for an ice cream at Sandsletta Camping on the very enjoyable road to Laukvik, and got into a deep conversation with Marius, who comes from Sweden but managed to get a holiday job at the campsite for the summer because he loves to be as far North as possible. He told to me to look out for the church tower at Straumnes near Laukvik because the Mickey Mouse-like hand on the wind vane broke a couple of years ago, and whoever repaired it left it pointing prophetically straight up.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Beautiful Vikspollen

Diary notes from Tuesday 17th June:

Funny day today, this was the last place I was expecting to stay at. Earlier I was exploring the dead-end side roads down to Ure and Mortsund, but not much going in the way of cheap accommodation at either of those. Mortsund struck me as being a particularly geared to up-market motorists - and the woman who runs rorbu rental there was very disdainful, so I quickly moved on.

Back in Leknes it was raining and chilly as I spoke to Margaretha to tell her about my earlier chance encounter with South African friends of her late ex-husband Noel - I can't believe that I bumped into Dereck and Margie, who also have connections to the University of Surrey, this far North! M. seems to be a touchstone, the one who would have 10,000 Linked In connections once she's found out how it works...

Nowhere obvious to stay in Leknes, so I decided to head towards this beach instead, primarily because it is on a small road and is marked on the map as a swimming beach. It turned out to be a good choice too - no-one else around, but a nice flat strip of grass between the road and the beach which drained well. Fortunately the lavvo turns out to be fine in really wet weather too because this photo was taken just after midnight when I went out to tighten the guylines because the wind was rising - it really rained heavily between 04:20 and 09:40, but then everything dried out in the breeze, so I was able to avoid packing a wet tent. And it was completely dry inside the tent during the worst part of the storm while I was lying in bed with my hands behind my head, waiting for the first drips to appear...

I've had one or two problems with my brakes over the last few days (now on my second set of brake blocks all round) . The issues have mostly been with the left rear brake block binding on the rim - but I've been able to even up the tension between the cantilever arms by tightening a spare Allen bolt and nut onto the straddle cable just where the yoke is, to prevent the stronger spring on the right hand side pulling the cantilever arm with the weaker spring onto the rim. It's the little fixes that matter! No more squeaking, everything is gliding super smooth again.

Greetings from Svolvær

This front door at 13 Hans Egedes Gate in Kabelvåg sums up the little community here for me; the buildings are rather personal statements and very lovely too.

I'm writing this at the desk in a pleasant sjøhus beside the marina here in Svolvær after a great cycle ride from Stranden Camp near Borg today - great because the weather has steadily improved all day (no sunset because it is daylight all the time here, but splendid evening). Great also for the tea and biscuits shared with Piet, a lean and windburnt Dutch cyclist who was heading the other way to me when our paths crossed at the big bridge over onto Gimsøya, but abruptly changed direction when he saw me waving my big red plastic mug at him.

He has the best top box I've ever seen on the front rack of a bike, fabricated out of aluminium sheet with a pop-rivet gun, and covered with stickers from Iceland and other far-flung places (and Lundy, too - first cyclist with a badge from there that I've met). When children ask him what he keeps in this tiny strong-box, he says "My money!" with a twinkle in his eye, but actually it's ideal for his camera, because he's an avid photographer.

Piet and I had a good laugh for half an hour until the cold got too much for us, but in that time I picked up some helpful information on the route from Narvik into Sweden, plus good places to stay further up on my route to Tromsø.

This is my first post for a while because I've been somewhat off-grid without power for two or three days - one memorable night on a white sandy beach with turquoise sea and no-one else for miles when I free camped at Vikspollen, and one night at Stranden camp, which has lovely huts with old wood-burning stoves and even older bottled gas cookers, but no power either.

In the end I felt I had to come here to upload my most recent pics to the flickr pages, and to find out how the new hotel in the square in Svolvær looks - the answer is, it looks atrocious, completely out of scale with the rest of the buildings, and it blocks the view of the nice old white church for people arriving on the Hurtigrute. Nevermind, at least the accommodation problems
will ease for the high rollers coming off the ship in the evening now.

Tomorrow I plan to cycle on up towards Laukvik, and the day afterwards to Melbu and perhaps Stokmarknes. Given the budget I'm working to, these will probably be days when I'm off-grid too.

Thanks for all your comments and birthday wishes by the way, much appreciated!

Tips #3 - Little Helpful Things

I managed to press a large (pillow case sized!) bag of unwanted things into Roar's hands on departure, with a vague promise to pick them up on my way back down. Am feeling much trimmer now - the bag held mostly maps, guidebooks, camera lenses, trousers and shirts, all of which I can do without.

Here's a list of little helpful things I carry in my left front pannier pocket:-
  • fryposer - freezer bags, 2L, really useful for storing rubbish from roadside meals, and emptying food into from each small shopping trip. Double-bag your Dolmio pasta sauce, though.
  • Post-It notes - I try to learn 10 words and phrases each day from my Teach Yourself Norwegian book; they get copied onto the yellow sticky, which is stuck to the map I'm using in the Ortlieb map case on the handlebar bag. Also very useful for sticking to the door of the hytte as a reminder to empty the freezer tray if there is one.
  • Pampers baby wipes - for full-on personal freshness if wild camping where water is in short supply. Actually the alcohol-based ones are better, but come in larger and less convenient packaging.
Any tips for improvements?

Monday, 16 June 2008

At Roar's

A comment from one of the log books in the kitchen:-

"We can't believe it! The sun hasn't set yet, but this funny Norwegian man keeps coming around collecting 30 kr. Three times he's come. Everyone here is so mixed up about the time. When all of us were sitting drinking tea before bed, a guy got up with his towel and toothbrush and asked us what time it was - when we told him it was 3:30 he asked us AM or PM. We honestly didn't know.

My friends will never believe that I got my suntan above the Arctic Circle. This hut is splendid but I'm worried if it is true that the disgusting things hanging on the racks are not really dried fish but Australian travellers in hibernation for a few years..."

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Hilsen fra Bødo

This unusual sight off the starboard bow was a fully fitted-out house being towed into it's new location by a large tug near Bronnoysund.

Actually I slept fine on a circular couch in the Panoramic lounge on deck 8 - the only drawback being that I can't straighten up today and resemble Quasimodo as I lurch down the gangplank , flapping my hands and crying "the bølls, the bølls!"

The weather is improving again - 14°C now with sunshine and a light breeze in Bødo, which today seems to be hosting an air show, judging from the buzzing the town is getting from a fast jet performing aerobatics over the city.

I'm writing this from the tourist info center in Bødo - I'm the first of the passengers on the boat to have arrived here, probably because I'm the only passenger with a bike on board. The benefit of having a bike in the hold is twofold - I was at the center before the crowds began to build up outside (there's a line out of the door now!), and I managed to snag one of the two available internet terminals.

In the meantime, the ship takes a three hour break in port (during which time the lucky excursion trippers on board climb into a fleet of rigid inflatable boats for a fast ride down the coast to the Saltstraumen, Europe's largest mælstrom).

I've also been lucky enough to be able to stock up on fruit and veg at the shop opposite the Norona hotel on which is open on Sunday (everywhere else is shuttered up) - so now all I need is a fish caught from the sea tonight in Stamsund and I'll be set up for a birthday meal tomorrow lunchtime with Roar the warden (n.b. you'll have to page down a bit for the reference if you follow that link).

Time to ride back to the boat, more news soon - and some great pictures of the Red Lady to appear on flickr soon...

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Stunning Atlantershavsvegen

Forgot to mention that before I arrived in Kristiansund, I cycled the 80 km from Bud over the causeway between the islands.

The weather was perfect for this yesterday - sunshine, no breeze, perfect black tarmac in immaculate condition, hardly any traffic, and stupendous views over the sparkling blue waves.

My decision to wait out the rain in the camspsite at Bud was right for once.

The road is truly movingly beautiful when seen on a fine day out of the main tourist season.

But the bad news is that when I arrived in Bremsnes I discovered they are building ANOTHER TUNNEL about 5.2 km long to link Bremsnes with Kristiansund, which will open in December 2009, probably destroying the remoteness of the road across the islands forever.

So for goodness' sake book your trip now before the route becomes bumper-to-bumper with bobils and Avis rental cars on a day circuit of the route. Because that will surely happen when the pain of waiting for ferries is removed.

Trollfjord not ideal for slumming

I made it onto the M/S Trollfjord at 01:45 this morning after hanging around in a seafront bar in Kristiansund until closing time to take advantage of the patio heaters (quite cold outside otherwise).

Not sure this is the best ship for slumming it on, it is the pride of the fleet and ALL the cabins are taken. I'm booked for TWO DAYS to Stamsund in the Lofoten Islands. Since it is the best the company can offer, most of the deck space is reserved for private suites at the rear of the vessel, and the sundeck is where I ended up sleeping from 02:45 to 04:50, wrapped in my 1000g sleeping bag and stretched uncomfortably over two deck chairs. The ship is immaculate - there was a man carefully painting the one remaining slightly rust-stained stanchion on the sun deck while I dozed nearby, presumably all maintentance staff have to hide during daylight hours, like me. There's space to stretch out on a shelf in the left baggage room, which passengers can open with their pass key - but everywhere else is very public! So I had a 02:00 Commando Shower in the Gentlemen's Toilets on Deck 8 followed by a doze on the deck chair, and then a bit more of a sleep in the Panoramic Lounge once the temperature in there had dropped back to 25° - being glassed in, the temperature soars when they turn the air conditioning off when everyone else has gone to bed.

A free frokost in the main salon this morning was a good compensation, and the ship is currently docked in Trondheim, so I have spent the last hour pounding the streets to the Cathedral, which is a beautiful soapstone building dating mostly from the 13th century, well worth a visit (although much restored after 35 fires inside the building during its history!)

I'm writing this standing up at an internet terminal at Trondheim public library, so I'll keep things brief because I'm dizzy with fatigue (the floor seems to be rocking!). The city is now my top choice of location were I to choose to live in Norway - many fine squares and public buildings, with plentiful trees and a sophisticated air missing from Kristiansund and the other smaller coastal towns I have visited.

Anyway, wish me luck and the discovery of a passkey to the broomcupboard or a loose lifeboat cover for when I get back on board!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

New pictures on flickr

I've managed to upload thumbnails from the camera to, after a voyage of discovery with the linux tools at my disposal this afternoon in the cabin. Marianne, who owns the site, explained breezily that people just expected wireless internet access in their cabins these days while my jaw dropped...

The photos are only the raw .CR2 files, converted to JPG format and scaled down to a size that I can send quickly to the Flickr servers. The much larger and prettier originals are now backed up on the iPod.

So don't get your hopes up too much for the quality of the postcard-sized pictures :-)

I need that boat!

The daily hurtigruten passes Bud Camping
I was on the phone to Janet just now when the Hurtigrute hove into view, steaming rapidly past the campsite here at Bud. I need that boat to take me north tomorrow, hopefully out of this wet weather and into a sunnier climate up at Stamsund or Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands.

Today I've been mostly holed up in a nice warm comfortable cabin at the rather excellent Bud Camping, experimenting with Flickr and making myself pancakes with strawberry jam. It is a welcome break from cycling into the rain, which was particularly heavy this morning. So much so that I decided that I'd trust the forecast, which says that tomorrow will be less windy and quite sunny in the afternoon, hopefully in time for my dash across the bridged island section of the route to Kristiansund, now only 60-70 km away.

Tips #2 - Commando Shower Option

This assumes that you have no shower polet, and that no-one is going to turn up today to sell you one for 10 Kr (6 minutes) of hot shower.

You will need:-
  • A raincoat (it is raining)
  • Hytte key
  • Gilet/fleecy top - gilet preferred
  • Ronhill Tracksters
  • Bar of soap
  • Small towel (hand-towel size or smaller)
  • Cycling shoes
  • Nothing else. Remove all other clothing before leaving hytte.
  • Enter washblock
  • Test hot water availability at standpipe
  • Grin
  • Drop trousers, scrub up
  • Raise trousers, remove gilet, scrub up
  • Remove excess soap and moisture with small hand towel
For best results:
  • Try to choose a time when the German fraus from the bobils are not using the washblock
  • Always use Ronhill Tracksters, they will be dry by the time you have recrossed the field to the hytte
  • Remember to hoard the polet you bought last time for the really cold, wet evening when you've just cycled 80 km and you badly need a shower.

Tips #1 - Basic Hytte Instructions

Your basic hut costs kr. 350 to kr. 400 per night. You will be renting a solidly built wooden hytte assembled about 10-15 years ago, with a small porch, lockable door, clothesline, and double glazed windows (2). Inside you will find two bunk beds, a table, four chairs, and a cupboard with a two-plate electric cooker on it. There's also a small electric heater under the larger window.

Take off your shoes before you enter the hytte. No self-respecting Norwegian wears shoes indoors.

Make sure the heater works before you choose this type of hytte. They have a history of abuse, and are often rusted out (too many wet clothes).

You will find a small plastic jerrycan with the dustpan and basic cleaning materials in the cupboard under the hotplate. This is for you to use to ferry water to your hytte for cooking purposes.

If you arrived when the office was closed, you'll find the key for your hytte in the door.

You may want a polet for the shower in the wash block. If the office is going to be closed for some time, you can use a spare polet hoarded from your last campsite, or take the Commando Shower Option.

You will need to bring your own bedding, cutlery, cooking pots, dishcloth, pillow, and entertainment to this hytte type. A tablecloth is provided, however.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Gales and rain with the odd sunny spell this week

Ony fyr, in good weather
It's turning into an exciting tour - I feel like I'm a long long way from home, riding between very small coastal hamlets on a road just wide enough for one car, with steady rain (and gales at times) in scenery that reminds me of the West Coast of Ireland in the 1970's. The people are friendly and welcoming, no-one locks their doors, but the number of people living here has obviously dropped a great deal in the last couple of decades as people move to an easier lifestyle in the bigger cities. Many shuttered houses for summer use only. And summer seems to be due sometime in July, so I'm seeing about only four or five cars a day on the small roads I'm on.

The route I'm following is broadly described in the Statens Kartverk cycling guide "Øyhopping i Møre & Romsdal" - quite gentle, lots of buttercups and wildflowers, cuckoos calling in the dry spells, and broken crab shells on the roads (dropped by seagulls I imagine).

I'm writing this in a very small rural community center/library in Aukra (try "Aukra Molde" in Google Maps), where the librarian has hung my dripping coat up and given me a seat at her best internet terminal.

I've spent the last two nights riding out a storm on the tiny island of Ona, one of Norway's most famous lighthouse rocks with about fifty people living on it. I arrived courtesy of the small ambulance boat with two or three others because the car ferry that usually calls twice a day is out of service at the moment. Ona is very pretty, little wooden houses huddled beneath the red lighthouse, and the whole perched about forty minutes out to sea on a notorious skerry of low-lying islands battered by the Atlantic. The locals have been very forebearing with my Norwegian and helpfully pointed out the track to Ellebjørn Bjørnerem's house. She then pointed me up a steep grass track to the hut nestling against the rock above us - a two-room affair with a good Jøtul stove and trapdoor attic room with built-in beds just long enough to stretch out in.

I decided to move on today from the cosy wooden hut I was in because the wind and rain battering the hut was starting to get me down and I only have enough cash for another day or two - so far the weather has been bad enough for me to have used the lavvo just once and huts for the other nights.

The night before that I slept in the loft of an open boathouse when I couldn't find anywhere more sheltered to sleep. I think it belongs to a local fishing club, it was at the end of a big lake - biscuits for supper and clothes-drying by candle after getting off the ferry at the wrong stop and finding myself on an island with a road back to Ålesund at the end of it.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Woo-hoo! Back at the Skansen Pensjonat!

I'm in the cafe at the Bergen library, free internet access! It's the big building close to the train station and shopping center, and the staff smile briefly at you and log you in, allowing you an hour at one of the eight PC's as long as you turn your mobile phone off.

Do you remember the emotional high you felt when you last got to to somewhere you'd been looking forward to after months of planning and checklists? I feel that same way now, I was quite choked up for a minute or two when Jannicke welcomed me back to the beautiful Skansen Pensjonat at 11:40 last night after I'd finally disembarked from the Newcastle-Bergen ferry and raced down Bryggen to Vetrlidsallmenningen with my fully loaded bike (wobble wobble).

The crossing turned out to be fine - flat as a mill pond, and increasingly hot and sunny as we got nearer to the Norwegian coast. I spent some time talking to Dutch couple I met yesterday who are riding from Bergen up the coast for three weeks on a Vittorio tandem they've had built. We spent an hour together sheltering from the rain under the small bike shelter at the Newcastle ferry terminal, which is the only concession to cyclists (we were smartly escorted back out of the terminal building when we tried to get out of the rain for a hotdog and a cup of coffee on arrival).

The contrast between Newcastle and Bergen couldn't be more pronounced - I spent nearly the whole day in heavy rain under leaden skies riding down the NCN 72 along the Tyne from the National car rental office at the Tyne Bridge to the ferry terminal. The worst part was struggling with the heavily loaded bike and the steep escalator down to the drain-like foot tunnel under the river, which involved several ferrying trips with bags and the bike and the ever-present worry that some part of the gear would be missing when I got back to the pile I'd left at the top. The lift on the Jesmond side was out of order, the lift on the other side was working but left me a little apprehensive since it's a small graffiti-covered steel box at the bottom of a deep shaft - I could see myself being trapped in it half an hour before the ferry sailed off to Norway.

Astonishingly, here in Bergen it is 28 degrees, they've had a month of sunshine (unbroken record dating back to 1951!) - so my carefully prepared wardrobe of wet weather gear and woolies is completely inappropriate, and still damp from the Newcastle soaking. I'm now down to shorts and my one clean shirt.

I've got a day to look around before catching another ferry tonight to Molde so I've left the bike at the Pensjonat with my 30 kilos of luggage. Annike got me off to a good start - she promised me last night that she'd feign ignorance of English today, so that I have to say everything in Norwegian, so my resolve is strengthening!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Ready, steady, hhhhrnnnnnggg!!!

(This image above from the second week of the tour added 12/06/2008)

I'm writing this at the Seascape Hotel in Whitley Bay near Newcastle, on my last night in the UK.

I waved goodbye to family and friends yesterday at two in the afternoon. Everything fits on the bike, but the weight is currently higher than it was planned to be at about 38 kilos - and that's without the precious tripod for the camera, ditched in the final hour when it was clear that more cuts had to be made.

I'm driving a hire car to get to the ferry swiftly - a large estate rented from National Car Rentals in Coventry and due to be dropped off at their Newcastle outlet tomorrow morning, £33 for the day rate plus £40 drop-off fee.

Last night was spent just off the A1 in the Yorkshire Dales town of Masham, at the very pleasant Bay Horse Inn on Silver Street, which does a good B&B for £35. Masham turned out to be a good choice for an overnight stop - quiet, dominated by fine old stone buildings around the square and churchyard, and of course by the Theakston Brewery, which I visited this morning before driving in a circular route through the Dales and back to the A1 and the road to Newcastle.

Newcastle itself is a bit too big to get my bearings in, which is why I'm staying outside the city, about fifteen minutes away from the ferry terminal. I visited the latter on arrival to scope things out, it looks like I should be able to follow the NCN 72 route from the Tyne bridge to the ferry terminal after dropping the car off tomorrow morning.

The acid test comes tomorrow when I drop the car off and ride down the Tyne to the ferry terminal - more of a test than the twenty minutes of riding with the bike fully loaded that I've done already to test the weight distribution.