On a trip to the most northerly point in Europe, Mike Cowling and two motorcycling friends journey nearly 5,000 miles.
It was an idea tossed around between friends over a pint, a trip to Nord Kapp in Norway to see the midnight sun.
We never thought that it would happen, then when I bought a map of Norway to start the ball rolling, the shop assistant said: “If you do make it, enjoy”.
It was a remark locked away at the back of my mind as we rode onto the ferry taking us calmly overnight from Harwich to Holland and the start of our trip.
We had no plans and no fixed timetable, just ride to Nord Kapp and come home. To get there meant travelling through Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, a little touch of Finland and finally Norway.
Holland, with its greenhouses and cycle lanes soon went past as we entered Germany for the first night. We, who are all of pensionable age, took tents and camping equipment, but chose hotels where we could and camping cabins when we couldn’t.
Hamburg came and went as we rode at a gentle pace on the autobahn and we continued up to Puttgarden to catch the ferry to Denmark and on into Sweden via the Oresund Bridge, well known to fans of Scandi crime dramas.
The weather was good and I searched for a campsite in the sat nav, which is how we came to share a three-bed room in a ‘Hobbit’-like structure. The young Swedish man on reception was a Sunderland FC supporter and when he’d established that none of us were Manchester United fans he gave us a discount. In return, I gave him my sympathy for his team’s relegation.
Taking a diversion to Vimmerby to a motocross museum made the day a long one and we had to camp. I was woken with the sound of heavy rain on my tent.
The rain continued for a few days until we made it to Finland and finally Norway. Here, isolated farmhouses cling to the hillsides and stand out with freshly painted wooden walls in a colour that matches the rusty patina of their corrugated iron roofs. Remnants of winter snow appear and give birth to waterfalls that cascade down dark mountains like fraying white ribbons.
Lakes provided stunning reflections of white, fluffy clouds as we rode by and made our way to The Arctic Motel campground in Kautokeino. Yes, they had a cabin available and no, they didn’t mind us spreading out our wet tents to dry them in the evening sunshine. The cabin was very hot inside but opening the doors and windows wasn’t an option as the local mosquitoes were having a feeding fest, mainly on us. Their presence gave us a first world problem, how to sip a cup of tea and eat a digestive when wearing a mozzie net.
Leaving the mosquitoes behind, but taking their bites with us, we took the road to Nord Kapp. After negotiating the undersea tunnel, we’d made it. Obligatory handshakes and photographs in front of the globe sculpture at the top of Europe done with, we toured the excellent visitors’ centre before returning to our campsite cabin. An early start the following day saw us battling dangerous side winds for the first 60 miles of our day’s ride and the start of the journey home. With rare time to spare we had a look around Alta and its ultra-modern cathedral.
Our port of call the next day was a museum to the Second World War German battlecruiser, Tirpitz, a few miles from Alta. The pride of the Nazi fleet was at anchor in Kaafjord when attacked by the Allies.
Another wet ride had us in a cabin at Skibotn for an early night. The next couple of days saw us on the Lofoten Islands to really experience the midnight sun. Low cloud spoiled the first day, but the campsite owner lent us his car for the short drive to Henningsvaer. The sun perked us up during a walk around this delightful fishing and tourist port.
Our final destination of note was Trollstigen and Geirangerfjorden. We had saved the best until last. Beautiful weather, outstanding scenery and great roads made the perfect end. Hairpin bends elevated us to dizzying heights and plunged us down to the water’s edge.
A couple of short hop ferries brought us closer to the main road for Oslo. I’d booked a good deal at an airport hotel, where my wallet took a pounding with beer at £11.50 for a large one.
We travelled south to Gothenburg and an overnight ferry to Kiel followed by a dash across Germany into Holland and another ferry back to Harwich.
We were on the road for 19 days and door to door mileage was 4,962.
Was it a journey of self discovery? Not really. We are all in our mid-sixties and have discovered ourselves by now. But to the shop assistant in York, we not only made it, but we did enjoy it.
Stena Line (stenaline.co.uk).offers twice-daily, seven hour return crossings between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. Return fares start from £74 for an adult travelling by motorbike and from £148 for two adults and a car. Return fares for a family of four start from £178.
Additional adults costs start from £15 and children (between four and 15 years old) from £7.50 one way. Foot passenger prices start from £36 per adult and £18 for a child. Infants (under four years old) travel free of charge. Cabins start from £17 per person for a daytime sailing, and £34 for an overnight crossing.