It’s official, Denmark doesn’t hate us any more! I’m pretty sure that every time we’ve ridden through Denmark it’s been tipping down with rain. Today it didn’t. In fact, it was glorious. This is our first trip of the year – an Iron Butt Europe Ride to Eat to Aalborg – ostensibly to visit the home of Danish Aquavit but in reality it’s just an excuse for a ride somewhere. We’ve been across the top of Europe to Denmark several times and have to admit we find it quite a boring ride so we decided to go further north afterwards to make it worthwhile.
We were executing Plan ‘C’. A – to ride some of the Norwegian passes – had to be abandoned when we realised most of the passes weren’t open at this time of year; B – do an IBA Germany ride then the Castle Road – was dropped when we realised we’d be attempting the IBA ride on a public holiday which wouldn’t be fun at all. So C it was.
Our trip started with the usual Eurotunnel ride under the Channel. This time we were catching an early morning train as we were meeting our friend Paul and his mate Alex. Eurotunnel sent us a message the night before saying ‘due to an incident which occurred on Thursday and high traffic levels, modifications to the timetable can be expected on Friday morning’. I went on to their website to learn there was up to 60 minutes checking in time followed by 5 hours ‘at the terminal’. Oh joy! Thankfully, when we woke up at 5.30 on Friday the trains were running on time.
As it was the Easter weekend there were lots of other bikes. We think the large-ish group we shared our carriage with had never been on the Eurotunnel train before as they came down the slope to the train and blocked the concourse instead of pulling over to the side to let all the cars on first.
The usual car/lorry park on the Antwerp ring road didn’t disappoint and we lost about half an hour there, employing extreme filtering to get through. We finally got to our hotel in Flensburg, not far from the Danish border, soon after 18:00. This was the first time we’d stayed in an Ibis ‘budget’ hotel and were a bit concerned. We needn’t have been as it was fine; the room was actually bigger than the one in the disappointing ‘proper’ Ibis we stayed in last year in Clermont-Ferrand. There was a steakhouse grill nearby and we had an enjoyable evening and really good steaks. There were another 7 IBA’ers on the next table but the rabble didn’t disturb our peace too much! Paul and Alex enjoyed large mixed-grills although we weren’t at all sure what was in them as the menu was in Danish. We set off early’ish, at about 08:00, the next morning but already the sun was out and the sky was clear. Better than yesterday when we came through some rather heavy showers. It’s still a bit early in the year for me to be riding without heated gear but it didn’t need to be fully on, just a gentle simmer was required to keep my temperature comfortable.
Denmark is not mountainous, or even hilly. In fact the worst it could be accused of is undulating. A lot of it is very flat and it limps out of the sea rather than leaping out like a lot of our coastline. Paul had promised us coffee by the sea so we headed west until we found it. A very lovely beach with loads of people walking out on the sand to look at the waves. As we were about to leave Dave appeared and joined us for the rest of the day.
This whole area seems to be the Danish equivalent of the West country – lots of people enjoying the scenery, activities and weather.
We rode past miles of sand dunes with huddles of little cottages nestling in the sand. Many of the cottages are thatched. I saw a bunch of reeds by the side of the road which looked a bit finer than the reeds used at home and the thatched roofs look thinner. I also noticed a lot of homes have really shiny black tiles. Are they new or do they keep that lustrous shine all the time? There are numerous farmhouses and many have an unusual (for us) configuration – two houses parallel with a third building joining them together to make a large U shape.
We continued round the coast and then cut North East towards Aalborg. As we approached the hotel we were met by Hampe and Benny from Sweden. Hampe was on his ‘new’ bike – a 125cc scooter with carburettor problems that could just about achieve 30 km per hour but only when he managed to feather the throttle ‘just so’. He was planning to use this in a couple of weeks to participate in a Saddle Sore 1000 so let’s hope he gets it sorted by then. 31 people turned up for the photo, surely some record. Unfortunately the brewery was closed for Easter so the planned tour had to be cancelled.
We dined in a converted power station which was huge with large hoppers in the ceiling that looked like they were for grain. The food was good, thanks to Michiel for arranging for steaks for Kevin and me as my better half doesn’t like Italian pizza/pasta which was what the meal was planned to be. We walked off some of the meal along the waterfront and saw a really interesting old building which I later found out was an old castle that has now been converted into council offices.
It was a reasonably early start the next day for a short hop to Hirtshals to catch a ferry that would take us into Norway. Once again the weather was on our side – sunny and dry. Perfect. As we arrived in the very familiar-looking ferry area we remembered this was where we’d caught the ferry for Iceland in 2012. The ferry ride was just over 4 hours and the weather was still lovely when we arrived in Norway. What a difference. Already the land looked much more rugged with granite cliffs carved with numerous tunnels, sweeping bends with mountains in the background and, of course, beautiful blue fjords. What more could you ask for?
We spent the night in apartments which looked like one of the cheapest options available until you have to factor in £10 each for linen and towels – not something we routinely carry on the bike. Personally I’d rather have the bed made up for me too after a long day’s sitting. Still, it was clean and had hot water so no complaints. Dinner was a great steak in a small pizza/grill place. I have to say it was one of the best steaks we had whilst we were there.
After a leisurely lie-in our relaxed day continued as we rode further northwards towards Hell where we would part company with Paul and Alex.
It was another brilliant day, clear blue sky, sunshine and the temperature was not so bad so I decided to wear my summer gloves as I prefer them for taking photos.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at the snow line. We had been warned there had been a lot of snow this year and that some of the more northern routes are still closed. Still, the roads we were on had clearly been kept open and we were treated to glorious views with the sun reflecting off the pristine snow.
There is clearly a lot of water up here – I could see it on the sat-nav – but to the left and right of us was only snow. The lakes were still frozen over and the sat-nav was the only indication there was any liquid water there at all.
We stopped in a dug-out lay-by and I had a chat to a passing skier. He said there would be about another three weeks of skiing left, perhaps 6 weeks further up the mountains. Judging by the number of people who were out and about they were hoping to make the most of the snow before it melted away.
It was a bit weird riding through what Alex described as an Ice Canyon. In places the snow was piled up 10-15 feet either side of the road and it was impossible to see what was coming round the curves which were fun and plentiful.
Despite the snow it was surprisingly warm. Not quite warm enough to keep the electric jacket off but my hands were warm in summer gloves. As we descended, the sat-nav lakes became real again with varying degrees of thaw.
We looked for somewhere to eat but the first likely-looking café (Kafe in Norwegian) was closed. Finally we found a great motel where we discovered the Norwegian for omelette is…omelette!
Eventually we arrived in Hell where we once again checked out the Shell garage – still OK for an early morning receipt – and went to the railway station. Benny (who is Swedish) had suggested we went round the back of the building to capture an alternative photo – his English is excellent so he was able to appreciate the unintentional pun (it’s the place where goods are sent from). You’ll have to excuse the ‘splodge’ on the photo. We hadn’t realised a bug was splattered on the lens.
We stayed at the Rika Hell Hotel and ended up in a room with a fantastic view across the lake. Our meal that evening was in the hotel, burgers all round if I recall correctly, and Kevin and I had some very Master Chef puddings – lots of money and not a lot of carbs.
Paul and Alex had already left by the time we wandered down for breakfast. We had a quiet day riding round the fjords and coastline planned with our destination being the rather unfortunately named Moulde.
Back through Trondheim and we got stuck in the roadworks again (surprisingly the tunnel that was closed on our route yesterday was still closed!). This time, instead of going round in circles and eventually resorting to ‘Paul nav’, we found our way out and rose up above the city and onto the coast.
It was another great day and the scenery was, again, stunning. Traffic was very light and we were benefiting from roads marked on the map as ‘unsuitable for campervans’ – result! The roads hugged the shoreline in many places and no expense has been spared in joining up islands with bridges and tunnels. Some of the tunnels are extremely dusty and often the roads have gravel shoulders which we were unfortunate to discover as lorries clipped the side and threw up clouds of dust.
One of the roads Kevin was keen to experience was the ‘Atlantic road’, a section of about 5 miles with an interesting bridge in the middle. Traversing this bridge is definitely an act of faith as on approach it looks from the road like it just stops in mid-air.
A tourist plaque by the side of the road piqued our interest so we stopped for a read. The scenery was comparatively flat and the area was being returned to its natural heathland. On the other side of the road, at the top of a small hill, was an old radar installation. Something from the war we learned. The notice also said there was a restored German fort a few miles further up the road which we thought would be worth a look. This was the Ergan Coastal Defences, part of the Atlantic Wall. The fort was built above a small fishing village called Bud which was occupied between 1940 and 1945 and it sounds like a lot of the local fishermen were co-opted into helping build the fort; about 350 of them together with 150 POWs.
We weren’t disappointed. The installation is not open to the public until May but we were able to have a wander round anyway and saw the huge spotlight and bunker. The fort was placed there as it commanded a wide view of the channel. They weren’t wrong as the view across the water was stunning. A large ship was anchored there and gave a good idea of what it could have been like in the war. There was also a large gun on its circular rail ready to fire at enemy shipping. It was extremely windy and a local who I chatted to confirmed it was always that windy there “…except when it snows”.
Moulde didn’t live up to its name, it’s actually quite a nice little town. Our hotel was on the fjord side but we declined to pay an extra £40 for a fjord view. Still, we were able to enjoy it at dinner where we had steak (again). We watched the ferries coming and going, one of which looked like a coathanger and turned out to be the one we were destined to catch the following morning.
We’d planned another day round the fjords but I was having problems with sciatica and neither of us fancied the boring ride back along the top of France, Belgium etc. so we made the decision to catch the Esbjerg to Harwich ferry. Unfortunately the only options were Thursday night, arriving Friday lunchtime, or Saturday night arriving Sunday lunchtime. We plumped for the Thursday night crossing which meant a quick ride down to Gothenburg the following day. Our Norway adventure was nearly over.
We were up reasonably early to catch the coathanger for a 35 minute ride across the fjord. Whilst our route was going to be straight down we knew there were some mountains before we hit the main road. It’s getting boring saying this but again, it was a lovely day. The mountains here were every bit as beautiful as those on previous days.
As we neared civilisation the roads became busier. We eventually ended up on the E6, a road we’d experienced some of on the ride up. One thing we have to note about riding in Norway is that when you’re off the beaten track it’s glorious. The road surfaces are generally good. Some do suffer from frost heave but nothing to worry about. However, once you get onto busier roads it can be soooo frustrating. The speed limits are much lower than other EU countries – their national speed limit is 80km (50mph) and lots of sections of roads are reduced to 70, 60, 50 and even 40km in places. Obviously some of these are to protect the local villages and they are perfectly understandable but someone somewhere has obviously decided that if there are some nice bends the speed limit needs to be dropped by at least 10kph.
You find yourself on a major artery like the E6 and the speed limit is 70km then, to add an extra frustration, there are miles upon miles of double yellow lines in the middle (i.e. no overtaking) even though there is a perfectly clear road view ahead, it can get a bit tiresome. When they’ve run out of yellow paint they build central barriers which physically stop drivers from overtaking and ensures everything moves at the pace of the slowest vehicle on the road – 40kph for miles at one point. We haven’t yet figured out if the Norwegian government hates motorists or Norwegian drivers are so reckless their overtaking needs to be controlled. We suspect it’s not the latter as our experience of them is that they religiously stick to the limits (the Draconian speeding fines may have something to do with that) and are very polite and considerate drivers. Go figure…
Further along the E6 they are carrying out a major expansion on the approach to Oslo – more dual carriageway to join with the dual carriageway on the other side of the city. The road works are impressive, if frustratingly slow to ride through (50kph). We did take the opportunity to grab a burger at a Shell garage with a wonderful fjord view so it wasn’t all bad.After the road works the speed limit on the dual carriageways around Oslo reached the dizzy heights of 100kph (yippee!).
We stopped for the night in Gothenburg ready for the ferry the following morning. It was nothing special and the ‘small double’ certainly was but it was convenient for the port. We had 3 attempts at finding somewhere to eat. The hotel bar only did snacks, the ‘International’ restaurant round the corner only did ‘posh nosh’ (Pig’s Muzzle anyone?) and nothing that we fancied so we ended up in a restaurant/bar where we had good food at a reasonable price.
All that was left now was the 4 hour ferry back to Denmark. No problems there and we disembarked to clouds. Denmark let me down as it did rain a bit but we didn’t get too wet. We arrived far too early at the port but once we got on the ferry we were pleased to learn that, unlike some other ferries, we were able to stay in our cabin until just before docking.
Into the Friday traffic and rain at Harwich around lunch time the next day and home after another enjoyable trip.
Thanks to Michiel for organising the RTE, Paul and Alex for their company during part of our journey and Paul for the route to Hell!