To The Arctic Circle
Thanks to some pre-trip advice on LR4x4.com.
The scores are:
HonitonHobbitwere (thankfully and surprisingly) wrong about mozzies, we weren't attacked badly although on the road we drove through some heavy swarms of something (it sounded like hail hitting the front of the truck!), especially on Route 95 through Arjeplog etc.. Could be the time of year or just plain luck, but Russia was far far worse.
Bowiewas sort of right, we worked on 250 miles per tank for safety although we averaged better than 16mpg even on the mountain passes.
UdderlyOffroadwas right about the scenery and the race off the ferry!
GW8IZRwe didn't do much hiking about so ticks weren't an issue. In the sticks (Route 95 again!) we found a few people who didn't speak English but their kids did.
Tukowas almost psychic with his prediction - the North Norwegian roads rattled our exhaust loose by Flåt, but it was Britpart (fitted by previous owner) so it's not much of a surprise.
Daan's score is about 3/10 - we drove a few gravel roads but mostly by choice, the only really significant one being the scenic drive Gamle Strynefjellsvegen / Old Strynefjell Mountain Road which has a regular tarmac alternative for non-tourists. Oh and we're still not fitting LPG
finnarnewas right about Sweden being straighter / faster roads but mostly just trees. Also the autopass tolls - we had to pay “immediately” on some of the smaller ones but all the big ones are automated and we got the bill in the post about a month later. We did have to register in advance but it's pretty simple.
Day 1: Basingstoke to Dunkirk
A late-ish crossing, ditching straight into a Formula 1 so we could be up & on the road the next day. What is there to write about this classic route that has not been said before? Nothing, that's what.
Day 2: Dunkirk to Neumünster
A highly glamorous stop at an Autohof (perhaps Autohof Bordesholm), where you are (apparently) allowed to stop overnight for free. Dinner was a burger (handily on-site) as we couldn't be bothered to cook, and we'd feel less guilty using their bathrooms. I should emphasize that this was Helen's idea. I don't know if she'll have this idea again.
If nothing else this proved the value of the walk-through cab (cutting out the bulkhead) as it meant we could padlock the rear doors, walk round & get in through the cab with the key and then lock the cab from the inside, putting the foil blinds and dividing curtain up. No idea if the area was dodgy or what, but a night spent in a dark corner of a foreign truck-stop does make you more conscious of your security arrangements.
Not the best night ever but it was free and convenient.
It's worth noting for connoisseurs of service stations that this one had a frankly excellent selection of precious things for trucks, including actual genuine Michelin Men.
Day 3: Germany To Sweden (Via Denmark)
- Via some of Denmark
We arrived at the (now closed down) Oninge Camping which was very much in the middle of nowhere, after closing time in the dark after a loooong day of driving and traffic jams getting into Denmark. For some reason, all of Germany seemed to want to head into Denmark for the weekend. I mean, Denmark is a nice enough place but we really did wonder what could be so exciting that thousands of Germans wanted to rush there for the weekend.
We had a somewhat awkward moment on arrival. Pulling up outside what we assumed was reception, we were looking for signs of life and debating the course of action, when an older lady wandered up to us, tapped on the window and started talking to us in Swedish. We did the usual British tourist thing of speaking loudly and clearly in English asking for a pitch for the night, which she didn't seem to grasp. After a bit, she gave up and wandered off, we assumed to fetch someone else or complain about the ignorant English… anyway, we dismissed it (perhaps she just liked the ambulance?) and found the reception, where the proprietor was just locking up. She cheerfully unlocked and booked us in for the night. As we were making our way out to pitch up, an ambulance turned up and was ushered to the caravan the old lady had wandered off to…
Yep - she'd phoned an ambulance and we'd turned up 5 minutes later trying to book a camping pitch from her. No wonder she looked somewhat confused! At least it didn't seem to be a really urgent emergency. Hope the patient was OK!
Day 4: Up Sweden
- via Vadstena
After 1500km in 2 days of driving, today was a more leisurely pace.
The castle houses the provincial archives and a small museum which we didn't bother with. There's also a small railway museum - as you drive up to the castle there's a level crossing and a couple of sidings with old rolling stock, which appears to be occasionally used either as a restaurant or hotel, and at one end is a shed containing a couple of old trains. I'm not a train buff so I've no idea how exciting this may or may not be. There's also the old wooden station building which had the appearance of still being in some sort of use. Then again, some of our train stations look abandoned when they're not so it's hard to tell.
There's two large wooden grain storage barns which are clearly of historical interest, one of which appeared to be housing an ice-cream parlour on the ground floor and contained a coach-load of school kids when we passed.
We then headed for Örebro and Camping Gustavsvik, along with a couple of drag racing teams who arrived just after us and a typically understated German MAN-KAT camper-truck. The site adjoins a big water park and in peak season I'd imagine it's a paradise for kids. The facilities were brilliant (the kitchen area had free dishwashers!), including a shop, play area, amusement arcade, table tennis and whatnot plus an awesome crazy golf course with obstacles modelled on local landmarks such as Örebro Castle and the huge water-tower “Svampen” (The Mushroom).
We wandered into town for a look round, where there was clearly some sort of sportsball match going on as the bars were packed with locals in team colours. We did a circuit of Örebro Castle (obviously modelled on the crazy golf course) which is rather fetching with the river flowing around it. There was some sort of sculpture exhibition in the park, with (among other things) giant popcorn you could sit in - very pop art. We wandered back to camp for food and beer and a round of crazy golf.
Day 5: Further Up Sweden
Part of our logic in choosing to drive the longer route up the east side of Sweden was that we'd been warned the route up the middle was basically 1000 miles of trees. So, we chose to go via the “scenic coast road”. Unfortunately the scenic-ness was a little over-stated, despite the appearance on the map you can't actually see the coast most of the time and the day was pretty much 500km of trees . It was admittedly a more scenic 500k of trees than, say, some stretches of autobahn in Germany, or the drive from Vyborg into St Petersburg, but I wouldn't really say it's worth the visit for its own sake.
Our camp ground for the night was Vivstavarvstjärns Camping which was a tad shabby and situated between the railway tracks and the motorway, although looking out across the lake you wouldn't really know. We had to crack out the Deet for the 1st time as the mosquitoes were out.
Over dinner we had Elk Beer. Elk being the brand, not an ingredient. It's actually brewed by Koppaberg
Day 6: Carry On Up The Sweden
A highlight of the “scenic coast road” is the High Coast suspension bridge (Högakustenbron) over the Ångerman River. The bridge was a pretty impressive sight, on one side there's a rest stop with a cafe, gift shop and crafts and some great photo opportunities looking out over the bridge. This was our 1st stop just out of Sundsvall.
We stopped on route at Härnösand which the Rough Guide claimed had some worthwhile architectural delights. I'm not calling them liars, but we probably spent a total of an hour there, a fair portion of which was spent walking round wondering where all the exciting bits were supposed to be. The few impressive old buildings they have are nice enough, and it seems like a nice town, but it really was hardly worth turning off the motorway for.
Later in the day we visited Umea Sculpture Park, which was a bit more worthwhile. As usual with modern art, there was some stuff which was a load of old bobbins and some stuff which was pretty cool. The sculptures are just kinda strewn around a square mile of a sort of village (in a site that's a re-developed hospital complex) and you have to wander round and find them.
We stayed at the excellently equipped Camp Gielas site, which looks like it gets a lot of winter trade from its proximity to Arjeplog (see tomorrow's entry) judging by the full indoor gym & tennis courts on a campsite which is essentially in the middle of what a friend would call “bum-fuck nowhere”.
Day 7: Sweden to Norway Via the Arctic Circle
While in Arvidsjaur we started the day by visiting the traditional Sami log huts (Lappstaden), which were, as promised, some log huts. It wasn't entirely clear if they were a tourist attraction or the actual houses of a few remaining Sami people who refused to upgrade to the modern housing estate next door. All but one seemed shut, the one that was open contained an old lady and her furniture, and she didn't have the air of a tour guide. Having thus observed log huts in their natural habitat, we wandered round to the church which was very pretty.
Next we set off towards Arjeplog, a small Swedish town which is made famous, popular, and quite profitable by the motoring industry using it (and its frozen lakes) for all manner of winter testing. Top Gear have done a bit there in the snow. The population more than doubles in the winter months!
We took a detour to drive up the local Galtispouda mountain test road, which is open to the public during the summer months and affords a pretty decent view of Arjeplog and its surroundings from the top. The road up is specifically designed for vehicle testing, so in short it's effing steep! No problem for Alfie, not sure I'd fancy it on an icy day though!
Next up we stopped in Arjeplog itself, and visited the Silver Museum which is in an old building with a shiny new visitor centre built on the end, with a very “government development grant” feel about it. The museum section in the old house was really good, with rooms set up as if a family were living there 100 years ago (ish), with lots of bits donated by local families. Those into their shabby chic would really enjoy it.
In the visitor centre bit they had a lot of Sami culture bits, including a lot of dead animals and bits thereof which were of course the main source of food, clothing, and pretty much everything. There's also a cinema bit where you sit in an auditorium and watch a film about the town and surrounding area, which wasn't terribly inspiring. It felt like 5 minutes of ideas crammed into a half hour. I imagine once you've been there testing snow tyres in -20 for a month you'll watch anything…
Onwards from Arjeplog we drove through more countryside and finally came across some wildlife. To Helen's disappointment it wasn't moose, but reindeer. Still, we had to pull over and take some wildlife photos even if the passing locals gave us funny looks!
Having done our David Attenborough bit we pressed on and eventually came across the arctic circle. Apparently the Swedes are less excited about it than the Norwegians as it consisted of a layby with a sign post and a line painted on the ground. That didn't stop us taking a load of photos of course.
Many more kilometres along the road we crossed into Norway, through a totally deserted border post. So much for carefully calculating all the alcohol import limits, we could've stocked up!
The roads in Norway were immediately narrower, twistier, and in somewhat poorer condition. We assumed this was because the road we were on was something of a minor one and looked forward to hitting the main (and only) road that runs north-south up Norway. When we did hit it, it was no wider or less twisty but it did have a lot more traffic on it (relatively speaking).
By now we were heading back down south towards Mo i Rana. The next stop was Polarsirkelen and the visitor centre. The Norwegians have made a lot more effort on this one than the Swedes, the centre is a big dome containing a cafe and well-stocked gift shop where you can buy just about anything, as long as it has “Arctic Circle” or “Norway” written on it somewhere. You could also pose in front of a stuffed polar bear and “life size” fibre-glass trolls. For the more discerning traveller there's a granite obelisk out front with “Polarsirkelen” written on it. Out back is a rock garden which has attracted countless thousands to stack small rocks on top of each other. When this became a thing I'm not sure but we've seen it in any tourist location that has rocks.
I was about to take a nice photo of Alfie parked in front of the Arctic Circle Centre, but some Italians saw me raising the camera and immediately parked their camper slap bang in the middle of everything and spent about half an hour taking photos of, and selfies with, their transit van. Go figure!
After availing ourselves of some tasteful Arctic Circle merch and taking a few photos we hit the road, it was getting on for camping-o-clock so we stopped at the next likely place down the road - Krokstrand Camping, a small camp site run by the restaurant/bar/B&B on the other side of the road. They have some small but very neat chalets, perfectly acceptable facilities and the site itself is by a river so it's not a bad view either.
Day 8: Krokstrand to Flåt
- Via Kystriksveien
This was the day we would see some proper Norwegian scenery - driving part of Kystriksveien the coastal route along the Nordland coastline. It's 350km via the main road, or 396km and three ferries via the coastal route.
After the disappointment of the Swedish Scenic Coastal Route we weren't quite sure what to expect, but Norway is in a different league when it comes to scenery. It really is some of Slartibartfast's best work.
We followed the E6 down to the Fv78, which heads out through the countryside towards the coast. Our first ferry was Tjøtta-Forvik, taking an hour and allowing us time to wander about on deck and take loads of scenic photos, despite the overcast weather.
The ferries were a bit different than the usual cross-channel fare we're used to - you rock up at the terminal (which is basically the end of the main road), drive onto the boat when it arrives and a chap in overalls wanders down the line like a bus conductor taking money. Most of the locals choose to sit in their cars, whereas we got out and had a wander on deck. The bigger ferries have a small cafe/shop and all have toilets on board. You've got to watch out though - the ferry ramp starts coming up before the thing's even hit the dock and the locals are off like an F1 starting grid the moment it touches land, presumably racing to catch the next ferry in the chain. Oddly, this was about the only sign of urgency we saw in Norwegian culture.
After a brief drive through more scenery, we were on the Andalsvågen-Horn ferry, which took a mere 20mins. We decided that that point to pause on the quayside at Horn and have some lunch before continuing on.
We're on a boat. Oooh yeah, we're on a boat.
The next section was about 50km of driving (more scenery) followed by the Vennesund-Holm ferry, another 20mins. Vennesund quay appeared to be popular enough to warrant a cafe and gift-shop as well as (according to the map) a camp site.
From Holm we had another 90km of driving to reach Flåt. The route took us along and across numerous Fjords and non-stop breathtaking scenery. I won't bang on about it as I'm not a poet and there's a reason we have cameras (maybe if the poets had all tried a bit harder we wouldn't need them. Think on that, poets!).
We found Flåt Camping directly by the side of the road, next to a river feeding the lake. The place was deserted - we were the only people there. After ringing a doorbell on the deserted hut that housed the reception and facilities, a small boy of about 10 or 12 appeared on his bicycle, opened the hut and proceeded to book us in, speaking very good English and using his iPhone to process our credit card. He then got back on his bicycle and headed back to the farmhouse 500 yards away. What a time to be alive!
I took the opportunity to investigate a new noise that turned out to be a loose exhaust - exactly as the prophecy foretold. The rough roads (and Britpart's usual standards) had resulted in the weld on the pipe into the silencer fracturing, which meant it was slowly coming loose & pulling the silencer apart. I didn't have anything to hand to remedy this, but decided we'd just have to play it by ear as it was non-critical. Although we were clearly near a farmyard I didn't fancy negotiating with a Norwegian farmer on a bit of impromptu welding and risk something worse like fried electrics.
Day 9: Flåt to Trondheim
A glorious morning in Flåt, this was the view from the back door:
We hit the road again, covering more scenic route on our way to Trondheim in glorious sunshine.
Unfortunately, during the course of the day the weather got gradually worse.
By the time we hit Trondheim it was pissing it down. We parked up in a public car park next to Trondheim stadium (if you're envisaging Wembley, the more accurate description would be “municipal sports facility”) which is basically a free parking spot for campers as long as you're gone in 24h and you can beat Ze Germans to a spot - we were lucky to get a space and it filled up quickly as tea-time approached.
We took a damp trudge over the foot bridge into town. We missed closing time at the art museum by 30mins, so wandered round the corner to admire Nidaros Cathedral and bask in the warmth of the gift shop and café of our lord & saviour. There's some bits in there about the restoration of the cathedral. If Gothic architecture is your bag, baby, you'd get a kick out of the place. It's huge, imposing, and has many stained glass windows and ornate gargoyles and the like.
O Lord, ooh You are so big, so absolutely huge, gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell You. Forgive us, O Lord, for this our dreadful toadying, but You’re so strong and well, so super. Amen.
From the cathedral we wandered across the beautiful Old Town Bridge, with views down the river with the old merchant buildings down either side.
Then a mooch around the old town where I spotted this sweet Series parked up:
We headed down river, across the less old and less pretty lower bridge and into the microbrewery where we treated ourselves to a beer and a burger and financial ruin.
Day 10: Trondheim to Molde
After an incredibly stormy night in the car park, we had a slightly better day for exploring Trondheim. We followed a pretty similar route, but after the Old Town Bridge we headed up the hill to Kristiansten Fortress. You can read the Wikipedia article yourselves but it's one of those places which has been a fortress of some description forever, what with being on top of a hill overlooking the city in a conveniently strategic sort of way.
We had a poke about inside, where I learned a thing - namely that Shrapnel was a man who invented the grenade of the same name.
They've got cannons from ye olde days as well as WW2 howitzers, a load of history about the fortress as well as artefacts, and in the battlements there's a cafe and toilets.
There's also a pretty good view of the city from up there.
From the fortress, we headed back down into town, via a road so steep they've installed a bike lift.
As we were approaching our 24 Hour free-camping limit, we headed off for a bit more coast road. Only 220km, a relatively slow day!
Day 11: Molde to Geiranger
Up bright and early for a long day ahead. When you wake up to a panorama like this you don't expect the scenery is going to get better during the course of the day!
First thing, we set off from Molde for the famous Atlantic Ocean Road. Due to our starting point we actually headed out via Malme, which I didn't get a decent photo of (but Google Street View gives you an idea), and Bud which is an incredibly picturesque fishing village, and well worth a small detour if you're driving the Atlantic Ocean Road.
Via Bud, we made our way onto the famous road which is full of views like this:
We took many, many, photos all along the road. We won't reproduce all of them here but suffice to say the place is a non-stop scenic smorgasbord and really is as scenic as the guide books claim.
There's a layby currently under construction along the road where some artist(s) have put some sculpture things in the rock pools. Quite how anyone thought the view needed enhancing I'm not sure but they make for some excellent opportunities for artistic photography, or at least some ambitious and optimistic farting about in my case.
After a bit of (very) amateur photography we continued on - the road is only about 8km in total. Next stop, the famous bridges.
On returning to Molde we drove up Moldemarka to the panorama & cafe for a spot of lunch. This gives an excellent view of the town & the fjords & the ferry we were about to catch to take us on the next leg of our journey.
Next stop: Trollstigen
Well, almost - we caught the ferry from Molde, which was packed. A short drive through more scenery and we happened across what, to my knowledge, is the biggest troll and troll-related-products gift shop and restaurant in the world. They also have a huge three-headed troll, um, sculpture, no, statue, no, thing in the car park with glowing eyes that you can take photos in front of.
This was the start of the “troll road” which leads you up to the magnificent Trollstigen mountain road. After pausing at the bottom for photos, and then pausing half way up for photos, we arrived at the impressive visitor centre at the top to take some more photos.
The centre includes platforms built out from the side of the mountain so you can peer over the edge into nothing, or look straight down the waterfall which cascades down the side, under the road. When we arrived the view was stunning, by the time we left a mist was suddenly rolling up the valley and enveloping the place. Timed it just right, then!
A lot of people (especially coach parties off the cruise ships) turn round at the visitor centre and head back down. We continued on, over the top of the mountain and down towards Geiranger where we planned to camp. Coming down the other side of the mountain towards a scenic viewing platform overlooking the seven sisters waterfall, we pulled up next to a German couple driving a VW LT Feuerwagen they'd converted into a camper. Well, it would be rude not to stop for a chat and to compare notes! They have a tough time in Germany with any older vehicles (known as “Oldtimers”), and doubly so with ex-services stuff like that. They told us they even had a battle with the fire service over leaving the Feuerweher lettering and the town name on the side.
They headed off down the mountain as we were still admiring the view, although we caught them up further along the road on the very twisty descent. Obviously the VW LT can't match the sporty handling of a Defender ambulance!
When we eventually got to the bottom, it was a short drive along the edge of Geirangerfjorden to Geiranger Camping, which is on the edge of the end of the fjord, with a backdrop of log cabins and waterfalls, the glacial river running directly through the middle of the site and into the fjord. Even by Norway's standards, an impressive spot.
Day 12: Geiranger to Loen
- Via Gamle Strynefjellsvegen / Old Strynefjell Mountain Road
We were awoken by a loud pooping noise echoing round the fjord, which turned out to be a huge floater:
Yes, Geiranger is a very popular stop for the cruise ships. They rock up in the morning, spew hundreds of tourists ashore where they ravage the gift-shops, then bus them up the mountain to the viewing spot. We'd already had quite a few photos taken (of the ambulance, not us, natch) by tourists, but we clocked up a load more today! We ended up eating lunch with the curtains closed!
Again, as the tourists were heading back down for more essential postcards and keyrings before being herded back onto the ship, we continued on over the mountain behind a Norwegian van which was driving like a tourist. When we pulled over near the summit for a photo, we discovered that the van was driven by a Scot who lived in Norway, who was driving two South African friends around showing them the sights.
Carrying on over the mountain, we headed for the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen, also known as Old Strynefjell Mountain Road (Road number 258). This was our first “proper” gravel road in Norway, but was in pretty good condition compared to some I've driven. It is very narrow and twisty though, and actually marked on the map as unsuitable for caravans.
The road joins the newer (and tarmacked) route 15 (the easy alternative to the old road) which is still pretty tight and twisty as it makes its way down the valley towards Loen. We spotted more wildlife - only local sheep & cows though. We carried on towards Loen, where there was a campsite right in the town with a river running through it. We decided to carry on up the valley as we were planning to visit the glacier at the head of the valley in the morning, and the map showed a camp site further up.
This proved to be an excellent decision. The further we got along the very narrow road along the edge of the lake, the better the scenery got. If you weren't stood there, you'd swear someone had been photoshopping the view.
We camped at the insanely beautiful Sande Camping Loen. Even by Norway's high standards, this place was amazing. The facilities were excellent, but it wouldn't really have mattered with that view.
Day 13: Loen to Flåm
In the morning we made our way up the valley to visit the Kjenndalsbreen Glacier. You drive up the narrow road cut into the side of the valley, stop at a small barrier where you pay a toll to then continue up a private road towards the glacier. Near the toll gate at the top of the lake there's a restaurant where the tourists from the cruise ships arrive either by coach or by boat, get fed some local cuisine and then bussed up to the glacier to take selfies. Quite how the coach drivers get along the edge of the lake I've got no idea, it wouldn't be plain sailing in a smart car.
After admiring the glacier, we headed back down to Loen - having to do some very careful squeezing over & backing up to pass the surprising number of coaches coming the other way. I really must get round to fitting that reversing camera! From Loen we headed towards Flåm, via another ferry crossing and a whole load more scenery.
Approaching Flåm, we took the scenic route over the mountain (which was foggy but still pretty scenic), saving the Lærdal Tunnel for tomorrow's drive back out.
Flåm is another cruise ship destination, where thousands of tourists can be herded onto the famous Flåm Line scenic train for a day out. The rest of the town consists of a couple of hotels, a HUGE gift shop-come-cruise terminal, and Ægir BrewPub which is based on ancient Norse building - basically the whole place is hewn from big chunks of wood. We had some good beer and excellent burgers, followed by what accountants would probably call a magnificent bill. This was a rare treat though as we'd mostly been self-catering.
We stayed at Flåm Camping which is the only campsite in town. It's pretty well kitted out though, clearly popular with backpackers.
Day 14: Flåm to Fredrikstad
We were now coming to the end of our time in Norway, so this was a day with more driving than sight-seeing.
On the way out of Flåm we went through the Lærdal Tunnel that we'd gone over the top of the day before. It's currently the longest road tunnel in the world and has three enormous caverns with mood lighting (no, really) at regular intervals to wake people up.
On the other side we stopped to look at the Borgund Stave Church, which looks like Tim Burton's dream house. Wikipedia's picture is far better than mine. We didn't go in as it was quite expensive for a quick poke around a very dark church.
We stayed at Fredrikstad Motell and Camping, which was entirely average as far as camping goes. In the field next-door a large marquee had been erected and it turned out there was some sort of travelling church show sort of thing going on. We just hoped they wouldn't be praising the lord too late into the night.
We decided to wander into town for a meal, and were glad we did. Fredrikstad is a really cool walled (possibly even fortified) old town full of cool buildings and cobbled streets. It was a bit dead when we wandered in, but we found a pizzeria open where we were the only customers and had an excellent pizza and a couple of beers and another large bill.
Day 15: Fredrikstad to Lomma
Another long day driving, we ended up at Habo Ljung Camping, which is a nice campsite by the coast (you're camping on the beach) with an excellent view out across the water towards Malmo Turning Torso Tower and Öresund Bridge.
While I was away in the facilities, Helen was accosted by a German chap who had a MAN camper truck and wanted the grand tour.
Day 16: Lomma to Visbek
- Via some of Denmark
Basically a long day driving - back over the bridge, through the tunnel, down Denmark and into Germany.
We were hoping to stop overnight at an Autohof again, but when we arrived at the one we'd picked it was being dug up and rebuilt so there was nowhere to stop. We should've carried on up the autobahn to the next one, but the sat nav claimed there were a few camp sites further up the road so we set off for a drive down some country lanes. As it turns out, all the camp sites were either for static caravans / chalets only or closed for the season.
Getting fed up of driving around the countryside, we ended up staying in the car park of a closed (possibly permanently) countryside restaurant which we think is “Restaurant Wassermühle Neumühle” near Visbek. There was already a German couple in a camper van parked up, which we took as a promising sign. Later on, a French couple turned up in another camper. Denied a sumptuous service-station burger we had to settle for self-catering.
Day 17: Visbek to Zele
- Via a bit of Netherlands
More driving, this time ending up at the less than brilliant Camping Groenpark.
Day 18: Zele to Basingstoke
Another relatively long day, although we had plenty of time to kill before our crossing.
I took the opportunity of being on a camp site to give the Porta Potti it's inaugural emptying (we only really use it for emergencies & middle-of-the-night visits).
The cracked exhaust had been getting gradually worse for the last 1000 miles and Alfie now sounded like a dragster. This doesn't endear you to retired Germans on camp-sites but we did get overtaken by a Subaru full of yoofs who were so impressed they were throwing rock horns from the window and waving as they passed. It was quite loud at 70mph…
As we knew we had a bit of time in hand we decided to stop in Ypres for lunch as it's a really pretty place and has quite a lot of history. As we wandered towards the town square we could hear what sounded like someone putting a donk on it, but it turned out to be the international blacksmithing festival where a marquee full of teams of blacksmiths were competing to make commemorative railings for a war memorial, as well as hundreds of iron poppies. They had a tent where the kids could have a go at hitting red-hot metal with a hammer to make their own poppy - and people say health & safety is ruining things!
The whole thing was quite unexpected and really cool.
After a lot of spectating, we had lunch in a cafe and then headed back to drive the final stretch to the tunnel and home.