North Sea Cycle Route (Part 3) Sweden and Denmark

I crossed the Svinesund into Sweden missing Norway within minutes.  It is not to say that Sweden was that different, but I knew that I had been very fortunate to have good weather and perfect ferry crossings.  Not to mention the Norwegian people, who made me feel very welcome.

The road signs have changed colour and the cycle posts unreadable, but the roads are clear through the forests towards Strömstad, a beautiful seaside port.  I eat most of my food reserves for lunch before extracting Swedish Krona in a country which is rapidly becoming cashless.

A long slog against the wind eventually brings me to Tanumshede and an ICA Supermarket which would embarrass Waitrose for the quality of food.  Last time I was in Sweden you could only buy flour and yeast; you were expected to make your bread.  

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I stock up with all sort of goodies and head out to a coastal campsite.  When I arrive, the site is full. I have to ask very nicely to find a pitch as it is full-on Midsummer festival time. I also need to buy a Camping Card, which is mandatory, but this gets good use later.

Friday night is for families, but Saturday night is for the unattached generations, with no holds barred.  Most of the rowdy songs are in English.  What a party. The toilet blocks are a scene of devastation, and everyone is asleep.  

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Somehow I manage to sleep through the night’s festivities, and the roads are clear in the morning.  It is raining hard, but progress is good until about 11 o’clock when everyone is making their way home.  I take pleasure cycling past tedious traffic jams, with classic American cars intermixed with the Volvo’s and Saab’s full of green Swedes.

Fortunately, the route turns towards Lysekil and lighter traffic, to catch a ferry across the fjord to an excellent campsite on the island of Malö, connected to the outside world by two cable ferries.   I treat myself to an ice cream and devour the rest of my food.  Getting calories on board is becoming a problem as I am losing weight fast.

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Heading south, I meet Michael again, the Frenchman I met in Bergen almost two weeks ago. They say the paths are long, but the journey short – meaning that you always bump into people using the same trail as you.  We cycle together to Göteburg along a large river, through bypassing heavy traffic into the city centre.  He has to move on to see a friend, I leave for Mölndal and another campsite, still heaving with Midsummer campers.  Google cycle navigation keeps me out of trouble in the major conurbations.

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I spend my last night in Sweden in prison!  Well, a converted prison, which is now a youth hostel.  I buy a ticket for the ferry from Varberg to Denmark in the morning.  The prison is haunted, according to the sales girl, she would not stay there.  It is an eerie experience, closing the cell door.  Every sound is amplified and ricochets through the halls. Spooky, but unmissable.

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The ferry is for cars, coaches and lorries and very comfortable.  I catch up on administration and recharge all fuel cells.  I have been cycling for 16 days so snoozing on a ferry is allowed.  I wake to arrive at Grenaa in Denmark and seek out Danish Krone and more food.  I then cycle through wonderfully flat countryside, almost identical to Norfolk to reach a campsite just after the ferry at Udbyhøj, covering over 80 km in 4 hours, benefiting from favourable winds.  The cottages and farm buildings have a distinctive architecture, long and low, thatched.

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The next day sees the wind turn to an easterly, bringing torrential rain.  I am wearing every item of waterproof gear, mostly from Alpkit.  Their clothing is remarkably efficient, but the rain is so hard, and flooding so deep, I feel a need for a lifejacket too. I tack along the matrix of roads, sailing again towards Frederikshavn, a marina, fishing port and naval base.  I find a good campsite north of the town and meet up with more cycle tourists, who can understand and share what it means to cycle through such weather.

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The port of Hirtshals is next, via Skagen, the most northerly tip of Denmark.  I meet by Gunner, a day cyclist and we get chatting.  After a tour of Skagen, he invites me back to his home and wife, Jonna, a local guide, for a traditional Danish lunch, Aquavit included.  Uh oh.  They could not be more hospitable, so I spend some time with them to exchange stories.  I leave Skagen without a care in the world, with only a rough plan to reach Hirtshals.  

I do eventually reach a campsite just outside the town, full of motorcyclists, waiting to catch the ferry to Iceland.  My campsite neighbour is riding a 1952 AJS Model 16, so as a fellow Classic Bike nut, owning a 1947 Matchless G80, we talk for hours.  I don’t envy the 2-day journey to Iceland though, but I do admire his sense of adventure on such an old bike.

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The cycle path now uses a hard sand beach, which is a joy to cycle along, if you avoid the blown sand mounds and the tide is out.  I stay overnight at Hanstholm, home to a large fishing factory you can smell well before you see it.  

As you head south, you enter the massive dune wilderness of Nationalpark Thy and a rollercoaster ride through the forests.  I surprise the deer and eagles as I  pedal along smooth gravel paths that connect the holiday villages, full of mostly German tourists.  The wind picks up speed as I cross into Thyboron and a pleasant campsite, with one of those centrifugal spin dryers, a cyclists dream for washing clothing.

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The headwind is more strenuous than the hills, with the addition of a persistent white noise that drives you crazy, filtering out any natural frame of reference your ears crave.  The landscape, right to left, consists of coastal dune, marshland, cycle path, inland lake until I reach Nymindegab and an industrial campsite, full to the gunnels with campers.

I search for Vestas V164, the tallest wind turbine in the world, near Esbjerg.  Denmark seems to be powered entirely by renewables, judging by a diverse array of wind turbines in the fields, but this 212m giant dwarfs them all, generating an incredible 9.5 megawatts.  Unfortunately, the blades are facing the wrong way for me, as the headwind persists into Ribe, a medieval fishing port, now inland from the sea.

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Reaching the coast again, I start cycling through scenery that will barely change for the next few days.  Behind the seawall construction, a service track runs through sheep pastures.  Avoiding sheep, their droppings and numerous gates, you cycle for kilometres without actually seeing the sea, even though it is only a few metres away.  

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I cross into Nordfriesische and Germany, although the landscape remains unchanged, except for the road signs. After finding a cash point for Euros, I head for Dagebüll. Denmark is a country I will return too.

 

North Sea Cycle Route (Part 2) Norway

Flying from London Heathrow to Norway was easier than I expected, once I could negotiate Terminal 5 with a bike box. Unpacking and reassembling my Thorn Sherpa in the baggage lounge drew stares, but not as many as I exited Customs dressed and prepared for the next 4,000km of my journey back to London. A surreal scene.

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I had no idea where I would stay that night, but the first task was to find the Hanseatic quayside at Bryggen. This set of buildings marks the start of the North Sea Cycle Route, continuing south and around the coast of Norway towards the Oslofjord. Encouraged by the quality of the cycle paths and roads, I pedalled all the way to the Hahljem and caught the ferry.

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It was then only a few miles to Fitjar and a deserted campsite, apart from a French cycle tourist. The midges were swarming, so I spent a few hours chatting in the communal kitchen about cycle touring and the route south. Cycling 100km in half a day bodes well for the task ahead.

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The roads and cycle paths are a revelation, beautifully smooth and guiding you through the quiet wild coastal scenery of Norway. Every summit reveals an unspoilt landscape of forest and fjords, peppered with local Hutte (huts) that serve as a wilderness retreat for many Norwegians. Campsites are great and an opportunity to meet fellow cyclists. These could be found using Google Maps on my smartphone, which now has good 4G signal and free data wherever I go, thanks to the new roaming regulations and superb Norwegian mobile network.

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I have written a separate blog on the ferry journeys, as these need to be carefully planned to avoid impossibly long detours. Many crossings are discontinued in favour of new road tunnels, which cannot be used by cyclists. The only option, in this case, is to catch a bus or train, but fortunately, the NSCR follows tunnel free routes. I took a shortcut on one section that looked fine on the map, but a tunnel appeared after a long ascent. Several mountain bikers passed me earlier, so I knew there was a way around and I was very fortunate that the old mountain path was still in use. This serendipitous route leads to a close encounter with a White Tailed Sea Eagle, soaring overhead.

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I arrived in Stavanger a day after staying in Haugesund to torrential rain and a bottom bracket that was making unhealthy noises. I found a cycle shop still open until 8 PM and a mechanic happily replace a broken shim to get me going again. Forever grateful I cycle south across a landscape of dairy farms and arable crops until reaching a punishing rough track climbing and descending into Egersund.  The local sign for steep ascent is Brekkabakken – how true.

Now into the mountains, with a series of steep ascents and exhilarating descents down hairpin roads. The Thorn is handling superbly; I lose height faster than the traffic, loaded with camping gear. At one stage I bank over around a 470-degree bend. Yes, one full circle and then a tunnel under the road, I had to draw it out to work out that angle.

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I meet a young student from the Czech Republic, cycling home after an Erasmus year in Trondheim to Brno. He has built a bike for $25 with second-hand panniers but is much fitter than me. We spend a day together as we ride into Kristiansand, where he catches a ferry to Denmark. My route continues northeast towards Oslo.

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The picturesque inlets and ports follow, one by one to a lovely campsite at Gjeving. Endless pleasure boats and spotlessly maintained hutte. The national pastime in Norway seems to be using a lawnmower. Each green lawn is immaculate, including the ones cut by battery-powered Husqvarna robots. It seems almost everything here runs on electricity, the endless procession of Tesla’s, Nissan’s and Toyota’s. Everyone seems to have an electric bike, which becomes apparent as I am regularly overtaken up the hills, by grannies with a full load of shopping. I will later learn to draft the e-bikes in Holland and Germany.

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There is a correlation between the midge population and the quality of the landscape, the more beautiful the scenery, the higher the density of midge clouds. Moving at speed on the bike avoids the bites, but makes good glasses essential. The roads are perfect and quiet as I enter Lillesand after a high-speed descent from Birkeland on excellent smooth cycle paths. The campsite at Gjeving is a delight with an on-site Thai food stall. Expensive, but delicious.

IMG_20170621_094332A 60-year-old wooden ferry Risør brings me towards Stabbestad and another crossing to Kragerø. Like a car always meeting green traffic lights, my ferry timing is perfection and yet unplanned, saving a considerable amount of time. After an overnight stop at Eidanger a full day of rain, the first for a week, brings me to Høsoy and the expectation of a ferry long since discontinued. A fisherman directs me to a lovely campsite for my last night until I catch the ferry from Morten to Hoss across Oslofjord.

I am still in Norway, judging by the windsock like flags on every hutte as I head south towards Sweden. I arrive at Fredrikstad and cross by ferry to the Fortified Town and a campsite, full of Taekwondo contestants competing at a local sports centre. It is raining hard again, but the following day brightens as I cross the border into Sweden, standing astride the road markings on a substantial bridge across the Svinesund fjord.

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It has taken me just over ten days to cycle from Bergen. I have been blessed with great weather, apart from a few days, cycling on some of the best cycle tracks I have ever used. I must come back soon.

North Sea Cycle Route (Part 1) London to Norwick, Shetland

Distance is nothing – only the first step is difficult, well pedal rotation for this journey – to cycle around the North Sea starting in London heading north to Norwick in Shetland and then on to Bergen and the coast route home via Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France.

This journey will be the longest extended trip away from home. I estimate 60-80 days according to the detailed plans I had been making over the winter. A few short trips on a new Thorn Sherpa, as yet unnamed, confirmed riding comfort and carrying capacity. To keep costs down, I set out to camp every night and do as much cooking myself.

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I booked a flight from Sumburgh airport in Shetland to Bergen and would worry about packing the bike when I got there. The flights departed every Saturday, so I timed my departure three weeks beforehand. I joined the National Cycle Route 1 at Hoddesdon, after cycling along the NSC 6 and 61 from Slough. This route would guide me all the way to Shetland.

The first days surprised me with the number of off-road rail tracks and towpaths connecting the towns. Chelmsford was very picturesque with parks in full bloom. I left the NCR 1 to cycle to Maldon, to pick up a sequence of ferries that would bypass Colchester and Ipswich. The roads in Suffolk and Norfolk are quiet if you follow your intuition, guided by OS maps downloaded onto my Smartphone. I discover the village of Framlingham was the hometown of Ed Sheeran – pop superstar in a local cafe. I had an extra piece of cake, as today was going to be 160km into Norwich. I arrived late, demolished Fish & Chips and pitched at the Camping and Caravan Club site without checking in.

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Norfolk is flat, so progress was good into Lincolnshire along canal towpaths and quiet roads. I zigzag’ed across the fens, almost as if tacking in a sailing boat, wind assisted on a port reach and then an ‘uphill’ struggle into the freshening sea breeze on the starboard tack. I chased Marsh Harriers and Hares across the fields.

Ascending the Wolds provided a glimpse of the Humber Estuary. It needed courage and determination to stay upright across the huge suspension bridge; the views are outstanding. The next few days I spent in the Youth Hostels at Beverly and Scarborough. Full of old people. One group, in particular, had gathered to list what they would change after Brexit. They discussed the colour of car number plates while drinking Spanish wine and eating Indian curry.

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The weather was changing, colder, wetter. The descent into Whitby along the Cinder Trail eat through a set of brake blocks, the gravel was like grinding paste. The cycle shop in town knew what I needed and let me store my bike for lunch, a delicious deli next door. Now into the Yorkshire Wolds, where the higher elevation turned rain into sleet. Pedalling harder seemed to help warm me up until I reach Great Ayton and a welcome B&B. So much for camping every night.

The NCR 1, the A1 in cycling terms, led me through the industrial landscape of Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees towards Sunderland and South Shields, for another B&B, primarily due to the lack of campsites. The Fish & Chips at Colmans is perhaps the best I have ever tasted, now a regular evening meal, a consequence of keeping close to the coast.

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Now on to Dunbar via Lindisfarne and Bamburgh. The cycle tracks are lovely and the roads quiet and easy going, sticking to the coast. I am glad I choose a rugged steel framed bike. The Thorn handles wonderfully even with the weight it is carrying; it loves the rail lines and rough tracks, so diversions on to off-road sections are the concern it would have been if I had selected a pure road bike.

After camping in Dunbar, I entered the bustling city of Edinburgh and cycled right through the middle of the city centre, narrowly avoiding crashing into students and trams. Crossing the Firth of Forth on the road bridge is just as exhilarating as the Humber bridge, but even windier. I have to walk the bike at times.

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Cycling is getting tougher, but I am getting fitter, or so I thought. An elderly gentleman overtakes me up a hill. “Morning” – he says. “Where ye off to?”. “I’m cycling around the North Sea”, to which he replies “Nice day for it – eh!”. Who would miss Scottish banter?

I pay my respects at Stonehaven, the birthplace of the pneumatic tyre, invented by John Boyd Dunlop. My journey would be very different if my bike did not run on the superb Schwalbe Dureme tyres.

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The countryside is now a riot of yellow. Yellow gorse, Yellow Hammer birds, Yellow oilseed rape fields, Yellow Daffodils and Scottish National Party election posters (yellow). My luminescent yellow jersey camouflaged, but of great importance as I cycle through the nightmare that is Aberdeen city centre. I am glad to get out into the countryside inland towards Banff and the coastal route via Buckie and Nairn towards Inverness. Camping is pleasant as the weather improves. Inverness has a delightful cycle cafe where novice riders are getting instructions for a day riding. They ask me where I have come from; they can’t believe I left London 2 weeks ago.

I am now in the Highlands proper and the quiet single track roads across stunning landscapes. The wind helps me northwards through the wilderness of Sutherland and into Caithness and to the campsite at John o’ Groats. Still, on the NCR 1, I cross by ferry to Orkney, a place I know well. It takes me 3 hours to cycle 34km to Kirkwall against a fierce headwind.

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It is here that I learn of a family bereavement, which leads to mixed feelings about continuing the journey. I vow to carry on to Norwick in Shetland so catch the overnight ferry to Lerwick and cycle over Unst and Yell to the most northerly point in the British Isles. The landscape is wild, perhaps explaining why the people are so friendly. On reaching my destination a local gives me a lift back to the inter-island ferry at Yell, and a bus driver lets me put the bike on his bus to Lerwick. This gesture allows me to catch an overnight ferry to Aberdeen and the sleeper service back to London. I have a funeral to attend to, before continuing my journey in a few weeks by flying to Bergen, in Norway.

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North Sea Cycle Route

I have been having fun with Google Maps. Now the whole of the North Sea Cycle Route has been mapped out as I plan the route and decide how how I am going to navigate.  I have a few paper maps, but Google Maps, MyMaps, ViewRanger and BackCountry Navigator provide too many options.  I have also used OpenCycleMaps too, downloading custom routable maps for each section that I can just about squeeze into my Garmin GPS. See http://garmin.openstreetmaps.nl for more info and perhaps donate a few Euros to this project.

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My Android Nexus 5X is more than up to the job of storing the maps, and the UK section is adequately covered by the Ordnance Survey offline 1:50k maps. Plus, at last, OS have re-released the Road Map series at 1:250k, which is nigh-on perfect for cycle touring, other than it doesn’t show cycle tracks, but it does cover the whole of the UK in 8 maps.

Now to overlay campsites, points of interest, ferries and find a means of attaching photos as I progress, as I mean to use this Blog in real time, with weekly updates.  Just add StreetView and I can start now with a virtual tour.

Back to Stanfords next time I am in London.