Thursday, 19 September 2013

Itchy feet and making plans!

So like most avid adventurers, ever since returning home from the continent, i've been having seriously itchy feet. I seriously miss being away, travelling around in Tim, having to coax him up some monster hills, and setting up camp each night before moving onto somewhere different the next day.

So i spent a lot of time deciding on where we (Me and Tim) were going to head next, i looked into Africa, but realistically, and within the timeframe i wanted to go, i don't have the money or time to sort out the logistics required. So i started looking elsewhere in Europe, i started looking North on google maps, remembering conversations with fellow travellers of them telling me how Scandinavia has some of the most beautiful scenery on this planet. I looked at how far north you can get by car, to the Nordkapp, which is over 1500 miles further north than Edinburgh in itself. Whilst this did sound exciting, the more i looked into it the more i discovered that it is a fairly well trodden route, either up through Sweden and down through Norway, or the other way round. The road network is good and whilst there's a lot of distance involved, atleast 5000 miles as a round trip, i was still left wanting for more of a challenge.

Then i had an idea, an idea that should satisfy my need for more of a challenge. What if i was to try and get there during winter? Late January for example. The more i looked into the weather reports for previous years the more i started to plan. With heavy snowfall a daily occurance and reported temperatures as low as -40 in some parts of Sweeden, i was hooked. To me this had all the makings of a proper (Mini) expedition!

The North Cape, in Winter.

The plan so far is to catch the ferry from Harwich in Essex, to the Hook of Holland, before heading North through the Netherlands, Germany, into Denmark, and bridge hop across the 3 islands into Sweden. From there begins the long drive North, if time allows, travel through part of Finland before heading into Norway to the Nordkapp. Then following mainly the coastal road back down through Norway and then a quick drive back through Denmark, Germany and into Holland for the ferry home! All sounds so simple typing it now!

Been thinking about this for a while now, so i thought it was about time i made it public knowledge, keep checking back for updates to route planning. As well as for modifications to the car needed for this more extreme environment!

Thanks for reading, Joe.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Heading home...

This post was originally wrote and posted around 3 weeks ago, for some reason it dissapeared and needed to be re-posted!

So we've now been back home for a little over a week! And in many ways it is good to be home, although i'd be lying if i said that i did not miss waking up, climbing out of my sleeping bag, unzipping the tent door and being greeted by a different view, morning after morning...

Anyway, enough moping, last time i left you we were heading North to Normandy, but before we hit the road, we packed up, left the campsite and decided to have a wander around the smallish town of Fresnay-Sur-Sarthe. We were told by the slightly over-enthusiastic campsite rep that there was a market on in the town today. Well upon arrival the market was pants, selling all the sorts of clothes that were made 20 years ago, and weren't even fashionable then! Things got better though, as we stumbled into the medieval part of the town and came across a rather pretty castle, built in the 10th century under the reign of King Charles the bald (No, really!). It was built mainly for the protection of the river crossing you see in the photos.

Pretty church from the same era, else where in the town:

We then left Fresnay-sur-Sarthe and headed north, with the GPS set for Caen, it was around 200 miles and as it was getting later in the day, we splashed out on autoroutes. Nearing Caen, the GPS was re-set for Grandcamp-Maisy, having found a campsite just down the road from there. Arriving at camping Pont-du-Hable, it didn't take long for me to decide that this was one of my favourite sites of the trip. It was right on the sea, with direct access to the beach, really simple, and cheap! If you know that stretch of coastline, it's around 5 miles from Omaha beach, and a few minutes drive from Grandcamp-Maisy.

The next day we were up early and headed to Pointe Du Hoc, for those of you that don't know Pointe du Hoc is a clifftop location that looked over both Utah and Omaha beach. It was a key strategic point to both the allies and axis. On the morning of the 6th June 225 men from the 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the 100ft cliffs using only ropes and ladders. Without there success it would of been unlikely that the American, British and Canadian allied forces would of been able to land on the beaches.

We then headed to the memorial center at Omaha beach, this houses the memorial museum (Which is free and well worth a visit!) as well as acting as an entrance to the American cemetery. The museum is really interesting, with the more you read the more your left to think about. You do a lot of thinking at these places.

We then headed into the cemetery itself, with over 9'500 burials within its grounds, situated on a bluff overlooking Omaha beach, it is a picturesque and strangely pretty place to visit. The soldiers and military staff buried here took part in the invasion of Normandy and the ensuing operations to re-take Europe during 1944 and '45.

Most touching to me were the cross you see in the foreground of the photo below, they are inscribed "Here rests in honored glory, a comrade in arms, known but to god."  There are 307 of them crosses within the memorial grounds.

Omaha beach, with the peace, tranquility and almost surreal beauty of the place now, it's hard to imagine the extreme difference compared to 69 years ago.

The next day we headed away from the Normandy coastline, but before we did we headed into the nearby town of Arromanches-les-Bains. Situated around 16 miles North-East of Caen, it was considered by the allies (along with Omaha beach) an ideal place to erect a harbour for supplies to be offloaded  for there continued liberation of France and the rest of Europe. Thus Port Winston was born. Below is what remains of Port Winston at Arromanches, with most of it now underwater.

Arromanches is a cool town though, with plenty of reminders of what went on all them years ago littered around the town. Plus i found a Mini!

After Arromanches we headed North-East along the coast, heading to a campsite in a town called Neufchatel, a little over 200km from where we were. The route there consisted mainly of autoroutes, and since we'd left a little later than we normally would of, we were keen to make up time. After having spent a month on the continent, we were getting pretty bored of the French autoroutes, whilst very clean, fast and usually containing next to no traffic, they were pretty boring, and never cheap! Anyway, on the A29 there is an exception, the Pont de Normandie. It is a bridge that spans the river Seine, and is over 2km in length. Plus it looks pretty stunning, and is a lot steeper to drive up than it looks!

An hour or so later we arrived at Camping-Sainte-Claire, originally we had only planned to stay for the night before heading to Calais to catch the ferry the next morning. However, on arrival, i realised i'd made a wee error in planning, we'd arrived a day early, and that in fact the ferry wasn't the next morning, but the morning after. Bugger. Aaah well, the campsite was surprising nice actually, and i'd recommend it to anyone wanting a stop over for a day or two either on the way up or the way down. Only a couple of hours from Calais as well!

The next day we spent a few hours wandering around the local town and driving around the area, unfortunately neither of which was that interesting, so we headed back to the campsite and spent rest of the day chilling at the site, reading, re-packing and sorting out the car for the ferry. That afternoon we met a cyclist, Richard, who the next day was catching the ferry from Dieppe, returning home after his own adventure. He'd spent the last two months cycling around France, covering over 2000km, pretty impressive by any stretch! The three of us spent the rest of the evening chatting and sharing stories, putting the world to rights, and depleting what remained of my supply of Heineken. Take a look at Richards site for more details of his trip:

Thanks to him for the below photo of our wee Mini!:

The next day we got up leisurely, made breakfast and slowly began to pack up the car for the last time. We said our goodbyes to Richard, promising to stay in touch as ever with nearly everyone we've met before hitting the road for the last 175km to Calais.

The mood in the car that morning and indeed for the rest of the day was different to how it had been before. Han was probably looking forward to being home more than i was. And whilst i was looking forward to seeing friends and family, a bed, and having a proper garage to work on the car! I was more than a little dissapointed that it was all coming to an end. This was the final leg, and despite the fact that we'd all but run out of money, and had been away for a wee over a month, i wasn't really ready to come home yet.

We arrived at the ferry terminal early, and managed to get on an earlier ferry. Used up the last of our Euros on food and duty free and before we knew it , we were docking at Dover.

Flying (well relatively speaking!) up the M2 and A2 towards home, it dawned on me that tonight i'd be putting Timmy away in the garage and he wouldn't have to be travelling to some unknown place the day after. We wouldn't have to be bodging together broken radiator mounts or adjusting tired tie-rods. Nor would i have to be putting up a tent and inflating a bed to sleep on. And to be honest, whilst that may sound good to most people, after a week of being back. I bloody miss it.

Now just to decide where to go next...

Thanks for reading, peace.