Seeing the light

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11 December 2019
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Northern Lights and Land Rover Defenders : credit: © Josh Hull
A 300Tdi and a pair of Td5 Defenders plus six good friends discover the beauty of Norway and Sweden and the capabilities of their Land Rovers
Seeing the light Images

This Land Rover expedition had been in the planning for a couple of years, and in October 2018 I took the plunge and booked a return ferry from Harwich to Holland with the goal of travelling up through Norway, and back down through Sweden over the course of a month in my 1996 300Tdi 90. Joining me on the trip were Kate (my partner), and Sam and Emily, in his Td5 110. Once I had posted our planned trip on Instagram, Lachlan, a fellow Instagrammer, messaged to ask if he and Hannah could tag along in her Td5 90. Now, I’d been chatting to Lachlan for a few months about all things Land Rover, and although none of us had ever met, I couldn’t say no! This decision turned out to be one of the greatest that we made as they are now firm friends. 

The connection between us was the draw to visiting Norway and Sweden as they have that certain kind of appeal for Land Rover exploration. Norway offers a wealth of mountains, amazing hairpin roads and epic fjords, to name but a few. Plus, it has been voted one of the greatest places in the world to take a road trip. Sweden similarly offers beautiful scenery, but has a vastness like no other, overflowing with trees, lakes and gravel roads – perfect for those on the lookout for wild camping spots to enjoy the peace and serenity this country boasts.

Soaking up the views

To enable us all to take full advantage of our trip, and travel in style and comfort, we endeavoured to modify our Land Rovers to the best of our abilities. I had been on a two-week tour of Scotland in mine, and three weeks round Italy and Switzerland in Sam’s in years previous, so I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted things to work. I find that the more you travel and test things out, the easier it becomes to know what works. The most important piece of kit we all own is an expedition roof tent. To anyone who is considering buying a roof tent, I would highly recommend saving to do so. To add to this, we all had awnings of various styles, after all Norway is one of the wettest countries, and they certainly got their use! One Instagram comment described our set-up as a “communal Land Rover camping fortress”! Furthermore, we all fitted CB radios, which worked a treat and I would also recommend doing so if you’re travelling in convoy. Inevitably travelling as a couple over such a long distance you do run out of things to chat about, so it’s nice to be able to natter with others on the go. 

No expedition is complete without a roof tent 

Awnings area must in rainy weather 

After months of hard work on the Land Rovers, we all welcomed the moment we finally set sail overnight, celebrating with a beer and some much-needed sleep. Once we docked, we set our satnavs for Hirtshals, Denmark, where we would board our next ferry to Kristiansand, Norway. Hitting the road at 9.00am with high spirits and laughter over the CBs spurred us on to drive the 642-mile leg, reaching our first wild camp spot, hidden up a gravel road, on the edge of darkness. Now, as you might expect, there were of course some Land Rover-related issues, which we discovered the next morning, 45 minutes prior to a ferry boarding, when Hannah’s Landy wouldn’t start due to an issue with the fuel pump. Thankfully, a quick top-up from a jerry can saw us catch the ferry just in the nick of time.

Docking at Kristiansand, on the south-eastern shoreline of Norway, we were greeted by the first of ten days of rain, but we didn’t care, we were on a road trip! Making our way up along the western coastline, our first taste of Norway did not disappoint; we dipped in and out of nice villages, through forests and to our evening destination, by the sea. There’s something great about parking up, getting your tent out, opening a beer and taking in the views, surrounded by great friends. We even took a late-night dip in the sea. 

Over the next few days, we travelled up the coastal road towards Stavanger, popping into the city for a £10 beer by the harbour and that evening, we camped up by a lake with Kate being the first to test out the shower I had plumbed into the coolant system using a household boiler heat exchanger – it worked a treat! The next morning saw another ferry journey from Lauvvik to Oanes, and as we had been driving for a few days, we thought it best to stretch our legs and hike up to the famous Preikestolen, aka Pulpit Rock. The cliff rises 604 metres above Lysefjorden and provides you with a dramatic view of the fjord and surrounding mountains, which almost takes your breath away. To finish off a fantastic day, we came across Tysdal Campsite where we were able to drive onto the beach and set up camp. Initially, when we enquired about driving onto the beach, the receptionist told us that would get stuck, and perhaps thought us a little crazy, until she saw we were in Land Rovers, and then admitted that we were more than equipped! 

Shower plumbed into the coolant system using a household boiler heat exchanger 

From here, we boarded yet another ferry from Songesand to Lysebotn, where we drove Lysevegen Road, a route which you see in photos and only dream of driving. There had been jokes amongst us as to which Defender wouldn’t make it up! This popular tourist road consists of 27 hairpin bends, and every one of them offers you magnificent views. Our onward journey from here saw us travel through Valle, Latefossen and to a scenic harbour town called Odda, a great pit stop for anyone travelling this route. 

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Mountain road delivered amazing scenery and hairpin bends

The next attraction to tick off our list was the Vallavik Tunnel – I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drive an underground roundabout!. This was quite a surreal experience and the engineering is remarkable. This is certainly one of the highlights of the trip, so much so that we accidentally drove it four times, racking up a few toll charges along the way. From here, we all set out to find our evening camp spot, and in doing so, stumbled upon a gravel mountain road out the back of Ovre, Eidfjord. This road (passing through Brattsetebekken) delivered amazing views, the sharpest of hairpin bends and the feeling of emerging onto the top of the world. We couldn’t quite believe we had stumbled upon such an epic route and we made the most of it by camping up here for the night. 

Yes, that is an underground roundabout – a feat of engineering excellence 

Over the course of the next day, we headed for Bergen, where we swapped the tents for an Airbnb for the evening, enabling us to wash our clothes, dry our gear (remember it had rained everyday so far) and to celebrate Emily’s birthday. Then onwards to drive another incredible road, the Sognefjellsvegen mountain road pass, the highest in Northern Europe. Using satellite maps to locate our evening camp spot, up a gravel road with a 4500ft altitude and views for miles. It was at this point where we all relished in the joy of owning a Land Rover, which enables us to drive such roads and create such fantastic memories. From here, we took only three days to drive the route north (rescuing a bogged-down camper van early one morning along the way), stopping at Geirangerfjord, driving the famous Atlantic Ocean Road, passing through Trondheim and entering the Arctic Circle before catching our ferry from Bodo to the Lofoten Islands. 

The Lofoten islands really are as incredible as everyone says they are. As the ferry approached, we were amazed by what these islands had to offer. Arriving late in the evening, we found a camp spot at Hamnoy. This village is famous for its red huts, dramatic mountain landscape and stormy sea, and, as we found out that night, a whipping wind. We spent four days exploring the islands and our experience was unforgettable; words simply cannot do it justice. You must see it for yourself. 

Lofoten Islands, Norway

From the village of Reine, we climbed 1566 steps up the Reinebringen route, which offered epic panoramic views of the mountains, sea and even orcas breeching the waves. Heading north, we journeyed into Flakstad and stumbled upon Lofoten Beach Camp, most definitely the highlight of the entire trip. Whilst there, we were lucky enough to enjoy two days of hot sunshine, hiking, surfing, swimming and relaxing by campfires whilst watching the sun go down. We concluded our Lofoten Islands experience by visiting Henningsvaer, before waving goodbye to Emily and Sam (who had to return home for work commitments), leaving the two 90s to journey through Sweden. 

You cannot compare Sweden and Norway; they are two very contrasting countries – both offering you a different, but incredible experience. We spent ten days travelling through glorious Sweden. We began in the Abisko National Park, one of the greatest places in the world to see the Northern Lights. At this point, it was early September and darkness crept in at 10.00pm meaning that we were lucky to see them three nights on the trot. This was the sole reason why I had planned to travel at this time of the year. We then made our way south using gravel roads, encountering numerous reindeer along the way and stopping every time to try and catch a photo of the magnificent but flighty creatures. 

Recommended by many, we drove the 350km Wilderness Road, the highest paved road in Sweden, which passes through the Stekenjokk Plateau, offering mountain views all around, and only open four months of the year due to heavy snowfall. There was a remarkable weather improvement in Sweden, so we enjoyed the rest of our journey through Stromsund, Gransfors, Stockholm, Goteborg and Falkenberg, where we drove the famous Oresund Bridge to Copenhagen. 

Our final few days of our Scandinavian road trip encompassed us spending a couple of days exploring the city of Copenhagen, spotting urban Land Rovers (up to this point we had seen very few on our trip), a day travelling through Germany and one travelling through the Netherlands for our ferry back to Harwich. We couldn’t quite face ending the journey there, and with being so close to Peterborough on the weekend of the LRO show, we drove to the showground and spent Saturday speaking with like-minded people, trying not to spend the little money we had left and seeing what the show had to offer. The perfect way to finish our trip. 

All in all, our road trip was an unforgettable experience, and one that we will all be sharing stories about for years to come. There’s something quite special about being able to take your vehicle away with you and live out of it with ease and pleasure. Land Rovers are most definitely a unique and iconic vehicle, and they are so versatile with what you can equip them with. We’ve all been in talks about our next road trip, most likely somewhere hot in summer 2020. The dream would be to pack up and travel for months on end, and I’m almost certain that will be achievable in years to come. For now, my Land Rover remains my trusty vehicle for everyday use, with the odd day off-roading and touring up to Scotland and the Lake District. I’ll leave you with one piece of advice: you don’t need all the gear to have a great time, work with what you’ve got, throw it in the back on the Landy and get out there.

TIPS AND TRICKS
• Total Trip Cost: £3000 per vehicle (£1500pp) 
• Miles driven: 5631
• Total fuel cost: £1275 (average £1.50/litre)
• Total coast for ferries: £610
• Food: Quite expensive, use Rema1000 to keep costs down
• Alcohol: Go teetotal for the duration of your trip!
• Average campsite costs: £28 (2 persons, tent, vehicle)
• Wild camping: Accepted and very easy – Park4Night is a brilliant app
• Best wild camp spot: Sognefjellsvegen mountain road pass
• Best campsite: Lofoton Beach Camp, Flakstad
• Best road to travel: Mountain road starting in Ovre, Eidfjord 
• Handiest piece of kit: Lifesaver jerrycan 
• Roof tents taken: Gordigear, Front Runner and Armadillo

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