Week 52 – Home – the last post

Our route


We are home. Well almost. We have just arrived off the ferry from Hook of Holland and are now parked up in Harwich about to find a greasy spoon cafe serving a full English Breakfast with a big mug of builder’s tea. So we will say our ‘goodbyes’ now as this is the final post in our blog.

We spent this week travelling from Iceland, a 1,700  mile journey including an afternoon stopover in Torshavn in the Faroes.

Sunny Torshavn in the Faroes through the cabin window on the M/V Norrona

Driving the hundreds of motorway miles through Denmark and Germany has given us plenty of time to reminisce  on the year’s best bits.


In total, we travelled more than 21,000 miles through 23 countries. Our route was always pretty flexible – go south to the Sahara and then north to Iceland. Along the way, we added some island hopping and included Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily in our journey. A good decision as it turned out.

Van troubles

Molly did very well despite her advanced years so our thanks to Karl and everybody at M& D Motors in New Malden for doing a great job getting her ready for the trip.

We did have a few issues though.  We cured an early overheating problem by replacing the pressure cap on the coolant tank from our box of spare parts. The faulty thermostatic fan switch was replaced with a new one courtesy of a courier delivery from Just Kampers in Hampshire to the campsite we were staying at in Porto. Thank you Andy Evans at Just Kampers for the fantastic service and for being so helpful.

One of the side windows blew off on the road from Delphi in Greece but a Lidl bag-for-life secured with duct tape has served as a perfectly adequate replacement till we get home.

And the duct tape came in use again…

… to hold the bumper together after it split on impact with a tree in Penedes Geres National Park in Portugal.

Vasil, the mechanic we found in Durres on the first day we arrived in Albania from Italy, plugged the hole in the coolant pipe which was probably caused by the bumpy crossing from Bari. And the scary brake failure on the road to Varna which followed a van service in Bulgaria was mercifully fixed quite quickly on a return visit to the garage.

Inside the van, we’ve managed to live without toast since the gas grill packed up a few months in to the trip though we did miss having a working gas heater especially when staying on the campsites without electric hook up in Iceland.

Thanks for the memories….

Thinking back over what we’ve seen and done in the last 12 months, some images come to mind straightaway, like surfing the Saharan sand dunes at Erg Chebbi in a 4 x 4 when we were in Morocco, kayaking through Riga’s canals at midnight or standing on a Helsinki street with nothing but a towel and a beer can cooling down mid-sauna at the Koltijarnan.


There’s the evening we spent up at the sheep station near Breb in Romania’s Maramures..

Dinner is served – Our hostess at the sheep station with Penny Ridgely of the Village Hotel in Breb, Maramures


..or the astonishing piles of driftwood we picked our way through on Alexia beach in Corsica.

We were childishly thrilled to leave Sweden following a herd of reindeer…

..and genuinely startled at the scenes around us when we came across a Roma shanty town when driving through Slovakia on our way to Poland. Then there was the incongruous situation of being among other motorhomers overnighting by the hot springs river in Thermopylae in Greece, just a few feet from a bankrupt hotel now providing a temporary home to refugees from Syria.

We remember how nervous we were the first night we ‘wild camped’, starting at every noise outside the van. We became more confident about it and maybe could have had more nights like that one in Bjortijan National Park. It is one of Sweden’s fabulous national parks where they generously leave out a woodpile for passing travellers to build a fire.


And we’ve got personal moments that stand out. For me, it’s the Bulgarian folk singing course I signed up for at ‘Wild Thyme Farm’ in Palamarsta in Bulgaria. I may have forgotten the words to the songs we learned already but not the final evening when our small class (Nicky, Steph and myself) performed for the ladies of the village choir and they, in turn, performed for us. That was pretty special.

Rehearsal time in the Bulgarian folk singing class at Wild Thyme Farm in Palmartsa


The warm welcome for us at the village hall in Palamartsa

And while I was busy with that, Stuart has happy memories of his day out foraging with Stefan in the forests around Palamartsa.

Stefan the hunter…

No fishing today.

Stuart’s plan to fish in every country didn’t work out. The admin in arranging a licence was too complicated. Or it was the wrong season or it was just because we didn’t have the luxury of time to spend sitting for hours on a riverbank. But he did manage to catch some pike when trying out bellyboat fishing in Extremadura…

…and he caught a grayling in Norway and a haddock in Hauganes off the side of an Icelandic whale watching boat.

Special Countries

And of all those visited, the countries that will stand out as special are Morocco, Albania, the Faroes and Iceland. The six weeks we spent in Morocco were so full on. We revelled in the vibrancy and colour of it all …..

…and found the people to be warm and friendly.

A special shout out to Hicham here. He gave Stuart the chance to say he’s fly fished in the Sahara. He was our guide around Marrakesh and he treated us to a delicious home cooked cous cous.

In Albania, Danny (who we know from London) was a star. He put us in touch with Ani in Durres and Dorina in Tirana. And Dorina in turn introduced us to Miri and Elma in Korce. They were all too young to remember how brutal life was under Enver Hoxha but meeting them and hearing about life in Albania today made our trip to their country extra special.

As for the Faroes, those tiny dots in the middle of the North Atlantic just seemed so, so remote it was a kick just to actually be there. Everything else like the spectacular scenery was a bonus.

And finally there’s Iceland. No matter that we’d seen the photos of geysers, lava fields, steaming mud pools…, it was incredible to see such wild nature up close.

We thought some cities and towns were really special…..

…like Riga with its streets of lavish art nouveau architecture …

..and the atmospheric feel of Naples.

Narrowing down our choice of splendid Spanish cities is a challenge. Let’s go for Seville and Salamanca at the top of a list which will also include San Sebastian and Cadiz. Then there is Krakow and Wroclaw in Poland and the baroque towns of Ragusa, Modica and Nota in Sicily or the strangely fascinating Fascist New Towns in Sardinia.

We saw so many wonderful buildings like Gaudi’s El Caprichio in Comillas…

…and the Mesquita in Cordoba to name just two.

We listened to some live music….

..at the Positivus Music Festival on a sunny weekend in Latvia and at the great First Aid Kit concert in Sundsvall in Sweden. It was a surprise to turn up in the Spanish town of Caceres and find we were just in time for three days of an Irish fleadh.

…visted some art exhibitions….

…including the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Capodimonte in Naples and, while waiting around Palermo for our ferry to Salerno, caught the fantastic Steve McCurry photographic exhibition.

….and saw museums, loads of ‘em….

…so it might be quite a while before we can face another ethnographic museum. There were a fair number we passed through in a glassy-eyed daze trying to summon up enthusiasm for another 400 year old chipped pot but there were some that really grabbed our interest. Who knew that herrings could be so interesting? That’s the Herring Era museum in Siglufjörður in the north of Iceland. In Gdansk, the Solidarity Museum was inspiring and we enjoyed learning about the entrepreneurial Brits behind the port business in Porto.

We had some great guides….

…who helped give us a better understanding of a country or city, like George’s Socialist Realist tour of Tirana.

It was great fun being driven around Krakow’s proletarian paradise of Nowa Huta in a Brabant and quite magical to follow Abdullah up a steep mountain track to the agadir in Amtoudi in Morocco.

In Romania, Sorin brought the frescoes on the Painted Monasteries of Bocovina to life for us.

There were unexpected sights…

…like the Salt Valley of Añana in Northern Spain.

The salt farms at the Salinas de Anana

The inhalitarium in Poland crowned it though. We’d never seen anything like that before.

….and we had cheesey fun…

Ye haw for the cowboys of Fort Bravo in Almeria’s spaghetti western country and ‘Mamma Mia’, how good was it singing at the ABBA museum?! (Not that good – Stuart).

..and sometimes became worryingly stalkerish.

…like my delight at stalking wedding parties out for a photo session. We saw them everywhere but especially in Spain where my favourite bride (because of her fabulous red shoes) comes from.


Back to nature….

We’ve watched many birds…

…and seen many beasts….


..and some wonderful – and weird – scenery.

…like the rice fields of the Ebro delta in Catalonia, the shifting Leba sand dunes on Poland’s Baltic coast and as for Iceland, well, the list there is too long.

We went hiking, probably not as often as we’d hoped but there were some memorable ones like the trail up the mountains near San Vito lo Capo in Sicily or the one down to the church along the Mani Peninsula or over the mountains in the Faroes.

We went swimming in the Gialova lagoon on the Messian Peninsula of the Peloponnese.  (Thanks Nadja and Gunter for telling us we should go there!)

..and what turned out to be a surprisingly tepid  Baltic Sea off the coast of the Estonian island of Saaremaa.

And wherever we could find them, we bathed in hot springs like the ones in Ourense in Spain, Eger in Hungary,  the Sardinian village of Fordongianus and in Iceland as often as we could.

Some of the roads we travelled felt pretty epic,  like the one across the desert from Zagora to Amtoudi in Morocco where we were within 30 miles of the Algerian border in some places. And also in Morocco, we drove through the Atlas Mountains just before the snow gates shut and were chuffed to get a speeding ticket in our old van.

The winding road down into the Douro Valley to Porto felt epic too, especially in the heavy mist and rain and, after straining up Spanish mountains, we liked being able to drive on the long flat roads across the mesete as we travelled to see Don Quixote’s windmills in La Mancha.

There was no route quite so desolate though as the road we followed through Iceland’s interior.

For the best views, it’s hard to beat the Albanian journey to Tepelene where we had the snowcapped Gramos mountains alongside us for long stretches. Of course, neither can some Albanian roads be topped for sheer awfulness.

So here’s one of the roads in the east of Albania which has no tarmac…

…because it has all slipped 15 metres sideways.

And so this is Christmas….

…which we celebrated on a rooftop overlooking Essaouira. Two chickens served as our substitute turkey and we watched as they were picked out of the small flock huddled in a pen in the butcher’s shop, slaughtered and plucked in front of us.

We celebrated Easter in Bulgaria. After attending an Orthodox Good Friday service, we cracked painted eggs with our fellow guests at Wild Farm in Gorno Pole. And we stayed up as late as we could to bring in midsummer in Lithuania but couldn’t manage the all-nighter like the locals

We drank a little bit….

Stuart’s well stocked beer blog is testament to his commitment to tasting the local brew in every country. Korce Black still ranks as his number one beer though on reflection he’s not sure if that’s because it came after a long dryish spell in Morocco and – to his CAMRA taste – nothing but euro fizz lager in Spain and Portugal. (The week we spent in Puivert with Julia and Steve was an oasis in the middle and thanks so much for your wonderful hospitality!)

In addition to beers, we enjoyed the vinho verde in Portugal,  the ritual of drinking Spanish cider in Asturias,  rediscovering Mateus Rose on the foggy night we broke down on a Portuguese mountainside, joining the locals in Naples with a pre-dinner ‘spritz’ of prosecco and Aperol and the Sardinian wine dispensed by petrol pump that kept us going for a while.

…and ate a lot.

In Naples, what else in the city which invented Pizza Margherita. Dessert was flaky sfogliatelle pastries.

In Spain where our trip started with nights of pintxos sampling along the streets of Bilbao and San Sebastian, we tried three or four different versions of the breadcrumb dish migas. The best was served by a small restaurant in Puerto de Santa Maria, a catamaran ride away from Cadiz.

In Oviedo, we filled up on hearty fabado…

…and sat out a rain shower in Vigo with a plate of oysters, pimentos padron and whitebait.

whitebait and pimentos patron

In Morocco where the menu choice was pretty much limited to tagine or cous cous, the lamb tagine with prunes in Midelt stands out as does Hicham’s home cooked cous cous for us in Zagora.

Stuart ploughed a lone furrow though in tucking into a plateful of Polish blood sausage, kazanka black pudding and sauerkraut in Krakow. I stuck to the pierogi which was made all the tastier slathered with onions.

After six weeks in Greece, we never got tired of Greek salad and Greece also had the best on the hoof lunch snack. That’s gyros which comes with chips. A close second though must be the arancini we bought in Sicily’s Ragusa. Those fried balls of rice stuffed with ragu sauce or spinach were ideal picnic dishes.


Food for home….

From Bulgaria, we’ve acquired a taste for mixing tahini and honey as a spread and we will also be trying to find a supplier for Albanian mountain tea.

And speaking of souvenirs…

…we picked up a biggie. That will be the house we ended up buying in Bulgaria. Thanks Chris and Claire in Wild Thyme Farm in Palamartsa for all your help with that one!

Any questions? We think there will be three…

Question 1 – Based on what we’ve been asked already, we think the first will be ‘were you ever scared?’.

Well we certainly felt scared that afternoon we went walking in the Rhodopes mountains in Bulgaria and had a close encounter with the fierce sheep dogs trained to protect the flock against wolves and bears. We had a similar experience in Breb in Romania.

Other than that, there was our first night in Morocco and already feeling slightly on edge from the newness of everything around us, it was unnerving to hear from the local who popped by our van bemoan the fact that ‘everyone around here joins ISIS’ and that we should move further south. But other than that incident, we never had any other concerns about our safety in Morocco, aside from the roads, of course.

Stuart did all the driving on the trip – the blue/pink task division held up for the duration – and his adrenalin levels soared on many occasions when navigating Moroccan roads. But we also had a very near miss in Slovakia thanks to non-existent road markings at a T junction. In this instance, it wasn’t a case of he who hesitates is lost. The dithering saved us from a nasty smash.

Question 2 – Did you fight? Yes sirree. We sure did but not much. With so much time spent together, cabin pressure does build up so we probably had about three humdingers . The air was cleared by various means like throwing something heavy out of the van (Greece), going for solitary long walk leaving other to sweat (Sardinia), prolonged sulky silence (Sweden). Of all the methods, the last is definitely the worst so best avoided.

Stuart heaves sigh of relief as he moves art box for last time


Question 3 – Would you do it again? So imagine a genie had met us off the ferry in Harwich this morning and handed us a new MOT certificate plus a pot of gold doubloons (or whatever currency genies trade in). Would we turn Molly around and set off again? The answer from both of us is ‘no’. We’ve loved the variety of it all, little things like how anyone joining you at a Spanish bus stop always says ‘hola’, the distinctly clipped way the Scandinavians say ‘Hi’, the different food and nature and cities (see everything above).

It was great too that my three children Ciara, Conor and Regan and Stuart’s two Callum and Mary were able to share parts of the trip with us and that friends Dave and Carol were able to join us for a weekend in Varna.

We’ve loved it all but we also liked the fact that our trip had a beginning, middle and an end. Getting from Morocco to Iceland was the plan and it’s been a fantastic journey and great adventure . We met some lovely people along the way who we hope will remain friends.

And it has been really special to have all of your comments and support along the way so thank you so much for joining in.

So now it’s back to family, friends and work and the tube journeys and trips on the M25 (and thank you so much to Declan, Delphine and Lee for keeping our car alive while we were away).

All the best to everyone and safe travels,

Helen & Stuart xx

PS. If anyone does happen to stumble on this blog in the future, we are always happy to try to answer any questions. Our email addresses are: helen@campervanmatters.com and stuart@campervanmatters.com.


Week 51 – Iceland – second week – travelling south (the Penultimate Post)

We could hardly see the glacier which is apparently the same size as Luxembourg because of heavy mist. Neither did we manage to catch a performance of the Northern Lights.

But our second week in Iceland was still a very grand finale to our year’s road trip. This island is the most incredible place we’ve been to for wild, steaming, bubbling, scary nature. Of course, that has meant we have been sharing these amazing places with a lot of other people especially when you get to the Golden Circle of attractions near Reykjavik. And we are here at the tail end of the tourist season. Lordy knows how selfie-tastic it must get in the height of summer.

This week we started our travels well away from everyone and everything – on a 120-mile journey down route F35 through the highlands of Iceland’s interior. It’s a road which opens only in the summer…

…and takes you along gravel tracks through the Langjokull and Hufsjokull glaciers.

The landscape is remote and desolate and ideal if you are seeking solitude which is why we kept driving and didn’t disturb the cyclist in this hut.

Cooee..it’s only us..imagine his surprise and delight.

…and the rough surface was hard going on the van and probably not ideal to be driving on without a spare tyre since last week’s puncture.

At some points, we weren’t even sure we’d be able to get any further.

We were very glad to be able to stop along the way with an overnight at a campsite beside the hot springs at Hveravellir.

The site once again didn’t offer electricity to campers (grumble, grumble) but did offer a natural hot pool within sight of the glaciers. So we warmed up nicely with the pool to ourselves at first…

…before it filled up with fellow campers. We chatted to two Czech couples who passed on their travel tip for managing Iceland on a budget…

…shop at ‘Bonus’ supermarket where the bread is “only” four times the price of home. Everywhere else, it’s ten times. Noted.

Back on the Route 35, stopping only to pick some bilberries…

..we reached the first of the three big attractions in the Golden Circle.

Here are the double cascades of the Gullfoss waterfall.

And attraction number two, here’s the Strokkar geyser where we joined the groups gathered around the pool of steaming water, watching and waiting for the whoosh….


…the powerful jet of boiling water gushing skywards every few minutes.

It was mesmerising. But after watching three or four gushes, it was time to move on to get the third of the Golden Circle attractions, Pingvellir National Park. The park holds a special place in Icelandic history because it’s where the first Icelandic parliament used to meet. And for students of geography, the park is special because it is located on a plain straddling the tectonic plates of North America and Europe.

The park’s friendly tourist information officer suggested a four-hour walk following a route around all the main sights. But you know how it is when someone is giving directions.

You hear the first one and then just smile and nod which explains how why we ended up down here…

…beating our way through bracken and scrabbling over rockfalls. It was hard going. That’s the last time I’m going walking through a fissure in the earth’s core let me tell you.

We were mighty relieved to finally reach a point where we could climb out of the crevasse and – a bit sheepishly –  step past the  ‘no entry’ sign…

….onto the path we should have been on.

It led to another waterfall….

…with the added interest of watching our fellow tourists adopt a variety of interesting poses.

Further on we watched enviously as fellow tourists prepared to snorkel in Silfra….


…where the dive is in the crack between the two continental plates and the glacier water is so clear, there is underwater visibility of over 100 metres.

And off they go…

Before heading to Reykjavik, we stopped off at the Fontana spa in Laugarvatn to see how they bake bread using the geothermal energy.

Here they are digging up the pot that was laid into the hot black sand 22 hours before.


And here’s the baked loaf…

..which was like a sweet rye flavoured cake and was delicious served lathered in butter.

Our first stop in Reykavik was to get the puncture  fixed and then we headed to the city’s huge campsite (with electricity – hurrah!) The two American boys checking in ahead of me asked if they could camp for free in return for work (Yes they could) and clearly sensing they were on a roll here, did the campsite have any warmer sleeping bags they could borrow as they were a bit cold. (Yes they had). What nice people.

In Reykavik we had lunch in the Laundromat Cafe (thanks for the tip Cliona!), a stroll up the hill to the Cathedral and then a wander around the compact city centre…

…where as a tourist holding a map, I was just what these two Reykavik women needed. They were on a company treasure hunt and one clue asked for a photo of ‘a tourist with a map’.

I put on my best confused tourist face and obliged.

And just before it closed, there was time for a quick scooch around the Culture House. I asked the guy on the front desk if he knew what this painting by Icelandic artist Hulda Hákon was referring to, if any specific event.

The 2008 financial crash which devastated Iceland, he ventured at first before checking that it was dated 1995. ‘It must be about another crisis back then. We have them all the time like today, for example, the Icelandic Government has collapsed.’  And, indeed, it had in a very strange story involving the prime minister’s cover up of his father’s role in restoring the honour of a convicted rapist. I guess the PM must be feeling sorry for the mess he’s caused.

Down by the harbour front where the old fishing town is being reconstructed into a trendy district of bars and restaurants…

…we had an Icelandic beer, chatting briefly to Jacob from Denmark and Chance from Washington DC, both part of the team at the Icelandic video gaming company CCP (inventors of the Eve Online game).

I’m really not sure how the conversation queueing for a pint turned to the topic of the particular difficulties of the dating scene in Reykavik. Somehow it did and we heard about what sounds like a very useful app which makes your phone buzz  if you are about to get cosy with your long lost brother.

And if we planned to stay on and eat in that restaurant, they recommended the horse fillet.

No thanks. I prefer my Icelandic horses like this…


…and anyway, it was Friday night and we needed to get some practice for life at home. So it was off to the pub, ‘The Drunken Rabbit’..


….and a curry in the ‘Shalimar’ across the road.

The drive out of Reykavik in very heavy mist was a taste of the weather to come for our last few days in Iceland.

We had decided to skip going to the Blue Lagoon and instead headed to Fludir to the Secret Lagoon instead. It is apparently  Iceland’s oldest swimming pool.

Floating around on the noodles and eavesdropping on fellow floaters, we applauded ourselves on  choosing it over the better known hot pool which (according to our eavesdroppees) is really expensive, overcrowded and you needed to reserve in advance.

Feeling very rested, we set off down the road to camp beside, yes that’s right, another waterfall. Iceland does a good line in waterfalls and the Skogafoss is a beauty. But I’m afraid to say that like the tourist I’d overheard saying they were ‘waterfalled out’ I left Stuart to climb up the steps to the top on his own.

But next morning we both went to the foot of the waterfall for an exhilarating facial in the spray.

We travelled on along the south coast, stopping off to look at the Myrdalsjokull glacier from the distance….

…and we stopped at a spot clearly designed to get the stone pile building itch out of your system. The tradition  of making stone piles here as a good luck charm for your onward journey dates back hundreds of years. Now visitors are encouraged to build their own pile there – and only there.

As we drove closer to the Vatnajokull glacier – that’s the one the size of Luxembourg – the countryside started to look really strange. And the mist hadn’t lifted…

…so we could only catch the occasional glimpses of the largest ice cap of Europe…

…but we did see chunks of it as the glacier ‘calved’ (that’s a word I learnt this week) into the lagoon at Jokulsarlon.

Maybe on a bright sunny day, this lagoon would be magnificent but on the grey misty day we were there, it was magical.

There is a boat trip you can book to get closer to the icebergs but we were happy to view them from the lakeshore.

We did our own version of poo-sticks and played ‘escape the lagoon’. To play, pick your own chunk of ice and follow it’s trail…


….through the water. Will it  get trapped by the bigger icebergs or make it all the way out of the lagoon, under the bridge and out to sea. We followed our mini-iceberg across the road…

… to the black sand beach, dotted with ice chunks big enough to sit on, and watched it head out to the North Atlantic.

Leaving the lagoon, we picked up hitchhikers Hanna from Bavaria and  a bit further down the road Adrian from Hungary.

Iceland is a good place to hitchhike it sounds like. Both reported that their average waiting time for a lift was about 10 minutes. We dropped them off at Hofn and carried on along the Ring Road along the south coast where our American friends Rhonda and David had marked on our map a place we should stop for a coffee break.

They were right…the cafe at Hvari farm was unexpected.

Talking to…

…(saves me downloading the Icelandic keyboard) who works there for the summer, the cafe is in a converted sheep barn.

Like many other farmers in Iceland  they are now diversifying into tourism and as well as the cafe which hosts live music in the summer, they have opened a hostel.

Still driving through heavy mist…

We arrived back in Seydisfjordur where we started our travels round Iceland two weeks ago.

That’s our ship there…

…ready to take us to Denmark on the first leg of our trek home. Just one more post to go. The end of our big trip is virtually here.

Week 50 – Iceland – first week – travelling northwards



We spent this week in Iceland where the tourists and the sheep vastly outnumber the local population and Stuart has had his ‘at-the-checkout-in-Waitrose’  face on for a few of our purchases. (“HOW MUCH?”)

The £37 pounds we paid for two bowls of soup spring to mind.

The massive and sudden boom  in tourism and its impact, good and bad, is the ongoing big news story here. An estimated 2.4m visitors are expected to holiday in Iceland this year to an island of 330,000 people. Most arrive in on flights to Reykjavík on the south west coast and focus on what’s called the ‘golden circle’ of sights within a two hour drive of the capital.

Our ferry from the Faroes arrived in to the south east coast port of Seydisfjordur…

…and after dithering about which direction to travel on the Ring Road that circles the whole of Iceland, we opted to drive anti-clockwise and go north.

Hopefully that way we’d see fewer tourists and more sheep. And as September is the month when the farmers gather family and friends to help herd their flocks down from summer grazing on the mountains, maybe we’d get a chance to see this Rettir tradition in action.

The scenery when we first set off was ‘ a bit like Scotland’ which has become Stuart’s mantra for the trip whenever we drive through countryside with green hills. But then it all changed.

This doesn’t look like Ayrshire anymore.

The gravelly expanses stretching out on all sides reminded us of  when we drove through the Sahara desert along the Moroccan/Algerian border a few months back. (Apologies – please do feel free to give me a clip across the ear if I come out with stuff like that back home)


Along the road we’d seen signs warning against any ‘off road’ driving, not that Molly had any chance managing the rocky terrain around us. But over in the distance on a narrow track off the Ring Road, we could see a motorhome slowly working its way around.

It definitely wasn’t a 4 x 4 so if they could do it, why couldn’t we? We left the Ring Road, googling our destination as we went through the desert landscape.

It turned out to be Möðrudalur. It’s a working farm…

…the highest farm in the country apparently but it is also a tourism business with a thriving business enticing travellers off the Ring Road.


Inside the turf roofed building was a restaurant…

…serving this excellent lamb soup.


And as well as a helipad offering volcano tours, there was a campsite though unfortunately not one offering any electric hook up to campers. It did mean we were in for a chilly night as our gas heater isn’t working. But still it was the perfect place to stop for our first night in Iceland.

We bought a round chewy doughnut from the restaurant to have with a cuppa back in the van…

…and then settled down in our deckchairs …

…to enjoy the view and take in the last rays of the unexpectedly warm afternoon sun.


Rhonda and David from North Carolina arrived on the campsite in their hired campervan and we got talking about all sorts including this shared irritation…

….these heaps of stones. We’ve seen them in every country we’ve been to on this trip. Take a walk out into the wilds and you can bet that someone ahead of you will have marked their presence with a carefully arranged pile.

I get the point and real importance of cairns to mark a path for hikers but these piles are surely a form of landscape graffiti. OK, that’s the soapbox rant over…and if you don’t agree, then you might like the rainbow in the photo.

Getting  back to our first evening, our new friends had heard that, despite it being quite early in the year, there had been sightings of the Northern Lights already. All the signs were good for tonight.

The sky was cloudless…

…and so we all waited up in our van till midnight before finally calling it a night.

Next morning we headed back onto the Ring Road…

…and then very quickly left it again to travel down a very, very bumpy gravel road…

..to reach Detiffloss. Remember that waterfall in ‘Prometheus’? This is it and mighty impressive it is too.


Heading north towards Husavik, we travelled through  black lava fields spotted with splashes of bright yellow lichen…


…which was an apt spot for the van’s water temperature warning light to start flashing. (gulp)

After giving it time to cool down,and topping up,  we were back on the road where the spectacular sights kept coming.

Here’s the boiling hot lake near Krafla. The ‘No Swimming’ sign seemed a tad redundant.


We walked through the eerie post-Apocalyptic world of the Krafla lava fields…


…and around the steaming rocks…

…and mud pools at Hverir.


At sulphurous steaming Namafjall., we followed the marked trails through the geothermal area.




…and enjoyed the more gentle landscape of Hofoi’s lava towers.

After a drenching during a rain sodden stomp around the Hverfjell crater…


…we warmed up that evening with a long soak in the Myvatn Nature Baths. They have been dubbed as the North of Iceland’s answer to the far more famous Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik. They may well end up being our less expensive substitute for the famous attraction.

Next day we headed to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city where we went for a Japanese-Icelandic meal in ‘Rub 23’.


That’s a fusion which means you get reindeer in your bento box starter along with the prawns….

…followed by a main course of cod (it being Iceland..).

In just a few days, we had already seen some spectacular scenery but the undoubted highlight was our afternoon whale watching at Hauganes.

Looking like we were on a NASA mission we set off on the boat trip with, I admit, low expectations of what the day would hold. Maybe a few glimpses of black shadows in the water somewhere off in the distance? We weren’t overly optimistic.

We certainly never expected to see this humpback whale breaching the water beside us…


…or watch as three humpbacks took it in turn to dive beneath the water, like synchronised swimmers rehearsing a routine.

It was breathtaking to see their speed and grace so close.

The captain called time on the whale watching and offered all a chance to try their hand at sea angling. Drop the line to the bottom of the sea and then move the rod up and down is the technique apparently.

It didn’t work for me…

…but Stuart caught our dinner. It’s all in the wrist action I believe.


Here he is with our two fillets to take home…


..and with a dollop of olive oil and a slice of lemon they tasted delicious.

I mentioned sheep earlier on and how we hoped to see the annual sheep round-up or the Réttir  in action. Well we did!  Or at least we saw a part of it.

As we were driving north from Hauganes, we heard the whoops and watched as a line of high-vis jackets gradually worked their way down the mountain, herding the sheep down to the fields around the farm.



The annual Rettir usually ends up with a ‘Réttaball’ – a night of music and dancing to celebrate the end of the round-up. Who knows, maybe we will stumble on one of those next week.

We continued our route north, past fields of Icelandic horses…


Stopping to sort more van trouble, this time a puncture….


…we eventually reached Siglufjordur. On a grey, drizzly day, it had a desolate feel.


…but this small village used to be the herring capital of Iceland with a population of 10,000.

Inside the fascinating Herring Era Museum, the story of the ‘boom and bust’ years of Iceland’s herring industry is brought to life, vividly telling the story of the gold rush atmosphere where thousands came to make their fortune.

They fished and they fished until there were…. no more fish.

Walking through the accommodation used by the men and women employed to salt the herring, it’s as though they had just stepped out for a moment.

We stayed in Varmahlio that night and talking to the campsite owner, it sounds like the big tourism numbers arriving into Iceland have not yet reached the north of the country.

He didn’t sound too sorry about this and talked about how difficult it is now for locals to find somewhere to rent in Reykjavik because so much property is now being let through the airbnb market. And he grumbled about how he took his family on a trip to see Gullfoss but was standing in a queue five deep to get a look at the most famous waterfall in Iceland.

Next week we are heading south to see Gullfoss and the rest of the big attractions in the Golden Circle but first we will enjoy the pretence of having Iceland to ourselves by heading down Route 35 through the Icelandic Highlands.


Week 49 – The Faroe Islands


We spent this week travelling the length and breadth of the Faroe Islands which is actually very easy to do. The roads are excellent and most of the islands are linked by subsea tunnels so we had no problem taking the van everywhere.

We started the week basing ourselves at a campsite near Sorvag on the island of Vagar. It is close to the Faroes’ only airport, built courtesy of these boys…..

…well, not specifically those ones but their colleagues in the British Royal Engineers.  As Gavin W. has commented on last week’s post, his Dad and about 5,999 colleagues in the British Army were based in the Faroes during World War II. It was a strategic move to prevent a German invasion as had happened in Denmark.

Gavin – if we’d known your family story before we visited, we would have looked out for your surname in the fascinating little war museum in Vagar which gathers together lots of memorabilia from the army’s time there.

As you said, there were quite a few weddings between Army boys and local women…



…and their wedding portraits were among the WWII memorabilia on display. Included was a letter to the Mayor from one of the soldiers of – as he called it –  ‘the Forgotten Garrison’ recalling his time there and thanking the islands people for the hospitality shown to the Army.

And this newspaper cutting from 1947 stood out because it could have been written this year.  In fact, I’m sure the same headline ‘The Islands in the Blood-Red Sea’ has been recycled a few times over the years.

It’s a story about the most controversial tradition in the Faroe Islands, that of ‘the Grind’ or the grindadráp.


This whale hunting tradition has been going since the 1500’s and involves the local community heading out in small boats with an assortment of weaponry to herd pods of whales back to shore for slaughter.  If you google images of the grind in the Faroes, the gruesome images which pop up will confirm the ‘blood red sea’ headline is no exaggeration.

And proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if Eddy and Ted can have one….

…so can Stuart. And here he is modelling his birthday pressie, the holiday sweater Faroese style.

Back at the campsite, we chatted to owner and fisherman Christian about all sorts, what life is like in the Faroes, how there’s a bit of a Klondike buzz going on right now with huge amounts of money being made fishing the mackerel and herring rich North Atlantic, how this new money is changing the islanders’  lifestyles so now eating out in a restaurant is no longer a strange concept, why the Faroese think Brexit is a great idea and how delicious puffin is to eat.

‘Why would we spend a kroner eating out when we have freezers full of fish?’ he said to the first. And on Brexit, well it’s easy to see why the Faroese would support it given their past legal spats with the EU over herring and mackerel fishing quotas.


As for eating puffin? Stuart might be tempted to join him in a puffin pie. I was just keen to see one of these strange looking birds up close which, it turned out wasn’t that easy. The place to go to see them is the western island of Mykines, reached only by boat.

But next morning, there was disappointing news at the Sorvag harbour. It was too windy to dock the boat in the island’s narrow harbour so the sailing was cancelled. Not only that, the next day’s sailing was fully booked and it was the last one in the season.


We were turned away with the other disappointed tourists, though the prospect of an extra sailing being laid on was dangled. Check the website, we were told.

Now with a free day in hand, we went for a hike along the old village path to the village of Gasadalur. The route started just past the village of Bour…


..and travelled along the cliff path ….

….with beautiful views over the sea..


…and past landmarks from the time when this path was the only route to the village. The island helicopter service there didn’t start till the 1980’s and the tunnel was not built until 2004 to give access by road. One of those landmarks was the cheerily named Corpse stone because at one time it was the only spot where pall bearers carrying a coffin from the village for burial in Bour could take a rest on their journey across the mountain.

We had the mountain to ourselves, apart from the occasional sheep…

…and seeing these tufts of wool on the grass, we recalled that embarrassing exchange with the woman in the War Museum. We had seen somewhere in a guide advice that if we found clumps of wool, we should distribute it….

…which was a bit baffling ‘Was that to distribute it to the knitters on the islands?’ we asked her. Showing remarkable restraint in not laughing at the ignorant tourists, she explained the advice meant that hikers should pull any tufts they find into smaller chunks so birds don’t get their feet caught.


And finally, we reached the summit…


….then descended into the little village of Gasadalur where we really hoped there’d be a cafe. Based on our experience so far on the islands, we didn’t think it likely….

..but, hurrah, we were wrong.


After a stroll around the village….


…and a  photo stop at the waterfall, we trudged back over the mountain.


Next day, we were in luck. A second sailing was laid on to Mykines.



The boat ride gave us a bird’s eye view of where we had walked the previous day.


…and when we arrived at the harbour…



…we understood why it was so difficult to navigate in high winds.

Only 10 people live on the island year round…..I guess here’s one of them with his new washing machine.


In the summer, the population swells so there’s one shop and one cafe to service the stream of tourists coming to follow the trail to the lighthouse in the hope of seeing the puffins.

The advice warned that the walk was not suitable for anyone with vertigo. Still I’d had a few CBT sessions before this trip to tackle fear of heights. This was the time to use all that training. We headed off, got to about here….

….and I turned back.

Stuart kept going, down the narrow path by the cliff edge…





..and over the bridge..


He had a relaxing afternoon out by the lighthouse…

..with a picnic lunch of salted dried mutton from Norway….

…and some bird watching. But the puffins had by now all left the burrows on land where they come to breed…

…and these dots on the water was the closest he got to them.

Meanwhile, I headed back to the village…


..for a less healthy lunch…

…then sat outside for the afternoon, enjoying the warm sunshine. The weather here is unpredictable as we expected but it’s surprisingly not cold. Even in the depths of winter the temperature is kept to a manageable 5 degrees by the Gulf Stream.

Then it was time to get the boat back to Vagar..


…and there were a few more opportunities to spot puffins.



We spent the next few days exploring the islands….here’s one of the campsites we stayed on. It’s on an old astro turf football pitch though it’s of a quality which would be the flagship of many a town in the UK. Here on the islands with lots of money sloshing about, the islanders passion for football means their facilities are world class.


And it was at the campsite, we were again astonished at a way of doing business that relies on trust.

Will that change as tourism continues to increase? It’s a conversation we had with Finn, a local we met in Klaksvik, the second biggest town on the islands.

We got chatting in the reception area of the local leisure centre where I had gone looking for the two essentials of campervan life – the loo and wifi. in a wonderful gesture of Faroese hospitality, that conversation turned into an invitation to come back to his home to meet his wife Sólgerð and their two daughters – one born just three weeks ago!

We had a wonderful evening with them and hopefully can repay their hospitality some day.

Heading back towards the capital Torshavn next day, we stopped off at Gjogv.



….which took us on a spectacular route of hairpin turns.


To celebrate Stuart’s birthday, we booked the Katrina Christiansen restaurant for a delicious meal of Faroese food served Spanish tapas style. Here are the mussels and langoustine.

Here are the croquettes with prawns and a scallops. And this was followed by lamb meat balls.

It’s probably the best food we’ve had on the whole trip

So now we have arrived back at the harbour in Torshavn, about to board the ferry to Iceland and start the final leg of our journey.