Thursday, September 8, 2011

Friday 9th September, Stokken Camping, Ellos, Sweden

Thursday 8th September, Stocken Camping, Ellos, Sweden

It’s been several days since I’ve managed to write an update, so forgive the rather sequential recounting of the adventures of recent days which follows.

When we last updated we were in Denmark having just visited the Viking Museum at Roskilde. The following day we spent at the campsite, studying maps, planning reasonable distances, searching for campsites and attempting to contact them to make provisional bookings. We’ve pretty well settled on a route and itinerary now which I’ll attempt to post to the blog after this.

George and Charlie spent the day in and out of the swimming pool and strengthening their muscles in the outdoor gym! Their scooters have been a huge success and they whizz around on them at high speeds perfecting all manner of tricks. The day ended with George’s suggestion of going down to the marina to have a drink and watch the sun going down on our last day in Denmark, topped off by a spectacular sunset.

The day was warm and muggy, and as the afternoon wore on the humidity increased, with a thunder storm clearly threatening. I took advantage of the fore-warming to get the awning down, which I completed just before the storm broke. It was a real downpour, with a sudden gusting wind. Very good timing. Our biker neighbour, Edwin (George mentioned him in his last despatch) arrived in the rain and had to huddle in his tent – suddenly a caravan felt like a very good travel solution.

With the awning packed we were able to make a good get-away in the morning. We were clear of the site by about 9.30am, and headed north, by-passing Copehagen on the motorway to Helsingor. We had elected not to cross the southern bridge to Sweden as the toll was roughly the same as the ferry price, but would have increased the distance we had to drive considerably – not to mention that it avoided the anxiety of the drive across an even bigger bridge than last week’s!

And so we boarded the drive on-off ferry at Helsingor for the ten minute crossing to Helsingborg in Sweden. Before we knew it we were rolling off the ferry into Sweden and heading out onto the motorway towards Gothenburg (Goteborg). It was a lovely clear day, the roads were superb and there was almost no traffic. Perfect.

On the recommendation of the campsite attendant in Denmark, we stopped on the way to Goteborg at the Laxbutikken restaurant – a salmon and seafood restaurant just off the motorway. This was simply superb – elegant, modern, understated style, with beautiful fresh food (dish of the day was baked salmon with potato gratin) and excellent value.  Refreshed and recharged we hit the road again, driving on through the rolling agricultural and wooded landscape. As we approached Goteborg this rapidly gave way to a typical urban environment, complete with traffic jams, and the beautiful day gradually gave way to the building clouds. The hold was caused by a minor accident, which reminded me of the hold-up we’d driven past on the M3 just south of the M25 as we headed for Harwich – a much more serious accident involving a big truck, a motorbike, a sports car (facing the wrong way and crunched against the central barrier) and a car and caravan – separated, standing on the hard shoulder, the caravan resting nose down on the road, looking like it had been badly damaged. Must all have happened a moment before we got there. How lucky for us that it was us involved – or that our accident on the M6 wasn’t more serious!

We drove on and cleared Goteburg at about 4.30pm, with about 100kms to go to our campsite at Ellos on an island on the west coast of Sweden, a couple of hundred kilometres south of Oslo. The weather began to worsen rapidly, with the wind increasing from a moderate tail wind which we’d had all day to a really quite strong wind. This was followed by darkening skies and rain. As we headed off the motorway and drove west, the bad weather became a serious storm. We snaked our way through what we could only guess were beautiful picturesque villages as the rain lashed down, trees whipping on either side of us, the wipers and screen blower working furiously to give us at least some visibility. And then out of the gloom ahead loomed a suspension bridge! Our speed had dropped to around 30mph, and with no passing or stopping places we’d gathered a long tail of cars whose lights were visible in our mirrors – a fitting audience as we drove up to and across the bridge. It was relatively short, but high and exposed. I had very vivid memories of the time in the early ‘70s that we were caravanning in Holland, and driving along the autobahn in similarly high winds the caravan blew on to its side, raising the back of the car off the road. The caravan swayed and shuddered in the wind, but we made it across, and on past wind and rain swept bays and fjords to the campsite, where we hastily set the caravan up on the least exposed position possible, tail to the wind, parked the car to windward to give at least some shelter, and hunkered down for the stormy night. All night long the caravan was buffeted by the wind and the rain beat away like a drum on the roof. We slept somewhat fitfully!

The following morning, Wednesday, dawned brighter – still windy, but the storm had passed. When collecting our morning bread ordered from the camp bakery the night before, Frances was told that we’d been hit by the tail end of hurricane Irene which had hit the east coast of the US last week, and had taken Sweden by surprise – evidently it was front page news.

The site turned out to be in a very beautiful location on Orust Island, part of the long archipelago along the east coast of Sweden. Again there are many permanent caravans, but very few tourers, although a few more have arrived over the past couple of days. We’re camped facing out over a very shallow bay with the pretty village of Stokken in view. A short walk through the woods leads to another bay with a small beach and bathing platform, and the site has the usual high standards of amenities. On Wednesday we left the caravan and drove to Marstrand, a beautiful seaside and marina town on an island accessible by a small chain ferry. Marstrand is (or was) the favoured holiday destination of the Swedish royal family where they’d take up residence in its massive and imposing castle Carlsten Fortress. We walked around the castle and town with its typically picturesque timber clad cottages and houses brightly painted in various pastel shades of yellows and blues – very reminiscent of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Although practically deserted it was easy to imagine the throngs of holiday makers staying in hotels and holiday houses, sailing and swimming and enjoying the long summer evenings that they have here. We went on to the Nordic Water Colour museum at Skarhamn to see an exhibition of the ‘unpainted’ works of Emil Nolde, a German artist who’d works were deemed degenerate by the Nazi regime in the ‘30s and who was the subject of a decree banning him from painting. He outwardly complied, but secretly continued to paint his vibrant ‘expressionist’ water colours in secret until his rehabilitation post war. In truth, not my cup of tea….but evidently his use of colour was ground breaking! The children and Frances loved the gallery and the paintings..

In the late afternoon we went on to an out-door sculpture exhibition set at the site of an iron age settlement. The sculptures were impressive and imaginative, brilliantly set amongst the evidence of ancient dwellings and burial mounds and amongst the rocks and trees. We particularly enjoyed a collection of crocodiles made from truck and car tyres ,a giant white rabbit, an extraordinary life-sized tightrope walker suspended high above the fields, and Radiator Rex, a huge black box into which one walks and sees a surprising life-sized dinosaur made from radiator parts and suspended and illuminated inside. All much more my cup of tea, and great fun for us all to explore. Charlie particularly enjoyed making friends with the rather tame sheep and pretending to be a shepherdess.

On Thursday I set off in the morning to the beach with George and Charlie to go fishing while Frances stayed in camp to do some washing. The weather was vastly improved, and we had a lovely time on the rocks and beach attempting to catch our supper – which, if we’d been keen seaweed eaters we would have accomplished! Returning empty handed to camp, we found Frances had taken advantage of the absence of locals and had our washing hung on various lines by their caravans! We met a German couple, Peter and Sandra who had bravely pitched their tent in the strong wind the previous night. They were busily constructing an inflatable catamaran – an Austrian made Grabnar Happy Cat. It was fascinating to watch as they pulled the various boxes and bags from their car, and within about an hour and a half had constructed a fully functioning sailing cat. The afternoon was spent rock scrambling and playing mini golf on the camp site. In the late afternoon as George set about cooking fudge from his Caravan Cook book and Charlie became cooks assistant to Frances who was preparing dinner, Peter took me out for a sail. We set off towards Stokken, and then as the wind got up and we made real speed we were able to sail around several islands on a long course back to the camp. The cat performed remarkably well – fast, stable, and responsive to the helm. Peter was clearly an experienced sailor, equipped with charts and compass to effectively navigate. He and Sandra had spent six days sailing and camping among the islands further south, with all their equipment and supplies including water stowed in water-tight bags on the tramp of the small cat – incredibly intrepid. We had an exhilarating sail as the sun set over the sea, raising looks of surprise and amazement from yachtsmen returning to harbour as we flew past them.

It’s now Friday morning – a beautiful clear sunny start to the day. George’s fudge has passed the taste test, although evidently it’s more toffee than fudge. We’re about to break camp and head north to Oslo. Breakfast first, then on the road by 10.00am for the 300km drive.

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