Northern Lights and northern delights
“Rob Turl’s 991 GTS survives a 5,000 mile baptism through the snow and ice of Norway and Sweden. Here, he gives a nuts and bolts re-telling of his epic journey to the top of the world.”
Day 1: Monday 29th February.
It’s early, 3:30am. The alarm didn’t wake me up; I’ve been awake for half an hour already. I’ve waited a long time for this trip, maybe 25 years. I remember my brother and myself scanning road atlases, looking at the road map of Europe and seeing the town of Hammerfest in Norway and declaring, ‘I’m going to drive there’. Well now I have. Although my actual destination was the North Cape, an exciting 307m high rock at the very top of Norway, that is essentially inaccessible during winter. Here, winds and weather conditions can kill you. It gets cold here, very cold. -40c in this area is not uncommon. This is a place where I must go. I’m up, showered, and dressed, breakfasted and saying goodbye to my wife Lorna and Louie the dog. I get in the car already packed from the night before and sneak out of the village as quietly as possible, sports exhaust turned off (the only time it will be for the whole trip). It’s -3c and I’m on the M1, near Luton, it’s almost 5am, the variable speed limit is displaying 30mph, traffic is heavy, lorries making up lanes 1 and 2 and I’m already stuck in traffic, I can’t wait to get out of the U.K., this is no fun really.
The M25 is thankfully clear, and so is the A12, I get to Harwich at 7am for my boat to the Hook of Holland. I am the first to arrive; there is no queue and check in opens in 15 minutes. Unbelievably only 28 cars are onboard this morning, the boat is virtually empty. I love this, nobody else around. I eat a lonely breakfast by myself in the massive restaurant. The boat departs at 9am, and by 10 am, I’m in my cabin sleeping for a few hours. I’ve got no fixed plan for tonight I’m just going to drive. I leave the boat at 5pm, straight into the rush hour through Rotterdam. I head straight for the German border near Osnabruck, traffic is heavy, but moving, and as I tick off the miles, it’s getting lighter. The autobahn is calling me, and around 7:30pm I enter Germany. Almost immediately it’s unrestricted and my speed increases. My car is built for this. My car is a new 991 GTS4 coupe, with the PDK gearbox, a winter tyre package and V rated tyres. This means a maximum of 150mph because of the tyres. This, for tonight’s conditions, is too low.
The temperature is 0c and it is dry and clear. The traffic is getting lighter and with a fuel and dinner stop around 21:00, the roads are almost empty. Now there are 3 lanes of dry autobahn with a few lorries and cars. I’m already having to consciously hold myself back from speeding. Approaching Hamburg, I’m at my tyres’ speed limit and I’m overtaken.
A very fast Mercedes S class flies by, I don’t know his speed, but I am travelling at close to 150mph and he is gone. I smile. I love moments like this. I decide to drive up through Germany to the Danish border, around Kolding and through to Copenhagen. The roads are all empty, and at around 1:30am I arrive at the Oresund Bridge, which crosses over to Malmö, Sweden. I pull up at the toll booths and the makeshift customs checkpoint and have to show all car documents, driving licence and passport. The chaps here are great, complimentary to the car and wish me well on my journey. I ask where to take a break and they kindly let me park and sleep under their guard in the car park in the customs area. I recline the seat, and with the blanket and pillow in position I close my eyes to take a nap.
Day 2, 3 and 4: Tuesday 1st – Thursday 3rd March.
I feel cold and I’m aching. I open my eyes, I’m in my car, where am I? Oh yes, the Oresund bridge. I climb out of the car, its 7am. The car is frozen, I start the engine and put the heating full on, it’s -5c and I have to wipe the inside windows as they defrost. I eat my pre prepared breakfast, clean my teeth, and I’m off. Today my destination is the Thief hotel, Oslo. To be honest it’s an easy drive, so long as the weather holds. Sweden is a dream to drive through, all motorway, with light traffic and the start of some great scenery. Fjords, rocky vistas, blue skies and snow on the ground. By midday I’m crossing into Norway, it’s time for lunch and fuel. Hot dogs. I love hot dogs. It seems nearly all petrol stations sell them in Sweden and they taste great. The car is filthy now; I’m about 850 miles in and the average fuel consumption is just over 32 mpg. Now, the clouds are looking very dark, the temperature is around 0c and snow is just starting to blow in the air, I set off again and within minutes the motorway is white, the snow is heavy, this is my first test. I knew this weather was coming and it was in my mind to get as far as I could before it set in. Driving speeds don’t reduce that much here in the snow, speed limits vary from 90 – 110kph. Now with an increased gap between vehicles were are all still travelling in excess of 80kph, the snow is maybe 5cms deep on the road and there are no black tyre tracks. I’m driving on fresh compacted snow. Winter tyres are really remarkable nowadays, and the traffic maintains this speed for the next 75 miles or so until we enter the built up areas of Oslo, where it all slows down to around 60 – 70 kph. It is still snowing and around 3pm, I’m only a few miles away from the hotel, and thankfully ahead of the rush hour. I know exactly where the hotel is, so with ease I’m in the underground car park and park opposite a lovely silver 964 C4. Part 1 of the journey is completed with 1,144 miles driven, I have found perfect parking and a lovely hotel for the next three nights. Tomorrow Lorna flies into Oslo and then we are spending a few days with some friends who live here. It will be Friday morning when part 2 of the journey begins.
Day 5: Friday 4th March.
The weather isn’t good. We’ve been monitoring yr.no, an online weather website. We have also asked the hotel to check the national road network helpline. It could get interesting today. We have to be in Trondheim tonight, which is 345 miles north. Tomorrow we have to catch another boat which will take us almost to the top of the country. By 9am we have packed, had breakfast and we’re in the car making our way. It’s sleeting in central Oslo, but as soon as we clear the city it’s turned to heavy snow and the motorway is white again. We keep the speed around a steady 60 mph overtaking a few lorries until the motorway ends and it’s on to single carriageways up across the mountains. The temperature is just under zero and it promises to drop as we head further north.
The cloud is low and the mountains fade in and out of view and as we pass Lillehammer the snow eases and traffic gets lighter. Snow is plentiful on the ground, snowploughs have been doing their jobs and we are on a tarmac snow mixture, the grip is still good though and we carry on to Dombas. Here we’re quite high up, around 500 metres, it’s around -8c and the snow is piled over 2m high at the sides of the roads. Its lunch time. We fill up the car and ourselves and make our way over the pass. We are now over a 1000m high and the wind is up. Snow is blowing in the air and we stop for photos in a rest area. It’s solid ice, around -14c and the sun is trying to shine through the cloud. We get out the car, the wind-chill is mighty, a few snaps and it’s back in the car. The winter tyres, 4wd and traction control get us up an iced track back to the main road. The scenery is harsh and barren. It almost looks like a desert, but in white.
We continue and start to descend, the temperature rises and the clouds are clearing. As we get nearer the coast there is less snow and more old dirty snow, grit, debris, dust and stone chippings. As we enter Trondheim around 5pm it’s still below zero and there is almost no snow, again we find the hotel with ease and I park underground. Looking back at the car, it’s really dirty. The rear lights, number plate and bodywork are indistinguishable from each other. The wheels are caked in salt. Poor car, it’s only a few months old.
We have made it to Trondheim. We go for an evening walk to get dinner. Tomorrow we are on a boat taking three days to get to Honnisvag.
Day 6, 7 and 8, Saturday 5th – Monday 7th March.
The drive to the boat is less than a mile. It has snowed overnight and around the docks we go looking for the MS Nordlys, the 11,204 ton Hurtigruten boat. With seven decks she is our home until Tuesday. We walk up the gangway up to reception to check in, and I’m given a pass for the car to be loaded on the boat. I find the cargo crew outside and I am instructed to drive the car onto the ramp, I power slide the car around to the delight of the crew and park on the ramp. The ramp then lifts the car up and I drive forward into the boat, it then descends down a few metres and I drive off onto the car deck. The Nordlys can take 35 cars, but today has only a few loaded. It’s tight on deck and I’m given a parking space at the back of the boat next to very large coils of electrical cable and roof trusses. Several pallets of fish are loaded in front of me. Whilst this is a cruise ship to some on a two week holiday, it is also a plush ferry for the likes of me, and a lifeline for many Norwegians up and down the coast delivering all sorts of products on a daily basis.
At midday we set sail, and we will be stopping at many ports day and night on our voyage up the coast. At some of the ports we will get off and have a walk, go sightseeing for a few hours. Others are just 15 minute stops. We will be getting off at Bodo on Sunday and Tromso on Monday. The three day journey is quite simply incredible. White mountains towering high all along the coastline, falling into the sea. We are barely 1000 metres from coast for the majority of the journey and in a few places less than 50 metres.
Trollfjord is a particular memory. The enormous boat creeps into a very tight fjord; its midnight, there is about 30 metres clearance on both sides. The walls of the fjord are snow and ice covered, the sky is cloudless, the stars shining and it’s moonless. Almost all the passengers are crammed out on deck in complete silence as we inch our way through the fjord. The captain then turns on the searchlights and illuminates up the snow covered walls for us, before dousing them just as the northern lights put on a wonderful display of green lights dancing their way across the sky. Really quite incredible.
Day 9: Tuesday 8th March
We are having breakfast onboard, and we are docked in Havoysund. Blue skies are threatening, and the blowing snow is promising to stop. We left the town of Hammerfest, we docked there around 5:30am, and our next stop is Honningsvag. This is our destination. From here, its back in the car. I haven’t seen her for three days and the crew have had the keys and been looking after her. At 11:15 we dock. I’m down on the car deck; Lorna has the bags and is walking down the gangway. I am very happy, the car hasn’t been moved. I drive the car onto the lift to be unloaded, and as I drive on to the dock the other disembarking passengers are quite shocked to see an English registered car all the way up here. It seems to be the centre of attention as cameras are directed at us, and some of the passengers are asking Lorna questions, as I’m loading the car.
To be honest time is tight right now. The road to North Cape is only accessible by joining the snowplough convoy and it leaves at midday, and I don’t know where the meeting place is. So we set off along the dock pushing my way through the throng of people who are getting on their coaches to go on their excursions. First of all, I want to find our hotel for tonight and make sure they have my booking. There is only one hotel open up here at the moment; the next nearest is over a hundred miles away. The town is quite small and I find the hotel quickly and confirm the reservation. The hotel receptionist tells me where the convoy starts and says I have 20 minutes to drive 25km to join it. On arrival the snowplough driver will then decide if you are allowed to join the convoy Apparently it depends on the weather conditions and the winter ability of the car.
We need to get going, I know I need to drive at just over 60kmh, and it’s -8c, and tarmac has been replaced with worn thick ice, even small applications of throttle can send the traction control off, but reassuringly the brakes feel good and no ABS intervention. Lorna is telling me to slow down. We are only going about 35mph, the car has is giving great feedback and I’m starting drift very slightly around the bends and powering up to 45mph or so along the straights, braking early into the corners. This is testing, I’m clock watching and calculating time and distance whilst dancing and drifting through bends, at 30mph, this is intense. We catch up to a local bus, and as much as I want to overtake, I can’t. I’m faster on the straights but he is quicker through the bends! I know one of the local buses joins the convoy, but if I miss this convoy it’s game over. As we crest a hill we can see the snowplough and a few coaches and cars in the distance sitting at a barrier. Its 11:59 We going to make it! We do, only just though. As we arrive the plough has already left and 3 coaches are already following it. The bus I am following joins but the small sweeper truck that follows the convoy stops me. Wait there he says, buses first. From behind an enormous pile of snow two other buses join ahead of us. I thought he was going to ban us from joining at that moment, but then he waves us on and he follows behind us.
That was close. All this way and it really was only seconds that we made it by, now I can relax. Lorna starts to photograph the scenery and we can see this is really like a desert. How can life survive here? No trees, it’s barren, rocky and snow has drifted into all the crevices. It’s like a landscape that’s been crafted in a wind tunnel. It’s about another 15km to the top, and just as we arrive an arm appears from a cabin at the side of the road telling us to stop. None of the buses or coaches have, it’s just us. We have to pay to enter the car park and pay even more to go inside the building to watch a movie. Norway is not a cheap country.
To park and walk on the rocks is about £30 and to go inside is just under £50. The convoy will leave at 1:45pm and its 12:20 now. As much as it pains me I hand over the 520 Kroner and convince the car park attendant that donuts in the car park are acceptable…. Almost all the buses are full of the passengers from the boat and we find out they have paid about 500 kroner each for this trip and once again the car is being photographed, a few German chaps come over for a chat, they have Porsches at home and are mightily impressed, Lorna has to pose at the car door for a few more snaps, we are almost famous.
The temperature is about -7c, but it’s the wind, the wind chill is to the bone. While the coach loads of people head straight to the globe and cliff tops for their photos we head straight indoors to the movie. I had no idea what to expect of the facilities here, but it is top notch. We catch the next movie in a very luxurious cinema room. There probably 300-400 seats here and we’ve managed to get in before the crowds, only 20 of us or so. As we leave they are queuing to get in, so we head down to the chapel and cave of lights, we have timed it all perfectly. We then go in the vast shop and see that almost no one is outside now, so out we go for our photos. We get the globe and cliff tops to ourselves. But after 10 minutes we are back inside, it is so cold.
A quick hot chocolate in the cafe and that’s it, the convoy is getting ready to leave. It’s been so rushed. A whistle stop tour, another 3-4 hours would have been perfect, but tonight they have a private event on and we have to go. We get in the convoy and set off. Now I’m relaxed and I can absorb the scenery, the deep blue skies against the white landscape is stunning, we let the snowplough march on at speed and we cruise along taking our time. Moments like this can’t be repeated, and I’m not being rushed now. Thankfully the car behind is even slower than us, we are on our own. Lovely.
We get back to the main road, all the other buses, coaches and cars head back to Honningsvag, we turn left and head to Skarsvag, a tiny fishing village, nothing there really, just fisherman, on their boats, weather hardy, repairing nets and readying their boats for their next trip. The car draws attention again and we get a few admiring looks and waves. We then take the drive back to Honningsvag. It’s amazing how much scenery we missed rushing up here. It takes us a good hour to get back to town where we check in to the hotel.
It’s a small world. Upon checking in we get talking to another English couple. They ask Lorna how we got here, and upon telling them about our journey, apart from them being surprised, we are more so. They arrange for motoring journalists to travel around the world testing cars. Today of all days, we have Top Gear, Autocar and many other magazines, driving here in a fleet of Mazda SUVs. We even have mutual friends, and before we know it, Lorna and I are having a snack with the top chaps at Mazda UK in a cafe in town talking about our famous friend car journalist who lives in our village, who unfortunately couldn’t make this trip but is off to New York the following week for a similar event with Mazda. Sure enough when we get back to the hotel my 911 is surrounded by English registered Mazdas. Amazing, it’s the furthest you can get from home in Europe and the Brits have arrived. And even worse, that evening, the restaurant has no steak as the journalists have pre ordered all their dinners!
Day 10 Wednesday 9th March.
So far on our journey I have driven 1,572 miles. The boat was a bit of a cheat and saved somewhere in the region of 900 miles and I calculate that I have averaged over 31mpg. I didn’t buy the GTS to be economical but it’s nice to not fill up at every petrol station we see and with fuel prices here lower than the UK, it’s not very painful on the wallet either.
We set off around 9am, the hotel and car park is now empty. The journalists are on their way to North Cape, and we are heading south, the only direction you can go really. Today we need to travel 200 miles or so to a cabin at Levajok Fjellstue. Our friends from Oslo have travelled here and his sister owns the small commune of cabins on the Tana River. The reason for going there is a dog race. A few days earlier, hundreds of dogs had set off from Alta. This dog race is an annual event and televised for the Scandinavian countries. It is a two category race and also has a smaller junior category. The two events are 500 and 1000km. The 500km race passed through Levajok yesterday, but our arrival should see the leaders of the big 1000km race pass through.
The sun is shining, and with sunglasses on, it’s -15c and snow and ice cover the roads. As we leave town we enter our first tunnel. The tunnel has a red traffic light lit up as we approach. We stop at an enormous door that’s just started to roll upwards. The light changes to green as the door opens fully and we drive into the tunnel. There is no other traffic, and the door closes behind us. This is to stop the weather entering the tunnel but ice is still in here. My window is just slightly open and the sports exhaust is activated, the noise in second gear and full throttle is lovely. I back off from 7000 rpm and add a touch of throttle to feed in a bit of fuel, which pops and bangs. I’m told off by Lorna for being a child. I do it again, I’m punched on the arm, I do it again, Lorna won’t stop me having my fun… As we exit the tunnel another red light is lit up and as we slow down the door opens and out we go into the sunshine. The roads are wide and ice covered, there is a calm sea along side the road and for the next 100 miles we hug the coast. There are plenty more tunnels, traffic lights and passenger complaints of my childlike behaviour. One hundred miles later and there is still almost no traffic, we arrive at Olderfjord. This is where we join the E6. The E6 is the main north to south road in Norway and is just under 2000 miles long. I’ve been on it for hundreds of miles in the south already; up here I’m expecting it to be the busy part of my day. After 20 minutes or so, we’ve only seen one lorry and a few cars, this is heaven. The skies are still blue and in places the sea is frozen. The tide is out and miles and miles of ice has sunk, it’s an amazing landscape, the ice must rise and fall daily for months creating wonderful shapes and incredibly out in the middle there are signs of life. Skidoos have crossed numerous times taking shortcuts to the land across the fjord. It stays like this until we reach Lakselv. Lakselv is a nonedescript town that looks very American-like. A big wide road flanked by numerous petrol stations, large warehouses of shops, trucks parked up and big billboards of advertisements.
Traffic is heavy momentarily and as we leave town we enjoy our empty roads again up over a pass to Karasjok. Karasjok is the political centre for the Sami people of Norway, Lapland. To be honest it’s nothing special as we can see. There are three roundabouts, a hotel, a few shops and more petrol stations. We buy petrol again and enjoy another hotdog! We also go to the co-op and get provisions for our cabin. As we leave town we turn and head north east towards Kirkenes, which is the border town with Russia. The temperature has risen to around 3c and cloud has spoilt the sunshine. The ice on the roads is melting, and slush is now the enemy. The car is pulled left and right and we are driving through vast puddles, and the lorries that pass from the opposite direction absolutely shower us with ice, snow, slush and grit. They don’t care and they don’t slow down, its 50 mph plus for them.
We arrive at Levajok around 3pm. The car is truly caked in dirt now. We greet our friends and their family and are shown around. The stables, cafes and cabins are mainly a summer vacation for families. Fishing on the Tana River is possibly the main draw in the summer, but it is frozen now. In actual fact it’s part of the dog race track. They will travel over a hundred km down this frozen snow covered river. We even cross this 100m wide river ourselves and walk up the bank to Finland. That’s right, no border crossing here. We are standing in Finland now, looking at Norway. No way of stopping any migrants crossing borders up here….
That evening we are treated to a local dish of reindeer in a very small rustic cabin out in the middle of nowhere. There are metres of crisp snow around us, and as it approaches 10pm the skies are moonless and cloudless again. The Milky Way visible way above us, and the Northern Lights decide to put on another show for us lighting up the snow and mountains with a green tinge. Perfect.
Day 11 Thursday 10th March.
The leader of the dog race arrived with his dogs around 7am. His team aren’t allowed to help the musher in the pit stop. They pass the straw for the dogs to sleep on and food for the dogs. A team of vets check each dog to make sure they are still healthy and haven’t been swapped out. Any unhealthy dog is taken out of the race. It doesn’t stop the team from continuing, the rules allow for this, but only a maximum number of dogs can start and a minimum must finish. The musher and dogs rest here for maybe 6-7 hours and the TV crews interview the mushers. The teams in their trucks arrive first ahead of the dogs, then the teams leave, then the dogs. The teams are on their way to the next stop at Karasjok. So a steady flow of teams and dogs arrive and depart during the day.
Whilst we are out walking down the river we meet some friends of our friends and before I know it I’m given a skidoo and I’m off riding crossing fresh virgin snow, squeezing through the trees, riding alongside some smaller rivers that are visible in places and completely snow ice covered in others. This is fun, I want one of these.
Day 12 Friday 11th March.
Today is the first part of the journey where we have no plan. Everything up to this point had been planned and part booked. We are free; it’s about getting home now. One idea is to head south into Finland and drive to Kittila. Here is the Panorama hotel, where Porsche will put you up if you do a camp 4 driving experience. We are about 200 miles north of Kittila and Lorna has to catch a flight from Oslo on the 15th in the evening to get home. After scanning maps and looking at the weather and road conditions, we decide to stay in Norway. We head north again and book a night in Hammerfest, 200 miles northwest. We will stay the night here and in the morning catch another boat for a 24 hour trip south and travel to the Lofoten islands. Still inside the Arctic circle but near an airport for Lorna.
It’s been cold overnight. Upon starting the engine the car tells me it’s -5.5c and the oil temperature is -10c. Apparently last night was about -20c. This is normal, and those mushers and dogs spend all night racing in these temperatures. It takes an age for the oil to warm up, maybe 15km and as we head to Karasjok again the temperature is steadily dropping reaching -18c at the top of the pass. The clouds clear and we are under blue skies again, we stop to photograph the mountains. It’s windy. The wind-chill must be below -30c and a few minutes are all we can stand outside. The roads are properly frozen again, and I prefer this to slushy roads. The car is more predictable on snow and ice. At a steady 40-50mph the winter tyres give good feedback on the ever changing, snow, to tarmac, to ice, to snow surface. The ABS rarely intervenes and I have my senses tuned into the car. With delicate inputs of steering and throttle I can balance the car to drift if I wish, although I do make sure I have room for any errors and keep the drifting speeds down in the 30mphs. It’s just to far from everywhere to bin it up here.
As we get towards Olderfjord again the roads are almost all tarmac now, and we turn left here and head west towards Alta over the Hatter Pass. The road is wide straight and high. No traffic. The view is way into the distance, mountain peaks miles and miles away. I can feel the wind tugging at the car, it’s well below -10c here and the road surface is clear. I Power on. I’m up over 60mph, over 70mph, and then approaching 80mph the car starts to vibrate from the steering and the rear. It feels like we have 50 pence pieces for tyres, what’s happened here? Deformed tyres? Tracking? I haven’t hit anything, I back down to 50mph and it’s fine. At the next lay by I have a quick inspection. There is a burning smell and some smoke wafting from the rear arches. Salt is in every crevice and on the inner rims of the wheels I put my finger through several mm of compacted grit, salt and dirt. I look under the rear and see that the engine, exhausts and other hot bits are cooking the salt and dirt, that’s the smell and smoke. I guess that what I need is a jet wash, how the hell am I going to find one here that’s working…
We continue to Skaidi, and follow the road to Hammerfest, now we have no tarmac. It looks like road works started here last year, and now it’s just been left till spring. The road is a gravel track for maybe 30 miles and huge dust clouds billow from passing cars and trucks. The trucks also send flying grit showering the car. There’s nothing I can do. I carry on.
As we approach Hammerfest the temperature is above zero again and the roads start to form puddles and small rivers run across them. I drive for the water, hoping to clean the underside of the car, it works, sort of. By the time we arrive at our hotel the car is soaking wet and all smells and smoke are gone.
Hammerfest is spending money on itself. There are new hotels, new dock areas and restaurants. A walk round is a quick affair, the sun is setting and blue skies are turning to darkness and with white mountains as a backdrop it’s stunning. And guess what, the Northern Lights are out again.
Day 13 Saturday 12th March.
It’s raining, not heavy, but consistent. It’s only 400m to the dock; we arrive and drive right up to the waters’ edge as the MS Finnmarken slowly docks alongside. I can see the brake discs are wet and I’m fully aware I can’t dry them. I know the car is going on the boat for 24 hours and with all that salt over them I know I’m in for rusty discs tomorrow. Again we check in at the boat’s reception and I park in the car deck.
Settled in the cabin, it’s straight up to deck eight for a beer. I haven’t drunk much on this holiday and at around £10 a pint I didn’t want to. But today I’m drinking. We are going to save around 400 miles of driving in the next 24 hours and I have a fantastic steak, more £10 pints and a £15 gin and tonic for Lorna. The evening dinner bill is 1,550 Kroner, about £140. Food and drink in Norway is not cheap, but the boat prices are reasonable.
Day 14 Sunday 13th March.
We once again breakfast as we cruise down amongst beautiful white mountains and very narrow passages of sea, and at midday arrive at Sortland, on the Lofoten isles. I go down to the car deck and the car has been moved. There are dirty footprints, handprints and crap over the carpet and doorsills, nothing malicious, just the dirty crew moving my car. I start her up and move forward and the brakes crack with a groaning noise. Rust. I knew it, and drive off out of the car deck and meet Lorna and the bags dockside. It’s raining again and quite heavy, I don’t mind, the car is so filthy now that rain can only clean it. I check the discs and they are as bad as can be. So off we go. I speed up and brake repeatedly. Thankfully it works after a few miles I stop and recheck them. They are shining like good discs should, but the red calipers don’t look too well.
The snow is piled high by the roads, it’s over 4c and rain is set for the day. We head to Melbu to catch another ferry to Fiskebol, and then I see it. A Shell petrol garage and a jet wash. I rinse off the body, and give it a soaping and wash off; I’m in the arches, wheels, callipers and exhausts. It feels great to rinse all the salt off. We catch the small ferry that takes 20 minutes and we have a new friend. A young guy in his twenties. He is over the moon to see a car like this, and during our half hour with him he shows us photos of his Subaru, Jeep and motorbike that are all immaculate and in states of high tuning. A true petrol head. We carry on driving to a town called Svolvaer, the scenery still stunning, but thwarted by rain and low clouds. We find a hotel to stay in Svolvaer and walk around the town. A nice, pretty place, it has a small harbour and plenty of fishermen working on their boats.
Day 15 Monday 14th March.
The Lofoten isles are numerous islands seemingly lined up that stretch about 250 miles from the mainland out into the Norwegian Sea still high up in the Arctic Circle. Svolvaer is roughly half way along, so for me, the obvious thing to do is drive to the furthest point out, a place called A. It’s raining still, and the snow and ice, whilst still all on the mountains are much less now we are out in the warmth of the Gulf Stream. It’s over 5c today. The car is looking dirty still but a day of driving through puddles is what’s required. As usual the roads are near empty, and some the views just brilliant. Possibly the best so far. There are white mountains, blue and grey skies, frozen waterfalls, sandy beaches, dunes, rocks, rolling seas and rainbows all in one landscape. It is really beautiful.
We drive through small fishing villages, with racks of drying fish all neatly hanging out. Tunnels, tight twisty sections, long straights of road. It’s a driver’s dream. Admittedly the speed limits are lowish, 70, 80 and 90 kph. But it’s not about outright speed; it’s the fluidity, rhythm of traffic free roads that make it for me. Of course I can only guess that summer brings on cyclists, caravans and so many tourists that it may be my hell, but in March it’s perfect. We reach the town of A, turn around and do it all again, this time with a detour on route 815. The roads here are tighter now, with the sea fog rolling in, perfectly still seas partly frozen, and a few sea eagles sitting on nearby rocks. It’s eerily beautiful. All too soon were back at Svolvaer and another jet wash is found. This time I buy a sponge and wheel brush, load up the washer and soap. Now the car is gleaming, and after a short drive back to the hotel, it’s time for a rest, for tomorrow I drive home.
Day 16 Tuesday 15th March.
It’s raining again. We have got ourselves in a warm weather system. The snows are melting fast, it’s still over 5c and the temperature didn’t drop overnight. It’s about 100 miles to Evenes airport near Narvik. Lorna has a flight from here this afternoon to Oslo, then from Oslo back to Heathrow. She will be at home tonight in our bed and the Louie the dog will be with her. It will be easy and quick flying home, especially as she is only carrying her handbag and passport. I, on the other hand, have put The Hook of Holland in the sat nav and it tells me it’s over 3,000km to my destination!
The roads aren’t as great heading inland and we arrive at the airport about 1pm. It’s a tiny airport. For all of us used to airports the size of Heathrow, it’s nice parking 20 feet from the front door of the terminal. with six or seven cars parked up. There is a cluster of people in the corner of departures talking, no one at the check in desk and no one at the security gate to go through to the departure lounge. I even walk with her whilst security are checking her. We say goodbye and that’s it. I have nothing booked at all. No route, no plan, no ferry, nothing. I follow the E10 towards Narvik and then decide at a junction to turn left and go up the mountain pass to Riksgransen, a border town in Sweden. As I climb the rain turns to sleet and the enormity of the snow from the season up here is piled really high. I have no view other than a wall maybe 3m either side of me and the road is turning to sleety snow. I get to the border crossing. Customs are checking a few lorries coming into Norway and I pass through unhindered. Immediately it’s clear the Swedish don’t clear their roads like the Norwegians. I’m on snow and ice again. It’s good though and again, no traffic. Then after a photo stop or two, blue skies return, rainbows appear and there is a massive frozen lake that I drive alongside for the next two hours. The road surface turns dry, I put my sunglasses on, put the sunroof on tilt, it’s 0c and I’m heading now at speeds approaching 70mph, this feels fast. I pass the town of Abisko; again the distant mountains cloaked in white and frozen lake are stunning. Now with long straight roads the temptation to go faster is here, so for the sake of testing purposes I run into triple digits, oh yes, no vibration through the wheels, everything feels good, I gently test the brakes, all good, I repeat, oh yes. The Porsche feels perfect.
Kiruna is the next town I drive through, and I get there at rush hour, I’m in traffic for the next three miles, and then, it’s back on to empty roads heading to Gallivare. Now the sun is dropping, dusk. That means moose, elk and reindeer. Also the temperature is dropping again and with wonderful clear skies, I can tell it’s going to be cold tonight. I get to Gallivare just as darkness comes and I fill up with petrol and eat another hotdog. I’ve a decision to make, on to Lulea, to the coast of Sweden, which picks up the main route of Sweden, the E4. Or through the centre of the country on the E45.
Because I have no plan or time constraints I choose the E45. I suspect this wasn’t the right choice. I can’t be sure because I don’t know the other route. Within a few miles of the hotdog stop, I’m scanning for wildlife and it’s now dark. The road has turned to a glossy sheen, I am travelling at about 50mph, I touch the brakes to get some feedback from the road surface. ABS is active immediately. I’m just sailing on with vehicle’s computers doing a dreadful job of stopping me. I ease off the brakes, pull the paddles to go down the gearbox and pull over at the side of the road and get out. It’s sheer ice. The ice had obviously melted during the day, and was now refreezing perfectly smooth with no grit or surface imperfections that ultimately give grip. It was a skating rink.
I get back in and keep going, I try to keep the speed down, but I keep going back up above 40mph, the road surface is changing constantly. I feel more comfortable when the is plenty of visible ice and snow. It’s just when it’s black tarmac that the ice is worst. In a few of the villages I pass it’s still good thick snow on the ground, these are the best bits with grip from the tyres. At about 7:30 pm I see signs about the Arctic Circle, and then I remember, Jokkmokk. It’s one of the circle towns, I’m now leaving the Arctic, a quick look at the sat nav confirms it, GPS 66^ 33′ 00. I get out of the car for a stretch and once again the Northern Lights are doing a full show for me. Tonight the sky was a multitude of colours, green and pinks the common colours but hints of blues, yellows and reds in the mix as well. It’s a shame I only have an iPhone for photos, not one picture I took capture the lights at all.
The road continues to Arvidsjaur, I take on more fuel and snacks, it’s gone 11pm now and I’m getting tired and a rest is planned, but more decisions. Should I keep going on the inland country roads or drop down to the E4 main cost road. At midnight I get to the junction and the decision is made. I turn to take the country roads, but this one has not been snowploughed and I decide the coast it is. I check the maps and decide to push on to Umea. The roads improve vastly as I reach the coast and at 2am I park up behind some trucks, get the pillows and blankets and drift off to sleep.
Day 17 Wednesday 16th March
It’s 6am. Once again I’m cold. Frost is on the car, the trucks have woken me up as they start their engines. I try to drift back off to sleep, but it is no good. I’m up so I decide to get going and drive until I need rest again, besides its clear skies and a magical sunrise is just starting. I get on the road, I cruise along, the roads empty still, and here there is no real sign of snow. It’s just above zero, the roads are completely clear. The car feels slightly different, once again I am travelling at about 50mph and then it happens. The car starts to drift into a slide, the near side rear coming round on me, there is no noise, no adhesion, just a glide and I’m starting to look at the near side “A” pillar to look at where I should be going. I really thought that this was game over, and with nothing to lose now, I very gently accelerate. I know hitting the brakes will cause me to skid to the scene of the accident. I counter steer in and very gently I catch, or should I say the car’s computers intervene, and it straightens up, a very mild opposite slide then starts, but keeping off the brakes and again very gentle power, I’m in a straight line again. Bloody hell! I then, touch the brakes and the ABS kicks in. I pull over to the side of the road and I get out. Once again it’s a skating rink. I can barely stand up. Luckily the roads are deserted and the sun is just rising.
I decide to carry on; aware that trucks and other cars will not be slowing down at all. Within a few miles I’ve got a truck catching me fast, I can’t speed up, 35mph is fast enough. At the next lay-by I pull over and let the lorry pass. As he passes he is followed by a couple of cars overtaking him. All the locals use studded tyres, winter tyres are great but not much use on sheer ice. I keep going to the next town where I fill up with fuel, buy some breakfast and jet wash the car again. By the time I’m ready to get going again, it’s almost 9am. The sun is shining, there are blue skies and I turn the heating up, I put the heated seats on, and within 20 minutes I arrive at the next rest area, I pull in and finish my night’s sleep.
I awake around 11am, it’s hot. The sun is shining straight in the car and I feel awake. I get going, and Sundsvall and Stockholm come and go, before I know it I’m heading in to Helsingborg just before sunset. It’s all motorway now and the snow and ice is all but gone. I have dinner and fill up in Malmö and then it’s another €48 to cross the bridge. After passing Copenhagen I head to Rodby to get the ferry to Puttgarden in Germany. This crossing takes about 30 minutes and while on board I book a hotel in Hamburg for the night and the Hook of Holland to Harwich ferry for 22:00 the following day.
I leave the ferry at Puttgarden, and now its 11pm, Hamburg is 100 miles away. I arrive in Hamburg by midnight, find the hotel, park the car and I’m asleep by 1am.
Day 18 Thursday 17th March
You can’t beat a good night’s sleep, and luckily, that was a good night’s sleep. No rush today. It’s 10am and I need to be in the Hook by 9pm at the very latest. I expect the autobahn to be busy, but luck is on my side. Clear blue skies, 9c and empty autobahn. Once again it was difficult to keep the speed under 150mph for the sake of the tyres. Before I know it I’m crossing into Holland and by 5pm I’m in Rotterdam, 30 minutes later I’m at the sand dunes at the Hook. The sun is setting, it’s quiet, and because no one was around, I took my car up on a paved road across the dunes for some photos. The beach police arrive. Sir what are you doing? This is a footpath. You can’t drive your car here. You need to leave now. Sometimes in life it’s easier to apologise, than ask for permission! I apologise and drive straight to the Stena Line check in. It opens at 7pm and at 7:30pm I am onboard. By 8pm my cabin is sorted, I eat dinner, drink some beer and before we leave Holland at 10pm, I am in my cabin watching Guy Martin and David Coulthard on TV.
Day 19 Friday 18th March
A 5:30am alarm call is never welcome, so I doze until 6am I then shower, eat my own prepared breakfast, and by 7am I’m off the boat, through customs and on my way home. The A14 towards Cambridge has far too many speed cameras. The traffic is all nose to tail its rush hour, but luckily I keep moving. I get home and by 10am I have the car unpacked and it is all over.
The total distance I have driven is 4868 miles and I don’t ache at all. I look back at the car on my drive and know that no other car could have been a better companion on this trip.
Five thousand miles as near as damn it, in less than three weeks, is easily accomplished in such a great car. The car however has suffered. Since returning I have washed and had the car inspected. The dirtiness is above a simple clean. It’s even above a valet. It needs detailing to get her back to where she was. In fact truth be told, she actually needs the front PU, bonnet, front wings, rear bumper and rear arches painted. With this I’m told the doors should be blended in, and that just leaves the rear grill section that is fine, as the car has a glass roof, it essentially means she is close to needing a full repaint. That may sound harsh, it is only stone chips, but she was flawless when I set off, with only 1,500 miles recorded. However, to me every stone chip tells a story, and now I have no excuses to not drive her. I’m almost worry free about taking her out now. Some say I should ohave paintshielded her before I went, but the cost of doing that is close to a full respray anyway. The wheels have been swapped back to the summer set, and the engine and underneath is all fine. Amazingly almost no oil has been used since I bought her new 6,500 miles ago. The only other thing is the front radiators have taken a light battering, but again all is working fine.
I don’t think there are many cars of this ilk that could do what this Porsche has done. Four wheel drive is a must, so are winter tyres. Studs would have been nice, but the logistics of this probably impossible. It is really the finest 911 I have owned. I have been buying new 911s since the first generation 996 and have owned older models as well.
You can’t really choose your weather in the Arctic Circle. Essentially we had a warmer version of what it can throw at you. It could have easily been 30-40c everyday and that would have been in the normal variation for the season. In fact we will probably be told that this winter has been one of the warmest recorded. Had it been colder, I don’t think it would have changed much and may have helped in places. Snow, or should I say falling drifting snow, is the main concern I had. And had this been problematic during the trip, we would have done the best we could in the weather conditions. Would I go again?
Yes, yes, yes. What would I change?
Not a lot, I didn’t get to Kirkenes, which is the furthest east you can go, on the Russian border… Oh well, another trip can fix that!
Kindly written by Rob Turl.