East on the M62 we motored, first stop was the services just off the m-way at Howdon, it so happens that my mate Barry and Tina were also heading out too and so we met up and say hello, they were heading for Bulgaria to their property (still being built) whilst we were heading for Iceland.
Lucky for P&O that we were travelling on different boats, otherwise the bar staff would have been a bit busy! Time was short but it was great to see them again, waving goodbye and bon voyage was short-lived as they turned up later in our lane at the check-in booths! P&O were using just the one gate to process both ours and the Zeebrugge travellers. From here they peeled off through another gate to their ferry in the other dock just a couple of hundred metres away. I don’t know if this is a permanent cost saving change but it does make sense!
Once loaded in the black bowels we trudged up and up from deck 3 to deck 8, the stairs seemed to go on forever and our knees felt it! The chap at the top directing folk to their cabin had to wait for us to get our breath back before quoting our cabin number. We ditched our kit in our overnight cell before heading for the bar, a drink and a rest. The boat wasn’t due to sail for a couple of hours, in fact it didn’t move until we finished dinner, we sat and watched the shoreline pass by, spotting the large Blackburn Beverly aircraft in its old desert colours through the trees at the Paul castle museum. The evening was still and warm the sea was also still…which was good, having just eaten. Standing at the stern later we continued to watch the east coast as it diminished from view, had a few more drinks then retired to bed. Determined for once to be “up and at em” feeling as fresh as a daisy, this was only possible coz we were travelling alone! Pete and the rest of the group were travelling from Harwich to Hook of Holland, we wouldn’t see them until the night before the ferry to Iceland and would have a few days on our own. Yes we were going with Atlas Overland 4×4 adventures again.
At the stern at 07’00 as we pass the Dutch breakwater of concrete boulder.
The Rotterdam Euro-port is impressive in its massive size and its complexity and their still adding to it, gobbling up reclaimed land south towards Zeeland. We had passed the breakwater but were still a good 45 minutes away from the dock.
BIG port..BIG ships!
Everyone gets a bit itchy when the bow doors open and are eager to get going either on holiday or home. We settle in our seat and Julie gets the paperwork ready for the waiting Dutch authorities, a few questions and a wave and we were on our way, slowly making our way our of the port onto the motorway following an estuary on this bright sunny day. I have lost count how many times I’ve driven down this road over the years but the excitement stays the same every time.
Today would be a long mile crunching slog north-east across Holland into Germany at Osnabruck, passing Bremen before turning north passing Hamburg on its ring-road having first dived under the massive river Elbe. Hamburg also has a massive seaport, the ships and huge cranes we saw on our left as we pass. Everything is just so big. Denmark was about a hundred miles away and our progress had been good in fairly light traffic but now that all changed as we entered road works on the E45. This is a 3 year programme to widen it and every bridge from Hamburg to the Danish border. Oh bugger! The speed was down to about 40mph now and stayed that way for most of the remaining journey. The camp site was near Neumunster, I’m glad I chose one around hear and didnt overstretch our day by choosing one further north at the planning stage weeks ago.
The camp was down a couple of ” iggly piggly ” rural roads and quite a nice place with a massive lake and very much oriented for the kids with swings slides and all kinds of climbing frames dotted around the lake. The tent area was separate from the statics of which there seemed to be hundreds of! I guess about a dozen or more campers and caravans joined is by the end of the night. A very nice and adequate place to rest up for the night.
Stretching ones legs in a Land Rover Defender 90 is quite impossible so any time she can she does, its been a long day just sitting up straight and checking our progress using the map and helping me with coming turns and spotting for traffic when entering new motorways, We Defender guys have blind spots especially over our left shoulder. Today was a long day of about 7 hrs driving and covering just over 400 miles.
Morning brings the cloud and a damp start, undeterred I get the bacon going on the Coleman fire, filling it with petrol and pumping the plunger to get that nice strong blue flame, Julie still hates it with a passion as it lights with a little “whumph” and the vapours ignite, occasionally the ignition isn’t as instant and certainly wakes one up as the growing vapour cloud eventually ignites…WHOOMPH! Ooh you fooker! I usually replied…
We have the tent down. Julie has the chairs and beds in their bags and the bedding stowed in the truck, the rest of the stuff slot back into place and I chuck the tent on the roof, following it up to strap it down. From waking washing cooking eating cleaning and packing away to leaving usually takes two un-rushed hours, we would be up at seven every day from now on doing the same routine.
At 09.30 we left the sight and head north again only this time no road works, they hadn’t started this far north yet we drove crossing into Denmark with showers and overcast conditions at Flensburg, at the border the Danes had put border checks in place their police and military were busy, for us though it was a nod and a wave through and not too much of a trouble. The news from guys coming the next day was of long hold ups here. We stuck to the M-ways again as we had the length of Denmark to cover, which is do-able in a Defender in a day. Denmark is a clean but very flat country so not a lot to speak of from this day on the motorway passing Kolding.. Aarhus..Viborg and Aalborg, here we left the main route north to take in some of the back roads for our last thirty miles to the north-west coast and the camp-site at Tornby which is just a few miles south of Hirtshals and our ferry port. we had a free day here though and would be exploring in the morning.
Now as you know every camp-site has its own population of long-term residents with caravans and chalets on summer long vacations. This site was no different..and every site has its own kind of sweepers that look out for any food left around and generally keep the place tidy, In the past I’ve seen pusy cats…couple a ducks..sparrows..blackbirds etc..a little friendly dog owned by the site operators but never before have I seen a flippin hare!
He was sat in the next bay, just sat there he was! Julie whispered to me “I’ve just seen a hare outside the tent” I peered out with the camera and there he was just a couple of yards away, he saw me as I moved around so what do you think he did? Lay down is what he did! Eventually he hopped/walked between the other caravans without a care later on he returned to his spot just yards away and started grooming himself before going off into the long grass. In the morning he was there again, this time he came towards me passing just in front of the truck he even cocked his head sideward and looked up at me as he passed. I kid you not campers!
Hugh was already here and had set up we simply parked next to him and went to say hello, we had travelled with Hugh last year in Scandinavia on a previous Atlas Overland tour. Hugh had an old red Land Rover Defender, a 200 in fact and had kitted it out to suit his little frame, Hugh actually slept inside his truck, his bed on the left side fitted over the front passenger seat.
So having said good morning to the Hare and Hugh we drove down to Lokken and explored the beach’s and the local sights. Yes Denmark is flat and not so huge but its beaches are fantastic especially up here in the North you can actually drive onto them the sand is quite compact and a done thing over here, on some they have yellow poles denoting a road which vehicles should use and of course you can park anywhere. We had a guide-book and wanted to see the square lighthouse on the hill that was slowly being covered by the shifting sands.
Lokken is an old fishing village, its had a make over and these days hosts coffee shops and fine eateries, dozens or so shops catering for locals and tourists alike. All the wooden houses are painted in bright vibrant colours that make one feel happy even on a dull day! Today was dry with lovely sunshine and a pleasant warm sea breeze.
On the beach at Lokken
We picked the little coast road north after calling in at their version of ALDI for some bits and pieces for tea. Next to visit was a lighthouse..a lighthouse with a difference though.
The Danes have tried over the years to arrest the shifting sand dunes on the coast around these parts and with the planting of grasses etc. have for the main part been successful, it’s a different story at Rabjerg Mile which is one of Europe’s biggest migrating dunes as the westerly winds loosen the sand which is what these cliffs are made of, the winds and the winter seas break the sand away it the grains get blown up over and inland, the mounds of sand and now there are now a couple of huge dunes flanking the old disused lighthouse which at the present rate will fall into the sea in about 5 yrs just like the churchyard and part of the church at Marup. We parked up at Rubjerg Knude and I took a hike to the lighthouse along the paths following others to the sand dunes through the large gap in the dunes I could see the now defunct light house, it was maybe 20 feet from the edge and soon it would be gone.
Practically the whole north-west coast od Denmark is in a slow state of flux as the winds and waves continue their natural work of eroding the sandy cliffs. At the very tip of Denmark two seas meet, the Skagerrak and the Kattegat and its possible to stand on the beach there with one foot in either sea! We did this a couple of years ago we here on the motorbike. We couldnt park up on the beach with motorbike as hundreds of folk do with their cars, there are even temporary roads marked out at the busier beaches, today though we took the truck down to the beach and had a brew.
For the rest of the afternoon we followed the meadows and sand dunes as the twisting road wound its way back to the campsite. Old Hugh had just returned from his visit to the coastal town and the port at Hirtshals, we started the tea as Pete and Jo arrived from their short run up from Aarhus. This afternoon everyone else on the tour should start arriving, it was here that the tour would start and end in a couple of weeks time. The tours with Atlas Overland don’t start from ones door step, usually they start and end at one ferry port or another.
Pete & Jo of Atlas Overland 4×4 adventures on the beach
In the early evening Daz and daughter Rosie turned up in their grey Defender 90 with roof tent followed shortly by the Barbican gang, Chris wifey Liz and son in their light grey Defender 110 also with roof tent these guys came all the way from London. Looking good so far we were all Defenders so far except Pete and Jo. Who ran with a new Toyota Land Cruiser that had been beautifully customized by Tom down there in Southern Germany
Time to grab a bottle and a chair and to make our way over to the Pete’s awning for a sociable evening, the rain arrived too for a couple of hours and we snuggled even closer like Emperor Penguins trying to keep outa the rain, it was a jovial evening some picking up from the last time whilst others said hello for the first time. Carrick was here too in his Disco, we met him in March on the Morocco tour for the first time, Carrick helps Pete where he can, mostly from the back with the radio and as an extra pair of eyes. At 70 something years of age Carrick has been around a bit and knows a bit about all kinds of stuff. I found him helpful about Land Rovers which he knew plenty about so a useful tool to have in ones box. The rain didn’t spoil our first gathering it just meant we didn’t inspect each others back ends like Land Rover folk normally do..Im talking about how folk have rigged out their trucks and looking in from the back in case you think we behave like dogs on tour! Lots of great ideas are often gained as we visit each others truck and I’m often writing the brand name of things and starting a new “STUFF TO BUY” page in my brown book, it never ends you know!
Morning came for us at 7 and the breakfast was sizzling in no time, Daz was flitting about his truck, Pete was away for a shower and so slowly we rose ate and began to pack stuff away to stow in our trucks. The ferry port was less than half an hour away. The rain was long gone as was our friendly hare, perhaps there was too much activity for him this morning? We soon arrived at Hirtshals and came upon yellow jackets who proceeded to guide us to the parking pen (not better word to describe it really) A shale area was cordoned off and the whole lot of us where stacked up in rows to wait for the ferry. This was a sight Ill not forget in a hurry.
I was looking at dozens and dozens of Land Rover Defenders, mostly 110’s all kited out for over-landing, from Germany Holland France Belgium and Scandinavia mostly. It was bigger than some shows back home! Once parked up folk wandered up and down the rows checking out each others back ends, We spied a lovely white little French number in the next row (naturally) It was a Defender 110 with a boxed unit on the back a bit like Pete’s Land Cruiser. Great big Merc Unimog trucks and converted Fire engines made things interesting, these were part of a company taking kids on holiday, the fire crew cab was full of kids. A Polish pair in another row also spilled over with kids a pair of Jap heavy cruisers with all manner of stuff bolted to them and there I spied something I was thinking about, large tube like containers about a foot diameter and 3 foot long he had about six al strapped together, I was thinking maybe two for the chairs then I can stow them on the roof? Chunky tyres stacked on truck roofs competed with ex military green boxes for space. It just goes to show we all have different needs and like to pack things differently!
The port area was being extended hugely and trucks were bringing in tons and tons of sand as the Danes re-claim the land back from the sea, consequently it was a bit like a building site around the port!
We had a two hour wait for the ferry but hey how fast that went as we strolled around the compound looking at vehicles and the nest of motorbikes at the front, most were BMW GS trailies and most from the Fatherland, I did note some from the Scandinavian countries. They had all kind of panniers strapped on as well as roll mats and tents and extra stuff packed away in secret places, it was a tough place they were heading for so had everything but the kitchen sink somewhere on their bikes. Suddenly the first line of traffic began to move, time to get back to the truck.
We were the last row to check in Hugh was in front when he was re-directed back out? Over the radio I heard something about his ticket being wrong. We were next and began to receive all our various chits P for person K for cabin bot no V for vehicle? She checked again then said the truck wasn’t book on and I would have to go back out to the booking office on the outside of the compound! So I sped after Hugh to the terminal building.
All the team were practically on board and I relayed the problem over the radio to Pete who had a million questions but was now on the boat. I was furious at the cock-up but tried to keep calm and was soon stood behind Hugh at the ticket desk. wishing he’d hurry up! It seems both of us had failed to book the vehicles onto the ferry. I had done our booking last December (you have to book that far in advance because this ferry is the only one to Iceland) I was convinced it was their fault but she found no record at all, I began to question myself but it was so long ago I couldn’t remember for certain, Id booked myself onto ferry’s practically every year either bike or truck for the past 20 yrs or more, it was second nature, how could I not have done it this time?
The clerk was actually trying her best and spoke to her superior The last of the foot passengers were on board and just Julie was left. Oddly, all vehicle passenger had to board as foot passengers. Hugh paid for his vehicle and he went. She also took my payment of 330 Euros, I made sure I kept the receipt and treat it like gold! I was still convinced it was their fault and now I was paying twice for the vehicle,I was going to play merry hell when I got back home! Julie walked onto the boat with Jo who had stayed back to help and try to keep Pete (already on board) in the loop via her mobile.. I too raced off after Hugh shouting “thank you!” to the clerk, we were guided up the ramp into the black hole and parked on a corner the head man asked us to return when the ferry called in at the Faroe Islands they wanted to shuffle us about. I saw another two or three vehicles had followed us on and were parked up behind so we were not quite the last on board.
Calming down I made my way with Hugh up stairs and went to the stern topside, I saw Julie and a few of the others, I explained what the problem was, off all the times to find out the docs were not quite right! Sitting with wine in hand we checked the paperwork, the meals times took up most of the document, booking ahead is what I did not knowing the procedure at meal times. I thought it would be simple to pre-book. On closer inspection I couldn’t find the truck on the document. Why haven’t the useless b**tards put it on? I was still convinced the fault lay with the ferry company!
During the evening I tried to remember hard to recall the process way back in December, nearly SEVEN months ago….
I remember now that Id found it a bit difficult to complete especially the dinner/lunch/breakfast bookings because the dates didn’t seem to fit. I remember also doing the truck because I nipped out to the garage, got the truck out and measured its height allowing for stuff on the roof rack. I remember I actually rang their office to query the dates rather than assume Id even sent an e-mail advising the dates were wrong. I decided to ring the office because I getting more questions than answers. The lady pointed out the same ferry actually calls into Torshaven… in the Faroe Island and one can leave the ferry to catch it again on its southern route back to Denmark or catch it days later on its northern route to Iceland. At this stage I didn’t know there was only the ONE ferry to both countries from Mainland Europe, the mud cleared and the dates fit now! So with her help over the phone we amended the booking. I thought it a bit complicated to begin with was now feeling happy and wiser to have telephoned them.
We steamed over calm waters off the coast of Norway it was calm but I was still a bit troubled so went to Reception, Hugh was also feeling troubled and wanted full confirmation of everything on paper in his hand. He’d found now that all his meals though pre-booked had been cancelled by “someone” and was feeling pretty fed up! He had one of the staff go with him back to the restaurant to have his name put back onto the list. What a 72nd birthday Hugh was having! Now it was my turn, I wanted written confirmation that my truck was booked on the return journey and not having to rely on my separate receipt stating Id paid SMYRIL LINE 330 Euros, I didn’t feel it enough to guarantee my return journey. The girl agreed and asked me to come back in an hour? an hour because she now had to email their office in Hirtshals (Denmark) to confirm the booking then to email their main office in Torshaven (Faroe Islands) to get the document amended and sent to her on the ferry. All through the day this went on, another guy I overheard at the desk was also having similar vehicle booking issues…many conversations were in English between staff and some Europeans..the internet wasn’t helping and was intermittent. At dinner I was tannoyed to reception where Bjort…yes on first name terms by now…had news that it was all sorted and handed me a new amended document AND a handful of beer tokens as a sorry!
I gave Julie the new and sat down to dinner, steak again.. Indeed the truck was now on the document and it had the length included but not the height for some reason, the funny thing was that this differed by two feet on the return journey do they know something I dont? …. Hang on a minute…pending? WTF does PENDING mean on this bit of the return booking. Off I went back to reception. This time I grabbed someone with a bit of gold braid. He explained that for the return trip I was deffo booked on the ferry from Iceland to Faero Island but not deffo booked on the ferry from Faero to Denmark. It was guaranteed by the loading officer he said He was so calm when he said this, in fact they all were really, like it happens all the time? You WILL be on sir even if we have to tell someone on Faroe its full! Bjort said its OK these things, happen call it the Faroeese way. It wasn’t a great situation to be in and wasn’t impressed at how they resolved issues and I did feel sorry for the guys at reception their hands appeared tied and had to rely on head office, all they could do was send and receive emails IF the internet was working and offer printouts! At the end of the day I should have checked the travel document more closely, I guess me seeing the £2000+ led me to assume the vehicle had been booked on. Another final twist was when I booked the truck on ant the terminal office back in Denmark it was turned out to be £61 cheaper then everyone else, work THAT one out!! This caused others in the group to give their doc a closer look and Carrick found that he’d been charged for three or four cabins!! He had a few visits to reception too. Im happy to report that his credit card received some money as we made our separate journeys back home through Denmark Germany Holland. Hugh was going to write and complain on his return. I myself am going to take it on the chin coz if Id done it right in the first place I wouldn’t be sat here typing the sorry tale to you guys and taking up blogging time!
At Faroe Hugh and I were escorted down to the car deck to move our trucks, Bjort from reception escorted us down below but got a bit lost bless! She had been on board about 9 months but works in reception and had never been down below, so we in fact escorted Bjort to our trucks and the main deck handing officer. He told us to drive down to the stern, a who line was empty as vehicles had disembarked. I was pointed to a gap between a car and a big blue fire truck it wasn’t very wide but enough for me to sneak into nose first. being a 90 meant my ass I didn’t stick out far! I had to squeeze out between my half open door and the radiator bull bar of the Ex fire engine. This is why vehicle passengers are not allowed to embark into the hold, its a bit manic as vehicles are shoved into every hole available.. sideways or longways and so the less people wandering around the car deck the better.
Wedged in sidewards with the blue Ex fire engine at my elbow
So finally after two and a half days sailing and much loitering at the reception desk we arrived at Iceland, it was in the afternoon, and were still 3 hrs late, unusual that we hadn’t made the time up like the more usual P&O Ferries, Brittany Ferries or Stenna Line But hey this was is the one and only ferry of the Smyril Line and they operate the Faroee’an way. Check you bloody documents if your coming this way folk!
I’m gonna stop here for a bit folks I’m getting flashbacks but stay tuned for more very soon!