Sat in a car park of a closed shopping centre on the outskirts of Tampere (southern Finland) its -4 outside. I pull on yet another jumper, making sure to be as fast as possible I lie back on the bed thinking ‘What the hell am I doing here?’
With bigs trips like this there is always a down day, a day where you doubt everything your doing, when you just want to be back home in a nice warm house. But I’ve come to realise that these moments are important. To build confidence, to build strength, and to make the good times even bloody better.
The Big Idea
So how did I end up driving over 2000km from the UK to Finland? Well I had a job for December as a guide for Husky&Co (read blog about life on the farm here) and having spent many winters in Finland I knew the importance of having transport. I looked into buying a car in Finland, or buying one in the UK. There was pros and cons to each. But it so happened my friends were selling their camper van which they'd travelled round Europe in during the summer.
I’d always dreamed of having a camper, and with my lifestyle at the moment where I’m rarely ever in the same place it seemed perfect. So I decided I’d buy it and head over to Finland.
So meet Hector:
Getting the van ready for an Arctic winter
I would be spending my winter in Saariselkä (300km north of the artic circle) where temperatures can drop to -35 so a few adjustments were needed so Hector could survive winter. Now I am totally useless when it comes to cars (this was actually my first owned vehicle!) So I just tried to do my research, ask friends and to be honest I just hoped for the best…But here is a list of what I ended up doing (It’s late November now so i’ll let you know in 3 months if it was enough)
Legally you have to have winter tyres in Finland - So I had them fitted in the UK and actually drove over there with them on. Some people say you need to have studded tyres but I’d read that actually up north in Lapland a good deep tread is better because the temperatures are constantly low. Compared to the south where they vary a lot more - snow slush ice etc
Block heater - As Hector is a diesel his odds of dealing with the winter are even narrower so I had a block heater installed - which basically is a device you plug in and it keeps the engine. All Scandi countries have these boxes in most car parks.
Change the coolant fluid - I got the garage to change this and make sure it wouldn’t freeze.
Change wiper fluid - Brought in Finland, and just put in straight as it works down to -50
Fluid for the rims of the door (the squidgie bits) so they don’t freeze to the door and rip off.
In the car I always carry a bag of grit, a shovel, a brush (remove the snow from the roof every day) ice scraper, gloves, head light
So this was my route, as I had a party in Southern Finland to get to I had a slight deadline. This was my schedule:
Day one: Shrewsbury to Ghent - via dover ferry (10 hours driving)
Day two: Ghent to hamburg (8 hours driving)
Day three: Hamburg to Travemunde ( 2 hours driving)
Day four: Ferry - Travenmunde to Helsinki (27 hours long)
Day five: Helsinki - Kemi (12 hours driving)
Day six: Kemi - Saariselkä (5 hours driving)
(I spent some time down in southern finland so I didn’t do the whole journey in one go)
The worst part of the drive was actually the first day in the UK, because of awful traffic in Birmingham (should have known!) I was running super later for my ferry so was panicking slightly but I made it just in time. Then after that my schedule was relaxed so I didn’t really need to worry about anything.
I found the app ‘Park4night’ so helpful, it tells you lovely places to stop for free, or campsites and what facilities they have. Great little app!
Ghent & Hamburg
Unfortunately it was just a flying visit to Ghent, I was visiting friends but what little I saw off it it seemed lovely. We went for a short walk the next day to a coffee shop and I will make sure on my way back to spend a bit longer there. I then headed ti Hamburg, where I planned to stay on the outskirts of in a small forest area so it was nice and quiet.
It was all going nice and smoothly…too well perhaps.
The stupidest of mistakes!
All was going to plan, my ferry wasn’t till 3pm tomorrow I knew I had plenty of time on my hands. I woke up and checked the time on my phone and I had 5 missed calls from a German number. I wondered who it could be? Perhaps someone wanted me to move the van - but hang on how would they know my mobile number? as I sat there wondering who it could be it hit me.
My ferry must have been 3am not 3pm. I felt sick.
After using every swear word under the sun, berating myself for being the world BIGGEST idiot I phoned the ferry company to try and sort it out. It ended up being a very expensive mistake. After a small melt down, I decided that it was over, the ferry had left and beating myself up about it wasn’t going to change that. Instead I decided to head to the forest - my happy place.
Always look on the bright side. If I hadn’t missed my ferry I would have never spent the day in this beautiful forest.
Travemunde - Helsinki Ferry
I had two options, I could have driven through Denmark and Sweden then gotten the ferry from Stockholm over but as I was on my own I thought the less driving was probably better. Once you add the toll road fees, plus fuel plus the ferry from Stockholm - plus its longer then its actually the cheaper option anyway.
The ferry was really quite nice, I guess I was used to the awful P&O ones from Dover so anything is better. I had my own little cabin (I’d booked a quad female room) but after being on the boat for 2 days I realised there probably wasn’t even 4 other ladies on the boat…let alone single ones so a cabin to myself.
I packed a bag full of snacks, as food was very pricy on the boat and with no much to do I just read my book and relaxed for a while. It got a bit bumpy at one point. I was deciding whether to go out and look at how big the waves were, but then i decided that if I went out and they were big i’d never be able to relax so I just tried to ride it out…
Having spent the last year studying in Finland to become a wilderness guide It felt a little bit like coming home. I’d planned to catch up with all my course buddies and visiting the different places they lived.
Salo, Southern Finland
My particular favourite was on the coast of Finland. My friend had recently brought a house in the middle of the forest, with a view of the sea. Its beautiful, we had a great weekend hiking and we even went to try out shooting (I was reluctant at first as I hate guns) but I actually really enjoyed it. When they’re used just for sport then its not a problem - it felt a bit like golf. But I was much better at it!
The long drive up north
The last and longest leg of the journey would be the 1,107km drive from Salo to Saariselkä. I decided it was too much for one day 13 hours driving…without breaks. So I did it in two, stopping off in Kemi on the west coast.
Navigation in Finland is simple, there really aren’t many options. I’ve actually done this drive north at least 4/5 times already so I know it pretty well. Its long, its straight, its forresty. With the days getting shorter and shorter the sun was setting around 3.00 so I always avoided driving too long in the dark. I still ended up leading Salo at 8:30am and arriving in Kemi at 9pm.
The second days drive from Kemi to Saariselka was nice and short, just 4 hours and I love the drive from Rovaniemi (the artic circle) up to Saariselka. Then we arrived, with less snow and more mud than we expected but we’d made it! Hector had been a trooper, the van had become my little safety den. I knew everything would be okay because It had everything I needed; food, shelter, and boxes full of cookies!