Camp Ripan is quite the resort, with a water park and all sorts of entertainments for the Nordic traveller. First stop then, in the land of reindeer and the midnight sun…mini-golf! Tom won, so no need to say much more about that, suffice to say that my superb shot on the very difficult fifteenth hole gave me the moral victory I think. Tom was thrilled to have a huge water slide to play on after several long driving days and we all enjoyed wallowing in the heated outdoor pools. The sun came out yet again and really, it couldn’t have been nicer.
After mushrooms on toast in Thor, and filling up with fresh water (for the first time since we set off) we got back on the road.
This region – though still beautiful – is quite industrialised too. As well as being a centre of iron ore production, Sweden’s biggest gold mine is here, and yesterday we passed three tiers of hydroelectric dams as we climbed up alongside a river. The E14 North to Abisko follows the railway line and we were passed by a couple of rumbling freight trains laden with iron ore. There were small stations too; just red-painted wooden houses with a sign, looking like they hadn’t changed in the decades.
The trucks heading south from Norway and Finland are tough, slab-fronted road trains, with multiple spotlights and sturdy mesh bolted over their tall radiator grills to smash aside any moose or elk unfortunate enough to get in their way. While the trucks are getting bigger, the trees – our constant roadside companions on this trip – are shrinking. The giant swaying conifers are long gone, replaced now by scrubby aspen and birch struggling to grow in this harsh and boggy landscape. The smaller vegetation does mean that we can see a bit further and for the first time, there are mountains off in the distance with splashes of snow.
We pull off at a deserted Sami fishing camp and walk down to the beach to find single story red cabins surrounded by orange and yellow poppies. Philippa and Tom go up to their ankles in the lake until they lose all feeling below the knee, while I poke about between the cabins on shore.
The larger ones have boat ramps down to the water, and one has little pots of dried flowers in its windows.
The sun is dazzling on the shingle, but the sky is dark and threatening over the mountains on the other side of the lake and the effect is magical. When filming at work we always try to wait for the “golden hour” when the sun is low in the sky and everything is lit up. This far north, at this time of year, it seems to be the golden hour almost perpetually.
Abisko has a good sized supermarket and a few souvenirs. P and I buy a couple of Swedish mugs, so we dont have to have tea in the plastic camping set in Thor. There is a campsite too, but yet again everyone is packed altogether on a rather dispiriting patch of gravel and we decide to find some free camping tonight
. Unlike in the US where someone owns all the land and you can only camp at designated sites, Norway and Sweden start from the basis that you can camp anywhere for a day or so as long as you do no damage and are at least a hundred and fifty meters from someone’s front door. At the tourist info place down the road, a mountain guide tells us about a small area by a lake a few more K down the road. That is where we are now, the three of us with drinks and books (and an iPad) looking out across the lake to the rolling mountains beyond with the sun occasionally blasting through turbulent clouds. A couple in a rather nifty aluminium caravan are the only other free campers so far and they remember Tom from the Sami museum in Jokkmokk. We all agree that we would much rather be camped in front of this view than squashed up in a campground.
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