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How I reached the top of European mainland

Mark Noel flies the Manx flag at Cape Nordkinn, the most northerly point in mainland Europe

Mark Noel flies the Manx flag at Cape Nordkinn, the most northerly point in mainland Europe

  • by Mark Noel
 

Maughold’s Mark Noel last month reached the most northerly point in mainland Europe, Norway’s Cape Nordkinn.

To most people, the most northerly point is popularly known as Nordkapp, or the North Cape – but this is an island tourist destination that can be reached by car, bike or coach. The Nordkinn on the other hand is a genuine challenge, as Mark’s article describes. The retired geophysicist, who moved to the island around 10 years ago and lives with his wife at Ballajora, is something of an adventurer having previously undertaken a climbing expedition to the Yukon and caving in China.

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It was 9pm on July 10, and I’d been hiking for 11 hours over the most arduous terrain imaginable.

Now 24 kilometres from the start of my trek, I stood at the crest of the last obstacle - an 600-foot descent down a boulder scree, before a steep climb to the summit cairn.

Utterly exhausted and standing in a cloud of mosquitoes, a check with the GPS confirmed that I had finally completed the third leg of my adventure: I had reached the tip of Cape Nordkinn to become the most northerly person on the continent of Europe.

Stretching north were the grey, chilly waters of the Arctic Ocean, while more than 300 miles behind me was the Arctic Circle which I had crossed by motorcycle a week earlier.

Standing at the edge of a barren, frost-shattered wilderness, this felt like a very long way from the Isle of Man!

The first leg of my journey began on July 1 when I left Maughold on my Suzuki 125 for the port of Immingham, Humberside.

This little bike had already proved its endurance on a tour through Sweden, Latvia and Estonia where petrol stations can be scarce and the roads of variable quality.

Nowadays the only direct route by sea to Norway or Sweden is by freight ships, which are permitted to carry up to 12 fee-paying passengers. Accommodation aboard the DFDS Tor Ficaria is in smart en-suite cabins, with three cooked meals a day, snacks at other times, and a lounge that provides views over a mountain of shipping containers.

A visit to the engine room was another highlight, seeing a machine with pistons the size of dustbins propelling the ship forward!

Around 26 hours later we docked in Gothenburg, Sweden, from where I managed to join the north-bound E20 motorway after escaping the tarmac spaghetti that threads the city.

Thus began the second leg of the trip, with a ride across Sweden between lakes Vänern and Vättern to Örebro and Stockholm, then north on the E4 beside the Gulf of Bothnia.

This part of Sweden is gently undulating and dotted with small farms, lakes and summer houses. The main roads are of excellent quality, with light traffic that includes many motorhomes. Wild camping is permitted throughout Scandinavia but I usually chose to pitch my tent or rent a log cabin in one of the numerous campsites which are signed along the way.

Arriving at Haparanda I crossed the unmarked border into Finland, riding the E75 towards Sodankylä where I stopped to visit the oldest timber church in the country.

Travelling northwards, the landscape and vegetation slowly changed from one of dense coniferous forest to a more open vista with birch, willow and dwarf pines, interspersed with numerous lakes.

Even this far north the roads are of excellent standard, the main impediments being moose and reindeer which occasionally lumbered from the forest to admire my motorcycle.

At the Finnish town of Utsjoki I crossed the broad Tana river, famed for its salmon fishing and marking the border with Norway. From here it was a more bumpy ride over minor roads through a treeless, rocky landscape to Tana Bru and Lebesby, before reaching Mehamn, one of the northernmost fishing villages in Finnmark.

I booked into the Red Tree Guest House run by Tina and Ruan de Flamingh, adventurers from Switzerland and South Africa respectively, who offer a range of wilderness experiences in this part of arctic Norway.

Most hikers setting out for Cape Nordkinn start at Mehamn, following a route between cairns. It is essential to use a GPS since the path is otherwise unmarked and sea fog can descend without warning. In addition, about 70 per cent of the route is over boulder fields and it involves two river crossings which all adds to the difficulty.

Ruan provided the coordinates of 28 cairns which I programmed into my Garmin eTrex before setting out on the morning of July 10. I was carrying camping gear and enough food for four days in the event of a mishap along the way.

The first third of the route loops south, then west from Mehamn to avoid the more fissured coastal topography and crosses heather moorland similar to the Manx uplands. After the first river crossing the line of cairns head directly north and the landscape changes quickly to a rugged arctic desert, strewn with boulders up to two metres across formed by repeated freeze-thaw weathering of the bedrock, with patches of snow. Mini-meadows among the boulders were spangled with colourful wildflowers making the most of the short summer heat.

At first there were only a few blackflies to greet me. However, after Cairn 20 these were replaced by tribes of mosquitoes which accompanied me to journey’s end.

So, at last I reached Cairn 28, Cape Nordkinn, the end of the third leg, then stumbled down rocky slopes to the shores of Sandfjorden where I camped in a remote and spectacular setting, with reindeer trotting over the sands.

Was I the first person from the Isle of Man ever to be here, I wondered?

A 10-hour trek the next day brought me back to the Red Tree from where I rode to Kjollefjord to board the Hurtigruten’s MS Vesterålen, bound for Bergen. This is one of a fleet of vessels providing a freight and passenger service between ports along the Norwegian coast, and which is very popular with tourists.

The six day cruise provided a spectacular end to my adventure, especially passing the Lofoten Islands which was like cruising through the Alps!

Two more ferry trips and I was back in Maughold with itchy legs as a reminder of my adventure!

 

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