The first Baltic State

I‘m currently in Dusseldorf, Germany. We spent a while in Poland to make the most of the cheap food then made our way through east and central Germany. 

Estonia is our first Baltic state and marks the beginning of the westward journey home. It is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe and so we found an abundance of woods to camp in and rarely saw anyone in the evening.

I found my first, and thus far the only waterfall of the holiday in Estonia. I’ve found that the problem with cycling around a sea is that it’s flat and so water tends to stagnate not cascade. Making it less interesting and harder to wild camp.

A good tip for bicycle tourers is to ignore road work signs (within reason!). We were cycling along and saw some signs but decided to carry on anyway, not wanting to subject ourselves to the same detour as cars. A tourer can quickly nip past the workmen before they can blink and avoid going the long way around.

We found that the bridge had been ripped up and that they were in the process of building a new one. Fortunately there was a small pedestrian bridge which we could use. Ignoring the signs saved us a 30 minute detour.

A common sight as we cycled along were stalks beside the road. We enjoyed racing alongside them as they gradually flapped higher. The most I saw at once was seven pecking around in a plowed field.

As mentioned at the beginning, a recurring problem in Estonia is water when wild camping. In an earlier post I introduced the tourers rule that:

“European churches and graveyards tend to always have water.” 

In Estonia this rule held true, but not quite to the same quality as before. Many had boreholes with hand water pumps, some had wells and used a log weight system to fetch the water. Many others had similar medieval well contraptions.

With regard to our recent experiences, I am amending the rule to:

“European churches and graveyards tend to always have water, but always carry a method of purifying it.” 

Carrying purification tablets or simply always boiling water could be a rule in itself but it is so obvious that I think most people would already be aware of it.

When wild camping was impossible we discovered that Estonia has legal wild camping spots in the woods, consisting of a water tap and dry toilets. Motor vehicles are charged €3 entry but bicycles are free. This website has some interesting information about camping in the Baltic States which is useful if you ever plan to visit: Riga Bike Tours.

At the free campsite we met caravaners doing the exact same route as us, only in a lot less time! Later on we swam in the sea and then had a beautiful sunset, the clouds are the remnant of a freak rain shower that lasted 5 minutes and drenched us during supper.

At Ikla, the border town to Latvia I spotted a cabin hidden amongst the trees. It’s not any kind of tourist attraction but simply someone’s house that has long since been abandoned to nature.

From Ikla we cycled on into Latvia, where the expedition took a turn for the worse…


The King’s Road through Finland 

I’m currently in Poland, working my way down the border of Kaliningrad (Russia!). Updates have been intermittent due to weak WiFi. 

The Finnish section of the holiday was short, only spending four nights in the country. We cycled from Turku to Helsinki along the King’s Road, a section of the old major postal route that linked up Norway to Russia in the 14th century. 

It was 150 miles of mostly forest and wilderness. We were close to the sea but rarely saw it as the forest surrounded us and blocked the view. 

The Finnish supermarkets sell beetroot and gherkins in giant tubs. The beetroot was really good, but the gherkins were soft and not so enjoyable. 

After three days cycling we arrived in Helsinki, and not wanting to be stuck overnight in the city went straight to the ferry office. We bought a ticket for the catamaran to Tallinn, costing €70. It was departing in 30 minutes so we rushed to see the two fancy buildings we had spotted on the cycle in. The first one was Helsinki’s magnificent white cathedral. 

The second building was another magnificent cathedral. I can’t think of anywhere else that has two impressive cathedrals so close together. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to get a good look at either and rushed back to the ferry terminal with minutes to spare. 

We arrived in Estonia at 5pm and had a quick look around before heading out of the city to look for somewhere to camp.

The Archipelago Sea

I’m currently in Estonia, in what feels like the middle of nowhere. We’ve started going west, towards home! 

This update encompasses the Aland Islands, sailing through the Archipelago Sea, and arriving in Finland.

A constant thought during the first half of the tour was whether we should go further north in Sweden and up around the Bothnian Sea or cut across to Finland. In Stockholm we decided that we had had enough of endless woods and that sailing through the Archipelago Sea would be more interesting. It consists of 20,000 islands, almost all uninhabited.
Our morning cycle to the ferry was the third damp day we’ve had since arriving in Europe, 27 days in. We camped in the woods beside the port and so had no problems arriving in time to catch the 9am ferry.

We felt that Aland was less interesting than Gotland. It didn’t have the same quantity of historic towns, natural wonders and interesting countryside.
We did a three day tour up to the north end of the island, hoping to catch a view of some of the small archipelago islands. We didn’t, but we did swim in the sea for four days running.

I think the problem with islands is that the allure of being surrounded by sea is very strong but the reality is that you don’t really see it unless there is a coastal road or you go out of your way.

We found a fascinating wood, the ground was covered in spongey, nearly white moss.

It was on the island that we met a Finnish farner who didn’t know English and so we resorted to communicating through gestures. He warned us of snakes by wiggling his arms, kids playing football by mimicking a goal and told us where the toilet was by… Well, you can guess.

The Archipelago Sea

Sailing through the islands was the most fun ferry trip I’ve been on. It cost €50 from the checkin terminal at Kapellskär, a port 70 miles north of Stockholm. It’s designed to be done as a cruise as well as a simple ferrying of people back and forth. So on deck there was a bar, music blaring out and lots of seating.

We sat on deck for the whole crossing so prepare yourself for a multitude of islands, sea and natural beauty. Vikingline was the company we sailed with from Stockholm to the Aran Islands and then to Turku, near Helsinki.

It is possible to sail between many of the larger islands, ferry services tend to run once a day or on demand in some cases. We decided to cycle around Mariehamn as going to smaller islands is impractical with bicycles and would also consume more time than we have.

Whilst the ferry trip was thoroughly enjoyable, it did have the negative impact of reaffirming my opinion that long cruises are not for me. I want to be out on dry land, exploring it, rather than stuck on a ship 20 hours a day and occasionally docking for a quick look around.

We arrived in Finland at 5pm, so cycled through Turku and camped just outside the city. It’s roughly 150 miles to Helsinki, following the Kings Road, the old main road that goes through key villages along the coast.

Destination: Gotland 

I’m currently on a ferry to Turku sailing through the Archipelago Sea. 

Since leaving jolly old England we’ve been cycling 24 days and 1300 miles. So it isn’t that surprising that we decided a holiday was in order. Originally I was keen on going to the island of Oland but we noticed on the map that we could take a ferry to Gotland and then another one back further up the coast. After much deliberation over the cost (£90 there, £60 back) we decided to get on with it and go.

The ferry left at 18.30 so we arrived around 21.00 and were treated to our first beautiful sunset on the island.

We camped at 22.00 in the garden area of a church, as no way were we going to pay for a campsite we couldn’t relax in all afternoon.

The next day we cycled back to Visby, the only city on the island. It has a massive fortified wall partly to protect town traders from farmers angry at the monopoly over trade.

Inside the city was just as impressive, with a mix of ruins and buildings.

After the great sunset when we arrived, we spent the following day getting into position for the next one. We cycled up the west coast and found a small fishing harbour to swim in. We pitched the tent in the woodland above the beach and then sat down to enjoy the sunset.

The sunset eclipsed the previous one in terms of beauty, maybe because we had time to find the best spot to see it.

Gotland is famous for its Rauk Stacks, the best ones are on the northernmost island but there are also many scattered around on the main island.

We saw our final special sunset from the east coast, I have a feeling that if we had seen it over the sea it may have been the best one yet.

The next stage of the tour is up to Stockholm and then across to the Aland islands and the Archipelago sea.

Cycling Southern Sweden

I’m currently on a ferry to the Aland Islands, Finland, on my Baltic Sea cycle tour. 

I’ve been looking forward to cycling through the Scandinavian countries since we planned the tour. Sweden and Finland have a ‘everyman’s right’ to camp where you like (within reason). So whilst food is more expensive, we have yet to stay at a campsite.

My third bicycle touring top tip that has come in incredibly useful in Sweden is:

“European churches and graveyards tend to always have water”

Whilst ‘everyman’s right’ is great, it’s not much use mid-summer when most water sources are mosquito HQ. And so it is definitely worth finding a church with a grassy corner hidden away. We have yet to be kicked out.

So far, Swedish churches have been beautiful and the taps plentiful.

Near Ljungbyholm we camped beside a large river in a beech wood. We walked along it hoping to find somewhere in the sun away from mosquitoes, when what do we find… A football pitch! It was overgrown so we decided to camp along one edge to catch the morning sun.

After pitching we went for a swim in the river. It was incredibly deep with a strong undercurrent, holding onto a branch and staying still resulted in your legs being swept horizontal.

For breakfast we had yoghurt and three berry muesli, all picked by us.

Cherries we commonly find alongside the road, raspberries near the deep river and bilberries up the rocky valleyside we were camped in.

We  occasionally cycle past fields of flowers, clover is planted to put nutrients back into the soil for the following year. By far the best was this one, with a multitude of flowers mixed in and a traditional Swedish red barn in the background.

On our way to the ferry port to Gotland we cycled through miles upon miles of woods. At times they seemed a neverending mass of brown and green. Having spent a month cycling in Ireland, I am of the firm opinion that moving on to different countries is important on long tours, this is as too much of one thing can become tiresome. Especially if all you can see is trees.

On that thread, we decided to abandon the mainland for a time and cycle around the island of Gotland.

Exploring Copenhagen

Copenhagen is beautiful. Its one of the best cities I’ve visited and certainly the most impressive thus far on the cycle tour. 

The main attraction is that it’s got many historic buildings, multiple palaces, Tivolis (amusement park), a harbour, and a famous restaurant street running beside the river.

The King’s Garden

Nyhavn Street

Known for its expensive restaurants and shops, the street runs along a waterway with boats moored along either side. A local told us how in the 1795 a fire ripped through the city and afterwards they were rebuilt based on  selection of generic plans. Now many of the houses are similar but have slight variations depending on the plan used. 

Amalienborg Palace and the Marble Church

Figuring out how to get to Sweden initially posed a problem. When we planned the route we knew there was a Copenhagen-Malmo bike ferry but upon arriving nobody seemed to know about it. We hunted down free WiFi and I spent ages clicking through Google trying to find it. After numerous websites I found a link to another site that explained that the ferry was supposedly active all summer but in small print at the top it said ‘services not running from 5th July to 26th’ and so that plan was scuppered. 

As the bridge is a motorway and trains cost a fortune, he only option left was to cycle 30km up the coast and take the ferry to Helsingborg. 

Reaching the Baltic Sea

Denmark is the first country we’ve cycled that properly borders the Baltic and so after nearly a week we have reached the beginning of the planned Baltic route.  The route is to cycle up through Denmark along the coasts of Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Germany. In Germany we stop off in Dusseldorf which signifies the end to the Baltic Sea tour and we start the process of getting home again. 

Our first Danish town was Nykøbing Falster, and the first town to truly feel European. The streets were full of colourful umbrellas hanging down and there was a traditional market selling all kinds of interesting foods. 

We took the the old bridge to Denmark’s main island, as the new one is immensely busy. It turned out to be a good decision as we had a wonderful view of a sparkling pathway over the water. 

A small problem travelling through so many countries is that we don’t know the languages. So our knowledge of Danish is limited and shopping is sometimes guess work. We spotted this carton in the milk section of a supermarket. It turned out to be fermentated yoghurt, originating from Mongolia! Needless to say, our tea tasted odd. 

In the late afternoon we swam from a pier by the campsite and enjoyed the blazing sunshine. Swimming consisted of constantly dodging hundreds of clear jellyfish. In the evening there was a beautiful sunset and in the distance by the bridge we had cycled a building reflected the sun, seeming as if it was on fire. 

The next day we spoke to a local further up the coast and he explained that the white jellyfish are the bad stingers, the clear ones we swam with are ‘just a bit nasty’.

The next day we arrived at Copenhagen and spent Sunday resting and exploring the city. 

Visiting Hamburg and Lubeck

From the Netherlands we continued north, three days cycling brought us to Hamburg where we decided to spend an extra day looking around the city. This was partly due to a day of rain being forcast and partly because we had heard the city was beautiful. The town hall in particular was stunning. 

We bought a day travel ticket for €7.50 each, which allowed us travel on any public transport within the main city. This included the river boats so we enjoyed a cruise down the river past the impressive city buildings then the cargo docks and finally a huge airplane factory with its own runways. 

The next German city we stopped at was Lubeck, the medieval capital of the Hanseatic League, a defensive and commercial confederation of market cities on and around the Baltic Sea. We plan to visit many of the member cities on the Baltic Coast. It forms a common theme throughout the whole cycle tour. 

After Lubeck we caught a train to Puttgarden, which has the ferry to Denmark. There are three boats, one sailing every half hour. 

Cycling through the Netherlands 

Before we start the Baltic Sea route proper we need to get to it. This amounted to catching a ferry from Hull to Hook of Holland and cycling for miles along the flat through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.

The boat took 12 hours overnight and so a cabin in compulsory. We thought the outside looked more like a prison ship than an €200 overnight stay.

The Dutch like to eat raw herring by sliding it straight down into your mouth. None of us were keen enough to try it though…

It was blazing sunshine when we arrived in the morning so we spent the day exploring the Hague. Including Binnenhof, the Dutch houses of Parliament.

The statement that the Netherlands is one of the best countries to tour is completely accurate. We cycled for days along wide, flat cycle paths, and loved not dealing with busy roads. 

There are so many beautiful stretches through beech woodland, as well as other trees.

The cycle lanes stretched for miles, often with no one in sight when between towns.

We saw loads of canals with magical floating bridges (for the boats to go under).

And countless windmills, many of which are converted into homes.

A really special area we were shown by our hosts one night was the ‘Venice of the North’. So called because every house is on its own island, surrounded by canals.

Our final view of the Netherlands was a beautiful sunset over a canal. The next day we went over the border into Germany.

But not before a final avenue of trees.

Stopover in the Peak District

After a month in Ireland we arrived in Liverpool and found it was tipping down with rain, drenching us within seconds of leaving the ferry. We abandoned the idea of a 20 mile cycle ride to Scarisbrick and caught a train instead. After the train it was a short cycle along one of the Liverpool canals and met up with our family.

The Roaches

After my brothers wedding in Liverpool we all headed east into the Peak District National Park. We stayed in a cottage near Buxton and spent a few days walking the local area, including the Roaches, a steep ridge line rising 505 metres.

The Bicycle Tour Continues

After our rest break in the Peak District we cycled on east, gradually heading to Hull where we planned to book a ferry over to Holland.


We cycled through Bakewell at 4pm and decided to follow the signs to a campsite. We meandered down a long drive and arrived at a posh caravan park. We walked into the reception…

“How much for two cycle tourers, one tent?” Thomas asks.

“£28… No, actually £32”. The receptionist quickly corrected herself and muttered something about the date.

We stared at her in disbelief, £32 is a lot for a seaside resort campsite let alone some caravan park in even a popular tourist destination like Bakewell.

“That’s daylight robbery! We’re not paying that for one night. Are there any other campsites around?”

Nope, I suppose you could sleep in a field.” She replied sarcastically, apparently expecting us to cave in and be voluntarily robbed.

“That’s exactly what we’re going to do, bye.” As we slowly clambered onto our bikes she had at least some decency to look embarrassed.

We slowly carried on cycling east hoping to find a suitable field with a river. We had no luck but did find a random field gate with a sign saying ‘Eric Byne Memorial Campsite’ about 5 miles out of Bakewell. Not knowing what to expect we wrestled our bikes over the gate and followed a muddy track up through some fields for 5 minutes. We eventually came to a field and were greeted by a wild looking woman driving an old-style tractor. She told us to camp in the field and said it £3.50. A way better deal for a campsite that was more our style (it had a tiny toilet block and no showers or hot water).

In the evening we climbed up to the ridge overlooking the campsite and watched the sunset.

The majority of our route towards Hull was along the Trans-Penine Way, a route that mostly follows canals horizontally across the country. We did a bit of city hopping to find a thermarest dealer where we could exchange our punctured mat. This involved cycling to Chesterfield, catching a train to Sheffield and camping in Rotherham, which wasn’t actually as bad as it sounds. The first campsite was council run and demanded a £150 booking deposit, we cycled down the road and found a newly opened campsite with a friendly owner.

The route to the ferry was littered with art installations and we stopped to take photos at a few of them. They were mostly around a huge Siemens factory making huge wind turbines.

Just before boarding the ferry we stopped to take a photo of a bird made from recycled chains. I cycled into the carpark behind it and found two cars pulled alongside each other and their windows rolled down with a package being passed between them. I ignored them, did my best to look like a harmless tourist and quickly left.

We boarded the ferry and the exploration into Europe began. First stop: The Netherlands.