Arctic Loop

Trip Start Sep 02, 2006
Trip End Sep 27, 2006

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Flag of Finland  ,
Monday, September 25, 2006

Today we decided that we would drive a loop that would take us to Inari in the north of Finland (69° north) and then back slightly south before heading back to the base camp in Levi for the night. There are only a few countries that are in the same latitude region as this part of Finland: Northern Alaska, a fair bit of Canada, Greenland, Northern Norway, a tiny bit of Sweden and quite a bit of northern Russia. What this means is that it is a little bit colder and also pretty remote - As we found out when the supposed 'B' road turned into a dirt track that lasted for over 45 miles before losing the pot holes and gravel and becoming drivable at anything above 30 miles an hour!!! Once we were onto good quality roads again, we stopped off at a layby for a quick toilet break - All the laybys in Finland seem to have a map of the surrounding area and some form of toilet (usually a nice looking wooden cabin over a hole in the ground). After stepping out of the car we noticed some chunks of ice knocking about on the ground and lots of icicles hanging from the edge of the toilet building. We took a look at the information and map boards that were located in the carpark and learned that the area was used for reindeer herding and husbandry and was now a national park fitted with board walks so that people could walk the exact tracks the herders used to walk.

The further north we got the ice turned into a frosty coating and then into a light dusting of snow and finally turning into a rather thick covering of snow in some places (heavy snow in September should hopefully convey just how cold it was, currently about 3 degrees C). We reached the furthest north that we were due to go, Inari. A small town built on the edge of the largest lake in Finland with over 100 islands and 1000 km of shoreline. The water was very calm, even though there was a fairly nippy breeze coming in. The town however was not up to much, so we headed on after a few minutes wander and break.

From here our journey headed south, not far outside of Inari was a museum signposted at the side of the road. We began to head up before being confronted with a 25% gradient sign. Realising that the museum was on the top of a rather steep hill made the journey even more worthwhile. When we reached the top and took our pick of spaces in the empty car park we hopped out and had a small snowball fight as there was a good few inches of snow lying around the carpark. The museum was all open air and was showcasing the various vehicles and methods of transport used through the ages, especially when everything gets frozen over from the end of October. We wandered into the building at the end of the museum to be presented with a wonderful panorama overlooking Lake Inari. At the top, out on the terrace, there was a sign informing us that we were less than 30 miles from Russia and 260 miles from Nordkapp the furthest north part of Europe. All this whilst being over 700 miles away from Helsinki in south Finland.

We popped back into the car and continued a further 10 miles or so to a larger town called Ivalo where we decided to stop for lunch. I had the delight of Sauted Reindeer in a ring of mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. I have to say that the meat was extremely tasty and very tender with next to no fat at all. Very nice indeed. We took a short walk along the river after the lunch before getting back in the car and driving onto Sodankylä, 100 miles south. The terrain was fairly similar and flat with the same vegetation of pine/silver birch mix and lakes dotted around and about. We drove through Sodankylä apart from a quick petrol stop, just short of 400 miles on the one tank of petrol, we filled up and got on our way. A further 60 miles back to Levi, stopping only at the supermarket to buy in some goods for the evening dinner.

Later in the evening, not long after 2200 we decided to see if we were able to see the Northern Lights again. This time we headed away from the ski slope and into a more foresty part of the village, but we could see a fair amount of stars but no Lights, there was a light scattering of clouds that had been with us for most of the day. We decided to head back up the ski slope anyway just on the off chance, but to no avail. It did seem that there was some clouds blocking the area where we expected the Lights to be and there was only a feint glow behind one cloud. We waited a little longer, but still nothing so we headed back to the cabin and to bed. A long day was in front of us.
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