The Highway to Hel and Back
This trip started as a joke last year when someone at an IMTC gathering told David Richards to 'go to hell'.
So, at the next meeting he advised members that he was planning a partitour to Hel and back and published the itinerary in the club's next journal (Hel is at the tip of a peninsula on the Baltic in northern Poland). We gave the tour the nickname of A Dolf tour due to Dave's inclusion of several World War 2 sites on the suggested route. In mid July 19 people, 7 couples and 7 solo riders, all set off on the tour. The participants were spread around the UK and chose various routes to get to the start of the tour - 1st night in Turnhout, Belgium. We took the Hull to Rotterdam ferry crossing and the coast road south crossing the dykes then inland to Turnhout to meet the others at the hotel. The set up is that most of the group ride the route alone so they can go at their own pace, see what they want and stop when they want, though some will ride together.
Then everyone meets up in the evening for a meal at the hotel and good conversation about their adventures over the day. Next day we set off east heading to Lippstadt in Germany calling at the Möhne Dam, near Soest, one of the Dambusters’ targets. Next morning we headed off and had an extended lunch stop in the beautiful university city of Gottingen in the Harz Mountains and then on to Colditz in East Germany (brilliant roads) for a two night stop where several of the riders stayed in Colditz Castle, now rated as one of the world's top 10 youth hostels and, of course, a tour around the famous castle with very interesting anecdotes of the many escape attempts.
We then crossed into Poland where the road conditions deteriorated considerably and the temperatures rose dramatically, and stopped on route to visit Stalagluft 3 - the prisoner of war camp from where the great escape took place and is now a war memorial and museum. Then after an overnight stop in Swiebodzin (where our hotel served us the traditional Polish dish - bread spread with dripping and topped with pickled gherkins - yuk) we travelled north to Malbork for a 2 night stop. This gave us a chance to see the Medieval castle (the largest castle in the world) which was extensively restored after much destruction during WW2. Our hotel was in the castle, the former stable block.
From here we headed north east riding part way on the main east/west truck route to and from Russia. We travelled to the Russian Border post where the Polish guard came out to speak to us and posed for a photo.
We rode along the border through an area full of storks and their nests - counting 25 in one small village! Then south east and a visit to Hitler's Wolf's Lair in the forest near Ketrzyn – his WW2 headquarters near the Russian border. Our stop for 2 nights was at Gizycko in the Polish lake district.
This was a busy holiday resort on one of the larger lakes crammed with Polish families enjoying themselves (brilliant).
Then north west and along the Baltic coastline for another 2 night stop to Sopot, an upmarket holiday resort on the Baltic and from here we took a boat across the bay to Hel. Next day we took a train ride to Gdansk, had a boat trip around the famous dockyards and to the site where the second world war started. A walk around the beautiful old city saw us shaking hands with Mitt Romney, the American presidential candidate!
We just happened to be outside Gdansk Town Hall when he was coming out and doing the hand shaking bit - we thought we were waiting to see Lech Walesa, the former Polish president!.
Our last stop in Poland was in Swinoujscie, on the coast near the German border. Here we said goodbye to the rest of the group to continue our trip alone - plus a big thank you to Dave for organising this great trip. We crossed back into Germany and visited the WW2 Peenemunde rocket research centre - well worth a half day visit. Then on to the coastal town of Rostock. This is one of the many Hanseatic ports (the Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period - 13th to 17th centuries –history lesson over!) We spent a night here before taking the ferry to Denmark (a welcome relief from the scorching weather) and a very quick ride north to cross the stunning Oresundbron to Sweden (known to us as the Malmo bridge and nearly 5 miles long).
We headed east on scenic country roads for a one night stop in the fishing village of Simrishamn on the south east coast and then north east following the coast to the beautiful Island of Oland and to the main town of Borgholm - a favourite summer retreat for the Swedish royal family - where we stopped for two nights in a hotel, charming and rich in faded elegance, which was built in the 1920's by the Swedish Queen Victoria as a retreat for genteel ladies. It's still owned by a royal trust and has only allowed men to stay in the last 10 years. Then north through vast forested areas to the coastal city of Vastervik where our hotel for the night was a former prison and we slept in a tiny cell complete with heavy iron door. The next morning we were met by Janne and Gunnel, our Swedish friends, both riding Harley Davidsons, accompanied by their little dog in a special carrier! We stayed with them for three nights in their home in the forest and they took us riding on some stunning roads, forest, lakeside and coastal, using several of the small ferries (free of charge) - what fantastic scenery. Next day we had the first real rain of the holiday - well, they do have 68,000 lakes to be kept topped up and vast areas to be kept lush and green! So they took us touring by car and we visited the charming town of Soderkoping on the Gota Kanal – the canal is 382 miles long and connects the Baltic sea to the North Sea linking the main lakes and rivers. We also visited the city of Valdermarsvik and had a lovely seafood lunch at the Gryts Varv Marina restaurant on the Santa Anna archipelago. We left them next morning and headed straight across Sweden, stopping for lunch in Huskvana on Lake Vattern, to the west coast island of Tjorn for a night in Ronnang. Then inland to Vannersborg for a night, on the south shore of lake Vannern, the largest lake in Sweden.
We headed north to Norway for a 4 night stay with our Norwegian friends, Roger and Gro, spending our first night with them in their isolated wooden cabin on lake Vansjo, 100 miles south of Oslo, reached by a hair raising (well, Pat's anyway) unpaved and very steep track. The cabin has no running water but did have electricity and a large screen TV! We celebrated with them as we watched the Norwegian ladies handball team win gold in the Olympics. The area was completely free from light pollution so we had a brilliant view of the stars that night. We then went to their home in Oslo and spent two great days with them doing the city tourist bit and were lucky enough to see Mark Cavendish, the Olympic champion, win the Oslo city cycle race.
We visited the Munch museum and saw The Scream, the Holmenkollen ski museum and tower, the Viking Ship Museum, the Vigeland Sculpture Park and had a boat trip on Oslo Fjord. (We met both the Swedish and Norwegian couples in spring 2008 when we rode with the European Riders of Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca in Spain where both have holiday homes. We have always found the motorcycling community abroad to be a great bunch of friendly people).
We left Oslo and travelled inland to the east and our last night in Norway was in Fidjeland, a near deserted ski resort hotel in the mountains. Next morning we rode south to Kristiansand and the ferry to Hirtshals in northern Denmark and a night in the town. Then heading south west with a visit to the WW2 bunkers and museum at Hantsholm and down the west coast - interesting, straight and very flat roads best enjoyed on 2 wheels of the manpowered kind. Our last stop was in Harboore, a small coastal town, and then on to Esbjerg for the late afternoon ferry back to Harwich.
This has been our first proper Partitour so a brief round-up of our riding experiences.
Holland, Belgium and the west of Germany have exceptionally good roads. In east Germany the main roads are okay but you can come across some very quaint cobbled streets in villages off the beaten track (still left in limbo since the wall came down). The costs were pretty fair all round.
In Poland the main trunk roads are generally reasonable but only two carriageways with some lunatic drivers. Driving off piste from the main roads can be horrendous and result in your teeth fillings rattling loose with potholes, gravel and humps and bumps everywhere. Prices where unbelievably cheap for a country on the cusp of transition where much money is being spent on building, farming and industry. This looks like a country ready to go places with a willing workforce and stunning young ladies! We had a job spending our money here! Denmark has good roads and infrastructure and prices were more expensive but still reasonable. Sweden has very good roads and infrastructure. The forested areas can become quite boring after a while but the coastal routes have stunning scenery. Costs are expensive. Norway has great roads and infrastructure and is greatly forested away from the coast and mountainous areas. Costs are very very expensive (eg one and a half pizzas, three small beers, a coke and one plate of crisps and dips cost £78 in Oslo!) Petrol stations can be scarce outside towns and many are unmanned with automatic card payment machines which don't recognise all types of cards so it is advisable to have more than one card.
Some will take cash but not all. Speeding - they say that in all the Scandinavian countries speeding is very bad for your pockets but we found there were few and far between fixed cameras most of which were forward facing. There was also plenty of warning that the camera was ahead and always maximum speed notification signs. They don't appear to be out to catch you, as in the UK so don't worry too much, England is three times worse. The Partitour group all got on very well together and the camaraderie and shared experiences most certainly added to the trip.
A fantastic 4600 road miles over 32 days with very little rain - how lucky is that in summertime!
Alastair and Pat Sutcliffe