18th March 2011
MZ 250 riding Gavin Shaw has almost reached the top of the world. What waits for him at North Cape?...
Today is the climax of my trip. With luck and continuing good weather I'll reach Nord Kapp. Slight apprehension creeps in. Just what will it be like? Will I be able to locate the Arctic convoy memorial which I so want to see?
The ride over the Stabbursdalen mountain is even more spectacular than I had imagined: tundra wilderness, deep snow and bitterly cold. I'm constantly amazed at the number of homes and cabins in this bleak environment. The Norwegians certainly are into 'being at one' with their surroundings, although the flip-side is their use of so many environmentally unfriendly toys like snowmobiles and quad bikes.
At last the E6, which I've been on since Oslo, turns into the E69. It's similarly challenging to ride but without the constantly varying road surface. As general interest in Nord Kapp has grown the E69 has been developed to cater for the increased coach traffic. Previously, a ferry was needed to get to the island where Nord Kapp is located but today there is a tunnel: all 6870 metres of it which descends at 9% into the depths where it is absolutely freezing. Riding out the other side, that same 9% incline has the dear MZ down to third gear - my fault because I was so cold I failed to recognise the beginning of the climb.The road to Nordkapp
As the road turns to the coast so I see the first of many reindeer down by the sea and jumping across the road. Funny looking creatures and highly scatty. This area is inhabited by the Sami people and they and the reindeer live hand-in-hand.
Climbing yet again, the wilderness makes a final appearance with a vengeance. The wind is extraordinary and I have to lean the bike hard into the wind and turn it in the same direction as well. The final 30km are probably the hardest of the whole trip - but it wouldn't be worth doing if it were easy!
Nord Kapp is simply a lump of granite near the top of Europe. The visitor centre is as bad as I'd been warned. It costs over £25 to enter a modern structure that has been designed to take as much money from the visitor as possible. If ornithology is your thing then there's an extensive exhibition within the building.
After taking the obligatory photo of the bike, I stand in a moment of quiet contemplation, so close to the northern tip of Europe. Then I seek out the memorial to the Murmansk convoy and Scharnhorst. My father was on convoys to Russia during WW2, and he was on the tanker in the convoy which was sent as bait to draw out the Scharnhorst."In memory of all those who took part on land and sea contributing to the vital continuation of the transport of allied supplies to the Soviet Union. 1941 - 1945."
It worked and history records that the German ship was destroyed by the Royal Navy. However the merchant ships and their crews are often overlooked and it's a point of contention that the UK government has not issued an official Arctic convoy medal. They left it to the Russians to acknowledge the sacrifice of the merchant sailors who helped keep the USSR supplied with the essential war materials that allowed the Red Army to recover and eventually overcome Hitler's armies.
I'm not afraid to admit that the memorial brought tears to my eyes. My imagination ran wild, trying to come to terms with the conditions which those merchant sailors - my father included - had to endure in the wild unforgiving waters.Time to head for home
Firing up the MZ I take one last look back and head for the hostel in Honningsvag. I've accomplished what I set out to do. I'm pleased, especially as the trip has been done on a bike which cost me £150 and has so far proved utterly faultless. It's given me a sense of achievement that I do not think would be half as great had I chosen a modern BMW. And although my trip has been hard and demanding, due to the weather and the general road conditions, it must be significantly easier now than even 25 years ago. Some of the element of adventure has been lost, and with it the innocence of exploration.
Next episode: Heading for home...
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