This adventure to Russia begins some 200 miles North of the Arctic Circle. The land here has an incredible beauty, the land of the midnight sun where I believe the spirit of the place is wilder than the spirit of Africa. You will explore the forests and lakes of the Russian Lapland near the mining town of Monchegorsk before driving on the beach beside the White Sea in the Kola Peninsular.
The off roading is extreme and you will need a very well prepared car. Our adventure through the Russian Lapland is on “winter roads”, so called because local people only travel on them when they are covered in ice and therefore smooth. Our adventure uses them in August and at this time of year they are made up of rocks, mud and broken bridges which provides an excellent challenge for you and your car. Water is everywhere and your car must be able to wade through rivers of bonnet height.
Your adventure starts when we meet at a gold claim belonging to a Finnish friend of mine, Vasanti, here you will be taught how to pan for gold in the traditional way before we head north to Ivalo to prepare for our adventure.
In the North of Finland we spend a day at Lapinleuku a wooden wilderness hotel on the shores of Lake Inari. This lake has a shoreline 1000 Km and a thousand islands. Here you will enjoy traditional Lapland food, Reindeer meat with potato and berries.
The lodges that we use are deep in the wilderness of Russia, the first is in a very remote village in the forest and the second sits on a headland overlooking the White Sea.
During our wild camping nights in the forest and beside the White Sea you will enjoy the heat and comfort of a real flame at every campsite because wood is so plentiful. The heat is welcoming and its smoke a deterrent to the mosquitoes. We never know how many of these tundra insects will be around as it depends upon the severity of the winter and the warmth and wetness of the spring, but they are slow and big so easily killed. Daylight for eighteen hours is wonderful and the evenings never stop so you need to make yourself turn in for the night to prevent becoming overtired.
This adventure starts at the wilderness lodge of Lapinleuku which is situated on the shores of Lake Inari in the north of Finland.
Day 1. Ivalo is the last place where you can provision and re-fuel before moving on to the wilderness lodge beside Lake Inari, Lapinleuku. This traditionally built wooden lodge is warm and the views from the hill onto the lake are breathtaking. It is possible and I would recommend that you take one of the rowing boats out onto this lake.Timo the owner has welcomed us here for the last four years and is an excellent host.
Day 2. Today after a traditional Finnish breakfast of porridge and Blueberries we head to the border crossing between Finland and Russia at Raja Joosepi. The formalities only take an hour because we have used this border post for a while and the customs officials look forward to our return. Two hours after we have left the border post and we are past the last checkpoint, deep in Russia camping in amongst the winter stunted forests.
Day 3 - 6. The first track is 150 miles long and after a easy river crossing becomes steadily more challenging. The rivers become more numerous and the rocks bigger. In some places we have to build the road by laying trees down across the bog, put our ladders down and drive across. There is even a lake headland to drive around in the water!!. Winching and teamwork become ever more important and our days journey is run in hours not distance. Each year the evenings camp is often in a new place. The Russian four wheel drive club at Murmansk did not believe that we could drive this route and were much perturbed when they found out that we had succeeded.
Day 6 or 7. Eventually we arrive at the main road between Moscow and Murmansk, bursting out of the bushes and onto tarmac. The steel mining town of Monchegorsk which was built in the 1960’s is only a mile or two away and it is here at a Statoil garage that we re-fuel before moving onto a Russian hotel. At first sight the buildings in Russia look very derelict but here it is different than at home. The government owns the Outside of the buildings, the inside is leased or owned by individuals so it is inside where the money is spent. You will be surprised by the contrast. There will also be time to check your car for damage and a little essential maintenance.
Day 7 or 8. After breakfast we will travel South to Kandalaksha. This city on the edge of the White Sea has an excellent market full of local food. Here you will have a lot of fun talking to the real Russians as you walk through the market. Kandalaksha is the gateway to the Kola Peninsular and by late afternoon we will have arrived at our first camp next to the White Sea. This camp is on a headland of white sand beside the mouth of a small river. The driving is somewhat easier now but can still be very challenging.
Day 7/8 to 12. Our journey to the wooden village of Kuzomun is along old rarely used tracks where sometimes we drive into the sea to travel past a bog. Bridges are often gone or in disrepair so we drive through the rivers or use bridging ladders to ease our way. Each nights camp or lodge is beside the sea and some of the evenings sunsets are spellbinding. The Kola peninsular is bursting with wildlife. You will see eagles, hawks, geese and ducks and whooper swans. The call of cranes will fill the morning and evening and if you are lucky you may even glimpse these elusive birds. Northern Gray Seals often bask on the beach or on rocks jutting out from the sea and Bears roam these woods but are very shy of us and we will only see tracks unless we are very lucky.
On our way back we roar along the beach at speeds of up to 60mph and depending upon the state of the tide will drive out to sea to visit a beached trawler. Our last camp in the peninsular will be once more near the mouth of the small river near Kandalaksha where we can bask in the twenty hours of daylight this far above the Arctic Circle.
Day 13. Thirty Kilometers from the Russian/Finnish Border is a small village of dilapidated wooden houses called Kiralady. Here a friend of Impala is building a Hotel, last year it had not been finished so we slept in some rooms above the café and enjoyed a traditional Ukrainian meal of potatoes, meat and salad with pancakes, sugar and lemon as desert. This year we will not know if it has been finished until our arrival at Kiralady.
Day 14. Back into Finland and the long journey south to Denmark On your way we have highlighted campsites near lakes of unsurpassed beauty for us all to meet up after each day’s journey. Take time to explore Sweden and Norway before you leave. Beside the sea of the beaten track are many beautiful villages and lunch beside one of the many lakes is utterly relaxing.
Rules for Russia
1. Slow down early for Custom, Military and at Police Checkpoints. They are only wanting to make sure that our passports are in order and there is no malice. The false information that governments spread around the “Cold War” is unfounded.
2. Drive well within your ability on road and observe all speed limits.
3. When off road let the car in front cross any difficult terrain before you do. One car stuck at a time is preferable.
4. Mosquito bites are best avoided, although you will get bitten a few times. Keep as much of your body covered as is possible and use deterrents sparingly as reactions are common with overuse. The mosquitoes are slow and big so are easily killed. When you have put up your tent spray a repellent inside and keep the tent closed.
1. Take a spade with you when going to the toilet as well as matches to burn your toilet paper.
2. Bears are the only dangerous wildlife but you are very unlikely to see any as they are frightened of humans. If you do come across one stay in your car or if on foot walk slowly away, pretending that you have not seen it.
3. Mosquitoes can be very numerous so it is very important to take precautions. use nets as well as chemical deterrents. Here in the North most repellents do not work.