Heading North

Sunday 20th June 2005

In less than half an hour's flying we were over northern Germany and the Kiel canal was clearly visible. We listened to the German pilots chat jovially to one another and Ross, who is fluent in German, asked if we could turn the volume up - he was enjoying it so much. Worrying.

The fractured landscape of southern Denmark, described well by Bill Bryson as a 'broken plate', looked stunning in the morning sunshine. Land and sea jostled for dominance and there were beautiful islands wherever we looked. The water was so clear that we could see the beaches shelving away underwater from five thousand feet up.

As we turned east to route via Copenhagen's airspace we got two small and unwelcome surprises. There was a bank of cloud cover over that part of Denmark and the Copenhagen controllers refused to let us through their airspace at any height despite our destination, Malmo, being just east of them. This required diverting half an hour south and over more water than would have been ideal. It may seem harsh but this experience tainted our view of Denmark a little, it seemed to be the only place in north Europe with bad weather and inflexible controllers.

Malmo was a classic medium sized airport with grand pretensions. It reminded me of Bristol, another airport that can at times view itself in a slightly more grand light than the rest of the world does. It was however a very functional place to refuel ourselves and the plane. We were granted access to airside after being requested by an intercom voice for me to place my pilot's licence on a scanning screen for inspection. The voice then pressed a switch somewhere, a red light turned green and the door unlocked.

Once airborne we soon got a first glimpse of a sight that was to become very familiar: pine forests. Sweden is home to a lot of pine trees and has a booming paper industry as one consequence. We both couldn't help commenting on what a different lifestyle the land below us must lead to compared to our London ones. Endless forests, green open spaces, lakes and dots of pretty houses. In fact it was so rural that it would have been tempting to think of Sweden as a developing country, but the opposite is closer to the truth: they have one of the highest incomes per capita in the world.

Our route took us between the two huge lakes: Vanern and Vattern. We made sure that our lifejackets were to hand, because if we had been forced to route over these vast ponds we would definitely have gone beyond gliding range of land.

We carried on up and over the forests and lakes and landed at Orebro late in the afternoon. It was a pretty desolate place - a classic cargo airport, albeit manned by friendly people, but we were not hugely keen to stay there. The key factors in our favour were the length of daylight, we were getting far enough north for the nights to be very short, and the continuing excellent weather. We did our best to refresh ourselves and then set off again.

We tracked north east until hitting the east coast at Gavle and then followed it north over Soderhamn and Hudiksvall to Sundsvall. The coastline was stunning in places and although the sun was low, light was not an issue. The approach to Sundsvall took us downwind towards the hills and then we turned and our finals took us low over the estuary. It was 9.30pm when we put the brakes on. We had been flying for nine hours and spent the day in or over four countries. We had also brought our goal within striking distance. I had wrestled with the safety implications of doing so much flying in one day, it is impossible to be as fresh at the end of three good length flights as you are at the start of the day. However the conditions were so perfect that I decided that a lot of flying in ideal conditions was preferable to flying less each day in potentially more marginal conditions.

Sundsvall was another fairly charmless cargo airport unfortunately and clearly not a major part of the town's life. We waited for nearly an hour for a taxi. The only way of getting some food was a ten minute walk out of town along a busy road to a McDonalds. It was a bit of a disappointment, but we were too tired to worry too much. We spent the night in a Travelodge style hotel which was all we needed, I think we would have happily have slept in a barn.


The land and sea of Denmark



Spreading some charts over the wing in Orebro



Mixing it with the fluffy stuff



Natural Navigation Book