Across the Åland Islands – Part 1

The ferry timetables in the Åland Islands are not very cyclist friendly. They seem to go very early in the morning, once in the afternoon and late in the evening. Given that the camp grounds are often 10 km or more from the ferry terminal, it makes catching the early or late ferries very difficult. I can see I could very easily waste a lot of time here.

Knowing that the only convenient ferry leaving Vuosainen-Osnäs was at 1.30 pm, I spent some time this morning writing emails and catching up on the news. Free WiFi is wonderful! I cycled the four km to the first ferry and waited ½ an hour for the 10 minute crossing. While waiting, I studied this sign and imagined the creator having a lot of fun working out what image to use. This ferry goes constantly all day so that was easy – and free.

The route across the next island is about 8 km but I did a detour to an old schoolhouse which is now a café/gift store. This was suggested by the young man at the Tourist Info yesterday. The old school was set in the forest off a small road. It would have been wonderful for the children to learn and play in such an environment. Now it serves coffee to passing travellers in the know. After coffee and a huge donut, I cycled to the next ferry at Vuosainen-Osnäs and waited an hour for the 40 minute crossing.

I was fascinated to see how much care and attention needed to be taken to load the cars, bus, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles and passengers on the ferry. The cars went on one side, on two levels. The centre and the other side were for the two big trucks and the bus. The last truck fitted with only inches to spare. The four motorbikes and six bicycles just went anywhere.

Having arrived on Brändö Island at 2.10 pm, it was a 23 km cycle to the next ferry at Torsholma which was going to leave at 3.15 pm. There’s no way I could make that, even without the delay in getting off the ferry (bicycles were held back until last) and the very strong southerly wind. My initial plan was to cycle 11 km to Brändö camp ground, stay the night, then cycle the next 10 km to the next ferry which would be leaving at 8 am.

I arrived at Brändö and thought it was ridiculous to stop so early in the day so I kept going, hoping there would be some accommodation in Torsholma. The map showed that there would be cabins there. When I arrived, there was nothing, of course! I was faced with three choices – take the 8 pm ferry to the next island which would arrive there at 9.40 pm and hope I could find accommodation at that hour, (I do NOT like arriving somewhere so late) go back to the camp ground at Brändö (in that wind!) or camp in the forest down the road somewhere. 

I chose the latter and spent the night snug in my tent in a pine forest 50 metres off the road, about 2 km from Torsholma. I could hear the wind soughing in the tree tops but down at ground level was very still and quite warm.

Cycling the 23 km road was a lovely experience apart from the wind which was so strong that I wondered whether turning around and trying to cycle backwards might be quicker. The road was well made, bitumen, with no cracks, potholes or the constant repairs I’ve seen elsewhere which can make cycling at speed a fairly hazardous enterprise. It was very quiet, only three cars. The road wound through the forest and fields, (nothing new there), over and around small hills or mounds of rocks. There were the usual collection of lichens, mosses and heather but what was different were the great walls of rock cracked by water and cold into giant building blocks. The large boulders on the mainland were usually standing alone or tumbled about in the forest. Today’s rocks had been carefully placed by giants to line the roadside and provide a flat surface for passing tourists to dance around on.

Brändö is not one island but a natural grouping of over 1,000 islands, ten of which are connected by bridges or ferries. Cycling across Brändö consists of ‘forest, fields, water, bridge, sheep in a field, forest, water, bridge, fields, farm shed, water, forest, water, bridge, village, fields, water, bridge, ferry’. Very scenic and quite distracting for photography nuts.