I had very little idea what to expect from Estonia as I rolled out of Tallinn into the left over chilly winds of the storm from the day before. It is a country I will admit to knowing almost nothing about, in the grips of the resurging Coronavirus pandemic, at the end of a summer season that had never really happened. But I was encouraged by the news that wild camping is no problem, didn’t have to worry much about routes as I would mainly be following the Eurovelo 10/13 (which I had already found signs for) and there was no rain forecast for the next few days.
My first afternoon was into a head wind but along dedicated cycle paths next to the main road and often glimpsing the wind whipped sea to the right. After her refit and finally fully loaded with food and some water, Raven was feeling as smooth and stable as ever. (I was tempted to write strong and stable there) I tried my luck with some pastries from a petrol station a few hours into the ride and looked for somewhere down a side road towards the sea to have a snack break. I lucked out with a little bench in a pool of sunlight overlooking the coast below. One of the pastries turned out to be a sausage roll with mustard inside – so I was pretty chuffed 🙂
As evening approached I start to scour the map for potential wild camp spots. I am always a bit of a nervous wild camper when I am on my own, which can make finding spots a bit stressful. Not to worry though – seeing an information board on the opposite side of the road which seemed to be pointing to a pic-nic spot in the woods I went to investigate. And what I found was free camping heaven; a series of benches, fire pits and pre-cut wood to burn and dry toilet huts, each set into their own little spot in the forest just the other side of a small sand dune to the beach. The only thing that was missing, and that I was very short of, was water.
Not to worry – I could just cut back up to the main road and get some at the minimarket in the next village. My stubborn reluctance to ever cycle back led me to follow the forest track further before having to push and haul Raven up the slope back to the road. As I did so I kept seeing hunched figures in the woods, pottering around with wooden baskets or bright coloured plastic buckets. There were all kinds of mushrooms everywhere, so I put 2 and 2 together, and wished I knew which mushrooms were safe to eat so I could join the free food feast. Instead I made my usual mistake in a new country/language of buying fizzy water (3lts of it) instead of still at the small market, before hopping back on to Raven to return to the camp spot before the light disappeared.
The fizzy water turned out to be much less problematic than the fuel I had bought for my trangia stove, which quickly turned into a towering fireball as the strong wind fanned it under my cooking pot and wind shelter. I had to take evasive action with the fizzy water. But the buckwheat was just about edible after a few minutes sitting. Tent up and forest fire averted I stuck my head over the sand dunes into the semi-gale force wind to watch a stunning sunset over the sea. Day one successful – even if I was wearing most of my layers against the cold wind!
The wind howled all night making for a very noisy interrupted sleep and it was still chilly in the morning. The stove quickly turned into a fire ball again when I tried to make coffee and porridge – so it was clear I needed to try another fuel source. But as I packed up and returned to the main road I stopped by another info board to find a very helpful map of the other free camp sites provided by the RMK (which is the state forest management service) making my route for the day even easier.
More coastal roads, more chilly winds, a flooded quarry that had been worked by prisoners during the Soviet occupation, a few kms of stoney forest track back down to the beach at the end of an 80km day and boom – another perfect free camp location. This time I built a wind break out of my tarp and rigged up my hammock. Unlike the previous night, this location was a lot more popular and there were large groups of people around camp fires and benches full of food, some of whom drive off as the darkness fell, whilst others hunkered down in their own tents, caravans or campervans.
The following morning many of the fire pits were empty but I noticed some left over coal and fuel at one and decided to see if it worked better in my trangia – problem solved, I needed piiritus baasi and a lot less wind for safe cooking! The sun was out and I had another Warmshower to stay with that night, so the day was spent enjoying the near empty roads through woodland and past tiny little hamlets of beautiful wooden cabins. And looking out for Elk, according to the road signs, and erratic boulders, according to the info boards. The riding was so easy and the landscape equally so green and tranquil, I almost didn’t want to arrive.
But my host for the night lived on a little plot of land his family had finally regained after it was stripped from them during the Soviet era and he was in the process renovating 2 wooden farmhouses, in between brewing his own beer, cider and moonshine, running a small restaurant in the nearby town of Haapsalu and looking after a mad dog called IPA, a grumpy cat and bemused parrot. He also had an excellent record collection, including a rare Russian copy of a Tom Waits album he bought in St Petersburg and plenty of punk tracks from his time in Glasgow at the end of the USSR when he had been able to leave to study art.
Having misjudged the timings of the ferry I needed to catch the next day I had to leave in a bit if a rush the next morning. Made more complicated by the slightly fuzzy head. I just about had enough time to visit the beautiful town of Haapsalu, where I could happily have spent more time, complete with old wooden Datchas and town buildings and deserted streets which should have been buzzing with late summer tourists. Then I headed out along the old railway line to the port of Rohuküla to catch a ferry to one of the series of islands the route was taking me round.
As if cycle touring in Estonia couldn’t get any better, the ferry was full of plug sockets to charge things and WiFi to catch up on things for the 90 minute crossing to Hiiummaa (which I still have to check the spelling of each time I write – so many vowels!) Time for some island riding for Raven and I.