The most northerly Parkrun in the world is in Oulu, Finland.
As a keen Parkrunner with over 100 under my belt, I was intrigued by the possibility of adding Oulu to my list.
I’d always wanted to visit Scandinavia, and with the Arctic Circle and the Santa Claus village just a few hours beyond, plans for a trip started to form.
Not flying was the obvious option for a few reasons. Climate was the main motivation, but it would also give an opportunity to see some places along the way, and I especially loved the idea of spending 24 hours on a ferry across the Baltic sea with just a few good books and podcasts and no internet; a kind of ‘digital detox’.
On the way back it would be a little different: the longer ferry from Helsinki to Travemunde (on the Baltic sea coast of Germany, just north west of Hamburg), then the train back via the Netherlands. There I would meet my mum, also a keen Parkrunner, so she could tick off the Z in her Parkrun A-Z with Zuiderpark Parkrun in The Hague.
Starting in Edinburgh might sound a bit of a hassle but the 4.5 hour journey down to London tends to pass quickly, with beautiful scenery on the East Coast Main Line. Unfortunately, a train strike got in the way of that on this particular trip, so I took the overnight Megabus to London. It was amazing value, though I find it hard to sleep on a coach. I used Hussle to book a cheap session at the YMCA pool in central London to have a swim and shower to refresh after the journey.
The Eurostar to Brussels came next, then it was another train to Cologne where I stayed for a night and most of the next day, an unexpected highlight, with the city's charming Christmas market still open at the start of January – a real contrast to the commercial ones in the UK. Then after an evening train to Hamburg I boarded the recently-launched sleeper train to Stockholm.
In the six-bed couchette I had the chance to chat with fellow passengers, including a pair of French photographers off to capture a photo for the front cover of an upcoming crime novel, and some Italian pals on a similar trip to mine, but with northern Sweden as their destination. Waking up to some chat, a hot coffee and the first sight of snow was really special.
I had the whole day to spend in Stockholm before my overnight boat to Helsinki, which included an obligatory visit to the Abba Museum. Having a balance of overnight and daytime travel is really nice, as travelling overnight is great in terms of efficiency, and gives you a chance to explore cities you would otherwise just be sleeping in. I used the luggage lockers in Stockholm to keep my case at the station while I looked around. The city breaks were as much a part of the trip as the final destination – although after a few nights of overnight travel I do tend to want a bed and a shower!
The overnight boat to Helsinki was great value, with a nice private room and lots to do, including shopping and watching an Abba tribute band (of course!). The boat was much more like a luxury liner than I had imagined.
A day in Helsinki included my first visit to a Finnish sauna. I hadn't realised quite how ubiquitous the saunas are in Finland, but they are everywhere: the hostel I stayed in on the return journey had one, lots of families have their own in their houses, and there are often public outdoor saunas next to lakes and rivers. The idea for these is that you take a dip in the freezing cold water, then run to the sauna and repeat – the Finns told me they like to do this at least three times.
After one final night train I arrived in Oulu. The world’s most northerly Parkrun did not disappoint, with a warm welcome from the regulars and a nice course along a river. It was very snowy indeed! Some hardy locals were taking a dip in the lake and my eyelashes had frozen by the end. My local Parkrun in Edinburgh usually has a few hundred runners, whereas this one had just eight of us – quite a contrast! Everyone went back to the local market for a coffee and cake afterwards, which was a nice way to meet some locals.
The next day I took the train for the final stretch north to Rovaniemi, a small town just on the edge of the Arctic Circle famous for its Santa Claus Village. I spent a few days there, snowshoeing, taking more saunas, and even going to see Santa himself (free to see him, €50 for the photo), before heading back down to Helsinki.
From there it was the long ferry across the Baltic Sea all the way to Travemunde on the north German coast – around 30 hours. This was a real highlight of the trip. WiFi was available at a price, but I chose to disconnect and spend the time reading, listening to music and enjoying the views. There was a gym and on-board sauna (of course!) but mostly I was forced to relax and switch off. It was a real bonus just to be able to sit down and read.
The holiday concluded with a few days in the Netherlands, and a final long day of travel from Groningen in the north all the way back to Edinburgh, departing at 6:06am and arriving at 7.13pm.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, though I’d need the luxury of both a good amount of time and money. However, I’d much rather do a trip like this every few years than jet off more frequently. My main advice is to break the journey up a bit and not spend too many nights in a row travelling if you can avoid it. Take some books and don’t forget to look out of the window!
- Edinburgh > London by overnight coach
- London > Brussels > Cologne (stay overnight)
- Cologne > Hamburg > Stockholm by sleeper train
- Stockholm > Helsinki by overnight ferry
- Helsinki > Oulu by sleeper train
- Oulu > Rovaniemi
- Rovaniemi > Helsinki (stay overnight)
- Helsinki > Travemunde by overnight ferry
- Travemunde > Hamburg (stay overnight)
- Hamburg > Osnbrück > Amersfoort > Den Haag (stay overnight)
- Den Haag > Amersfoort > Groningen (stay overnight)
- Groningen > Rotterdam > Antwerp > Brussels > London > Edinburgh