Photographing the Northern Lights and staying in Sweden's famous Ice Hotel have always been on our bucket list, so when a chance came to achieve both goals by driving our Land Rover into the Arctic winter, my wife Julie and I jumped at it.
'Hector' is a 2009 Defender 90 XS station wagon. It has heated seats and windscreen, but there were other considerations to think about - especially tyres. So far as we can tell, most Land Rover owners who make this journey rely on standard 'mud and snow' tyres and are continually overtaken by locals on studded winter tyres.
Hector has Cooper ST Maxx tyres - with stud holes in the outer tread blocks, so we decided to get some MaxiGrip HM15 studs.
We set off via the Channel Tunnel, headed into Denmark, crossed into Sweden on the famous Øresund Bridge, then drove north into Norway. We got our first taste of ice driving in the Dovrefjell Mountains near Trondheim. We hadn't fitted the studs yet, and were impressed with how well the tyres coped without them.
On day five we crossed into the Arctic Circle. Conditions were getting icier, so we fitted the studs - and the transformation was impressive. It feels a bit like driving on gravel: you still skid a little, but it's all under control and you can brake without too much drama.
Our first objective was the spectacular Ice Hotel near Kiruna in northern Sweden. We enjoyed a cocktail in the Ice Bar, then slept in an 'art suite' with a solid ice bed covered with reindeer skins.
Wishing to photograph the Northern Lights, we headed for the wild and sparsely populated island of Senja, 50 miles from Tromsø. We set up camp on a tiny mountain road, lit the Bush Pig BBQ and cooked burgers, then loaded it with logs to keep us warm - it was minus 14°C.
As the sky darkened, waves of aurora swept overhead. During a lull we opened a bottle of champagne and sat by the fire watching the sky. It was idyllic. Then we found the bubbly had frozen solid in our glasses. We thawed them out over the fire - and discovered that champagne slushes are actually pretty good...
Eventually the clouds rolled in and it started to snow, so we went to bed in the roof tent, only to be woken at 5.30am by a snow plough. Even though it was a very minor road, it was cleared three times before we left at 7.30am. They know how to deal with snow in Norway.
On the way home we stopped in Lillehammer and removed the tyre studs. They'd covered 2300 miles on a 50/50 mix of ice and bare tarmac but looked as good as new - impressive stuff.
Originally featured in the March 2014 issue of Land Rover Owner International. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.
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