October is rarely a month that one chooses to spend heading north. With every flock of migratory birds we opposed, we had to remind ourselves why it was we were doing this. When the rain and the wind picked up, we really started struggling for answers. Then we reached Haapsalu, and were swiftly gifted a reminder of the little surprises that travel can hold in store at any time of the year. As well as being a quaint spa town with a quirky vibe, stunning episcopal castle and scenic promenade, its disused railway station has now become home to a graveyard of Soviet trains. Thanks to my love of anything a) Soviet and b) abandoned, I was elated to be able to explore, climb-on and photograph every different train from every different era, from steam through diesel and electric.
Waking the next morning, we hurried to catch the ferry to the largest of the Estonian Islands; Saaremaa for a couple of endurance-testing days hiking its remote northern coast. A brief supply run swiftly made us decide we needed an hour to explore its capital; Kuressaare. We wandered the old moated castle ruins for most of that time, before pushing north to reach our camp for the night.
We reached the Vilsandi Peninsula in darkness and after navigating some dubious forest tracks, managed to reach our camp spot. We spent the next day hiking the area around the remote coastlines, secluded lakes, vast forests and desolate plains. If not for the persistent, bitter arctic wind, you could have been forgiven for assuming you were in a southern spanish desert, rather than about as north as you can get in mainland europe.
After half an hour or so of trudging through the undulating, sandy wasteland, the trees started and soon, we found ourselves at the lake that marks the centre of the peninsula.
After completing the circuit of the lake, we made our way back via the forest tracks and started the journey back towards mainland Estonia. It is an unforgettable drive, from windy forest to long straight coast roads which barely rise above the sea: especially beautiful against the backdrop of a long, northern autumn sunset.
After returning to the mainland and finding a spot to rest we awoke to start the long journey south. As much as I have loved the Baltic states, I am now more than ready for a change of scenery. For our last night in Estonia we chose to stop at a particularly beautiful stretch of coast to explore and feel that cold, crisp sea air for the last time before leaving for Riga.
We had a superb time in Estonia. I hope to return in the not-too-distant future and complete the 370km traverse of the country’s forest cycle trail from north to south, although perhaps take that on in the warmer months. Among its best feature for our purpose, was the state forestry’s network of tracks and free camp sites that made the vast forest and wilderness of this country so much more accessible. If you are planning a visit to Estonia, each town has a tourist information, with helpful staff and plenty of free maps to help you find the walking and cycling trails in the area. The campsites all have stoves, a cache of firewood and seating areas, most have toilets and all are well kept.