The Ice road cometh

Driving across the frozen Baltic Sea in an aristocratic Jaguar XJ6

4y ago

The Boeing’s wing dipped as it turned onto finals, revealing a frozen ocean, dotted with islands and glistening in the sunlight. As we touched down, the Jag was still 200 miles south, purring its way through the snow from Riga. After effortlessly clearing customs at Tallinn’s international airport, I got the bus to the old town and went for an explore, passing time until the car arrived.

And arrive it did, at about 6pm – covered in 2,000 miles of grit and grime, and looking rather sorry for itself in the half light, with it’s trademark chrome grille covered in gaffa tape against the cold. Tom and Laura jumped out surprisingly full of energy after their 6 day marathon – and promptly dragged me back into the pub I’d just vacated for a cheap pint or 7.

And so we nursed our hangovers 80km East towards the town of Haapsalu, and the start of our ice road adventure. So far this season, two ice roads have been opened – a 10.2km route across the sea ice to the island of Vormsi, and a shorter one from Haapsalu to the Noarootsi peninsula – a far cry from last season when all 6 of the possible ice roads were in condition. We headed for the longest ice road first, attached the union jack to the back of the HMS Jag, and were soon driving along a track of compacted snow as the shoreline passed unseen beneath us.

Estonia’s Ice roads have a rather esoteric highway code – no seatbelts, no vehicles over 2.5 tonnes, no stopping, and no cruising at between 30 & 45km/h. After firing up a stirring rendition of ‘Rule Britannia’ on the stereo, we accellerated up to a comfortable 70km/h cruise, and wafted across the ocean, a ferry slowly plying it’s channel in the ice a few hundred metres to our left.

There was no unusual sensation which accompanied driving on the frozen sea ice, nothing to differentiate the experience from driving on a frozen backroad, other than the constant niggling thought that there was only 25cm of ice keeping two tonnes of car and the Baltic sea a safe distance apart.

And so soon we wafted up onto the shores of the island of Vormsi, having put a 7 mile ocean crossing behind us. Quickly realizing that out of season, there’s not a huge amount to do on said island, we promptly spun the Jag around and headed back across the Ice, beating the ferry back to the mainland by about 90 seconds.

After a spot of pizza, we headed over to the second ice road. Shorter but twistier, it offered a similar experience, but with the bonus that with corners came the opportunity to have some fun with the rear wheel drive Jag, drifting it like a rally car on the friction-less surface – Lairy oversteer on the Baltic sea was, quite frankly, a box which needed ticking!

From the second ice road, we returned to Tallinn, from where we took the ferry to Helsinki, Finland. And it was in Finland that the Jag's wheels met their match, breaking through the ice while driving another ice road. The full story of its close encounter with the Baltic is coming soon.

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