Europe’s longest ice road

I’m sitting behind the wheel of an idling car, waiting at a lonely red traffic light on an isolated strip of the Estonian coastline.

To my left is a small hut in which a gruff-looking road controller sits, peering out of a frosty window to check on the conduct of the passing vehicles. To the right is a sign that sets out the road rules for the journey ahead.

No seatbelts No driving after sunset No vehicles heavier than 2.5t No driving between 25km/h and 40km/h

They’re not your normal kind of traffic rules. On this particular road, it is forbidden to wear a seatbelt: you might have to make an unexpected and speedy exit from your car.

You can’t drive here after sunset, or with a vehicle over 2.5 tonnes. And it is strictly illegal to travel at between 25 and 40km/h (16-25mph). At those speeds, your car tyres will create dangerous vibrations that could crack the surface of the road, sending you and your vehicle to a watery grave.

The road ahead of me is made of ice. It stretches across the frozen surface of the Baltic Sea, connecting the Estonian coastline to the island of Hiiumaa. At 25km (16 miles), it is the longest ice road in Europe.

Wolves

There are six official ice roads around Estonia. This past winter has been particularly harsh, allowing them to stay open for longer than usual.

Even in mid-March, with the warm spring sun beginning to melt the snow in the fields, the ice roads were still half a metre thick, enough to carry a steady stream of several hundred vehicles each day.

Travelling on the ice is part of the history and culture of the Estonian islands.

Teutonic knights thundered across the ice on horseback to conquer the isles in the 13th Century. Villages here have been constructed by pulling supplies across from the mainland. Bears, wolves and moose venture to and from the islands in search of food.

These days locals look forward to the ice-driving season as it provides a cheaper and more convenient method of travel, compared to paying for passage on a vehicle ferry.

The traffic light turns green, and timidly I drive out onto the surface of the sea.

It’s bumpy and slippery at the same time. A speed sign instructs me to drive at 70km/h (43mph), and as I accelerate the speedometer needle passes through the danger zone of 25-40km/h.

The ice surface stays firm. Perhaps the vibration warning is a myth, but I’m not willing to challenge it.

Source: BBCNews Read more about the journey

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