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Published: September 5th 2009
Hans Christian Andersen helped to put this pretty little town on the map
Motorhome News from Europe 25.
Sweden 28th June 2005
Heading north along the Baltic coast
The eight hotels in the small town of Tallberg (pop 400) on Lake Siljan fill up with tourists each year for the few weeks of summer. Even the Japanese come here on their four day tour of Europe we’re told! Hans Christian Andersen came here once too, in 1850 (did he come by horse-drawn carriage?). It was his record of the beautiful hilltop views across the lake and the charismatic traditional dwellings that put the village on the map - though it’s my belief that it comes nowhere near Stow-on-the Wold or Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds! Nice though, and the craft workshops were fascinating. They were busy cutting the grass and dressing the Mid-Summer pole for this weekend’s celebrations.
Bright red Dala wooden horses, richly decorated in high gloss paint, are a symbol of rural life here in Sweden and most homes sport one or two on the mantle-piece. They are hand carved in the village of Nusnas on our route north so we made a detour to see the men at work. You can buy
blanks in the gift shop, in a kit that comes with a knife and plasters! I chatted a while with the grey haired carver, retired early from the defunct shipping industry and now enjoying the easy creative life in his wife’s home town. We talked about whittling and soon Baden Powell and the Scouts came up in conversation. Before long we were into the first verse of ‘Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie watcha, ging gang goo, ging gang goo,’ dib-dibbing and dob-dobbing!
I think the last time we went to a zoo where the animals lived in their natural surroundings, was way-back-when in Darwin with our Aussie friend Joe. The temptation to see native animals here in Sweden got the better of us and we stopped off at Jarvso in time to see them feeding the wolves. Despite living in captivity and doing the daily show for the visitors they were extremely skittish, showing all the characteristics of animals in the wild. It was good to get to see those animals which we are unlikely to find even in some of the remote areas we hope to visit in the coming weeks. The 3km boardwalk through
the forest at Jarvso Zoo was a great experience: owls, eagles, wolverine, elk of course, lynx, bear, musk-ox and reindeer. We are tourists really, aren’t we!
Janice recently remarked that we had not heard a motorist sound his horn since we arrived in Sweden. This further reinforces our view that this is a nation of patient and courteous people. Almost immediately we heard one of course, but surely it was sounded in greeting! The roads here are well maintained despite severe weather conditions. Main, E roads all have snow lanes; useful for overtaking in the short summer, and even the minor un-metalled roads are pretty good - just the occasional feeling of driving over corrugated iron! There are no road tolls here in Sweden and I like that in a country. It’s my contention that any government should provide the infrastructure to support efficient travel and transport systems without additional taxation. If you sneeze in Norway of course, they’ll put a toll on it and our Chancellor, Gordon Brown (Mr 'if it moves, tax it'), is surely heading Britain that way.
There is little arable land north of Stockholm. Just 8% of the country could be considered farmland
a truly heavenly island
and this is mostly in the south. As we turned back towards the sea, there were a few small lowland fields shimmering with grey-green rye; pastures, bright with buttercups and a whole field of purple cranesbill. The sight of a huge white Smiley coming down the road startled a red fox and a buzzard competing for mice and voles in a field of newly mown hay.
We met a grey bearded sea-captain wheeling a barrow in the remote fishing village of Kuggoren on the island of Hornslandet and the subject of trees came up. He works as ships Captain, four weeks on, and four weeks off on a freighter, shipping wood by-products to London.
'An amazing 54% of this country is covered with forest,' he told us.
‘The world need never need to run out of matches whilst Sweden exists!’ I commented.
It was eleven o’clock on a Bank Holiday and we were the only visitors in town. I guess we could have chatted all day without being disturbed. Kuggoren has a tiny wooden church with a standing bell-tower and a couple of dozen beautifully kept brick-red wooden houses, edged on the corners and around the windows
with white, nestling amongst pink granite rocks and stunted pines around the fiord. A few small boats bobbed on the calm waters, heath pinks and harebells poked their heads above the lichen-covered scree and the heady perfume of rowan blossom and lilac mingled with wood smoke on the fresh Baltic breeze. Any other country and this charm filled Shangrila would be full of gift shops. Here the only shop sells fresh salmon and ice cream. ‘Wacha-wantluv, fish or ice cream?’
A few miles north-west of Hudiksvall we spotted the lovely church at Rogsta, and couldn’t resist a peek inside. The church was pastel pink, tiered in three steps rather like a wedding cake. The plain interior was graced with padded green pews, a grand spiral pulpit and the most beautiful deep organ loft supported on pillars above the entrance. The flag outside the vicarage was at half-mast which suggested something of a morbid nature, but we didn’t reckon on the white coffin and flowers before the altar - and not another poor soul in sight. The empty hearse arrived as we left!
The first Friday after mid-summer’s day is a Public holiday in
The most delightful pastel pink church.
Sweden. To celebrate the long summer days to come, homes and villages across the country gather their children together to sing and dance around a birch-dressed pole, rather like our Maypole, but with two birch wreaths, one either side; and without the ribbons. We were a bit too shy and a bit too old to join in the celebration in the village near our site and I think we had been expecting some great excitement. It was fascinating, but it didn’t exactly cause a riot! A young lad called at our door in the early evening with a plastic bag and spoke to us in Swedish. We thought he might be asking for sweets, so we obliged from our sticky assortment in the front glove-pocket. The thought occurred to us afterwards, that he might have wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. Is there some possibility that it’s like trick-and-treat on Halloween? Answers on a post- card please.
There were about three hundred caravans on our campsite that night in Norrfallsviken on a promontory north of Harnosand, and we were the only Brits! The drinking started at around eight o’clock as youngsters gathered in groups and some vanished into
the forest with their ghetto blasters and cans of beer. There were a good few drunks weaving around by nine o’clock and some were returning from the forest when we were having our breakfast the following morning. A couple of police cars passed through around nine in the evening and a helicopter flew around once or twice, checking on fires in the forest, I guess. It was all good humoured and evidently it’s what you’re expected to do on Midsummer night! The more mature Swedes drink schnapps apparently and use the night as an excuse for a good barbeque.
There are many National Parks along the coast providing good hiking opportunities and we try to walk a few miles each day, on the look-out for birds and wildlife. In the past few days we have visited some wonderful forests and coastal areas along this Baltic shoreline, an area where the land has risen more than 480 metres since the last ice age, some 5000 years ago; more than anywhere else in the world. There are large shingle beaches of lichen covered boulders spread in broad sweeps amongst the pines, high, high up in the forest. It was pretty tough
..a shingle beach 480m above sea level and rising.
walking; boulders and dense tree roots covered the tracks, but the scenery was worth every weary step. Pools of sunlight filtered through the trees on bright bilberry, delicate ferns and lily of the valley. The air is pure up here, there is little industry and the land is snow covered for seven or eight months each year. Boulders and trees are covered with lichen, silver, yellow and white, and reindeer moss amongst the trees like bubbles in the bath. The land here on the ‘High Coast’ between Harnosand and Ornskoldsvik, is still rising by as much as one metre each year. How little we know about this lovely country; and how little I know about geology!
The dense forest is home to many very special birds, but we are late for the nesting woodpeckers, the undergrowth has grown above the heads of the grouse and capercaillie and whilst we can hear the warblers, they are hidden in the trees before May is out. We also missed the migrating birds going north and we’ll miss them on the way back! Somewhat easier to find are the wild flowers, here in plenty! Janice is the plant expert on this trip. Big
sister Ann would also love it here, but she has just returned from the Dolomites where she will have seen her share and everybody else’s! In case you have a book handy, I’ll list a few at the end for you to look up if you’re so inclined.
Inland is the ‘High Coast’ Tyrolean landscape: hillside meadows and cows, tiny farmsteads with huge barns, hundreds of lakes large and small and buttercups; buttercups everywhere. The cows must surely by-pass the milk stage and gush pure double cream straight from the udder. Every town and village has its own Information Boards on the road in and out and these present the history of the area and things of interest, in Swedish, English & German, tempting the visitor to stay awhile.
There was a time when church attendance was compulsory in these parts. It was recognised that it was somewhat difficult for those living long distances from their churches to get there each week, so some were allowed to go fortnightly or three weekly and special log cottages were built near the churches for them to stay overnight. There are five long rows of these 18th Century cottages still
surviving in Skelleftea, though these days they serve as weekend cottages. The proud Neoclassical church bears the same lovely characteristics as the one at Rogsta, but this one was particularly grand.
As we neared the top of the Baltic on the Gulf of Bothnia, we headed inland once more, northwest from Skelleftea to Arvidsjaur. Along this ‘gold and silver mining country’ road, the 95, we saw our first forest reindeer as we entered the Swedish Lapland; hilly forests of spruce and Scots pine stretched far to the north ahead of us, and the sun cast diamonds on the lakes and rivers.
Our campsite at Arvidsjaur was particularly good value. For 14Skr; around eleven pounds, we had a good pitch for Smiley, free sauna, free use of the sports hall, free internet and free hot showers! Tomorrow we will cross the Arctic Circle; where I’m told it’s compulsory for everyone to skinny-dip in the ice-cold waters, before turning southwards again into Finland for the next stage of our journey. Until then, lots of love,
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads - plus Todd, Ron and Erik……….. (who the heck is Erik?)
Birds not mentioned above: Marsh
with much talk and 'ging gang goolieing' about our days in the Boy Scouts
tit, Curlew, Hobby, Siskin, Wheatear,
Flowers: Labrador tea, Common cow wheat, Dwarf cornel, May lily, Arctic bramble, cloudberry, Bog bean, common spotted orchid.
Quote of the week: “I don’t have to teach today!”
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