There are many ways to visit a new country but few as rewarding as walking across from coast to coast. Travelling by foot, you notice the little details that give a place its character. You take time to savour the slow changes in landscape and you see places you’d never visit by car or train or even bicycle.
Sweden, fortunately, is a narrow country, so walking right across from one coast to the other is very manageable. For the last five years Jörgen Johansson and his intrepid followers have been doing just that. I had a chance to join them for their first time on a completely new trail.
We wandered through peaceful quiet forests with sunlight gently dappling through. Much like my recent hike in Scotland, it was surprisingly hot but the forest provided cool shade that we all appreciated.
Sweden has a law that you can camp on private property for one night without prior permission (as long as you’re respectful, of course). That makes it a fantastic place for backpacking. You have so much freedom. With such unusually hot and dry weather, though, it made more sense for us to stay in the established campsites with their water pumps. On our second night, though, the pump was broken and we had no choice but to drink the acrid black lake water. Even after filtering it, I had my suspicions.
Sure enough, the following day I suddenly felt quite ill as soon as I went to bed. It was a rough night with a number of trips to the toilet. I didn’t realize until the next morning that nearly everyone was also sick.
Feeling exhausted from a sleepless night, most of our group decided to catch a bus into a nearby town. Jesper and I decided to push on but after four hours of painfully slow walking and not being able to eat anything, we hitched a ride from a very nice woman. Turns out she rescues a few hikers every year!
A night of good sleep in a hotel did wonders for our spirits (and insides) and we set off again the following afternoon.
We passed through more earthy forests and cute little villages. One highlight was Verum Kyrka, a church originally built in the 11th century and where Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA fame was married. You’d think that would make the church a big tourist attraction but we had it all to ourselves.
With the warm weather and such beautiful lakes at nearly every campsite, we went swimming at every opportunity. We were just careful not to accidentally drink any of the water!
I thought our group of adventurous walkers was quite commendable but I hadn’t expected one of the more widely read newspapers in Sweden to take notice. On our final night on the trail, a reporter met us at the campsite, particularly interested to know why the foreigners in the group had come to see Sweden by foot.
After nine days of walking, we made it back to the sea! There’s something special about finishing a long journey at the sea. It feels very natural, like a good conclusion to such a memorable walk.