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It’s certainly been a while since I’ve written something like this, so bare with me if I’m a little rusty.
In 2018 we had our usual trip to the beautiful Swedish wilderness, however for some reason it went totally unrecorded in my journal which was a huge shame as it was easily the best trip we had taken there. As you can read about here, we headed to the Swiss Alps for a new type of adventure in 2019, but for me it was just lacking something…namely the beauty and emotion of the Swedish wilderness.
Thanks to COVID we had a couple of years off from our big adventure but when our chance came around again we knew it had to be Sweden once more and we had to return to the last place we visited, the spectacularly beautiful Skuleskogen National Park – The Forest of Skule. Nestled in the middle of the High Coast World Heritage Site, Skuleskogen is an absolute gem to behold. Absolutely full of ancient history, caves, canyons and wildlife, it’s a site also known for it’s ‘post-glacial rebound’; rising about 8mm above the sea each year.
As per the norm, this blog is written using entries I completed in my journal each night on the trip, so you’ll get an insight into the internal workings of my mind and I’ll probably also be interrupting myself as we go along to comment on, explain, and expand on things – so let’s go!
Day 1: 28 March 2022
We have returned. We were here in May 2018 but it went unrecorded. I remember instantly falling in love with the place last time we were here and this time is no different. Skuleskogen is spectacular.
As seems to be the way with our trips, the experience started as soon as I got on the plane in the UK. I wasn’t sat with Olie, Jack or Dan but was instead joined by an incredibly nice chap from Ireland who used to live in Stockholm and was on his way back there as part of his weekly commute to the office (as you do). Anyway, from the moment he sat down next to me we were chatting and it continued until we landed and walked off the plane together. We spoke about our love for adventure, upcoming trips and past excursions – I’m due to do the Camino de Santiago this September and he was extremely excited about that as he did it a few years ago and loved it. By the end of the flight he had well and truly convinced me that I need to move to Sweden (not that I took much convincing whatsoever).
It’s a long drive from Stockholm to Skuleskogen, so we didn’t reach the car park (west entrance) until about 21:00. We drove through what we would almost call a blizzard to get here but I’m sure the Swedes would just call ‘a typical March day’. Last time we were here we were lucky enough to experience near 24 hour sunlight but we’re too early in the year for that right now, so it’s totally black outside and gets dark at about 20:15. It was -4C and getting colder still when we parked up, which made stripping off in the car park to get our hiking kit on a bit more interesting, but it was possibly the fastest time I’ve done it, so that’s something! It was a short walk, just a couple of kilometres, through the forest to where we were planning on staying the first night, which was just as well because we didn’t want to be stuck in the dark for too long when we were expecting temperatures of -10C to roll in.
I appreciate this isn’t particularly cold for some people, but we’re delicate British southerners so we get cold
As soon as we stepped into the forest from the car park we started experiencing a theme that I’m sure will continue until we walk back out on Thursday; we would be happily walking along a solid track in the snow and then suddenly, with no warning, end up falling down to our knees in it before hauling ourselves back up to do it all over again just a few meters further along the way. Maybe snowshoes would have been a good idea? Nevertheless, walking through a silent snowy forest, lit only by headtorches, was pretty great. Anyway, the final destination was a designated camping stop in the park (Lillruten) which we knew also had a cabin free to use for anybody who decided to rock up. We followed the path through the trees for about an hour, seriously slowed down by snow, ice and falling over before eventually coming out into a clearing where the cabin sat. You’d think it would be a moment of joy and relief after a 15 hour day of journeying, but the first words out of my mouth (and similarly Olie’s) after seeing this cabin in the middle of the woods was ‘F**K THAT’. It was absolutely one of those places where people end up being chased by murderers and crazy people. We approached the door which, thankfully, was locked with the key on the outside, so we knew not only were the chances of being murdered slightly lessened, but it also meant we had somewhere warm to stay for our first night.
We had packed our hammocks and tents etc. for this trip, but with a late arrival in the bitter cold we preferred the shelter of a cabin for the first night
We got the log stove burning which warmed the place up very quickly, ate some food and dried off our kit, and now (00:30) I’m sat at the table writing this by candlelight with a nice cup of tea whilst the others are in bed. It’s one of those ‘Peace’ teas by Pukka, but I can tell you that I just knocked it over and this book, the map and various other things are covered in tea and my reaction was the furthest from ‘peaceful’ as you could get – as Jack can probably back me up on as I woke him up with my ‘peaceful’ swearing.
Not much more to report on today really. I can’t wait to see what it all looks like in the daylight tomorrow. I think we’re also headed across the park, over the mountain and down to the coast in the morning. But right now I’m going to bed.
P.S: I really need to pee but what if there are crazy people out there…? What if I’m the crazy person…? I could certainly do with a haircut… I need sleep.
Day 2: 29 March 2022
I slept pretty well last night. I was the third to wake up, after Dan and Olie, probably because I didn’t go to bed until about 01:00am though. Dan was already chopping wood to get the fire going for breakfast and it was still -10C outside.
Everything was going so well…the fire warmed the place up really quickly, we had breakfast and were getting ready for the day ahead when I went to wash up my pan. Next to the cabin was a small stream, so I opted to use that to wash my stuff. As I walked along the bank above the stream, before I even got close to the water, the snow gave way and sent me falling through the ice. I caught myself just as I reached my shoulders in the freezing water. I climbed out and ran back to the cabin and burst through the door repeating something not quite along the lines of ‘oh bother, oh bother, oh bother‘ before stripping everything off and hanging it all by the fire to dry. I won’t lie, it was pretty scary but luck was on my side in one way, at least we had the cabin and the fire. If we were camping last night it almost certainly would have been a different story entirely.
Needless to say, this incident wasn’t mentioned to anybody back home until we actually got home – and until I’ve now made it public to the world.
Other than feeling utterly stupid, I also felt immensely guilty. Because of this accident I had delayed us getting started for the day for about an hour and a half whilst my stuff dried. Dan managed to fish out my pan using a very long stick but Jack’s cup, which I had also taken with me to wash up, was lost forever to the depths. Kudos to the log stove though, I managed to put everything I was wearing back on and it was totally dry and comfortable, other than the boots which were still soaked but I stuck with the old bread bag method of keeping my feet dry for the day until the next fire.
We eventually set off just before midday, so I had wasted a considerable amount of time and I knew that the going would be tough as there was at least three feet of snow in places and steep climbs to complete today. As soon as we stepped out of the cabin though, we were greeted by a sight I can only describe as a genuine winter wonderland.
The initial stretch from the cabin was through the forest and – I’ll use this word to describe the place a lot – it was utterly beautiful. The shadows from the sunlight coming through the boughs of the pine trees were amazing and it immediately became clear that we could well be the only people in the area when the path ahead was made of pure pristine snow. We were the ones making the footprints and cutting the way through the snow. One thing that also amazes me is how warm it feels here. It was barely above freezing when we left but it was so comfortable. In these temperatures at home I would be in a hat and gloves and layers and layers of warm clothes. Instead, I’ve been wearing what I would normally wear for a summer walk at home!
We reached a camping spot at Skrattabborrfjarnen where in 2018 we had taken a quick sunbathing break to recover from walking in what felt like a heatwave. When we were there before we had noticed that the cabin there had actually burned down and the only trace of it was a small pile of ash on the concrete foundation – since then however, they’ve built a spectacular cabin. We’re considering staying there on our last night before heading to the car, but I’m not sure we’ll have the time to walk the extra distance as we’ll be up against it with a fairly early flight. I’m sure we’ll end up back at Lillruten instead, but that’s more than fine.
No sunbathing this time though – we stopped to be nosey and check out the fancy new cabin but had to push on. The huge lake that sits below Skrattabborrfjarnen was frozen over and blanketed in a perfect layer of untouched snow. I had taken a picture of Olie stood on the jetty there last time, but can only assume the jetty is hidden somewhere beneath the snow now!
From there it was uphill for some considerable time. I’ve seen it described as a mountain, it’s even called Slåttdalsbergets (Slåttdals-mountain), but compared to others, it isn’t really that big, sitting at just below 300 metres. Saying that though, when you are walking up it in deep, deep snow it sure feels like Everest at points. The snow is unlike snow at home too. I feel a bit embarrassed to say we even get snow at home now. It really is a superlight soft powder and makes me realise why people use snowshoes to traverse it. You can’t even make snowballs with the stuff…anyway, I think it’s amazing.
Again, I appreciate this is nothing new to some people, but we’re British southerners and we don’t get stuff like that!
Luckily the tracks around the park are marked with blue painted spots on the trees as we still haven’t come across any other footprints.
The view from the top of hill was incredible. From the centre park you’re able to see right out over the Gulf of Bothnia and the smaller uninhabited islands to the east and straight into the wilderness in almost every other direction.
After taking a breather at the top of Slåttdalsbergets it was time to make our way down the other side and into the forest below. Absolutely easier said than done. The summit was incredibly exposed so anything that wasn’t lovely soft powdery snow was either a sheet of ice, a block of ice, invisible ice, ice hidden by snow, slightly slushy ice or a bloody massive rock. Treacherous is a good word to describe the next half an hour of descent. I found it easier to walk backwards down the track, kicking my boots as deep as I could into the snow and ice to get some grip. When that failed I opted for sliding from tree to tree to catch my fall until the inevitable happened and I ended up flat on my rucksack like a stranded turtle, waiting for Dan to haul me to my feet.
Our route was supposed to take us north through the incredibly impressive Slåttdalsskreva (Slåttdals-Crevice, but technically a Canyon), something we had walked through on our last visit – a narrow 200m track right through the middle of the towering canyon about 30-40 meters high and only 7 metres wide. After a steep climb up some rocks to reach the canyon which was now below us, it had a thick layer of snow and huge frozen run offs down the walls leading to some unknown potential risks below the feet of snow in the canyon.
After a quick discussion, for safety’s sake, it was decided that we would not proceed through the canyon but turn back and take a separate route to the coast.
Knowing that the canyon still has snow in it in late May (when we were previously there) we’re sure it would have been safe and frozen solid, however we didn’t fancy taking the extra risk.
The diversion added an extra couple of kilometres to the planned route, but it was a steady downhill trek almost directly to the coast. It was a route we had completed before so we were familiar with it and were able to do it with some speed and ease. Along the way we started to spot so many paw prints in the snow, from tiny birds, rabbits and hares up to foxes and big cat prints which we’re sure must be lynx in this area. We had decided that our end point would be a cabin half way up the coastline of the park which had an outdoor firepit and the most spectacular view over the sea. The track from the canyon very quickly and suddenly spits you out of the forest and onto the beach, with some places where the forest almost skips the beach entirely and drops you straight into the sea. I’ve seen some spectacular sights so far in my 30 years on earth, but in all honesty, this one particular spot in this tiny national park in the depths of the Swedish wilderness must be one of my most favourite places on the planet. Maybe there’s some ancestral tie to the place deep in my history, but it touches me in a way that’s almost emotional and homely. It’s everything that I absolutely love about the great outdoors all in one place; it has the deep dark pine forests, the ‘mountains’, the sea, the snow and the peace and quiet – if you threw some magic in there too, I’m sure you wouldn’t be too far wrong either. Last time we were here I threw my hammock up in the trees on the beach and it was an experience I constantly think about – so obviously I’m happy to make this place home for the night once again.
We opted for using the cabin again instead of camping, but that’s fine. It would be nice to test out my hammock in these temperatures, especially now that I have insulation for it, but I’m also quite fond of a nice cabin with a fire and a not too uncomfortable bed to sleep on.
We’ve had dinner now and I’m writing this by candlelight once again before heading to bed. The others are already asleep. Somehow I’ve got to climb into the top bunk without standing on Dan below. The fire is roaring but it did take a long time to warm the place up compared to last night and it’s still chilly. We’ve got a much bigger walk to do tomorrow to take us back to Lillruten, but it’s a nice one as far as I can remember from last time. I’m hoping to see some signs of a beaver maybe, I know they’re in that area for sure.
There’s probably a whole bunch of stuff that I’ve not mentioned about today, but I’m sure I’ll remember them forever.
P.S. This place makes me feel so happy. It’s like coming home!
Day 3: 30 March 2022
As days on the trail go, that was a good one. We didn’t fancy going back up and over the mountain so we took a longer route which took us around it and up to the new cabin at Skrattabborrfjarnen.
Due to the time it took to get the fire going and hot enough to cook on last night, we opted to skip a hot breakfast and just have a quick cold ‘snacky’ one. I’ve got some packs of dried mango and bits which are delicious. We were on the move by about 10:00am this morning, so still a fairly late start but we knew we were good for sunlight until 20:00 and the track is far more friendly the majority of the way. Almost immediately from the cabin we were following those paw prints again and some fresh ones have appeared overnight too.
We passed the south entrance to the park where we had come in and parked in 2018. We would have chosen to come in this way this year but it’s closed due to a broken bridge apparently. From there we started to walk along the length of a river coming from the mountain above us. This was where I was hoping to spot some beaver tracks as we had found some traces of them here last time but there was nothing. I know they are crepuscular, but I was hoping to spot some footprints at least. The winding track through the forest alongside the river, which was slowly getting further below us as we wound around the edge of the mountain, was very C.S. Lewis but we haven’t seen much wildlife here this time, so I guess a lion isn’t going to appear in the snowy forest anytime soon.
On various rest stops we took to eating the snow off the boughs of young pine trees which was actually quite refreshing and gave me the idea to make some pine needle tea when we eventually got to camp.
Halfway along our trail the clouds came over and were threatening to snow on us. There were a few small flurries coming down but the temperature dropped and it was clear something more than a flurry was on it’s way. We reached the new cabin back at Skrattabborrfjarnen in good time so we decided to make that a bit of a rest stop. When we got there we noticed that somebody else had been there since we left and they had come and gone by snowmobile, leaving huge tracks behind. There was no sign of them around anymore though. We sat in the cabin and had a quick snack; some more mango and some pistachios (the oyster of the nut family) as snow began to fall heavily. We had 2km left to go to get to Lillruten and it was only about 13:00, so we were well ahead of schedule. We waited for the snow to stop and continued on our way. After stopping my body temperature dropped and I had to run ahead to get warmed up. In my haste I started following the snowmobile tracks instead of the footpath and had to be called back by the others to re-join the path. We were back on the path we had taken yesterday, so we were retracing our own footprints in the snow all the way back to the first cabin. With the presence of others on snowmobiles and the tracks heading off in the direction of Lillruten, we were slightly concerned that they may have gotten there before us and ‘bagsied’ it. When we turned up the snowmobile tracks were certainly there but they had since left, leaving the cabin all to ourselves again. We got there at about 15:00 with hours of daylight left. I got the fire going in the cabin and Olie got the firepit going outside beside one of the shelters that was there. Even though we’ve been walking a lot over the last few days, it feels like we’ve been indoors too much and I was starting to feel like we had wasted the opportunity to be outside as much as possible. With the fire in the cabin alight, I joined Olie outside next to the much bigger firepit. I collected some pine needles, a whole load of fresh snow and put the kettle on the grill over the firepit to make the pine needle tea that had been on my mind all day. It couldn’t have been fresher!
We sat and enjoyed our tea in the little lean-to shelter as a mini blizzard blew through. It felt like one of those moments that suddenly clicks or turns something on inside you. There was nothing that I would have wanted to be doing at that point but sitting there with Olie, enjoying a nice cup of fresh pine needle tea in the snow, thinking about the last couple of days of walking in this truly magical and beautiful place.
If you listen to the conversation I had with Sean ‘Shug’ Emery, in the ‘podcast’, amongst other things, we talk about what that specific feeling is inside us when things like this happen and why we enjoy it so much and why we do what we do. I believe it must have something to do with our ancestry…who knows, maybe a few thousand years ago my ancestor was sat in that spot, enjoying a nice cup of pine needle tea by the fire with his friends in the snow.
Eventually it came time to call it a night and head into the cabin for some dinner before bed. We’ve got an early start tomorrow morning to get back to the airport. I think the alarms are set for about 04:15am. As soon as we opened the cabin door we were hit by the immense heat coming from our tiny little log stove, ready to boil up some water to make our dinner. I took my boots off and placed them next to the fire and sat there, feet up looking out at the snow as the night drew in and it got darker.
By the time it came to get into bed, it was like a sauna in the cabin. We had to open the door and windows to get a bit of fresh, cool air in before we all roasted in our beds. It’s late now and the alarms are going off in just a few hours and I’m the driver, so it’s probably right that I should get some sleep before making the long journey back to the airport.
It’s been a good few days.
That’s where the journal and pretty much the journey ended for this trip. The next morning was early and cold, up at 04:15am, at the car for 06:00am and at the airport at 12:00pm. The friend I made on the plane journey was on the return flight but we didn’t sit together this time. Maybe he requested specifically to not sit with me this time. And, as usual, Ryanair can still do with lessons on how to softly land a plane.
It may or may not surprise you to learn that I don’t see myself as a particularly spiritual person, however I believe that there is something that comes over each person in certain situations and places. I don’t believe in magic but it’s the only word that comes to mind. I wish I could put into words the emotions that I feel when I’m in the spectacular beauty of this wild part of the world. It’s not something I’ve felt in many other places or situations but it’s something that my soul craves. It’s the ability to escape all the absolute garbage of society and social expectations – what you should and shouldn’t be doing; where you should and shouldn’t be going in life. When I step out into the wild, even just for a couple of days, that weight is lifted and replaced by peace and happiness.
That is why I will always be grateful for – and continue to return to – this magnificent piece of planet Earth.
For those who like to watch things, here’s a very little montage of our trip
For those who like extra reading, I thought I’d share this with you
I’ve recently been reading the book ‘The Forest of Hours’ by Kerstin Ekman – very much a kind of dark adventure/fantasy story – based in and around the Forest of Skule. It’s no coincidence that I just happened to be reading it, I actually came across it when I was doing a bit of research into Skuleskogens National Park, as there is actually very little written about it generally. Obviously I wasn’t going to be using this book to base our trip on, but as you can probably tell now, it’s a place I’m very passionate about and I thought, ‘why not give it a read?’ Anyway, it’s a great book but I’m not telling you all of this to try and make you read it – I just wanted to share the following extract which I think perfectly describes this truly beautiful and slightly magical part of the world: