I always knew this would be a different kind of backpacking trip. All our previous trips to Sweden, like the Kungsleden and Sarek, had been solely in the mountains, and the St Olavsleden Pilgrim’s Trail isn’t. This is why I decided right in the beginning that I wasn’t going to stay on the Pilgrim’s Trail the whole way, but would leave it at Undersaker and seek out the Jamtland Mountains.
However, it still wasn’t quite like I expected. The English guide book to the trail has either lost something in translation, or the Trail Organisation have very cleverly written it so as to not quite let you know just how much road walking is involved. I thought there was about 40-50%, and was prepared to go with that for the experience, but 95% was pushing it a bit. The sections they described as forest trails and tracks weren’t the kind of green, grassy lanes and paths I was expecting, but gravel roads…and I’m sorry, gravel roads which are built to take road traffic from one isolated settlement to another, are just as tiring as tarmac.
Still, an experience it was, and I’m really glad I did it. Every day had something good, whether it was a stranger inviting me into their home for breakfast, someone filling my water bottle up for me (I got wise after the first day and the lack of water around, and set off every morning after that with at least 2 litres), the abundance of dry, sunny weather, wonderful views or simply the solitude and pleasure of walking on my own.
I did find myself musing occasionally though on the difference between solitude and loneliness. I decided that for me, walking and wild camping on my own is generally solitude and a total pleasure, but loneliness did kick in occasionally when spending night after night in accommodation and being the only human there.
It became apparent very quickly that wild camping in this terrain (either agricultural or dense forest) was not going to be an option, so hostels and cabins would need to be used. This brought it’s own logistical problem of trying to book places 3 or 4 days in advance, in an area of Sweden which is very thinly populated with not much accommodation on offer in the first place! Thank goodness for smart phones and the internet! Often there would be Hobson’s choice in any given ‘settlement’, and the standard procedure was generally to text me a code which would unlock the door and allow me in, and I hardly ever met the owners, and I NEVER shared any accommodation with any other customers at all.
Stocking up with food was also a logistical nightmare at times. Supermarkets (generally ICA and Coop but occasionally just a small petrol station shop) were often 3 or 4 days’ walking apart, and even then not always on the Trail but maybe a 2 mile round trip off the route.
I must emphasise though that it was fun, and of course problems like that are there to be solved on these kind of trips, and it’s good to know that you can solve them.
Reaching Ostersund felt like a real milestone and it was there that I enjoyed the hospitality of some friends and their gorgeous Boxer dogs, and had a couple of rest days. Around this time, however, I did hit a wall of homesickness. This took me by surprise and for a few days I wasn’t really thinking straight, but did know that I had had enough of road walking and so decided to skip a few days and go straight to the mountains from there. I also eventually decided that I needed to stop pushing myself so hard and chill a bit, and to this end stopped walking towards the Atlantic coast and starting walking in circles instead – ie: using the Valadalen Fjallstation as a base in Jamtland, and doing day walks exploring that side of the Fells. Gradually, my mind sorted itself and I had a really enjoyable week there. Every day I still walked on my own, but every evening and breakfast time met up with like minded people to chat to and swap experiences with. It was fun, with plenty of good humour and laughter.
The final bit across Norway then (which is only about 50 miles wide at that point) was done on the train, and what a treat! It really was a journey worth taking – snaking down around mountains, descending narrow valleys, the train at times almost at walking pace due to both the gradient and the bends.
Finally, I mustn’t forget all that money you’ve raised for the Samaritans, in Lauren’s memory. £1,563 is the total now – you’ve done me proud. Thank-you very much.
I’ve put together some pics and videos into one of my little shows – don’t expect anything professional! I didn’t add any music this time as I couldn’t find a way to turn the music volume down when a video came on, but I have added a few captions for a change…