The standard response when anyone noticed our route took in Sweden was to adopt the international sign of being cold by wrapping both arms across the chest and making a brrrr sound. So when we stepped out of the train just outside Malmø we were ready to brace ourselves against the Arctic winds. But of course it was sunny and a pleasant 25 degrees, as it had been for most of the trip so far, so it seems that the Swedes may be getting their definition of a British Summer that the cyclist near Hamburg had told us about. At some stage our luck has to change but until then we’ll keep slapping on the suncream and enjoy riding in shorts and short sleeves.
6th to 15th September 2014
Out of Malmø we decide to keep navigation simple with a plan to follow the coast and keep the sea to our right for the next few days. It makes for some excellent riding passing numerous small villages and sandy beaches. Seaside camping allows for a bit more swimming and on the first evening a passerby asks me if it was OK swimming at that beach. It was very refreshing but he says that when the wind blows from the east the water looks dirty, from the west it is clear. He leaves with a cheery ‘Good Luck!’ but fortunately the next day my hair hasn’t fallen out and I manage to hold down my breakfast. Clearly a local myth to scare off the smelly cycle tourists.
Along the way we find Ale’s Stennar, an ancient arrangement of stones that forms the shape of a boat but also acts as a calendar to mark the various solar phases. It seems propping up stones has been a popular pastime across the globe for thousands of years and there are sure to be many ore to be seen on our trip.
There are a few more hills than in Denmark, some may even be higher than the summit at Mons Klint. On one day we descended for a while off a main road towards a quiet beach for lunch just outside Kivik. We didn’t mind the detour as our map (we picked up some free ones from the Tourist Info Office in the end) showed a small road that would allow us to loop back up to the main road avoiding having to climb the hill we’d come down. But when we got there a sign said the road was closed when the military were using the land for target practice, like at 2:30 on Monday 8th September. So back up the hill, very slowly as a herd of sheep were being shepherded up the road by a lady and 2 dogs. We heard plenty of gun fire and some fairly heavy ordinance later in the day so probably best that we didn’t squeeze past the road closed sign. We meet a few more road closed signs during the course of the week forcing us to double back so it seems Sweden has a lot of military land and their army get a lot of shooting practice.
There are a variety of A roads and B roads in Sweden but also some we’ve come to call G roads. Partly because the Garmin is fond of sending us down them but mainly because they are hard packed gravel instead of being paved. Most are fine to ride on but we did find a couple that degraded into not much more than rocky forest double track. It’s not easy keeping the tandem in a straight line when it’s bouncing between rocks and roots but thankfully these sections are relatively short and it’s a relief when we get back onto smooth tarmac.
The main E22 road has also been following us round the coast and we keep having to pass under it or climb over it to try and stay on the quiet lanes. By Ronneby, after 4 days of sunshine the day degrades into a British definition of a British summer with frequent showers, some quite heavy. Along with battling to stay off the E22 this forces the decision to turn north away from the coast and we find ourselves riding through an enormous forest. There are a few G road diversions but mostly the road is smooth and straight and flanked with tall pine trees. There are also mushrooms in all shapes, sizes and colours everywhere. Apparently some are very tasty and many Swedes enjoy foraging at this time of year but our fungal knowledge is far too limited to know which ones are good, bad or magic so we decide not to put any in the cooking pot that evening. Kirsty did find some wild blueberries though. We spend the night pitched between some derelict cabins, one of which has somehow been split clean in two and would make a good setting for a horror film.
Since leaving the coast we’d plotted a route towards the town of Kalmar where we had arranged to stay with Andreas, a Warm Showers host. Other than it being a convenient place to stop that day we knew nothing about the place so it’s a welcome surprise to find it’s home to the finest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia which makes for a picturesque backdrop for lunch.
Andreas is a great host serving up a delicious ice cream cake and claims to have eaten 4.5 litres of ice cream in one sitting. Perhaps an appetite to rival my own? He’s ridden extensively in North Amercia and Europe including some time using an Eliptigo but prefers not to plan too much in advance. In fact he tends to upsticks and saddle up at a moments notice whenever he feels the need for a change of scenery. Dinner is washed down with some Flat Tyre ale which is appropriate as we’d had a pinch flat just 500m from Andreas’ front door after attempting to ride up a particularly high kerb at a particularly optimistic speed.
Alongside Kalmar sits the island of Öland and we would have liked to have crossed onto it and ridden to the top. Unfortunately the ferry that you can take from the top back to the mainland stops running in August so instead we plan to ride up the coast a bit further.
After a belly full of pancakes for breakfast accompanied by a soundtrack by Pink Floyd (Andreas had a great 60s & 70s music collection) we again put our trust in the Garmin to try and help us avoid the hard shoulder of the E22. It comes up trumps and leads us onto one of the best roads of the trip so far. We ride through a much more varied woodland with pine and deciduous trees on a small quiet road with sweeping bends and shallow rises. There are lots of little wooden houses painted the ubiquitous shade of red that we’ve seen all over Scandinavia. It must save a lot of time when choosing your paint in the local DIY stores. Once again the sun is out and the Swedish definition of a British Summer returns.
By mid afternoon we’ve reached our destination, the port town of Oskarshamn where we buy tickets for the ferry to the island of Gotland, a sizeable lump of rock out in the Baltic Sea being 800km long and 50km wide. It’s a popular destination with holidaymakers in the summer but also has a thriving agricultural community with sheep farming being very common and as such the Gotland flag is a picture of a sheep. There is the usual confusion over why we need two passenger tickets but only have one bicycle and then we’re asked if we’re taking part in the cycle race while we’re on Gotland? It’s the weekend of the annual Gotland 360 Cycle Sportive, a 360 km circular ride ridden over the course of two days and limited to just 360 participants. It sounded worth investigating.
The ferry is a late crossing and just before we reach the island I’m woken from a light snooze by someone carrying out the most annoying activity of modern times: scrolling through the different ringtones on a mobile phone. After listening to them all 3 times she correctly identifies the one that sounds like someone whistling as being the most irritating and seems happy that this is the one for her. We’re then turfed out of the ferry at 11:15pm, ride 1km up a hill to the first available patch of grass, set up the tent and crawl inside.
The plan for the next day is to follow the well sign posted route of the Gotland 360 Cycle Sportive and so we watch the group of riders go past and intend to loiter a bit longer before setting off at a gentle pace some way behind. It’s a very mixed group of riders with lots in club jerseys but all ages and a good mix of men and women. It looks more like the start of an Audax than the typical heads-down-don’t-smile appearance of a UK sportive. As the last rider comes round the bend they are closely followed by three vans who are diligently collecting all the route signs as they go and erasing our planned route in the process.
Time for a Plan B which is to pick a point on the other side of the island and meander over there. Along the way we find some of the Sportive route signs so Plan C is formed and we try to follow the route in reverse. This proves quite difficult as the signs are not easy to spot approaching from the wrong direction at each turning so over a cappuccino in a town called Roma we decide to revert to Plan B(ii) and point back towards the other side of the island.
The road we’re on should be quiet being away from the larger towns but today there is a lot of traffic and when we run into the back of a long queue we find out why. Today is market day in Kracklingbö and it looks to be very popular so we stop to take a look. The stalls are selling lots of local produce including Gotland honey, Gotland cheese, Gotland bread and Gotland tomatoes (the stall holder tells us they are the best tomatoes on the island). We are encouraged to try samples of each and are far too polite to decline. One particular cake, a Ljus Kladdkaka (Light gooey cake) is too good to miss so we buy a whole one to fuel us for the rest of the day.
There is also a Varpa tournament taking place which is an old Viking game that still survives on Gotland. This appears to be a much more physical version of boules or lawn bowls where participants hurl a metal discus with surprising accuracy at a small wooden peg. There’s not a single blazer between them.
By mid afternoon we’ve made it to the other side of the island and are now faced with a t-junction. Turn left and investigate the small town of Ljugarn or turn right and begin heading back into the middle of the island. We decide to turn left and the result which proves to be a very good decision.
By chance Ljugarn is the midway point of the Gotland 360 and when we roll into town we stop at the checkpoint to say hello. Even the best prepared sportive rider is unlikely to be carrying as much stuff as we are but they ask us for our number so that we can be checked in all the same. When we explain that we’re not part of the race but have ridden there from the UK we are offered a t-shirt each and an invitation to the riders’ party that evening. As well as being a cycling challenge the Gotland 360 is also something of a gastronomic event and showcases some of the delicious food that the island has to offer so the spread at the party is excellent and like any good cycle event, there’s plenty of it. We enjoy a feast of roast Gotland lamb, Gotland cheese, gooey cake and washed down with Gotland brewery ale. We just about manage to stay awake to listen to a few songs by ÖverRock before retiring to our tent having eaten far more than the 80km we’d ridden that day justifies but there’s no harm in being in calorie credit when cycle touring.
Crossing back to the east cost of the island the next day we enjoy a strong tail wind which the Gotland 360 riders had been complaining about having to ride straight into the previous day. There’s time for a long stroll around the medieval town of Visby before a quick, quay-side cook up and then onto the ferry heading towards Nynahamn. Once again it’s a late crossing so after a hour riding around in the dark looking for somewhere to pitch the tent we eventually discover a campsite and find a secluded corner.
From Nynahamn it’s 60km North to Stockholm (skirting round more military target practice) where we find our host for the evening, Stuart, who is a former colleague of Kirsty’s . I discover that drinking from a bottle that a wasp is already occupying is not a good idea as it results in a fat lip. Kirsty also discovers that me drinking from a bottle that a wasp is occupying is not a good idea as she gets the contents of the bottle thrown over her in my panic. We now have a day to explore Stockholm and see if much has changed since we last here about 6 years ago then tonight we get to enjoy what Viking Line call a ‘mini cruise’ to Turku in Finland. At €20 each for the 11 hour journey we’re not expecting it to be the QE2.