Västernorrland

2019 - Seeing Sweden

This was a significant change of pace from my other County visits, or from my 2018 12 Cities tour, instead of visiting a city or a couple of towns for the weekend, I have packed up a set of camping gear and decided to hike a section of the famous Höga Kusten, the High Coast trail. The idea was to get to the north end of the High Coast, the town of Örnsköldsvik via the Night Train arriving at 5am Thursday morning and by the time Sunday rolled around be within striking distance of the High Coast Airport to fly back to Gothenburg.

Whilst there are numerous places to stop for food, supplies and water along the high trail, there is no guarantee they will match up to where i am at any given time, leading me to plenty of water and enough food and energy bars for the whole journey, as well as a tent, sleeping bag and my camera and a GoPro.

Örnsköldsvik

I saw very little of Örnsköldsvik during my trip. I arrived at 05:15am, and with everything closed, I headed directly out onto what I hoped was the High Coast Trail. I was mistaken and ended up walking 20 minutes alongside a disused railway track into an industrial park, whilst getting rained on during the only storm of my hike. Needless to say, it was not an auspicious start to my hike.

Höga Kusten

The high coast trail spans almost 130km, and mixes forest trails, hill climbs and walks through towns and villages. It's an area of stunning natural beauty.

There are some things to bear in mind when doing the hike that are uniquely Swedish. You won't find any hiking equipment shops on the trail, despite the obvious market. 

Fresh water is generally easily found, though at certain locations you may have to look around a fair bit to find it. Many of the water stops are flagged on the Höga Kusten guide. Like most of Sweden, you can even drink directly from any running streams. (Though a water filter, or boiling it is always advised as a precaution.

Route 13 - Örnsköldsvik to Svedjeholmen

I missed a great deal of this trail due to the above diversion and then following the main road along to Svedjeholmen, however the trail itself at this point is not a great deal different to the road walking I ended up doing. You are either starting here and exiting civilisation past the town and then past the suburbs or arriving at the end of your trail.

Side Trail: Genesmons arkeologiska friluftsmuseum

Well signposted from the main trail, the outdoor archeological museum is easy to find, though involved walking about five kilometers off the main trail to the forest and beach.

The venue is divided into two key areas, the main being the reconstruction of a viking long house and other buildings, along with a seating area and drop toilet. During certain weeks of the year, experts spent their time here reenacting and living in the longhouse giving a demonstration to visitors of what life was like. Either due to the time or year, or time of day, that was not the case for my visit, but the buildings are still fascinating to see.

The second area is the archeological findings, five hundred or so meters away from the longhouse, there is much less to see here for the interested amateur, though poles signify where things existed and there are a number of boards with more information.

There are signposts to follow back to a side trail which returns you to the High Coast trail. However, it takes you the full five kilometres back to the point you left, through forests rather than the main road that brought you there, but as you then turn around and walk five kilometres south again, I decided to forge my own trail along the ocean road and through the village of Paddal, and some lovely views over the ocean. Every home seemed to focus its attention eastward and the windows back to the road were all small.

Route 12 - Svedjeholmen to Sandlågan

From here, I was back on the main trail, and had made a friend. A Turkish video game developer who lived in Stockholm who was also walking the high trail. We ended up walking together for about two hours, it was a nice break from the silence, but I think we were both glad to go our separate ways eventually.

We passed through Bäck, a vilage that is barely worth the name Hamlet, it would perhaps be better described as a homestead, a bare scattering of clustered buildings. Other than the map, we would have had no idea it even had a name.

Past Bäck, the trail took on a more earnest woodland nature, as we headed into a nature preserve and towards Sandlågan. The forest is surprisingly thick considering how close it is to the ocean. From here, you need to pay more attention to your footsteps as branches and stones are underfoot the whole time and with a heavy backpack you lose balance easily.

Route 11 - Sandlågan to Köpmanholmen

Just past the connection of Route 12 and 11, my Turkish friend stopped at a campsite for some food and a break, like me he had been walking since 5:30am, but unlike me he had taken the High Coast trail the whole way and so had had a tall hill to climb, that I’d missed by going along the coast through Paddal.

This slice of the trail was much more what I’d been expecting from the Höga Kusten. Forests, loose stones and tree routes also meant a much slower pace than I’d been doing previously, having completed 17-18km since I started and it was not quite lunchtime. I carried on to the beach and then took the short uphill side trail to Lake Balestjärnen.

When I’d had lunch and got back to the beach, I gave a friend a call who was staying at his family summer house and arranged for him to meet me on the trail, as he was giving me a boat ride to Moose Island and then onwards to the main nature reserve, skipping section 10, which was mostly a trip through the town of Köpmanholmen.

It was about an hour and a half walk through the forest, past some deep shaded glades and across a bridge over a brook before I met my friend, I stopped on one of the brooks to fill my water bottle, and slipped on the wet stones, it pays to be more careful than you think in the forest. The first forty minutes are a heavy uphill hike, so ensure your shoes are tight and your pack is well strapped on, as you will be scrambling for some of it.

This is, from this direction, one fo the first times you encountered a field of loose round stones, created by the most recent ice age. It is treacherous to walk across with a heavy back, and is peculiar, giving the impression more of crossing a builders merchants yard than something in the middle of a forest. It is not something I’ve ever encountered before.

He had to meet me on the trail, as there is no way to know where his turn off is from the Höga Kusten trail, it is not heavily used enough to be worn, nor would they want it to be. His family, like many in Sweden do, share the place that his Grandparents build, in this case, built by pushing the cabin out to the desired location on a beach by hand in the middle of winter when the ocean had frozen thick. Now, heavy machinery can even cross the ice, resulting in some remarkable properties, that are still cut off from civilisation and without a boat require hours of difficult hiking to reach.

Side Trail: Lake Balestjärnen

From the start of this section, to the side trail to Lake Balestjärnen was about two hours walking. Balestjärnen is a strange location. An alkaline lake surrounded by acidic rocks, the PH of the water means it is toxic to most organisms that live in lakes and generate the murk and algea so it is crystal clear, but it also means nothing lives in it that will decompose the trees that fall in over time. Some have been dated back one to two thousand years. It is difficult to describe, and my mental picture of it from hearing about it bore little connection to reality, it is still a wide deep lake and so the refraction of light means you can’t just see to the bottom, but what you can see is sharp and clear. It is haunting and eerie to see the pristine tree-limbs submerged and know they had been there for decades or centuries.

It was the perfect place to stop for lunch, looking out over the water.

After lunch, I followed the side trail along past the lake and up towards the back of the peninsular. Out here, the sun beat down mercilessly on the bare rocks. A recent fire had killed or stripped much of the vegetation, making the whole area stark. It reminded me a lot of some of the islands in the Gothenburg Archipelago where they are too rocky and too exposed to sustain life. Its a powerful reminder of the danger of forest fires.

Side Trail: Moose Island

Out in the ocean is Moose Island, called that for obvious reasons. I learned that Moose can swim, and that you may well be sailing or motoring around in your boat when you spot and enormous fuzzy head and antlers off the side as a two tonne beast swims past. Or, in winter, simply marches across the ice.

Moose Island is not somewhere many will have visited, needing a boat it is out of range of most hikers and without any inhabitants or water, there is little to bring you there. It was during my visit, deeply deforested due to a tree infection that is so severe they rip up everything that might be infected and let new trees grow in their place.

The only building on the island is a ramshackle community hut.

Route 10 - Köpmanholmen to Entré Nord

I missed this entire section, as my friend gave me a lift by boat to Köpmanholmen and then by car to Entré Nord. However, whilst there is some nice scenery at the tail end of route 11 that I missed, all of Route 10 is walking along the main roads through Köpmanholmen. One day I will come back and do the whole of the Höga Kusten trail, but when time is a premium, I advise you to skip it if you can.

The North Entrance to the Skuleskogens National Park is marked with a wooden platform, and an entrance building with fire pits and drop toilets, but no camping. To camp you have to head further into the forest, which I was happy to do.

Route 9 - Nationalpark Skuleskogens Nationalpark

About one kilometre past the North Entrance is one of the few locations you are able to camp in the National Park. The right of roaming does not apply here. There was, but all accounts, a nicer place to camp another four kilometres further on, but by this point I’d been walking about 14 hours and was exhausted.

The trail from the early campsite is tough, rough terrain and a lot of steep up and down hill walking, but the scenery is fantastic and more than worth the effort.

There are dozens of side trails through the national park to explore, and if you had time on your hike, you could spend days exploring the area without leaving. I had a tighter schedule and so headed directly through the park towards the canyon, called Slåttdalsskrevan.

The scenery through the park is remarkable. Mixing lakes surrounded by tall trees, strange planes of small round stones and tall hills. There are a number of places with the small round rocks brouht across during the ice age and forming a challenging walking surface, some run all the way to the banks of a lake.

One of the famous views is where two large lakes join and there is a cabin for overnight guests. The views make it popular for hikers, so expect company in the area.

Unlike many other parts of the high coast I trekked, there were many more people around during the day, whilst going through the national park, so don’t expect seclusion on the main trails, but you won’t have too much company. I must admit to envying their light day packs with my rucksack weighing me down, and it reinforced my idea for drone delivery of camping equipment straight to your location.

Climbing up towards the canyon you are hiking up tall steep exposed slopes, but suddenly the canyon is in front of you, a vast cleft in the mountain. Its a remarkable sight, and the air is markedly cooler and wetter than outside. The walls are sharp and tall, with a single tree reaching for the sun in the center of the trail. Stones litter the floor, having fallen from the walls over time and your footfalls echo strangely and loudly as you cross the gap. At the far end a set of steps brings you up to the top of the canyon and a chance to walk back along the heights and hear the echoing steps of others walking through, and you get a real sense of depth. It took a few hours of hard hiking to reach the canyon from where I started, a mere three kilometres away.


From here, the trail is mostly woodland through to the south entrance. Regular springs are found along the trail to fill your water, and tall rocks offer a reasonable approximation of a bench. There are a lot of wood plank walkways on the way back, as well as the supplies for reparing them, though all were in a good state during my walk.

Salsviksholmen Campsite

There is no water at this campsite, but there is a table and drop toilet. No fire-pit, but enough stones to safely make a fire if you can, though you will need to be lucky with wood, or bring your own. I pitched my tent on the beach, a decent distance past where the tide may come up and had the campsite to myself, with the sole exception of a group of Arabic lads who turned up at about 8pm having just got to the park with no equipment, just to walk about. They asked me to take their photo by the water and then headed off.

The campsite was a lovely place to stop, quite picturesque, though it got quite chilly once the sun moved lower and the wind came in off the water.

II briefly wished I had brought my tripod, despite the additional weight as there were no artificial lights around and the stars would have been incredible. However, there was no sunset, or even darkness as I was far enough north that the sun never quite set. A suggestion for other hikers, remember to bring a sleep-mask so you wont have to wrap a t-shirt around your head to sleep.

The shade of the evening before disappeared at about six in the morning and I”d not leaned the trick of leaving the top zips of the doors to the tent slightly open to improve airflow, and so I was up early due to overheating.

Route 8 - Entré Syd to Skuleberget

The south entrance is much like the north, with toilets, and sheltered seatings with a fire-pit and various rubbish bins. There is a view point back over the forest (or forward across what you will see if you are hiking north to south.

Käl was advertised in the guide book as a spot to get fresh water and seemed a good target for my lunch. It was mentioned on a few signs with one saying it was only 100m away. When I reached a main road, with a picnic table and a stream running pleasantly over some rocks I assumed I had found it and stopped for food. I had not found Käl, when I checked google maps, I found that the place I was looking for was still a good few kilometres away.

Käl is quaint, pictures and a wonderful place to stop for water. The hamlet of Käl is on the “main” road tot he nature reserve and has an old well, which has been boarded up and a fresh water pipe run to it offering drinking water and suggesting a donation to Greenpeace’s clean seas campaign decorated by local children. An old bench is next to the well offering a place to sit and rest.

After Käl, you follow the main road for a time and before you go down hill you should go straight on into the forest. I missed this change and ended up at the bottom of the hill, by the coast. I did not have the energy at this point to go back up the hill, so I missed out on the waterfall side trail I’d been planning to see.

I was feeling the distance I’d covered at this point and my original plan of camping near the waterfall wasn’t going to happen so I passed through Käxed, officially a village, on the cost, but more a collection of houses. There was too much civilisation on this route to use the wild camping, everywhere was someones house, so I hiked along the road aiming to reach Skuleberget Havscamping as my target to end, on the ocean so I was planning to setup my tent, have a swim and maybe a shower. Unfortunately the campsite is only for RVs, not tent campers, but they were very helpful giving me directions to the nearby tent campsite, though it was another three to four kilometres away.

The route took me along a motorway, (I later found had I crossed the motorway I’d have been on the High Coast trail and off the main roads) before I turned down to the campsite, set alongside a large lake.

Side Trail: Skuleberget

As I wanted to crack on to Ullånger, I had an early start on Skuleberget and so this decided my way to the top. Via Ferrata climbing, which I would love to do, opened at 10am and was a 3-4 hour climb to the top. This would have meant making little progress on the trail itself. Instead I had a quick breakfast and coffee, packed up and hiked up, planning to be back at the campsite before the climbing center had even opened.

The first half an hour of the hike is very tough, very steep and sometimes challenging to find the next stretch of the trail. Initially you are hiking through deep woods with a lot of loose rocks(during which you will find the ArkNat seat), but then reach a level above the trees and it is bare rock but with some fantastic views over Docksa and the ocean.

Once past the bare rock, you hae a nice, and fairly easy forest trail, with a reasonably gentle slope upwards, only the final few hundred meters are steep again to reach Toppstugan.

The summit has the cable car station, Toppstugan restaurant and some walkways and view points. The view is great and well worth the climb, its a good place to relax for a while. Water is available from a tap behind the restaurant and drop toilets are also available. The restaurant has fairly limited hours, even in mid summer, and is staffed by Friluftsbyn, so when the restaurant is open the campsite is not. As I was there early in the morning it was closed, but the lunch and waffle options are reputed to be excellent.

I decided to take the road back down, but made a mistake doing so, and followed the white markers, under the chair lift end ended up scaling a small cliff (so I did do some climbing!) to get back to Toppstugan and the actual road back down. The service road is a basic gravel road, fairly steep, but quite direct running more or less under the cable car. Its a good way back down with a heavy pack having done the climb up the trail.

FriluftsByn

A reasonably new campsite, it was undergoing significnat construction when I was there adding new additional showers, cabins and other facilities. A shop with souvenirs and some basics like firewood, beer, wine and soft drinks is also where you check in, and there is space for camper vans as well as a large field for tents.

During my time there, the annual ArcNat competition was going on, teams of architects were completing challenges through the high coast, perviously having created blended seating area swings, or an eco-cabin they were now looking at creating some kind of wind tunnel.

The staff were lovely and very helpful. The chair lift to the top had not opened yet, and so you had to choose wehter to hike the route, or walk around to the Via Ferrata and do a climb.

After setting up, I headed into Docksa.

Docksa

I’d been warned by the staff at Friluftsbryn that Docksa’s food choices were pretty much limited to fast food, but I’d gotten tired of boiled in the bag dinners and fancied a chance to stretch my legs without a heavy bag.

Docksa is about a kilometre away from Friluftsbryn, an easy walk. Three petrol stations facing each other mark Docksa, surrounding a fountain with the Scandinavian flags blowing in the wind. The restaurant that is part of the Preem service station had close at 6pm, and the other restaurant was a typical Swedish pizza place. It was only open another fifteen minutes to 7pm, but they were nice enough to make me a calzone, tidied the restaurant around me and zipped past me on an ATV on the road before I was halfway back to the campsite.

Route 7 - Skuleberget to Skoved

After climbing Skuleberget, I headed back to the Höga Kusten trail, and passed through Docksa, passing the restaurant I’d eaten in the evening before.

At the far end of Docksa, following the trail, you climb a short hill and reach Docksa Gamle Kyrka, a 14th century church with an 18th century interior, surrounded by worked fields. Quite impressive and still in use today.

Past the church you move into walking through fields full of flowers, which is a nice change of pace from other parts of the high coast, before you are back in Forrests on the way to Skoved. The terrain is hilly and quite a tough hike with quite a lot of forest clearing going on at the time I was there.

Currently the stretch between Docksa Campsite and Skoved is under reconstruction so you are walking a lot along the main roads on gravel, until you reach the edge of Skoved town. Its not the most memorable section of the trail.

Docksa Campsite

Stopping for lunch at the Docksa campsite, a large commercial site, with its own supermarket, swimming pool and restaurant. The restaurant was good, and the milk for the coffee was incredibly fresh and creamy.

Route 6 - Skoved to Ullånger

After leaving Skoved, you are heading back into the forest, but on regular roadways rather than trails. You also pass a tiny homestead or hamlet with a couple of houses and the 64km sign, marking the midway point of the High Coast trail. There is no other sign of reaching the middle.

You head along to the hamlet of Mäja and then up a long winding hill to Mäjasjöns Fäbodar a scenic spot with cabins, a large late and drinking water as well as a number of historic buildings which have been transported and rebuilt in the area. Its a lovely spot, and a popular one for locals.

There is then a short hike up to the summit of the nearby hill, Äskjaberget, which also has one of the best equipped cabins in the area, maintained by locals, it is more of a house than camping cabin.

The final few kilometres are downhill into Ullånger town, cutting swiftly from dark forests to open roads.

Ullånger

The Höga Kusten guide book describes Ullånger thus: "The section ends in Ullånger where you can find a wide selection of services. There is a grocery store, café, specialist shops and handicrafts." This is technically true, but highly misleading. The cafe is open a few days a week, the specialist shops are a mechanic, a bakery specialising in flatbread a second hand store and a charity shop. There is little of use in Ullånger for a hiker on the trail, other than the small Coop supermarket, (which does not sell product targeted at hikers). Despite its location almost half way along the trail, there is no chance to buy repair, replace items you need to complete the trail.

Sights & Culture

Ullångers Ferry

Serving Ullånger and Docksa with a ferry out to Ulvön Island once a day. (morning outbound, afternoon return) it is something I'd have like to have done if I had more time as the island is reported to be lovely.

Mjälloms Tunnbröd AB

Slightly outside of town, in the industrial park of two buildings, is Mjälloms Flatbread, a large bakery with small outlet shop (often unmanned until you signal as passing trade is limited) offering lovely Swedish flatbreads, and few other locally produced items.

Generationernas Hus Loppis

Just before you come to Ceaser's Pizza, you find the Generationernas Hus, a community centre of a sort that hosts various events and is responsible it seems for the Loppis, or flea market over the road, where people donate a range of items, but particularly lamps it seems.  Strangely reminiscent of similar locations in Greenwich.

Ullånger kyrka

Outside of town is Ullångers kyrka and graveyard. Set in sprawling countryside and accessed down a shady lane of older homes, it is an insight into recent past. How people will have shaped their lives and days 50 or so years ago, using the Church as the community centre, its visibility from the slight hill and spire, keeping it present in peoples minds.

Strangely, a number of the gravestones are tall rough-cut stone, looking more like Menhirs or pagan icons than a Christian headstone.

Restaurants & Bars

Ullångers Hotell

Centrally located and right on the trail, the Ullånger Hotell is nice, clean and the staff and friendly and helpful. There is a tourist kiosk offering information on the high coast and a restaurant with a small but tasty breakfast selection included in the cost of the room. 

It is one of only two places to eat out in the town, the other being Caesars Pizza at the far end of the town, a typical Swedish pizza joint. The evening I was there, they were having an event, and so the restaurant was fully booked, but they nicely sent a meal to my room. Its worth noting the restaurant is closed on Sundays.

Observations:


Taxi:

Book your taxi to the airport, or train station early. There are not many serving the area, and they don’t necessarily work when you need them too. Give them a call a day or so before you need them to book and be sure you can get where you need to go.

Hiking Guide:

Everything in the guide is available for free on the website, so if cost is a concern, you can print everything to bring with you, but the guide is small, well made and worth the cost, and the proceeds help keep the Höga Kusten in operation so buy it if you can. Quite a bit of the guide is not on Google Maps, so don’t think you can just depend on your phone for guidance.

If you are walking North to South the hiking times and difficulties in the guide will be wrong. Route 7 for example is listed as an hour or two because heading north it is mostly a gentle downhill stroll. Heading to Skoved however means you are walking up hill the whole way.

Water

There are a lot of streams with running water that are safe to drink as well as a number of places, marked in the guide to get fresh drinking water. But pay attention, and keep your water bottles full. Bring a filter or Iodine tablets, its better to be safe than sorry, you quickly dehydrate in the summer carrying all your gear.

Restaurants

At various points along the trail you’ll pass towns or other places with restaurants. However, remember you are in the far north of Sweden, and so many of these places will close much earlier than you would like, or be closed on weekends, evenings or mornings.

Supermarkets

There are a god number of supermarkets scattered through the High Coast, generally in towns you pass on the main trail, so stocking up is easy, but in Swedish style, these supermarkets are not catering for Hikers, despite their location, they are for locals, so you won’t find dried hiking meals, or anything to fix a tent. If you can’t get it in a supermarket in Gothenburg, don’t expect to find it on one on the most famous hiking trail in Sweden.

Stores

Further to the supermarkets not carrying hiking items, there are, at latest between stages 6 and 13, no hiking stores at all, no where to buy replacement tent pegs, a new water bottle, or active gear. In particular, Ullånger, at the midpoint would be a natural spot for a small hiking store offering the essentials. Perhaps it could open in the Ice Cream store during the many hours of the day that it is closed.

Towns & Villages

The terminology for what is a town and village in the guide or maps is misleading. On section 6-13 the only town is Örnsköldsvik. Ullånger, Skoved and others are all villages and most other places you encounter are hamlets or homesteads.


Unlike the UK, there are no country pubs, so put the idea of a nice ale or cold glass of wine by the trail out of your mind.

People

The people along the Höga Kusten are very friendly, giving you a cheery ‘hej’ as you hike past, and are often responsible for maintaining the camping cabins and water stations at their own expense and inconvenience. If you can afford to, many have Swish details to allow for donations to their upkeep, or to a charity of their choosing.

Camping

There are stretches of the cost road where it is impossible or impractical to camp. Whilst the roaming right may exist, finding a place to camp when near a location like Skoved can be a challenge or an impossibility. Always have a backup plan, and be prepared to walk longer or stop earlier than you’d like to ensure you can camp safely.

Stress

As the High Coast is remote, travel and transport between where you are and where you need to be to get home can be a challenge. The Taxi to the High Cost Airport from Ullånger was 1,100kr, more than the flight back to Stockholm cost. Buses between the villages and towns are rare, perhaps only once or twice a day. Plan ahead,. And be prepared to wait, or be prepared that you may be much earlier than you had hoped.