Pilgrims Way (Sweden)
The Scandinavian Pilgrims Way connects Tromsö in the far north of Norway with the Spanish Santiago de Compostela. It leads mainly through rural areas where tourism is not yet widespread and offers an insight into the authentic way of life of the friendly culture of the European North.
To get a short insight of this long hike, I decide for the second-day trek between Vänersborg and Lödöse. This starts at the commuter car park at the station of Vänersborg, where I park my yellow post bus Leo. I leave the village and shortly afterwards I find the first information plaque about the path, which I photograph for safety’s sake. The first stretch along the Karls Grav is beautiful and relaxing to walk. However, I immediately get a feeling for the Swedish weather. In one instant the sky is cloudless, the next it pours down. Shortly thereafter, the clouds disappear just as abruptly as they appeared.
The path leads over a lock bridge, where some spectators are watching two boats as they tie up on the side wall. The next part requires orientation and reliance on the vague map, since no markings can be found. A bit confused, I ask an older wiry Swede, who is enjoying the sun from his balcony, if I am still on the right path. The man with the gray beard takes the time to come down to me to look at the map.
I follow his instructions and find myself on a golf course after going a few meters. Here, I feel very misplaced. Some players greet me, but I can only reply in English, whereupon they turn away. In order not to be hit by stray golf balls, I crouch and hurry to leave the place behind me, until I reach the foundation walls of Naglums Kyrkoruin, an ancient church from the 14th century, one of the cultural institutions of the way. “Walls” seems slightly exaggerated, since here only a few stones can be found. However, with the trees in the background, it provides a good place for a short break as long as I avoid the view to the right towards a huge shopping center.
The next 1.5 hours I follow an asphalted bike road. I leave the McDonalds behind me, enjoying the sunbeams that are making their way through the clouds. A minute later, I seek shelter in a small grove, and wait for the strongest part of the rain shower to pass.
Trollhättan is the first city I cross. From my map, I learn the rest of the route and walk along an island, which is surrounded by the river in the middle of the municipality. The sun is shining again. But the quietness is interrupted by a mass of people on a bridge in front of a Vattenfall lock. Curious, I join them and I seem to be just in time to see how the gates are opened and tons of water started pounding over the previously dry river bed.
In joyous anticipation, I continue to follow the forest trail. The slight rushing of the river, which is now a bit higher, to my left, the drumming of the rain drops on the leaves above me, the scent of wet earth, the chirping of the birds, and the shuffling sound of my walking-shoes in the mud, set a relaxing rhythm. Half an hour later I cross a freshly mown meadow, with the scent of hay.
Afterwards, all the signposts of the path seems to have disappeared. I find the route by asking the locals I meet in their garden or on their front yard, mostly in sign language – English is clearly less common than I thought. Their reactions, however, are invariably friendly and helpful. Soon afterwards I recognize the sign of the Pilgrim Cross marking the way.
I pass an excavated sawmill, which I explore, before I decide to use the Everyman’s Right for the first time and pitch my tent in the forest. I find a suitable place off the way under three pines to be protected from wind and weather and spend a quiet night.
It rains continuously. Two hours after the break of dawn I am already lost for the fourth time on this day, since there are hardly any recognizable signs. When I ask a young man for the way, I realize that my water supply has been exhausted. With a friendly smile, he takes my empty 3-liter camel bag and brings it back filled up.
In the meantime, I talk to his mother and ask if she had spent her entire life here. A wide grin appears on her face, her eyes begin to sparkle and her arm describs a sweeping gesture over the quiet valley. From her Swedish-English mix it becomes clear that she does not see the slightest reason to live in any other place in the world. I have seldom seen such a happy and satisfied person.
In the sunshine, I pass an idyllic cottage with a mill wheel, in front of which a flagpole with a Sweden flag was blowing. I put the tent out to dry for two minutes before the sun hides again behind a few grim clouds and I pack up everything frantically. The next village is called Hjartig and consists of a beautiful church, with a beautiful valley view, as well as some red, blue, green and white wooden houses.
Some residents raise their hands to salute before returning to lawn mowing. At the first road fork in this community I can’t find a direction sign, so I decide to walk along the street. Later, I notice to my frustration, that I must have missed a turnoff to the left and arrive on an expressway. Too tired to turn around and look for the right way, I continue, while cars at 100 km / h pass me. After a while, which feels like an eternity, I reached Lilla Edet.
The first bridge is closed for pedestrians due to construction work, so I am forced to do a detour. It is late afternoon and I decide to end my trek here in this little town. It would still be about ten kilometers to get to my planned destination of Lödöse. So, I wait in a fast food restaurant for my bus back to Vänersborg, where I order a portion of Kötbullar.
The young Syrian Ahmed, who works in the restaurant, tells me how he escaped from the IS a year ago, and arrived in Sweden. After this story, the blisters at my feet and the slight pain in my knees, as well as other first-world problems, do not seem half as bad and I am grateful for the freedom and independence that I can enjoy here while eating the Swedish meatballs.