Busman’s Holiday. In the footsteps of a Viking Saint. Day 11

Are radio journalists of a certain age the same the world over ?

I was stomping down a forest track moaning to myself about the price of beer here when , uniquely for that day,  I heard a car behind me

And darn me if it wasn’t a car from Swedish national radio complete with a satellite dish to die for.

Out jumped the reporter ..and it was like looking in a mirror.  He had heard I was on the road and wanted to interview me.  Apparently my surname clinched the idea for his editor

It was like watching myself at work.  He swore and moaned when his recording device played up and even put the microphone close to the ground as he walked along to get the sound of footsteps…Trick number 1 in the Bob Walker sound effects repertoire

Unlike me though he appears to have a sound future in the industry,

He even recorded 10 mins like I do probably in the certain knowledge he can only use a fraction.  Like I do

Anyway I can now add Swedish Radio to BBC Radio 4. RTE. NPR the World Service and BBC Five bloody Live

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In the footsteps of a Viking Saint. Day 10.

I lost my sunglasses on the trail  yesterday

Normally that wouldn’t be a problem. Because it’s rained or been overcast. . But yesterday and today it’s been hot and sunny.

The main problem is some of the roads are limestone and in the sun they can be somewhat bright.

So in order to counter the glare , I pulled my wide brimmed hat down over my eyes. This meant for the first time in 10 days I missed a signpost

Which in turn meant I walked two kilometres in the wrong direction. It’s the first time I’ve gone wrong in 10 days but it still left me cursing and ranting on a lonely forest road

Came across another local legend today.  In the villlage of Halsta the Viking residents so disliked Christianity that they decided to thresh their grain on Xmas day as the Christians celebrated

Which must be a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face

“Ha that’s showed them they must feel really insulted and stupid , sitting there eating that big feast while we work all day long in the barn ”

“Yeah Erik nice one.  But can we, like, have a bit of a rest now we’ve humiliated the Christians?”

“No.  Keep sweating . Harder. Lets pile on the humiliation”

In any case it seems to have backfired rather badly  as the Viking farm was “buried under the earth ” in retribution

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In the footsteps of a Viking Saint. Day 9. #Sweden #Travel

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See that perplexed look on this statue of a pilgrim ?

That’s me,  that is –  after a challenging day in the forest and  arriving  in the village of Pilgrimstad only to learn that the only hostel is closed cos the owners are on holiday.  In May

But once again the locals have come to my rescue and a family who overheard my plaintive whining in a restaurant have taken pity on me and given me a bed for the night

As the name implies,  this village was an important stop on the pilgrim highway to Norway. Inevitably there’s an Olaf spring here with curative powers
A wooden chapel for baptisms and marriages was built nearby in recent years from money left in the will of a Mr Olafsson.  Which has a nice sense of history. 

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I love these local legends.  My up and down track through the forest took me past a cave used as a hideout by a 15th century murderer. And there was also a spooky cabin deep in the woods. Anyone seen Blair Witch project ?

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One sad story is told of a local priest at Mordviken (murder bay) who so incensed the pagans with his zeal that they rowed him out to a rock in the middle of a lake and left him to starve

Just one slight flaw in this cunning plan. 
The priest could swim  

He made a break for freedom and swum ashore. Where the locals beat him to death

Which seems not only cruel but rather unsporting

Of Gods and Wolves. Walking the world’s most northerly pilgrimage route. Day 8. #Sweden #Travel

Olaf may have brought Christianity to Norway but before he was baptised in Rouen , he was a believer in the Norse gods

I’m no expert but I’m told the Vikings who converted did so as much out of pragmatism as belief.  They were expanding their trade routes and it made sense to demonstrate a commitment to the God of their trading partners

For a while the two beliefs appear to have existed side by side.  Thor’s hammer amulets could easily be turned upside down to represent a crucifix.

Viking statues of Christ have him wearing a crown and staring defiantly at his executioners.  Fitting for a Viking chief.

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I’ve always thought Norse gods a fun bunch

Take Loki.

He made the giantess Skadi laugh by tying a rope to a goat’s beard and the other around his testicles….then they pulled each other  back and forth…

Apparently Skadi laughed..so did Loki.

Though I suspect it was more of a grimace really

Come to think of it didn’t Tom Hiddleston play Loki in the Thor films?

I’d pay good money to watch that scene re enacted.   Though probably not enough money for Tom

And then there’s Tyr from whom we get Tuesday.  It’s a long story but it involves the gods tricking a giant wolf into being leashed

. In order to demonstrate the Gods’  good faith Tyr puts his hand into the wolf’s mouth. When the wolf finds he’s been tricked and can’t break the leash all the Gods laugh.

Except for Tyr.

Though admittedly he had by now lost
his hand which explains why he didn’t get the joke.  

A short 14km stretch today.  And my lodgings are here tonight.   Which seems quite apt

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Walking the world’s most northerly pilgrimage route. #Sweden #Travel

Finally I’ve come face to face with Olaf  in the form of a centuries old wooden statue in the church in Burgjso.

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He looked a little distrracted and was missing his right hand. Which is somewhat ironic given that this was his favourite way  of mutilating his enemies.

I write this sitting outside a wooden  cabin in  the forest perched over a fire that  I started myself using silver birch bark (thank you Ray Mears)

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I’m sleeping in a house in the forest.  Just me. Miles from anywhere

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But walk inside. And , well, it’s rather lovely

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I’ve literally seen no one else on the trail all but this solitude has its own rewards

I’ve sung heartily and loudly all day as I’ve been told that noise keeps the bears away

I’ll wager this is the first time these forests have echoed to a medley  of Jerusalem,   Hearts of Oak , American Pie and Fields of Athenry.

Mind you the advice on bears can be a little confusing. No one I’ve met has actually seen one but I’ve been told in the highly unlikely event our paths should cross I must:

Climb a tree.

Leave the area quickly.

Walk backwards slowly.

Don’t look it in the eyes and “make myself big”

Which conjures up an image of a panicked Walker slowly climbing a tree while  looking downcast and waving my arms wide like a manic policeman on traffic duty

Ive seen just one walker in five days.  A local hiker, he was older, fatter and faster than me.  Stomping along using knackered ski poles as sticks

He spoke no English but pointed to the hills with his sticks and came out with a stream of words of which I recognised but one

Bjorn

I dont think he was saying Abba were having a reunion in the mountains.

Bjorn is Swedish for Bear

From Baltic to Atlantic. Walking the world’s most northerly pilgrimage trail

I don’t mind admitting yesterday was one of those tough days everyone experiences on long walks

Sitting in a deserted restaurant after a wet day on the trail knowing that the night will be spent in an equally deserted hostel,  will dampen the spirits of any traveller

But then: I get invited to take Fica ( afternoon tea with coffee and cake) with two inspirational young women who are trying to help local people reap the benefits of tourism in this beautiful part of the country

Their website hires local people as Friends.  You can play golf, go fishing  or  head into the forest  and pick  berries and mushrooms and learn where the bears and moose live.  In total safety.  

It’s swedishcountryside.se

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And this morning was just as rewarding

Walking down a lonely road I met three Syrian refugees.  Young lads who were friendly and full of life.   One gave me a friendship bracelet to wear on the journey (more about refugees here in another post)

I was bragging about my long distance walk but then shut my big mouth when they told me they walked here from Greece

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Then I bumped into a Swedish international skiier out for a short walk.

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Then  I crossed  longest wooden bridge in Swden (130 metres) and ate breakfast in the forest surrounded by mounds which housed the graves of iron age farmers

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I’ve had worse days I guess.

In the country of the blind…Following Olaf’s last journey #Sweden #travel

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Exactly who was Olav. Olav. Olof ?

I’m glad you asked.   

Olaf (let’s keep it simple) Haraldson is Norway’s patron saint and “Etrernal King”  and is credited with bringing Christianity to the country.

Also known as Olaf the Holy and  – less flatteringly – Olav the Fat (though I’ll wager that few were brave or stupid enough to say  that to his face)

Olaf was a precocious Viking.  Going on his first raiding parties at the age of 10

By all accounts he didn’t like being told what to do.  Upon being ordered to saddle his stepfather’s  horse he stomped off to the stables and threw the saddle on the back of a goat.

His stepfather didn’t discipline him but merely smiled.  Which shows you that Olaf wasn’t to be messed with,  even as a boy

He was deposed as king because of the  harsh way he dealt with some  of his subjects.  He travelled in Russia,  fought battles in the east of England  and was baptised in Rouen, France , before mounting a doomed expedition  to ‘re-claim his throne

Most of the information about him comes from Snorri Sturluson’s Icelandic Saga The Heimskringla

One incident details his treatment of a local chief called  Hrorek who rather unwisely displeased Olaf by refusing to buckle under.

Olaf demonstrated his displeasure by blinding Hrorek.  Though – to be fair – he didn’t kill him and even provided him with two servants  and allowed him to sit beside him during feasts…

If we’re in any doubt that Hrorek was somewhat miffed  by his treatment,   Snorri tells us that the blinded chief “became taciturn and answered short and cross when anyone spoke to him “

Honestly.  Some people are just so ungrateful.

He would beat the servants that Olaf gave him and became – in Snorri’s words – “morose”

“sometimes he would be silent that no man could get a word from him”

Even though Olaf out of the goodness of his heart , gave Hrorek some pocket money.

Odd, that

Hrorek finally took the plunge and tried to stab Olaf to death.  Inevitably he failed.  Being blind and all

He died in exile in Iceland.  

Morose and awkward to his dying day