Crossing over. And another Olav story. #Norway #Sweden

Finally crossed over into Norway today. I left the modern road I’ve been for two days and forked left‚Ķ.following the trading route that goes back even before the Vikings

It wound its way past the treeline and up over a landscape that reminded me of the Dark Peak back home.  Only on a much  bigger scale , fringed with snow capped hills

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The old road is a sort of causeway really…giving a solid raised path through ground made waterlogged by melted snow

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Fur traders used this road. Olav and his men trod this same path. As did the army of King Charles ¬†XII…the same army that would die in the snow on their return

Last night I slept in a room with the graves of several of these men literally outside my window

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Security at the border wasn’t what you’d call watertight. ¬†It was just a pile of stones with a slate marker on top

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I’ve reached Sul. A place mentioned in Snorri Sturlusons tale of Olav‚Äôs last journey

Olavs men flattened a field of crops just up the road from my cabin

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The farmer – somewhat bravely in my opinion – complained to the Viking chief

Olav took the farmer to the field where Snorri tells us the crops were miraculously recovered

I suspect reality was rather different.

Olav probably drew the complaining farmer close and asked him to describe the scene

‚ÄúWell as you can see all my barley, ¬†Highness ¬†¬†has been destroyed‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúNo no. It looks fine to me. A magnificent field of ripening crops‚Ķ.unless you think I am mistaken,‚ÄĚ says Olav once again caressing his battle axe

‚ÄúNow you mention it,‚ÄĚ says the farmer (rather regretting he ever brought up the subject) ‚ÄúI think things aren‚Äôt that bad‚ÄĚ

Another miracle attributed to our warrior king

Moonshine. Day 21 in the footsteps of a Viking Saint. #Sweden #Norway #Travel

For the past two days I’ve been walking west along a quiet road heading towards Norway

Quiet , that is, apart from the occasional articulated load of timber and a steady stream of Norwegian motorists heading East to buy booze and cigarettes.

Now, I’ve been paying up to ¬£5.50 for a ¬†bottle of beer in Sweden. ¬†So God knows how much it costs in Norway if it’s worth their while to drive over the mountains to Sweden in search of cheaper booze

An idiot once told me I only ever blogged about booze. Which I think was harsh

But I think the Swedish relationship with alcohol is worth a ponder

For a start there’s what amount to the state monopoly in off licence sales.  You can only buy it at a store called the Systembolaget or order it online through their stores

Not every village has one . Honestly I’ve travelled through Muslim dominated villages in Western Turkey where it was easier to get a drink.

Apparently this stems back to Sweden’s historic uneasy relationship with alcohol.

They almost brought in prohibition back in the day.  But instead settled for a system where you could buy a set amount of booze. Once your ration book was  stamped that was your lot

In the fifties if you were unemployed or a MARRIED WOMAN you were not allowed to buy anything

The Systembolaget is a hangover (no pun intended) from then.

Imagine trying this is the UK. There would be riots

Certainly in the past it seems to have encouraged many in the rural areas here to distil their own moonshine. I was lucky enough to try some recently

But seeing as it’s illegal to buy the equipment to make this rocket fuel I’d better not say where I had a drink

Tonight I’m in an old hunting lodge dating back to the 1600s

And tomorrow I will finally cross the mountains into the land of expensive beer

Time to go on the wagon

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Taking the high road. Day 21 on a trail from Baltic to Atlantic #Sweden #Norway

The Saint Olavesleden trail continues North West towards Norway along the line of an ancient route used by traders and , of course, invading armies

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Last night I stayed in an isolated former  dairy/hunting lodge   so isolated in fact there were no other guests. Or indeed a host
Access was by a pin code. Bring your own food (a delicious meal of baked beans and pasta)

Quite an atmospheric place though. And spacious.  I could have my pick of any room. Roaming around the place put me in mind of The Shining.

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Walking along this road most of the cars are from Norway heading into Sweden to buy “cheap” booze

Which tells you how bloody expensive it must be in Norway

Death in the Snow. Day 20 walking through #Sweden and #Norway The world’s most Northern pilgrim trail

I guess it was inevitable that the temperature would drop to near freezing just as I reached the most challenging part of the journey…the climb over the ¬†ridgeback of ¬†the Norwegian border

A few weeks ago the track was still covered in snow and indeed there is  a fresh dusting on the mountain tops this morning.

So after a great night of hospitality at Tannforsen lodge (Sweden’s highest waterfall)¬† in the company of the brilliant¬† host Niklas I set off towards Norway with a degree of trepidation.

And if you think I’m worrying unecessarily  let me point you towards the nightmarish catastrophe that took place near these mountains almost exactly 300 years

It’s become knnown as the Carolean Death March – a military blunder of such staggering ¬†incompetence that it sends a shiver down the spine as I write this.

The Swedish king ¬†Charles XII , for no better reason than he’d recently ¬†been duffed up by Russian forces in the East, decided to attack Norway in the West in the hope of pinching land from his Scandinavian neighbour in any subsequent peace negotiations.

One of the generals  he used to carry out this master plan was the hapless Carl Gustav Armfeldt who Р judging by modern day representations Рlooked not unlike Queen guitarist Brian May in his 1970s pomp.

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In August 1718 Armfeldt’s army set out from Duved  (where I began the latest stage of my journey) and headed towards Trondheim. The campaign which the King had confidently predicted would last six weeks inevitably dragged on.  Armfeldt’s men were plagued  by mosquitoes and midges in the mountains.  Just a foretaste of the horrors to come

The King was killed as he led his forces at the siege of Fredericksten further south – some accounts say by enemy fire although others suggest a disgruntled Swedish soldier fired the fatal shot that blew out whatever brains the King actually possessed.

Upon his death all Swedish forces were ordered to withdraw back home and Gen Armfeldt decided to take the shortest route back through the  mountains.

Big mistake. The withdrawal took place as 1718 turned into 1719. And whatever else the troops were ¬†thinking you can bet it wasn’t Happy New Year.

The men should have been just a two day march from safety but a blizzard blew in,  visibility was reduced and temperatures plummeted

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It wasn’t long before the retreat degenerated into a chaotic shambles with the army lost in the mountains and constantly ¬†harried by well equipped Norwegian skirmishers

After months of campaigning the Swedish troops were conversely poorly equipped – their uniforms in tatters

They were reduced to burning their own rifle buts in an attempt to keep warm.

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They began to freeze to death. A Norwegian guide who followed them reported scenes from hell

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Bodies of men and horses everywhere.  Wagon drivers frozen stiff, still clutching the reins with fixed expressions in their dead eyes

More than 3000 men died in the mountains. ¬†And it didn’t end there. ¬†For years farmers around the town of Are would dig up the remains of men so badly injured on the march they would die on the way home

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It’s said that for a long time ¬†the hunting in the hills was the best in Sweden cos the local wildlife ¬†had all the meat they could eat‚Ķ.

There’s a University in Norway that historically has organized orienteering competitions. In a move to blow a big raspberry to the military pretentions of its neighbour the first competitor on the sheet is always one CG Armfeldt..whom they made lifelong patron of the orienteering society

Talk about adding insult to injury

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Blisters and trolls. Day 17 on the World’s most northern pilgrimage trail #Sweden #Travel

For the first time in 17 days I ended the day  in a foul mood.  I may as well be honest about the lows as well as the highs

The day started well.  Breakfast with the delightful the Swedish singer songwriter Alexandra Jardvall l saw her  performing with a local choir in a church on the trail.

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I came across them after a day walking through woods and meadows. ¬†The Church doors were open and they were ¬†rehearsing Annie’s Song

“You fill up my senses like a night in the forest “

Fate I tell you

Alexandra was brilliant.  So was the choir

Check her out at alexandra-music.com

They all came back to my hotel after the concert  and we sat talking music and politics til the early hours

So after breakfast and discussions about Bruce Springsteen ( her main influence) I headed off past spectacular waterfalls and a meeting with a bouncing ball of energy  called Urban who works with refugees here.

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He gave me a free lunch and took me to a former hotel where I interviewed some of the 600 residents

Long story short…the hotel was only 6 km from my ¬†intended destination that day but my backpack was ¬†left 10km ¬†further back ¬†at Urban‚Äôs home.

We drove back to pick it up …..then I realised that Urban quite reasonably expected me Р as a pilgrim Р  to actually walk back they way we had just come.  A total  distance of some 15 km

Which I did. ¬†On the way ¬†I met a lovely lass deep in the forest who’d built her own eco friendly solar powered home. ¬†With recycled wood furniture. ¬†Beautiful simple place powered by solar energy.

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She gave me chocolates and water from a spring.

Then I continued along a “Troll Path” (we are not talking internet here)

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So I felt chipper.  Until my old blister developed a new blister.  

Then the signs into Are got slightly confusing. Leading me up two steep dead ends.  Very steep dead ends

Blister got worse.  I became ill tempered. My Zen mood disappearing with every painful step.

I limped into the empty ski resort of Are ¬†at 8pm. The hostel was closed, improving my mood further‚Ķ. A ‚Äúhelpline‚ÄĚ told me the price of a room was 750 Kroner. ¬†About 67 bloody quid

I eventually managed to find a local woman who rents out a room at a much cheaper rate. ¬†And she’s kind and helpful. ¬†And also works with refugees to improve their language skills. ¬†

I’ve just eaten a ¬£12 pizza and drunk two ¬†¬£6 beers

But I’m feeling better. However  my blisters throb ominously. ¬†And in two days I take on the mountains‚Ķ

Olav: Life giver and taker. Day 15 of a Scandinavian pilgrimage

Life giver because – judging by the number of Olav wells and springs I‚Äô’ve ¬†passed – the Viking strongman is responsible for most of the freshwater supplies in central Sweden .

I’m not saying he was egotistical or anything but surely he can’t have discovered them all himself.

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I picture the Viking army  in a forest desperately seeking water in the heat that July brings here (Olavs last battle was on July 29).

‚ÄúGood news, boss. Sven the Pathfinder has discovered another spring. The day is saved‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúThat IS good news,‚ÄĚ replies Olav.

‚ÄúAnd does this spring, er, ¬†have a name ?‚ÄĚ

Cue general murmuring from the soldiers and shuffling of feet..

“Well it’s like this , Boss. Seeing as Sven discovered the spring…

‚ÄúAgain‚Ķ‚ÄĚ (from an unidentified voice at the back of the ranks)

‚Äúyeah, so like I was saying boss, seeing as we’ve called the other 140 springs after you , maybe , just maybe and I’m not married to this‚Ķ.maybe we could call this one Sven‚Äôs Spring?‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúInteresting. ¬†Interesting idea,‚ÄĚ says Olav as he picks up his War Axe.

‚ÄúAnd what do YOU think we should call it, Sven ?‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúErm…Olav‚Äôs Spring sounds good enough to me, Boss‚Ķ.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúWell that’s very good of you, Sven…I must say it has a certain ring‚ÄĚ

Olav  was responsible for taking many lives as well.

He fought alongside our own King Ethelred as a mercenary and the legend goes that  in order to dislodge the enemy encamped on London Bridge,  he pulled it down.

His cunning plan was to row his boats under the bridge , attach ropes to the supports and row away at speed .

In order to protect his men from missiles from above ,  he demanded that wooden shelters be built over the boats

‚ÄúWhere you going to find that much wood in London,‚ÄĚ said the sceptical citizens of London

‚ÄúFunny you should ask that,‚ÄĚ says Olav

Days later his men attack, safe under their wooden canopies, leaving large numbers of the said citizens shivering in their  roofless homes

There is a theory that the nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down is an echo of this 11th century carnage.

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