We drove away from our tranquil perch on the banks of Lake Storsjön, first heading back into the main town of Östersund for a slightly longer explore. We had a quick walk along the pedestrian streets lined with closed shops, and down to the waterfront to look at the marina, all perched on the same lake we had recently left. It was a thriving town, quiet at this hour but with obvious affluence. We found a line of motorhomes parked up in what looked like a town centre aire, and whilst a nice location it definitely wasn’t a patch on our lake-side layby near Sonne. We stopped briefly in the central Tourist Office for a map of the region we would next reach, then hit the road east heading to the Baltic coast.
It hadn’t escaped our notice that the most northerly Distillery in the world (they say – I think Aurora Spirit in Norway may disagree) was on our direct route. We called into Box whisky Distillery hoping for a tour visit and perhaps a few tastings, but they were right in the middle of preparing for their annual whisky festival. It was organised carnage, lots of bodies running around stacking, building and relocating all manner of items, in advance of their 5pm opening. They were definitely not geared up for, or expecting, any regular visitors this afternoon. We had a brief wander around their main buildings and display, all the while ignored by their busy staff. We just felt a little in the way, and whilst our younger selves would have embraced the party spirit, changed plans and stayed for the festival, we left them to it all and headed off for a more serene experience.
After many miles, we finally stopped at a free roadside aire for a late lunch. It was a grassy rastplats, the front field peppered with caravans. Behind was a large, clear lake where kids were playing and swimming as their parents picnicked on the grass. It had a busy but nice atmosphere, but there was also a lot of road noise. Our original plan had been to spend the night here, but given we hadn’t spent any significant time at the whisky distillery and it was still early afternoon, we decided to push on a little further into the national park. Our first stop was to be at their new Visitor Centre, Naturum Höga Kusten.
Naturum Höga Kusten, still not fully complete externally, was still a great starting point to learn more about the park. We enjoyed their colourful nature exhibition, picked up leaflets and maps for hiking trails and finally decided on which of the three National Park entrances we would head for first. We checked that overnighting in Benny in the Park was allowed and had it confirmed as a definitive yes, if we were hiking in the park. As that was exactly our intention for a couple of days, we happily headed off in search of the west entrance. The maps showed it had bins, toilets, information areas and fire barbecue pits, with several of the main hiking trails starting from there; ideal.
Straight off the main E4 road, a narrow gravel track rose up for the last few kilometres or so into Skuleskogen National Park, created as Sweden’s nineteenth National Park in 1984. For some reason we were expecting a large and possibly busy car-park, but we found only a small strip of diagonal parking and only a few cars currently visiting. We drove around the one-way loop and on the opposite side we parked up alone in a quiet spot, conveniently hitting a perfectly level patch of the sloping gravel on first try. We were quite amazed, but also very glad, that such a prime spot for exploring the celebrated Höga Kusten was so under-used. In early July we were expecting a lot more visitors, and motorhomes, in the park, especially with the option to overnight for free.
We looked round the neat timber buildings that included refuse and WC facilities and, slightly deeper into the forest, a large curved information centre with pictures and boards explaining about the local scenery and wildlife. Later we walked around 4km to the two nearest viewpoints in the park, not seeing anyone on the paths. We enjoyed expansive views overlooking Långtjärnen lake, tall forests and right out to sea. We sat a while outside the shelters built on the highest point around, at a place called Långtjärnhällorna, still in shock at having this wonderful place practically to ourselves. Where were the crowds we would expect in such a beautiful landscape, if this was in the UK?
Returning to base, we again passed the barbecue fire pits set within stone on the decking, snuggled within the trees. It had a wood store, complete with chopping axe, fully stocked with seasoned wood ready to use. Delighted that we had picked up some BBQ smoked chicken earlier in the day, we decided to have a peaceful fireside evening in the woods, cooking on an open fire. We packed up all we needed and returned to light a fire on the decking, enjoying the simple process of chopping wood and building the fire.
We had chicken thighs with bundles of mixed vegetables wrapped in tinfoil that we slowly roasted to perfection on the large barbecue grill positioned over the glowing embers of the split spruce logs. We ate at a table near the fire, enjoying its nearby warmth. It was so incredibly tranquil, sat all alone in the forest, silent but for the crackling fire. We split a banana and stuffed it with dark chocolate squares, leaving it to go mushy and gooey on the dying embers whilst we cleaned up. We brushed the decking and chopped up a few more logs, to leave some small fire-ready sticks as kindling for the next user to enjoy; the very least we could do since we were allowed access to such a wonderful facility.
We savoured our shared dessert spoonful by spoonful as we reflected on the easy beauty of Sweden’s coast. We then had a very quiet night and readied ourselves for a long, exploratory walk around the area the following day.
Part 2 of Höga Kusten to follow.