Sweden’s north Baltic Coast to Overtorneå
Leaving the north entrance of Skuleskogen National Park and with it Sweden’s beautiful Höga Kusten behind, we drove north following the E4 along the coast. The weather had changed, our blue skies replaced overnight with a solid grey mass of muddy cloud and the constant threat of rain. We passed through the towns of Örnsköldsvik and Umeå stopping only briefly in each to have a look around. We kept motoring along, making good distance under the grey skies. We turned east off the main road just after Lövånger and proceeded up a narrow side road that terminated at a noted lighthouse called Bjuröklubb Fyren. Just short of here was a quiet grassy aire near a small sandy beach where we pulled in to spend the night as the rains arrived.
The next morning we drove a few miles further along the small peninsula to the end of the road, parking where it terminated at Bjuröklubb Fyren. It was rainy and grey, the sky a single flat colour with no sign of an edge. We walked over the nearby hillside first, seeing the ruins of old Russian-built buildings and ovens once used to support raiding parties during a long-past war. We then reached the lighthouse on the rocky headland by way of built timber walkways, where we had a rather wet and dismal view out to sea, before deciding to return to Benny and move on.
Back on the coast road we passed Skellefteå and Piteå as we made our way to the outskirts of Luleå. Our goal was to visit Gammelstad Church town, a UNESCO world heritage site, just to the west of the main town. We parked at what we thought would be our overnighting aire, to find that signs had been put up that very morning by Q-Park to turn it into max. 3 hours parking. We asked in the nearby tourist shop and they seemed a little apologetic about it, all beyond their control. We parked anyway and walked into town, with the visitor centre our first stop for information.
We learned that there were two other areas very near the town where we could overnight, so that solved our first dilemma. Then we visited the beautifully presented free museum upstairs, watching a video on the local area and scanning all the displays. We also noted the official UNESCO heritage certification letter for Gammelstad Church Town was framed on the side wall, a nice touch. The winds and rain continued outside the large windows, so we lingered longer and learnt more than we might have had the day been bright and clear.
At the centre was the late Medieval Nederluleå church, with over 40 different types of rock used in the construction of its fieldstone walls. There were some areas of brick detailing high on gable ends and within window reveals, breaking up the expanse of stone. Inside, the gilded altarpiece had a detailed wood carving depicting the passion of Christ, said to be one of the finest in Sweden. A wall-mounted and ornately decorated pulpit overlooked the single nave, set below the simple, plain white vaulted roof.
We walked on through the town, following a short dictated route that picked up most of the historical items of interest. There were once hundreds of such church towns scattered around Sweden, but of the 16 now remaining in existence Gammalstd is said to be the best preserved. There are 408 small red-painted timber houses positioned around the central church. The houses were built to allow parishioners who lived long distances away the opportunity to visit the church for worship and then stay over before making their long journey home. Many of the church cottages are still utilised in this traditional way.
We spent the night in the recommended car-park near a rarely used railway line, under a deluge that cut up the hard gravel into a swamp. We didn’t venture out at all, but watched our unfortunate neighbours parked across the yard struggle with attempting to fix their clearly leaking door in the driving rain; we didn’t envy them their task.
Next morning we drove into Luleå, where we called into a large caravan showroom to enquire about buying propane gas and the required Swedish connection. They sold both, but the prices were staggering – over £60 for the small connection adaptor needed, and an additional £150 for a standard 11kg propane bottle (the same sized ones that are £9 in Spain) and this was one that could only later be exchanged with them. No thanks, that was much too expensive and limiting, and so for the first time we decided to wait until back in Norway to buy something at a more reasonable price.
We continued on through Kalix, before turning off to overnight at Nikkala marina. We initially decided to park nose-out to have a view, but we gave up this prime sea view spot and instead cowered behind the service building, safe and protected as the incredible cross winds battered the entire site into submission. We lost our view but stayed stable and unrocked as we slept. We passed through busy Haparanda the following morning before crossing into Finland to visit a nearby Lidl we had spotted on Google maps. We stocked up as necessary, then rather than return to Sweden we drove north on the Finnish side until we reached the bridge back to Overtorneå, our primary destination.
We entered the village and noted there were several signs pointing the way to our goal. We were here to stay at Norrsken Lodge for another WorkAway volunteer week. First we visited the small town and looked around the pretty, decorative church before progressing to meet our Workaway hosts and learn what tasks awaited us.