Grisslehamn to Söderköping – six days of cycling

In the past six days I've cycled from Grisslehamn to Söderköping, stopping overnight at Norrtälje, Vaxholm, Södertälje, Trosa and Nyköping.

Keen to get out of the Åland Islands and move into Sweden, I took an early morning ferry to Grisslehamn. The trip took 1 ¾ hours and cost a whole 7.50€. At that price, the trip was marginally more expensive than breakfast and cheaper than the two rolls I bought for lunch. Due to the change in time, the ferry arrived in Grisslehamn, Sweden, shortly after 9 am.

My first day in Sweden  I cycled 46 km. The cycling was easy, quiet country roads winding up and around small undulations in the landscape. I saw all the ‘ffffs’ – fields, forests, farms, flowers, ferns and rocks. I noticed many of the road signs are in vibrant blue and yellow, echoing the colours of the Swedish flag, the blue sky and the golden fields. There also seems to be a bit of a 'thing' about displaying old equipment at the entrance to a property. 

I arrived in good time and good condition at the camp site in Norrtälje to discover that there was no-one at reception. The man mowing the lawns rang the manager who took my details over the phone and charged me 185 SEK (Swedish Krone) for the pleasure of camping for one night. The wash facilities were OK, there was a reasonable kitchen with power points but I couldn't find the laundry and the wifi didn't seem to be working – and of course there was no-one available to ask about these things. This whole idea of money being so much more important than service is just rubbish!

My second day in Sweden wasn't quite so pleasant. I cycled 69 km, mostly along exceptionally busy and narrow roads with no shoulder to speak of. Some of the hills had overtaking lanes on them. When I saw a line of cars or a couple of big trucks behind me, I pulled over onto the grass and let them all pass me safely. I was VERY glad when I eventually arrived at Vaxhlom with frayed nerves but still in one piece.

After that experience, choosing to take the ferry from Vaxholm to Stockholm the next morning was a no-brainer. The trip took just over an hour through waters which were so busy with boats of all sizes, from little yachts to massive ocean going vessels, that I was amazed we didn’t run into anyone. Before I knew it, I was dumped in the centre of a beautiful city with canals and bridges in every direction.

Cycling through the old city was very impressive, all those stately old buildings, romantic bridges, awestruck tourists taking selfies on every corner and the most amazing bike lanes and bike traffic lights to keep me safe as I very, very slowly navigated my way out of there.

I thought that once I hit the suburbs that the cycling would have less stops, starts, turns and confusions but I was wrong, very wrong! Google Maps took me  the 'scenic route', on a thousand-point meander through goodness knows where. I rode on all road types including a bush track, over bridges, under bridges, down a corkscrew path, along a lake, past numerous other lakes. It was certainly a challenge but we did it! - my phone, Maps and I conquered the worst that Stockholm's suburbs could throw at us! I only cycled 45 km that day.

One highlight of the day was riding through some new estates in the suburbs and outer towns. They were so well planned, buildings no more than three or four storeys high, spread apart with gardens, lawns and walking paths between, with playgrounds, meeting places and seats in the sun. I followed a path which had the dividing line as usual, except the line meandered all over the place and even did some swirls in places. The path ended in a playground which had a multi-humped camel for the little children and a soccer field with a difference for the older children. The field was an area of mounds, valleys and curving line markings which would make playing soccer there incredibly unpredictable. The goal square was a painted, whirligig of posts. I loved it!

The campsite at Södertälje was basic but lovely, at the edge of a lake. The manager and her partner have been living here for the last nine years. They live in a caravan but unlike other long-term residents, they have no garden, fence, permanent annex or little dogs. They claimed that they don’t get cold in winter. I can imagine spending a great deal of time there but over winter? The manager took me to buy food at a shopping centre because their café is closed. The laundry was free, all for only 200 SEK. Now that’s service!

After the trials and tribulations of the previous few days, I decided to have a more relaxed morning. The planned ride was only 42 km which isn’t terribly much but the alternative was about 90 km or spending a night in a hotel somewhere en route. My tent was sopping wet with dew so by the time I had that dried, my washing dried and all my electronics charged, it was already 9.30.

First stop of the day was the a service station where I stopped for a coffee. The young attendant had been in Melbourne for a month earlier in the year so he was quite pleased to be able to sell me a hot drink and a sweet bun. Navigating out of the city and into the countryside was not nearly as stressful as yesterday. I only had to stop about 10 times and I was mightily relieved when I met the Nyköpingsväg which promised to take me almost all the way to Trosa.

The countryside was beautiful. Large sweeping fields of golden grain being harvested, an occasional horse stud or dairy farm, a few patches of forest and every now and then a view of a lake. The road was excellent all day with a verge for cyclists, sometimes narrow but often quite wide, broken by stretches of actual cycle path. I had a picnic lunch by the roadside with my back to the road. Some instinct made me look around to see another long distance cyclist disappearing into the distance, the first such creature I’ve seen for a long time.

 

Seven kilometres after lunch was decision time – turn left for about 10 km to Trosa which, according to the reviews, has a splendiferous setting but a fairly tired campground or turn right for 53 km to Nyköping. I checked Google Maps and saw the Nyköping camp grounds, about three of them, are all at least 10 km on the other side. That decided me. I’m too old to knock myself out trying to rush things. I turned left.

Time for my afternoon coffee in Trosa before I cycled another four km to the camp ground. I stopped at a café. There were two women and a young man sitting outside, eating ice-creams. We started up a conversation. One of the ladies was very interested in my bike tour and asked all the usual questions. She dreams of being a free spirit and just wandering wherever fate takes her. 

The camp ground at Trosa is indeed in an idyllic setting. It’s on the tip of an island. The beach and the water were just over the bump, about 50 metres away from my tent. I had a swim, the water was cold as well as wet. I was impressed with the way the beach is set up for all ages. The sand slopes gradually into the water. There is a slide for the little kids to slide into the shallow water. There are two parallel sets of bars also going into the water, ideal for the elderly who are a bit hesitant about their balance. There are three piers, one has a platform at the end for people to mill about and jump into the water. Another ends in a ladder and higher platform for the divers.

I was also very appreciative of the camp ground itself. The tent pitches were smallish, flat, grassy patches between the rocks and the trees. There were picnic tables, a couple of Adironack chairs and even a hammock spread around for people to use. The facilities were basic but clean – nothing to complain about. The power points in the kitchen all had 30 minute timers on them but being the intrepid traveller I am, I found one in the nook between the fridge and the wall which has no timer.

For days, I’ve been pining for some custard. I haven’t been able to find any but did find something called ‘Protein Pudding’. I bught chocolate. Why Protein? Does it have dead animals in it? It tasted ok, a bit too chocolatey and not quite sweet enough but certainly edible.

I woke in Trosa to the sound of rain splashing on my tent. There was nothing for it, but to pack up and keep on moving. I’m fairly well set up for rain. All the different tent parts go into separate waterproof bags so they can’t make everything else wet. My jacket and over-pants do an excellent job of keeping me dry. The only problems are hands and feet which still get wet and cold. The rain cleared in the afternoon and by the time I got to Nyköping, 57 km later, I was almost dry again.

Nyköping’s campsite is yet another stunningly beautiful place with trees, an inlet, noisy geese and ducks. There was no internet reception at all and the wifi was too weak to be of any value.

The weather is getting colder at night. I took a cabin as a bit of luxury and so I could dry my tent properly. The heaters in my cabin and in the shower block were on. It was very nice to feel warm and toasty. In the evening I heard and saw dozens of geese flying south. They wee usually in V shaped formations. One flock had a very lopsided V with four geese on one side and abut twenty on the other. Another flock couldn’t get their V sorted at all, a number of geese kept wobbling from one side to another, maybe young ones who are not quite sure how it all works.

On the last day of this section, I woke early, bounded out of bed and was on the road by 8 am. I was raring to go, to get the 71 km behind me, to get to Söderköping and to see the Göta Kanal. The first 30 km went in a flash, through a large agricultural area. The next 11 km followed the inlet shore, numerous small hills, narrow road with forest and rocks on each side. A few other cyclists on racing bikes zipped past me as I struggled and sweated up each hill before zooming down the other side.

By noon, I was at the river crossing waiting for the ferry. I chatted with a young Dutch lad who had passed me on the hills. He was about to start a semester at Linköping and was cycling around, having a final burst of freedom, learning Swedish as he went. He was on a racing bike with very little gear – a small tent, a light sleeping bag, one spare sweater and not much else. He was amazed at how much I have, I was amazed at how little he has.

The last 30 km were a bit more of a slog, only because I was starting to run out of puff. There was more agricultural land with farmers ploughing up huge fields. I arrived in Söderköping by mid-afternoon to find a ‘Medieval Week’ in full swing. The town was packed out with peasants in sackcloth, kids waving swords, food stands everywhere, no starving peasants to be seen anywhere. Toffee apples seem to have been popular in the Middle Ages. I ate a flat bread roll filled with wild boar and cabbage. The lemonade turned out to be cordial – no bubbles. Revived, I chooffed off to the camp ground on the banks of the Göta Kanal where I have a pitch on the grassy verge right next to the water.

I’m seriously considering getting an eBike for my future travels.