After losing to Sweden at football, then England manager, Graham Taylor, famously put the Swedish victory down to the fact that Swedes “tend to be of an outdoor pursuit". He rightly got ridiculed by the British press and earned the nickname Turnip Taylor as a result! But ever a true word has been said in jest. England lost because Sweden played better, but he was right that Swedes love being outside. And when you get a taste for how stunning the countryside and coastline is, you understand why.
With this in mind, when Cowie arrived for a Swedish weekend with Edwin and Anna, I hatched a slightly insane plan that involved 900km of driving and a weekend of no running water, toilets or electricity! But what we lost in creature comforts we more than made up in tranquility and memories that will last a lifetime thanks to the enchanted forest and mysterious lake at Kolarbyn. It’s a former charcoal making forest that now operates as the “world’s most primitive hotel” where you sleep in log cabins and explore the forest in search of moose, bears, mushrooms, wolves and fairies.
After a 5 hour drive from Gothenburg, towards Stockholm, through biblical rain showers we arrived at Kolarbyn in a spotlight of sunshine and a breath of virginally pure air. The roads leading towards the clearing made me feel like the Stig and would have made Jeremy Clarkson feel like he’d broken down and gone straight to motorists’ heaven.
When Andreas, our super charming host/ranger, showed us around the clearing we were so excited that all we could do was exchange grins and stifled gasps of wonder. It was like a cross between Hansel and Gretel, Narnia and Lord of the Rings, except without the evil monsters lurking behind every tree. Our moss covered, log cabins were as primitive as the website has suggested. But that isn’t to say they weren’t the cosiest hotel rooms I’ve ever seen. Each one was fitted with a log fireplace and two benches to sleep on with a sheepskin for a mattress.
An essay about our weekend won’t do it justice. So I’ll let the photos and a few brief captions do the job instead…
We kicked off by chopping our wood for the night and soon discovered that Anna had been born to be a lumberjack...
she put Edwin's use of a lady axe to shame.
Meanwhile Cowie got the giggles...
which set Anna off into a fearsome rage!
And I almost took my leg off with an enthusiastic swing!
Our huts were like mini hobbit houses...
with grass, moss, weeds...
and mushrooms growing out of the roof.
After lighting our fires in our cabins we headed to the lake and rowed across to the floating sauna armed with logs, firelighters, matches, swimming costumes and a box of white wine.
Whilst we waited for the sauna to heat up we tucked into ice cold white wine whilst watching the sun set over our lake.
It was one of the most perfect experiences I've ever had and only got better and better. After three quarters of an hour we stripped off and hopped in the sauna which was now roasting hot. After half an hour of blissfully relaxing heat we braced ourselves and dived into the chilly lake. I swear at that moment we were the four happiest people in the whole world.
We made our way back to the camp and tucked into a hearty Swedish supper of pickled herring, crisp bread and meatballs.
And then returned to our toasty cabins good night's sleep.
We had a rustic breakfast of eggs, porridge and coffee gathered around yet another fire before heading off for an excursion in search of a moose.
But all we seemed to find was acres of lychen...
thousands of lingonberries...
and dangerous mushrooms.
But that didn't matter it the slightest. And I can safely say that the four of us had the best weekend we can all remember for a long time.
Kolarbyn is one of the most enchanting places I've ever been to and I can't recommend it to you enough. If you are staying for longer than one night you might want to treat yourself to a wolf howling tour, a beaver trail or a moose safari. But to be honest, just being at one with nature was good enough for us.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: