When the summer finally arrives in Sweden it is time to pack the car, take to the roads, and explore. This beautiful country has much magnificent scenery: the seashores and lakes, mountains, verdant valleys, and flower-filled meadows, and many outdoor activities on offer.
After being here for five years, and having ticked a number of the “must-sees” on the visitors’ check list, we chose this year to explore Höge Kusten – the High Coast. This spectacular stretch of the east coast lies roughly 450 km north of Stockholm. It took us about seven hours to get there, stopping now and then for refreshments and a leg-stretch.
The excellent E4 highway appears on the map to flank the coast, promising views of a spectacular coastline, but much of the route is slightly inland and uninteresting, with mile upon mile of natural pine and birch forest standing in thick beds of moss on either side.
Stopping places are frequent but mixed. Some are no more than a few diesel pumps, others are quite extensive. The latter include Gävle Bro, just south of Gävle, which has a self-service buffet restaurant and a fabulous godis “pick-and mix” shop. The Swedes love their godis!
Tönnebro, north of Gävle, has a restaurant overlooking a lake.
The High Coast has been a World Heritage Site since 2000. It lies in the province of Ångermanland and covers the area between Härnosand and Örnskoldsvik.
Here there are green rolling hills and deep valleys, and a rugged coastline that plunges down into the Gulf of Bothnia. In some places there are course sandy beaches, and in others you could stumble into a concealed pebble cove. In the sheltered bays the quiet waters of the Bothnian Gulf lap among the pungent sedge fields at the water’s edge. This part of the Baltic Sea verifies the impression that it is no more than a large inland lake, with gentle waves and mild salinity; in Swedish it is called the Östersjön – “the East Lake”. It borders Finland, Russia and the Baltic States to the east, Poland and Germany to the south, and in the west it spills past Denmark through the Kattegat and Skagerrak into the North Sea. The Bothnian Gulf lies between Sweden and Finland, and is a placid and protected part of the Baltic, ideal for boating, sailing, canoeing and kayaking. Other summer activities include birding for the keen ornithologists, and swimming, walking and rock-climbing:
For hiking there is principally Höge Kusten Leden – the High Coast Trail. (See* at the end of this article.)
Much of the spectacular scenery in the area is due to the isostatic land uplift which has been taking place since the last Ice Age (glacial period) 110 to 112 thousand years ago. Since the great ice fields which weighed down the land receded, the land has risen 286 km. This part of Sweden is the only place in the world where the uplift has been so marked, and it has the tallest cliffs in the country. The land is still rising at the rate of 8 mm per year. Hiking through the nature reserves, and thus not visible to motorists, such interesting geological sights as till-capped hills (previously islands that protruded through the ice-melt), rubble fields, and strangely-formed caves can be seen.
The High Coast is an artist’s haven, with many talented painters and craftspeople creating and displaying their wares in small galleries and shops, or in their own studios.
There are also some well-stocked gårdsbutiker (farm shops), selling fresh produce, and homemade jams, pickles, preserves, biscuits and knäkerbröd (crispbreads.) The best of these that we found is Gårdsbutiken & Restaurang Lustgården, just outside the tiny town of Nordingrå, in Själand (https://www.gardsbutiken.net/ ). Here, seduced by the delicious aroma of fresh baking, we were able to sample various tasty treats, and bought handmade truffles, delicious fig jam made with white wine, apple chutney, blackcurrent marmelad (jam), and lemon-flavoured honey.
Other stalls sell home baked breads, cakes, muffins and pastries, and at Häggby Gård med Olivas Gårdsbutik one can buy farm-produced butter, soft and hard cheeses, and fil (sour milk), a favourite Swedish breakfast item.
The four main towns in the High Coast area are Härnosand, Kramfors, Örnsköldsvik and Solleftå. Härnosand is the most interesting – the “gateway” to the High Coast area – and has a fascinating history. As we drove through this small town, bustling with tanned Swedish holiday-makers and mariners, I became aware of gracious old buildings that suggested a more illustrious past.
Further research revealed that it was founded in 1585 by King Johann III, and became a large and important harbour town during the 1600’s. It was destroyed several times by fires – the story of most old wooden European towns. But it increased in importance during the wars with Russia, and then fell into decline once again.
The city’s first church was built in 1593, but was burned down by Russian troops in 1721. A new church was erected, and that church was also destroyed. The present cathedral, which is the smallest cathedral in Sweden, was completed in 1846. Inside it is a visual gem, decked out in white and gold. There is an altar painting of the Crucifixion, by David von Coln, and the organ was built in 1975 by a Danish firm, using the organ facade that was saved from the previous church. The silver baptismal font is a Spanish Rococo item dating from 1777. I savour the hushed atmosphere inside an old church, with its scent of warm wax from the devotional candles, and the quirky artefacts and stories concealed therein.
There is also a university in Härnosand, an open-air county museum displaying artifacts from the Stone Age, and the Hemsö Fästning (fortress), one of Sweden’s most important coastal defense lines during the Cold War. Visitors can see the underground rooms at Havstoudd, and there are guided tours of the control room, cannon batteries, cannon towers, anti-aircraft defenses, medical centre and canteens. There is also a restaurant and café.
Following upon Härnosand on the E4 is the spectacular steel-and-concrete High Coast Bridge which spans the Ångermanälven River. It is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world (1,867 m), and reaches 182 m above the water. It looks very much like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but is 70 m shorter. There is a restaurant on the hillside overlooking the Ångermanälven River and Bridge. Here visitors can enjoy an à la carte meal whilst admiring the spectacular view, or a coffee and snack from the café.
Sollefteå offers salmon fishing, river fishing and rafting on the Ångermanälven River, and nearby there is a Rock Carving Museum at Nämforsen. This is one of the largest rock carving locations in Northern Europe, with some 3,000 carved figures, thought to date from 6,000 years ago. The museum has a slideshow, restaurant and shop, and there are guided tours during the summer. This was too long a drive from our cottage at Gavik, so we unfortunately missed this interesting site.
Ornsköldsvik in the north is the location of several vertiginous ski-jumps, structured like massive slides down the mountainside, perfect for the winter adrenaline junkies. There are also ski resorts in the High Coast area, offering numerous winter sports and activities.
A drive up Varvsberget (Shipyard Mountain) is rewarded with a typical Swedish lunch at the Varvsberget Restaurang: crumbed grilled herrings, salad, and new potatoes. There are spectacular views over the harbour on one side, and the rolling hills and lakes of the High Coast on the other. (www.varvsberget.se)
There are several significant nature reserves in the High Coast area, the most popular of which is Skuleskogens Nationalpark. There are no roads marked on the map of the park, as there aren’t any. It is solely for hiking, and admiring the magnificent “nature” – something about which the Swedes are utterly passionate. There are also many picturesque old country churches.
Another beautiful nature reserve is to be found on the island of Trysunda where there is a protected harbour for boating, swimming and sunbathing. Ulvön island lies in the Örnskoldsvik archipelago, and Högbonden island has a nature reserve and an old lighthouse. All these islands may be reached by the ferries that depart from four different points on the mainland, mainly the fishing village of Bönhamn. Be sure to time your trip carefully, as you may miss the right ferry at the right time, as we did. There are numerous islands in the Bothnian Gulf, some only a few metres across, others offering meals in restaurants and various outdoor activities, and yet others which are undeveloped havens of peace and tranquility. For the ferry times see the website: www.ornskoldsvikshamn.se .
Ulvön is famous for its production of surströmming (fermented Baltic herring), a Swedish specialty notorious for its evil odour. Dating from the 16th century, when salt was scarce, this delicacy is traditionally eaten during August, with small mandel potatis (“almond” potatoes), all washed down with beer or akvavit. It can also be used in a sandwich, with onion or tomato, or rolled up in a piece of tunnbröd (thin, soft flat bread.) The odour of this fish is so foul, somewhat like drains, that one is advised to open the tin in a bucket of water!
We took several day drives to various places of interest on the coast, particularly tiny towns punted as scenic fishing villages in the online brochure. These included Bönhamn, Barsta, and Norrfällsviken.
Norrfällsviken has a picturesque quay for sailing boats. Here Fiskarfänget restaurant serves a delicious seafood buffet – weekends only. See www.fiskarfanget.se . As it was a weekday, we settled for salmon quiche and salad, ordered at the counter, with beverages, from a wide variety of seafood dishes.
The Magasin Höge Kusten advertises other activities: Klokhuset (the Clock House) in Skadom, and a Beaver Safari and Parasailing: www.wildwestadventure.se .
For children the website suggests the Junsele Zoo, but we did not consider it worth the effort to drive 145 km to see white tigers that are not even indigenous to Sweden.
Generally, I would not recommend the High Coast area for children. There doesn’t seem enough for them to do, or what children really enjoy, which are vibrant holiday resorts with soft sandy beaches, lots of other kids to play with, fun parks, ice-cream and godis, all of which we have encountered on our travels up the west coast and on the east and southern Skåne coasts. We saw few children on the High Coast, as it is principally an area for serious hikers who are either young and without children, or super- fit retirees – or those simply wanting to enjoy the beautiful scenery. It is further north than the west coast resorts, sparsely populated and less developed, and cooler than both the west coast and the Skåne resorts in southern Sweden. There are numerous tiny isolated farming settlements and small villages, some by the sea, some with quaint churches dating from medieval times.
The Swedes’ idea of heaven is an isolated cottage by a lake or the sea, to boat, fish, swim and relax, and to do endless maintenance all summer long. And to simply potter.
In short, Sweden is a fantastic country for outdoor sports and activities, all the year round.
Accommodation on the High Coast varies from camping in tents to hotels that are “cheap, comfortable, luxurious and exclusive”. There are cottages and apartments, camping and holiday “villages”, guest harbours, bed and breakfasts, and youth hostels. We found a furnished stuga (cottage) on the official website, situated up on a hill in the settlement of Gavik, on the Gaviksfjärden (Gavik Bay.)
Here we went for walks along gravel roads and pathways bordered with tall, sweet-scented fireweed and lupins, all abuzz with bumble bees, down to the shore and boathouses. We also found parts of well-marked trails, some designated “easy”, others more “challenging”, which took us through pretty summery fields or rain-soaked woods. Good, water-proof walking shoes or hiking boots are essential to avoid waterlogged feet. Some days it was rainy at first, and then blossomed into glorious sunny evenings. The sun was higher for longer than in Stockholm, and rising earlier with each fresh, rain-washed dawn. In fact it barely seemed to set at all, the heavens remaining an indigo glow for a few hours around midnight, and filled with the calls of swallows and seabirds.
Most of these simple cottages have everything one needs, from reasonable beds to cutlery and crockery, a frig, oven and microwave. Taking your own bed and bath linen saves you SEK 500. Likewise if you clean the place yourself upon departure. If you stay in an isolated spot, as we did, the electricity is reliable and the peace and quiet sublime. But the water tastes brackish, and the plumbing is dubious (foul-smelling septic tanks.) A cottage in a village or town has better municipal services. The choice is yours!
For accommodation see https://www.hogakusten.com/en/hk/accommodation.html .
On the way home we stopped in the seaside village of Hudiksval, which lies at the top of a long sheltered inlet between Sundsvall and Söderhamn. Here we found a wharf-side restaurant where we enjoyed the harbour view and that day’s lunch specials: pork ribs, and matjessill (spicy marinated herrings) served with boiled new potatoes, sour cream, dill and chopped chives, served with crunchy crisp bread. This dish is typical in another respect: the Scandinavian predilection for an abundance of proteins (usually fish and pork) and carbs – with a conspicuous lack of vegetables. Traditionally these were difficult to grow in Sweden, and those bought in supermarkets here today are either green-house-cultivated or imported.
Take care, when returning south, not to end up on the old E4 as we did. This road, whilst not too bad, and scenic, is slower than the highway. Note to self: update or get a new GPS!
* For the hiking, to quote from the website:
Walk the High Coast trail and you’ll get the opportunity to experience some of the world heritage’s absolute treats. It will take you through beautiful woodlands, mountains with stunning views, rocky coasts, bays and protected nature areas. Moreover, there are several activities, detours and experiences to discover and try along the trail.
High Coast Trail extends between Hornöberget at the end of Ångermanälven and central Örnsköldsvik. The trail is well marked with orange paint on trees and poles. In addition, there are signpost with distances statements or directional arrows with the High Coast Trail symbol at crossroads and trail branches. The shelters and unlocked cabins that are available along the trail is at the wanderer’s available and cannot be pre-booked. You can also not exclude other visitors. Most of the accommodations, such as hotels, hostels and guest houses are bookable online here at www.hogakusten.com. In Örnsköldsvik, Kramfors and Härnösand you find tourist offices that are open all year round. During the summer, the tourist offices at Hornöberget and Nordingrå are open.
Sections: The High Coast Trail is 128.6 km long and is divided into 13 sections. The different sections has been made so that, in principle, within each stage there is at least one overnight accommodation under roof, from open and public cabins to hostels and hotels. Every end of the sections are also accessible by car. The possibility of permanent parking can, however, be limited. The different sections can help your planning and organization for the trek. However, it is not something you are bound to follow. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of interesting side trips and activities to take part in on or near the High Coast Trail which can make some sections take longer times than others. If you want to make some comments about the trail and its condition, maybe even urgent action needs, please contact us on +46 (0)613-700 200.
Each section has a brief description of some sights and provided “basic services” that are directly or closely adjacent to the trail. A new hiking guide of the trail is available to order here at www.hogakusten.com or to be purchased at one of our tourist offices.
Below you can read more and see an overview map of each stage: https://www.hogakusten.com/en/hk/high-coast-trail.html
At Docksta, just south of Skuleskogen National Park, lies the Via Ferrata – meaning “climbing for everyone”. The rock climbing here offers not only a “fantastic view of the nature”, but it is suitable for the whole family – “no experience needed”.
World Heritage Site, Dramatic Nature & Adventure
This is the official Visitors Guide of Höga Kusten. Here you can find everything that the destination offers in accommodation, activities, restaurants, conference and events. You can safely, securely and without extra fees make your desired reservations directly on the page. You are very welcome to contact us at Höga Kusten Tourism or any of our Tourist Information offices should you need further information.
1. Map of Scandinavia courtesy of Wiki: https://www.google.se/search?q=map+of+scandinavia&rlz=1C1CHWA_enSE633SE633&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=643&tbm=isch&imgil=DCKAfuvoALtmDM%253A%253BxiyW8Rv_hHPOUM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.reddit.com%25252Fr%25252Fmapporn%25252Fcomments%25252F1k0w1m%25252Fpopulation_density_of_norway_finland_and_sweden&source=iu&pf=m&fir=DCKAfuvoALtmDM%253A%252CxiyW8Rv_hHPOUM%252C_&usg=__BL7VkY6uh8r-GM7CB7DlGEiV4aQ%3D&ved=0CDIQyjdqFQoTCP2to47y_cYCFYcYLAodwgkKEQ&ei=OX63Vb2tHoexsAHCk6iIAQ#imgrc=DCKAfuvoALtmDM%3A&usg=__BL7VkY6uh8r-GM7CB7DlGEiV4aQ%3D
2. The Rough Guide to Sweden, fifth edition, ISBN 978-1-84836-024-2
3. High Coast website: https://www.hogakusten.com/en/hk.html
4. Rock carvings at Nämforsen: Wikipedia: https://www.google.co.za/search?q=rock+carving+museum+n%C3%A4mforsen&rlz=1C2CHWA_enSE633SE633&biw=1366&bih=643&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAWoVChMItY2rs_-AxwIVAbssCh3sfgI3&dpr=1