We spent the weekend in Stora Sjöfallet National Park, one of four national parks that make up the Laponia World Heritage Site. Three of the parks lie to the east of the E45, the main road in these parts, and Stora Sjöfallet is the most accessible of these. Because it has a road. Just the one road, in an area of national parks which covers over 5,000 square kilometres. The road runs up the northern shore of the Luleälven River and, in fact, is not technically in the park at all – the river was conveniently excluded from the national park so that two hydroelectric power plants could be constructed.
We started our drive up the one road on Friday afternoon, delighted that the sun was finally making an appearance after a wet and cold start to the day. The views on the drive up were spectacular – the photos really don’t do them justice.
We had picked up a couple of leaflets about the area from a tourist information office which had conflicting information about whether dogs were OK – one said they were forbidden in all of the national parks, another said that they were OK in Stora Sjöfallet as long as they were on a lead. As we drove past the ‘Welcome to the National Park’ sign, we were unsure whether the puppy was OK to be there or not, so stopped at the campsite to ask. Yes, she is fine to be here as long as she is on a lead. Yippee! But, you can’t wildcamp in the national park in a motorhome. Boo hiss. The campsite had a washing machine and our laundry situation was reaching the critical stage, so we decided to stay, even at around £20 per night which is a bit steep for us. We gritted our teeth and asked how much the washing machine was – it had cost another £5 per load at the last Swedish campsite we stayed at. But apparently here it was included in the overnight price. Fools! Have they not met people who only visit a campsite once a month and therefore have piles of laundry to do? By breakfast the following morning, we had washed 4 loads and dried them in the free drying room. At £5 per load, that made our overnight stop free. Bargain.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny so we headed out for a short walk with the puppy in the area around the campsite. Once she was tired out and we could leave in the van without feeling too guilty, we headed out for a longer walk which we hoped would end up at some low falls we had seen that morning. However, it was the sort of track which is marked occasionally by a small pile of rocks in the distance – crossing both boggy and rocky areas, the track kept disappearing and D often clambered onto a higher rock to see if he could find it again. We didn’t make it to the falls, but the walk was fantastic if you ignored the mosquitos.
We decided to stay another night as our first one had been a freebie so that we could continue up the one road to the end the next day. It turned out to be a good day for a drive – wet and cold again. The drive was interesting – the road got narrower and took us past the power stations and the huge dam across the river. To be honest, we are not even sure that it is really a power station – it seems to be built under a mountain, the only evidence being huge entrance tunnels and it looks more like the headquarters of a Bond villain, where he keeps his nuclear rocket. It wouldn’t have surprised us at all to see the top of the mountain lift off and the rocket shoot into the sky. With the gloomier weather, the scenery had a more menacing feel, which added to the Bond villain theory.
The cloud came in and, by the time we reached Ritsem at the end of the road, you could no longer see across the lake. Ritsem consists of a few Sami cottages and a campsite which is the centre of recreational activity up here – hiking, hunting, fishing. We stopped for coffee and cake at the ‘cafe’ (self service machine coffee and a choice of three cakes) and got talking to the lady working there. We asked about the many permanent caravan pitches we could see – presumably people come here in summer for the hiking? Er, no. It seems those caravans are for the people who come here in winter for the ice fishing. Winter. In a caravan. North of the Arctic Circle. On a sunny day, I’m sure the views are wonderful, but when we were there it was a little bleak.
She told us stories about working at Ritsem – the men who drive up from Gallivare, ‘Europe’s Mining Capital’ according to a huge sign proudly displayed at the entrance to the town, during their week off to hunt, fish and drink and whiz about on their expensive snowmobiles. Then there are the tourists who ask about where they can buy food in nearby Sarek National Park – this is the national park which has no road access, no overnight cabins for hikers, no facilities of any kind and which it is recommended you have mountaineering experience to visit. Just a few weeks ago, a young Danish hiker was separated from his friend and has not been seen since. There is a boat which ferries (I guess that would make it a ferry) hikers from one side of the lake to the other. It stops running in a couple of weeks until next summer, but even now only runs when the weather conditions are right. The skipper has to radio her once he has picked up passengers to tell her how many there are ‘in case he sinks or something’. While we were there, a guy called from Germany – he was planning to visit next week and wanted reassurance that the boat would be running. She tried to explain that it should be, but might not be, but said that people just don’t realise that things didn’t run to strict schedules in the mountains – they run when and if the weather allows, which often upsets holidays. In June a landslide blocked the road for 5 days, which lead to some very unhappy campers. Apologies for the blurry landslide photo, but the road surface wasn’t exactly smooth tarmac at this point!
We left the national park yesterday evening and found a very pleasant picnic spot to spend the night. This morning D decided that we would make use of one of the many fireplaces we see around and cook breakfast outside. It took a while to get the rather soggy kindling going, but fried egg rolls and coffee certainly taste better when cooked and eaten outside, especially when followed by a walk through the woods to the lake.
The photo of the coffee pot is especially for Basil who has complained in the past that ours is too clean and ‘lifestyle’ – is this better for you?
We are now heading south east to the coast and crossed the Arctic Circle again this afternoon. As there is no tourist industry built around this spot, they do mention that the actual line moves every year. It doesn’t stop them providing a sign and convenient camera stand for the obligatory photo though.