As one progresses through life, one notices draughts. ‘I wake up with a stiff neck…and that’s all,’ says “Wrecker Jon”, edging ever closer to his forties. With routine resignation, we’re off to the continent once again: one sleeping while the other drives, crossing the channel using the port of Dover.
There is a part of me, however, that still relishes a European adventure; for me, it’s the mystical intrigue of foreign lands, or, as George Cole once brusquely described going abroad, ‘it’s Plod with guns and iffy water.’
Last time I was up in Gothenburg, Sweden, I wrote a blog for another site that went off on a tangent – yes, I know it’s hard to believe – regarding large people. It turned into something of a rant against the spherical among us, and ought not to be repeated.
Fancy the chances, then, that, while nervously eyeing a chainsaw in the luggage rack of the ferry to the Southern archipelago, I should be faced with the sign above. Ooh, it’s tempting to run with it. But no, let’s have a little look at this delightful group of islands.
Gothenburg’s archipelago begins just a nine-minute boat ride from Salthomen ferry terminal. Ah, a world without traffic. Yes, there are scooters, and a peculiar form of sputtering tricycle – used to transport cargo and whooping fair-haired children – but, thankfully, no cars.
Bicyclists and pedestrians meander down broad leafy lanes; well-tended flowers adorn every wooden verandah and window-box. These low-lying rocky islands, connected by a regular ferry service, are a walker’s paradise.
A capital starting point, I think, ought to be the viewpoint on the island of Branno. Right, well where the bloody hell is it, then? Pausing, I ask for directions from a rosy-cheeked family walking a Great Dane. Rosiest of all is the daughter who smiles shyly.
I’m sent back up the hill with the following instructions: ‘Between a red house and a white barn is a path. Get to the fork and you’ve gone too far.’ Well, there’s a fork twenty yards away. Surely they can’t mean that one?
Floundering with a map that is about as good as a metro plan of Paris while negotiating the Arc de Triomphe, I ask again. A youngish chap, again walking a dog, and looking a little like a skateboarder, points confidently back down the hill, toward the cafe which opens at 11ish, depending on the weather.
Smelling a rat, and in my usual circumspect manner, I deem it prudent to put the matter of the viewing point – the highest point on the island – to yet a third person. At this rate, I’ll have approached every one of the 808 inhabitants.
A craggy lady, smelling faintly of liniment, puts me on the right track: yes, back up the blasted, beastly, oxygen-sapping slope. Drinking in a view that is nice – unless you’ve lived in Reading all your life, the brochure description of “magnificent” is a stretch – I look onward. The path to Husvik, complete with a “well-known dance pier” beckons.
The next ferry takes me to the bustling island of Styrso, housing 1346 people. I notice that the museum is open between 6-8pm on Tuesdays only, and that the last ferry back is about 5pm, probably running every day except Tuesdays. Just then, a tricycle motors past, towing a brace of sandy-haired angels, shrieking with delight.
And a jellyfish pulsates at me, while resting on a wooden footbridge. Serenity personified. Everything is just so clear and clean in Sweden. When driving up here, I always feel I should wipe my feet before getting out of the truck.
The island of Donso is even bigger than Styrso. Home to a port of ten shipping companies owning 45 ships – the funny part is that most of them cannot visit Donso because the harbour is too small – the island can be reached by bridge from Styrso. The photo of speedboats’ wakes is taken from that bridge.
My penultimate ferry ride, before the voyage back to the mainland, is to Vrango, the most southerly inhabited island in the archipelago. Having such a splendid afternoon watching pretty canoeists, golf carts and marvelling at the occasional proper signpost, I lose my way on Donso. What can one do, then, but nap under a pine tree on a grassy knoll, a slack flagpole-hoist flapping like a yacht’s mast in the background.
With ferries missed, little can be achieved on Vrango in seven minutes; cut that down to four due to the ferry’s idyllic tardiness, and it’s hopeless. So, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Whatever you choose to do in the archipelago, the salient, underlying point is that you won’t get anything to eat before 11. But, armed with a flask and a slice of fruit cake, there is nowhere finer..