Gotland and Trans-Scandinavian Cycle Tour (Part I)
(Terje Melheim 1999)

This is the story about a cycle tour made by Kjartan (16) and mother Turid and father Terje (who has written this story) In June 1999 we visited the island of Gotland which is situated in the middle of the Baltic Sea, far to the east in Scandinavia. As we live on an island along the Norwegian coast, far to the west in Scandinavia, we had, in connection with the cycle tour on Gotland, to cross the Scandinavian peninsula in an east-west direction.

PART  I                                         Part II
Alone through Sweden                            Fårö and more Gotland
Five days at Flen                                     Return to Visby
At last we got there - Gotland                 Solo cycling in Sweden
                                                               What about our bicycles?


Alone through Sweden
We decided to travel towards the east by train and bicycle. I preferred to have some additional days with my bicycle on Swedish roads, and the other two would do almost all the distance by train. We would then all meet at the station of Flen, about one hundred kilometres west of Stockholm. From there we could cycle to Nynäshamn and get a ferry to Visby on Gotland. Kjartan and Turid did not want to go all the way to Stockholm by train because the train would arrive late and it would be difficult to find a camping place. A smaller town would be a better option. The way to Nynäshamn would have been shorter from the station of Södertälje, but according to our information no bicycles could be sent to that station. The last station before Södertälje is Flen. Even from there Nynäshamn could be reached in a few days on bicycles.

I started my cycle tour by going by train from Bergen. The problem about bicycles when you go by train in Norway and Sweden is that you are not allowed to take a bicycle along with you in the train, and, even worse, you have to hand in your bicycle 48 hours before your train journey. I could not do that because that would be very troublesome for me. I live 100 km from the nearest railway station. I have read in Trento Bike Pages about cyclists from America who pack their bikes in a box of carton for the flight to Europe. If  I did so with my bike for the train journey, no conductor would recognize my bike, and I could take it with me in the train. At a previous train journey I had measured the interior of a standard railway carriage, so that I knew exactly where in the train I could put the box of 130 cm x 70 x 15 which I had obtained from a bicycle dealer. If  I could get the bicycle along in this way, I did not have to start the cycle tour at a station where they hand out traveller's goods, I could choose a station closer to the Swedish border than e.g. Oslo. At Sørumsand, 40 km from Oslo there is a museum railway where I have been a member for many years. I  contacted them  and asked if I could store my bicycle box there and I would pick it up on my way home.

Early on a rainy morning I cycled from my quarters in Bergen to the railway station. I had a heavily loaded touring bike and in my hand the box for the bicycle. It was quite a tricky business to manoeuvre the bike with this load. I knew I would have to remove both wheels, mudguards, luggage carriers and seat and bend the break handles to the sides in order to pack the bike in the box. At the railway station I used approximately 40 minutes for that operation. In the train the box could be placed exactly as I had figured out - on the top of the section designed for storing skis. In Oslo I got all my luggage into a local train to Sørumsand. When I had arrived there, I put my bicycle together. My instruction had been just to leave the box outside the station of this narrow gauge museum railway, and my contact person would take care of it. When I came to the museum railway in the evening of June 19 1999, it was  raining very heavily, and I thought the box would be damaged, so I did it in another way. Along the track there was some old railway material, and I put the box into an old diesel engine. Hopefully it could be stored dry and safely there until my return.

I was not very optimistic for the next day. The weather forecast had predicted heavy rain, and in the night before I could already hear the rain beating against  my tent. Next morning I put on my rain gear, which is a yellow cape. I bought in England way back in 1968. The cape reaches to the handle bar, and it keeps my feet dry. To cycle in this armour is rather heavy, and I sweat quite a lot under this clothing. I was lucky to have a favourable tail wind from the west as I was cycling along towards the border to Sweden. On my way to the east I passed through Bjørkelangen, continued on road 170 and 21. It was raining all the time, and for a meal I tried to find a bus shed along the road. Bus sheds are very welcome for cyclists in the rain. I did not see any bus sheds, and as I branched off on a gravel road that would take me to Skillingsfors in Sweden, I got very pessimistic, because on this minor road there would be no bus connections and as a consequence, no bus sheds. I was getting very hungry, and I desperately needed a shelter. I was saved, as I discovered a garage, it was shut, but not locked, and it contained no car. While it was raining outside I could make my food and cook my tea in sheltered conditions.

My journey went on, and so did the rain, after a couple of kilometres I passed the border to Sweden. It was just marked by a blue sign next to the road, and the road conditions did not change in the EU-country of Sweden. The road was a gravel road, and the constant rain made it very slippery. In a curve I was a bit afraid of making too sharp a bend, as I might slide on the mud. I almost collided with a car that came towards me. Most of the cars I met on this Interscandinavian minor road had Norwegian registration signs. Norwegians who live in the border area usually go to Sweden for shopping. Most elementary products are cheaper in the EU-country of Sweden, and besides, as I was cycling into Sweden on a Sunday, Norwegians have the opportunity to make a journey to buy cheap things in Sweden, because - in contrast to Norway - the larger food shops in Sweden are open even on Sundays.

When I was approaching the town of Arvika, I had dinner in a bus shed. It was still raining. I was however optimistic because I knew from chat in food shops that the rain was supposed to stop in the evening. Before I reached Arvika I could take off my heavy rain coat.  I pitched my tent 20 km south of Arvika. Norway and Sweden have similar laws concerning where you are allowed to put up your tent. You are allowed to do so almost everywhere provided the tent stands at least 50 metres away from a house or not on a field used for  agricultural purposes.

My map was not enough detailed to show me my way through the town of Karlstad. The road signs lead to the road E 18, which passes Karlstad as a motor way. I managed to find my way to the town's center by asking people, and at the tourist office I got a cycle map. Karlstad is a town that has done a lot for cyclists. There are cycle ways connecting the various parts of the town. The problem is that it might be awkward for strangers to find their way on these cycle ways. With the cycle map I had no troubles to find which cycle way to go. The way I was following was even supplied with green signs marked Sverigeleden. At the eastern end of the town I landed on the E 18 road, but in spite of heavy and fast traffic, the road had here a stretch not defined as motor way.

The E 18 road is not nice, there is a lot of traffic which goes rather fast. To the relief of a lonely cyclist there were rather wide additional lanes on both sides where cars with accidents could be parked. Besides I was lucky still to enjoy the westerly tail wind which had helped me in the rain on the first day of my cycle tour. As soon as there were alternative roads, the E 18 was banned to cyclists, so I cycled through the little town of Skattkärr and passed the church at Väse. In this vicinity along the northern shores of the lake Vänern there are not so many alternative roads in west-east direction. Some 20 km west of Kristinehamn I had again to use the E 18. As soon as possible I left this awful road and pedalled along a minor road. Just before arriving in the town of Kristinehamn, I found a nice spot in the forest to pitch my tent.

To stay in a tent outside camping places is very good in Sweden, there are plenty of nice spots and it is no problem to have an evening and a morning swim in the abundance of lakes. On this day I left the wide forest area in western Sweden and arrived on the agricultural plains around Örebro. Towards Flen I used minor roads. I hoped for asphalt roads, but I had to cycle on gravel for some kilometres. Gravel roads are a little torture for me and my bike. I have to watch out very carefully in order to avoid larger stones because with my thin tyres (28-622) the rim will hit the larger gravel stones, and that hard blow may cause a puncture. So on gravel roads I have to watch the surface very carefully and I see very little of the surrounding landscape.

Five days at Flen
At Flen I installed myself at the camping place. At that time I did not know I was going to spend 5 nights at that camping place. At the station I saw that the train with my family would arrive at 21.31. I asked if their bikes might already be there. They were not, and at that time I felt confident that they would come the next day.

I met Turid and Kjartan at Flen station, and next day I cycled to the station to ask for the bikes. They had not turned up, and they did not turn up all that day.

Next day, which was Friday, the bikes had still not come, and the employee at Flen station started to phone various stations to see if they might be stranded there. No result. On Saturday and Sunday the station at Flen was closed because the Swedes were celebrating mid summer eve. In the evening of Friday we phoned the Norwegian railways in Oslo to see if they could help us with the missing bikes. They could tell us nothing about our bikes, but they said bicycles will be sent by lorry from Oslo to Hallsberg and from there by train locally. We tried to do some meaningful activities while we were waiting at Flen. The following day we went for an excursion by train to Stockholm. There we asked at the railway station if they could phone to Hallsberg and ask if our bikes were there. So they did, unfortunately, no result.

We had decided not to stay any longer than Monday at Flen. If the bikes did not come, we would ask the employees to send them back and we would demand a compensation from the SJ/NSB. Monday came, but no bikes. Turid and Kjartan went by train towards Stockholm and Nynäshamn, from where the ferries leave for Gotland. I took my bicycle and started the 160 km cycle tour towards Nynäshamn. I did not bother to take minor roads which might be gravel roads. I stuck to the main road 57, and the traffic was not so bad. The road went partly along the railway line where the modern tilting trains of SJ, speeded past. At Gnesta the traffic on the road became worse, but that was also the place where I had intended to leave road 57 and go south to Vagnhärad. Nynäshamn lies some 20 km to the east of Vagnhärad, but in between there is a long inlet which connects lake Mälaren with the Baltic Sea. The inlet is called Himmerfjärden, and the only ferry connection is so far to the north that I had the feeling I had to cycle all around Himmerfjärden. As I had made my start from Flen as late as 11.30 I had just reached 110 km at eight o'clock in the evening. I had still 50 km to go to Nynäshamn, so I started looking for a place to pitch my tent. I found an open space in the forest where I had a nice chat with a man who came by with his dog. In the night I heard some thundering sounds. I opened my tent and saw a black sky. There would soon be heavy rain. I had two alternatives, either stay in the tent and hoping it would withstand the rain that would soon be pouring down, or I could evacuate. I chose the last alternative. An additional reason for my choice was that I had pitched my tent on a hill top, and that location would not be so wise with the lightning that was to come. I had just reached the main road (225) towards Nynäshamn when the rain started as if some one was throwing buckets of water over me. The refuge was 100 m away in the shape of a bus shelter. Eventually I put on my cape and continued towards Nynäshamn.It was still very early in the morning, and I soon got very hungry.

A woman at the place Stora Vika must have got rather surprised when she was going to walk her dog at 8 o'clock in the morning, and a man came up to her door, handed her a dirty plastic bottle and asked in a foreign accent for water. She tied her dog and brought me water. I could make a nice breakfast, cook my tea and at 10 o'clock I was at the camping place at Nynäshamn where I met Turid and Kjartan. At this point I should start the next chapter about cycling on Gotland, but first I would like to tell Turid's and Kjartan's story how they had travelled to Nynäshamn.

From Flen there was at the time when they wanted to travel, no direct train to Stockholm, but they had the alternative to go via Eskilstuna and change there for Stockholm. Turid was very sceptical because they had to carry so many loose things like several cycle bags, sleeping bags and even a tent. On the way to Eskilstuna the train could not go any farther because the heat had deformed the rails, and Turid and Kjartan had to load all their belongings into a bus. At Eskilstuna they were confused about which train to take, and they did not get on the train to Stockholm. They were offered a free meal by the SJ. "But then you could travel fast on the new high speed line towards Stockholm," I said. "Oh no, it was not so fast, they said, the engine had got troubles with the motors and instead of four motors there were just two working."  In Stockholm they had had a hard job to carry all their belongings to the train for Nynäshamn, and in Nynäshamn they had to carry all the luggage to the camping place. "I was so exhausted when we arrived", Turid said. "As soon as we had put up the tent we fell asleep, and we did not hear the thunder in the night." The ferry to Gotland went at six in the evening. We used my bicycle as a luggage trolley, so that we could transport our luggage in a feasible way from the camping place to the town, where we spent the day, and to the ferry terminal.

At last we got there - Gotland
The ship arrived in Visby at 22.00, and of course the camping place was situated at the other end of the town from where the ship landed. With my bicycle loaded with plenty of luggage we walked along through the harbour and along the medieval town wall. Turid said in a bad temper. "If we had had our bicycles, we would already have been at the camping place. We should have taken a taxi and let the railway pay for it." Finally we found the camping  just to the north of the town wall.

The medieval town of Visby

The town wall of Visby

Wild flowers on Gotland


Raukar at Lickershamn

South of Hallshuk, along

Bläse lime works

In the beautiful Baltic weather next day we went to have a look at the town of Visby . At every touristic site in town an information board had been erected, that is a nice Swedish tradition, and we got plenty of information through the texts on those boards. Visby is an old medieval trading town. Goods between Western Europe  and on the other hand Eastern Europe and the Orient went through Visby. In Gotlandic soil archaelogists have found Arab coins. Around the important town of Visby a large town wall was built. When Western Europe found more attractive routes for their trade than the Baltic Sea, Gotland and Visby had an economic decline. The town wall and the buildings were allowed to remain as they had been in the middle ages, and if new houses were built in the town, they were built on the old, medieval foundations. Hence Visby has kept its medieval character. When industry threatened to transform the town at the end of the 19th century, the philosophy of preservation had got a strong position, and the modern quarters of Visby were erected outside the walls of the town. No wonder that Visby is placed on UNESCO's heritage list. The many churches of Visby have been neglected since the reformation, and there are quite some churches in ruins, but the ruins are well kept today and they give a good impression of the churches that once stood there. Even adjacent to the central market place there is a ruin of a monastery. In a more normal town the leading citizens would never have allowed ruins to remain on such a valuable piece of land.

It was so nice to walk around in the narrow streets of Visby. The cobbled streets were full of tourists who enjoyed the same sights as we did. During summer the old town within the town walls is closed to motorists. We saw many cyclists, many of whom had hired their bikes on Gotland. Some had hired tandems and quite many had hired, in addition to the bike, a cart where they could store their luggage and camping equipment during their cycle tour on Gotland. We had our cycle bags intact and we were just interested in good bicycles with luggage carriers. Outside the eastern gate of the town wall we could hire two bikes with 21 gears,  like the bikes we had lost on the railway. We were a bit anxious about Turid's bag that should be attached to the handle bar. The bracket which the bag should be attached to, was of course gone with her bike. Well, we managed to attach her front bag to the luggage carrier by means of an additional luggage strap. At the tourist office we bought a cycle map of Gotland (1:200 000), and next day we were ready to set off for our cycle tour on Gotland.

There is a cycle route all the way around Gotland. It takes you to the best sites and it is supplied with signs with the inscription  Gotlandsleden. From Visby we started along the coast to the north. Gotland consists of sedimentary rocks that decline to the east. Along the coast in the west there is a  sharp ridge, and we had to climb up that ridge, when Gotlandsleden could not follow the coast any more and led us up to the main road. Fortunately Gotlandsleden soon bent off again from the main road, down to the coast, and  this minor road is probably one of the nicest roads I have ever cycled on. The soil on Gotland contains much lime, which gives a large variety of flowers. Along secondary roads on the island the grass was not cut, and all those rare and colourful flowers shone against us in a cascade of blue, white and yellow colours. The blue flower, which is very common on Gotland, is called blåeld (blue fire). There were plenty of marguerites and even a variety of marguerites which was all yellow. No wonder that the famous biologist Linné had visited Gotland a couple of times, and during our cycle tour we read many times on the information boards that Linné had been there. 

Next time we branched off from the main road was to visit the cave at Lummelunda. Water had dissolved the lime in the bedrock and a large cave system had been discovered in the 1950s. The cave was actually discovered by some young lads. They have done much to the revenues of their hamlet because now there were plenty of tourists who wanted to be guided through the cave. At this locality there had been a sawing mill which was now gone, only a water wheel which formerly was used to run the sawing mill,  was running without being attached to any useful equipment. It was said it was the largest water wheel of Scandinavia. Information about this wheel and the former sawing mill was given us by a monitor and a video tape. The woman on the video tape was speaking Gotlandic, and I could hear some specialities about the dialect of Gotland. Diphthongs were widely used where Standard Swedish uses monophthongs. The woman said consequently stajn instead of sten  (stone), and later observations confirmed my hypothesis. A road sign pointed to Austgård, in Standardswedish it would have been Östgård (east-). My map showed a church in the southern part of Gotland with the name Öja. In Standard Swedish it would have been öen (no diphthong öj-). The word rauk is typical Gotlandic, and even that word contains a diphthong. There are plenty of raukar (plural:  -ar) on Gotland. It is a geological phenomenon. The bedrock of Gotland was deposited by small organisms during the period called silurium. After the last ice age, when the land began to rise, the softer limestone was eroded away, and the rock of harder organisms remained. Raukar stand up like statues. We encountered raukar for the first time at Lickerhamn, where we stayed for our first night after Visby.From the main road we branched off on a gravel road to Hallshuk, from where we took an impressive track on the top of a steep ridge along the sea (that is Kappelhamnsviken). Just before Storungs we had our lunch in a bus shed, not because it was raining but because in there was the only bench we could find. Storungs is a modern lime stone quarry, where everything seems clad in white dust.  Bläse, which is situated some 10 km to the north of Storungs, is a traditional lime stone quarry. The quarry and the stoves for extracting the lime stone have been abandoned and is now a museum. Because traditional technology had been used we got a good impression of the process of making lime. At Bläse they had used man force and steam engines. At Storungs they utilize modern devices like computers and large trucks.

 Part II

Other cycle tours on Gotland:  
Cycle tour around Gotland (Jacqueline and Patrick Huard) (in French)
Quasi cycle tour on Gotland (Karl Brodowsky) (in German)
Cycle tour around Gotland, 2001 (Karl Brodowsky) (in German)