Gotland and Trans-Scandinavian Cycle Tour(Part II)
(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?


Fårö and more Gotland
At the shop at Fårösund we loaded our bicycles with bread and food for dinner before we took the ferry to the island of Fårö. Får normally means sheep. Turid had read somewhere that sheep is called lamm in Gotlandic language, and she said she could not understand why this island had the name Fårö. The explanation is probably that Fårö is derived from the word far, so Fårö means the remote island. We stayed for two nights at a nice camping place Storhaga. We wanted to explore the island next day without luggage on our bikes. In the church of Fårö we saw a votive picture about a group of seal catchers who had been saved after drifting on a piece of ice for two weeks. This had happened early in the 17th century. The text of the picture was in Danish. Gotland belonged for some centuries to Denmark, until 1645. Turid found other interesting information. A referendum on Fårö had brought the result against building a bridge between Fårö and Gotland mainland. The best argument against the bridge had been the employment provided by the ferry. The ferry stood for 10 working places. I just wish the Norwegians with their bridge- and tunnelmania could be just as wise as the the inhabitants on Fårö.

Fårö is famous for its abundance of raukar. Along the north-western shores of the island  there is a continious park of those natural statues. Sudursand is the largest beach of Gotland, and it is a popular place for tourists and locals. What fascinated me more is the name Sudur, which is very similar to the old Norse language. We reached on our bicycles the light house of Fårö fyr. Fårö fyr is the utmost point on Gotland/Fårö in the north east. A rough calculation by means of a map indicates a distance of 140 km from this point to the extreme Gotlandic point in the south west.

Next day, when we had gone back to Gotland mainland by the ferry which the locals did not want to replace by a bridge, we visited an open air museum at Bunge. Gotland has limited amount of water to operate water mills, and therefore they have used a large varieties of 

Historical farm,
                  there were old wind mills

Wind mills. Many of those mills can still be seen along the roads of the island. At the museum we could see some spectacular wind mills. One wind mill was constructed not for grinding corn, but for sawing timber. I have never seen anything similar, and the information board at the museum told us that this wind-sawing mill had been no success. The wind is not a reliable force to cut logs. At the museum there was another fabulous wind mill, a little house had rotating wings attached to it, and the force of the wind was used to run a little saw and turn a laith. A local genius had constructed this carpenter's work shop.

We cycled on towards Slite, a town with a large cement works. Along Vallevik we landed on a road with a very bad surface, where I with my thin tyres had to cycle very carefully. We arrived in Slite by Gotlandsleden, which at this place took us on a track parallel to the main road. On the bad surface of that track I had a puncture, which I mended at the camping site of Slite.
We followed Gotlandsleden along the eastern coast. Gotland has been a very important location not just in the middle ages, but  even in prehistoric age. Just north of Åminne we cycled 2 km into the wood and had a look at Thjalvar's grave. Thjalvar was the name of a ruler of Gotland. On his grave stones had been erected to form a ship. Farther to the south we passed heaps of stones, which were also graves. And at Trullhalsar there was a whole cemetery of cairns from Vendel ages. We had to branch off from the road and go into forest to find the cairns. Archeologists believe only persons with a high social rank have been buried in those impressive cairns. Why were they hidden in the wood at a less impressive location? Where we come from, in Western Norway prehistoric cairns lie near the sea with a nice view over the water. After the ice age the land has risen, in Western Norway, at the edge of the ice shelf, just some 10 metres, on Gotland, where the ice was much thicker, land was much more depressed and has risen over 200 metres. Not only the land was more depressed in Gotland, even the corpses in the cairns must have felt very depressed as their graves moved away from the sea.

Gotlandsleden took us farther to the south along bad roads and tracks through the forest. We had had an extremely hot day so far, but now it got more cloudy and the clouds became dark. We started to look for a shelter, and when we got on a road with asphalt, we took this one instead of continuing along Gotlandsleden. Soon we came to the main road at Anga, and it was just on time, the heavy rain had just started when we  found shelter in a bus shed. After this shower, which was the only rain we had on Gotland, we continued towards Gammelgarn and for the night we stayed at  the camping place at Ljugarn. At this point I should not miss to tell that the tourist information on Gotland boasts with the fact that Gotland has more hours of sunshine than Mallorca.

Have I already started a paragraph with the sentence: Next day?  Well, let me start it this way even now, for next day Turid wanted a day of rest, she wanted to stay over at the camping place in Ljugarn,  and she even said she would be acting as a housewife, walk to the shop, buy dinner, which would be ready when Kjartan and I  returned from our cycle tour. Wasn't that a nice gesture from her? She even lent me her hired bike with thicker tyres, so that 
Kjartan and I could go for a ride over rough terrain.
The day before we had missed Gotlandsleden round the peninsula where Katthamarsvik lies. Gotlandsleden took us along an impressive coast line of lime cliffs. Kjartan enjoyed cycling on this rough ground on his hired MTB, and I realized I would never have been able to ride along here on my touring bike. This peninsula gives Gotland the widest extension in the east-west direction, approximately 50 km. From near Kräklingbo a gravel road leads to the south to Torsburgen, which is a a natural geological plateau, one kilometer in diameter and with steep sides. We had access to the plateau at one place and  at that location a wall of stones had been erected. Torsburgen is, as the tourist literature says, the largest fortified site of Scandinavia. It was used during the area of the large migrations of tribes after the fall of the Roman empire (German: Völkerwanderung). The Gotland saga mentions Torsburgen. During one of the first centuries after Christ Gotland became overpopulated, and it was decided that every third family had to emigrate. Those who had lost in the lottery and had to move away, at first tried to settle down within the fortified site of Torsburgen. The Gotland saga says they left Gotland and moved to the east and south and they ended up in Greece.  It was interesting to notice some modern military bunkers in this vicinity. What an unbroken bellicose tradition from the Völkerwanderung to the cold war. For the return to Ljugarn we took a very rough track towards the church of Ardre. It went gradually down hill, and with the MTBs we got a nice speed. Kjartan and his father pedalled what they could in order to show who was the stronger. Kjartan soon got the lead.

The next morning Kjartan did not feel well, he had got a cold and he probably had fever. Kjartan spent this day in his tent, Turid was reading a book and I cycled to Dalhem. Gotland has had quite an impressive railway net on the Swedish narrow gauge of 891 mm. The last line was abandoned in 1960. When all tracks were gone some railfans managed to rebuild a stretch of 1 km from the station Hesselby (at Dalhem). On this railway line a train is in operation, it consists of two impressive cars that had been restored and a not so impressive steam engine, which the museum railway had obtained from a cement factory. One kilometre of track is not enough for the real rail feeling, therefore the train goes to the railhead, returns without stopping and steams once more to the end of the line. In this way the travellers had a 4 kilometre rail ride on the 1 kilometre track. On my way back to Ljugarn I did not feel so well and I had got some of the same symptoms as Kjartan was suffering from.

Turid was all right, but Kjartan and I were not feeling so well the next morning. Kjartan felt so weak that he wanted to stay for one more day. His parents protested. We set off for the next camping place at a slow speed, sun was shining and Kjartan and I wore long trousers and rain jackets. We let Kjartan decide the speed, but after a couple of kilometres, we had reestablished the traditional order with me at the head, closely followed by Kjartan and Turid farther to the rear. What helped a lot in our weak condition, was a strong tail wind. We had a lunch break at Eke church. There are plenty of churches on Gotland, tourist information says the average distance between the churches is 6 km. The churches have a history that goes back into the middle ages. In Norway the old churches were torn down at the end of the 19th century. New and larger churches were built to make room for a growing population. The
                    church at RuteOn Gotland the churches remained and were extended. Every church  has a medieval basis. All churches are permanently open to public, and we had free access to them. We could light a candle and sink into contemplation or we could study the edifice and recognize romanesque or gothic details. In every church there were medieval fresque paintings, which had been beautifully restored. The fresques described , almost like a cartoon in naive medieval style, scenes from the life of Jesus or St George's fight against the dragon. The many churches were very welcome to cyclists both spiritually and materialistically; at the cemeteries there was always drinking water, and outside the church yard we could have lunch. At Eke church there was even a large stone table, and we obtained water from a well by means of a pump. Both Kjartan and I were feeling much better, and we reached the goal of that day - the camping place at Fidenäs.

From Fidenäs we intended to go to the southern tip of Gotland, and if we returned to the same camping place, we could make this round trip with little luggage. The south western tip is called Hoburgen. The site is impressive with a steep ridge into the sea or down to a narrow beach. An information board said of course that Linné had already been here. The information board even told that Linné had used his wisdom to recommend the fishers to construct a light house on this southern point. The information board also told that the local fishermen through their tradition and experience knew better than the academic Linné. They had already established a light house on a point farther to the east which has more visibility than Hoburgen.

Return to Visby
At Hoburgen there were road signs pointing to Visby, 90 km away. Our way back to Visby was a bit longer as we followed Gotlandsleden, and we made it in two days. On the first day of the two we did not make so good preparations for the day, and when we had lunch at the church of Sproge, we soon realized we had neglected to buy food. Kjartan got very upset, for he was the one who felt the strongest hunger.We were lucky enough that we managed to talk him into making the interesting detour around Hammarudd. From the road along the shore we had nice views on the islands of Stora and Lilla Karlsö. Kjartan was so angry because of his hunger and the neglect of his parents, but at the bathing place of Sandhamn we managed to buy sausages and ice cream. Kjartan was then satisfied, and our world seemed again in order.

From Klinthamn to Visby I got some troubles with my front wheel. The old puncture from Slite had started to leak, probably due to hot weather. I had to repair it twice before the patch would hold the air. Gotlandsleden took us along the main road towards Visby, and it was not so nice to cycle there, and it was quite a relief when we met a cycle way parallel to the main road. The cycle way had been built recently, and the cycle way went from Tofta to Visby and it was extensively used by locals on their way to the beach and by cycle tourists penetrating Gotland. 5 km from Visby Gotlandsleden branched off from the cycle way and led us to a ridge above the beach south of Visby. We had an impressive view over the sea and the town. On our way to Visby we passed Kneippbyn where a park of Pippi Longstocking has been built up. The Swedish TV-films about Pippi Longstockings have been made on Gotland, and in the park in Kneippbyn her villa and oak tree and other locations from the films can be seen. I asked Kjartan if he wanted to go in, but the 16 year-old lad, most rigorously answered no.

When we had pitched our tents at the camping place at Visby, we went into town to have dinner. What a nice feeling it was to walk through the cobbled narrow streets of Visby in the evening. The nice meal we enjoyed at one of the restaurants marked the end of our cycle tour around the island. Next day we would sail back to Scandinavia mainland.

We had to part from our two cycles which Turid and Kjartan  had got aquainted with for 12 days. The ferry departed at 17.00. We had time for visiting an art museum before we cycled to the ship with all our belongings. Kjartan and I cycled back to the shop and handed in the rented cycles and walked back to the harbour. In Nynäshamn my cycle was again used as a luggage trolley, to the camping place and in the next morning, to the railway station.

Solo cycling in Sweden

Turid and Kjartan wanted to spend some days in Stockholm before they returned home by train. I was ready for another 5 days' cycle ride alone through Sweden. The wind was very favourable from the south as I cycled on towards Södertälje, where I deflected towards the west. The wind even here turned out favourable, and it must have been coming from the south east. West of Södertälje I reached the small town of Mariefred, an idyllic town, full of tourists. The town is well known for Gripsholm castle and the museum railway on a gauge of 600 mm.  The museum railway  is a partner in a circular tour from Stockholm from where the traveller can go by steam ship, the museum railway will convey him to the ordinary railway station so that he can go back to Stockholm by ordinary train. Some years ago the whole SJ-railway line near Mariefred  was relaid and the station, where the museum railway had its connection to the trains towards Stockholm, was abandoned. The old railway has partly been turned into a cycle way, and I used it towards Åkers Styckebruk on my way farther to the west.

There are two subjects I sticked to when I get involved in a conversation with people on my way, one is the weather and the second is whether roads ahead are gravel roads or have an asphalt surface. To the west of Åkers Styckebruk kilometres after kilometres of gravel road encountered me. Near the hamlet of Prostökna, which you can find on a good map 20 km to the south east of Eskilstuna, I pitched my tent, and not unexpectedly after the strong wind, during the night there were lightning and heavy rain. Next day was very hot, and I saw dark clouds building up in the horizon. I arrived in the town Nora in heavy rain. Nora is a nice town, it can boast of being the site of the first standard gauge railway of Sweden, and in the town the houses and the streetswith cobblestones look very idyllic. As a matter of fact, this is a town which cares a lot about tourists. When the jobs of this vicinity were gone, tourism was an alternative that might bring  jobs about. At Nora begins Bergslagen, the old mining district of Sweden. Today most of the pits have been closed, and along the road I could see signs pointing to old pits and small factories where the iron and copper and other metals had been separated from worthless stone material. You can just feel the mining history by names like: Bergmannshyttan, Siggebohyttan, Nyhyttan and Saxhyttan. Those precious metals made Sweden militarily and politically strong in the 15th and 16th centuries. On my cycle tour towards the west through Bergslagen I took the main road, but as the valleys go in a north-south direction the road took me over many heavy hills. The road had been built for modern cars with strong motors, and the road went straight up the hills and no attempts had been made to curve out the hardest inclines. Shortly before Vallagärdet I could branch off from the Bergslagen road and cycle in a more westerly direction - on an asphalt road.

I reckoned my last shop where I could buy food in Sweden would be at Koppom, and as food prices are lower in Sweden than in Norway, I bought some extra grammes of ham. There I used the rest of my Swedish telephone card to phone home. Turid and Kjartan had already got home and they told me that they had asked at the railway station in Stockholm for the bikes. The message from the station at Flen was that no bikes had turned up at all. That surprised me a lot because that sounded  like theft in addition to bad organization.  The road from Järnskog and to the border at Östervallskog turned out to be a gravel road. I met a young couple of bicyclists on that road, whom I asked for how many kilometres still would this surface go on. They were Swiss, from Solothurn, and they did not give me any encouragement by their answer. In our chat I learned that their greatest concern was, what is wild camping like in this part of Sweden where wild bears roam about. I told them not to worry. If they don't go into the total wilderness, it will be safe enough. The Swiss couple was right about the condition of the road. Asphalt did not appear until one kilometre from the border. On the Norwegian side there was asphalt all right.

Maybe you can still remember that I hid the box for my bicycle at a museum railway at Sørumsand (40 km east of Oslo).  The original railway, before it was closed in 1960 and parts of it were turned into a museum railway,  went for 70 km to Skulerud, not so far from the Swedish border. On my cycle tour back to Sørumsand I wanted to find out whether I could find infrastructural memories of that railway. Between Løken and Bjørkelangen the former railway line has been converted into a cycle way with asphalt on it. I cycled on that nice quiet road until I came to the old station at Bjørkelangen. The cycle way was of course badly marked, as bike ways usually are in Norway. If I had not known about this way in advance I would never have guessed I could cycle here and come all the way to Bjørkelangen.

From Bjørkelangen I cycled on normal roads back to Sørumsand. I was very anxious to see if the cycle box was still there. I was going back to Bergen by train, but I did not want the Norwegian railways to lay their hands on my bike. I found the box in the old diesel engine, just as I had left it four weeks ago. With the box in my hand I manoeuvred my bike to the railway station where I packed my bike. Unfortunately Sørumsand station was closed, so that I could buy no ticket there, and in Oslo I had just 8 minutes for changing trains and buying  a ticket, but the problem was, would it be possible to reach the train to Bergen on time when I had to carry the heavy bike box?. I did manage it, just some seconds after I had got into the train with my heavy load, the train started moving.

Our cycle tour to Gotland is now over. We have enjoyed it a lot,  We have learned much. I want to concentrate on the positive sides of the cycle tour, but I am very disappointed with the railways in Norway and Sweden. I would never have imagined that bikes which the NSB and the SJ are in charge of, would just be lost. I do love old railways, where the employees had time to care about their passengers. Unfortunately, the railway companies of Norway and Sweden believe today that their trains are so fast that passengers are not allowed to bring their bicycles into the trains. Besides, the two railway companies are not capable of treating bicycles properly when they are sent according to their own requirements.

What about our bicycles?
When we returned home we sent a letter to Flen station. The letter contained a SJ-formula where we stated that two bicycles have been lost while SJ and  NSB had the responsibility for them. We demanded a compensation for the loss of the bicycles and  a compensation for our additional expenses that arose because we never received our bicycles. This letter was sent the 22nd of July 1999. It has been very troublesome to get in contact with the Swedish State Railway. They have been very reluctant to reply on our letters, and we had to make quite a number of phone calls to Sweden in order to get things in motion. Three and a half months after our claim for compensation we  finally received a letter where they were willing to give us a compensation which turned out to be 2/3 of our losses. The unilateral argument from SJ was that we had not presented any documentation of the value of the two missing bicycles. They never told us to do so! We have of course protested against this impudent treatment and we have presented the bill which shows the value of one of the bicycles (The bill of the other bike we were not able to find) We are again however  feeling the coldness of the SJ; no answer back. We have received the money equivalent to 2/3 of our losses. We are feeling very disappointed with the Swedish Railways because they operate such a bad organization that goods they are in charge of get lost and because they do not want to give the victims of their bad organization a fair compensation, and finally they hardly bother to reply on letters.

Half a year after our return from Gotland we contacted a lawyer because we wanted a fair compensation and because we did not accept the practice of SJ, just not to reply on letters. Our lawyer met with a SJ just as silent as we did. But he knew what to do: He contacted the Swedish ombudsman and complained about the SJ. This time the SJ reacted. They promised to look into the matter once more. Our lawyer made another claim, where our losses were to be covered and in addition he claimed on behalf of himself a compensation for the additional work he had to do in contacting  the ombudsman. Finally SJ accepted all the claims, but afterwards they returned to their silence until our lawyer again had to threaten with another round of the ombudsman. In April 2001 SJ sent us the rest of the money. It was a hell of o job to get this compensation. It involved a lawyer, and it lasted almost 2 years.

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)



Part I