I am in Lulea, on the northeast coast of Sweden, just below the Arctic Circle and 80 minutes by air north of Stockholm. It’s minus 20 today, and I am on board a tiny hovercraft which seats three people going out across the frozen seas of the Gulf of Bothnia to visit some of the 1,000-plus islands in the archipelago. It’s a wonderful machine, British of course, and with a Rover engine. We are doing about 20 knots and the ride is smooth over the ice. The islands are heavily forested, but the total population is only 120 people. There used to be over 2,000 in the 1950s – fishermen and farmers.
The scenery is spectacular, with the colliding sheets of ice shelves forming blue/green pinnacles, some up to 10 metres high. At times, you can actually see them forming. The largest island has a circumference of 30 km. In summer, because the sea is shallow, the water temperature can reach 20 degrees. 10,000 years ago, the 200 metre-thick pack ice pushed/compressed the land down and, now that the ice has gone, the land is slowly pushing back up at the rate of one metre every ten years, so new islands are being constantly created and the UNESCO designated old town of Lulea (Gammelstadt) is now 10 km inland. It used to be a port – now the new town of Lulea serves that function.
Of course, if you are really adventurous, you can drive onto the frozen sea to visit the islands on 2 metre thick ice roads. There are one or two excellent little island pensions serving delicious food.
The hovercraft trip is not the only activity in this snowbound wonderland of Swedish Lapland. There are excursions through the forests on snowmobiles (not my cup of tea), snowshoe excursions, ice fishing, ice skating on the ice road which circles the town and, of course, dog sledding. And finally, there is the chance to see the northern lights, which I hope I will. This year and next offer the best chance of seeing this spectacular light display for the next 20 years.
I have never been this far north in Sweden, and I am combining Lulea with Kiruna where the Ice Hotel is located and, of course, the Aurora Sky Station, reputedly the best spot from which to see the northern lights – here’s hoping!