In 1930 two gentlemen, Edwin O. Norrman and Eskil Norman returned to Sweden from the United States, where they had stayed for several years and witnessed the golden days of the American minigolf boom. In 1931 they founded a company “Norman och Norrmans Miniatyrgolf”, and began manufacturing standardized minigolf courses for the Swedish market.
Which goes a little of the way to explaining the popularity of ‘ mini golf ‘, or ‘ crazy golf ‘, to give it just two of its many names here in Sweden. I must have seen half a dozen courses now, and that is without trying. So, as you can see, I did a bit of searching on the WWW when I got curious enough.
The Swedish Minigolf Federation (Svenska Bangolfförbundet) was founded in 1937, being the oldest minigolf sport organization in the world. National Swedish championships in minigolf have been played yearly since 1939. Making that an ideal pub quiz question. If I had the inclination I would play every course in Sweden and write a book about it.
Within 2k of pushing away from our campground at Vittsjo (yes, it does have a mini golf), we take a right turn and are back on a dirt track. A mushroom picker is working the edge of the forest looking for an early crop. Tarmac returns, and the road becomes an undulating and enjoyable ride, a black wave fringed with Lupins. This is absolutely gorgeous, as good as any where we have ridden so far.
We get to Visseltofta with the sun just putting in an appearance and not a breath of wind. These quiet tracks and lanes are a joy and we had not expected them this far South. Stone walls here are as thick as the road is wide, making a bit of a feature out of clearing the fields of stone. It is all magnificently rural, and makes the sight of IKEA as we round a corner even more astonishing.
This is business planning using a sharp pin, a map and a blindfold. How it works is beyond me and the place is huge, with containers from all parts of Europe. One good thing for us is that IKEA appears to have driven down the price of a day menu in the nearby town of Hallaryd. We eat like kings for next to nothing along with most of the local building trade. If you want a plumber, this cafe would be the place to start. The street is lined with parked vans of every trade.
The wind gets up, and within 8k of getting back on the bikes it is pushing big clouds towards us. It is now just a question of when it will rain and not if, and of course, how wet we will get. Two cracks of thunder and the heavens open. A bit of good luck as an old barn is just by the road and we dive in through the long grass.
It looks like we may be spending the night in the barn, but at last it passes. The roads are puddled and in places running like Salmon Rivers. On with all the wet weather gear and out we go. We end up on the 23 which is fast and narrow. We have the rear lights flashing red and notice once again how this makes drivers give you more room. It is still tough on the nerves in amongst the wheels and spray.
We dive down the first usable side road that we find using the gps. Within 1k the road is bone dry. As ever, we keep our waterproofs on far to long and cook whilst we expect more rain.
We end the day at the home of friends of people we met on a train ride into Barcelona. It is as ever, ‘ a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it ‘. Jamie and Emma are standing at the door just as we pass, which is a bit of a bonus as it is a project in itself to find.
A ‘ malt evening ‘, which is rare and enjoyable. Being inside as rain lashes against the windows is also good. Within a few K’s next morning and we stumble across standing stones and burial mounds. We have been looking for this since we arrived here. We have hit the jackpot. Six ‘grave fields’ run along side the road as we run next to Lake Skatelor.
‘ Iron Age 500-1,000 AD, it includes a stone ship ‘, says the info board. No idea where that is, but it is impressive none the less. The next 20k or so, we see stones and mounds to left and right, dozens of them.
Alvestra, for a sort of ‘ Brunch ‘. This, once again, has been a wonderful morning of riding. All will be fine if those big and very black clouds would just keep away. They do not of course, and we hide in a library. The streets are awash but the rain has stopped. We continue, but all around anvil headed storm clouds are spiralling and the temperature is 6’c lower than it was.
Anebode, and with a view of the lake is our first wood shingle church. The wood is black with age and hard winters. We push on to Lammhult and struggle to find the poorly signed campground. It is poorly signed for the quite understandable reason that it closed 8 years ago. Plan B is to take advantage of Sweden’s legendary wild camping rules. ‘ Anywhere if it is just one night ‘. We follow a track down to the town’s lake.
Perfect, if a little bit too good a habitat for ever biting insect native to Sweden. It is a great night and a perfect pitch. It starts to rain just when porridge is ready in the morning. It is back to the tent and the agony of leaving it with rain hitting the fly. ‘ It always sound worse ‘, but today it is worse. We take an extra hour and a half to get going and nerves are on edge.
We ride back to the village to see the furniture museum. Trouble is, in amongst the half a dozen or more furniture shops it is rather well hidden. When we do find it, it is still closed. Esther wants to look around a furniture shop, which strikes me as just about the most pointless use of forty minutes if you are traveling by bike. We decide to sit in a cafe with nice chairs and arty stuff and eat cake. Much more useful.
On we go. Again the weather takes its toll on our nerves. We stand astride our bikes, outside the Station Cafe in Stockaryd. 55k for a 4 course meal and any moment the anticipation of a real drenching will be realized. In we go.
Many Swedes eat lunch in these sorts of places if there is not an IKEA on hand. A set menu and good food guaranteed. The food is just in front of us when rain stoats against the window. That is a Scottish expression and this is West Coast weather.
The guy at the table opposite clears his meal and starts to roll tobacco. Wiki will bring you up to speed on this – Snus ( /ˈsnuːs/; Swedish pronunciation: [snʉːs]), or Swedish snuff, Nas in Iran or Naswar in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, is a moist powder tobacco product originated from a variant of dry snuff in the early 19th century in Sweden; consumed by placing it under the lip for extended periods of time. Yes, of course, it does terrible things to your teeth but it is very popular here and in Finland.
With just 5k to go, we turn on to gravel tracks. This time they are hilly brutes with 7% pulls. Sweden is getting lumpy as we ride North. We camp on a municipal ground near Bodators. It is almost unknown and wonderfully cheap. Lake views and a shower are more than we expect. We can be awesome some other day. The rain has made this short day all that we can face.
As a bonus, there are a pair of Loons on the lake. Put, ‘ hearing the call of a Loon ‘, on your bucket list. In the morning the pair are close in by the shore in front of the tent. I pump the stove and they answer the call of the Primus. How perfect is that. Less perfect is the heavy rain just before we start and the temperature is down to 13’c.
We start along a main road before taking a right turn onto a dirt road to Stensjon. Trees hang with lichen like Christmas decorations, happy with the clean air. These tracks are soft from the rain and our heavy bikes are ploughing a tyre width furrow, robbing us of any speed. We come to the 32, and turn left, happy to be back on the black stuff. A 100m latter we take a minor right that the gps shows. It is surfaced, which is a joy. It also goes past standing stones. They are everywhere here and mostly unsigned.
We continue towards Eksjo. A nice campground and as an extra treat, it has the biggest Crazy Golf that we have seen yet. It is also the busiest, with a great deal of passion evident. What has been a wet day, ends like many others, dry.
It is dry overnight, but follows the usual pattern and comes down in stair rods as soon as we get 1k down the road. We just manage to have a look at the town centres wooden houses and then the rain ambushes us.
We head for the 302. A main road and an easy day for us, but when we see it we turn around. It is busy even on this Sunday morning and as Dirty Harry asks, we do not feel lucky. It rains harder and now it is big heavy drops and they are cold. Shelter for half an hour and then on again following the gps to string together minor roads and dirt tracks.
Again, I am not sure what we would do without the gps. I am not even sure we would be able to find the route a second time even with it. What is without doubt, is that it is magical. I am taking a photo of Esther as she bikes past. As she goes up the road she disturbs a big grey bird. It starts to dance in the road. It’s young scatter into the trees. It is huge, a big grey coloured Crane. We can not believe our luck.
Good fortune continues. Just up the road there is an old house and for the summer it has become a gallery. Tilda’s Hus was home to Tilda until she died in 1938 and that is exactly how it was left to this day.
The old walls now have some very good art hanging from them. But what catches my eye is the sign for coffee and cake. We take a good hour or more to talk to the owner.
What, with the rain and the cake, we have done so little distance that when we get to the 132 we have to time trial the 40k to the campground near Kisa. The weather gets better and better, which is a good thing because the words ‘ take a train ‘ had been uttered early in the day.
Missing any of Sweden would be such a shame, it has been wonderful so far. The dirt tracks have been easy enough to ride and the whole experience has been fantastic. Now, if it would just stop raining for a half a day at a time, how good would that be.