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Peace offering: hiking West Sweden's Pilgrim Path

Dalsland province is an oasis of deep lakes and emerald forests — a potent antidote to the stresses and strains of city life.

Published 31 Jul 2019, 06:00 BST
Hiking in Dalsland.
Hiking in Dalsland.
Photograph by Henrik Trygg

Dalsland is just a two-hour flight from London — but feels light years away. I have dim memories of early starts, cramped trains and an overstuffed inbox, but they’re floating away in the breeze. The air here is clean, there seem to be more lakes than people and I haven’t been steamrollered by a single galloping pedestrian. After just a few hours in West Sweden, the vestiges of smog and stress are evaporating from my pores. 

I’m kneeling on the Pilgrim’s Path, trying to make eye contact with a sleepy little snake warming itself in the gentle May sunshine. The morning is crisp and full of spring, but the snake won’t crack an eyelid. I give up, tiptoe past and set off again along the 60-mile trail — the same route pilgrims used to take all the way up to Trondheim in Norway to visit the tomb of St Olaf. 

The most physically intense part of the hike is a climb up a steep hillside, across rocks made slippery by the light drizzle. When I get to the top, I’m short of breath, but it’s worth it — I can see all the way across to Lake Vänern, Sweden’s largest lake. This view is balm for my city-frazzled brain and it gives me a welcome sense of perspective. It’s a true wilderness, this dramatically green province of forests and lakes. 

A hush descends during the last part of the walk as the forest gets deeper and more tangled. It’s all moss and leaves and the scent of fragrantly rotting wood. I’ve pulled my hood up against the rain, and the only sounds are my breath and the steady drip of water on the trees. There’s a picnic bench just off the path that’s covered in mossy velvet, slowly being claimed by the forest. The intense green of the trees seems to leach into the very air around me. I’m no pilgrim, but I feel the touch of the divine.

I’ve hiked only a tiny portion of the Pilgrim’s Path, yet my legs are already aching. Fortunately, my evening promises to be considerably less taxing. I’m headed to the country manor of Baldersnäs Herrgård, where I’ll check into the 72 Hour Cabin, a small custom-built wooden outhouse with glass walls and ceiling, nestled on the shore of Lake Laxsjon. 

The cabin looks otherworldly in the twilight, the last glints of sunlight reflecting off its transparent walls. Settling in, I feel very exposed, with nowhere to hide from the great Swedish outdoors. As I draw the floor-length curtains, I realise I’m defeating the purpose. I draw a deep breath of clean, clean air, and open the curtains to let Dalsland into my room. The last rays of the sun bounce off the lake, through the glass and into the bed, and I’m lulled to sleep by the slow movement of the leaves above my head.

I wake to full-throated birdsong just before dawn, and watch the sun rise from my bed, 1,000 light years from home. Dalsland has let me in.  

How to do it

72 hour glass cabins are available across Dalsland and West Sweden; at Baldersnäs, Henriksholm and Dalsland Aktiviteter. Includes access to basic amenities, essentials and equipment for activities.

Visit West Sweden's website for more information on walking.

Published in the West Sweden guide, distributed with the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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