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Jane Dickman

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Stendalen — Swedish Lapland

Jane Dickman

Article & Pictures © 2009 Jane Dickman

T/T #104
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When you say you are going to lapland on holiday, most Swedes look at you, thinking, ‘Är du inte klock?’ (Are you mad?). Midges, millions of them they think... But by late August most of these insects are gone.

When you say you are going to lapland on holiday, most Swedes look at you, thinking, ‘Är du inte klock?’ (Are you mad?). Midges, millions of them they think, or as my Swedish teacher thought it was in English: midgets! Most foreigners think Land of the Midnight Sun, Icehotel... then midges! But by late August most of these insects are gone and it is autumn above the Arctic Circle. Driving along the E10 from Kiruna to Abisko and encountering Torneträsk lake, a rich deep blue framed by the forest of birch trees with leaves turning golden, you cannot help but think to yourself: is this where they got the idea for the colours of the Swedish flag? On this drive, of a couple of hours, you are likely to encounter more reindeer than cars: we saw 3 cars and about 70 deer! Quite a contrast to the comparable distance on the M6 from Manchester to Birmingham!

On my second trip to Abisko I had hoped to do the Stendalen trail but was spoilt for choice by the plethora of wonderful walks in stunning scenery among snow capped mountains, or the beauty of walking along Abisko Gorge and the northern end of Kungsleden (The King’s Path); I ran out of time — always a good excuse to return (which I did).

Rallarvägen (the Navvy Road) is the route of the Malmbanan (The Ore Railway) which was completed in 1902 and meant iron ore could be shipped year round from the mines of Northern Sweden out through the Norwegian port of Narvik , which is ice free all year.
Nowadays the railway is also used for passengers, as well as freight.

My trip to Stendalen was scheduled to start at Abisko rail station. Unusually, for Sweden, the train was late. The rather distorted tannoy announcement stretched my Swedish — but the gist was the train is cancelled. A bus is replacing the train. Please go across the road to the bus stop and wait. There were about 15 of us on the platform and we all scurried across the road as instructed.

The bus arrived, already quite full. I was lucky enough to get on and to even get a seat. After about 30 - 40 minutes the bus pulled up and the driver announced this was the stop for Stendalen. It looked like she was depositing us randomly in the middle of nowhere! On closer observation I spotted a footpath sign across the road. Heading for that, we walked over a bridge, over a stream, then crossed the rail line and climbed up through low birch trees, crowberry and lingon bushes, along a surprisingly well defined path, which had been invisible from the E10.

Stendalen - click to enlargeAfter about a 20 minute climb our group were at the mouth of Stendalen. It was the Valley of Stones — actually more boulders — and some of the rocks where bigger than houses. It is a typical U-shaped glacial valley like we all learn about at school, with an array of hanging valleys, and a glacial cirque lake at the foot of the frost shattered headwall. The last was our lunchtime picnic goal.

Stendalen's biggest rock - click to enlargeBut first we had to pass between two small tarns which are home to a unique tiny shrimp species only found in them and nowhere else. A bit further on, there were a couple of quite deep scars, like a giant JCB had been randomly at work. It was in fact the indentations from a huge chunk of rock which had recently shattered off the valley side further up and bounced down the mountain side to join its relations who had settled in the valley bottom when the glacier receded. We then visited the biggest ‘stone’ in the valley.

Trolllsjon - click to enlargeOur guide was well informed about the various plants in the valley of which there were many alpines, and he let us try some Sami ‘nuts’ and ‘lemon grass’ as well as angelica as he found them on our trek. After a couple of hours we reached our picnic spot – Trollsjön (the Troll Lake). None were present! Its slightly sulphurous nature means it has no fish but it is a glorious turquoise colour and the water is deep and very clear. We lunched on the rocky lip at the front of this cirque lake and the sun came out to set the scene off in its full beauty.

Vassijaure - click to enlargeOur return route was along the western side of the valley and less well defined. We clambered down a waterfall, inched round a rocky outcrop and bog trotted through heathers and other low bushes before wading a couple of streams of crystal clear icy water. It tasted so fresh and invigorating. We stopped for a short break and saw a sea eagle soaring above us. Another half an hour and Vassijaure Rail Station came into view.

We continued down. Just as we were exiting the valley a herd of reindeer appeared on our left on top of a hillock, silhouetted against the sky. The lead stag, with an impressive array of horns, stood alone away from the herd with the sun behind him. It was a fabulous farewell to Stendalen.

As we neared the village a couple of the local children appeared chatting to us and running alongside. What a great playground they had!

We crossed the rail track and reached the station, a monolith of a building, totally out of place in its surrounding. We had ten minutes to spare. Outside the building is the memorial to the only Swedish national killed on home turf during the Second World War – a delivery man, who was not a local, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Guess what. Sweden is a neutral country).

This time the train did arrive. The return journey allowed us to wonder at the stunning scenery glimpsed between avalanche tunnels and reflect on our truly amazing walking experience.


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