Thursday, 25 June 2015

Cycling from Stockholm to Copenhagen

  Sweden raced upon us after a flurry of events, and so I had little time to consider, or even read up the country's background. And so we punted off through the old cobbled streets of Gamlastan, taking a spin around the Stockholm waterfront, collecting together our team, and beginning our journey South, on a voyage to ride to Copenhagen, hoping to discover a little more about this enigmatic piece of Scandinavia. The first thing we noticed was the incredible network and infrastructure for cyclists. Dedicated flyovers, wide lanes, well surfaced tracks, and seemingly the whole city covered by cycle routes, this is certainly a bike friendly nation. Riding out from the centre, all the while that we found ourselves on busy roads, we were offered bike lanes, or often completely separate paths to guide us out safely. And once we had fully escaped the capital's clutches, we started to see the wide open, and vibrant green countryside that would be with us all the way to Helsingborg. Around 40km outside the city, the settlements had thinned considerably, the flowers were blooming, and we were blessed with a hot sunny day. Our first coffee stop gave us a chance to explore the middle of Sodertalje, a medium sized town. Of course being Sweden, everything is laid back, and well proportioned. One of the first things that strikes you here is the smiley and open disposition of the people. We nearly jumped out of our skins as we were greeted regularly with "HeyHey!"... The local salutation. Can you imagine it, folks in the street actually say hello to each other. What a welcome and refreshing change.

Onwards, and the road winds through rolling meadows and deep green forests. This landscape remains with us for the next 5 days of riding, and I have to say I didn't tire of it for a moment. As we pedal surrounded by sublime countryside, and beneath glorious blue skies our hearts are lifted, this is good for the soul, the essence of simple rural riding. We spend our overnights in Nykoping (neesherping), then Lingkoping (lingsherping), Jonkoping (Yernsherping) and Markyryd. Each night offers new surprises, one night surrounded by stunning Constable like countryside, another on the shores of majestic Lake Vattern, and even one in a rural conference centre. But each and every night we are met with a broad smile, and fantastic hospitality. The food is excellent, and contrary to urban myth, even the beer is no more expensive than France.
By evening 2 I am warming massively to this country.

Day 2 & 3 see the roads becoming steadily wilder and more remote, the ride leaving Nykoping being a highlight, on a gently undulating and rolling road intermittently offering ride bys of the estuary that we are following. The woodland encloses us, and we notice, not for the last time, the verges erupting to a chorus of wild Lupins, bursting forth in huge crowds. The cotton wool clouds skip across the sky, and I feel oh so lucky to be riding here. We're also treated to a long descent of Vattern, Sweden's second biggest inland lake. With a circumference of some 300km it's a monster, and we are only tackling the South West corner, but nevertheless, it's a long and pleasant ride down to Jonkoping. We ride in to town tired, warm, but with the satisfaction of 3 days and 250 miles in the legs. As we push our bikes into reception, the traditional and imposing water side hotel basks in the warm afternoon glow... But it's the folk in the sunny terrace of the 'Bishops Finger' bar who draw my attention... Time for a quick shower and some soothing refreshment :-)

Day 4 of riding turns out to be the standout adventure riding day. We're faced with a choice between the direct and shorter route, or taking a wild and unknown route into the Store Moss National Park. No prizes for working out that we opted for the quieter roads, and so the adventure began, at first with a quiet, gently climbing ride away from Vattern, into the optimistically named Taberg (mountain village), at just around 250m above sea level, it won't win any prizes for altitude, but it's pretty and breathtakingly pure all the same. A few kilometres further on, one we have all settled into the ride. We turn a corner to see our support vehicle and one rider stopped in their tracks. As we approach, the scrunch beneath our tyres explains why they have paused. Our road has been steadily becoming more remote, and now reaching new levels of rural simplicity, we find tarmac reduced to dirt track forestry road. One of our number is on a 2015 Pinarello Dogma F8... And as I confirm to the group that this is our chosen route, he winces. Indeed we all hold our breaths, and lift up out of the saddles to reduce the risk of punctures. This is one of many rural dirt roads that cross crosses Sweden, and an important part of the road network, but it still comes as a shock to road bikers. however, we soon all captivated by the feeling of being properly 'out there' riding beside lakes and through deep forest cover. The scrunchy gravel isn't quite as bad as it seems, and miraculously we all escape unscathed without a single puncture. And as we pull back on to Tarmac I think there are a few secretly wishing our wild ride was a little longer. Day 4 is a long one, reaching 115 miles, and so despite the sun being still high in the sky at 6pm some of the team opt to shuttle in the support vehicle to get an early(ish) shower. Meanwhile 3 of us pedal on into the evening. Incredibly, at 7pm as we blast down an empty, beautifully surfaced road towards Markyryd, the sun beams down on us from a cloudless sky, and it feels like early afternoon. Having never been this far north in summer, the whole feeling is amazing, wierd and slightly eerie, where the sun seems to never want to go down. We go to bed each evening before darkness, and we see the light return to our bedroom windows in earnest in the small hours of the morning. It certainly makes the reaching of our evening destination easy, and bike lights are certainly not required.


Excitement brims once again on our final day as we make a charge for the port city of Helsingborg, our final Swedish frontier. The riding continues to be fast, and we weave in sometime beautiful excursions into the pristine forests, before we point directly for Helsingborg. Now after 4 and a half days of Swedish riding the team are ready to reach Denmark, and find out what Cooenhagen holds in store. Our ferry crossing to Helsingor is the smoothest and most efficient I can ever remember, and takes little more than half an hour from arrival to departure. As we cross the Oresund Straits, the slender spires and castle battlements draw the eye, along with the brightly painted buildings. Riding the cobbled streets, we see close up the immediate differences across this short stretch of water. Smarter, more bustling, and with an unmistakeable whiff of cosmopolitan Euro-Style, it is different. We spin around the Hamlet Castle, but Copenhagen and our journies end is calling. The 40km ride down the coast takes a surprisingly long time, but this may just be that we aren't keen to bring the ride to its conclusion. An incredible selection of highly manicured Scandinavian houses overlook the sound of Oresund, whilst we keep our wits about us on one of the worlds busiest cycle paths. When we finally hit Copenhagen city limits, we negotiate the backstreets to find the little mermaid for our obligatory celebratory team photo. A fantastic selection of Danish beer follows, and we enjoy the buzz of what is now rated as one of Europes coolest urban destinations, but my cycling heart as stolen by Sweden, with its endless rolling green hills, and lakeside ridebys. Take me back to Sweden... My new cycling wonderspot :-)

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