Hello! I’ve just returned from a fantastic week in Sweden. I was primarily there to conduct some research for my new book. This went very well indeed, and I’ll say more about it another time, but, thanks entirely to the warmth and hospitality of my new friend Kristin, the week turned out to contain so much more than work!
One of the undoubted highlights for me was taking a trip on a traditional steam boat from Stockholm through the archipelago and out to Blidö, where Kristin has her summer house.
(this pic of the SS Blidösund is reproduced courtesy of wikimedia commons)
This is the boat I travelled on – the SS Blidösund. This lovely steam boat first sailed from Stockholm in 1911, one of a handful of new vessels which were built to meet the demands of the hard working folk of Sweden’s capital who increasingly enjoyed spending time in the islands during the summer months. Powered by coal, the boat provided welcome communication and transport links to the archipelago, and the deep toot toot of its horn became the familiar sound of summer evenings. In 1960, after almost 50 years service, the Blidösund was eventually decommissioned when essential renovation work to the vessel was deemed too costly to perform. But, in 1969, largely thanks to the efforts of steamboat enthusiasts, Leif Rasmusson and Eric Jägeborg, the Roslagens Skeppslag company bought the old boat, and were determined to make it ship-shape. Surprising everyone with its return to the archipelago, older residents of the island were apparently very moved to see the boat on which they’d travelled in their childhoods puffing its steady way through the water, once again.
Today, the SS Blidösund serves as a restaurant and a small music venue, and continues to perform its traditional work linking Stockholm to the archipelago during the summer months. The trip from Stockholm takes four hours, the food and atmosphere is great (two sittings mean that everyone gets to take their time over supper), and the ship itself is an extraordinarily pleasant place to spend an evening.
I think its the most relaxed and jolly trip I’ve ever taken. Fired up by steam (you can watch the coal being hauled into the boiler beneath your feet in the hull of the ship), the SS Blidösund travels at its steady pace along the coastlines of countless islands, each one of which is different. As you pass by, you can admire the distinctive vernacular architecture of island summer houses and jetties – this wee yellow house was a particular favourite of mine.
As the boat approaches harbour, it sounds its horn. You hear children’s voices on the islands tooting back, across the evening air. Figures run from houses, lean from windows, and gather on the piers to greet the boat as it passes. Ashore, everybody waves, and on the boat, we all wave back.
On board, colleagues from Stockholm are enjoying a few beers, and singing songs about the Roslagen coast (which includes Blidö and several other islands).
As we approach Blidö, Kristin watches for her husband, Kalle, who waves to us from their jetty.
We make landfall as the sun begins to sink beneath the horizon.
The Blidösund toots its horn again, and continues on its journey.