I never thought I'd be grateful to get back to undulating hills, but it brings with it an ever changing landscape to admire.
Sweden, so far, is a wonderful mixture of lakes and forests, asphalt roads and gravel tracks. The road infrastructure is extensive for such a sparsely populated country (compared to the road network in, say, Scotland) so we're often travelling for miles along fantastic asphalt roads with barely a couple of cars passing us. So whilst the cycle infrastructure isn't there compared to the intercity cycle tracks in the Netherlands, Denmark or even Germany, the roads are pretty great to travel on.
The only exception to that rule is when travelling on the blue signed roads which are the UK equivalent of A roads. They’re the roads numbered with double digits (e.g. 17 or 23) and we urge all cyclists to avoid them like the plague. We went on the 23 before we met Iain who advised us otherwise and were very nearly hit by a bus. Mike had to shout at me to bail off the road. We were going up a hill, trying to keep to the right whilst giving ourselves somewhere to bail to (the sage and sad words of Mike Hall). On this uphill, the one lane in our direction turned into two to let cars overtake the many lorries which travelled this road to the next large town. The lorry which came up behind us had seen us and moved into the next lane, but the bus following far too closely behind the lorry hadn’t seen us and it was a very near miss. Generally, the overtakes have been textbook, but that one was terrifying and I had to take a minute off the bike to let my jelly legs go solid again.
Whilst trying to avoid these double digit roads we're also trying to keep a mixture of the gravel and asphalt roads, predominantly to keep it interesting but also to get some experience on the worse roads we'll have the pleasure of experiencing in future countries. Of course, this led to Mike's punctures (one tiny bit of flint got through in Denmark on the dirt track from the Rodby ferry to the campsite at Maribo, and then another small sharp stone on the gravel tracks in Sweden) but both were patched up and we were on our way again in 10 minutes.
So we got of the train at Malmo, stopped for long enough for Mike to buy a sticker for his bike and continued on the pretty darn good inter-town cycle path up to Lund for the night. We were recommended Lund by someone on Twitter, so took the chance to both see a beautiful old city and stay with a warm showers host. Seb, thank you for the space on your floor for the night. We both slept very well and enjoyed the little piece of home in the form of bacon and eggs in the morning! Also, thank you for the book to last me until I get a new Kindle in Stockholm.
We allocated ourselves 10-11 days to get to Stockholm because we knew the hills were coming. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they weren't as steep as we had thought and absolutely loved the gentle undulating hills through forests, taking in the views of pretty cottages and houses along the way. Our endurance and strength is building, without any doubt, and that only adds to our confidence. The only real difficulty to contend with has been the wind. That's growing in strength too!
Sweden has been the first country we've visited (except Scotland) where wild camping is legal so we took the opportunity just outside of Hassleholm. Apparently everybody is nervous on their first night wild camping: have you picked the right spot? Is anyone going to catch you? If they do, will they care? Are you accidentally on someone's land? We made sure we were out of sight from the few houses around the spot we chose and had a mightily cosy night sleep out of the wind.
We were positively blown sideways up to Almhult where we met with the ever helpful Iain; a Scotsman in Sweden and a warm showers host. Unfortunately he had building works going on so couldn't host us but took us out for pizza anyway since we ended up camping in the town. He also took us back to his house to give us a GPX route of the best riding up to Stockholm which we could input to Mike's phone and use as a turn by turn GPS. Bloody marvellous! Thank you so much Iain.
Almhult is also the home of Ikea. The man who founded it was born there, the first outlet was started there and the headquarters are now there with a huge distribution plant taking up a large portion of the industrial estate on the outskirts of the town. Most of the people living in Almhult work for Ikea. The original building of the first shop is now an Ikea museum, which I kind of wish we had had time to visit!
We were then blown east towards Linneryd. The weather has been very changeable, and apparently very cold or this time of year, so we may even have some snowfall tonight. Even in Almhult we woke up to ice on the tent. Tomorrow we will turn into a bit of a headwind which isn't due to give out until Stockholm. I'm trying to tell myself to enjoy this cold weather because there'll be points in future countries where we'll be so hot we'll wish we were back in this temperature again.
Posts by either Mike or Helen. Individual authors will be named.