Blog 5 Norsholm (Gota canal) to Ljungsbro 13th June - 2015
Before telling you about the pathways along the Gota Canal - by the way, together with lakes and other waterways it amounts to very roughly 200 miles and an awful lot of locks and some bridges - I should say more about the locks which reach a high point somewhere in the middle of Sweden, then you start going down again. Going up is slower, harder work and more nerve racking than going down because you are in the lock when a huge amount of water has to be let in to raise the water level, it roars, foams and rushes under the boats at a terrific rate such that the lines securing the boat have to be run to winches and constantly wound bar tight to hold the boat steady as it rises. All under the watchful eye of a young student who has absolute responsibility for this controlled cataclysm. Taken in single doses they are not so bad - there is time to recover but at Berg, there is a flight of seven, each immediately opening into the next and there is no let up, stopping or saying please may I be excused until the haven of a pool is reached where you can rest until facing another eight, albeit four sets of two separated by a hundred metres or so. We are now in the pool for a few days.
It seems strange that where we lie now, in Berg marina, some 30 mtrs above Lake Roxen, its claim to fame is the precipitous staircase of seven locks. Strange because the scene is one of bustling tourists who come to see this free display of yachtsmen being anxiously challenged by the roaring water cascading down through the locks in turn, yet here in the early 12 century the centre of attraction was one of tranquillity at the Abbey of Vreta standing on the highest ground above, its cloisters scattering patchwork shadows on worn stone paths where members of the monastery lived and worshipped and observed the vast lake below - the same lake I saw today, calm and huge yet in Swedish terms, a minute pond of only 15 miles length. The Abbey ruins, cloisters and church are there today and still hold an aura, a sense of their original purpose and mystery.
A rest day could have been slightly less frustrating - we had seen the 522 bus to Linköping frequently stop near the marina and wanted to hit the big city just to see. The sun was hot and little shade offered but after waiting 45 minutes getting more and more irritated we gave up. How were we to know that at different times, the bus drove a different route, stopping half a mile away at the Abbey ruins visited yesterday.
I mentioned the canal paths - from my early life I could imagine abandoned warehouses, a tarmac path, questionably savoury articles floating along a canal. Nothing could be farther from the Gota Canal which I was intrigued to learn was built around 1800 to 1830 in order to expand farming by giving a ready means of communication to the hinterland and deliver food to the two large cities one at each end of the canal being Stockholm and Gothenberg which I now know is pronounce yacht-a-bore-ee with a kind of jerky emphasis on yacht and bore - no pun intended.
Anyway, the banks are a riot of wild flowers and grasses interspersed with clumps of yellow iris in bloom, the paths which are often on both sides are well maintained fine gravel, good for cycling and behind, there is a spread of mature broadleaf and conifer trees which provide an excellent windbreak and source of continuous bird song, too many to identify but including blackcaps as well as all the usual culprits. Now and then, a wooden swimming stage juts from the bank and groups picnic or swim and across the river a mixed gang of pre teenagers swing from a long rope hanging from a tree, swinging out over the river and back again to screams of delight. What fun - and flourescent pink bikinis seem to be in vogue this year for that age group.
We are now at the tiny town of Ljungsbro, famous for its chocolate factory, or so we were told but cycling down there today we found a cut price chocolate outlet and an enormous factory for which the video gave the impression that it employs nobody now and the machines make chocolate at the speed of light, wrap it, box it and fill lorries up with it - not as exciting as Roald Dahl had it.
The guest harbour here is well up to standard though with immaculate facilities which would not look out of place in a bathroom or utility room show display, so clean and all free - another example of the cleanliness and attention to detail I detect is a watchword of Sweden.
Entertained today by the lovely student running the last few locks who was being photographed by someone on the other yacht in the lock with us - Jane asked if she was used to it, she said that in the Summer she gets photographed a hundred times a day, I wondered if Facebook would have a special data depository just for all the images of her by the end of the season.
Summer is approaching, there is more activity on the canal, the Swedes recline motionless with head tilted to the sun like sunflowers or lizards hungry for the heat of the day. Their skin is different somehow, it has a slightly different hue which appears not to burn in spite of this sun worship and is often complimented by wonderful blonde hair - I even saw one cyclist with a blonde plait which reached all the way down her back to almost touch the rear mudguard - what would that be like?