Sweden was the first country in Europe to create national parks, and you can certainly tell that they've got a lot of experience with them. Of the sixteen European countries we've visited so far on this trip, Sweden definitely wins the 'best national parks' award. We have visited six of Sweden's 30 national parks on this trip: Hamra, Färnebofjärden, Tyresta, Garphyttans, Tresticklan and Store Mosse.
Hamra National Park (above) impressed us not just with what there was to see, but also with the information provided. Hamra wasn't alone in this - every national park we've visited has offered information points, take-away maps and a range of extremely well-signposted walks.
Although it has one of the densest bear populations in Europe, we only managed to see bear poop in Hamra National Park! However, the most interesting thing we learnt at Hamra was about the intentional fires there. Having seen the devastation caused by forest fires in Portugal and Spain, the idea of deliberately starting a fire in a forest sounds absurd. But after spending the past three weeks in national parks, we have found out about the importance of fires. Nowadays, less than a thousandth of the forest burns in fires due to the effectiveness of the fire brigade. However, many animals and plants have adapted to regular fires and so struggle to survive without them. To combat this, the County Administrative Board deliberately started a fire in Hamra National Park in 2009.
Next we visited Färnebofjärden where we found a lovely place to stay overnight and finally saw an osprey (obviously when I didn't have my camera with me!) They have an excellent lookout point where all you can see in one direction is trees for miles. There are also a number of shelters with barbecue facilities - a bit like bothies with no doors.
Tyresta National Park is just outside of Stockholm and boasts a primeval forest trail. Only 5% of Sweden's forests are virgin forests i.e. forests with few traces of human activity. Tyresta's forest walk shows no signs of felling, draining, cultivation or pasture. Whereas in many other forests dead trees are taken to sawmills and pulp factories, the dead wood here gives life to fungi and insects, which in turn help new trees and animals.
The other interesting thing about Tyresta National Park is that 2,000 million years ago it was a mountain range! However, when the ice caps melted 11,000 years ago, the whole area was compressed under the sea. Over the next 1,000 years, the bare rocks rose from the sea and it became a fishing and seal hunting ground for Stone Age people.
Next up was Garphyttans National Park, one of Sweden's oldest national parks (gaining its status in 1909). The thought then was that human interference was always negative, and so they stopped farming in the area. However, as the farmland became overgrown, the huge range of flowers that the park had been set up to protect started to vanish. In the 1940s they realised that farming was of key importance to these flowers, and since then annual haymaking has helped to diversify the wildlife again.
Another more recent change that has taken place in this park is that they are now allowing the forest to evolve freely. In time, the dead wood will become as important as it is at Tyresta. Unfortunately for us, we didn't see much of Garphyttans because we sort of became part of that process! Three trees fell onto our campervan as we were sleeping in it, it was definitely the scariest moment of the trip so far. Thankfully the only damage to the van was the wing mirror and a tiny part of the grill.
Because of the wind, we decided against our planned walk at Garphyttans and headed straight to Tresticklan National Park. It would seem that the fallen trees left their mark on the van more than we could see though, because we were woken up the next morning by the sound of birds all over the roof, windows, doors and windscreen wipers!
Tresticklan National Park offers an 8km walk that goes into Norway, so we had fun being in different countries to each other (in the photo Sam is in Sweden and I am in Norway), then I amused myself by being in two countries at the same time!
The final Swedish park of our trip was Store Mosse National Park - home to southern Sweden's largest mire (a wetland where land and water are at the same level). Dead plants don't decompose completely because of how wet the mire is, and this becomes peat.
In terms of facilities, this was the most impressive of the parks we visited. They have an amazing lookout tower, a free visitors centre and a children's walk where you hunt for gnomes and fairies.
Although we waited at the lookout tower at dusk and dawn in the hope that we might finally see an elk, the closest we got were deer. Not that we could see much in the morning because of the fog. It was quite an experience though, especially as the temperature was -1°!
All of the six Swedish national parks that we visited had something different to offer. They all had excellent facilities - even the barbecue stations had wood available for free which is delivered regularly (so that people don't use the wood from the park). Despite the falling trees and the cold, we thought this was a good time of year to come because of the autumn colours and the lack of mosquitos - we can imagine that some of the walks we have done could be unbearable in the summer. From a campervan perspective, the parking places are great and there are plenty of toilets. In general, people seem to respect the national parks and we didn't see a single piece of litter. But the best thing is probably the information points, the maps and the well signposted walking routes. We learnt so much more here than we have at any other national park. Well done Sweden, we will be back!