Feeding the alpacas

Waking to find some of the alpacas grazing right outside our bedroom window made me realise that on my fortieth birthday I was finally living the dream! After one of Paul’s very filling breakfasts, including fresh eggs from the resident hens, we headed outside for the Saturday morning tour of the farm, during which visitors and guests get the chance to feed the alpacas, or just to gaze adoringly them.

I always feel very calm around alpacas and llamas. I once heard them described as the land based equivalent of ‘dolphins’ – capable of connecting with human beings in a particularly special way, and instinctively knowing when some of those humans need a bit more tlc. They’re very curious about children, and love watching them play, whilst at the same time young camelids can also be very playful. I once had one try to mount me, but that’s a whole different story!

I certainly don’t feel forty, but by this time you’ve sort of realised that you never will feel your age. Instead you just try to maintain the adult facade for as long as possible, until wine or close friends and loved ones get the better of you.

Having fed the alpacas their breakfast we headed into Sala – the closest town, and parked up near the Mans Ols restaurant. From here we walked around Langforsen lake, and along the ‘Green Walk’. I always feel the need to enjoy a good walk on my birthday, and there’s certainly plenty of it available in and around Sala. For some reason though the area isn’t mentioned in the guidebooks – bizarre given that it surpasses the crowded lakeside towns of Leksand and Mora for instance. Maybe it’s best that we keep quiet about it though, to keep the hordes away.

Back to Mans Ols for a much anticipated buffet lunch. For £11 per person you can feast on a range of salads, meats, fish, and potatoes, all of which tasted delicious. It wasn’t surprising that the place was full to the brim with locals.

With sated appetities we then nipped back to the farm to grab our swimsuits and instructed Dervla to take us to Hällsjön lake, near the village of Möklinta. Paul had recommended this as a fabulous wild swimming option, and he was right. After a few wrong turns because Dervla gets confused by gravel tracks – not ideal when travelling in Scandinavia, we eventually found it. One word – wow! It’s a large lake (by UK standards) with a cordoned off bathing area, changing hut, toilets and picnic tables, and on a gorgeous sunny day we had it to ourselves. Whilst the water was a little chilly to begin with your body soon adapts, so much so that we soon abandoned the cossies and went skinny dipping. Hell of a way to celebrate reaching middle aged-dom! I intended to start as I mean to go on though, growing older as gracelessly as possible…

After programming the correct location of the lake into Dervla as ‘nudey swimming’, so that we could find the spot easily the following day, we headed back to the farm for a well earned hot chocolate before preparing dinner in the self catering kitchen. Before bed we nipped over to see the new baby cria (alpaca), and to meet ‘Sputnik’ – a particularly naughty young alpaca who likes to test boundaries, but does so in a way that’s hard not to love. After trying to knock Rich over a few too many times we decided that it was time for bed, for us and the creatures. A lovely end to a perfect birthday.

Sputnik

Sputnik

The birthday surprise!

So that today’s destination remained a surprise until the the very last moment, Rich programmed it into Dervla (our sat nav) under a pseudonym – ‘Velsanka 40’. Velsanka means ‘Welsh woman’ in Croatian. Yep. I’ve taken lessons in Croatian as well as Icelandic. Anyway, back to my birthday. ‘Velsanka 40’ was only two and a half hours drive from the air park, so we pulled off the motorway for a long coffee break at a little village called Gustafs, so small that the cafe was called ‘Gustafs Cafe’, so I was very surprised but pleased to find that they made their own gluten free biscuits!

After stopping only a little further on for a packed lunch in a layby, I could contain my excitement no more and insisted that we get to wherever we were going as soon as possible. We turned off the main read to the village of Broddbo Norrängen, and there I saw the sign: Norrängens Alpacka. We were spending my ‘big birthday’ with some of my favourite creatures in the whole wide world – alpacas and llamas.

Norrängens Alpacka is run by Paul (originally from London) and his partner Katja (originally from Russia). They’re both fluent Swedish speakers and live on the farm with their two sons, their very friendly dog Tindra, two peacocks, and countless chickens. Oh, and about 100 alpacas. Not only does it have all things fluffy in abundance, it’s also been voted the number 1 independent bed and breakfast in Sweden. So Rich, as always, had done his homework. One thing’s for certain – I’ll never forget my fortieth birthday!

Paul introduced us to some of the alpacas and then showed us to our very spacious room in the now converted barn. We had a huge double bed, ensuite, table and chairs, an armchair, and the best bit – a view of the alpaca grazing fields. With access to a self catering kitchen, free hot drinks, several communal seating areas, a pool, a sauna, and a well stocked bar downstairs complete with pub stools and packets of pork scratchings shipped over from England, we couldn’t wipe the grin from our faces. Paul and Katja had thought of everything. They’d even, or so it seemed, very kindly arranged for a baby alpaca to be born that morning so Paul then took us to meet the new baby and its mum. Nothing quite compares.

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After settling in to our room I went for a sauna and swim whilst Rich napped, and after a light dinner we bid goodnight to the newborn alpaca and joined two other guests downstairs in ‘Paul’s bar’ where Rich enjoyed a local Dalarna beer, and I enjoyed the surroundings. With the big 40 looming the next day, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else!

Siljansnäs

It was so quiet at the airpark during the night, that the sound of a bumble bee buzzing outside the window woke me up in the morning! Over a leisurely breakfast we watched a single crane ambling down the runway and pecking at insects on the tarmac. It appears that our worries about the airpark being noisy and busy were unfounded.

After breakfast we strolled into the village of Siljansnäs. Rich aptly described it as the Swedish equivalent of a typical Cotswolds village, with pretty houses and gardens, gently rolling streets and alleys, a picturesque church in the centre, and friendly villagers who wave or shout “hello” as you walk past. As seems to be the norm in Sweden, the small grocery store was extremely well supplied with gluten free products so we stocked up and headed back to the cabin for a relaxing lunch before driving up the hill to the nature reserve and museum – Naturum Dalarna.

Unlike the village, the nature reserve did feel touristy, but there were fantastic views of the lake from the car park, and we soon lost the crowds by following the longest walking trail. We’d hoped to be able to climb up to the top of the watchtower as the view had been recommended by our Finnish friend back at the airpark, but unfortunately it was closed for repairs. Instead we headed to ‘Buffils Anna’ for hot chocolate and cake. The Swedes take ‘fika’ very seriously, and seem to have come from far and wide to sit and enjoy the view and atmosphere.

Sleeping in a Swedish airpark

After saying our goodbyes to Camille – the cottage owner, we drove west towards Norway, and then south to Särna. We’d planned on visiting Njupeskär – Sweden’s highest waterfall, but on reaching the already crammed car park, and realising that the chain of tourists was moving veeeerrry slowly along the narrow 2km trail, we decided that we’d rather not face the hordes, so cut our losses and headed south east to our next destination – the airpark in Siljansnäs.

Siljansnäs lies at the south eastern end of Lake Siljan – a large lake created by a meteorite strike, and home to Sweden’s national symbol – the Dalarna Horse. Whilst Mora – at the northern tip, is always busy with holiday makers, Siljansnäs fortunately isn’t, and the airpark turned out to be quite the find! It’s the only airpark in Europe where you can live next to the runway, and fortunately for us, the lovely Rene from Denmark, lets his cabin out when he’s not holidaying in it. To show our gratitude, we hoisted a little Danish flag as soon as we arrived, and were not suprised when the Danish couple next door then popped over to welcome us.

The cabin was gorgeous. It comfortably sleeps 4, with one double bed and 2 bunk beds, had a large entrance porch, kitchen area, and dining areas inside and out. The decking area overlooked the runway, but was still sheltered by a little copse of birch trees. It was quiet, peaceful and wonderfully quirky.

After settling in, we went for a stroll around the park, and were quickly accosted next to the building that looks very much like a Swedish castle, by an extremely friendly Finnish man! The castle turned out to be a micro-brewery called ‘The Flying Brewery’, and the Finn none other than one of the business partners, who had literally just flown in for a few days with his family. Whilst his children sleep in an apartment in the brewery, the Finn and his wife sleep on the plane, which inside felt very much like a small caravan, complete with double bed and kitchen. He wouldn’t let us leave without first giving us some bottles of ‘Aviation Ale’, and making us promise that we’d come back and sign his visitor book. If all Finns are this quirky and friendly, then we’d adore Finland as much as we do Sweden!

Glötdalsvallen

As my eye was looking even worse for wear following the mozzie bites, we decided against parking at Rombovallen and walking along the Pilgrim’s Way to Stradalsvallen. Whilst the track looks interesting, it runs mainly through marshland and boggy woodland, and I couldn’t risk getting any more bites that affected my ability to see properly, if I was to continue sharing the driving.

Instead we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of frankfurters and fried onions – very Swedish I’m sure, met the lovely Camilla (owner of the cottage) when she arrived from Falun (in Dalarna) and introduced herself, and then headed back up to park at the Lofsdalen Panorama resort and follow the trail to Glötdalsvallen.

Fortunately the drizzle and a slight breeze kept most of the mozzies away, allowing us to enjoy the views behind Hovarken and Digervalen. We got as far as Digerbakkolen and the stream before Rich had had enough of trying to balance on the planks across the marsh – quite a difficult feat when you have no cochlears, and rely on keeping sight of the horizon to stay upright.

On the return trip we found some very bear looking fur attached to a tree so decided not to linger. Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t look around properly before taking a loo stop, only to discover a couple sitting on the hill watching us whilst eating their lunch. They gave us a big wave as we set off, so I’m assuming that they found my embarassment amusing, and that the sight of my bum hadn’t put them off their snack!

Back to the cabin for a late lunch, before a final trip to the ICA supermarket to stock up before we left Lofsdalen. Whilst I drooled over the pastry section, Rich nipped into the gift shop next door to buy me a birthday pressie, which I then wasn’t supposed to know he’d hidden next to the spare wheel in the boot. What intrigued us most however was the free gift he was given at the till:

Yep, it’s a condom. In the words of the cardboard insert – “Lofsdalen cares about you!” We reckon that the phone number provided would lead to a free chlamydia test, or as Rich lip read it, a ‘camilla’ test. I’m guessing that Lofsdalen turns into quite the party town during peak season!

Swedish mozzies

I woke to find that I couldn’t open my right eye properly, and that it looked like this:

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Despite my best efforts at tracking down and squishing any mosquitoes that made it in to the cottage, I’d obviously failed, and one of the little fockers had bitten me on the eyelid in the night. We adore Sweden, and definitely want to go back, but it’ll be during the Spring, Autumn or Winter next time – when all the mozzies are dead!

After applying liberal amounts of anti-histamine cream we decided to climb some more of the local hills, in the hope that the breeze would keep the mozzies away from me. They seem to prefer my blood to Rich’s, possibly because he’s having chemo at present.

We headed east to the next village – Glote, and then up to try and find the windpark nature reserve – Glotesvalen, which we’d found a pamphlet for back at the cottage. When we got there however the barrier was closed, and there were lots of warning signs in Swedish, so we followed the example of the car in front and turned around. Our best bet is that you can visit the sight but on organised tours only, where they take you up in a 4X4 that can cope with the very steep slopes. On this occassion we weren’t sure that Scarlett (our hire car), would have made it up.

Instead we drove back down to Glote and turned off halfway between the village and Rostvallen, from where we walked up the track to Sorvallen, and east to the foot of Glotesasen. We saw bear tracks all the way, but what with the volume of Rich’s sneezes, and my bright purple top, they could see and hear us coming from miles away, so stayed hidden.

We had wonderful 360 degree views of Harjedalen and out towards the Sonfjallet national parl from the top of Glotesasen. At 870m it’s shorter than the two peaks we walked up earlier in the week, but feels more peaceful and isolated.

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Fifi – the baby Musk Ox

After a breakfast of hot rolls heated in the cottage’s small but very effective oven, we headed off to Tannas and the Musk Ox Centre. We bought tickets and met our guide at the Fishing Centre, before being escorted to the Musk Ox enclosure in a car chain. Understandably it’s not signposted from the road so as to prevent ill informed visitors from trying to get into the enclosure, and ending up a bit worse for wear.

Musk Ox were hunted to extinction in Northern Europe 40 thousand years ago, but re-introduced to Dovrefjell in Norway from Greenland in 1869. In 1971, five Musk Ox emigrated voluntarily to Sweden and have stayed in this border region of Harjedalen ever since. In the Winter they move to high mountain areas where their short legs find it easier to move about in snow that isn’t as deep as it is in the valleys. Mental note – I need to move to the mountains.

Sweden’s Musk Ox Centre is the largest Musk Ox enclosure in the world and provides a natural, albeit slightly restricted habitat for them. In the 1980’s their numbers started to dwindle from a peak of 34, because they were frightened into not reproducing by the sheer number of people in noisy helicopters and snow-mobiles whizzing back and forth to see them. Today their habitat is protected, although the Swedish government refuses to recognise them as a Swedish animal, and so won’t provide any funding. The centre relies on tourism and local sponsors.

After being taken up a two storey observation tower to survey the musk ox territory, we were instructed not to make any loud noises or sudden movements, and led on to a viewing platform in the enclosure. We were priveleged to see a two month old female calf, and she in turn seemed to relish having an audience – playing with the adults, or just rolling around in the pen looking adorable. Rich nicknamed her Fifi.

They really do look primeval, and their bellow sounds like something out of Jurassic Park – you could feel it in your bones! Fortunately they didn’t seem to mind being watched, probably because tourist group sizes are always small, and quiet. Everyone just gazed in awe at these wonderful creatures. As the oxen wandered back towards Funasfjallen we were led into a small exhibition, before going on our way just after 1pm.

Being so close to the Norwegian border it seemed daft not to then visit the Rogen Nature Reserve. The park covers 500 square kilometres, and the entrance road is sited just a few hundred metres from Tannas. The guidebook said that it wold then be 10 miles down a gravel track, but it turned out to be closer to 15. Swedish miles are obviously longer.

With Rich feeling a bit weary after yesterday’s exertions, and the reserve being very swampy, we followed the Summer track to Rogenstugen for an hour and a half before seeking refuge from the mozzies. It turns out that natural mosquito repellents just don’t cut it when walking through swampland. Fortunately we’d also packed anti-histamine cream. The reserve is undoubtedly a stunning landscape though and we’d definitely come back early in the Spring or later in the Autumn to see it at its best, without getting bled dry.