A tranquil rural scene in Sweden; in this bucolic setting, I formed several striking memories. The best was from the shed in the background; it was the location of a nest from where a newly fledged Pied Wagtail fluttered down and settled on my hand for a few minutes. The most surreal was to open the tent flap on a misty morning with the sun breaking through on the magnificent Harley Davidson in the picture. How it could have arrived there silently in the night was baffling, and there was no-one around to explain it. Other aspects of Tannas (in Jamtland), provided painful lessons.
The manual for running the trip that I had been given said our first stop driving north from Oslo was to be ‘camp at Tannas’, but no indication of where as no-one had run this tour before. It was a long drive via the old Norwegian mining town of Roros, and late in the day we reach a shed at the Swedish border. The official casually asked where we were going; I said ‘Tannas’ and his eyebrows shot up and head tilted quizzically ‘Tannas ? No-one ever goes to Tannas !’ At least we were on the right track for wilderness.
A small home-made sign indicated a campground and I rolled the 10 metre bus to the edge of a meadow, noting six sentry-boxes; earth-closet toilets were dotted around the perimeter, a new horror for delicate campers. A large and jovial man greeted us, he wore a loud lumberjack shirt with industrial braces holding his trousers up and slippers completed his outfit. I think we had interrupted his evening meal, but he explained what meagre facilities were available, as a thicket of tents grew like fungi in slow motion. There was a tap, a shower, a flush toilet and many square miles of forest.
Some of the nature was a little intimidating; after a meal, the increased daylight encouraged people to explore the woodland, often heading to a low hill for a view. Although all these folk came back, all of them suddenly knew how hard it is to find your way in a forest when you can no longer see landmarks. In June, the first trip of the season, it was often -5C at the site, exposing the inadequacy of borrowed sleeping bags, last used after a party fizzled out at someone’s house. Not the same as a Swedish field. This often prompted a trip to a camping store at our next stop to ensure a night’s sleep.
However, the most daunting element here was not abstract, but very definitely tangible. Even below zero the mosquitoes of Tannas had unsuspected superpowers; I felt a stab on my backside one evening which amazed me, as I was wearing thick corduroy trousers and I was sitting on a canvas camp stool. Dismay ensued. Further research revealed similar horrors experienced by earlier travellers. In “Three in Norway by Two of Them” by Clutterbuck and Lees (1882) the following extract appears
“Esau retired for a short time to attempt a sketch. He came back very angry because at a critical moment, a mosquito had knocked hi hat off, and he had a desperate and perspiring conflict . . . the brute was vanquished and its head cut off . . . to hang in his ancestral halls. He certainly bore on his face the marks of a struggle so there seemed no reason to doubt his story”