To Kramfors and the High Coast

First time north of Gävle for 35 years. Propeller plane to Midlanda, Sundsvall’s gateway to the world. Not normally a flying distance but there’s work on the line and few trains.

Drive to the “High Coast”, in my imagination high cliffs and coves like Dorset, encouraged by an English acquaintance saying it was the only place in Sweden where she could live. It’s not like this though, at least not what we could see from the landside. A bit disappointed. Beautiful landscape but it’s a Swedish beauty with slightly different rounded hills. A different sort of rock from Dorset although there are sandstone cliffs somewhere there. Must consult a geological map.

Not unpleasant once I adjust my expectations. To Bönhamn on the coast with its fishing huts closed for the season.

Gunilla leaves to give her lecture. Day starts well with good hotel breakfast. Clambering up damp steps to the old meeting place and cultural centre, Babelsberg. Informed that, in the days of Red Ådalen, 600 people came there to listen to Kata Dahlström, social democrat who became a communist, Swedish delegate to the second Comintern conference in 1920. But her views on Christianity and Communism brought critic from Zinoviev, among others. She later abandoned communism and regarded herself as a Buddhist towards the end of her life. Her daughter Ruth Stjernstedt, a lawyer, became a baroness through marriage and lived in Lidingö.

Rain intensifies. The bus station is deserted, the day’s bus to Ytterlännäs old church left at 06.45. The bookshop went bankrupt in 2015. No Akademibokhandeln.  The picture in my mind’s eye of ferreting around in a secondhand book shop looking for Ångermanland authors and buying a few books about the area fades into dystopic chill. The town is empty – a few refugees, mostly men with an occasional woman wandering around, integrating with a community that is nowhere to be seen. Södertälje-style immigrant owned food shop seems active and cheerful as does the immigrant-run station café. Coffee and a violently pink cake while considering next move.

An hour in the library. Rain intensifying. Disconsolate. Demoralised. Give up and retreat to hotel, some difficulty finding. Wet, sleep.

Next day much more satisfactory. By car to Ytterlännäs, the old church reputedly from 1200 with its paintings and intensity. Summer is over and it’s locked, see a bit by peering through a window. Pleasing archaic environment. Across the Ångerman river, follow the waterside, and across Sandö bridge to Lunde Folkets hus from where the demonstration against strikebreakers started in 1931. Military preparations with machine gun in place, the officers in charge do not want to repeat the humiliation of Seskarö in 1917 where the soldiers were disarmed. Five killed in Ådalen, one bystander. Token punishment for military.

Social democratic prohibition against their members attending the funerals as the demonstration was organised by the CP. Could it really have been so. Must go to KB’s newspaper library to read the papers from 1931 – ages since I’ve been there. Monument to the victims by a Södertälje sculptor, Lenny Clarhäll. Raining hard.

Back through Nordingrå to the coast at Norrfällsviken. Buy a Swedish translation of Genet’s Notre-Dame des Fleurs at a small hut selling bric a brac to avoid the shameful feeling of slithering out empty handed. Lunch at a fish restaurant about to close for the season. Pile of tins of fermented Baltic herring. Then Mannaminne, the art museum near Nordingrå, weird and wonderful with its Norwegian and Estonian exhibitions, an old metro carriage, a jet plane and trams, aiming to show the interconnectedness of everything (picture folk adrift in the world of words…).

Back to the E4 highway and down to Sundsvall. No time for Härnösand, worth a visit, nor energy to look at buildings in Sundsvall. Härnösand previously just a station where I got off to hitch-hike to the north in my early days in Sweden. That journey a blur, snapshot memories of the swimming pool in Luleå, making my way inland to Jokkmokk, the Same museum, in the evening to Arvidsjaur, put up by a family, given gruel (välling) for breakfast, uncertain whether it was really for me.

We try to have a Swedish trip once a year. Last year to Gotland, before that Bohuslän and Värmland. Places flashed through expand – Medelpad is here and Ångermanland there. I saw Bo Widerberg’s film Ådalen 31 in London in the radical 70s but now I know where it is.

Moving country is to be uprooted, to be separated from everything familiar, a long struggle to obtain nutrition from a thin soil (thin with its lack of associations rather than thin per se). Work to make the soil richer, often hard work in Sweden, where we are not spoon fed with the historical and curious as in larger cultures but have to winkle it out. But this work is important to feel at home, to be enriched and not diminished by a life lived abroad.

First-class train to Stockholm, the world feels soft and problem-free for three hours. We left Thursday lunchtime and return Saturday evening. Usual weird effects on sense of time.