Mark Waring takes an autumnal roam around theglorious central Scandinavian wilderness at theborder of Norway and Sweden
I’D PASSED THIS WAY some years before but at a much different tempo. Then, head down, arms pumping, I’d hurtled round this corner without thought beyond its place as a punctuation mark in the story of a long walk. A heartbeat and I was gone. Day two of a thousand-mile summer and I’d not noticed it. Stuffed full of emotion, both worries and excitement, I’d failed to see the jaunty wooden figure. Carved from a single block of Rogen pine stood a cheerful four-foot hiker, replete with walking stick, hand raised in greeting.
Now, three years later, in warm autumn sunshine there’s time for inspection, as much tactile as visual. I trace a finger along his knarled face until I stop at a mossy beard. “Careful, that was used to poison wolves years ago”, a voice calls. I turn and see the friendly hut warden of Skedbro. We fall into a long conversation. She talks extensively about Rogen’s history; for such pure wilderness it’s a human one as much as geological. She tells me that ‘Varglav’ or ‘wolf moss’ was used by hardy smallholders who fought to carve a living out of this spectacular landscape. Rare in the rest of Scandinavia, it is abundant in these venerable forests. The moss was harvested from the ancient pines and dried before being mixed with crushed glass and then used to lace meat. A cruel end perhaps but no doubt a useful weapon as man tried to prevail over nature in a harsh landscape.
Rogen might have been a difficult place in which to live but for the visitor it’s simply breathtaking. I’d started this walk only a day before but had already fallen back under its spell. Three years previously I’d charged through in the very first days of a 1,000-mile hike which covered the entire length of the Swedish mountain chain. Immediately I was struck by its beauty, and my appreciation grew the further away I travelled. I’d vowed to return.
Despite its trail infrastructure, Roger is quiet and remarkably underused. The walking is challenging, with huge boulders and the debris of moraine everywhere. Bare, stony fells stud the landscape, standing proud above scores of lakes. But perhaps memorable are the forests of remarkable trees (like the remnants of Scotland’s Caledonian Forest being allowed to run riot) marching up onto the mountain plateau.
Rogen, blended with its Norwegian counterpart, Femundsmarka, forms part of the ‘Gränslandet’, literally ‘the borderland’. This is an extensive wilderness in central Scandinavia with more than 2,000 square kilometres of protected mountain, lake and forest straddled across two countries. It stands apart in both lands’ mountain-scape as a home to rare animals and plants, ancient trees and remarkable boulder terrain. Vast expanses of low fells, old growth forests and crystal clear waters make it a paradise for the wilderness visitor. Gränslandet's wild delights are obvious. But hidden away, deep in the wilderness, there’s a long human history with a host of colourful tales and characters.
10 days in the wilderness
One warm late September I climb out of the hamlet of Tänndalen, set for 10 days backpacking in this extraordinary area. Autumn is in the ascendancy with blazing birch but a hint of summer remains. That first day I meander southwards into the core of Rogen, across the east flank of 1,600m Storvigelen before the trail cuts through golden mountain birch jewelled with blue tarns.
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