Every Autumn around 500 million migratory birds pass over southern Sweden.
Many of them are yearlings on their first long journey south. Small and lightweight swallows and willow warblers, weighing just a handful of grams, undertake voyages of six thousand miles to South Africa crossing the vast Sahara Desert on their way.
Also travelling are grand flocks of Bean Geese from the Russian and Finnish tundra, as well as familiar Canada Geese and raptors such as hawks, falcons and osprey. Later in the season, doves, finches, tits and thrushes head for the warmer parts of continental Europe.
Awed by the scale of the birds’ endeavours we enjoyed the ‘practice’ flights of Canada Geese over the sea at Skillinge, a beguiling coastal village. The birds were marshalled along the seafront, perched and honking noisily on rocky boulders but also massed in squadrons in the freshly harvested fields.
Amongst them swans, cormorants, mallard ducks, seagulls and pigeons busied about. We wondered at their conversation. Was there any? There was no doubt who held sway here. It was a migratory parliament of fowls.
At dusk a slow procession of small boats returned to the quiet harbour. The village is a topsy-turvy collection of small houses clustered in and on top of each other. Naively perceived by us as to be a workaday fishing community, Skillinge proved to be a pricey seaside investment village of second homes and Air B&B getaways. Its harbourside inn or ‘krog’ was closed.
We looked it up online, it seemed a Stockholm couple had taken it over within recent years but despite initially glowing reviews had lost the business. It was being sold by receivers, which seemed sad.
We ventured further along the rural, coastal roads. Despite the very recent end of the Summer season they were quiet. We passed ancient white churches, grazing cattle and sheep, and boulders marking ancient stone circles.
One of them, ‘Dinas Thing’ was thought to be a Viking meeting place. The Nordic pillagers held regular councils, which they referred to as a ‘thing’, at clearly marked meeting places. I rather liked the idea of a council meeting being called a ‘thing’.
At Sandhammaren we walked the silky white, glistening sands of Sweden’s most beautiful beach. Is such a shoreline possible outside of the Caribbean?
Undulating sand dunes, gulls gliding on the breeze and foaming waves…
The answer, a resounding, yes. Layers of dunes, rich with fresh green grasses, line the length of the five-mile long beach with nothing to break or disturb the view inland.
Sandhammaren Strand is located in a nature reserve which is the largest drift dune area in Sweden. We climbed up to a viewing platform to see natural walkways through the grasses, leading to the sparkling blue Baltic sea (now cooling down to 19 degrees).
It was not always so peaceful. Due to viscous currents it was notorious as being the area where ships ground whilst trying to sail around southern Sweden. It has possibly the most boat wrecks off the entire coast.
Four lighthouses dot the shoreline dating from the 1860s, and Sweden’s oldest lifeboat built in 1855 is still housed nearby.
The beach houses that lined the forested roads were variously uber modern and built on earlier plots or renovated wooden cottages. Most of them sported the bright blue and yellow national flag.
Gardens, although spacious, were sparse in planting. It struck an odd note until we remembered the long snowy winters that would flatten any perennial growth.
The cars that passed us were, predictably, Volvos. A couple had bull bars on which seemed unnecessary until we remembered the constant signage warning of loose elk.
Our southern coast beach life in England is a world away from this version in Sweden’s southern corner.