Out to Utö

July 17, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (4)

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Barnens bad - beach on Utö

Today we travel out to a special island among the 24 000 islands and skerries in the coastal waters off Stockholm.

Life was made for moments like this. Waiting for a boat to the archipelago, with legs swinging over the quay. Focus on water. Cool, green and dreamy depths…and fish.

A baby girl who bears a striking resemblance to her clutched doll says excitedly: “Mycket vatten” (lots of water). She too sees the fish floating around the pier, and would just leap off the edge and fly too (or sink) if mamma did not hold her.

Over the glittering water, the boat Silverpilen (silver arrow) comes in to Årstabrygga. How much nicer than flying. An unshaven guy leaps off the boat and says informally to the waiting passengers “10 minutes to tidy – then we are off”. You love him. If an airline pilot was so nonchalant you’d be really worried about the coming takeoff.

Silverpilen comes in

We’ve had heat – lush lazy heat since before midsummer. We are sweltering.

But now it is Saturday and we are heading for Utö, where not many tourists go. It’s a long four hour boat ride from Stockholm and the Grand Hotel. The normal way the locals get to Utö involves a half hour self-drive from Stockholm to the pier or 50 minute train and bus ride, and then half an hour ferry boat ride to the island.

Utö is undeniably special.

Hoary lichen, spruce and water

It is one of the most varied islands in the archipelago. The outer edge of Utö faces the Baltic and has the look of the outer islands of the archipelago  – worn smooth first by the ice age glaciers, and then by waters lapping and slapping. The rocks seem wavy, light and free in their lines, striped with white leptite  – beautiful places to lie.

Smooth rocky shore

The inner edge of Utö is more like the coast it faces – rich vegetation close to the seafront, rougher rocks. And some beaches. On this side lies Gruvbryggan – one of the main ferry stops and guest harbours. A long line of yachts and glittering masts is sheltered by an offshore island. Up on the hill is the “famous” sight of a windmill, though famous is perhaps too strong a word for an island that is more in the best-kept-secret bracket.

Utö Värdshus - the inn includes 2 restaurants

Restaurants, inn, guest house, shops and a beachside camping site make Gruvbryggan the undisputable centre of Utö. This sleepy little place can seem quite exuberant in the evenings with live music and the smell of grilling meat.

Iron was mined on Utö for 700 years up there on the hill. Related “sights” include a small museum, the 250m deep pit (containing water), a line of workers cottages – and I guess the windmill, now restored.

The best news about Gruvbryggan is that one can hire bikes – so the first thing we did after a café latte at the pier café was to queue for a bike. It is better not to have coffee first, as the best bikes get snapped up. You can cycle many pleasant kilometres to the far ends of the elongated island and to another island, Ålö, over a bridge.

Parts of Utö are national park much of Ålö island – with elk and deer and other gentle Nordic creatures. Old hoary pines and spruce, and rarer species bring a special feel that differs from the rest of Sweden as (like Gotland) it has large areas of limestone – not just granite. Between the shaggy arms of spruce there is paler earth along with flashes of blue water in any and every direction.

As we head off from Gruvbryggan we use our three gears to get up gentle hills (which in the heat feel quite steep), passing a small public bathing pier.  Utö is all about water and swimming.

Now we were in view of a quaint church over a bay.

Utö church across the bay

We stopped at a little shop and café by the water where the locals were buying strawberries and eggs. I overheard someone explain to another that at Utö church today a couple would be getting married in the presence of all their kids. Typical Swedish wedding – the kids are present.

Later, amazingly, on our return journey we saw the bridegroom or best man fiddling with his buttonhole/carnation, standing by the roadside under a tree, waiting…

No limousines or anything boring like that. The probable wedding guests came down the paved road wheeling overnight bags. There is a ferry stop close to the church.

The sad truth of our cycling is that we gave up on three routes when I got deterred by gentle hills…(too hot). So turned back (1) before reaching the beach at Alléviken, (2) before the bridge over to Ålö, and (3) before the northern tip at Kroka. But we cycled at least 18 km…

Some favourite places on Utö: barnens bad (the children’s beach) – pale sand and strokes of long grass with the water sheltered by islets – surrounded by forest. No toilet – only a recycling shed. Very ecological.

Rävstavik. Didn’t get there on the bikes but by walking in a previous year – only 3km from Gruvbryggan.


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