Sounds and sayings travel far on the island. Over my morning coffee, I hear two gentlemen having a conversation in the marina below. It’s still, and the sun has been up since midnight. That’s if it even bothered to set?
“It’s just so lovely, this weather.”
“I’ve longed for this.”
It’s the day before Midsummer. There’s barely a cloud in the sky, or in life for that matter. The summer is here to stay. From where I’m sitting, on the porch of the cabin Laxen (the Salmon), I can see both the marina and the people talking. To my untrained eye, it looks like their boats are geared up for a perfect summer. I understand their longing. Then I go back into the cabin to get some more coffee. I wonder what the plan is for today. Perhaps I’m not going to do anything at all. Again! On my way out to the sun lounger on the porch I grab a paperback and something sweet. This is going to be just fine.
This used to be a fishing outpost for people from the mainland. These days, the pretty fishing village is private accommodation that’s probably mostly inherited.
Brändöskär is the outermost island of the Luleå archipelago. Beyond Brändöskär is the sea. An environment like this can’t be anything but special. Constant growth due to the land uplift, constant vulnerability due to the location. Here you’ll find the same flora and fauna as in the mountain world, a coastal Arctic, or an Alpine biotope.
Also readThe summer coast
This used to be a fishing outpost for people from Norrbrändön on the mainland. These days, the pretty fishing village is private accommodation that’s probably mostly inherited. Luleå Municipality has five overnight cabins for rent on the island, and it’s on the terrace of one of them I’m lucky enough to enjoy my morning coffee and a book. In a while, I’ll make breakfast. Then perhaps take a walk, then enjoy the sun a bit more and perhaps try to finish my book. I’ve brought several, you see.
A fishermen’s place
From the high location of my cabin I walk towards the cliffs in the south, past the chapel that was built in 1774. The only thing that kept fishermen away from fishing in the past was church duty: at sea there was a fishing ban between 6 pm on Saturday to 6 pm on Sunday. Nowadays hardly anyone is involved in the strenuous toil of catching herring, salmon and whitefish, but in the past it was the purpose of the entire island.
I peek into the chapel, with an altarpiece painted by local artist Erik Marklund. He also created the statue of Christ on Hällgrundet. On the wall, preacher Johan Petter Söderström has recorded the dramatic story about two fishermen who drowned off the island. Life in the outermost archipelago was seldom easy. Even these days you have to be careful when you travel out here.
As fresh as food gets
In Kukkolaforsen, migratory whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) are still being netted the traditional way, and they taste heavenly.
Luleå Municipality has 12 cabins for rent in the archipelago, five here on Brändöskär and other cabins on Småskär, Kluntarna, and Junkön. (The municipality is also building more cabins on the islands – not that simple a project – so there will be more available eventually.) The cabins are extremely popular, and the occupancy rate was over 90% last year. According to Lars Mandahl, at Luleå Municipality, the occupancy was in fact 97% last year.
“But in practice, this means we had more than 100% sales, as some cabins that were canceled last minute were still rented by someone else.”
“As long as I’ve worked here, I’ve never experienced the same interest in our archipelago as these past two years. There’s something magical about island hopping under the light of the midnight sun, and more and more visitors are discovering this.”
Lars Mandahl also reminds me that apart from Luleå Municipality’s rental cabins, the Klubbviken facility has five cabins for rent where you’re never far from the sandy beach or an umbrella drink. On Hindersön island there’s also a hotel facility, that provides service beyond self-service.
Rent a cabin in Luleå
In Luleå there are several islands with cabins you can rent for the night. They are highly popular so check for vacancy in advance.
Getting to an island
The Bothnian Bay archipelago is also more than just Luleå – even if the tour boat Laponia does provide an easy-going, unique way of traveling, transporting island hoppers around the islands — but from Skellefteå to Haparanda, this archipelago extends under the midnight light. Boat transfers and accommodation are available for several islands, for example Hamnskär and Pite-Rönnskär in Skellefteå, Stor-Räbben, Mellerstön and Vargön in Piteå, Malören in Kalix and Haparanda Sandskär in the Haparanda archipelago national park. That’s another thing that’s special about this exciting environment: it’s not just the light, and the brackish waters of the Bothnian Bay, there are several nature reserves here, as well as Norrbotten’s latest national park.
Islands to stay at
To get to the atoll-like island Malören, fifteen nautical miles across the open sea from Kalix, it takes a boat trip of about an hour. Once you are there, the serenity that these nautical miles provide extends itself.
Pite Rönnskär is perhaps the most iconic island in the entire Bothnian Bay archipelago. This island has it all: small, red, idyllic cottages combined with a well-preserved, picturesque little fishing village, a lighthouse, a hostel with a café and a large helping of archipelago tranquillity.
Haparanda skärgårds Nationalpark, ”Haparanda archipelago national park”, is the newest national park in Norrbotten and the destination of Swedish Lapland. On Haparanda Sandskär, you will find kilometers of sandy beaches and a small settlement for the fisherman. Here you also find a hut and, of course, a sauna to rent.
Apart from being the quintessential island with small red cottages, quiet rocks and lush forests, the art history of the island is worth exploring. There’s a statue of Jesus at the northern tip of the island (looking more like Darth Vader than Jesus these days, though), and the island is used as inspiration for many local artists.
An ancient scrolling
On Brändöskär I had some lunch and donned my hiking boots again. Out on Uddskär, there’s a labyrinth you can try to find. It’s the kind of special-pattern labyrinth found on for example clay tablets from the Roman Empire, coins from Knossos, and church walls in France. It probably originated from the Mediterranean Sea. In Sweden, more than 300 of these labyrinths have been recovered so far: about a hundred of them along the coast of the Bothnian Bay. What they were for is still subject to academic debate. Perhaps fertility rites? In Northern Sweden, they are only found along the coast, except at Edeforsen along the Lule River, and always in environments linked to hunters and fishermen. Perhaps building the labyrinths was just a pastime, in anticipation of better times to come? Like when the fish would start biting, or the elk run into the trapping pit. I’m thinking about this right now, as I walk back to my cabin. Building labyrinths instead of inanely scrolling through the Twitter feed. Once I’m back in Brändöskär I book the sauna for the evening. As I’m sitting there on the porch of Laxen, warmed by the afternoon sunshine, I hear someone in the marina saying:
“But what a day. This must be the best day of summer!”
And in every way I think whoever said it, hit the nail right on the head.