Four kilometres beyond the end of the public road you’ll find the village Särkimukka in the Torne Valley. In the middle of the woods, on a frozen lake, this is home to some ten people and hundreds of dogs. Still, the bar is full tonight.

Hannah Levy and Sanna Kouwenhoven harness up a couple of dog sled-teams. It’s striking how quiet the dog pen is. I grew up with hunting dogs and entering a dog pen with more than a few hunting dogs will make a whole lot more noise than you can hear in this dog pen at Pinetree Lodge in Särkimukka. Around 200 dogs live here in the forest, but it’s still very quiet.

Photo: Michael Törnkvist

The only time it gets a little noisy and you can hear them whine is when we don’t get going fast enough. These are dogs that are used to running, and that love to run. Standing still, waiting, is something they’ve had to practise. Just like impatient kids at Christmas before they get to open their presents and relieve their curiosity, that’s what it sounds like when dogs like these are full of energy and eagerness.

I stand on the sledge brake, releases the snow anchor and memorise the different commands as we wait for the starting signal. We’re off. The dogs’ eager barks turn into quiet pulling power and we make our way into the woods on perfect trails prepared by snowmobile.

Photo: Michael Törnkvist

The dream of silence

There are many preconceived ideas or fantasies about dog sledding. One of those ideas is, of course, the dream of silence. And it’s hard to find anything that offers a more calming forest experience than taking a dog sled-tour. The sounds are somehow muted in between pine trees, marshlands and mountains covered in deep, fluffy snow.

If there’s one Swedish word from these parts that might be useful to remember, it’s ‘upplega’. It was a scourge in the old days among lumberjacks and hunters and refers to snow gathered on tree branches that would plummet down on the person passing. These days it’s something we dream about. Plenty of upplega makes the forest quiet, winter white and beautiful.

There are plenty of trails in and around Särkimukka. This means you can choose between tours lasting a couple of hours and tours that take all day, or even several days.

It’s about the details

I order another beer, a Brown Bear Beer, the bar’s own ale. They say the devil is in the details. Within the service profession, it’s a fact that details decide whether a facility is good or bad. When the owners Sara and Johan opened Pinetree Lodge and Brown Bear Bar they didn’t think about beer that much. They sold whatever was sold elsewhere. In the beginning, they didn’t see it as a problem. But then beer sales went down. Sara realised something had to be done, and through a local brewery in Swedish Lapland, they designed three beers of their own: a couple of lagers and an ale named after the facilities – Särkimukka Lager, Brown Bear Beer and Doggy Style. The beer sales skyrocketed.

Sometimes details are crucial to the result of what you’re trying to achieve.

Photo: Michael Törnkvist

Särkimukka

Johan Väisenen and Sara Ljunggren have worked in the tourism sector most of their lives. They met at a guide and wilderness training course in Dalsland but didn’t get involved straight away. Johan lived in Alaska for a year first and then started working as a Sports Manager in Björkliden before they realised they were on to something.

When they moved home to Kangos and Särkimukka in spring 2005 it was because they knew they’d be able to get help from friends and relatives to build their business. But at the same time, neither they nor the locals realised that the business a decade down the road would include a large hotel, a bar and a kennel with about 200 huskies, four kilometres beyond the sign indicating the end of the public road.

More dogs than people

Tonight the Brown Bear Bar in Särkimukka is packed. It’s not surprising to people who come here a lot, but with a little bit of outside perspective it feels weird. The bar is four kilometres beyond the sign you saw stating ‘Public road ends here’.

Hardly a single guest at the bar speaks Swedish or even the local – common in the Torne Valley – language Meänkieli. English and Flemish are more prominent this evening, together with the bark of dogs, of course. In Särkimukka there are twenty times more dogs that permanent residents. But this week’s stream of guests evens it out slightly.

Learn more

Pinetree Lodge in Särkimukka, Kangos is situated just beside a beautiful lake in the middle of the forest. To learn more, have a look at explorethenorth.se.

Cody

The village’s most charming inhabitant is a blue-eyed rascal named Cody who loves to be scratched on his belly. Yes: Cody is a dog, in case you were wondering. He’s a scallywag who’s not allowed in the bar this evening and instead he’s hanging out by the lobby of Pinetree Lodge. He knows someone will pass by sooner or later and find it impossible to resist his soft fur. Cody incidentally seems to take life as it comes, in that wonderful way that you can experience when you come here to visit. In Särkimukka – four kilometres beyond the end of the public road.

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