A short letter about the many, many rocks in and around Stockholm. And what Swedes do with them.
Letter from Sweden by Gary (not Alistair) Cook
Letter dated 16 May 20121
Stockholm is largely made up of rocks. The landscape is littered with them. All sizes. Big, small, medium. I’d say there’s almost as many rocks as trees. And, as anyone will tell you, there’s an awful lot of trees.
The first time I saw a massive rock with a white painted picket fence running around the edge of it, I was amazed. I wondered whether there was a garden up there. But it was too high to tell. There’s quite often a conservatory. Or a greenhouse. But a garden? Though I wouldn’t really be surprised. It seems like everything is built on rocks here.
Houses are certainly built on them. One assumes that Nature’s foundations are going to be pretty solid.
Actually, there’s a house just down the road from us which has an outbuilding, perched high up on a rock. Three or four rises of wooden steps climb from the house to this tiny one room structure. It looks for all the world like a hut on the way up Everest.
My wife was talking to the woman who lives in the house and she said her son lives in the small building. He’s in his 20’s. So a sort of opposite version of the son in the basement scenario. I can’t imagine many people heading up the rickety stairs at night for a romantic visit though. Mind you, to be truly Swedish is to be very adventurous. Maybe they’d like the challenge.
Mind you, given the Swedish aversion to bannisters, you’d think that would be challenge enough. In fact, the first place we stayed in here in Sweden had a staircase which was pretty much an almost vertical ladder. And it lacked a bannister. We only went upstairs once a day. And then only because we had to. For outside the house, it would appear that bannisters are almost seen as an insult to Swedish machismo.
But back to rocks…there’s the house near us that has a monolith out the front. If you stand up against it, you can’t see the house. And if that wasn’t enough, this five metre monolith sits on top of a big flat rock, the size of an average British suburban garden. I can only assume it was put there by a glacier because I don’t think it could be picked up. The whole thing is a rock garden in every sense of the word with spring flowers beginning to cover a lot of the rock.
Monoliths aside, some rocks are perfect for sitting on. People will stop by lakes, along a forest path, and just watch the water from a convenient rock. Or have lunch.
Regardless of the weather, Swedes love al fresco feeding. Seriously, I’ve seen groups standing around in the snow having a picnic. And in the rain. More often than not, you’ll find them perched with various versions of pickled herring and eggs happily ensconced on top of a rock. Varieties of crisp bread galore, flasks of coffee to keep out the cold. Maybe some schnapps. These hardy people sit on their rocks and contemplate the world.
While the rocks around here are big they are generally well covered in moss, inches thick and squishy. Like a natural cushion. Just perfect for the waterproof clad bottom.
And, of course, the rocks are ground up to be used for grit when the snow arrives. There were tons of it spread all over the footpaths and roads in January. Like little marbles on the ground, they can become quite the slippery surface when all the snow has gone. So, once the grit is no longer needed to provide traction on icy surfaces, it is all collected up again for use the next time it snows. That’s all part of the recycling. Obviously.
In case the rocks on land aren’t enough, some of the 30,000 islands in the Stockholm archipelago are merely rocks. They call them skerries. But really they are just little bits of jaggedy rock poking up above the top of the water. Generally people wisely avoid them.
The ones they don’t avoid, however, are the ones around Sodermalm, in Stockholm. As we discovered on a recent ferry ride, locals regularly get out their climbing gear and abseil down the biggest rocks, their muscles bulging. The lascivious tour guide on the ferry swore that it’s a highlight of the summer months.
There’s 27 official climbing crags in Stockholm so there’s probably quite a lot of muscle on show. I guess we’ll have to wait around for summer to verify the fact. It makes me think that there’s always something to look forward to in Sweden.