The snowberries dot the bare bushes like jewels on an elderly dame. Even without their leaves the bare branches look regal in the midday sunlight that illuminates the crown of frost on aged nature. The leaves crunch like ice wafers under our feet – my feet and Lucy’s paws, to be more precise. Lucy gallops ahead of me, energized by the stainless steel rays of the winter sun on this impeccable midday in Drottningholm Park.
We veer off the groomed paths where the gravel has been raked into patterns. In a minute Lucy’s white underside is suddenly muddy brown as we enter Naturstigen, a small loop into the forest behind the palace where we can get a little dose of Nordic wilderness. Of course, it isn’t wilderness at all; it just gives that impression. In fact, as we walk along the narrow path through the forest, we come across a series of information stations, equally spaced along the length of the path, where white plaques give us a historical narrative.
A Bronze Age (1700-500 B.C.) boat lies on display under a simple roof out here in the middle of nothing but forest. Further, we learn, this boat would have floated well above our heads at the time when it was used because this area was the lake bottom at that time. We move on and find a large stone slab with straight, wide grooves in a Y-form. There is no question that someone used this repeatedly over time – as it turns out, during the Iron Age (1300-500 B.C.) to sharpen tools. Next to it another stone with its center sunken and smoothly hollowed out, is what archeologists guess was a sacrificial stone dating back even further in time. All of this information is related for sighted and non-sighted people (in Braille) on the plaques, just to ensure that everyone gets the story.
Almost anywhere else I’ve been in the industrialized world, such artifacts are in museums, in glass cases or at least roped off. If you’re lucky, you might find an English translation, but forget Braille. Here, they are directly accessible and possible to view (even if you cannot see) in environments that mirror the reality of the surroundings that they might have been used in. I can relate many other similar experiences of this astounding free access to history in nature in Sweden, yet it never ceases to amaze me each time that I experience it.
In a country today known for being rule- and queue-oriented, the continued freedom of access to historical gems in nature such as Naturstigen is a very great achievement by a modern society. I often hear Sweden being criticized for being a bit too law-and-order focused. If you look under the surface, however, you will find a fierce love of freedom of access and a delightful unbridled spirit.
Lucy hops over the ankle-high wooden rails lining our pathway to check out the smells under the trees. She’s a loyal creature, but it is her irreverence I adore. Hey, she is Swedish, when all is said and done.
For more on walks in this blessed corner of the earth just outside of Stockholm visit Ekerö Kommun