'The last true wild frontier': Life-changing tales from northern Sweden

Andrew Peacock
Andrew Peacock - [email protected]
'The last true wild frontier': Life-changing tales from northern Sweden
Thea Holmqvist gazing into the sunset in Bureå, her hometown. Photo: Private

What can we learn from the unrivaled beauty of northern Sweden? The Local spoke to three people, hearing rich stories of life in the land of the Midnight Sun.


Thea Holmqvist is born and raised in Bureå (around 2,500 residents), a coastal community about 18 kilometres south-east of Skellefteå, Västerbotten. As a lover of photography and journalism, she moved away to study in Sundsvall and intern in Stockholm. That's when she realized how much she missed home.

"I dreamed of big cities, of Stockholm and Gothenburg, where I thought that you can do anything, anytime, everything is so close."

But during a six-month internship for a newspaper in Stockholm in 2014 she "realized that all the things I dreamed of in my teenage years weren't the reality. I was surrounded by a million people and I'd never felt more alone".

So she moved back.

"The silence. The fresh air. The people, always saying hi. I saw my home with new eyes, all the possibilities and I had never fully understood the freedom I had here."

Thea and Jonathan in Abisko looking at Tjuonavagge. Photo: Thea Holmqvist

"I need the calm, the silence. The small but amazing details to be happy about. Like the aurora borealis dancing above our home. The bright summer nights."

Moving back meant she cherished everything more deeply, such as "children eating blueberries from their backyard for a lunch snack, or building tree-houses in the forest in the summer and igloos on the snow-covered lawn in the winter".

"I feel really strongly for the environment, for the local people and believe that we have to help each other, lift each other and appreciate each other for the nature and locally produced products to last. Whatever activity is going on in the south, we can do here. There are a lot of things we have here, like the fifth season between winter and spring."

And with all of these rediscoveries through going back to the place she was born, Holmqvist found her passion: to teach people to respect and preserve their home, where they grew up, and to never forget it, wherever it is.

"My main goal is to cure people's 'home blindness'. I want people to be proud of what they know. Where they come from. What they have. And if they stay, they stay. And if they leave, it's fine too. But I want people to know what they are leaving. I didn't. And I'm glad I found out, and I was able to find my way back home."

Barn outside Bureå. Photo: Thea Holmqvist

'When I moved up to Lapland, it felt I found the last true wild frontier'

Chad Blakley is the co-founder of Lights Over Lapland along with his wife, Linnea, and has lived in Sweden since the summer of 2008. Having grown up in Missouri in the US, viewing the Northern Lights was an inspiration for him as he walked along Lake Torneträsk one day after finishing his dishwashing job in the midst of a cold, dark winter night.

Ever since that moment, he was hooked, and created a successful guided tour company along with two other partners – Visit Lapland and Visit Abisko – providing adventure and discovery in Swedish Lapland to all.

READ MORE: 'I found the American dream in Swedish Lapland'

Blakley has now lived in the far north of Sweden for quite a few years and has come across stories and experiences that those who have not been to the area may find thrilling.

"I'd made a few teepees for our tours, and one morning I woke up on Christmas Day to find out one of the teepees had fallen down. We were stuck out there all day, putting it back together. As the day went on, I began to process the fact that I was standing in my yard under the Arctic Circle, reindeer passing us, rebuilding a teepee on Christmas morning."

Not many natives of rural United States can say they did that for Christmas. Even if you are used to reindeer in your yard or rebuilding teepees, he insists that native Swedes really should take the time to see the north, as it contrasts so much with the rest of the country.

Chad Blakley and his wife, Linnea, in Abisko National Park. Photo: Private

"It's night and day. We've travelled all throughout Sweden, and I can honestly say that Lapland is quite a bit different. A theory my wife and I live by is 'Do it while you can'. You've never understood how spectacular the country is until you've seen the last few kilometres of the north."

Lastly, he refers us to the Swedish tourist board's take on a classic Swedish phrase: "Discover your next wild strawberry location", and never stop adventuring.

WORD OF THE WEEK: What does 'wild strawberry location' mean?

Man relishing the Northern Lights of Swedish Lapland. Photo: Chad Blakley

'There's no need to be scared of the long winter'

For the last story, The Local spoke with José Miguel, a PhD student in Wood Technology at Luleå University who lives in Ersmark, a town of 800. As a lover of football, the many open green spaces there have been great for him, but what has really stunned Miguel is the nature.

"Everything I've been overwhelmed with here, it's always something to do with nature."

Perhaps it hasn't even been the phenomenon of nature on its own, but the lack of noise.

"This one time my family came to visit. We took a car and rented a cottage next to a lake. We were in the middle of the frozen lake, it was winter and sunny, but no wind at all. We couldn't hear anything. We were completely overwhelmed with how the silence could be so strong."

Silence is quite a strong theme across the spectrum in the far north of Sweden – stories on the experience of no noise or too much noise at one time, and how it changes people.

In particular, to people who may come to northern Sweden for the first time, Miguel notes "there's no need to be scared of the cold or the long winter. If you are coming in the summer, bring a rain poncho. But reality is that life here in the winter is much easier than you think".

Miguel at Lapland Emotions, a dog sledding tour company. Photo: Ted Logart


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