A Mini Adventure!
Having thankfully survived our brush with COVID and two months convalescence taken place, the late summer draw of Sweden was irresistible and a warm welcome from the family awaited us - we hadn’t seen them since New Year. Enduring an airport was out of the question however when the ferry restarted from Newcastle to Amsterdam I promptly offered to drive us on a Mini adventure – well what else can you call it in a blue Mini Cooper with go-fast white stripes?! Not to mention a nice wee traveling advertisement for Scottish Food Guide members!
Frankly, driving to Sweden was something we talked about since we first met in 2006 at Terra Madre so this was The Moment. A little nervous but full of optimism we headed for the ferry, with a collection of facemasks at the ready, hastily sewn the evening before I might add! I have nothing but praise for the staff on board, kitted out and highly organised although the same cannot quite be said for the food. On-board meals were obligatory – due to COVID restrictions and meal planning – and whilst they were adequate and immaculately presented, DFDS could learn a thing or two from Northlink regarding local food sourcing! Disembarking took longer than usual due to great care being taken to prevent the normal bottlenecks as we headed for our cars. Groups were called over the tannoy when to leave their cabins and proceed to the car deck in small numbers. It worked well and we were off!
Driving through Holland was exhilarating after five months isolation. It is ridiculous to think we had not strayed ten miles from home and our first journey would be to the continent! We passed many farmhouses with barns attached old-style and field after field of grazing animals that lifted Bosse’s spirits. I am not impressed with some aspects of Dutch food production and frankly would not knowingly eat a Dutch glasshouse tomato or pepper if you paid me however this was dairy country and the animals were outside grazing traditionally and that was good to see. Interestingly they also graze sheep on the grassy dykes. In Scotland we neglect roadside verges, allow trees to infringe sightlines and generally segregate routes from agriculture. Here the two were intertwined giving clear, clean highways and strong consolidated ground, with grazing strengthening the root systems resulting in safer flood protection systems – life or death in Netherlands and indeed the plains of northern Germany.
We had a car full of goodies from cheese to pastries, fruits and yoghurts, all ensuring our stops were minimised and our journey as safe as possible. Germany passed uneventfully - although Hamburg looks like it will have roadworks for years to come – and we headed north towards Jutland where our next pause was a bonnie picnic spot in Denmark where the sign read ‘ please do not feed the wild boars.’
Twelve hours into our journey and still bright sunshine we headed for The Great Belt, 18km of bridge linking over the island of Fyn. It was a ‘wow’ to soar over the waterway and great value for money. So far we had only filled the tank once and by avoiding further ferry options we could keep moving on at our own pace. Next destination Öresundbron, The Bridge as the world of murder mysteries knows it. From the air you can see it plunge into the water in an extraordinary way, ingeniously designed to be part bridge part tunnel to enable shipping to continue. When first planned, the environmentalists were sure it would be the end of the valuable ecosystem in the region however plants and fish, molluscs and birdlife have colonised the reefs and landscape creating incredible nature reserves man cannot reach and a delight to see. Whilst the toll fee is eye-watering the journey is memorable and the income they make should be sufficient for the GDP of a small country!! Sixteen hours in all, just over a tank of petrol, all picnic consumed, weary but contented we arrived at our croft in the wee small hours…in time to watch a beautiful dawn breaking.
One convalescent happy farmer started bringing in the hay, his energy and wellbeing improving visibly as the hayracks filled. It would be delivered to our friends with goats for winter feed. Income may be zero with no likelihood of commissions for a while but we were blessed with good health and fresh air, able to gather wild foods and meet the children safely, dining outdoors every day.
We feasted on chanterelles, rosehips, potatoes, brambles, rhubarb, hazelnuts, apples and rasps, all from the croft, along with local Linderöd pork, moose and venison. Herbs dried, preserves made, batch baking frozen and apples pulped, it was a satisfying feeling, enjoying nature’s wild foods and our cultivated ones.
One delightful day was spent social distancing with past colleagues at Fredriksdal, the museum farm on the outskirts of Helsingborg, and received a beautiful gift of bread flour for baking from a good friend – can’t wait to try it out.
We attended the SF Scania AGM – spread out around a meeting hall with our own personal cheese platter on each table, all highly organised, and talked of Terra Madre and life present and future.
A Swedish summer institution, we had waffles with our nearest and dearest, overlooking the lake, and together we baked locally caught pike in a homemade puff pastry parcel that was absolutely delicious. I also busied myself creating a bank of food photography for the book we are writing and intend to publish in 2021.
Too soon our Scandi visit was over and we embarked on our return trip. With an afternoon ferry deadline this time, the drive westwards had a certain frisson lacking in the relaxed freedom of the outward trip so we decided to break the journey to eliminate the risk of missing the boat.
After comprehensive googling for a place that suited our needs I came across Gastof zur Mühle https://hotel-zur-muehle.info and discovered a pearl. A lovely gastro inn handy for the autobahn, located nearby in the peaceful hamlet of Hatten near Bremen: good value, delightful rooms, safe parking for my wee Mini (now filled with birdboxes, cheese, fishing rod, charcuterie… the joy of not travelling with one cabin bag) and independently owned. We sat down to the most memorable wiener schnitzel in that wonderful, almost empty inn. They too are struggling to survive and it was our first dinner out since February. Definitely on the list for our next stopover.
With a short drive the following day we boarded the ferry and headed homewards to our wee Fife cottage, feeling grateful for our health and with trepidation of what would follow.
COVID is still with us all and the hospitality industry is still facing whammies from all sides. Much as we know first hand the importance of saving lives, many kindred spirits in the industry whom we value as good friends have done nothing wrong. They have invested in improved air-con, etched glass screens, every kind of mask and eliminated every conceivable hazard, yet they are lumped with catering operations that one can clearly see are less trained nor able to deal with the rigorous systems required. Sweden is far from perfect but we ‘felt’ safe and everywhere was open – in a socially aware fashion. The EHO were out and about, promptly closing establishments who breached the rules, allowing the diligent to continue to earn an albeit meagre living. Even with reduced tourism, remaining open is good for the soul as is good food.
As ever, all images remain ©wendybarrie