Cycling by the Göta Canal

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Opphem to Söderköping

Feeling pampered and refreshed by Lisse & Roger we packed our bags, got back on our bikes and headed off towards Stockholm.

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Our back road wound through forest, farmland and lakes; all strewn with boulders left by receding glaciers. They range from car-sized, to house-sized and bigger. They are too big to move and must be worked around. Only the trees seem up to the task of breaking them up and pushing them aside but that takes time.

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We found ourselves back in the outskirts of Linköping before joining an impressive cycling arterial heading towards the Göta Canal at Norsholm. We ended up on a wide sealed shoulder on Route 210 before finding a quieter alternative.

We spent a while relaxing under a chestnut tree by a lock on the canal at Norsholm. As if a canal lock isn’t fascinating enough this one has extra value as a road and the fast train between Linköping and Stockholm crosses the canal at ground level! So, the lock master needs to ensure that a 300 km/h train isn’t approaching before lifting the railway bridge AND OVERHEAD CABLES for masted boats to pass. As the bridge lifts, the catenary wires droop and the power cables dangle less than half a metre from the ground. I wonder whether the power is isolated temporarily. There are small DO NOT TOUCH THE CABLES signs in Swedish. The lock master then yells to the boatie to get a wriggle on – fair enough, I say.

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We cycled a few kilometres on a tow path before heading into the forest as thunder and lightning crash around us. We were immediately besieged by pesky swarms of small flies. They wouldn’t settle but hovered near our faces and we were glad we packed our fly nets.

The locks that don’t involve Sweden’s rail system seem to be staffed by Swedish university students. They wear hi-viz outfits and wireless controls around their necks. We chatted with one lock keeper who was slightly embarrassed to tell us her lock involved a meagre 5cm level change – necessitated by a surveying error perhaps. She agreed that her job could be a bit boring sometimes but the boaties provided entertainment. She restrained herself in their presence but she and her friends often enjoyed a laugh at their expense at the end of the day.

We’re staying in a youth hostel by the canal on the outskirts of Söderköping which is the most charming of the Swedish towns we’ve seen so far with an unusual city hall, old trading buildings and a long wharf. The hostel is a traditional Swedish building, timber-clad and timber-lined with small doorways and low ceilings. It’s Falu red on the outside and white and pale green inside. It feels like a big dolls’ house.

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We are only a few kilometres from the end of the canal at Mem.

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