The Stockholm archipelago and a “plausible foreign underwater operation”

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Sweden has been in the foreign papers for the last couple of weeks, as the local navy (and the world’s press) focussed its attention on what lurks (or lurked) under the now rather frigid waters of the Stockholm archipelago.

On Friday the navy called off its week-long search for a “man-made object”, believed likely to be a damaged midget submarine, after alleged distress calls were intercepted in Russian on October 16. Whilst not explicitly accusing Moscow of being behind the “plausible foreign underwater operation” (1), history suggests Sweden’s rear admiral Anders Grenstad, has reason to be suspicious.

During the 1980s, frequent underwater incursions were made by the Soviet military during what became a decade-long game of cat and mouse in Swedish waters (2). The only time the Swedish navy has actually managed to capture a Russian submarine was when one struck a rock and ran aground on the south coast in 1981 – armed with nuclear warheads.

However this blog entry is not to comment on international relations of the Baltic neighbourhood, but rather to highlight the unique beauty of the surroundings in which recent events played out.

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Consisting of some 30,000 islands, the Stockholm Archipelago (skärgård in Swedish, literally meaning “skerry-garden”) is a treasured natural playground for the capital’s inhabitants. Many will have summer cabins dotted amongst secluded forests or by small private docks at the water’s edge.

Recently I was fortunate to get out to the archipelago on a couple of occasions, and I’d strongly encourage anyone visiting Stockholm to add it to their list of ‘to-dos’. Here are a couple of reasons why (and some tips to get you there):

Highlights:

Waxholm: in many ways the heart and access-point of the archipelago, Waxholm is reached by both bus (670) and ferry (see below). The trip takes about 50 minutes one-way. When there, don’t miss visiting Hembygdsgårds Café and Bland Kobbar & Skär, and enjoying a quiet stroll through the neighbourhood streets and around the water’s edge.

Hiking and island-hopping: the beauty of the archipelago cannot be understated. And what better way to explore the islands but by hiking? Numerous published guides and maps provide details of the many well-maintained hiking trails that criss-cross the archipelago. In some cases, it’s even possible to shuttle-row your way from island to island!

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Getting there and around:

SL: Public buses access several of the larger islands via bridges, which can make for a nice round trip when combined with a return via ferry (see below). All buses accept the regular SL tickets or transport cards. See http://sl.se.

Waxholmsbolaget: the larger of two companies serving the archipelago’s islands, Waxholmsbolaget runs regular commuter ferries every day of the week. Boats depart from several points in Stockholm, tickets are reasonably priced and can be bought on board. See http://www.waxholmsbolaget.se.

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(1) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/24/sweden-calls-off-hunt-submarine-stockholm-archipelago

(2) http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/10/24/surprise_that_russian_submarine_in_stockholm_got_away_from_the_swedish_navy

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