Fandom Travel #1: Norröra (Sweden)


It was June – a warm evening in June on the way home – when Karin Melken decided that island, that moment, and that precise feeling was going to become her favourite intersection in space and time. I could have not be older than seven or eight the first time I read about her and her June in an old but very well-preserved copy of Scarecrow Island, passed on from my parents or my cousin, or perhaps from my parents to my cousin and then to me. I carried that feeling with me for years, together with some vivid images of Karin’s world: eating smoked herrings with rye bread and butter on a Swedish beach; soft bunny rabbits in the back of a Swedish farm from which you could still the sea; a pier filled with people waiting for a ferry boat.

Scarecrow Island is a bit a cult in Sweden: Astrid Lindgren wrote a tv script that soon turned into the book, which prompted a long list of series, tv films, and imaginative mixes of the two. The original Scarecrow Island, the one from my book, tells the story of the Melken’s and of one remarkable summer (and some), sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, but always so vivid and lively I could almost smelled it throughout my life: cinnamon, dill, good feelings, seabound souls – a perfect mix.

Known to the world for being Pippi Longstockings’ mum (ironically, her only book I never read in my childhood), Lindgren spent her whole life creating and writing stories, and shaping them into some of the most beloved children’s books. There is a whole themed park dedicated to her work in Vimmersby, her hometown, which is probably the closest thing to a Earthly paradise a child will ever see in their lifetime. And yet, will a themed park – a fabricated landscape – ever be enough?

The power of her narrative lays not only in her imagination, but often in the way she blended fictional characters and their almost fairytale-like adventures with the surrounding, tangible reality. If there’s a country that will has the natual aesthetic of a dreamland, that’s Sweden. And when you can walk the ground your favourite characters walked on, you won’t be able to set for anything less. There is, indeed, a place: Norröra, an island in the Northern part of Stockholm’s Archipelago. Like the majority of these islands, it is connected to the mainland by the ferry line, on a daily basis in summer, not more a couple of times a week during winter.

It was June again, only twenty years later, when I suggest to one of my best friends how we could visit Stockholm, but not just Stockholm: we could, perhaps, take a 5-day pass to the Northern Archipelago and visit some of the islands, pray to the Norse Gods the hostels we booked in Swedish were actually there waiting for us, and maybe, if a boat trip of over four hours didn’t put her off, visit Norröra. She enthusiastically agreed.

I will never forget our hopeful departure from Stockholm – second day of the holiday, we were still returning to the city in the evening – with one of the massive Waxholmsbolaget ferries, some sturdy, comfy boats used by locals to travel around the archipelago, completed with excellent heating, two Wi-fi lines, a small restaurant, and a set of television screens with a live map to check your current position along the route. We had plenty for breakfast, but we didn’t really pack for the day: after all , we were about to visit one of the popular islands, that even hosts guided tours on weekends (sadly, only in Swedish). We chat amiabily with a Swedish lady for a while and, when she learned about our destination and our love for Astrid Lindgren, she asked us three oddly specific questions: if we were renting a house in Norröra, if we had friends waiting for us in Norröra, and lastly, with a pinch of desperation, if we had a tent and were planning on camping. After three negative answers, she said two words: good luck. We definitely used that up.

Norröra is the most authentic fandom experince. In that respect, it is so authentic there is nothing to justify the presence of a tourist, a part from an insane amount of love and feels for Scarecrow Island. Norröra is silence, especially if you go the day before Midsommar, when most people have not moved to the summer houses yet, and tall grass bordering the wild sometimes. It is vast, unmarked gardens and little private harbours where families park their boats after going grocery shopping, and grandparents come and help pushing wheelbarrows filled with food and granchildren back to the house. There isn’t a single business point (not a kiosk, a shop, a café) and most definitely not a public toilet. It is the ideal destination for two wannabe explorers looking forward to nearly five hours of accidental trespassing of private properties, while waiting to eat, pee or drink (of course we had water, but drinking and having an avilable toilet kinda go together).

It might not be quite exaclty what Karin went through that day in June, but this – not the themed park, not even a guided tour – is more than enough. I finally have my personal favourite intersection in space and time, too.

Norröra is part of the Waxholmsbolaget ferry line. You can find more information in Swedish on their website, and their only English page here: Their Stockholm offices are located in Strömkajen, Stavsnäs and Vaxholm. Please make sure to speak to a member of staff and plan a safe journey back to the mainland as many island do not have any facilities. Never book on your own during the low season, islands like Norröra might have not more than one boat per week going back to Stockholm.