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Off the Path in Götaland

“Allemansrätten.” It is a right granted to every citizen by the nation’s constitution. It is a part of every Swede’s identity. It resides deep in their cultural psyche. “Allemansrätten.” The word means “every man’s right.” It is the freedom to roam. It is the idea of land belonging to the public, a collective large-scale communal garden. It allows access to wander, camp, and forage on uncultivated or unpreserved property. 

I am not a Swede, only visiting. Therefore, this permission is a privilege to me. “Allemansrätten.” I repeat the term while searching for rock pools. I whisper the word as I bypass cows scrutinizing me. I sing it floating in the chilly cove. 

At its core “allemansrätten” is founded upon trust. Trust that such entitlement will be held responsibly, with tenderness. Trust that commercialism won’t abuse the ancient sanction. Trust that individuals will regulate themselves so that wildlife habitats are not disturbed or fragile countryside destroyed. It’s an endearing, idealistic faith in humanity. I benefit from such generosity — a fellow hiker recommends a lingonberry bush for its tasty fruit, a farmer invites me to cut through a paddock as a shortcut, a moored boater counsels me on pristine bays for swimming.

Cynic that I am, I wonder how long this credo will survive. Not all who traipse the wilderness abide by the unspoken rules of “allemansrätten.” How long will it be before used food containers whip past my face at the beach, smashed drink bottles lay underneath a boulder, cigarette burns fan into a brushfire, saplings wither from trafficked routes and overeager hands? 

Companies have begun to harvest the forests for profit, due to increasing organic produce demands. Locals in resort towns complain that summer tourists are leaving rubbish for them to clean up. When will this corner change bit by bit as well? In another decade will there be railings along the cliffs with warning signs? Will trail markers indicate places not to tread? Will fences materialize to keep out “everyman”? Will the ultimate anathema to Swedes, no trespassing notices, become common decorations? 

The ratio of people to space in Sweden is such that, at the moment, all can enjoy the liberty to rove. What happens, however, as travel democratizes, as we commodify, as our species swells into less trammeled tracts? At what point do our collective feet demolish the very expanses we seek? What will be the outcome of the conflict between our impositions and the planet’s ecosystem?   

Is the concept of “allemansrätten” possible to maintain? Can we all go trampling anywhere? If not, who gets to and who doesn’t? Who decides this? How do we limit ourselves while granting each of us the right to wander the earth?

I remind myself of my duty while traipsing. I don’t give in to every pleasure. I’d like to be lazy, but I take out with me everything I bring in. I want to plunge through inviting portals, but stay on trodden paths as much as possible so as not to scar the ecology. I wish I could gorge on nature’s bounty. Instead, I observe rather than collect. 

I even run after the errant napkin that got blown away from my picnic. I want desperately to believe that my small decisions will preserve the enchantment of golden light dripping through native dense canopy. I need to cling to the conviction that my little renunciations will guard the sanctity of silver cascades burbling within a grotto. I have to sustain faith that my mindful travels will extend to future generations the mystery of wilderness.     


TRAVEL NOTE:

Leave No Trace offers educational programs to develop a population knowledgeable about outdoor ethics. To learn more about their initiatives, volunteer, or support their opportunities, check out lnt.org.


Do you think public lands can remain vital biodiverse spaces without limiting access?

I would also like to hear about responsible, sustainable, ecological tips you practice while hiking, camping, and being in rural spaces in the comments below.


 

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135 replies »

  1. We have the same “allmennrett” in Norway (and as it is spelled here). You raise some valid questions. Personally, I think it will prevail. Simply because it’s believed to be such a democratic right in this place of the world, that there will be an uproar if someone tries to mess with it. We see a few place here in Norway, though, where visitors are charged with entrance fee. It’s in places where the amount of tourists is overwhelming and partly introduced to protect the environment. By the way, gorgeous images from Götaland.

    • So happy to hear you enjoyed my Götaland images! So many places around the world are either restricting the amount of visitors allowed or raising entrance fees as a way to curtail the barrage upon the environment. Perhaps this is the best solution. I appreciate your insights into the “allmennrett” and its future in Scandinavia.

  2. A swedish fairy tale seems too good to be true! Nothing will remain untouched where a person passes by! Even with good intentions, we unconsciously sin against nature! Nature wants us to enjoy her beauty, but does not want to be disturbed! But how do you do that without disturbing? Stick to the laws of nature and treat her with respect! Look and learn what nature has to tell you … I enjoyed your photos and your story! Enjoy your day…

    • Thank you so very much for your sweet compliment. I do agree with you that there is no way to live in nature and not disturb it. Rather, as you pointed out, it would be nice if we could all treat our planet with respect, becoming better stewards of both those parts we use and those parts we set aside as “sacred” or “wild.” Wishing you a wonderful week.

  3. Very close to my new home there is a state park with a delicate ecosystem of tide pools that contain all sorts of creatures, visible at low tide. Unfortunately, it was trampled and almost all of them are gone. There are other places you might be able to see those ecosystems, but even in this region where respect for nature is a commonly held belief, there are just too many people who don’t take care, don’t pay attention, don’t understand the credo you experienced in Sweden. We are lucky to be able to experience these places now, before things get worse. I do hope for a better future for the planet, but humans have to change. Beautiful photographs!

    • Thank you!…Your story of the tide pools saddens me so much. The situation is disheartening, and I simply hold onto the hope that future generations are learning from our present mistakes.

      • That’s a good point – on the plus side, I can see places improvements are happening, e.g. with gender-based issues, younger generations are much less biased. So maybe environmental issues will improve because the next generation is horrified (unfortunately that’s probably the best word) at what they see has happened, and hopefully they will be determined to get things back in balance.

  4. Very interesting to read about a country having a philosophy such as you describe here in Sweden. Having travelled widely and having returned to some of our favorite destinations at different times over the past twenty years of travel together, we recognize your comments about forecasting impending doom or at least damage to the fragile ecosystem as the traveling hordes expand. You are of course justified in thinking that rising incomes and lower cost of travel means ever larger populations of camera toting and garbage throwing visitors. Alas, I am not sure there is much that can be done about that.

    We have never been to Sweden but your photos of all the natural beauty are very alluring. Perhaps one day we will get there and indulge in free roaming with no footprint left behind.

    Peta & Ben

  5. Enjoyed your roaming in Sweden. I love the forests and lakes in Sweden as well as the outdoor museum with houses from many time periods to roam in and enjoy. Happy travels to you.

      • My pleasure. I tried to enter the deep blue lake people were swimming in only to discover it was quite cold. I dipped my toes in at the shore. Have a great music-filled week full of travel adventures.

    • Thank you. Glad to hear you went running off after yours as well! It doesn’t feel like a big deal, but it’s so encouraging to hear other people taking these mindful actions too.

  6. It sounds like heaven, being able to roam where you will in natural surroundings. Your photos look so inviting. I share your hope that it will never be swamped by limitations to your wanderings.

  7. What a wonderful insight into the Swedes life! I completely agree with your views on the way that something so universal can easily be changed for corporate gain, nice work :))

  8. Sweden sounds like the old fashioned world that was once the birthright of us all… lovey piece…

    Here in NZ – a country the size of England with only 4million people – our amazingly beautiful empty landscape is being trashed by ‘freedom campers’ tourists from Europe mostly, who hire camper vans and use the country-side for their toiletry as well as their dangerous camp fires…
    In a country that relies on tourism, they have become a real problem.. even once pure streams and rivers are now polluted with guardia thanks to thoughtless campers, and it’s no longer safe to drink from them… alas…

    • This is so sad to hear! In the end such behavior hurts all of us. Thank you so much for sharing the situation about NZ. It’s eye-opening to learn how so many places are impacted by tourism and not for the positive, unfortunately.

  9. Oh if we could have a world full of people who think as you do. I had never heard the term ‘allemansrätten,’ but so happy to learn about this tradition. Often I am discouraged when I come across areas of trash in public places but just reading your post, I feel encouraged to keep taking those small steps and doing what I can.

    • I have felt the same way! So often discouraged that my efforts are too little and make no impact, but I’ve been so uplifted to read about how many of us are taking those active “small” steps, how many do so much without fanfare. Thank you for continuing to take mindful action, for all that you do to live sustainably and be a generous steward of our planet.

  10. Sounds like a heavenly way to live and a magical spot for being reminded of how beautiful this world can be. It seems like it would be common sense for people to pick/clean up after themselves, but why more and more people don’t is incomprehensible. It doesn’t really take much effort, and it saddens me that human beings really can be that careless/lazy/spoiled. Don’t people want to live on a beautiful earth? I just don’t get it. Hopefully our own, even small, efforts will be contagious. And in the meantime, thank you for sharing your lovely words, photos and thoughts.

    • Thank you for reading the post and stopping by to chat! A clean planet seems like an unapproachable goal these days, but I’m so heartened by how many of us are doing our little bits. I do hope we inspire more to join our tribe in making mindful decisions while enjoying the great outdoors!

  11. Wow, that is the most amazing fiery bursts of orange along the path of the cascading water…would love to experience some Allemansrätten on that patch of land. You pose some logical ideas to consider…happy traipsing.

    • Isn’t the landscape just so wildly beautiful?! The patterned rocks, the blooms growing among them, the lichen…it was all mesmerizing. I really hope it will stay looking so in the future. Thanks for dropping in on my Swedish adventure.

  12. It’s refreshing to read about someone who uses freedom (Allemansrätten) to become a more mindful, thoughtful person, instead of finding loopholes and exploiting. You’re setting a marvellous example for the rest of us. 🙂

    • Thank you! I hope I am inspiring others to consider that any type of freedom comes with equally weighty responsibility. It’s been so encouraging to discover how many others are working tirelessly in their daily, small acts to protect our marvelous planet.

  13. Such a beautiful and timely post. I often wonder how long will these beautiful places (we see) last on our planet. Exploration is a catch-22 situation — even for the serious traveller. If one sets out to explore a hidden spot, there will be some effect to the environment. And even if we’re careful, when we write about these places, there’s always a possibility of attracting more attention to a hidden (for good reason) gem.

    • “Exploration is a catch-22 situation.” I think about this all the time, and of the ways in which I can mitigate it. I do believe that curiosity about our world, whether it’s far-off places or our own neighborhoods, helps us appreciate its wonder and not take our planet for granted.

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