‘I switch off and sur­ren­der to my lo­ca­tion’

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Am I stressed? It seems an odd ques­tion to ask my­self. Sure, there have been dead­line pres­sures of late, but not in any way that would cause Wood­ward and Bern­stein to lose sleep. Yes, I have been trav­el­ling a fair amount, to out­posts as far-flung as Su­dan and Ethiopia – but hardly in the nerves-edge way of Pa­trick Leigh Fer­mor, em­bed­ded with the Cre­tan re­sis­tance in the Sec­ond World War.

Am I tired? Well, that much I know. It was an early flight, the be­fore-first-light taxi inch­ing across the torso of Lon­don in the sticky black tar of an au­tumn night; the flight; the long drive at the far end. But wor­ried? Weary? Who can say? And is it re­ally pos­si­ble for a travel writer to be stressed, any­way?

It is even stranger to be hav­ing this in­ter­nal dis­cus­sion in this con­text, at this hour – 6am, with the new day start­ing to slither over the sur­face of Lake An­im­men in Swe­den. It comes in stages, a re­luc­tant grey ini­tially, turn­ing to a less bash­ful sil­ver as the dawn grows in con­fi­dence, and fi­nally an ex­u­ber­ant gold as the wak­ing sun breaks the tree line on the op­po­site bank. The wa­ter seems to shiver in plea­sure. I can un­der­stand this in­stinct, and won­der if this vi­car­i­ous sat­is­fac­tion is do­ing much for my own hap­pi­ness level. It is 14 hours now since the as­sess­ment – where my blood pres­sure was gauged, my heart rate recorded; the first mo­ments of my three days as a guinea pig in a rel­a­tively re­mote part of south­ern Swe­den.

This lo­ca­tion is key. Per­haps more than any other na­tion, Swe­den rel­ishes its con­nec­tion with na­ture. It is a love match that is even en­shrined in its con­sti­tu­tion. Alle­man­srat­ten – The Ev­ery­man’s Right – has been writ­ten into the Swedish legal fab­ric since 1994. It is a right to roam freely across the land mass (with a few ex­cep­tions – pri­vate gar­dens, in sight of homes, fields un­der cul­ti­va­tion); to hike, cy­cle and camp in the jig­saw puz­zle of wa­ter and whis­per­ing branches that de­fines much of Scan­di­navia’s largest coun­try. It is a free­dom, too, that is in­trin­sic to the coun­try’s feted sense of well-be­ing; to its rep­u­ta­tion as a place of quiet and tran­quil­lity, where fresh air rouges the cheeks and glad­dens the lungs.

And it has ef­fec­tively set me a chal­lenge. The “72-Hour Cabin Project” is a sim­ple idea. In an ex­per­i­ment de­vised by the Karolin­ska In­sti­tutet, a med­i­cal uni­ver­sity in Stock­holm, I am tasked with ac­cept­ing Swe­den’s leafy hug – specif­i­cally by stay­ing and sleep­ing for three nights in a small, tim­ber-framed hut in a wood­land set­ting, alone, with noth­ing for im­me­di­ate com­pany be­yond the chirp of bird­song and my own thoughts on the scenery about me. And I am de­fied not to emerge from this process calmer, more re­laxed and in a placid state of mind. On this score there is, it tran­spires, lots of room for im­prove­ment. The re­sults of my health check re­veal a blood-pres­sure read­ing of 151/97 and a pulse of 61 – not ex­actly signs of a man on the edge yet also hints that I could learn to slow down.

I am not com­pletely alone in this. We are five in all, we walk­ing cas­es­tud­ies – all with sup­pos­edly high­pres­sure jobs. We are a group that also com­prises St­effi, a po­lice of­fi­cer from Mu­nich, Mar­i­lyne, a Parisian taxi driver, and Baqer, an events or­gan­iser from New York – as well as the tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter and ad­ven­turer Ben Fogle. To­gether yet sep­a­rate, co­cooned within our in­di­vid­ual cab­ins, we are sup­posed to switch off and sur­ren­der to our lo­ca­tion – Hen­rik­sholm, an is­land some 100 miles north-east of Gothen­burg in the fer­vently forested and dis­tinctly un­der-pop­u­lated province of Dal­s­land.

Four miles wide yet barely half a mile across at its broad­est, densely gladed in ar­eas yet given over to grassy mead­ows and an­tique farm ma­chin­ery in oth­ers – with a large manor house at the top of its east-tow­est slope – Hen­rik­sholm is easy to sur­ren­der to. And while the lake in which it sits, An­im­men, is but a pud­dle com­pared with Lake Van­ern, the big­gest in the EU, which spreads out some five miles to the east, the ef­fect is much the same – rip­pling shal­lows, an in­sis­tent aroma from the pines on its flanks haunt­ing the breeze. It is even a beauty that I can en­joy, as that first dawn seeps in, with­out rais­ing my head from my pil­low. The cabin’s de­sign en­sures this. Both its sides and roof are made wholly of Per­spex – al­low­ing the view out­side to re­sem­ble a land­scape mas­ter­piece in a pale frame.

In essence, the cab­ins are a fam­ily af­fair. Hen­rik­sholm is owned by Staffan Berger, a for­mer Gothen­burg res­i­dent who bought it in 1993, bring­ing his fam­ily north away from ur­ban life. The cab­ins were drawn up by his daugh­ter, Jeanna – now an ar­chi­tect back in the city, but in­spired by the mem­o­ries of her child­hood. “I was raised on Hen­rik­sholm,” she says, “and I wanted to pay homage to typ­i­cal Dal­s­land na­ture. I de­cided that the cab­ins would stand on pil­lars so that I did not leave a per­ma­nent foot­print. I like to think the peo­ple that will stay in them will share this same ap­proach to na­ture. You can climb up into the cab­ins just as I used to climb trees here on Hen­rik­sholm, when I was a child.”

I am not, of course, con­fined to my cabin for the du­ra­tion of my stay. The plan is for me to be as ac­tive as pos­si­ble in th­ese glo­ri­ous sur­round­ings. At the south tip of the is­land, bright or­ange kayaks are pulled up on to the an­cient bedrock of the shore, there for use at any point. To forge out from here is to re­alise how big the is­land is – its west side rear­ing swarthily above the lake, its many mil­len­nia of ge­ol­ogy vis­i­ble in lay­ers of rock like piles of un­tidily stacked news­pa­pers, slumped and tat­tered in a for­got­ten li­brary. But a morn­ing on the wa­ter is not about rac­ing from one end of Hen­rik­sholm to the other. It is about the ba­sic joy of mo­tion, of find­ing a for­ward rhythm, of dip­ping the pad­dle re­peat­edly into the wa­ter and hear­ing the gen­tle plip and drip noises of its en­try and exit. A sooth­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. As is an hour in a row­ing boat, inch­ing out to check cray­fish pots, weighed down and baited to lure th­ese scut­tling crustaceans – or a ses­sion on foot, am­bling along rut­ted tracks, pine cones crunch­ing un­der boot, mus­tardyel­low chanterelle mush­rooms grow­ing hap­haz­ardly at the base of trunks. There is a sauna, too, be­hind the main house, where steam and sweat can be al­ter­nated with breath­steal­ing leaps into An­im­men’s arms.

“I do not miss my pre­vi­ous life. No, not for a mo­ment,” says Andy Van The five Hen­rik­sholm cab­ins are now avail­able to rent as hol­i­day re­treats. A three-night stay costs from 3,995 Swedish krona (£377) per per­son, based on two shar­ing, on a full-board ba­sis (vis­itswe­den. com/72hcabin). Four fur­ther cab­ins will be on of­fer in two other Dal­s­land lo­ca­tions (see dal­s­land­sak­tiviteter. com and balder­snas.eu) from spring 2018. Cab­ins will be avail­able for sin­gle-night stays from next sum­mer.

The manor house on Hen­rik­sholm (steneby­nas.se), which sleeps up to eight peo­ple, is also avail­able for hire – from Skr 40,000 per week. The price in­cludes tow­els, linen and the use of ca­noes.

Sport­fish­ing Dal­s­land (sport­fish­ing dal­s­land.com) of­fers trips from Skr 3,000. Falkholts Dal­s­land­skrog is open for din­ner in Assle­byn (falkholt.com).

BA (Heathrow; ba.com), BMI Re­gional (Birm­ing­ham; fly­bmi. com), Ryanair (Stansted, Ed­in­burgh; ryanair.com) and Nor­we­gian (Gatwick; nor­we­gian.com) all fly to Gothen­burg.

vis­itswe­den.com and vastsverige.com Assema, who runs Sport­fish­ing Dal­s­land in nearby Osters­byn. I have been ask­ing him about run­ning an IT com­pany in the Nether­lands – an ex­is­tence he gave up to move to Swe­den, to help peo­ple to fish. He is try­ing his best with me.

In half an hour, I learn the ba­sics of cast­ing off, watch­ing the spiky lure arc through the air and splash into the lake. We con­tinue for an­other hour, in a low-slung boat, the many trout and pike in An­im­men’s depths spurn­ing my ad­vances – but my fail­ure does not mat­ter. It is, again, about the de­cel­er­a­tion of the mo­ment, the un­hur­ried con­tem­pla­tion of space and time. And, be­sides, there is lunch – a feast of cray­fish, mar­i­nated salmon and zan­der with as­para­gus, pre­pared by Chris­ter and Carin Falkholt, whose lo­cal restau­rant, Falkholts Dal­s­land­skrog, deals in such ban­quets.

It all, though, comes back to the view. My cabin de­liv­ers an­other per­spec­tive at night – still look­ing to the east, but now at the lake shin­ing

The cab­ins are made of Per­spex, so the view from them re­sem­bles a ‘land­scape mas­ter­piece’

Chris Lead­beater em­braces the 72-Hour Project

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