Recently I spent some time in Northern Sweden, some 200 miles into the Arctic Circle. I was taking part in an organised trek, with over 2000 participants over four days, that would take me through the lands of the Sami, the reindeer herder tribes who live all over Scandinavia.

The 110km route, part of which forms the Kungsleden trail was my first taste of proper wilderness, taking me from Nikkaluokta to through the Abisko National park, and finally Abisko, all with my bag containing my tent and everything thing I needed on my back. 

At the start of the walk I was surprised by the apparently limited number of species when you looked around. The region is a subalpine zone with forests containing mostly dwarf birch trees, grasses, as well as the prevalent Willowherb flowers.

 

As I travelled further along the Kungleden trail, I realised that there was a large diversity, but it was to be found underfoot. In order to survive the harsh conditions, most species adapted to be low growing and small, so get on your hands and knees and you’ll see that there is a vast variety of life. An abundance of mushrooms, lichens, mosses and low growing shrubs fill the ground. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll come across wild bilberries (the European relative of blueberries), lingonberries as well as cloudberries, all edible, although the last two are much better as jams!

 

Whilst there is a direct contrast between the sub-alpine forests I experienced on my walk and the urban realm in which I live, there is a lot I think we can learn to benefit cities, three of which I’ve summarised below:

1. Water brings life. One of my fondest memories of the trek is definitely the crystal clear water that flows from the streams, which was perfectly safe to drink, needless to say I took every opportunity I could to fill up my water bottle! It wasn’t just me (and the other walkers) who liked the water, one thing that was clearly apparent was the importance of water in species diversity. Whilst in general the species diversity is quite low, as soon as you got to a stream the number of species jumped dramatically with sedums, ferns and some impressive looking wild alliums!

2. Play is how we learn about our environment. For many people, (myself included) the environment we were walking in was completely new. I was completely thrilled by the number of smiles that I saw, particularly when we came across the boardwalks, one of the key characteristics of the Kungsleden Trail. People would delight in running along short sections of the boardwalks which are designed to protect the ground and plant life. Some of the sections allowed you to walk over the boggy areas, of boulder fields which would have otherwise been difficult to traverse.

3. Nature brings happiness. This is something I’ve strongly believed in for a while, and is well documented. Don’t get me wrong, there were some miserable-tired-looking-walkers after a long day carrying a heavy pack. But once they’d set up camp, had some food, their happiness was apparent. For most people if there were sections in which you were suffering, all you needed to do was look around at the scenery and this would do a great deal to help you out.

 

- Ed Higgins