Gulf of Bothnia
On the journey from central Sweden towards the north and the Gulf of Bothnia, the E4 skirts the coastline. There is a total of 660 kilometers between Sundsvall in Medelpad and Haparanda in Norrbotten on the Swedish-Finnish border. With only a few exceptions, the coastal region remains flat and swampy, and birch trees line the road in many places, lending the epithet “Birch Boulevard” to this route. On the way, you cross through the landscapes of Medelpad, Angermanland, Vasterbotten and Norrbotten, sparsely populated regions that are primarily covered with woods and forests. Only at the river basins where the rivers flow into the Baltic Sea will you find larger settlements. These were founded for the export of lumber, which was the most important source of income for centuries. Fishing plays only a minor role, since here in the far north the harbors are frozen over for months at a time, and the fishing season is short-lived. Pastoral agriculture dominates here; only in the coastal valleys is modest farming possible.
The abundance of natural waterways and the resulting availability of inexpensive hydroelectricity have attracted many high-consumption businesses to the Gulf of Bothnia. The recent trend has been to export less lumber and export more finished products, such as prefabricated wooden houses and furniture; scrap wood is used to manufacture plywood and paper. Tourism plays an ever-increasing role here; today one fourth of all income earned comes from tourism.
Medelpad – Land of the Pilgrim
Ever since the Middle Ages, Medelpad (Middle Path) has been the name of the countryside around Sundsvall because an important pilgrim’s route to Trondheim in Norway began here. This stretch of road that is now marked by the E14 running between Sundsvall and Trondheim was a fairly easy route for the pilgrims. It therefore became the most frequently used pilgrimage route between Sweden and the west coast of Norway as early as the 11th century. There was also another advantage at the time: in the Middle Ages, the land mass lay much lower than it does today and the waters of the Gulf extended farther inland.
Back then, pilgrims could sail all the way to Borgsjo, 80 kilometers west of Sundsvall, landing at Saint Olav’s Port, which was built for them. Only then did they trudge through the endless forests. They allowed a good 30 days to negotiate the 350-kilometer stretch to Trondheim; in all, it took the pilgrims three to four months to complete the pilgrimage.
Even after the Reformation, it was still not at all uncommon for a Swede to undertake a pilgrimage to the important shrines of Scandinavian saints at least once in his or her lifetime. This custom continued even after the land mass had risen, and the harbor of Borgsjo lay high and dry, thus forcing the pilgrims to take the much longer route from Sundsvall to Trondheim.
Ljungdalen, the Ljungan Valley, where the E14 winds 70 kilometers along the river, is a vacation paradise. Especially canoeists, sport fishermen and golfers get their money’s worth here. There are two golf courses at Skottsund and Ojestrand at the mouth of the Ljungan River. Not even beach vacationers will be left out, since the long, sunny summer days may warm the shallow waters of the Baltic inlets up to 20Â°C. Njurunda has a beautiful sand beach.