Visit historic fishing villages along the coast of West Sweden and much more besides while sailing on board the M/S Wilhelm Tham.
It is August and the sun is shining gratuitously as a stiff sea breeze blows, ruffling my hair. The enjoyment of being on the water, seeing yachts and dreamy luxury vessels, spotting seal colonies - as we drift alongside West Sweden's beautiful rugged, rocky coastline - is a recipe for a truly special experience.
These outlying islands and islets are almost a secret escape - full of fascinating tales and stories of old.
Picturesque Town - Bohuslän archipelago
I was particularly smitten by the Kummel - early rock cairns painted black and white and placed on rocky outcrops in the sea as early 'light' houses. Some were built by the Vikings and date back 1,000 years.
More recent history is found in pretty, idyllic Fjällbacka which was the summer home of multi-award winning actress Ingrid Bergman. An outdoor exhibit has been erected in honour of Bergman as this is the 100th anniversary of her birth. It is also a charming place to explore on a sunny morning even with limited time. Skärhamn is now home to the important Nordic Watercolour Museum which is featuring Icelandic art this summer.
Ingrid Bergman's Summer Home
As the Wilhelm Tham sails through the channels and inlets, the backdrop of seabirds and heather covered banks is charming. I feel privileged to spy on local residents' wooden homes, piers, boats...and even saunas.
Our next visit is the fishing hamlet of Gulhommen, well known for its seafood. On cue, as we arrived at the water front, diver Adrian came out of the depths with a bucket of freshly scavenged West Sweden Flat Oysters and also Japanese (Miyagi) Oysters. We slurped the fresh, delicious, raw oysters which were accompanied by a lovely mussel stew served on disused oyster shells. A wondrous feast enjoyed by all.
Adrian the diver
One of the oldest villages in Sweden; Gulhommen is also the most densely populated. It is also fascinating for its Skepparhuset Museum (Skipper's House). This is an authentic 19th century home of a sailing captain that is filled to the brim with the belongings of its former residents, the Arividssen family. The caretakers who inherited the job of renovation, filled sixteen skips with 'junk' as the last remaining family member, daughter Anna, never married and did not get rid of anything. The home is now owned by the state and open to the public for viewing.
Skepparhuset Museum (Skipper's House)
Smörgen is the village where fish auctions (back in the day) were fast and furious. Things are quieter now that the catch is auctioned on the internet, but it is still interesting to see the warehouse and try out prawns caught that day. Of course, many of the islanders here on the North Sea still remember when herring was the backbone of the Swedish fishing industry. Millions of herring were caught and then smoked for local stores or to be imported. Such was the overflow that many herring were boiled to make oil which lit the lamps of the cities of Europe. This massive overfishing in the late 1800s means that there are virtually no herring left in these waters now.
Attractive Marstrand Island, where we docked overnight, was founded in the early 1200s by Norwegian King Håkon Håkansson and seems to have always been the playground of the rich and famous. Even King Oscar II of Sweden spent his summers here during his reign in the 19th century. The city's old grand hotel and ball room are both striking, beautiful structures as is the old spa hotel next to the water. But most impressive is the Carlsten Fortress which overlooks the town. It took prisoners 200 years to construct the fortress and it still has a forbidding presence as it overlooks everything on the island and beyond.
Guide on Marstrand Island
Perhaps the most fascinating island to visit is Känsö, a Swedish National Heritage and fully protected environment. The buildings preserved here were built between 1816 and 1818 for the purposes of quarantine. They were the first of their kind ever constructed. Because so little was known about human disease and the spread of infection at the time, the church was asked for advice. It was thought that it took 40 days for the body to take in, then completely rid itself of impurities. So this is where the word 'quarantine' derives from - the French word for forty 'quarante'. The plague and convalescence hospitals, the visitor facility, observation tower, commander's residence have all been preserved. No one lives here and a special permit has been acquired by Göta Kanal to visit the island.
Bell on the Wilhelm Tham
MS Wilhelm Tham
This ancient canal boat is the perfect vessel for a journey back in time. It has remained virtually unchanged since it began sailing in 1912 (the exception being modernised engineering and updated soft and hard furnishings). She has 25 cabins with a capacity for 50 passengers spread over three decks. The Wilhelm Tham boasts an airy and comfortable covered top deck for relaxing, plus a cosy dining room and a library.
Cabins are tiny with bunk beds, a skinny wardrobe for hanging few items and a cupboard with an integrated sink. The top bunk must be accessed by step ladder so is not necessarily suitable for those with mobility issues. That's it! Very basic. Showers and toilets are communal but it is easier to get used to this than you might think.
All images - Lynn Houghton
Book with Simply Sweden. T: 014 277 00115, or email email@example.com; or visit http://www.simplysweden.co.uk/holiday/west_sweden_cruise
Prices for Summer 2016 are from 7495 SEK (£740) for a double bed cabin Cat C with sailings from Gothenburg to Grebbestad on 4/6, 13/8 and 20/8. Grebbestad to Gothenburg departures are on 7/6, 16/8 and 23/8.