Helge Å

Helge Å is the largest river in Skåne, but it begins much further north, near Jönköping, before finally emptying out into the Baltic at Hanöbukten, south of Åhus; it may even be Sweden’s longest watercourse, depending on how you decide to measure such things.

The river known as Helge Å crosses the border into Skåne near Grasljunga and Visseltofta, but Osby is the first Skånsk town of any serious size that it encounters.

Historically, Helge Å was an important trade route, connecting inland farming communities to the Baltic coast, and vice versa. These days one can only realistically sail upriver as far as Lake Aralöv, where you will encounter the first of many small but vital hydropower installations. This does not deter the more intrepid aquanauts, nor indeed a subculture of locals, both of whom rely on a variety of amphibious vehicles—expensive and high-tech in the case of the former, cheap and kludged-together in the latter—to trek up and down Helge Å in all seasons and weathers.

(You really haven’t seen the Lakelands until you’ve seen a 1990s-vintage Volvo estate retrofitted with an electric motor, a conning tower and something like a hovercraft skirt, groaning and roaring its way through the bulrushes and up the riverbank into the fields beyond.)

Besides these aquatic A-traktor analogues, much of the regular amphibious traffic is official: mostly scientists and regulatory officials, some of whom are keeping an eye on the water levels, which oscillate a lot according to season (and threaten poor Kristianstad with another of its periodic floodings), and others whose role is more like that of a park ranger to the extensive nature reserves that the river runs through.

Those reserves are among the best reasons to visit: even back in the twenties one could expect to see otters, kingfishers and woodpeckers around Helge Å, but in recent years the preservation efforts have really paid off, and the biodiversity is off the charts. It’s also a prime spot for freshwater fishing enthusiasts, with the spectacular catfish (of alarmingly prodigious size) spoken of with the hushed awe that only a real “rod dad” can ever pull off.

(Do note, however, that fishing is a popular sport here, but also a heavily regulated one: get your permits, use the right tackle, register your catches using the app, and make sure you return any fish that are outside of the acceptable size and weight range!)

You might also be interested to see the local communities that have clung on to the region where they grew up by adapting to the flood-prone landscape. In a manner more familiar from cities in Asia, whole villages can be found afloat, moving their moorings within tightly defined stretches of riverine territory. (Those weird Volvos we mentioned above often belong to their kids—proof, if such were needed, that young people are basically the same wherever and whenever you encounter them.)

With apologies for the pun, however, don’t just go barging in: much like their analogues on land, these little communities are quite keen on their peace and quiet, and don’t take kindly to tourists poking their noses in and gawping at the local quirks and customs. Some of them have visitor centers; some even have a krog or a village store that’s open to passers-by. But these can be easily identified by the brightly coloured pennants they fly—and the rule is “if you can’t see a flag, then your presence is a drag”. Blunt, in a typically Skånsk manner, but honest. (The Swedish version of this rhyme is actually much ruder than the English translation suggests.)

If you want the more spectacular, curated and (let’s be honest) commercial river-culture experience, then you can stay safely at the coastal end of the river near Hammarsjön, where the annual floating harvest festival will provide you with all the photo opportunities you could ask for (and then some).

en_GBEnglish (UK)