The sky is blue on a glorious, sunny, autumn day when we talk to Anne-Katrin Würthele who works as a guide at Granö Beckasin in Västerbotten. Travel restrictions mean we are conducting this interview on different sides of the sea, but when Anne speaks, Granö feels close. Grano Beckasin is situated in the middle of nature on an ancient esker on the Ume River, surrounded by forest and mires. The road leads over a beautiful suspension bridge with a wooden deck. From the top of the bridge you get a fantastic view of the river, “and the sky is huge”, says Anne.
The sky is blue on a glorious, sunny, autumn day when we talk to Anne-Katrin Würthele who works as a guide at Granö Beckasin in Västerbotten. Travel restrictions mean we are conducting this interview on different sides of the sea, but when Anne speaks, Granö feels close. Grano Beckasin is situated in the middle of nature on an ancient esker on the Ume River, surrounded by forest and bogs. The road leads over a beautiful suspension bridge with a wooden deck. From the top of the bridge you get a fantastic view of the river, “and the sky is huge”, says Anne.
Throughout the ages, Granö has always been a meeting place. Archaeologists are excavating an old Sami marketplace from the 16th century, and Swedish botanist, Carl von Linné, also left his mark on the village in 1732. Together with the neighbouring village of Tegsnäset, Granö has a population of about 350. A small group, but a well-organized one. In the last 15 years, the stubborn, spirited villagers have not only saved the church and primary school from closure, they have built up an eco-tourism business and operate the small grocery store "Gomaten i Granö", which was named Sweden’s "Shop of the Year" in 2019. The aim is to create jobs in the village to attract families with children who in turn use the school, the shop and the local petrol station. Granö is on the map and will remain so! “It was this stubborn ‘underdog’ struggle that first made me curious to meet the people here”, says Anne, who moved to the village from Germany. And the concept seems to work quite well. The village's modern-day guests come to the small village in Västerbotten from all over the world. “You meet people from different countries and backgrounds, artists and thinkers – and you may meet yourself, in a different way. Suddenly you are not in Berlin, suddenly you are here listening to what others call silence", says Anne. "You meet nature. It is the whole philosophy behind what we do at Grano Beckasin: it is nature that sets limits to what we do during the year, what we can do and what we want to do”.
"At the same time, we don't want to become too big", Anne points out. Granö Beckasin is a Member of “Nature’s Best”, a network in Sweden for companies working in nature tourism. In the case of Grano Beckasin, it has defined a maximum size for growth, how extensive the activities will be. It is the seasons that determine the programme at Grano Beckasin. High season is summer and winter, when both Swedish and international guests are determined to enjoy nature. “They come pre-sorted, so to speak, they may come from a stressful job in the big city wanting to recharge their batteries with us. And that is exactly what we are offer”. “Spring and autumn customers are mostly companies, who come out to Granö for conferences and meetings. There are two meeting rooms, one of which is a glass house with views of the river. The conference business grows every year and creates opportunities for jobs with year-round employment.
At Granö Beckasin, there are a wide range of activities on offer. The programme includes everything from elk safaris to midnight paddling. “Every year, we develop the programme further,” says Anne, “there are lots of new ideas waiting to be tested”. She herself has a background as a silviculturist working primarily with forest trails. The "Forest Garden" is about plants, trees and fungi that can be used for medicine, food and other purposes. She is happy to highlight how nature can help us humans. There are many plants and mushrooms that we can use to replace our modern-day industrial products and plastics. Are the customers interested? Indeed they are!
Anne reflects that darkness is something that has become alien for many people. Previously, she has worked on guided nature walks for primary school children in England. The children came from London and were afraid of the darkness, which they did not know. She herself is fascinated by disappearing into the darkness and walking alone on almost pitch-black forest roads. "Here in Granö, you can experience real darkness. On clear nights the sky puts on a real show with the woods, stars, moon and beautiful clouds in the leading roles. If the sky is overcast, your eyes wake up and your night vision starts to work properly. You can feel your way with your feet and walking stick”. To avoid inadvertently running across wild animals, Anne regularly calls out to communicate her position to other mammals out there. 'Then they can avoid me'. Anne speculates that there are actually a great many things that once came naturally to us but that now we are unaccustomed to. Walking, looking into the distance and using our peripheral vision, for example. Instead, we spend too much time sitting, staring straight ahead at a screen. Your eyes get tired. Walking in the forest in the dark is like a spa treatment for the eyes.
"Hoar frost is also magical. There can be huge crystals up to 1.5cm with refractions that create a myriad of different colours in the snow when the sun shines. Just share what you've experienced! We are actually surrounded by beauty. And that's what we talk about at work. I think this is a pretty good job!” Says Anne and smiles.
/Text: Sara Kåll-Fröjdö, Yrkeshögskolan Centria, november 2020
/Photo: Anne-Katrin Würthele and Bea Holmberg
You can find our full conversation with Anne here (in Swedish)