What would the oldest tree in the world look like? A sprawling oak with broad boughs and a gnarly trunk; a towering redwood soaring as far as the eye can see; or a spindly Norwegian spruce whose balding branches are the only outward indication of advancing age?
Confronted with 9,550 years of ancient arboreal history, I must admit, I’m slightly underwhelmed. A solitary stalk on a vast mountain, I couldn’t imagine this tree weathering a gentle breeze, let alone the turbulent passing of time.
But, despite its weedy stature, Old Tjikko has become a strong attraction for Sweden’s Fulufjället National Park.
Many come to see the world’s oldest tree, identified by tree scientist Lisa Öberg using carbon dating.
Regardless of its size, the tree is part of a much grander primordial landscape. Fulufjället mountain is one of several peaks rolling through the region of Dalarna, a four-hour drive from Stockholm and bordering Norway. The county is a childhood favourite for nostalgic Swedes and hiking nations who’ve cottoned on to the fact there’s more to Sweden than Northern Lights and city breaks.
To get a feel for the area, I start my trip in Orsa at Smidgarden, a resort of wooden chalets favoured for its forest hiking trails outside of the snowy cross-country ski season. The scene is a bucolic one: tractors laying idle in dairy farms, red wooden houses reflected in the perfectly still lakes and squat ponies grazing in sloping pastures – mimicked by the painted wooden Dalarna horses decorating so many windowsills.
Perched on a hillside, my mezzanine cottage overlooks a patchwork of rich greens and watery iridescent blues. Blankets hang as curtains in the windows, above cupboards painted in folkloric designs.
At night, I grill salmon over a barbecue and in the morning I infuse my tea with fresh mint from a vegetable patch. The smell of burning wood drifts from a subterranean sauna. The surrounding forest is tinged red with the first scarlet flames of autumn, blueberries burst from bushes and mushrooms sprout from the moist, cool soil.
Even more dramatic are the forests of Fulufjället. A two-hour drive from Orsa, its tangle of ferns, fallen trunks and marshlands could rival the temperate forests of British Colombia or Alaska for beauty.
I take a four-mile hiking trail from Naturum to the Rösjöstugorna overnight cabins and campsite, passing the famous tree and Sweden’s tallest waterfall. My shelter for the night is one of two ice fishing tents, warmed by a gas heater.
In the winter, dog sledding is available. But there’s also an innovative way to interact with the affable Alaskan huskies in snow-free months.
The howling of 90-plus dogs is deafening when I reach the Fjälläventyr Dog Park in Sälen, a 90-minute drive away. Despite all having comfortable pens – compliant with rigorous welfare regulations – all are desperate to run.
“It would be impossible to take them all into the mountains,” says musher and mountain guide Axel Skotte. “So the company came up with the idea of renting them to hikers a few years ago.”
More popular than ever since the Covid lockdowns, the initiative allows visitors to borrow specifically chosen dogs for the day.
Axel introduces me to Lykke, a four-year-old turbo sled dog with a halo of white fur to match her angelic temperament.
Following a cross-country ski trail, we ramble through grassy verges studded with berries, and cool off at shallow rocky mountain pools. As a non-dog owner, it’s a novelty to explore with Lykke as she sniffs every new scent and pulls me in directions I never knew I wanted to go. Her presence is calming, too.
Just like the everlasting beauty of Dalarna’s landscape throughout the seasons, there’s a timeless pleasure in taking gentle walks through nature – even more deep-rooted, perhaps, than the world’s oldest tree.
The world’s oldest tree “Old Tjikko” was named after Professor Leif Kullman’s Siberian husky and continues to grow in Sweden. Discovered in 2004 by Kullman, professor of Physical Geography at Umeå University, the age of the tree was determined using carbon-14 dating.
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