Over time we understood that Pajala didn’t actually belong to Sweden… we’d made it by chance. A northerly appendage, desolate swampland where a few people just happened to live, who only partly managed to be Swedish … no roe deer, hedgehogs or nightingales. Just interminable amounts of mosquitoes, Torne Valley Finnish swearwords and Communists.

Mikael Niemi, writing in Popular Music about growing up in Pajala during the 1960s and 1970s

The valley’s main village is pretty PAJALA, a place that has earned itself a reputation and a half throughout Sweden on two counts: first, the locals’ need of women led to the town hitting the headlines across Europe in 1987 (see box, p.000); and second, the inordinately successful book, and later film, Popular Music, is set here. In order to appreciate the latter claim to fame, you really need to have read the book (one in eight Swedes owns a copy) or seen the film, which played to sell-out audiences in cinemas across the country in 2004. Based around the life of Matti, a teenage boy who dreams of becoming a rock star, the book offers a rare insight into the psyche of the northern Swede and life in the remote Torne Valley. Dotted across town, striking yellow signposts proudly point the way to some of the most infamous locations to feature in the dramatization: Vittulajänkkä, Paskajänkkä and slightly more sedate Strandvägen, all plotted on the free map available from the tourist office.

Having dealt with Pajala the film location, there’s little else to do in this unprepossessing town other than rest up for a day or so – take a walk along the riverside, or head off in search of the great grey owl (strix nebulosa) that sweeps through the nearby forests. The huge wooden model of the bird in the bus station will give you an idea of its appearance: lichen grey, with long, slender tail feathers and a white crescent between its black and yellow eyes. Close by, on Torggatan, is the largest sundial in the world, a circular affair with a diameter of 38m which tells the real solar time – always 18–25 minutes different to that of a regular watch or clock.

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