Ruben Heijloo was living in Amsterdam and working as a producer for a major film festival. But he longed for something else in life. At an exhibition he met a woman from Bräcke municipality who told him about life in northern Sweden.
Together with his then-partner, he travelled there to find out if this could be for them.
– “We took a trip around Jämtland, and found out that the old vicarage in Revsund was for sale. An opportunity we couldn’t refuse”, says Ruben.
The first traveller
The moving vans set off in 2011. At first, most of their time was spent on fixing up and fitting out the house, and one summer’s day Ruben found an old sign in the garden.
— “We realised that this was from a pilgrims’ way and contacted the St Olav’s Way to tell them that I’d like to test out travelling that route”, says Ruben.
The St Olav’s Way was at that point far from being properly marked, and plans for an overhaul were just beginning to be made. So Ruben became the first pilgrim to travel the entire stretch from Selånger to Trondheim, an experience he will carry with him for the rest of his life.
— “It was an important journey for me. I had never before tested out travelling a pilgrims’ way, and it really does something to a person. You get time to experience nature and get to know yourself”, he says.
— “I came into contact with people all along the way. People were unbelievably thoughtful and nice. They offered me a place to stay and snacks and I even got presents”, says Ruben.
Right after his journey he began to wonder how he could contribute to helping more people to discover the pilgrims’ way, and decided to start the company Nordic Pilgrim, a travel agency which, among other things, offers package trips to St Olav’s Way.
Over five years, the number of travellers on the way increased from four to 60 pilgrims.
— “It’s been fantastic to be part of this and develop the way. I have most of all aimed at the Netherlands, but I can see that more and more people from other countries as well are coming. I think the USA, among others, is a market that will grow.”
Support via app
What Ruben often emphasises when he’s telling people about St Olav’s Way is above all how much nature and how few people there are.
— “If you live in the Netherlands it can be difficult to understand how thinly populated it is. Many people find that exciting, and some even think it sounds scary”, he says.
For travellers who feel unsure, Ruben now offers the opportunity to receive support and advice along the way via an app, so the traveller need never feel entirely alone.
Ruben has moved back to the Netherlands, but still misses St Olav’s Way and wants one day to be able to live in northern Sweden again.
— “I always get envious when I book trips for others who are going to travel the way. Now I’m planning to go to Sweden to meet and talk with all those who operate guest houses along the way. It’s important for me to stay in contact with others who are working with St Olav’s Way, since that way I can develop my product and make it even better.”