Skellefteå’s church and church town, known as Bonnstan, are within easy striking distance of the centre: walk west along Nygatan and keep going for about fifteen minutes. An evocative sight, the church town, or kyrkstad here comprises five long rows of weather-beaten log houses, with battered wooden shutters. The houses are protected by law: any renovations, including the installation of electricity, are forbidden, making this the most genuine example of all Sweden’s church towns. You can take a look inside, but bear in mind that these are privately owned summer houses today.
Next to the cottages is the landskyrka, a proud white Neoclassical church which so enthused Leopold von Buch, a traveller who visited here in the nineteenth century, that he was moved to describe it as “the largest and most beautiful building in the entire north of Sweden, rising like a Palmyra’s temple out of the desert”. Its domed roof is supported by four mighty pillars along each of the walls; inside, there’s an outstanding series of medieval sculptures. Look out too for the 800-year-old Virgin of Skellefteå, a walnut woodcarving immediately behind the altar on the right – it’s one of the few remaining Romanesque images of the Virgin in the world.
Near the church, on the Skellefte River, the islet of Kyrkholmen, reached by a small wooden bridge, is a pretty place to sit and while away an hour or two. It’s home to an outdoor café that specializes in waffles with cloudberry jam (open mid-June to mid-Aug).
From the church you have two walking routes back to the centre: either follow Strandpromenaden along the river’s northern bank, interrupted by barbecue sites and grassy stretches; or cross Lejonströmsbron, one of the oldest and longest wooden bridges in Sweden, beneath the hill where the church stands. Dating from 1737, the bridge was the scene of mass slaughter when Russian and Swedish forces clashed there during the marvellously named War of the Hats, which started in 1741. Once on the south side of the river, you can stroll back to Parksbron, past the occasional boat and silent fisherman.