The people of Östersund are in no doubt: Storsjöodjuret is out there, in their lake. Eyewitness accounts – there are hundreds of people who claim to have seen it – speak of a creature with a head like a dog, long pointed ears and bulging eyes, that sweeps gracefully through the water, sometimes making a hissing or clucking sound, often several hundred metres away from the shore; each summer sees new reports of sightings. Although several explanations have been given that dispel the myth – a floating tree trunk, a row of swimming elk, the wake from a passing boat, a series of rising water bubbles – the monster’s existence is taken so seriously that a protection order has now been slapped on it, using the provisions of paragraph fourteen of Sweden’s Nature Conservation Act. For most people, though, the monster will be at its most tangible not in the lake, but on the web (w jamtland.se).
In 1894, the hunt for this sinister presence began in earnest, when King Oscar II founded a special organization to try to catch it. Norwegian whalers were hired to do so, but the rather unorthodox methods they chose proved unsuccessful: a dead pig gripped in a metal clasp was dangled into the water as bait, and large, specially manufactured pincers were on hand to grip the creature and pull it ashore. Their tackle is on display at Jamtli, together with photographs that claim to be of the creature.
If you fancy a bit of monster-spotting, consider taking a steamboat cruise on the lake on board S/S Thomée, a creaking 1875 wooden steamship. When we researched this edition the boat was undergoing renovation work; check w visitostersund for the latest details – generally, the boat runs a two-hour trip round the lake leaving from the harbour in town as well as tours out to the island of Verkön, where there’s a nineteenth-century castle.