Freedom to roam near houses – how near is too near?
Sweden’s landscapes change dramatically in character as you progress from south to north – shifting from idyllic coastlines and green fields to fairy tale forests and majestic mountains. And it’s free for all to explore thanks to the country’s right of public access.
Sweden’s freedom to roam permits you to hike, jog, cycle, kayak, swim, ski, ride a horse and even pitch a tent pretty much anywhere. However, some rules must be observed: roaming in the vicinity of a house – be it a permanent dwelling or a summer cottage – is not included in the right of public access.
The regulation known as “Hemfridszonen” which translates roughly into English as “peace-at-home-zone” is somewhat vague. No precise distance has been directed as to how far from a house one must keep. Common sense will usually suffice when determining how near a house you can go without intruding on its residents. A good rule of thumb is that you should not linger near a property, particularly if it is obviously being used.
Landowners are allowed to put up signs to prevent visitors from entering areas where right of public access clearly does not apply. These areas are protected under the provisions of the Swedish Penal Code and include the grounds of houses, cultivated land and easily damaged ground. But without signs in place, it can be tricky to establish exactly how far one is allowed to venture.
Five tips on how to determine what distance to keep:
- In rural settings, let natural boundaries be your guide – a ditch, a field-edge or forest fringe for example. Other indicators might include greenhouses, sheds or private roads. However, you are allowed to walk, cycle and ride along private roads unless they lead directly to a house.
- In cases where vegetation is dense, or the topography is up and down, you run a smaller risk of disturbing residents. By contrast, if a house is set within flat terrain with little vegetation surrounding it, the boundary to prevent disturbance will be greater.
- In a residential area, the zone is likely to be tighter, perhaps a few metres from a house and its surrounding garden. In this case, a hedge, fence or cycle lane can indicate where the zone begins.
- One should always show consideration near houses, and therefore not remain for too long on a path or trail within eyeshot of a residential dwelling.
- If you fancy pitching a tent, mooring a boat or stopping for an al fresco “fika” (Swedish for a coffee and cake) you may need to keep more of a distance than if you’re simply passing by. As always, the golden rule of freedom to roam applies – do not disturb and do not destroy!
Walking in the Swedish countryside, along traditional red houses and meadow.
Photo: Emma Ivarsson/imagebank.sweden.se