Bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, I take the coach from Bournemouth at an ungodly hour to Heathrow. Some hours later, I rendezvous at Stockholm Central station with Craig and Euan (our official photographer for the trip), who’ve flown in from Scotland, and Andrew, whitewater kayaking supremo from Switzerland. Andrew makes himself known to the rest of the group by appearing in a florescent shower cap and comedy sunglasses, attracting concerned glances from bewildered locals in the process. People don’t normally look like that in Sweden.
Fortified by pizza we board the train to Karlstad, where Euan and Craig break out their latest toys: a pair of ukeleles. It seems we’re in for an interesting week.
We make our way to the STF Karlstad Vandrarhem hostel in Karlstad and find it very nice indeed. A lovely old building that from its structure we suspect may have been a mental hospital in a previous life. Suddenly Andrew feels right at home.
It’s now 11.00 and we don’t expect a great deal to be going on in a sleepy rural town like Karlstad, but we leave our bags and go off in hopeful search of beer. To our surprise and delight we immediately find a lovely pub called The Bishop’s Arms right by the river, where we spend a very happy two hours sampling an astonishing range of obscure British and Swedish beers. Every few minutes a different classic American car packed with young Karlstadians and playing Eurovision music bounces by to keep us entertained (a love of classic cars and “schlager” music is a deep-rooted tradition in all parts of rural Sweden).
After filling up on hostel breakfast, we take the bus to the canoe centre, where we’re issued with our gear before loading up and heading to the start point. We’re deposited with a cheery wave and a “See you on Friday!” and watch the truck disappearing into the distance until finally we are alone with just the sounds of birdsong, the wind in the trees and our own hearts thudding nervously in our chests. Overwhelmed by the sudden solitude and thinking Friday seems an awfully long way away, we do what any hardy adventurers would do and immediately sit down to make a cup of tea.
Steeled by a brew, we load the canoes and paddle off across the glassy expanse of Västra Sundsjön, a beautiful lake bounded by forest. A few raindrops fall but suddenly we’re in high spirits and can’t wait to get going. We make our way steadily, gradually getting into the rhythm of paddling. After 10 minutes we’re really starting to relax and enjoy ourselves.
We make our first land transport (or LTP) and our first efforts at unloading the gear, placing the trolley, transporting the canoe overland and launching again are clumsy and time consuming. By the end of the tour, when we’ve done this about 40 times (once at the start and end of each LTP, once every evening and morning when making camp and a couple of extra times by mistake!), the process is as slick and well-rehearsed as any motor racing pit-stop team.
With evening approaching we reach a small peninsula with a lovely camping spot. As self-appointed Hilleberg tent geek, Euan takes charge of erecting the tent while we settle in and gather firewood. Out on the lake, the bizarre calls of Black-throated Divers (also known as Loons) echo atmospherically over the water.
Even though we’re only a third of the way up Sweden, it hardly gets dark at all at this time of year. Hypnotised by the firelight and the wistful combination of Craig’s ukelele playing mixed with Diver song, we find it’s almost midnight before we even get around to breaking out the Trangias and making dinner.
Our first full day of paddling. Craig earns great respect by being the first of us to brave the waters for a morning swim, only to lose all credit later in the tour when the rest of us work up the courage to go in and find it’s actually rather warm.
We spend a leisurely morning organising ourselves before taking to the water to the soundtrack of cuckoo song, gliding our way through a lovely labyrinth of moss-covered islands into the more open waters beyond. Either there are a remarkable number of cuckoos in Bergslagen or the same cuckoo followed us for the rest of the tour, because for the next few days we would be accompanied by cuckoo calls wherever we went.
A mix today of some beautiful paddling and some gruelling land transports, including one muddy and rocky episode we thought we would never see the end of. Fortunately the sun streams almost interrupted from a sky dotted with fluffy cumulus clouds and this helps to keep spirits up. In fact, the few raindrops at the start of the tour were to be the last we’d see during our time in Sweden and we would have glorious weather for almost the whole tour.
The longest and most tiring transport of the day brings us to Hästergsagen and some stunning paddling in the evening sun. We cruise the tiny islands dotting the lake at a leisurely pace, lost in our own thoughts and searching for the perfect camping spot. We find a lovely west-facing spot, pitch camp and spend the rest of the evening lazing in hammocks and watching the sun steadfastly refusing to set. Only Euan, gripped by his photographic muse, summons the energy to take to the water again to shoot some evening pictures.
This describes the first part of our Canoe in Bergslagen tour in June 2010. Join us for Part 2 shortly, in which we discover our very own paradise beach, Euan finally learns how to tune a ukelele and Andrew and Craig build a bread oven.
Canoe in Bergslagen is just one of our range of self-guided canoe tours with wild camping in Sweden. In the Värmland area, we offer four other options from family-friendly rural tours to remote routes, while we also offer challenging wilderness canoe tours in the Rogen nature reserve.
Bob from The Nature Travels Team