Bob from Nature Travels went on a short canoe adventure on our Canoe Getaway in Skåne in the south of Sweden in May 2016
It was a beautiful spring day when I arrived at the canoe centre in early May – the sun had been shining non-stop for the last few days and it felt like high summer. We were in the middle of an unseasonably warm spell with daytime temperatures more than 20 degrees. But I wasn’t complaining – conditions were perfect for being outdoors in Sweden at this exhilarating time of year, when the spring flowers and trees are exploding all around, the wildlife is awakening from its winter rest, and there’s hardly a soul to be seen! Plus I’d been sensible enough to pack the sunscreen (if you’ve ever had sunburn on your receding hairline, you’ll know it’s not something you want to do twice), so I was well-prepared!
I was here to get to know our Canoe Getaway in Skåne, a 4-day/3-night paddle tour with 3 days’ canoeing in the lovely Ivo lakeland area. As I would be continuing on to make various other visits in the Skåne region, I was travelling by hire car, but this experience is very easily accessible by public transport. It’s just 1 hour 45 mins by direct train from Copenhagen airport followed by a 15 minute bus ride that brings you right to the canoe centre.
I was condensing my trip from the normal 4 days to just three, so would be camping at the canoe centre that night then spending 2 days/1 night (rather than the standard 3 days/2 nights) exploring the lake area. To keep me company on my travels, Elky Elkwood, our famous (some would say “infamoose”) mascot from the Nature Travels office, had come along for the ride, and he’d promised to behave.
With the daylight hours already luxuriantly long even at the start of May, I had plenty of time to go exploring in the evening, so I took a walk along one of the local marked nature trails in the vicinity to discover the lovely marshland area to the north of the canoe centre before returning to the camp for the night.
I cooked dinner over the open fire in the cosy barbecue hut, spent a happy hour reading my book on the veranda and gazing peacefully over the lake in the evening sun, and then retired to save my energies for the following day.
Guests will normally camp in the small field at the canoe centre for the night, but as the barbecue hut was not needed for other purposes, I was able to save myself the trouble of erecting the tent, and slept instead on one of the benches around the edge of the hut, comfortably laid out on sheepskin rugs with the fire burning gently beside me as I drifted off! As the night wore on, I was reminded that, appearances to the contrary, we were still in early spring, and as dawn broke it was definitely getting chilly. Fortunately Elky had reminded me to pack my base layer and hat.
Next morning, sure enough the sun was still blazing, as it would continue to do for the coming days. Håkan from the canoe centre dropped by to say hello, we loaded the trailer and equipment, and headed off to the start point along the river at Västanå mill. Here we pushed off into the gentle flow of the Höljeån river. Håkan was to be joining me for the first part of the trip down the river but would then need to leave to attend to other duties, so I would be continuing for the lake part of the trip on my own (note that solo paddling is not offered as an option for the tour – minimum two persons are required as standard).
We class this as a rural tour – Skåne does not have the vast wilderness areas of northern Sweden – but the river offers a secluded and very beguiling landscape of tree-lined water and rolling countryside, and being May we really did feel like we had the world to ourselves. We paddled steadily down the meandering river, negotiating branches and fallen trees along the way (Håkan clears significant obstacles from the river each spring, but leaves the rest to make the voyage more interesting!). After a couple of hours we reached the bridge where he would be picked up and leave me. We waved our goodbyes and I paddled off to continue my exploration.
Just before the river emerges into the lake there’s a lovely short section known as “small Mississippi” (I would say “small Everglades”), where some ramshackle houses line the river and you half expect to hear the sound of banjos being plucked over the rhythmic squeak of a rocking chair on the porch.
And then I was out into the wide expanse of lake Ivosjön, dotted with islands where fireplaces and in some cases wind shelters provide ideal lunch and overnight camping spots.
I headed to the nearest island to explore and was greeted by a pair of Ospreys lifting majestically from behind the tree cover. Ivosjön is rich in birdlife – the population of Ospreys is very significant for this part of Sweden, and I also saw herons, red kites and buzzards during the trip. Part of the tour information provided covers the caution necessary in some areas to avoid disturbing nesting birds and protect this valuable habitat.
I spent a good 10 minutes trying to land the canoe at what I’d thought looked the best spot and getting horribly tangled up in the reeds before I realised that there was a perfect landing spot just a few metres out of sight around the corner. Feeling sheepish and glad there was no-one around to witness my error, I pulled ashore for lunch and to consider my next move.
As the trip was to be one day shorter than normal, I didn’t have the luxury of an afternoon snooze in the sunshine (which was very tempting), so I pushed on south down the lake. It was still a beautiful day but the wind had picked up slightly, and as I was paddling solo, despite putting extra weight at the front, the headwind made steering a good deal harder, and I zig-zagged my way down the lake probably covering twice the distance I needed to. Locals sunning themselves on the verandas of their summer houses along the shore waved encouragingly as a battled past, seemingly inching my way along.
But I wasn’t in a hurry – the intention of the Canoe Getaway is that the basic distance can be easily covered in the time available. The joy of this trip is taking the time to plan your own detours and discover as much of the lake system as you have time and energy for.
My goal for the day was to camp on a small island in the east of the lake, which would leave a relatively short paddle the next day back to the canoe centre for my onward journey.
At last I rounded the headland and turned north. Having the wind behind me now was glorious. I downed paddle and let myself drift for a while, just enjoying the calm and the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Some local fishermen in a rowing boat raised their arms in a cheery hello as I glided past.
As the afternoon wore on, Elky and I spotted the campsite – a really lovely spot with a fireplace and wind shelter on its own little island.
Again, being May, we had the place entirely to ourselves. I pitched camp and climbed the hill in the middle of the island to enjoy a stunning view over the archipelago in the evening sun, circumnavigated “my” island (that didn’t take long – it was very small!) then went for a short evening paddle to enjoy the last of the sunshine.
When I returned, my side of the island had descended into shadow and it was time to make a fire. Being married to a Swedish ex-Scout and consequently an expert fire-maker means I don’t offer get the chance to do this, but for tonight I could indulge myself (and it was very good fire too, I reckon, of which Sofia would I’m sure have approved…)
They say that any food tastes good in the outdoors when you’re hungry, which is just as well because I’m not the best outdoor chef. But the tuna pasta bubbling quietly on my Trangia didn’t smell bad at all and went down nicely. Plenty of time over for coffee, chocolate and book reading before it was time for bed.
I learned a lesson that night – “Never pitch your tent next to a small but incredibly loud bird who doesn’t want you there”. I hadn’t realised he was there when I chose my tent spot, of course. But the sweet, musical tweeting that had been the soothing background to my evening was rather less appealing when it was still continuing unabated and at full volume at 2am just outside my tent as Elky and I were trying to get to sleep.
He was still at it as I emerged bleary-eyed from the tent at 5am (I needed an early start for my other commitments later in the day). But as compensation we were greeted to a beautiful dawn with the sun already blazing on the water, this time (the sun having moved to the other side of the island of course) bathing our campsite in rich golds, reds and oranges.
Not a bad way to start the day, despite the lack of sleep, and I packed the tent, loaded the canoe, made a quick “idiot check” for anything left behind, and pushed off.
The last part of my tour was completely magical – just me, Elky and our canoe in a gorgeous mirror-calm expanse of water. We paddled gently back towards the canoe centre, bidding the herons and the jumping fish breaking the surface a good morning as we passed. I unloaded and cleaned the canoe just in time to see Håkan arriving bearing gifts of coffee and breakfast (this isn’t a standard part of the service!).
Then all too soon it was time to leave, this time heading south to Skillinge in the beautiful south-east corner of Skåne known as Österlen.
We’d certainly been incredibly lucky with the weather, managing to have the best of both worlds, with the emptiness of early spring but the warmth of high summer. Short or not, it had been a memorable couple of days – a little piece of tranquility and beauty surprisingly easy to reach and experience. And Elky had stayed out of trouble for once, which is a rare and wonderful thing in itself.