The land of the Vikings, hardy and tough folk honed by the terrain from where they came.
Scandinavia is home to some of Europe's wildest places, huge areas of stunning wilderness. The harsh climate makes the summers short and the winters long, yet these lands are full of life, and full of interest for the explorer.
For the walker and the canoeist, they offer one of the closer ways of experiencing wilderness, but these lands are no push-over.
Taking canoes for a walk
I've enjoyed a few Scandinavian trips with the canoe now. The paddling can be sublime, but to get to the best places, you often need to lug your craft for some distance between stretches of water. This is all part of the experience, and without it these places would feel less special. Sometimes its a simple short carry, in some places a trolley is best used to roll along endless forest tracks, but in the true wilderness, there is no option but to put your boat on your head and march across the terrain, whatever it may throw at you. Sometimes the paddling is challenging too, technical whitewater or huge, potentially deadly, expanses of open water where wind is the enemy.
This was one of the best adventures of my life, a 12 day journey following a thin blue line across the border from Sweden into Norway, linking lake to lake via the roughest of portages. Lovely small lakes were followed by tumbling rivers, huge expanses of open water, and wilderness trails where the reindeer roam. Around us, weather-worn mountains stood proud of the lake-studded landscape, rising above the stunted pines that somehow cling to the bare rocks.
This is the blog on Song of the Paddle.
Rogen to Røros – The Paddler ezine article
I was fortunate to have an article on the same trip published in The Paddler, the international magazine for all paddlers, in two parts.
The destination for first of my Swedish canoe journeys, Glaskogen is a nature reserve in southern Sweden, a few hours north east of Goteborg. Sitting in the depths of the enormous forests of Scandinavia, this lovely place is characterised by large and small lakes surrounded by towering pines, with the bare rocky bones of the earth rising from the fringes of the sparkling waters.
Returning to the site of our Glaskogen adventure, the Lelangen Loop is a slightly harder journey linking a series of more than a dozen smaller lakes with a succession of portages. Quieter than the main part of Glaskogen, we barely saw a soul for 8 days.
Once again we returned to the beautiful area of Glaskogen. This was a weather affected trip, split into two halves; first, the more sheltered waters of the Lelangen area, followed by some magical time at the east end of Stora Gla when the winds died away and the lake was like a mirror.
How to do it
There are two main ways of getting to Scandinavia, as there is not currently a direct ferry.
Firstly, its a flight to many of the main centres; Oslo, Gothenburg, Stockholm etc. That's the simple, and quite cheap, part. If you're a paddler you are faced with having to hire a canoe too. Having seen the sort of heavy, cumbersome canoes on offer, I opted to invest in an Ally folding canoe, a superb bit of kit which goes in the hold of the plane for a modest extra sum. Car hire is readily available, but rather expensive. This is the way to do it with a limited schedule though.
Secondly, you can drive. Its a long way from the UK, but if you have the time, its a perfectly good way of doing it, which means you can easily take your own canoes. We have gone via the Harwich-Hook of Holland ferry and then up to Denmark and a second ferry or the bridge to Sweden. If the timing works, a more relaxing but pricier alternative is to get a ferry from Germany straight to Gothenburg or Oslo, allowing you to sleep on the way.
Scandinavia is superb for camping. Many of the reserves and parks have "wind shelters" or laavus, sort of lean-tos with a firepit. There will often be a rustic loo nearby, and wood supplied.
Wild camping is also simple. Most of Scandinavia embraces the "Allmansretten", Everman's Right, to free access to the outdoors and the "right to roam". From a camping perspective, this means that you may camp responsibly pretty much anywhere away from roads and buildings. In some parks there are rules on where you can and can't take wood from, and if there is no firepit already built and available, I would always advocate a true "leave no trace" approach.
Supermarkets in Scandinavia are fully stocked with what you need. They can be pricey, though I would say Sweden is not that much more than the UK. Norway is a different matter.
We've been fortunate to have our mate Mark along on our trips. A really good cook, he has taught himself to use a dehydrator, so pre-prepares all our meals and we simply have to rehydrate them in camp. This means extended trips not only involve only modest weight of food, but we also eat like kings, something we think is really important on an extended trip. We supplement this with fresh food for the first few days' meals, which part normally falls to me, and weighs as much as the other food for the next week! The main meals are supplemented by a regular supply of snacks to keep us going, especially on the portages.
Scandinavia has a reputation for being expensive for alcohol. This is not only true, but its also difficult to get anything other than low-strength beer in supermarkets, you need to visit the state-run liquor stores, an added hassle on a trip. As you can import a reasonable amount, especially into Sweden, when we've had a vehicle we have brought a few wine boxes with us, box removed. This is known as "ballast" and comes in red or white varieties. We've even been known to "cache" re-supplies at key points along the route!
Without extensively listing it here, I would simply state that you need to assume that you are wholly reliant upon yourselves and are well equipped and dressed, and have the knowledge to use the equipment you have.
The wilderness nature of some of these trips has made it worthwhile carrying a satellite SPOT device. Not only does this act as an emergency button to press if necessary, and hopefully it never will be, but it also allows the tracking of our trips by friends and loved ones at home. This is possibly more important to them than it is to us!
As with any wild country, the weather can change very quickly. Your trip very much depends on what happens with the weather. As paddlers, the main enemy is wind, and every trip I've done has been affected in some way by this, making us grab opportunities of calm, or sit tight for a day until it dies down.
In Glaskogen we had reasonably regular mobile signals, and even occasional ones in Rogen. I used yr.no, the Norwegian Met Office equivalent, to get forecasts. The accuracy was not always perfect, but the overall trends certainly useful to know, and being aware of a couple of days of wind and rain approaching allows you to plan safely.
In summer, in the north country, it really does hardly get dark at all, not just north of the Arctic Circle. This does allow you to journey long into the day if you wish to, but light sleepers may want to plan for this. Even things like a darker tent may help.
At certain times, the mosquitoes, flies and midges of Scandinavia can be a nightmare. By mid-August they seem to us to die down a bit, and we have had only minor inconvenience. I am very aware that others have been eaten alive in the same places, and we normally carry "bug shirts" and repellents.
Read the blogs linked above, as there is more information there. There is surprisingly little information on English language websites about canoeing in Norway and Sweden, but try googling using Swedish/Norwegian terms or .no or .se at the end.