The Garden of Sweden
The Garden of Sweden
Adventures in the Swedish lake district
I live in a place called Sutton and I’m about as fond of it as I am of getting cramp in the middle of the night. It is a town that claims to be part of London, but if we imagine the capital as our planet, with Westminster sitting on the equator, Sutton is located somewhere between Patagonia and Antarctica. The only flaw in this metaphor is that there is almost certainly more to do in the middle of the Southern Ocean. And it probably rains less.
It will come as no surprise, then, that one of my main pastimes is finding excuses to get out of Sutton. Coming to work provides a handy one in the week, but weekends can be more tricky. So when I was invited recently to spend a long weekend in the province of Dalsland in Sweden – better known as the Swedish lake district – you may assume I leapt at the chance.
I did leap. But more backwards in fright. This was because the main purpose of the trip was to take part in the Dalsland Canoe Marathon. A canoe marathon for which I’d not trained, or would have the chance to train for, because the event was less than two weeks away. Against my better judgement, I accepted, also enlisting a friend – Andy – though I avoided telling him the true nature of the jaunt until he’d paid for his flights. It was a decision that initially made me consider seeking psychiatric help, but as it turned out, it was one of the best I’ve ever made.
This truth began to dawn on me during the drive from Gothenburg Airport to Baldersnäs Herrgård, the lakeside manor house in which we’d be staying and the starting point for the race. The scenery had been pleasant enough since leaving the city, but upon entering Dalsland it suddenly transmogrified into a series of lung-deflating panoramas.
It would have been enough to take my mind off the marathon if it hadn’t been for the fact that these were the very lakes Andy and I would be expected to haul ourselves across the following day. It’s an annual event dubbed by organisers as ‘one of the largest and most rigorous canoe races in the world’ and open to both elites and – in our case – acute amateurs. The course is a whopping 35 miles (more than the width of the English Channel) and traverses four lakes, which help form the Dalsland Canal, an interconnecting system of glacial lakes with water pure enough to glug down on the spot.
Obviously we never expected finish the marathon (halfway would have been a result) but gamely decided there could be no harm in trying. And with almost 1,000 canoeists and kayakers taking part, we were confident our incompetence would go largely unnoticed.
Clearly we hadn’t thought that last part through, for when the claxon sounded the flotilla surged forth with alarming rapidity and within moments we were languishing at the back of the pack, and a few moments after that we weren’t even part of the pack. Still, with the pressure of competition immediately relieved we were able to fully appreciate the pristine wilderness in which we found ourselves. Dalsland is still pleasingly undeveloped as a tourist destination and ticks all the boxes for that elusive ‘off the beaten track’ status. This was reflected in the event itself – although most taking part clearly took their sport seriously, the race had an inescapably local charm about it and we sensed we were part of a community affair rather than an international gathering.
I still feel slightly bewildered when I look at the pair of us in the above photograph. It was taken approximately 10 hours after starting and we were about 3 miles from the finish line. An hour or so later, with broken bodies and triumphant spirits, shadowed in the mountainous odds stacked against us, we crossed that finish line. You can read the two-pronged account here and here for the full story, but the overriding message is that anyone really can give this a go.
Visiting Dalsland and not hopping in a canoe would be like reaching the summit of Everest and not standing on the cairn, so it goes without saying that you don’t need the excuse of the marathon to explore these lakes. If you do wish to take part, however, the event is held on the second Saturday of each August – so you have plenty of time to train, or at least build up the courage to take it on.
This is a video of the event.
Out the water there are plenty more outdoor pursuits in Dalsland to keep you entertained. Check out these videos for inspiration:
Will Jones flew from London Heathrow to Landvetter (Gothenburg’s main airport) with SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com; £230). BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) also fly to Landvetter from Heathrow, and Norwegian (020 8099 7254; norwegian.com) fly there from Gatwick. Alternatively, you can travel from London to Gothenburg by train with Rail Europe (0844 848 4078; raileurope.co.uk). Prices for flights and trains vary and are dependent on when you travel and how far in advance you book.
There are various ways to reach Dalsland from Gothenburg, including buses and trains, but if you want to move around with ease once there, the best option is to rent a car. Landvetter airport has a number of car-hire companies; Will used Hertz (hertz.com; £145 for four days).
The Dalsland Canoe Marathon is held each year on the second Saturday in August – see here for more information.
Alternatively, canoes can be hired for leisure from Dalsland Activities (0046 531 330 86; dalslandaktiviteter.se; £24 per canoe per day). Dalsland Activities is also the home of the giant zip line – see the website for more details.
Mountain bikes and maps can be hired from Silverlake Camp (0046 531 121 73; silverlake.se; £18 per day).
Baldersnäs Herrgård (0046 531 412 13; baldersnas.eu; for prices – email@example.com) is a classic mansion – a century old this year – set amidst beautiful lakeside grounds and has rooms with views of the same. Its award-winning restaurant serves exceptional cuisine.
Dalsland Activities (see details above) has teepee tents for hire at its three lakeside campsites. The campsites are purposely basic (no electricity) which adds to the fun. The tents are heated by wood fires and the mattresses are reindeer skins atop pine branches (sleeping bags can be hired for extra).
The scenery transmogrified into a series of lung-deflating panoramas
By Themes (All Destinations)
- Central America
- Middle East
- North America
- South America
"I haven't been everywhere, but it’s on my list" - Susan Sontag