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Bergslagen: Days of the Varg

Canoeing and wild camping in the Swedish wilderness

🌲 PROLOGUE 🌲

AKA: IT’S ALL RAY MEARS’ FAULT

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr Mears, he’s the vehicle through which many people in Britain over the last thirty years have gained knowledge of the outdoors, survival techniques and bushcraft.

A woodsman, TV presenter and author, he has the look of a geography teacher on the first field trip of the year, keen to show off the new kit he bought at the Millets summer sale. Perennially decked out in shades of beige or moss-green and ageless in the way that ruddy faced, slightly tubby people tend to be, he’s the thinking person’s outdoorsman, the antithesis of the showy GI Joe / Action Man that is Bear Grylls. Though each of course has his place, you’re more likely to find Ray on the shore of a peaceful lake, sampling some delicately smoked fresh salmon with a dressing of wild berries than chewing the head off a scorpion and chucking himself down a waterfall. Which is fine by me.

Back in May 2015, my friend Max happened upon this video, part of the BBC’s ‘Ray Mears Bushcraft’ series. Max recalled: “About two minutes in, I was hooked”, and set a reminder to investigate Swedish canoe tours.

Fast forward to July 2016, and after a mammoth 30 hour journey from Atlanta, my wife and I were sitting at a picnic table under the blazing Nordic sunshine with four good friends from London, outside the Vildmark i Värmland activity centre in Gunnerud, southern Sweden.


DAG ETT

DAY 1: NOT TO BE USED AS A CUSHION

🇸🇪 VILDMARK I VÄRMLAND 🇸🇪

TRANSLATION: WILDERNESS IN VÄRMLAND

Vildmark i Värmland are a Swedish company that coordinate various trips and activities, from timber rafting and canoeing to hiking, camping, ‘adventure trails’, and an assortment of other pursuits varying in their intrepidness. On the banks of the Klarälven (“The clear river” - Sweden’s longest), sits Vildmark’s summer activity centre, a large red barn-like structure that houses most of the rental kit. When we arrive, the doors are open on both sides of the building, presumably to rid the structure of the musty smell of gear that’s spent it’s life in and around water.

↓ ANATOMICALLY CORRECT STICKMAN ↓

This sign was stuck to the wall of the drop toilets. Interesting that the guy who thinks it’s OK to pee standing up wears his cap backwards. The official sign of a douchebag.

Shelves are heaped with provisions, gas canisters, cooking equipment and an assortment of souvenirs available for purchase. Sleeping bags and tarps hang from rafters, hundreds of luminous life jackets are piled according to size, and near the main entrance a Swedish flag flaps gently in the summer breeze. Outside, hefty wooden crates with red stencilled numbers are stacked eight feet high, upside-down aluminium canoes wait in long rows, paddles sit in a huge jumbled pile, waiting to be chosen for their next adventure.

Half a dozen open-sided sheds face the main building, their purpose being to serve as holding bays for each group’s equipment, so everyone is ready to depart on time, avoiding any Home Alone style running around at the last minute.

🗺 MAPPING 🏞

The outside wall of each shed is home to a large map of each area covered by the individual tours. On ours, an orange dotted line snakes through the Bergslagen region, historically important for its roots in the mining and metallurgic industries. The route forks toward the end, making the total distance of our trip roughly either 85 or 105 kilometres. We resolve to make a decision on which route we take later on in the week, based on how knackered we are.

It’s up to you to purchase your own maps and accurately duplicate the route, otherwise you’re going to end up lost and pooping in the woods for longer than you expected. Carl-Johan, one of the Vildmark employees, a tall bespectacled Swede with blonde mane drawn back in a man-bun so taut it seems to have pulled most of the hair out from the top of his head, points out a ‘secret’ lake for trout fishing, which would have been great, except we have zero fishing skill along with zero fishing equipment. Still, being privy to such information makes us feel like we are cool and in the know.

🍏🍞 SCRAN 🍕🍗

We chose the meal packages provided by Vildmark at £98 (~$120) per person for the week, comforted by their reassurance that “The food provided is that eaten by a typical Swedish family.” Given I was surrounded by eco-warrior lefty herbivorous Bolsheviks, I had to acquiesce and also go veggie.

Understandably I am slightly miffed to be missing out on such Swedish delicacies as salami, meatballs, beef stew, ham and sausages, which would have been included in the traditional food package, but I put on a brave face and try to imagine what Ray Mears would do if faced with a similar situation. Most likely whilst everyone else is out foraging for berries and preaching love and respect for all creatures, he’d go and strangle a wild boar to death with some paracord, and by the time everyone else returns from yoga and tea drinking he’ll have it slowly roasting on a skewer in the middle of camp. Yeah, I’d do that.

We are given four large plastic storage boxes crammed of food, and being that we have to carry all our supplies and thus are preoccupied with how much things weigh, we immediately attempt to rationalise the allocation, asking if we ‘really need’ so many of X or that much of Y. In the end, after extensive arguments/frank discussions, we get rid of only two jars of instant coffee and some surplus cutlery. Nonetheless, the Swedish employee is in equal parts bemused and horrified seeing us voluntarily returning two jars of coffee. Apparently they drink a lot of coffee in Sweden.

In addition to our comestibles, each couple are allocated a Trangia stove with enough gas seemingly to last several weeks, a canoe, canoe trolley, life jackets, a barrel and dry bag, a sponge (useful for removing water from inside the canoe), a short rope, a large plastic jug container for fresh water, and some bin bags. Oh, and we share the shovel of shame™, AKA the portable toilet-in-the-woods. Everything else we’ve brought ourselves, tents, sleeping bags and so on.

It’s mid afternoon before a large lorry driven by Sven (there’s a 50% chance his name was Sven), arrives and stops at each shed, loading each group’s items in reverse order. Thus the group whose equipment is loaded last is the first off the lorry. That was us.

PUSHING OFF

The Bergslagen tour was chosen by only one other group, a German father and his two young daughters. After being dropped off, we all stand on the water’s edge and look out over Västra Sundsjön (West Sundsjön) lake, taking in the serenity of the scene before no doubt ruining it by capsizing and floundering around like idiots. I take a picture of the trio with the Dad’s phone, and after handing it back they’re away and paddling in a matter of seconds. They’ve done this before. [More on them later.]

We don’t worry too much about what goes where in the canoes, knowing that our optimum setup is likely to evolve over the week, and that this first lake is relatively small, so we’ll have to take everything out in less than an hour’s time anyway. Everyone dons their life jackets, given that we haven’t been in these canoes before and aren’t sure of their stability.

On cue, as if the Gods know we are British and want us to feel at home, when we slide our canoes into the fresh water of the lake, it starts to rain.

⇡ Västra Sundsjön, inc. raindrops ⇡

We paddle toward the southern tip of the lake, and it isn’t long before we all realise that you’d have to be a real plonker to capsize one of these canoes, and that it’s far more comfortable without the life jackets. I think everyone used them as cushions for the rest of the trip, as the canoe seats were less than luxurious. It was only on the final day that I deigned to read the instructions printed on the inside of the life jacket, the last of which stated in angry capital letters ‘NOT TO BE USED AS A CUSHION’. Whoops.


⇡ Västra Sundsjön, looking north ⇡

👣 LTP'S 🚶

While pushing a canoe laden with a load of crap atop a rickety two-wheeled trolley might sound tiresome, it can actually be a welcome break from the aches and pains associated with paddling for extended periods. Your back can get sore, your shoulders, your arms, and your bum, jeez, your bum can get super sore, that’s the worst.

“LTP” stands for Land TransPort, and is the way you navigate from one body of water to the next, unless you’re able to paddle jolly fast and do some Roger Moore-era James Bond type stunts. You take most of the stuff out of the canoe, haul it out of the water, hold it up at one end, slide the aforementioned rickety trolley underneath and secure it with the straps provided. In fact it’s a pretty sturdy system, and we were surprised how fast we could run down hills without it all going pear shaped.

The first LTP was less than a kilometer up a gravel track, passing a dam and some old abandoned wooden buildings before launching into Östra Sundsjön (East Sundsjön), heading north through a labyrinth of floating islands.



THE WEATHER WAS…CHANGEABLE.


 One of the many Swedish summer houses we’d see on the journey ⇡


It’s getting late as we try to find the best place to escape the lake. There should be a large orange sign with a big on it to indicate where to take the canoes out, but no such luck. In the end, we find a place that looks as if it’s been recently logged by lumberjacks, empty the canoes completely and then carry them one at a time above our heads to the gravel logging road.

In going over the maps I later find out that there is a much, much easier place to get out, but where’s the adventure in that?

In the gathering dark we trek the kilometre-long LTP towards Lövsjön lake, terminating at the perfect camping spot. It’s glorious. There’s no bugs, it has flat land right on the water’s edge, it has shelter, it has a fantastic view…

…it also has a middle-aged German couple with a campervan, motorbike, fishing rods, campfire and washing line.

Shit.

There’s no way we’re camping here. But, the man generously suggests there’s another camping spot a short paddle away, and promptly speeds off down a road parallel to the lake on his motorbike to show us. He’s just as likely wanting to help us as he is wanting to get rid of six smelly canoeists who look like encroaching on his campsite paradise, but we are thankful either way.

He shows us the place, and everyone’s so tired and hungry that I forget to take any photos of it.

DAG TVÅ

DAY 2: EASY ON THE SMÖRGÅS PICKLES

Thankfully for us jetlagged types, no one else seemed keen to get up super early, and so our mornings were blissfully leisurely. We bathe in the lake, read, take photographs, cook, all unhindered by the tiresome rushing that often blights these sorts of trips. People spend so much time worrying about what’s next that they don’t enjoy what’s now.

⇣ Fried bread, baked beans and veggie sausages. The meal of veggie kings ⇣

🎥 ROLLEI 📷

I’m lucky enough to have inherited my Grandfather’s Rolleiflex 620, a medium format dual lens film camera made some time between 1932 and 1934. That makes it (at it’s youngest) at least 82 years old. I bring it on the trip, because, why the hell not?

It likely hasn’t been serviced for fifty-odd years, and I didn’t manage to get it serviced before we leave for Sweden, so I load the film with trepidation, unsure whether any pictures are going to come out at all. So just in case, I try and take a similar photo with my phone. The image below is of Lucy on Lövsjön lake, and below that is the Rolleiflex version.

80-ODD YEARS BETWEEN TECHNOLOGIES

⇡ Holmsjön lake 

⇡ On the shores of Bosjön lake ⇡


⇡ Näsrämmen Lake 

🦀 KREBSPEST 🦀

We traverse Näsrämmen lake, take the canoes out just before a road culvert, and are faced with several signs which announce the presence of Krebspest. Krebspest translates as ‘crayfish plague’, and, as far as we can discern, is some form of fungus that is really bad for the indigenous crayfish population.

Naturally, the wordkrebspest becomes a catch-all for anything bad that happens on the trip.

If someone looks like they’re scratching an insect bite: “Yup, they’ve got the krebspest”.


The blurb says that the next LTP of around 2.5km starts off “quite muddy”. They weren’t wrong. It’s like some sort of Vietnam war film. Hyperbole? Me? I’ve not exaggerated once, not once, in my whole entire life.


DJUPRÄMMEN

We eat lunch on the banks of the Djuprämmen lake, which is surrounded by yet more summer homes and spotted with floating sauna huts. Our campsite is somewhere on the other side, yet to be found.

⇡ Djuprämmen Lake ⇣

We paddle towards the opposite end of the lake, and through Max’s monocular, see that it’s busy with camper vans and kids splashing around in the water. We don’t want that, thanks. But we do spot an uninhabited beach that’s not far away, and on closer investigation, behind the beach there’s plenty of space for us to set up camp, along with a fire pit.

There’s even time to watch the sunset before dinner.

By this point we realise we’ve run out of fresh water. While dinner is being cooked near the fire pit, three of us sit on the beach in a semi-circle around what is normally the washing up bowl, now filled with lake water, a surprisingly scummy thin film of oily-nastiness floating atop it.

The filters we have aren’t super industrial strength, and it’s slow work. Even when it’s passed through a 0.1-micron filter, the water is still yellow and looks pretty unappetising. Still, it seems like they did their job, because no one got sick.

ROLLEI #2

IN THE FOREST


Taken with OnePlus 2, raw DNG.

It’s so warm we sleep without the flysheet on our tent, the stars visible through the trees.

DAG TRE

DAY 3: THEY’RE FUNNY THINGS, ACCIDENTS. YOU NEVER HAVE THEM TILL YOU’RE HAVING THEM

As morning breaks, I break myself.

Let me explain. Still in a hazy fugue state, I slip my feet into my trendy-adventure-nerd-velcro-sandals and go to perform my morning eliminations in the woods. I don’t do up the velcro on said sandals, because that would be overkill, right?

Wrong.

I amble into the woods, not paying particular attention to the ground, my left foot slips in a hollow, slides off the sandal, my ankle twists and crack. Before I know it, I’m hopping towards a tree, propping myself up, my breathing is shallow, my eyes are stinging, I feel sick and my ankle is the size of an orange.

I’ve torn both left and right ankle ligaments before. Once playing football (soccer). Nobody was around me, I just sort of fell over the ball. I’m not very good at football. And once skipping in a car park.

Not like jump rope type skipping, like “tra-la-la, what a glorious day” type skipping.

Yes, manly.

And if you’ve cracked your ankles once, you’re more prone to doing it again. Just like heroin, or cheating on your girlfriend. (Neither of which I have done, FYI.)

EXCUSES, EXCUSES

Despite my suffering, I came to the woods to do a job, so I do it up against the tree. I limp gingerly back to the tent and lie down, seriously on the verge of tears, partially from the pain and partially from thinking that I’m going to ruin everyone’s holiday.

I pop two ibuprofen and two paracetamol, and later find out that this is something you definitely shouldn’t do, as it can increase the bleeding, just so you know. Perhaps if this was a hiking holiday, my journey might have been over, but given we’re sitting down in canoes for large portions of the day, I think I can maybe get away with it by strapping my ankle up and wearing walking boots for the rest of the time. Hey, at least I can get out of doing certain chores.

“We need to get firewood!”

“Sorry, I tore my ankle ligaments, can’t do it”.

“Tommy, it’s your turn to cook dinner.”

“How am I supposed to stir pasta WHEN I CAN BARELY WALK?”

“A pack of wolves are eating me alive!”

“Amember? My ankle? Soz. Nice to have known you. Can I have your share of the biscuits?”

We leave behind our beach paradise and head to the northernmost tip of Djuprämmen, past the busy camp ground and paddling children, rowing upstream into the Oforsälven river, which discharges into the lake.


If you’re thinking of doing a trip like this, I’d highly recommend taking a poncho. I brought my fancy gore-tex rain jacket that probably cost a hundred times as much as a my Peter Storm poncho (purchased on a whim from a bargain bin in an outdoors shop) and I didn’t use it once. Being able to sling the poncho on at a moment’s notice, (see reason in photos below) having unrestricted movement and it covering your legs was really great.

★★★★★ - 10/10 - Would buy again.

We navigate up the rapidly shrinking Oforsälven, and then walk a two kilometre LTP past some more abandoned buildings before reaching Hästbergsagen lake. According to the wildly unreliable Google Translate, in Swedish Häst means ‘horse’ and berg means ‘mountain’, so perhaps it’s Horse Mountain lake. But probably not.

What kind of shoes you wearing bro?
Vansbro.

*Rimshot. Please tip your waitress.


⇡ Portrait session after lunch on a small island in the middle of Hästbergsagen lake ⇡

CAMPING DAD

We stop for lunch on a small island that’s in the middle of the Hästbergsagen lake. As we chow down on cheese and pickle sandwiches for the 3rd day running, who should paddle by but the German bloke and his two tweeny daughters. Remember them? The only other ones to do the Bergslagen tour?

Some backstory: A 2013 camping trip in Hampshire was the genesis of an inside joke (the word ‘joke’ used very loosely).

“[Insert Relevant Activity] Dad”.

Let me explain. You see a middle aged man driving like a maniac - Top Gear Dad.

Middle aged man looking stressed and talking on mobile phone - Business Dad.

Middle aged man quietly reading a book in a busy area? Serial Killer Dad.

German Dad was muscular and weathered, with a shaved head and light stubble, sporting a yellow t-shirt and green cargo trousers. As a group we marvelled at his efficiency, and when he paddled off into the distance on that first afternoon, to us, he immediately became ‘Camping Dad’. Occasionally he transmogrified into ‘Adventure Dad’ when the going got particularly tough. Along the trip, if we ever spotted him in the distance, like some kind of clothed Sasquatch, he was wearing the same yellow t-shirt. The uniform of the Camping Dad.

The spectre of Camping Dad loomed large for the whole trip:

How fast do you think Camping Dad paddled this section?

Do you think Camping Dad already took the good camping spot?

I bet Camping Dad could break your legs just by looking at you.

Camping Dad became a sort of backwoods proxy for Chuck Norris.

Perhaps Camping Dad was actually a child trafficker, this being the perfect way to transport two young girls through the wilderness. Perhaps he had ‘a certain set of skills’ and was escaping from an ordeal having rescued his daughters from an evil Swedish villain with golden ears. Perhaps camping Dad was actually our imaginations running appropriately wild, because tellingly, from a few thousand photographs between us all, Camping Dad didn’t appear in a single one.

🐲 DANIEL 🐞

After lunch, we paddle past Camping Dad, who is now reclining in a meadow with tent erect and canoe discharged, taking in the afternoon sun. After an extra hour, it turns out we’ve paddled the wrong way. On the bright side, everyone else (except for me) gets to see a beaver (bäver) who is tending to his sizeable dam.

On the way back to the meadow, as it turns out our egress point, someone spots a dragonfly struggling in the water. His wings are wet and he doesn’t look long for this world. I fish him out with my paddle and deposit him atop one of our storage boxes, and he happily sits there drying off for the rest of the day. He’s quickly dubbed ‘Daniel’, I think because of the Karate Kid, but that’s a crane kick, not a dragonfly kick. Anyway, at one stage we thought Daniel was dead, but after some scientific entomological poking with a small stick, it turns out he wasn’t.

Just after we finish dinner it starts to rain at our campsite, so again we pick Daniel up and put him under some shelter.

By the morning he is gone. Farewell, Daniel.


⇡ Fjällrämmen lake at dusk ⇡


DAG FYRA

DAY 4: SUFFUSED WITH BUTTER

Toast that’s more than 50% butter is a great way to start the day. It’s science.

THE LONG WALK

I’m all ready to get back on the water when I’m told that no, the first thing we’re doing today is pushing canoes for 4km.

Oh. Perhaps I should pay attention.


⇡ Get out of my swamp ⇡


🍓 WILD BERRIES 🍓

As we push our canoes along the roads, feeling like itinerant river gypsies desperately searching for the water, we notice dots of red amongst the greenery. Tiny wild strawberries! After a brief chat about how often people die from eating mystery berries in the wild, and how sure we are that these are in fact strawberries in the first place, I volunteer to try one. They’re strawberries alright, phenomenally sweet, and taste oddly artificial, like someone has fed the plant exclusively on Sweet ‘N Lo.

Bilberries and Blueberries are also everywhere. EVERYWHERE. You can’t go for a wee in the forest without desecrating a poor blueberry plant. Great for adding a little tart sweetness to your muesli and yoghurt.

Raspberries we find on a large bush next to someone’s house. Perhaps they’re not strictly wild, but they are delicious.


🎯 TARGET PRACTICE 🎯

As we walk along the path, we occasionally happen upon more unoccupied red summer houses, often adorned with white wooden decorations, some more ornate than others. The Jakt Stugan sign translates as ‘Hunting Lodge’. That’d explain the target practice frying pans.

We stop for lunch on the banks of Bredsjön lake, having not paddled one stroke. It’s windy here, and from the looks of the map, Bredsjön is twice the width of any of the other lakes we’ve traversed. We might be in for a tough afternoon.

While we wait for hot dogs to boil, we mess around like juvenile delinquents, poking ant hills and peering into the seemingly abandoned caravan. We especially like the ‘chick sitting on piglet’ photo that’s mounted on the wardrobe inside.

[If that’s your bag, then you can purchase it from Ron Kimball’s stock photography website here. Yes, I do my research.]

We finish lunch and are putting the canoes in the water when Camping Dad rounds the corner. How the hell did he get here so quickly? In hindsight it’s probably because we spent so much time eating hot dogs and poking ant hills.

We were right when it comes to the wind though - we’re eventually heading North West, but have to point ourselves South West and cover a whole lot more ground in order to shelter as best we can from the wind and waves. I use my Buff and walking stick (lovingly provided by Max and Ben) as a makeshift flagpole, and practice my Captain Jack Sparrow impression.


☟ DUE SOUTH ☟

After another LTP we arrive at Naren lake, where we can either go the North or South route. We’re all knackered from having to paddle into the wind, and so decide to go due south. I sing the theme song for ten minutes before being told to shut up. We hug the eastern bank on our way down the lake, hoping to find some secluded camping spots but finding only inhospitable rocks.

We head for the sluice gates at the southern most end of the lake and end up pitching our tents near there. It’s certainly not wild camping, as for some reason it has a well maintained sawdust toilet (complete with toilet roll!) but at this point we’re too tired and hungry to care.


DAG FEM

DAY FIVE: A TARP IS FOR LIFE, UNTIL IT BLOWS INTO THE RIVER

Note to those who would try and dry off their tarp by hanging it over a railing above a river: Don’t. Or if you do, make sure it’s tied on to something. You live and learn, right Ben?

Those that can walk try to mount a rescue mission, Lizzie jumps into the river to try and save the stricken tarp, but to no avail. It is now wild and free, fulfilling its destiny. We let Ben say a tearful goodbye and follow the huge pipeline down the hill to reach the canal, named Kanalen, which translates as ‘the channel’.


 Kanalen 


We’re warned that there’s a low bridge that can be quite treacherous - when we spot it in the distance, it does look very low indeed. Like, Indiana-Jones-diving-under-a-stone-door low. So naturally we paddle at it at regular speed, and even leaning completely backwards there’s only a couple of inches to spare between nose and rusty metal. Poor Lou is a bit claustrophobic. She didn’t like that bridge very much at all.

We follow the canal’s lazy current to the village of Gustavsfors, where we disembark for another LTP, walking past cute houses and some cuter horses. We sacrifice two carrots to feed the beasts. Good deed done for the day.

🍄 'SHROOMS 🍄

Almost as numerous as the blueberries…

The LTP ends at Uppämten lake, where it intersects with the river Uvan. In the blurb we’re reminded that it’s extremely important not to paddle on the lake, as it’s a nature preserve and any kind of traffic is strictly forbidden. So instead we find a picnic table and have a cup of tea and a biscuit or three.

🐟 PIKEYS 🐟

As we paddle down the Uvan I spot a shed adorned with something. We dock quietly and I sneak over, just in case there’s a trigger-happy hunter eating his lunchtime smörgåsbord inside. It turns out that the decorations are a whole host of huge vicious-looking pike heads, many with their mouths wedged open with sticks, presumably caught from the very river we’re paddling on. Nightmare fuel indeed.


Further down, after a 15 metre LTP, the river gets really narrow and winding, sheltered on both sides by tall trees. It’s extremely atmospheric, every turn a new discovery. Of course I whistle the Jurassic Park theme.

Lucy and I spot something on the shore. Perhaps it’s treasure. No, turns out that it’s just some rubbish. But wait, there’s something else. Ooooh, it’s a fishing rod, with a line in the water. Has someone left it here? Has it been abandoned? Maybe we could ‘borrow’ it and catch some fish… I manoeuvre the canoe so Lucy can take a better look, and then pretty much force her to give the line a pull, to see if anything’s on the end of it. Nope, there’s nothing on the end of the line, but the rod is attached to one of those electronic fish bite detectors, so as soon as Lucy gives it a tug, it emits a high-pitched beeeeeeeeeeep. Needless to say we paddled away jolly quickly.

 Åskagen lake 


"MY SHOES SMELL LIKE AN ABANDONED LEISURE CENTRE"

We come across a fantastic spot to camp on the western shore of Ämten lake. It isn’t long before we’re fully set up, with tarp shelter, kitchen area, campfire and political discussion about being arrested for ‘trespassing’. (Not me, not me.)


DAG SEX

DAY SIX: LIVE BY THE SILKY, DIE BY THE SILKY

NB: In an Irish accent, ‘Dag Sex’ would mean something entirely different.

In the morning, Max brings out his hatchet, and we consult the Bible Of Mears (AKA: Ray Mears - Essential Bushcraft) for the correct log-splitting technique. To quote Mears: “You MUST learn how to split a log.” Indeed we must, Ray.

The previous inhabitants of this site had followed etiquette and left us with a good amount of firewood, but prior to this log splitting fun, we had to chop the wood into small enough pieces. Luckily, Ben had brought with him a folding saw.

Wow, cool! I think. I ask him where he got it, and who it’s made by.

“Um, it’s called a Silky PocketBoy.”

“Sorry?”

“A Silky. PocketBoy.”

“Are you joking?”

“No, it’s really called that. It’s Japanese.”

“Sounds like something you get called in prison when you can’t protect yourself.”

Despite the name, the PocketBoy is remarkably good, and cuts through our logs swiftly and safely. The scent from the freshly cut wood is potent, something that you’d want to bottle and fill your home with.


"I R MAN, I CHOP WOOD"

APERTURE BANTZ


OLD MAN'S BEARD

Old man’s beard (it’s scientific name is Usnea) generally grows on bark and twigs, and is great tinder for lighting fires with.

It is also useful for impromptu forest cosplay.

SIBERIAN FIRE LAY

We put our hewn timber to good use, attempting a type of fire again described in the Book Of Mears™, the Siberian Fire Lay. Apparently very versatile, it allows for a place to put kettles, pans, and provides cover from rain and snow. None of which we need.


NOT A ZOMBIE

I told you I hurt my ankle. Proof.


🔦 SWEDISH FIRE TORCH 🔥

Another fun thing to try in the woods, this is a small version of the larger fire torches which usually use part of tree trunk and need a chainsaw to make.

• Split a log into quarters.

• Bury it partially in the ground, so it’s vertical and stands firm.

• Fill the gaps with various sorts of tinder.

• Argue about the best materials and density of fillage.

• Try to light it with embers from very hot Siberian fire lay.

• Watch as your beautiful creation quite literally goes up in flames.

• Job done. Congratulate self.

• Place additional Swedish Fire Torches at intervals around camp to ward off wildlings and/or white walkers.



 Ämten lake 


 Down the river Uvan 

We paddle down the Uvan and through the town of Hagfors. It’s only been a handful of days, but the sight of civilisation is a little unsettling after spending so much of our time away in the wilderness. It’s tempered by the fact that we can stop at a Co-Op supermarket and buy a Magnum ice cream, which makes everything better.

We end up camping by a road on the north shore of Värmullen lake, which isn’t ideal, but is pleasant enough. We politely decline the offer of camping in someone’s garden, as that’d be too much of a culture shock.


DAG SJU

DAY 7: THE DEVIL’S IN THE PAGPAG

A final wilderness breakfast is cooked up - has anyone worked out a scientific reason why everything that’s cooked outside tastes so much better?


VOT IS POINT?

If you’re frustrated, or lost, or bewildered and feel like someone should justify their suggestion, then this clip from the BBC Radio 4 comedy show ‘Down The Line’ is for you. This became my motto at some points during the trip.


ROLLEI PORTRAITS

Having taken only a few pictures with the Rolleiflex along the way, I decide to take some portraits of everyone to wrap up the journey, since this is the last day. I use a light meter app called ‘Rex Light Meter’ to approximate the correct aperture and shutter speed settings. In the end I’m pleased with how they turned out, though the scanning process was more effort than I’d imagined.

↓ BEN & LIZZIE ↓


↓ LOU & MAX ↓


↓ TOMMY & LUCY ↓


⇡ Värmullen lake ⇡


The tour ends on the Uvan river, where we wash out our canoes and make our final LTP walk to Stjärnsfors Mill, where we are picked up and transported back to Gunnerud, and then on to Stockholm. Thanks wilderness. We had a great time.


🏢 EPILOGUE 🏤


DAG ÅTTA

DAY 8: STOCKHOLM IS WHERE THE HEART IS

It’s always a relief to come back to civilisation and be surrounded by architecture, culture and history (you get that in Europe) when you’ve been immersed in nature and wilderness for a decent period of time. That first hot shower, that first meal that isn’t cooked atop a Trangia stove that’s sitting on the floor, that first ice cold ‘adult’ beverage...





DAG NIO

DAY 9: STOCKHOLM WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY




ADDENDUM #1

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: A BOAT OUT OF WATER


ADDENDUM #2

HOUSES ON THE SHORE


ADDENDUM #3

🚷 SIGNS ⛔️


ADDENDUM #4

INSTANT FUJI INSTAX SNAPS FROM THROUGHOUT THE TRIP



Footnotes All Photographs taken with Panasonic Lumix GH4 / OnePlus Two or Rolleiflex 620, processed in Lightroom.
Bergslagen, Sweden

© 2020 Tommy Nagle

Follow me on Instagram @tommynagle

I have a good eye and a bad eye.

I like marzipan & fruity smelling hand soap.

Atlanta, USA > via London, UK.

Let's make stuff together.

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We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!