Before I visited Sweden I imagined a land where everything was very well ordered and organised, the people beautiful and well styled and where the landscape was lush and green.
What I found was that everything was true apart from the lush and green bit, as I had hit the hottest and driest summer on record.
I arrived in mid June for the summer season in to work as a kayak guide for Nautopp kayak centre in Grebbestad, which seamed to be the hub of the local kayaking scene.
It seamed that every house in the area had some kind of sea fairing vessel to take advantage the picaresque and amazingly accessible archipelago that runs the entire length of the west Swedish coastline, an archipelago
which makes the Bohuslän coastline one of the best paddling locations I have visited.
Bohuslän is the name of the province which runs from the boarder of Norway to Gothenburg and almost as far inland as the midpoint of Sweden between Gothenburg and Stockholm Sweden’s capital located on the east coast. Its this region that en compasses almost all of the islands on the west coast.
A number of reasons make this area so special, which I think is often an ideal environment for the beginner to intermediate paddler.
There are numerous ‘put in’ spots, and with almost zero tidal fluctuation launching and landing is mostly a doddle.
For an area with no tide and hard granite rock, there is a surprising abundance of sandy beaches, and out on the islands 100’s of free places to camp.
Being a relatively technologically advanced country you will find mobile phone reception generally good, and in Grebbestad there is a whopping great big mobile phone transmitter, providing near perfect reception out on the islands until you reach the very outer islands.
And probably as you’d expect there is also the complete luxury of being able to rent or buy top quality gear.
Sweden has a pedigree of good outdoor kit, brands like Trangia, Fjällräven, and Haglofs are all Swedish brands.
I like the fact Swedes tend to take their time, and like to plan to get things right before they start, so bad gear normally doesn't fit the equation.
My first experience of sea kayaking in earnest happened on mid summers, which happens to be a celebration that almost eclipses Christmas in the annual diary of Swedish celebrations.
Its typical for shops to close for 2 of 3 days, as the wheels of industry fall silent the cheers of parties and giddy excitement at the sun setting and rising in the very small hours sets everyone off in a very festive mood.
No annual celebration of this magnitude would be complete without food and drink taking a high president, and of course Sweden is no exception!
The local delicacy for new year in this part of Sweden seamed to be very fish based, and mostly salmon in various forms, but to my understanding Gravlax being the most tradition at this time of year.
Gravlax is cured Salmon using sugar and salt, and is completely delicious, one could probably eat mountains of it, its that good.
Strawberries are also very popular, with recipes turning the humble yet delicious strawberry into something less humble and even more delicious.
Now if drink is of importance, the traditional drink to accompany this festivity is sure to be Schnapps, but if you prefer something else drop into your local ‘systembolaget’ (basically a brand of off-licence in Sweden) for an experience that will massage every aspect of your opulent nature.
It seamed that every alcohol was on offer and displayed in a way you might expect from a high end fashion retailer. My favourite tipple was a locally brewed craft beer which to my educated taste buds seamed excellent, or at the very least was mighty thirst quenching!
The archipelago which stretches south from the Norwegian boarder down the west coast and on to Gothenburg, is huge and you could happily spend a month or more exploring island to island, in fact I did meet various couples and individuals doing just this.
Although there are very few facilities out on the islands, most beaches will have some flat ground to pitch a tent for the night, and as long as you follow the usual guidelines of wilderness camping, and throw in a good pinch of salty common sense, you will most probably encounter very few problems.
Water can be refilled of bought at most towns and villages along the coast as well as many great restaurants, if you don't fancy ‘Pasta again!”.
The exposed west facing shores of the outer archipelago do receive swell on a fairly regular basis, which is often an ideal play environment for the intermediate level kayaker.
Being such a beautiful and accessible archipelago there can be a lot of boat traffic especially in summer, which can cause both hazard and safety, i.e. don't get hit by one! but if you do have to call for help on channel 16 of your VHF, there will most lightly be someone close by during the summer season.
There is pretty much zero tidal fluctuation here, so no tidal planning to worry about, there are some ocean currents to take into account on the outer islands but these are predictable and not particularly strong, and I found I rarely needed to take this into account.
Wind is by far the most important factor to watch here, as it can blow in any direction but most often comes from the west or some variation of west from NW to SW, it is with this direction of wind there will most lightly to be some sort of local wind generated swell, however large long period ground swells rarely make it in here.
Luckily the forecasting I found very good and the usual apps I use seamed to have a good degree of accuracy. I tend to use ‘Windy’ for a visual over view, ‘YR’ for a snap shot view, ‘Predict wind’ because it uses 4 data models and ‘SMHI’ which is the most used Swedish forecasting site.
One of my most memorable kayaking experiences was kayaking the ‘weather islands’ (or in Swedish ‘Väderöarna’) which are located directly SW of Grebbestad.
The remoteness and sense of a genuinely finding one of Swedens hidden treasures is denoted by the crystal clear water, dramatic rock formations, and splendid isolation.
During the summer many of the islands have a 100 meter exclusion zone around them as they are important breeding areas for sea birds and seals, as well as having a rich diversity of other marine life. There are however there are a handful of islands to explore, and trips to the islands can be taken daily via a boat called “Donalda’ run by the ever charismatic couple Lisbeth and Torsten. Kayaks can also be taken aboard, and you can either spend a night or two on the main island or just go for a day trip.
Accomodation can be booked through www.vaderoarna.com as wild camping is almost non existent out here due to the exposed nature of the islands making most of them barren strips of rock.
For the more experienced kayaker, the islands can be reached under your own steam, as long as you have a good weather window, your accomodation booked, and fuel in the tank!
The Bohuslän area is interesting and not only for its paddling and the bronze age rock carvings in Tanum in the North Bohuslän are on the world UNESCO list for their historic importance.
I was living in this area and managed to find 2 other non marked sites where I literally just stumbled across bronze age rock carvings!
In The countryside there offers opportunities to spot some interesting wild life, I saw my very first red squirrel, beaver and moose, which was very wonderful to see indeed, and out on the water, the eider duck is a common site, along with oyster catchers and Cormorants, and the occasional seal too, although these tend to stick to the outer islands is the peak of summer, I can only assume to the large volume of boat traffic.
Nautopp kayak centre in Grebestad where I was working was probable the best located and kitted out centre I have ever had the privilege to work at, it is run by 2 very competent kayakers Torbjorn and Katarina, who bought the shop in 2016, and relocated their previous shop from Lysekill into the new premises in Grebbestad.
They offer a mix of courses, tours, equipment hire and a kayak centric retail outlet that will get the juices flowing of any sea kayaker worth his or her salt!
As I mentioned at the beginning, I arrived in one of the hottest and driest summers ever, which was amazing but it did cause some problems. Forest fires in the north of Sweden were devastating and because of the tinder dry conditions there was a complete fire ban for the whole of August, which included gas stoves. Whether this will translate into a seasonal weather pattern is not known, but it is possible complete fire bans will be in force in future summers to prevent risk of fires damaging fragile eco systems and causing damage to farmland and housing.
The pros and cons of a paddling trip in Sweden.
It has a huge amount of sheltered water hidden in the intricate lace of islands that stretch the Bohuslän coast line.
Logistics are easy, as equipment is usually good quality and easy to obtain, almost everyone speaks a good degree of English, and put in spots are plentiful.
Free camping! Free or wild camping is such a privilege because in most countries it is illegal, and in my option it should be a right for people to wild camp, but as is often the case its the few which spoil it for the many. So just because the camping is free please have the utmost respect for the environment and who else you maybe sharing your space with.
No tide. OK, this could be a pro or a con but if your looking for the type of destination where you don't have to paw through a tidal stream atlas or calculate the flow angle and rate from a tidal diamond, this is the holiday for you!
Expensive, Ok it’s not as expensive as some nordic countries such as Norway and Iceland, but it is expensive so this needs to be factored in if your on a budget, but if not ‘party Wane, party on Garth’!
Sweden is a very organised and ordered country and to most situations that its great but occasionally things can seam fairly overly regulated. Its not necessarily a bad thing but can catch you by surprise occasionally.
No chance of learning the local lingo everybody speaks near prefect English, apparently we have Holly wood to thank for this.