This year, the avid explorers that are Dan, Olie, Jack and I, decided to invade the beautiful wilderness of Sweden once more. After the success of last year’s trip, we decided to make a few changes. Not to make it any less successful, but to actually achieve the goal that we set for ourselves last year but did not accomplish. We wanted to live in the bush properly – no address, no WiFi, no electricity. A real escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the secure bubble of society. The only thing we would have is a hire car to get to our starting destination and the rucksacks on our back.
We only had three nights and four days, so decided that a hiking trail would be the best way to access the areas we wanted to get to and see what we wanted to see. After what seemed to be a lifetime of planning, we – or rather, Olie – finally discovered The Bergslagsleden. A 280KM (174 miles) trail, set almost perfectly in the centre of Sweden, running south to north. After reading into it and doing a bit of homework, it sounded perfect. The southern end runs through Tiveden National Park, the area we were in last year, and the northern end is known as ‘the most wild wilderness of Sweden’. It also happened to start just up the road from the town of Kopparberg. – the birth place of, well, Kopparberg cider. I was immediately sold by that alone.
Last year I wrote a journal and published it as the full article. This year, however, due to being in the wild every night, I didn’t want to risk my journal getting ruined, so I kept it very brief. So this time, I’ll write what I had in there but also add a few bits to it as we go along. The journal extracts will be italic and my comments are seperated. You’ll understand once we get going.
Day 1: Let’s Go
07 April 2017
So we’ve decided to return to Sweden, but this time we’ll do it properly. No cabin, no home, no address. Just our hammocks, boots and rucksacks. This time we go into the wild.
As now usual practice for our ventures, something has gone wrong already, and we haven’t even left England yet. It was all going to plan, we agreed that Sarah would be the airport taxi, drop us off, pick us up, simples. However, when packing the car it suddenly hit me. There are not enough seats. There was to be 1 driver and 4 passengers….in a 4 seater car. After numerous illegal suggestions were made –
I’ll point out here that Olie suggested we all cram inside and ‘F**k the seatbelts!’ Plus due to us leaving from one airport and coming home at another one, it wasn’t going to be as simple as just leaving the car there for the duration.
-the only logical solution that came to mind was that I would drop Jack and Olie at Stansted last night, go home, and Sarah would take me and Dan to meet them in the morning. It should be mentioned that the plan was made at 21:00 last night. I wasn’t at home until near 01:00am. I would have to be back at the airport just 4 hours later. So that happened and when I woke up from my 1 hour sleep last night and checked how Jack and Olie were getting on at the airport all I got from them was ‘We didn’t sleep, but we
did get drunk.’
So this bodes well.
The flight started off perfectly fine, but the lady who sat next to me insisted on using me as a pillow. I’m sadly far too nice to push a sleeping lady off my shoulder, so I just let her stay there. That was until I fell asleep and had one of those ‘holy crap I’m falling’ moments, suddenly jolted awake and scared the crap out of her.
I forgot how much I liked Skavska Airport, really does just feel like you’re landing in somebody’s field, sent into a shed and pushed out the other side. Far from the glamour and grandeur of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, it even makes Stansted look good. Anyway, the car hire man trusted the life of a very nice, shiny, new Skoda Fabia in my seemingly capable hands and we were off.
Everybody knows that a hire car is the best car you’ll find.
We knew exactly where we wanted to go, but had no road map. Preparation is everything! We drove to the local town, following an ‘information’ sign and Dan and Olie got out to find a map. Within 2 minutes of them closing the doors, I found a road map in Olie’s door. Just as well, because Dan and Olie soon arrived empty handed anyway.
So we set off for Tivedstorp, the same kind of area that we were in last year. After a couple of hours’ driving we needed to stop and take stock of exactly where we were and how far we had to go. Whilst this was still in discussion, I pulled the car into a small side road, flew into a car park and screamed to a halt right underneath a sign which read ‘Welcome to The Bergslagsleden’. One day my luck will run out. We weren’t where we wanted to be exactly, but only a couple of stages north. We were in Ramundeboda apparently. We were greeted by the first of many huge, beautiful lakes and just across the motorway we came off appeared to be an endless stretch of forest. Perfect.
The Bergslagsleden trail is one continuous route, but split into various stages. A to B, B to C, C to D. The start of each section has some sort of camp, or fresh water source, just something to keep you going. There are some circular routes mixed up amongst it and there’s nothing stopping you coming back on yourself anyway. So we decided that we would do one section in the southern end, where we were fairly familiar with and then spend the rest of the trip in the north sections.
We would do the stage that took us from Ramundeboda to Svarta Herrgard. A fairly straight forward, but nonetheless picturesque, 19km route. So we had a super quick change in the car park into our walking kit, donned our rucksacks, and were away, following the orange markers that keep you on the trail from beginning to end. Kind of like I was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with my three companions on our adventure down the yellow brick road.
In no time at all we were in the forest. It was fantastic to be back in the awesome silence and beauty of the Swedish wilderness. Not a person in sight. Not a sound to be heard. We reached a small hilltop that looked out upon miles and miles of pine forest, stretching into the horizon. All that was running through my head was the possibility of what might have been hiding in there, the animals, the rivers, and almost 100% of my dreams.
Parts of the forest had been maintained but the majority had been left to grow totally wild, huge boulders, ancient trees. Some of this area hasn’t been officially lived in by humans for thousands of years. With every step we were almost stepping back in time.
As the distance stretched on and energy began to fall, the group had begun to split slightly. Dan offered to walk with Jack if Olie and myself wanted to troop on ahead and find a camp at the end of the section. Of course, doing the honourable thing, and leading by the Musketeers fine example, we said ‘No! All for one and one for all!’ Actually…that didn’t happen. It was more like, ‘Sure, see you later!’ and off we went, skipping down our yellow brick road. Because splitting up in the Swedish wilderness is always a fantastic idea..
The idea was,of course, that as long as we stayed on the trail, followed the markers and just kept going, there was no doubt we would make it to camp and Dan and Jack would undoubtedly catch us up in no time. They’d arrive just as we had a fire going and a camp made before darkness fell. It just seemed to make sense.
No more than perhaps 2km along the trail we stumbled across a fairly fast flowing stream. Our final destination would almost be on the side of a lake, so we took this as a fairly good sign, whether or not it meant anything, we didn’t really know. We continued to climb a little hill and found a sign post informing us about a fresh spring that would provide clean drinking water. Suddenly ‘oh there it is!’ came from Olie. I looked around and couldn’t really see anything ‘the spring?’ I asked. I walked up a little further and saw it. Camp!
There it was. A shelter like the one we found last year, only timber framed. Three walls and a roof, but it was awesome. Alongside it was a huge log store, stacked with almost full length pine and birch trees. Just in front of the shelter was a huge stone fire pit and to top it off we had the natural spring to provide us with all the water we needed. Much sooner than we expected, Dan and Jack turned up and with a ‘this is brilliant,’ and threw their rucksacks to the ground. This was better than anything we were imagining, and a very welcome sight after an hours’ sleep and an almost 20km hike. We got the fire going and must have gotten through at least 3 trees worth of wood. We had dinner, sat around the fire and eventually fell asleep to the 2 most relaxing sounds in the world in my mind, the sound of the crackling fire and the flowing river beside us.
Day 2: ‘When in Rome’
07 Apr 2017
We woke up at about 10:00am. 12 hours of cold, broken, uncomfortable sleep was actually amazing! We made breakfast and packed fairly quickly as we still had to trek all the way back to the car then make the journey to Kloten, the northern end of the trail. Our plan had to be stuck to. We followed the route we took yesterday –
We – well, Jack – took a slightly different route. There were roads that weaved around the trail, cutting off a large section of it, so he followed that. We assumed it wouldn’t make any difference really and that we would quickly catch up. However we soon found him some way along the trail and he had actually been waiting for us for about 20 minutes. More fool us.
We made it back in good time. We only then decided to work out how far we walked. Something we probably should have figured out before we actually left yesterday. Anyway, we had walked about 25 km, a fair introduction to our Swedish adventure on The Bergslagsleden trail.
So we jumped in the car and headed for Kloten.. with an essential detour to Kopparberg on route.
Naturally, we needed to stop for supplies on the way, and Kopparberg was obviously the best place to that. It was just the most logical decision, after all, it was only about 20 minutes up the road from Kloten. Almost resembling the 1990’s TV show, Supermarket Sweep, we ran into the supermarket and basically grabbed anything that came into reaching distance. I went for a slightly more authentic taste; 1.5 litres of Kopparberg, a handful of weird sausage things, some reindeer jerky and a tonne of chocolate. Not quite camping food, but it seemed like a good decision. I then met Dan at the tills, who was holding some slightly more healthy and appropriate food. He looked at me with a ‘what the f**k?’ kind of glare, to which I just couldn’t help but think, ‘well…when in Rome, right?’
Back in the car and on the way to Kloten, we parked up next to a lake with a detailed map on a sign marking out some good shelters and camping spots. The hike from Kloten to Gillersklack was going to be a long stretch, so with the little time we had, we thought it was best to just find a nice spot to make camp not too far from the trail and return to it in the morning. We found a great spot on the map, with a shelter on a huge lake, tucked out of the way of anything else in the area, and headed straight for it.
It very quickly became obvious that we were in for a cold night as the lakes in the area were still partially frozen and there was snow on the ground. All part of the fun!
To get to our spot for the night we had to drive down a very small, dodgy track, completely grassed over with a few pointy rocks sticking out for good measure. Midway down this ‘road’ we had to send Olie out to shift a small tree that was blocking the way. With a few minor body work scratches and the undercarriage of the car probably completely ruined, we made it to the end of the road – a complete dead end with absolutely nothing in sight. Brilliant… I spotted something that could have resembled a structure of some sort and thought I’d have a quick look. As I approached it, it turned out to be not just one shelter but two. Sat right on the edge of a huge lake. The only sound that could be heard was the geese crash landing onto the water in the distance with the volume of a Boeing 747.
We quickly unloaded our kit and picked our sleeping spots. Dan and Olie threw their hammocks up, Olie’s almost hanging right over the water, Dan’s not so far away from camp and Jack and I took the shelters. More like Jack was banished to his own one for the sake of the group’s sanity. Dinner was made and during this process I decided it was time to pull out my sausage-
Behave. It was one sausages I bought in Kopparberg.
It was hard to tell if it was actually already cooked.. So I gave some to Olie to try. He thought it was fine, but after some examination, Dan, Jack and I thought it was definitely raw. There was something about the fresh butchers’ shop smell that really didn’t fill me with confidence. I cooked it just be sure, and now I’m waiting for Olie to be horrendously sick just to assure myself that it was a good idea to cook it. Then it was Dan’s turn. Dan’s turn to whip out his goodness –
Dan’s Flapjack made it all the way to Sweden! If there is anything to fill the heart and stomach of a person with joy, it’s Dan’s Flapjack.
So we all settled around the fire, with our Wayfayrer meals, weird sausage and Dan’s Flapjack in perfect time to watch the sunset behind the forest on the opposite side of the lake.
It’s now 23:15pm and I’m in bed. Listening to the humbling sounds of the geese on the lake, calling their families in for bed, and Jack, snoring away in his shelter. In fact, it sounds like Dan has just started to try and compete with him. Olie turned his light out a little while ago and all I can see in his general direction is complete darkness in the trees.
Tomorrow we head back to the top of the trail in Kloten. I think we’ll spend the next couple of days on the track, it’s going to be a long hike. Possibly another 30km and, according to my map, it’s mostly uphill.
It’s cold now. The fire is out and my hand is turning a funky shade of blue. Definitely time for sleep.
That night, I made the foolish mistake of thinking that if I put my sleeping mat, sleeping bag and wool blanket inside my emergency bivvy bag, I would be toasty warm. Wrong. The top tip that I totally ignored was actually, if you plan on sleeping in it, you should cut one of the sealed corners off at the end, to allow some ventilation. Without the ventilation there was nowhere for the heat to go, so it condensed on the inside of the bag and I woke up very damp indeed.
Day 3: To The North End
08 April 2017
This morning started pretty badly, to say the least. However the result at the end of the day totally made up for it.
I slept great, although it was pretty damn cold. I was woken by the sound of the geese on the water and a woodpecker somewhere in the distance, but I stayed in my little bubble of bedding for a little while longer. I must have fallen asleep again because before I knew it, Dan woke me by stepping into my shelter. I immediately sat bolt upright and slammed my head into the sloping roof, nearly knocking myself unconscious. Dan told me that he had been watching a red squirrel playing in the tree above him, so he was going off to ‘find some more nature’. I was the only other one in the camp who was awake, so I set about making a fire to get some breakfast and brews on. No matter how hard I tried however, I just couldn’t get the fire going.
Something that’s usually very rare for me. If there is something I’m good at, it’s building a campfire.
My patience thinned and after a few careful attempts I decided to take the ‘f**k it’ approach. I found the biggest piece of birch bark I could get my hands on, stacked on some thin twigs and buried the whole lot in a couple of huge pine branches. Notoriously great for burning. I lit the birch bark at the bottom and watched as it caught the pine branches, causing a huge spiraling tower of smoke and fire. I stacked on some larger sticks, and away I had it. I grabbed the pot that we used to boil water and took to the lake to fill it up. On my return I built what I thought was a great structure over the fire with two long logs, laying across it with a small gap between them for the flames to come through. I placed the pot over the gap and it worked perfectly… for 5 minutes.
Then something shifted, causing the logs to spread apart, subsequently tipping the pot all over the fire and extinguishing it. I probably woke Jack up with my screaming of all the profanities I could think of. So I started the whole process again. Fire made. Pot filled. Pot on top. Brilliant. Whilst the pot was doing it’s thing on the fire, I decided to chop some more wood. At which point I discovered how sharp Olie’s axe was-
Actually it was at the point when I slipped whilst splitting a bit of wood and the axe went into my thumb that I discovered how sharp it was.
Just as the water was boiling, the logs shifted again. The water came out. The fire went out. Fire built. Pot filled. Thumb bandaged. Water boiled. Dan walked back into camp and I think I said something like ‘Good morning Dan, I do hope you had a wonderful walk!’.. actually no…I’m actually certain it was more like ‘This better be the best f*****g coffee you’ve ever had.’
On a good note though, my sausage didn’t make Olie horribly sick at all. I still cooked another one for breakfast though. I just wasn’t willing to take that risk.
We got breakfast over and done with and left the camp with enough time to make it to Kloten and get on with the rest of our hike. Dan walked ahead of us as we drove down the track, moving more trees out of the way and about 20 minutes later we were in Kloten. The official start of The Bergslagsleden Trail. We pulled into a car parking area and began to unload our kit and pack up what we needed for our last night in the wilderness.
It was actually at this point that we discovered that you could drive a car with the keyless ignition start button without having the key anywhere near the car. Olie drove it down the road and I was stood, key in hand, in the car park. Really safe! Well done Skoda. Anyway-
As we started the trail we were greeted with the spectacular view of a beautiful frozen lake. We went down to the water’s edge to check it out, and it just felt strange looking at it whilst standing in the gorgeous blaring sun. Spring/Summer was definitely on it’s way here, but winter was still in for a fight. We immediately began the climb up the first of many, many hills. Straight into the heart of the wild pine forests of the Swedish Wilderness. The sudden feeling of being at home in this place was sensational. This is exactly where I wanted to be.
The map certainly didn’t lie when it showed that this section was uphill. It seemed to be continuously uphill for about 4 hours.
As we got even deeper into the wilderness and further away from civilisation, we stumbled across paths still covered with snow and even more beautiful frozen lakes. Picturesque just isn’t the word for these places.
Then, as we got even deeper into the woods, it was clear that we were in bear country too. Scattered along the trail was a fair amount of bear poo. What was unclear though was how fresh it was, it looked pretty fresh, but it was early morning and a bit boggy, so it might have been just wet anyway.
Kind of similar to a large cat poo, but you could see the berries etc that had been passed through. Interesting. A bit gross, but interesting.
Our final destination was to be one of two places. We saw on the map that there was a cabin, much like the one in Scotland which we stayed in a couple of years ago. It was apparently an old farm house, built into the side of the bottom of a hill. It had been refurbished and was open for use by anybody. It was next to a river and we thought this would be a pretty cool place to have our last night. If that didn’t work out though, we would trek just about 6km to another camping spot next to a lake.
Breath going, legs burning, feet about to explode, we reached the old farm house. Annoyingly however, it had been claimed by a family before we got there. So staying there was out of the question, but the short 6km trek no longer felt like just a short 6km trek.
We were actually so annoyed by this, we didn’t stop to take a picture of the house, but believe me, it was actually pretty cool. Here’s a picture of the river that ran down beside it though:
So with no choice, we continued our walk. In all fairness though, we couldn’t have been in a more beautiful place. Rolling hills, perfect silence, huge forests and lakes and the potential of being eaten by bears. To me, that’s perfect. To top it all off, I had heard that on this section you can often hear wolves howling in the distance too.
We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, but we knew that if we just pressed on, we would find our next camping spot. It was apparently on a lake, just off the trail, so that was fine. Although, every time we climbed a huge mountainous hill, we would see a lake, have that ‘finally!’ feeling, then the trail would take us in the opposite direction up another gargantuan hill. Until finally, after the third time of saying ‘it’s just around this hill guys, don’t worry,’ it was there. We were about 100m away from it, but it was already so much better than that damn farm house.
Right on the water, so much so that if it was any closer, it would be in the water. Another one of these shelters. Looking right out over the frozen lake and with a large fire pit right in front of it. This was amazing. Totally silent. We whistled and the echoes coming back to us were just as loud and crystal clear. The sound of the small rocks that we tossed onto the ice even came back to us. This was easily the best place we had stayed over the last few nights. We arrived with a good few hours of daylight left. Enough time to get a fire going, make some dinner and just sit around camp and relax in the serenity of the most wild wilderness of Sweden. We built the fire up enough to heat the inside of the shelter, climbed inside our sleeping bags and just laid there, listening to the crackling fire and fell asleep as the sun was still setting.
I was next to Jack which meant that I didn’t sleep much at all that night. Leading to a lot of rolling around trying to get comfortable and trying to sleep, which then woke up Dan, who then woke up Olie with his complaining about me trying to get comfortable.
I have now completely given up trying to get to sleep, thanks to Jack, so just sat here looking out over the lake. It must be about 03:00am It’s really chilly again but totally amazing. It’s pitch black out there in the forest but the moonlight is shining down and reflecting off the ice in front of me. It’s just incredible.
Sometimes I think I should thank Jack for his outrageous snoring…but not just yet.
Day 4: Let’s Go Home
09 Apr 2017
I finally got back to sleep and woke up at about 06:00am. I was straight up and dressed and set about getting a fire lit. This morning we had to leave much earlier than we had done over the last couple of days as we needed to get back to Kloten in time to make the near 3 hour journey to Arlanda airport for 17:00 to return the car. It was going to be a hell of a walk back too.
I must have been the first creature to stir in the whole forest, because it was totally silent as I was collecting wood. But as I returned to the shelter, a fish jumped out of the bit of water that hadn’t frozen, the birds started singing and a woodpecker was trying to get the sound of Jack’s snoring out of his head in the forest somewhere.
We made breakfast, I cooked my last sausage and had a vegetable curry Wayfayrer meal. If you ask me, I think that was a fine breakfast. Soon we were on our way again. To try and cut some time off, we agreed that we would follow the trail until it hit the road, then follow that road all the way back. Cutting out a few of those hills, and guaranteeing a timely arrival at the car. So we did. We came off the trail and had about 6 miles left to walk, which isn’t too far at all. Unless you have a heavy rucksack on, dead feet and long straight road to follow. It was fun. To keep myself occupied I counted the little lines that marked the edge of the road. 2523 lines later, we came off the road and back on to the track along side the first frozen lake we came across coming out of Kloten. Not 10 minutes later were back in the car. That was it. Done. Feeling like we were going to die, every part of us aching, hips rubbed raw from our rucksacks and feet blistering, we felt amazing. This was the feeling we set out to find. We wanted to feel like we had done something, and we did.
And so our 50km walk in the woods was complete. The relief was incredible, but a great sadness fell upon us all as well. With the lust for being back in our shelter on the lake still strong, we were headed back to civilisation and the everyday monotony of society.
Our adventure was done.
It wasn’t until we got to the airport and got back on the WiFi (the latest addition to humanity’s hierarchy of needs), that the messages from friends and family started pouring in, enquiring as to whether we were safe. We couldn’t understand why until we had a look at the BBC News page and found out that there had been a devastating terror attack in Stockholm just a day after we had landed. It was this that reinforced the reason that we had set out to do what we wanted to do – while Stockholm and the rest of the world were experiencing yet another tragic disaster, we were blissfully ignorant and comfortably numb in the natural surroundings of such a beautiful country, able to enjoy everything it had to offer while its own citizens were forced to mourn and become fearful. It’s a sad fact that, in today’s world, we can’t escape such atrocities for too long, but if we choose to, we can take a step back, walk into the wild and be reminded of the awesome force of nature and all that came before us and what will eventually be left behind.
Until next time Sweden, stay wild, stay beautiful and see you later
James, Dan, Olie, Jack