Our trip to Sweden started in the small country village of Granborough in Buckinghamshire, England. We had planned where we would be going, what we’d be doing and when whilst in Sweden, but had forgotten until the last minute to plan on how we were actually going to be getting to Stansted Airport to actually get to Sweden. Thankfully, Dan’s mother had, perhaps rather reluctantly, agreed to get up at 04:00 to drive us there, so we all took our kit to Dan’s farm the previous night for a final kit check and prep. Olie, Jack and I bunkered down on the living room floor for our last sleep in England and Dan obviously opted for his own, comfy double bed. Which was a very good idea we realised as soon as Jack fell asleep. Jack is skilled in the art of being able to just completely switch off and fall asleep instantly, he also has a skill of being able to keep everybody else awake whilst he is asleep. The noises he makes in his sleep are unlike anything I have heard a human make, and that’s all in between his snoring too. So Olie and I must have had about 3 hours sleep between us by the time our alarms sounded and it was time to get up. I’ll admit at this stage I was not in the best of moods, and pre-warned Jack that he’d be sleeping about a mile away from camp if he continued to make his noises.
Anyway, breakfast was had, the journey was made and we boarded the plane.
This article will be written differently, as it will be taken almost directly from a journal I wrote during the whole trip. Written mostly at the end of each of the four days.
‘On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it’
26th April 2016
Day 1: ‘Definitely a Moose’
We made it. I was sat by myself on plane, next to a couple who were basically making love. Headphones in. Bruce Springsteen on. Eyes shut. Sweden! We realised just yesterday that we weren’t actually flying into Stockholm itself and that was made perfectly clear when we did actually touch down. It was more or less a field surrounded by forest with a runway on it. The ATC tower was more like a shed with a radio. A wonderful welcome to Sweden and that theme continued. We hired a car for the week which the website had claimed was a ‘VW Polo or Similar’. Olie sorted all the documents and collected the key to a Skoda Octavia. Fair enough. I had previously owned a Skoda Fabia and was fairly sure that they were basically the same car to an extent. However, what we found in the car park was a brand new, massive estate model. Suddenly our worries of fitting a total of 8 large bags into a small car were totally forgotten.
We made the 2 and a half hour drive to where our cabin was located, picking up some essentials on the way (chocolate, beer and, of course, steak). Driving through the spectacular scenery, resembling the forests and prairies you’d find in Canada and the US, we eventually hit the last road to our destination, which was more like a rally WRC track through the pine forest that was framing a huge, beautiful lake. We had found a cabin on Airbnb which seemed ideal for what we had planned. We would use it as a base, prep our camping kit and then head into the forest for a couple of nights. We pulled down a dusty side track into a ranch where the cabin was located, with horses galloping along the edge of the woods on a hill above us – I knew this was already going to be awesome. We were greeted by an absolutely gorgeous Swedish female called Marley – a huge St Bernard who was incredibly soppy.
Annemiek (our host) came out of her red wooden house to properly greet us and show us to our cabin. Actually, the first thing she showed us was the toilet, a bucket in a small outhouse, then the cabin. It was fantastic, everything that I could want in a cabin in the woods. A simple structure, log burning stove, a double bed in one room and a small kitchen in the other with a fridge for the beer and steak. Up a small wooden ladder were two single mattresses in a small loft area. When Annemiek asked if we would like her to bring down another fold up bed from the main house, we refused and said that we would be happy to share the double bed. God knows what she thought of us.
After putting the compost bucket toilet to the test, we decided to have a recce of the area we’d be calling home for the week – the huge forest on the lake we had just driven by. We followed a track that took us along side the lake (featured image). The forest was enormous, almost never-ending and completely untouched. It had mostly been left to run itself naturally with very little help from man or machine, so parts really looked prehistoric with huge ferns and gigantic pines reaching into the sky. The ground was littered with boulders and rocks throughout and the small trail was only just recognisable winding around into the distance. Beautiful. Olie and I decided to test the temperature of the water by having a small paddle. Cold. Not unbearable. But cold. We were putting our boots back on when we realised just how silent the whole area was. Tranquillity just isn’t the word. No traffic noise, no aircraft noises, no people. Just the sound of the wind through the trees and the birds calling to one another. That’s when we heard it. Something broke the silence. The sound of an animal drinking from the lake, hidden by two islands in front of us, but it was loud and must have been a big animal. Definitely a moose. Nothing else. Definitely a moose. We never got a glimpse though.
We took a stroll back to the cabin and I started to make a beef stew with nothing but beer and a bit of pepper for a sauce. As I was at the cooker, Annemiek’s husband arrived at the front door, but instead of being a huge Viking of a man that we were expecting, it was Mr Miyagi! An incredibly friendly, super smiley Japanese man. He’d come to fix the water pump or something. I can’t remember his name, so he’ll be called Mr Miyagi for the rest of the week.
It’s now 21:30. Stew eaten. Coffee made. Fire stoked. Feet up. Chill. Plan day 2. Can’t wait.
27th April 2016
Day 2: ‘The Big Swim’
Up at 07:30. Frost on the ground. Clear blue sky. One coffee down and another on the go.
Today is camp day. We had made a plan last night to possibly find some canoes from somewhere around here and follow a canoe route marked on the map. There are a few portages on the route which would be cool, but I have a feeling that plan sadly wont materialise. Anyway, up and at them!
Rucksacks packed and donned, we followed the same route as yesterday but continued around the lake even further to the other side which we discovered was actually just a peninsular, opening up the rest of the lake which was far bigger than we had even imagined. During this process though, we lost Dan. I had dropped behind to take advantage of a huge boulder that was just sticking up from the water. I jumped across from the mainland and with more luck than judgement, landed safe and dry. I sat down, took in the view and caught some time to appreciate the silence and serenity of the whole area. I was falling in love with it. The water was almost perfectly still and reflected the scenery like a mirror. I picked up a small rock and tossed it into the water and just watched as the ripples grew larger and larger from the splash. A small while later I put my pack back on and caught up with Olie and Jack who informed me that Dan had walked off to find a way around a swampy area to reach the other side. Assuming he wouldn’t be too far away, we went in the same rough direction that he apparently took. We reached the other side of the bog and up into the pines once again. No sign of Dan whatsoever. The silence was no longer as welcome as it was before because we couldn’t even hear him. A small track that must have been created by a vehicle once upon a time cut through the middle of forest. Jack decided to walk along it and Olie and I headed for the water’s edge on the opposite side to see if we could get a view of Dan along the edge of the trees. Nothing. What we did find, however, was an old rotting row-boat that was crumbling apart and had plant life growing from the inside. We dug it out a little bit and decided to see if it still worked as a boat. As soon as we started to move it, it broke in half. Needless to say, once it was on the water it didn’t even work as a surf board. A good 45 minutes and few yells of his name had passed and we still had no sign of Dan. We worked our way back onto the track and eventually caught up with Jack who had found Dan walking around the edge of the water on the bog side of the lake, looking for a suitable camp spot. He hadn’t been eaten by a bear. We continued our search for our perfect camping spot as a group but what we had in our mind, just couldn’t be found. We camp with hammocks, so we wanted a nice, fairly open area ideally with a great view over the lake and a spot to make a fire. The problem with such a huge, natural, untouched, forest is that the trees and the rest of the plant life grow either incredibly close to each other or fairly spread out, depending on the size of the trees and how much light gets through. We opted to return to where Olie and I had paddled yesterday. That spot had everything we needed and worked perfectly. We took the hour’s walk back to the spot and set up camp. I immediately stole a spot that was right on the water’s edge, so much so that if I was to get out of the wrong side of my hammock, I’d get pretty wet, but I had a stunning view across the water and down the middle of the two islands. Further down the edge of the water was a huge flat boulder that we climbed onto and made a fire over looking the lake and settled in for the duration of the day. I carry a fire making kit in my pack but didn’t need it at all. The bark from the birch tree is so paper-thin and due to the oils inside it will burn even when damp, so all we needed was a spark and we had a fire. The weather was also on our side as we hadn’t had any rain and the ground was crisp and dry. We had a fire going in under a minute.
Then the decision was made. ‘I’m going in,’I said as I was looking over the lake. After testing it yesterday I knew that it was bearable and a little swim wouldn’t be too much of a stupid idea. In fact, to me, it was a wonderful idea. I have a problem which means that, when I see water, I need to jump in it and sometimes, like today, I just can’t stop myself. So I stripped off and traded my hiking gear for some shorts, put the boots back on and, cameras ready, strolled straight in. It was actually very pleasant; pretty cold, absolutely stank but was very pleasant.
My aim was to reach the opposite island, behind which lived The Moose. The beautiful silence was soon completely shattered when the water line reached a ‘testicular altitude’ and I let out an echoing scream. Not to be put off though, I soldiered on and braced myself for a proper swim. However, no matter how far I went in, it was only waist height. So as graceful as a chimp you see on one of Attenborough’s shows wading through water, I reached the edge of the island and hauled myself out with a triumphant roar from both myself and the rest of the group on the other side. I explored the tiny island for a little while before jumping back into the water. After a little more splashing around I made my way back across to the others and stripped off next to the fire with about the same grace as a chimp once again. I think Jack is mentally scarred for life. I dried myself off and put my warm, dry clothes on. After laying all of my clothes out in front of the fire to dry off, we made some dinner and watched the sun set into the forest across the water. The wind died, the birds slept and we were in a world of total silence with the crackling fire for company. My clothes dried off fairly quickly, I have strung a washing line beneath my canopy to finish them off, all but my underwear which accidentally caught fire, so they’ve gone now. We let the fire die down and eventually made our way back to the hammocks. I’m incredibly proud of my set up right now, except for the fact that I have hitched it far too high and I actually needed a boost up to get inside, but it’s totally worth it.
28th April 2016
Day 3: ‘The Great Moose Hunt’
I fell asleep as soon as I was settled into my sleeping bag and before the others even got into their hammocks I think. I did wake up not too long after though when the cold eventually got to me, but I hunkered down into the bottom of my sleeping bag and warmed up, however I stayed awake for most of the night and finally got a little bit of sleep when the sun started to rise. Right now everybody is still asleep and I’m laying here looking over the water, listening to the birds waking up. What I’m also listening to however, is that damned elusive moose drinking from the lake again. Almost teasing me as the sound of the lapping echoes around the lake, totally out of sight.
So day 3 begins.. I don’t know what we have planned for today.
Back in the cabin. Coffee drank. Maps read and plans made. It’s raining. Today we are on a moose hunt. We’re headed for Tiveden National Park where there WILL be moose. I’ll catch you up later.
Ok, long story short.. there were no moose out there.
So our day trip started with a stop off at a Netto shop, a bit like Lidl, in the town of Askersund to get what will possibly be our last dinner together as tomorrow night I’ll be at the airport. Tonight we’re making meatballs. When in Sweden…. On a very basic map of the region we’re in, which resembles a map from Disneyland, there are images of moose all over the place, so we picked one and headed for it, somewhere called Röfors. It was an absolutely stunning area, filled with pine forests, small lakes spread all over the place, enormous rocks and boulders and absolutely no moose. We were enjoying the scenery so much through the windows of the car as we were cruising around that we totally forgot to park up and get out and ended up miles down the road at our original planned destination of Tiveden National Park. I thought the area around the cabin was prehistoric looking, but Tiveden National Park was something else. The road we drove down was cut straight through the middle of the rocks and on each side was an enormous expanse of totally untouched, natural woodland. No footpaths, no tracks, just pure green nature and it was beautiful. We turned down a very small dust track which took us winding down to a perfectly secluded lake with a small bothie sat just above it in the trees. We parked up and headed into the woods on the opposite side of the track to the lake and decided to have a little climb up some of the enormous boulders and rocky platforms in the woods. We found a huge, old pine tree that had fallen and, as we reached the root end of it, we found that it had originally started growing in the moss on one of these enormous rocks, it must have just gotten too heavy for the moss to hold onto it and had come away.
We walked in a large circle and wound up near the small lake again and, seeing the bothie next to it, the temptation was too great for me and I split from the group, ran down the hill, across the track and up to it. It wasn’t a bothie like the one we had stayed in during our trip to Scotland, but rather an open faced, lean-to timber structure with a concrete fire pit in front. Completely forgetting the rest of the group, (I was in my dream location after all) I gathered some dry logs that somebody had left nearby and, demonstrating how well birch bark burns in the wet perfectly, got a fire going in the fire pit. Attached to the wall of the bothie was a small wooden box, so being nosey, I opened it and found a hardback notebook and a pen. I sat down on the edge of the shelter, under cover from the rain and had a read. Very few entries were written in English, unsurprising really, but those that were shared the same emotions as I did for the area. The place was heaven for somebody like me. Suddenly, the concept of time had struck me and I realised that I had been apart from the other three for a while now and they didn’t know where I had gone. I heard my name being called and I called back but they mustn’t have heard as I got no response. Olie and I had agreed that if we were split from the group we could make an owl noise by blowing through our hands. The noise travels a great distance and it was just a bit fun anyway. I called out with that noise, and we finally got back into contact. I thought it best to stay where I was and have them hone in on me to save us missing each other or walking in different directions. I collected a few wet pieces of pine branch with the needles still on and stuck them on the fire to make a huge plume of smoke that would have been easily visible if they were nearby. The plume of smoke rose into the air perfectly as planned but, as I far as I could tell, went unnoticed. A small time later though, I heard Dan call my name from the edge of the woods on the other side of the track. I called back and he came and joined me at the bothie. Olie came soon after. We collected a bit more wood and got the fire nice and big. At this point they both decided to inform me that they had actually left Jack in the car, a little further down the track, thinking that I may eventually return there when I split off. We sent Olie off to bring the car a bit further up and when he and Jack returned we took the opportunity to get a group picture together.
Before everybody joined me, when I was sat in the shelter next to the lake with a fire burning, totally secluded and silent, there was a wonderful moment where it struck me that this is exactly what I want to do and where I want to be in life. Something had suddenly clicked and the realisation was incredible.
I left a note in the book and we let the fire burn out and headed for the cabin for our last night there.
So our moose hunt didn’t result in any moose, mooses or meece. I’m happy though and a good day was had by all. I have just eaten the meatball dinner which was delicious, Dan made them from scratch and they were fantastic.
Dinner eaten. Fire burning. Whisky and Beer flowing and James Taylor playing ‘Fire and Rain’. Fitting for the end of a rather wet but superbly relaxing day 3. Goodnight.
29th-30th April 2016
Day 4 and 5: ‘The Last Leg’
Eggs boiling. Coffee made. Fire lit. Packing started. Today we are going to wing it. Our last full day in Sweden and last hour or so of having our cabin. The plan so far is to get an extension on the car rental for an extra day, giving us time to either go into central Stockholm or another nearby town. If they don’t let us rent it for another day, I think we’re a bit stuffed. I’m off to do some packing and get some breakfast in me. Let’s see what happens..
Well.. it’s about 00:45am, so actually it’s the 30th April 2016 right now. I packed my book away and only just retrieved it from my bag as I’m sat at a table in a deserted cafe in the airport. It’s all merged into one day tody really. So what happened?
My breakfast of boiled eggs was good. They were supposed to be soft and runny but turned out completely hard boiled because I got a bit distracted, but they were edible. We packed our bags and said goodbye to Mr Miyagi, who said we should come back in the summer to pick some mushrooms. Without hesitation he ensured us that they won’t be for smoking, but we know what he was really thinking. Annemiek came out to say goodbye and wish us well. Both very honest and kind people who I thank, along with the others, for their hospitality and for not worrying too much when we disappeared into the woods not to return for two days. We packed the car up and Dan had beaten me to shotgun, so I settled for the back seat. Just as we were about to pull away I made Olie stop the car. I climbed out, ran across the yard and said my final goodbyes to Marley. Tears shed and numbers swapped, I parted ways with the beautiful Swedish female.
Our first port of call was the airport to try our luck at extending the rent. I couldn’t be bothered to go with Olie, so waited for the verdict in the car. Whatever he said to the man, it worked and we were allowed the car for another day and a half. Plenty of time. So we hit the road, still with the hope of getting a glimpse of a moose, hoping that the fact we were leaving the country soon might just increase our luck a little bit. We cruised around and explored some more forest roads and suddenly spotted the sea in the distance, not too far away from us at all. So we decided to try and find some forest next to the sea and have a final fire with a sea view. We eventually found a small empty car park with what seemed to be a nice little walk down to some trees on the water’s edge. I was dressed for the airport at this time, so instead of getting on the plane stinking of camp fire smoke, I stripped off once again and put my hiking gear back on. The others were still not getting used to me stripping off. We started to walk down the path and, instead of finding a nice spot in the forest, we found a deserted sandy beach in what appeared to be a large cove, framed with cliffs and forest. We knew immediately that we would now spend the afternoon there. We picked up some drift wood and broke up a huge fallen tree and built a nice big fire right there on the sand. The rain of yesterday had totally moved away and the sky was clear and the sun was hot. If it was England, that beach would have been packed, but it was deserted for the whole afternoon we were there. We had the place to ourselves to chill out and relax, laying in the sun. Of course I couldn’t help myself but get into the water again. I rolled up my trouser legs and went for a paddle. What struck me was how crystal clear the water was and how, even though it was the Baltic sea, it wasn’t particularly ‘baltic’.
The other three wandered off to explore the woods at the end of the beach and I was more than happy to stay laying in the sun next to the fire on the beach. It was heaven. They eventually returned and we got our last group picture.
Before we knew it, it was already 20:00 and we had to make a move. I am due to fly home almost a day before the other three because I am going to see Bryan Adams and I stupidly double booked, so had to buy another plane ticket to get home. So I fly out at 06:30am (30/04/16) and they depart tonight at about 22:15. I thought it would be easier to try and get my head down for the night in the airport instead of getting a hotel or sleeping in the car like the other three have opted for. Anyway, we left the beach and drove into Nyköping, a town just a 10 minute drive from the airport. We tried to find somewhere to get a meal altogether before I left them, but everywhere was shut and the town was completely empty. For a Friday night, the night life was non-existent. We had very little choice but to go to a Burger King we had passed on the way into town. Somewhere I try to avoid, but it was all we had. After some food we got back into the car and tried a very final dusk search for moose. If we were to find any, dusk would be the optimum time as they are most active during dusk and dawn when it’s quietest. We drove for a couple of hours, down some seriously dodgy ‘tracks’ that a rental car probably shouldn’t be driven down, but found nothing at all. So they dropped me here at the airport. I think they’re on the way to central Stockholm right now, but planning to sleep in the car in a lay by or somewhere.
So here I am now at 01:00 in a deserted coffee shop in Skavsta Airport. For some reason I can’t sleep in public places so I’m just sitting here staring at the ceiling waiting to make my final trip in a few hours, through security and onto the plane for home where I’m hoping my lovely girlfriend Sarah will be waiting for me at arrivals with a seriously strong coffee.
Sweden: The final thoughts section
Whether we’d all admit it or not, it seemed to me that the four of us were each looking to gain something different from this trip. Whether it be the wilderness and serenity, some peace, self reliance, independence or just those bloody moose. But I know that I have certainly come back with something personal within me and I’m hopeful that the others did too. I think this was the first time the four of us have spent this much time with each other since our friendships began about 20 years ago and personally I enjoyed every moment of it and I put that down to our shared love for what we were there for to start with. Adventure.
Sweden is a stunning country and one I will return to in the not too distant future. With enormous forests and beautiful lakes merging into one, it is everything I love about this world. Mix that with the freedom to roam laws and you have yourself a very happy camper.
One word of wisdom though; I have been told many times by many different people that Sweden and Norway have a moose problem, so much so that they have to be controlled due to overwhelming population. However, the only problem that we found with the moose is that there weren’t any.