CANOEING IN DALSLAND – SWEDEN
It was the last day of my canoe journey in Dalsland so that morning, for the first time since leaving the hire company base, I put on my watch. I had to make a rendezvous with the outfitters van to return the canoe, equipment and myself to the start of the journey. It had been an interesting few days travelling without a watch at my own natural pace, doing my own thing and having just me for company. I therefore knew it was 7.30 when I put the boat on the water and set off on the final leg of my journey along part of the Dalsland Canal. I guess up to then the passing of time had been measured subconsciously in a number of ways; paddle strokes, how long it took to paddle to a point, when I felt thirsty, hungry or tired, when I wanted to swim, and when the sun set and rose. All rhythms of the day, all rhythms of canoe travel.
On the lake it was a flat calm and the opposite shoreline which consisted of stands of birch and Scots Pine was in the sunshine and was perfectly mirrored in the unruffled surface of the water. It was cold paddling in the shade so I slowly angled the canoe further out into the lake to reach the warmth of the sun. I knew it would be hot by 8 and in a couple of hours I would be seeking shade from the sun during the main heat of the day. This was a perfect September holiday; no one about, not bugs and flies and fantastic weather. I checked the map, set my sights on an object in the distance and set off paddling for my first goal, a headland graced by a prominent tree. With the steady cycle of paddling becoming a subconscious process and the physical activity providing rich in oxygenated blood to the brain the mind is free to wander and contemplate. During my journey I had thought a lot about home and my children, my life and work. Navel gazing I guess, but it gets life into perspective and recharges you for more of the reality of home and work. I switched paddling sides for balance and efficiency. I thought about the trip, the miles paddled, the high and low points.
I would have to say that the best bird encounter was watching an osprey hunting for fish. I had heard the bird first but then glimpsed its distinctive silhouette through some trees. I quickly pulled over into the reeds and slid down to lie in the bottom of the boat to watch. I was rewarded by the bird moving ever closer towards my position, before finally plunging into the water in the quest for a meal. Alas actual wildlife encounters are not like those on the television and the bird came up with nothing in its talons; disappointing for me but devastating for the osprey who was as keen as me to have its elevenses.
I also spent a lunchtime watching a family of black-throated divers quarter the bay fishing. Individually they would put their heads under the water to take a look before diving down to chase their quarry. Once on the surface they would regroup and move on, their low shape in the water so efficient is chasing their quarry through the reed beds. I sat there willing them to vocalize as their call is so, so evocative of the northlands. There were also herons and goosanders a-plenty, and with the occasional cormorant they testified to the abundance of small fish there were to be found in the area. I had seen evidence of beaver; felled trees, tracks, wood chippings and structures, but of the animal itself not a sign.A moose early one morning had made an appearance on the opposite shore in the reeds but of the other mammals found in the area, wolf, bear and lynx, no sign this year. I could always come back.
I had reached the headland and quickly chose another point to navigate to before continuing with my reverie. I had met few people along the way such as lock keepers, other paddlers and boat users, but August is a quiet time as the Swedish children are all back at school. The lock keepers were all very helpful, handing out ropes for me to hold on to and did not mind working their locks for just one canoe to pass. They have long busy days during June and July but as the season winds downs they might only see one or two boats in a day. Most locks had to be passed through for which there is a small charge, but some could be bypassed and I was always informed of this by the friendly lock keepers. They also notified the next lock keeper by radio that I was on my way and so for a lone traveller kept me safe. Of other canoes I saw a couple a day and they were crewed mainly by Germans who also have a similar summer holiday period to us. There was motor boat traffic with a few pleasure boats but there were also a couple of quite interesting craft. One was a very slow square hulled raft on which sat a caravan; apparently you can hire this raft to carry your caravan on holiday. It was going so slowly that I was sure I could have paddled faster than it, and I do not know what they would have done if the wind had got up! The noisiest craft I encountered was a canoe and I could hear it well before I could see it. The first thing I recall was a faint sound of an engine in the distance but as it approached sounded like a very large mosquito. It seemed to take an age to come towards me, pass and then finally recede into the distance. The two occupants gave me a cheery wave as they passed and they were covering more distance than I but at what cost. They could not talk over the sound of the engine and even in the heat of the day they were wearing windproofs to keep warm. The only good thing to say about the engine is that it would have been a perfect pleasure to turn it off at the end of every day!
My stomach was telling me it was time for something to eat, and spying a swimming platform in the sun it seemed like a perfect opportunity for an extended lunch break. Everyone would find that the lakes are warm enough to swim in, and with plenty of man-made amenities and the naturally occurring picnic sites, there is always somewhere to provide a diving platform. Lying in the sun drying off after my swim, the breeze bore the warm scent of the pine forest and I could have been anywhere in the world and not just a three-hour paddle from the nearest town and the end of the trip. In the afternoon I took a detour to have a look at some ancient rock carvings and then to check out one of the many campsites along the way.
The campsites are all marked on the map and they are maintained by the campsite service DANO. You have to have a Nature Conservation Card to use these sites and some of their cost is offset by this levy. Wood is provided for fires, there are ecological toilets, and some sites have wooden shelters. The sites have been carefully selected to minimise disturbance on the environment but are located on attractive points of land or islands. At the end of every trip there are always the mixed emotions of wanting to turn home to see the family, and the sadness at the end of a great journey. I was to finish at Haverud where a series of locks and an aqueduct associated with a waterfall, railway and road bridge, forms one of Dalslands major tourist attractions. As a lone canoeist passing through the locks, it felt a fitting climax to the time spent on the journey. As I arrived at the top of the locks the weather seemed to sense my mood and it changed as cold wind blew in from the north; it was the first time in a week that I had to put on a windproof. At the bottom of the locks I lifted my canoe out of the water for the last time as large rain drops began to drop from the sky; perfect timing!
FROM WIKIPEDIA Dalsland is a Swedish traditional province, or landskap, situated in Götaland in southern Sweden. Lying to the west of Lake Vänern, it is bordered by Värmland to the north, Västergötland to the southeast, Bohuslän to the west, and Norway to the northwest.
The province has a low population density of around 14 inhabitants/km2 and just one town of significant size: Åmål. The total population numbers 50,604. The uninhabited areas are characterized by dense forests in the northwestern uplands and lakes in the east, giving rise to the epithet, commonly used for Dalsland, of “Sweden’s lake province”.
The Latinized name Dalia, which was often used to name Dalsland in older prints, can still sometimes be encountered.