Shock and oar on a Norwegian camping trip

Tam Leach dodges yachts, skerries and festival goers while kayaking in Norway

"Do people have to have lessons before you let them take out your kayaks?" I ask Jan. Bobbing about ungraciously in the Skagerrak Sea of southern Norway, I'm trying hard to remember what little I've learnt on previous paddling excursions. Jan gently pushes my boat away from his. "No," he says, nonchalantly. "Only if they want to."

It's not always so easy for the part-time adventurer. Those who commit long-term to the outdoors have the necessary gear in their garages and location on their doorsteps to quickly become adept. In contrast, dilettantes like me rarely become the self-sufficient experts of our dreams. Courses offer the easy solution: confidence builders that take us to places – both mentally and literally – where we would never be able to venture without help. But under instruction, the ultimate responsibility for the adventure still lies with someone else. Here, paddling amongst the skerries of the Skagerrak, even a dabbler can strike out on their own.

I struggle with my stroke, disguising a much-needed rest for my arms with an investigative gaze across to the red-and-white-painted houses of Merdo. The sleepy little island was once a busy piloting station for Arendal, a historic harbour town on the mainland. These days the Galtesund Channel between the two sees mostly tourist traffic, popular with summering Norwegians from Oslo and the European yachting community.

"But isn't that a little, um, dangerous?" I ask, trying surreptitiously to shake out a shoulder cramp. "Don't you worry that you won't get your boats back in one piece?" Or, for that matter, his customers? For, despite a natural craving for self-sufficiency, caution from amateurs is generally encouraged. Even experts get caught out by the inconstancies of nature, but it tends to be the unprepared who blunder off-piste and into crevasses, get caught out in summer blizzards, fall off mountains – and drift out to sea. The over-confident weekend warrior is a source of both amusement and concern for outdoor guides and rescue teams the world over.

Jan should know a few things about safety. Guiding since 1989, this unassuming Norwegian was a member of the national kayaking team. He is currently the route and safety planner for 71° Nord, a long-running outdoor-activities-meets-Survivor reality TV show. Every winter he heads up to the north-western fjords of Norway to lead kayaking and backcountry skiing trips from his cosy seven-berth boat The Gazelle, which even has a wood-fired sauna tucked up in the bow. And in the summer? He returns to Arendal, his home town, relaxes with his family, and rents out his 30-strong fleet of sea kayaks.

"These boats are very stable," he says, smiling, not a flicker of anxiety on his face as I mis-stroke yet again. The bulkheads are waterproof, he explains, both to aid buoyancy and for the storage of camping equipment and supplies. But it's not so much the boats themselves that mean Jan can rest easy while his kayaks are in strangers' hands. His lack of concern has more to do with a safety feature built into his local geography.

"There are no tides," he shrugs.

Here in Norway's southern Sorlandet region, the kayaker is blessed by a fortuitous tidal phenomenon. Tidal flow heading north from the Atlantic splits around the British Isles, travelling up the west coast and around Scotland, and east through the English Channel and the North Sea. At Sorlandet the two flows meet, effectively cancelling each other out.

As we paddle past storybook summer houses, Jan points out stone jetties, built barely a foot above sea level. There's no need for piers when the water doesn't rise or fall. Thanks to the lack of a tide there is very little current, hardly any mud on the beaches, and the Gulf Stream-warmed water remains at a comfortable 17-18C throughout the year. Combined with Sorlandet's coastal topography, it makes for a sea kayakers' playground, a fragmented maze of sheltered waterways.

The English word "skerry" comes from the old Norse sker: a rock in the sea. Sorlandet boast hundreds, from small outcrops to islands big enough to support a village. Most are public land, bought up by forward-thinking communities from as far back as the beginning of the last century, and now part of the Skjaergardsparken, a protected park of skerries that stretches up the south east coast.

Overnight touring by kayak requires no special permit nor costly camping fees; public land rights in Norway permit camping for up to two nights in any location, provided the chosen spot is not in a field and is at least 150m away from a house. Pick your deserted skerry, pull the kayak up over the rocks, and settle down for the night.

Far from barren, these rocks benefited from southern Norway's once-mighty timber trade. Boats returning from their deliveries – to London, for example, after the Great Fire caused a rush on Norwegian wood – used soil as ballast, which was then dumped on the uninhabited skerries. The result is an unexpected diversity and abundance of flora. Possibly too much: on some islands residents have installed sheep and goats as permanent lawn mowers. Moorings, toilets and bins are maintained along the archipelago by coastal rangers and local community groups, with hot showers and washing machines available free at the guest harbours in the villages. Well-kept commercial campgrounds dot the coast, many with cabins to rent.

We paddle around little Gjesoya (Goose Island) and past the campground on neighbouring Hove, a large, wooded island which hosts the Hove Festivalen each June. This music festival, which began in 2006, is notable not just for an idyllic location and the organisers' impeccable musical taste (heavy on bright young alt. rockers), but for the provision of both bikes and kayaks to transport festival goers from the bus station in Arendal to the festival site. Oh – and in a region where one in 10 of the population owns a boat, the option of bringing your own vessel to camp.

Jan provides the kayaks; though Arendal's bars and cafés throng with out-of-towners throughout the summer, the community is small and local connections strong. Paddling back towards town, we meet another of his friends. Atle runs fishing trips aboard his shrimp trawler. Pulling up alongside, he passes us a steaming plastic bag full of freshly boiled prawns. No muesli bars for our paddling snack; we bob in the channel, peeling the prawns and eyeing up an approaching raincloud.

"What if people want to stay in Arendal?" I ask, arms now aching. Self-sufficiency is all very well, but sometimes you need a hot shower, a cold beer, and a warm bed. "Bring a bike lock," replies Jan. "Paddle into the harbour and lock the kayak up in your hotel car park." He looks at me as if his answer was obvious, but I'm a dabbler: I'm not used to adventuring being this easy.

Traveller's Guide:

The gateway to Sorlandet is Kjevik airport in Kristiansand, served by Norwegian (020-8099 7254; 00 47 21 49 00 15; from Stansted. Buses depart to Arendal and other coastal towns hourly, with more frequent service during peak periods (00 47 35 91 28 00; and

Rent sea kayaks in Arendal from Fasting Outdoor (00 47 95 93 83 37; www. The price is NOK450 (£43) per day, NOK1200 (£116) per week. Lifejackets and rescue equipment included; camping gear can also be supplied. Fasting Outdoor will suggest routes and can provide an guide to get you started, but all trips must be arranged well in advance.

24-28 June 2008, general admission NOK1,890 (£182)

Innovation Norway (the Norwegian Tourist Board): Sorlandet Tourist Board:

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone