Sweden: All's quiet in the not so wild west
Avoiding 'glamping' on a tepee site in a Swedish forest wasn't as easy as Rhiannon Batten had hoped, but she was soon won over.
Friday 17 August 2012
'The house represents what we ourselves would like to be on Earth: permanent, rooted, here for eternity. But a camp represents the true reality of things: we're just passing through." It's pretty safe to assume that when author Roger Deakin summed up the joy of sleeping outdoors in his book Wildwood he wasn't referring to the concept of "glamping", as glamorous camping has become known.
The vogue for luxury pre-erected tents with home comforts now extends to king-size beds, functioning kitchens, flushing toilets and hot tubs. While guests might well pass through, these indulgent campsites can feel as far removed from nomadic living, and the surrounding environment, as a semi in Surbiton.
I was seeking a more basic experience, and the premise of a "tepee adventure" in West Sweden's Dalsland region had me reaching for my sleeping bag. The description was certainly inviting. "Camp in a traditional tepee beside a lake and revel in the sense of space, freedom and adventure," it said. "Explore the forests, hike and take out the rowing boat before cooking dinner over an open fire and putting your head down on a bed of fir twigs covered in reindeer skins."
But if I was expecting Nordic wilderness, I was clearly going to need my imagination, too. Arriving at Dalslands Activities, an outdoor adventure centre two hours' drive north-east of Gothenburg, my husband and I discovered that the tepee in question wasn't set on a romantically isolated lakeside patch. It might have been surrounded by a pretty, forested glade but it shared the lake and forest views with three other tepees, as well as the cooking area, campfire and portable toilets. And, though the tepees were set off-site from the centre's café, stables and elk park, co-owner Sara would be bringing us dinner and breakfast rather than leaving us to it. Luxury camping, it seemed, would be hard to escape.
With dinner scheduled for an hour after we arrived, there was time to explore. "You can take the boat out if you'd like," said Sara, pointing to a small rowing boat as she headed back up to the centre's headquarters. Instead, we dropped our backpacks and sleeping bags on the ring of reindeer skins spread around our tepee, stripped off in the warm sunlight, and picked our way out over the rocks for a swim. Skimming through the cool, cola-coloured water, we swam out through gentle alternating warm and icy currents as the sun began to sink. This was more like it.
There were no other guests booked in that night so, as we lay on the huge smooth lakeside boulders; the only distractions were the odd bird call and the sound of lapping water. Sara returned just as goosebumps were starting to appear and, in the time it took us to change, dinner was ready. On a lakeside picnic table, Sara lit a couple of tea lights and brought out plates of barbecued steak and salad and a couple of bottles of organic Swedish beer. "I've left a coffee pot on the fire and a chocolate cake beside it," she said. "Sleep well and I'll see you for breakfast at 8am."
It may not have been quite the rustic dinner we'd have rustled up ourselves, but it was undoubtedly more delicious. Maybe there's something to be said for luxury after all.
With darkness setting in, all that was left to do was sleep. Dalslands Activities was originally set up for school groups, so each tepee can sleep up to 25 – plenty of space, if not all-out cosiness. Our sleeping bags were surprisingly comfortable on top of the reindeer skins and fir branches, and we drifted off to sleep, breathing in a comforting Christmassy scent. The midges must have appreciated it too, since we were woken regularly throughout the night by buzzing and biting – a downside to back-to-nature-style camping.
The next morning, Sara and her husband Pontus offered us the chance to go horse riding, elk petting or kayaking. We chose the last and were waved off by Pontus with a flask of coffee and some cake. "Look out for beavers," he shouted. "It's not really the time of day to see them but you might hear them. If they smell you or hear you one of them will slap their tail in the water to warn the others. It sounds like a pistol going off."
As we paddled around the first bend in the river, beaver spotting was the least of our concerns. No one had thought to check the river levels; the local hydroelectric power plant had cut the river's water flow a few days earlier so the "challenging" 10km trip downriver became a Krypton Factor-style challenge with water levels so low we had negotiate rocks and semi-submerged logs and sometimes give up altogether and drag the kayaks around via the bank.
In hot sunshine, despite wading in and out of the water, sometimes managing to slip over a birch log, the journey was enjoyable. But eventually we were out of our kayaks more often, hauling them rather than paddling them. By a bridge that should have taken 15 minutes to reach but took us more than an hour, two huge trees formed a proper dam. Stymied, we hoisted the kayaks out and walked, soggily, back to the activity centre.
Unfazed, Pontus suggested we spend the afternoon exploring the campsite's lake in a Canadian canoe. Knowing that we could at least swim our way out of trouble this time, we agreed.
We paddled towards an island in the centre of the lake. To one side were banks of smooth rock, peppered with little, red-painted summer houses. On the other was dense forest. As we passed the island we spotted a small beach where a couple of families had come down from their summer houses to sunbathe, and jump in and out of the water from a jetty.
They'd left by the time we arrived but we followed their lead and hauled our boat out of the water and on to the decking. We took dips into the water and then dried out in the sun, and listened to nothing but the slap and gurgle of water hitting the jetty.
I thought back to what Pontus had told us over lunch – that Dalsland was historically a poor area but that it is now enjoying a boom in outdoors tourism. "People come from Stockholm, Oslo and Gothenburg because it's easy to get to. It's not real wilderness, but it's close to it. To not hear anything but birds, this is rare now," he said. "It's nice to find some time alone."
We might not have found that sense of solitude around our tepee, but we'd certainly found it that afternoon out on the lake.
Rhiannon Batten travelled from London to Gothenburg by train; from £274 return with Rail Europe (0844 848 4078; raileurope.co.uk). Gothenburg's main airport, Landvetter, is served from Heathrow by BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com), and from Gatwick by Norwegian (020-8099 7254; norwegian.com). Sun-Air flights from Manchester start on 27 August. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted and Edinburgh to Save airport.
Car hire with hertz.com: £145 for four days. Alternatively take a bus (vasttrafik.se) to Dalsland; change in Uddevalla.
Nature Travels (01929 503080; naturetravels.co.uk) has four-day "tepee adventures" at Dalsland Activities, May to Sept, from £363 per tepee, for up to six. Sleeping bag hire: £6pp.
Canoe hire costs Skr250 (£24) per canoe per day. A self-guided river trip by kayak is Skr350 (£33) per person (00 46 531 330 86; dalslandsaktiviteter.se).
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