Experiences in kayak
in Scandinavia

In a kayak off Gotland and Fårö
july 2004

It was like a weird dream since there was nothing to set your sights on. I felt as if I were inside a table tennis ball in a darkened room.

 Östergarnsholm

This small island east of Gotland is known nation-wide thanks to the wind information that comes from here for marine weather forecasts. It lay shining in the evening sun like a piece of gold jewellery in a velvet box. The sound of backwash striking the rocks could be heard from a great distance. Some waves made a slamming, hissing sound as they forced their way in under the overhang of rock. There were some razorbills circling round. When people have described Östergarnsholm to me they have said that the island is flat and quite definitely worth visiting. If you stand up by the old lighthouse you have a good view of the whole island. I quite agree with them.

The limestone bedrock means the water is tinged turquoise green. The cave under the old lighthouse reminded me of Thailand's limestone islands.

The bird life was wilder on the east of the island. There were large flocks of cormorants, gulls, terns and geese gathering for the night. The barnacle geese stepped ashore and ran nervously over the island. Night was falling and it was time to go back. When I drifted in to the Katthammarsvik inlet the lights from the restaurant glittered on the water to the strains of a cover band playing Hey Joe with Jimmy Hendrix. Yeah.

Mist this morning, hardly any wind, some backwash. North of Katthammarsvik there were one or two caravans, whose owners had found their way to paradise. I found deserted meadows by the shore and panoramic views of the unbroken horizon. This is the favourite haunt that you won't find in a tourist brochure. This is for pioneer campers who get their kicks from dragging themselves along with their cumbersome load along overgrown animal tracks and who would commit suicide rather than book into a camp-site.

Two enormous sea-eagles took to the air and followed the shore line. One of them stopped, hovering just 30 metres in front of me and seemed quite unconcerned about my proximity. Then it spread its wings and accelerated quickly. It was gone in a flash.

 

I continued along the shore meadows with their grazing cattle. There were some large stones strewn along the extremely shallow sandy sea-bed. In some places the navigation chart's three metre curve stretches more than one nautical mile from the coast.

 


Cows in the mist

There were long stretches where I didn't even see any signs of deserted fishing huts. It took a while before I realised why it felt so strange walking here. This was no-man's land - too shallow and stony to be reached by boat and a beach consisting only of wild, overgrown marshy meadows along the shore, where the only ramblers are the cows. There were never any people here.

I once talked to a young man who had cycled through the Amazon - however he managed that. There were only 2 days during the whole trip when he hadn't met a single soul. In this place you could travel for 10 years and only see the odd boat passing in the distance now and again. OK, you would most certainly come across a lost traveller who had come up with the idea that he just had to paddle round Gotland - so he could add that bit of coast to his list of conquests. No, on second thoughts this is most unlikely. Those types usually try to cover many miles every day and usually choose to paddle a good way out from the coast so they can boast about "doing Gotland in a week".

I took great pleasure in the seldom seen flower beds of the sea-bottom with their unusual borders of seaweed and tang amid the sand and stone of this no-man's land.

 Darkness fell and what first seemed to be the lights of the cement works in Slite, turned out to be a ship lying out at anchor. The mist made orientation difficult. My compass was set at 60°, from a landmark. It was so dark I had to use a torch to see the compass. 3 km out was Majgu where I knew there was a fishing hut open for anyone to use. It seemed as though the mist was getting thicker when the coast and the lights from Slite disappeared. It was like a weird dream since there was nothing to set your sights on. I felt as if I were inside a table tennis ball in a darkened room.

The sound of breakers straight in front of me made me relax. Finally a dark shadow with a familiar silhouette loomed up, the Majgu Club's fishing hut which is available for anyone.

By morning the mist had cleared and the beautiful islands outside Slite were lit up by the rising sun. The Hojskär skerry was like a south sea island with its green water and white stony beach. The waves had altered the shape of the island since last year.

 


Hojskär

On the seaward side this island consisted of large stones and stacks.

Lillgraut was a real beauty with a colourful red lighthouse.

 

The cormorant was the first of the birds to fly off. It was difficult to get closer than 200 metres before it took to the air. However, after my cat-nap on Lillgraut island I found that around 50-birds had been brave enough to settle.


Lillgraut

"Lasse & Lollo celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary", "Anna loved this island of crimson crane's bill" and Stina writes "We didn't sleep here but anyway…." you can read these and many other greetings in the guest book in this open fishing hut on Storgraut island.


There is another hut on Storgraut that anyone can use

There used to be a limestone quarry on Fjaugen, but now it is in ruins. Sheep and birds have taken over the island.

 


Fjaugen

Near the limestone shipping harbour on Furilden the slagheaps create an unusual moon-like landscape which is a paradise for bathers.

 

 


Furilden

Someone had left some very advanced graffiti at Ryssudden, the south point of Fårö island. A luxuriant fig bush stood there.

At Friggards on the eastern side of Fårö I happened to land at the same time as an old man who has been out fishing flounder. He'd caught 80 of them in two hours with four nets. Not bad.

Kuten's Bensin is a Mecca for lovers of the smell of petrol where Thomas is the prophet who has managed to get a rock 'n' roll band here from the USA. Besides great music, a bar, a café and a flea market he can also arrange a children's disco with plenty of sweets on Saturdays. He's as peculiar as he's friendly. A car graveyard with old American cars from the 40s, a collection of fridges and a bumper from one of Elvis Presley's parent's cars - yes it's true - are among his treasures!

Stop off here if you are in the area. www.kuten.se

 

 


Kuten-Thomas' faded beauties

Avagrunn was just a strip of gravel on the horizon. There was only one tree on the island and from that tree a sea-eagle flew into the air as I approached. The island seemed to consist entirely of limestone gravel. On such small islands it is clear how nature extends itself. The basic population is birds. Plants such as crimson crane's bill and a bluey/ yellow flower are the first things able to grow in a mix of gravel, bird droppings and sea water. The plants moulder and become soil where greater celandine, wormwood and stone-crop are also able to thrive. Finally the ground cover is so thick that a white beam can take root. Bedrock has been transformed into an island. This explanation is probably very naive from a scientific point of view but when you are standing on the island it seems crystal clear.

 

Norsta Auren is surely the finest beach on Fårö, including Gotland. Incredibly beautiful and long enough to be a challenge to joggers. Since the parking areas are at each end of the beach it is remarkably deserted in the middle. There is a nudist bathing area here.

Some of the great human failures have been turned into something great e.g. the warship Wasa. However, most of them are left to their fate. On Norsholmen you can see two of these. The ship Fortuna whose fortunes were reversed during a storm, and then there is the deserted limestone shipping harbour which didn't pay due to the poor quality of the limestone. This in combination with the barren landscape and the rich bird life make Norsholmen a very special place.

Western Fårö is like a long climbing frame where grown-ups can have as much fun as children. The foaming waves beat from the sea against the coral limestone and create the  impression of an ancient place.

 

 When you see Gotland from off the coast you are struck by how sparsely populated it is. You only see people on the beaches, in the towns or at the local sights. 90% of the coast which doesn't fit into any of these categories is deserted.

A south-westerly wind swept in and whipped up a choppy sea. The paddle strokes felt heavy. I stopped for the night on Aurgrunn an island where the birds have assumed control. This is probably a forgotten island which is seldom visited since it lacks sandy beaches and besides it lies in the middle of a sea route between Gotland and Fårö.

 

I travelled on to Fårösund which was my goal on this trip. You don't think of the waters around Gotland as suitable for paddling but this trip has whetted my appetite owing to the wild and open landscape and the many unexpected sights like those brightly coloured workers' barracks, for example, that stand in a gravel pit. It seems rather odd you might say but could it be more fitting? How many tall stories have been told here do you think? An orange house with blue gables - remember that next time you paint your house.

 

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