Experiences in kayak
in Scandinavia

In a kayak down Svartälven
(“the black river”)
April 2005

When they got really close they dived down hitting the water with their tail fins and making a noisy splash. Once we saw as many as six of them at the same time.


It's no coincidence that the river is called svartälven - "the black river". On a calm day it is like a polished black diamond which mirrors the dark walls of forest on its banks brilliantly. The effect of everything is doubled. Just like with vegetables that are displayed in front of a mirror at the supermarket.

This particular river has provided many unforgettable experiences.

Lazze and I set off from Tyfors and paddled southwards between banks of under-nourished pine forests.


Skeleton of old stumps stuck up above the surface and was witness to lower water levels from earlier days

This was a deserted region where there were few traces of people to be found but we did come upon a type of flat-bottomed rowing boat here and there.

There were traces of beavers everywhere. We saw dens and well-trodden beaver tracks leading up out of the water onto the river banks.

It came gliding over the shining water at dusk, swimming with slow steady strokes - The Beaver. At about 50 metre intervals it went up on land to mark out its territory. Although we were quite visible sitting there it swam straight towards us. Then, when it got to within 20 metres of where we were it turned away.

I've just realised something! Of course - the reason people enjoy looking at TV must be that humans have sat and looked into fires for thousands of years. When central heating was invented people probably wandered around like lost souls until someone invented television. Studies have shown that we don't remember that much of what we see on TV. It's also difficult to report what we have seen in the fire. However it makes us feel harmonious and ensures a good night's sleep.

 What's more you can grill marshmallows over the fire and dip them in cognac. That's really something!

We were woken at dawn by the sound of cranes trumpeting. A magic atmosphere made us keen to get up and on our way quickly. The mist hung heavily and the black grouse created a comfortable sound with their cooing noises. Ice on the kayaks told us the temperature must be below freezing. We were suddenly startled, in our silent passage, as we happened to frighten some beavers who were sitting having breakfast. We jumped in surprise when they dived down quickly into the water with a great splash.


Out on the open sea the mist rubbed out the horizon line where sea and sky should meet

Through the mist we heard howling in the distance. We hardly dared hope but didn't that sound just like wolves howling? When I told a hunting friend about the howling noise he said that yes, of course, everyone in hunting circles knows about the Hällefors wolf strain.


The black-throated diver - guardian of the lakes

As sure as there is a pizzeria in every provincial one horse town, so there is a black-throated diver in every lake in this region. On this rainy day a solitary diver drifted forth in search of food. It swam along slowly with its head bent downwards. From time to time it looked up, purred like a guinea pig and then shrieked out its desolate cry. Yesterday evening, as we were sitting in front of the fire, we could hear them screaming to each other from the nearby lakes.

When the inuites developed the kayak they where inspired of the elegant way the black-throated diver lands on the the water. Qajaq in the inuit language means "the one that looks like the black throated diver".

In a woodland glade a cock grouse sat performing on top of a rock. The stone and the bird merged together in the mist. It stretched its head straight up in the air then pulled it down again quickly, making a sound like that of cream spurting out from an icing syringe.

But the most unexpected bird of this trip revealed itself through a long drawn out drum-roll that increased in frequency towards the end. We jumped, startled. There are only supposed to be twelve of these in Sweden and there is a risk that the species will die out as they need plenty of rotten trees in order to survive. I'm talking about the white-backed woodpecker.

In a narrow passage we saw several beavers together. They were probably yearlings (last years) since they were smaller and extra curious. We lay quite still and their curiosity made them come closer and closer. When they were really close they dived down, slapping the water noisily with their tails. This game was played over and over again. We saw as many as six of them at the same time.

The power station in Hällefors, now shut-down, is an impressive piece of refined engineering which was probably the pride of Hällefors when it was opened but which is now a forgotten building on an overgrown site beside the river. A tour of the inside of the building feels like being in a computer game in RR - Real Reality.

There were plenty of power stations stopping the water along the Svartälven river bank. After a while we devised a routine for getting past them but it wasn't easy to know what to do with the transport cart when you were in the kayak

 Some days the sky showed us its best side.

Adios amigos.