Category Archives: Hiking

Posts relating to long hiking days in the mountains

France – Agen, Pujols & around

An update on our activities over the past few weeks during our house-sit in Cazeneuve.

It’s been around three weeks since our last blog post, and we’ve been keeping busy, but not in adventurous ways that we feel are worth sharing more regularly.  Our days are full with learning, activity and exercise, with the odd venture out to visit a local town.

Agen (back on the Garonne)

Recently we had one such day-trip out to visit Agen, our closest city.  First we swam a steady 2km in their wonderful 50m competition pool, before finding a spot to park on the riverside and walking into the centre.  We passed under vast rows of pollarded plane trees set in the riverside park, their gnarled white branches contrasted heavily against the uniform blue sky, like arthritic knuckles reaching into the void.  We wandered through tight medieval streets and the modern, wide pedestrianised centre, enjoying the sights and the buildings of Agen in bright sunshine.  The cafés were bustling with people and we were immediately impressed with what the busy town had to offer.

Agen (pollarded trees)

One morning we decided on a leisurely cycle, a wide triangle on a voie verte taking in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Casseneuil and Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot.  The air was a cold 4 degrees, and we wrapped up well before we headed up over the hill, a steady 2km long climb that led into a flat ridge cycle before being followed by a fantastic flowing descent of 5km.  We picked up the voie verte heading north and arrived in the medieval centre of Casseneuil a few easy kilometres later.  After a short explore, we headed south along the banks of the river to Liverade and through, back over the hill again to home.  We later discovered on our return that we had lost our camera somewhere on the cycle, it having jostled its way out of a side pocket, unknown to us.  After a thorough search of the house we concluded it was definitely missing, but outside had turned from borderline sunny to a grey, sodden deluge in that time, so we didn’t venture out to look.

The next morning we visited the Mairie in Allez-et-Cazeneuve and the Hôtel-de-Ville in Liverade to report our missing camera in the hope some kind citizen may hand it in.  We also left a note at the central police station, but they had very little interest in our petite drama.  After we reported the camera, we then ran the last 11km of the track we had cycled home the day before, in two portions, checking along the verge, ditches and hedges for any sign of it, but to no avail.  We can only hope it was swept up by someone walking along the path before the previous night’s deluge and that they will hand it in next time they are in town (perhaps next Friday, on market day), but we’re not holding our breath for it to reappear.  It’s always disappointing to lose photos of a good day, along with our well-used and loved compact camera.

Cazeneuve (enjoying a window of sun)

Cazeneuve (veg patch weeding)

We are passing our days in generally similar ways, with a welcome routine of reading, exercise and rest.  We have a few hours of French most mornings.  We watched the opening weekend of the Six Nations snuggled up with a few beers, content that both our teams got off to a winning start even if Ireland left it very late to nick it from the French. We had a not entirely awful go at archery in the garden.  We played a few games of table-tennis and pétanque, had a few pool swims, a couple of cycles and runs, and have pottered in the garden, between rain storms.  We’ve been visited by both le chien noir and la chienne rouge.  Below is my (corrected) French homework story that tells a little more of how we spent our week, should you be interested.  The dreaded green pen wielded by our tutor Rebecca did not get its fullest workout this week, so something must be improving in my French-feeble mind.  Peut-être.

Cazeneuve - French homework

This week, rather than our usual Tuesday morning swim, we awoke to a bright, clear sky and decided to postpone for a day and undertake a long local walk instead.  We drove a short distance to Lacépède and followed the marked trail out of the completely dead village, through sleeping plum trees and empty, ploughed fields.  The path was thick with leaves and mud after the recent rains, and was difficult to progress on.  Being so muddy underfoot made the hilly portions tricky and sliding, but we squished around 11km of lovely rolling countryside with no sign of anyone else.  We reached a small reservoir with bird-watching huts and some interesting, colourful sign-boards describing the lives of local bees that we photographed to fully translate later in our next ‘French hour’.  We arrived back in the village just as the rains began to fall, followed closely by a wandering dog who seemingly wanted to be our very best friend.

Lacepede (church on route)

Lacepede (forest rrails)

After one pool swim, we finally drove up and visited the medieval centre of the nearby village of Pujols.  We had often looked at it from the comfort of the large Jacuzzi bath post-swim, but had as yet not ventured up the hill.  We had left it long enough since our last beaux village visit to regain the excitement and interest of a new place, and were pleasantly surprised by its neatness and beauty.  The sun appeared for a few moments, lighting up Villeneuve-sur-Lot below and the white stone façades of the ancient streets, giving it a wonderful glow.  We saw the church, the covered marketplace, the detailed model of the town in the tourist office, the truncated once-circular well-stone now cut back to a semi-circle to allow vehicles to pass, the remains of the original ramparts and finally la porte des Anglais, the English Gate, named for the route the English soldiers fled along from a lost battle during the Hundred Years’ War.  We passed through it too before making our escape from the frigid, icy air back to the car and home.

Pugols (viewpoint)

Pugols (a in main square)

Recently, the days had been sharper, fresher, colder than before, with a deeper mud grey blanket of cloud spread across the sky.  Twice we have had a light falling of tiny flakes of snow, forced out of the chilled clouds with obvious reluctance, not at all like the proper snow we have been reading about back in the UK.  For a few quiet moments it was beautifully still and tiny white flakes swayed gently in the air, glistening with reflected light and looking quite magical.  Then as quickly as they appeared they have gone, but the chilly, biting air remains.  Several times we have stood outside for a few long moments reflecting on the changing moods of the days and weather, taking in deep red, moody sunsets, before scampering back into the comforting warmth of the awaiting boulangerie for some warming tea.

A&N x


2017 – A wonderful year of travels remembered in select panoramas

A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017


Denmark –  Tisvildeleje beach, Nyborg & Fyns Hoved

Where we visit Tisvildeleje beach, cycle the rural roads and lanes around Nyborg & a bracing walk around the interesting headland of Fyns Hoved.

From our quaint farm aire by the raspberry bushes, we drove up to Tisvildeleje beach on the north-west coast of this area of Sjælland.  It was mentioned in our ‘Wild Guide to Scandinavia’ book, but following the GPS coordinates in the book almost ended in disaster.  The road led through tiny residential streets, made narrower by huge mounds of recent tree and hedge cuttings that had been left uncollected on the verges, before arriving at the ‘car-park’ which was a single space on the narrow roadside.  It looked much more like a passing place than a usable lay-by, and the road ahead was a dead-end.  We had to reverse back 50m to the last junction, being watched by bemused locals, who then helpfully informed us where suitable beach parking was.  We sheepishly made our way there to find a massive beach-front car-park that could easily accommodate 400+ cars; there were five on site, so we had a little more space to fit into than on our previous stop.

Tisvildeleje - a on beach

We parked up and walked barefoot along the beach away from town, dipping our toes in the lapping water as we went.  The sun was bright and strong, feeling very warm on our skin when not concealed by cloud. There were a few other walkers with their dogs doing the same paddling, along with a couple of nude swimmers calmly braving the Baltic waters.  We walked slowly down the sands for a few kilometres, paddling in the shallows, before crossing into the raised dunes behind for a different perspective.  The beach was long and clean, and with the sun joining us on occasion our walk was a lazy delight.  We returned back along the sand, soaking up rays and thoroughly chilled.

Tisvildeleje - n on beach

On our return we were approached to undertake a survey by a guy representing VisitDenmark, so we chatted a while as we completed his many questions.  We made him a tea and had a long chat about our impressions of Denmark, and learned of his unfortunate dismissal from journalism at the hands of new ruthless American owners, leaving him currently stuck doing jobs well below his qualifications and experience.  We overnighted in another aire in a large family home garden, offered to passing travellers by the owners who themselves are keen motorhomers.  They asked for a small contribution from those who consume any services, either electricity, water or bin bags, which is more than fair, but simply stopping overnight is entirely free.  We were joined late, after sunset, by one other motorhome, who was gone again before we opened our blinds.

Bridge to Ordense island

Kongshoj - forest trails

We moved on again, this time to Kongshøj camping, where we planned a few static days.  We seemed to be stuck in Groundhog Day with the weather, constant high winds and stormy days keeping us safely hunkered down inside.  Our booze supply had been depleted, so we made plans to pick up more.  We noted there was a craft brewery at a farmhouse about 12km away, so we decided to brave the weather and cycle there.  We followed an off-road portion through a forest park, parallel to the sea coast heading north.  The weather brightened considerably, becoming sunny and dry.  Decent compacted gravel paths led through beautiful fir-heavy parkland to reach Holckenhavn Slot, a private manor house built in red brick in a late Renaissance style.  The castle, otherwise private, can be rented out for private functions and events, but the 12 hectares of parkland gardens surrounding it are open to the public.

Holckenhavn Slot - n cycles by

Holckenhavn Slot - a at castle

The surrounding countryside was very familiar to us, so similar to the rural midlands of England where we have so often cycled.  We passed over rolling hills with planted corn, blonde stubble fields and long stacks of gathered hay. Lumbering tractors turned over soil in preparation for the next crop, while nearby fields were full of neat rows of sun-bathing onions, left to dry. Small islands of trees stood tall in the centre of wide seas of short grass or muddy turned soil.  Other than the busy main arteries we were forced to cross occasionally, the country side-roads were traffic-free and constructed from clean, smooth tarmac; just perfect for sight-seeing and leisure cycling.

Refsvindinge - brewery shop

Refsvindinge - a at brewery

We reached the brewery, Refsvindinge Bryggeriet, and abandoned our bikes outside to explore their extensive range of, by Scandinavia standards, very cheap craft beers.  Some low-strength lagers were only 3DKK per bottle, Pilsners and IPAs under 5DKK, stouts and porters at 8DKK.  With around 9DKK to the pound, we could happily sort ourselves out with a few decent beers.  We were kindly offered tastings of whichever we wanted, so we sampled a wide range before buying as many as we could safely carry, with assurances we’d return in Benny the following day to stock up with more.  We completed our 32km loop, mostly sheltered from the blustering winds, but we got hit by a huge gust or faced a strong head-wind occasionally.  The bright sun appeared from behind the grey clouds in short patches, and on a few happy occasions this coincided with a pause in the wind; in those rare moments cycling these rolling roads was simply glorious.

Kongshoj - onions in field

Kongshoj - yummy beers

After our return, we spent the afternoon relaxing around the campsite. Nicky undertook a bit of experimental photography, testing out various techniques and settings down on the beach in high winds, as I drank tea and finished another book, Graham Swift’s Waterland, a poignant reflection on the importance of history in terms of our understanding of the present, set stark against the flowing waters of the flatland Fens – well recommended.  We then spent our evening ensuring all of today’s purchased beers were fully up to scratch, in anticipated advance of the larger beer purchase we would make the following morning.  They were indeed, every last one of them.

Kongshoj - beach pier

After checking out and returning to Refsvindinge Bryggeriet to pick up a crate full of select beers, we drove north under wet, grey skies.  We first headed through Nyborg and then onwards, to visit Fyns Hoved.  This was the most northern point of the Hindsholm peninsula, a rather distinctive feature of moving sand spits, strong currents and sheltered beaches comparable to Skagen in north Jutland.  Geographically speaking, it is considered a bight rather than a bay or sound.  We parked up where the tarmacked road ended, rather than in a car-park further on at the end of the gravel track.  From here we walked along the stony beach between the marina and the headland, where we followed a circular route around the point on well-worn pathways.

Fyns Hoved-benny at beach

Fyns Hoved- n at sandy cliffs

We climbed first to the area’s highest point, marked by a bronze disk cast in the ground.  We could see out over the Baltic sea in all directions, the west all rough and frothing, the east a flat protected bay. There were many fishermen standing still and silent in the shallow waters, with the occasional cast into the sea their only movement.  Others sat on rocks on the beach shore, rods supported on stands rather than hand-held.  We walked across the rounded hills to reach the tall sandy cliffs on the western face, then the most northern point of the land, before returning along the calmer eastern side.  It was an interesting place to see and enjoy a low level 5km walk, a worthy distraction.

Fyns Hoved- hilltop view

Fyns Hoved-beachfront view

Sweden – Långasjönäs Camping

Spending a week in an off-season ASCI campsite in Långasjönäs, our days filled with swimming, cycling, walking and running, interspersed with some quality downtime.

Leaving the nature reserve at Almö, we headed to Långasjönös as planned.  This happened to be the place where our batteries ran out, wound down like the non-Duracell bunny, and we simply had no desire to drive any further.  We availed ourselves of a cheap ACSI deal, with the additional carrot of 7 nights for 6 on top of that.  Then we sat still, almost alone on the edge of the campsite, taking stock. This was to be a week of lazy reflection, under somewhat rainy skies. There were two short road loops within the campsite, the first served area the site of many long-terming caravans, some occupied and some not, but the second area was empty of casual visitors, so we parked up on the only flat site we could find, peacefully excluded and content on our private half of the campsite.

Langasjonas- (our pitch)

Langasjonas- (local trails)

We begin our casual exploration of the area with a 13km cycle around the main lake, following fire tracks and simple off-road trails through the forest.  At one clearing we passed a large gathering of cars and people in the woods without ever discovering what event was occurring, but it was something quite popular.  We rounded the top of the lake and returned south on the western side, more removed from the shore and on a relatively traffic-busy road.  We passed an old 19th and early 20th century drinking water treatment works and reservoir in the leafy village of Froarp, now dry and grassy but with well-preserved stone culverts and a decorative pump-house building.  From here we re-joined the dedicated cycle routes that brought us along gravel trails and home to the campsite.

Langasjonas- (checking the water)

Langasjonas- (swim pontoons)

That afternoon the weather brightened, so we decided on what became a 1.2 km swim around our nearby headland.  We suited up, even though the lake was a relatively balmy 19 degrees, and entered the water at the swim pontoon at a neat sandy beach.  We swam to the left, the smooth, fresh water and my injured shoulder both feeling good.  We hugged our nearest coast, but not too close as the lake remained shallow for a long distance out.  The sun was on our faces and the banks lit up, everything looking tidy and bright.  Turning the corner near to where we would exit the water we surprised two young local girls happily sunning themselves on a large flat rock that stretched from their beautiful home’s garden right down into the water.  I think we were quite the novelty to them as we passed.

Langasjonas- (on the pontoon)

Langasjonas- (ready to swim)

Langasjonas- (n in water)

The next morning we went for a 21km cycle into the nearby town of Karlshamn, to both explore the town a little, and to pick up a few fresh provisions.  We followed the easy bike trails south, mostly alongside the main roads, until we reached the outskirts of town.  From here we skirted around the water’s edge, seeing the more industrial side of town, reaching the tourist office and passing through the cobbled market square.  The streets of the town were set out in a grid pattern, a layout that made it easy to find your way but left something wanting; it felt anonymous, even with neat, pretty buildings all lined up, it lacked the spirit or centre that pervades a typically knotted medieval town.

Langasjonas- (cycle to Karlshamn)

We devised a plan to swim a round trip to a faraway island we could see from the pontoon.  We had walked to it the previous day on a short ramble and thought it would make a good target for a longer swim.  We entered the water, stopping briefly at the central floating pontoon in the centre of the lake that was used more by ducks than swimmers.  The water was sweet and clear, but a tail wind was chopping the surface at our backs and we knew the return journey would be much more challenging.  We reached the pretty tree-covered island, passing it on its left shore, where we spotted an easy place to climb ashore.  We wandered through the trees in our wet-suits, where we found signs of a fire in a small clearance, the island perhaps a popular camping spot for local canoers or fishermen.

Langasjonas- (swim to that island)

Langasjonas- (reachng the island)

Langasjonas- (on an island)

After our island explore we re-entered the water, completed our circumnavigation and continued on our way back.  As expected, the rough, choppy lake took more effort to swim into.  There was little respite from the winds on our swim home, having to work a little harder, swallowing more of the fresh, tasty lake than planned.  We returned to the same spot on the beach pontoons and exited the water via steps, feeling good.  The swim back took us less time than going, even though it was into the wind, as without all the heads-up sight-seeing and excitement of our island adventure, we simply got on with it.  It was a 2.5km round trip in total, our longest swim since the Arctic Circle.

Langasjonas- (island rest)

Langasjonas- (swim ending)

During our stay we kept an eye on the night sky.  Even though we had travelled a long way south, the nights were now quite dark, and on days with no cloud cover there was always a possibility of seeing the aurora.  One clear night around 11pm we walked out to the floating swim pontoon, with its wide view north up the lake.  We stared up at the northern sky, seeing a multitude more stars than we ever would in the light-polluted skies near home.  But we were too far south now even to catch the glittering edges of the aurora, so it would have to have been hugely active and us exceptionally lucky to mange to view it here.  We still had a long, peaceful moment under the starry night sky.

Langasjonas- (n at papermill ruin)

Langasjonas- (old paper mill)

Another time we followed a long forest trail walk north, the soft ground heavy with rotting leaf-fall and peppered with a multitude of different mushrooms.  A deep blanket of discarded pine cones and needles covered much of the forest floor, with other areas thick with luminescent green mosses or sun-loving lime-coloured lichens.  We passed the ruin of an old paper mill, built over a weir on a small river feeding into the lake.  We scared a large gathering of ducks by walking across the timber bridge, then in turn they scared us right back with their rapid squawking flight out from under our feet.  As routes led on through more deep forest, we wandered off the paths, marvelling at the quantity and variation of mushrooms sprouting up everywhere and wished we had knowledge to forage properly.

Langasjonas- (exploring forest)

Langasjonas- (forest mushroom)

When we reached the shores of a nearby, much smaller lake, we passed a small opening that led out along some slippy narrow planks, through a bed of reeds, to a small square timber pontoon floating in the lake.  Nicky decided that she needed to have a refreshing dip to help both cool her off from the walking and cleanse her of a minor but niggling hangover.  She stripped off and jumped in, yelling briefly with the chilling shock as she met the water, but was soon luxuriating in the silky freedom of the beautiful lake and peaceful surroundings.  Not to be outdone, I had to have my own lake skinny-dip later on the walk, a brief yet refreshing swim at a small beach area near to our base.

Langasjonas- (small lake swimspot)

Langasjonas- (n gone swimming)

We ate a few times in the service block kitchen and lounge, cooking our meals there and setting a neat, formal table, just for the variation.  There was an area for cooking with lots of sinks, ovens and hobs, an area for dining with many tables, and an area for relaxing with books or TV.  Amazingly, we saw no one else use the facility in the time were there, so it became an extension of our van, our own extra living room area.  There were comfortable settees and a TV with English-speaking channels where we could catch up with the news as we relaxed post-dinner.  One rainy evening we watched a movie on our laptop in the lounge, it suffering much less percussion noise than Benny.

Langasjonas- (a skinny dip)

I completed four books whilst resting here, a reflection of the time we had to simply sit and do what we enjoy. I went for a short run while Nicky walked the nearby trails to find a comfortable spot to sit and sketch a mushroom.  I passed her three times on my short running loops, each time stopping in to check the progress of her drawing.  We had a 1.9km swim on our penultimate day, a wider sweep following our first route around the headland to the right.  This time we crossed the lake first, then skirted the opposite bank, checking out the beautiful properties that lined the grassy shore. The water was much calmer, barely a breath of wind disturbing the surface – swimming perfection.

Langasjonas- (n after last swim)

Langasjonas- (a on rocks)

Motorhoming is such a different life when you stand still, rather than the constant rush of daily discoveries.  No driving, no planning, no sights to see, no moving on.  After a week in Långasjönäs we really felt we had gotten to know the area in detail.  We had walked, ran or cycled most of the local trails, had had three long swims and a few dips in the lake, and had visited the main town of Karlshamn.  This form of static exploration brought forth a narrower but deeper pool of discovery, within which we began to find a greater connection to Swedish nature.  Our extended stay opened the way to living with casual freeness and with easy accessibility to the calm waters we have come to crave.




SE Sweden – Kalmar & Almö

Sweden’s South East coast – Kalmar & Almö

Crossing the long bridge from Öland, we returned to revisit the town of Kalmar, the inescapable point where the island’s only bridge meets the mainland.  We parked near to the 13th century fairy-tale Kalmar Castle, proclaimed as the best preserved Renaissance castle in Sweden.  A large anchor marked the beginnings of the castle’s defences, set on the banks of its deep protective moat.  We entered the extensive grounds, a purpose-built island complex, via a flag-lined wooden bridge over the moat, taking in the views in all directions.

Kalmar - (approaching the castle)

Kalmar - (on the bridge)

The original tower was constructed in the 12th century, with the ring wall fortress following in the 13th century, making the tower one of Sweden’s most impenetrable fortifications.  Due to its status as a key strategic site over the straits leading to the Baltic Sea, the castle faced many wars over the centuries.  The defences were strengthened again in the 16th century with four cannon towers added.  The 18th century saw the castle utilised as a prison, distillery and supply depot.  It is now managed by the Swedish National Property Board, as a site of important cultural heritage.

Kalmar - (n and the castle)

Kalmar - (defensive cannons)

Kalmar - (castle and moat)

We circled the castle grounds at both low and high level, enjoying the first hints of blue skies we’d experienced in a long week dominated by little but muddy grey rainclouds.  We passed cannons on the ramparts, had views out to sea over strategically important islands where other formidable forts had once sat, and learned of the important, formative history of the site’s defenses.  It truly was an impressive place, balancing the precarious need of strong barricades with a wish for elegant beauty.

Kalmar - (internal courtyard)

Kalmar - (castle and moat view)

Leaving Kalmar and its fairy-tale castle behind, we drove on south to the celebrated, historical naval town of Karlskrona, on the south coast of this region of Sweden.  We first visited services on the edge of town, where we filled and emptied, and took time to wash the worst of the filthy sprayed mud off Benny, the wet roads having turned his pristine white coat a muddy grey-brown.  We then turned our attention to the town, it looking very industrial and initially unappealing from our outsider’s perspective across the grey water.  We arrived in the town centre at 4pm, just when the town’s parking restrictions end, so we had our free choice of places to park.  We found the nearby tourist office and were helpfully gifted a town walking route map and proceeded to follow this route, to gain a feel for this nautical town.

Karlskrona - (Main square)

Karlskrona - (church in square)

Karlskrona - (statue and church)

There was certainly a more interesting architectural and cultural dimension in the heart of the town than the rough, industrial feel our first impressions had offered.  Created from scratch on uninhabited islands, the stone fortress was built in the 17th century as a necessary Naval Port on the Baltic Sea, to act as an efficient centre of excellence for the then dominant Swedish navy.  It built and maintained ships, it trained, fed and housed sailors and organised the navy crews.  Karlskrona was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1998, as the most complete example of a European Naval base planned in accordance with the ideals of 17th century maritime knowledge.  It remains the sole active naval base in Sweden, still producing modern submarines and renowned surface vessels on site, the island neatly divided into a civil north and a military south.

Karlskrona - (street with flags)

Karlskrona - (maritime musuem front)

Karlskrona - (diving boards)

We began in the main square, Stororget, before moving along flag-strewn streets of pretty timber buildings all housing boutique shops or cafés that reminded us both Bergen and Stavanger.  Our route crossed to another small island, Stumholmen, where the new Maritime Museum, completed in 2014, was situated.  It had closed for the day, but we looped around its stainless steel clad walls and passed by the moored ships outside, then through to the adjacent grassy picnic park with its public swimming spot, complete with high diving boards.  We saw Sweden’s last remaining wooden aircraft hangers, in use for storing and maintaining military seaplanes from 1914 until 1949 and now simply preserved for future generations.

Karlskrona - (maritime museum gardens)

Karlskrona - (timber aircraft hangars)

Karlskrona - (clock tower)

We followed the coast-hugging path past small lighthouses, impressive municipal buildings and statues of notable local dignitaries to reach the Admiralty Church and the pyramidal clock tower in the nearby park. We returned to the Great Square, Stortorget, and revisited the facades of the impressive Trefaldighetskyrkn and Rådhuset.  The vast, elegant square was originally conceived as a monumental public space to rival the grandest of those in France or Italy, set out to classical architectural ideals.  Unfortunately, the twin requirements of modern convenience and tourism have turned it mostly into a very grand car-park.  We examined the centrally positioned statue of Karl XI, watching possessively over the busy square, before tailing off our walking tour and returning to Benny.

Karlskrona - (Admiralty church)

Karlskrona - (n with preacher)

Karlskrona - (main square carpark)

There were a lot of other places of interest to see, but time was pressing on and we wanted to arrive at our next aire before nightfall.  After months of midnight sun and long, bright evenings, we were struggling a little with the sudden arrival of dark, gloomy nights.  Sweden in sunshine has been the perfect outdoor playground for us, our favourite country for swimming, hiking and canoeing, but in dreary, persistent rain under dull, grey skies, it holds only the sadness of potential unfulfilled.  We drove out of the town on the main road to Malmö and turned west, before cutting south on a small road to reach the island of Almö.  A large portion of this thin island was designated as a protected nature reserve and we had hopes the weather would lighten up and allow us to explore it, at least a little.

Almo island - (rocky headland)

We found a grassy aire with its own beach and direct access to walking paths to the south, and decided to sit here a few days as we awaited some drier weather.  We undertook a short walk on the first night, to take in our local surroundings.  The moss-covered rocks and tall, twisted trees tangled with pistachio-coloured lichen had the feel of an ancient landscape, something from the age of dinosaurs.  We followed the well-worn footpaths that led to areas fully set up with fire-pits and makeshift benching; clearly a popular summer hang-out on the shores of the lake, but there was no one here but us on this damp, grey September day.

Almo island - (a on walk)

Almo island - (rocky moss)

We had a longer walk the next day, following the rocky, moss-covered coastal path past several fenced off military zones and through more dark trees heavy with hanging lichen.  We saw and picked blackberries, a reminder we were at the beginning of autumn.  Some trees were beginning to turn, a hint of golden yellow on their leaves.  We reached a long causeway at the end of the Nature Reserve that led to the next island, but there was no obvious way to walk further other than on the road, so instead we turned and retraced our steps along the rugged coast.  We considered a swim in the chilled, choppy lake, but on this occasion our lazy sides prevailed and we opened a bottle instead.

Almo island - (lakeside wander)

After a slow morning under more rain clouds, we slowly packed up and left the grassy aire, heading on westwards, in search of a quiet campsite to sit out the weather in relative comfort.  After some deliberation, we headed in the direction of Långasjönös, a nearby ACSI campsite, with our committed intention of relaxing there for a little while.

Sweden’s Central Lakes

Spending some quality downtime playing in and around a few of central Sweden’s many lakes, enjoying the simple cathartic pleasures of a life lived outdoors.

We had a leisurely start with a short over-breakfast conversation with our neighbour, a retired structural engineer who, travelling in a small van with her dog, was heading in to see Oslo for the first time.  We talked up our favourite bits of the city then said our goodbyes, wishing her well on her travels.  We left Oslo heading east, briefly stopping in the town of Ski to swap our almost empty Norwegian gas bottle for a full one that should see us back to the UK in October.  We drove east on a monotonous and unchanging road to reach the nominal Swedish border, where we said our final farewells to majestic Norway after a full 60 days of in-country exploration; Tusen takk, Norge.

Camp Grinsby - (pontoon walk)

Camp Grinsby - (lake stillness)

We soon arrived at Camp Grinsby on the shores of lake Stora Bör, a spot we decided would make a good place to rest up and relax for a while. As converse as it seems, this life of constant travel is a tiring endeavour and we occasionally need a break from the trials of the road to recharge and re-calibrate.  Our brains needed the downtime to file away, make sense of and solidify the memories of all the grandiose scenes, spectacular activities, enthralling experiences and fascinating historical facts we had amassed over the last few months.  We physically checked in to this pretty, exceptionally quiet campsite then mentally checked out.  We saw this time as being a break from the normal, hectic rush of exploration and discovery; a true holiday.

Camp Grinsby - (forest cycle)

Camp Grinsby - (running trails)

Camp Grinsby - (nicky sunset lake)

We had nothing to do and nowhere to be. Switching off and taking all of a very pleasant, slow day to do two or three tasks that would not normally take longer than an hour was cathartic and renewing.  We enjoyed early morning mists, warm days and cooling sunsets.  We cycled many empty, peaceful forest trails, following the shores of the lake or cutting through thick copices on well-tended paths.  One day I ran the trails instead, with Nicky cycling alongside for company.  We swam, short dips and long lengths. Exercise may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing time, but having the quality time to run, cycle, hike or swim meant there were no other pressing or distracting tasks eating up our time.  We slept so well, sucking up copious amounts of fresh air and quiet stillness, and felt supremely rested.

Camp Grinsby - (early monring mists)

Camp Grinsby - (morning mists)

Camp Grinsby - (butterfly visit)

At this slow pace, we appreciated the little things so much more.  Out canoeing, a dark, velvet butterfly landed softly on Nicky’s hand, happily remaining there a minute of more as we watched, marvelling at the deep, surrounding silence and the enveloping closeness to nature we were being gifted.  It flitted off to be replaced with a large pearlescent dragonfly that hummed closely alongside us as we slowly paddled. We made tiny, perfect whirlpools in the still, clear water, each lasting long after the paddle stroke was complete. We drifted carefully through shallow areas with tall, stiff grass rasping on the metal sides of our canoe, with peaks of large rocks only millimetres below.

Camp Grinsby - (island canoeing)

Camp Grinsby - (canoe beach)

Camp Grinsby - (canoe beach chilling)

Camp Grinsby - (canoe beach swim)

We found a tiny secluded beach on a small island and landed, ready for a break from paddling.  It was a south-facing suntrap and we sun-bathed, swam, read and dozed for a few lazy hours, whilst snacking on our packed lunch.  We saw no one during this time and heard only a small boat engine, distant and faint, somewhere far across the lake.  Stora Bör seemed huge when floating in the centre in a small, fragile canoe, but at 14 sq km it was hardly a blip on the map in comparison to the sea-like proportions of other nearby Swedish lakes.  We paddled on to explore another group of islands in the centre of the lake, finding easy landings on several and gaining differing perspectives of our glorious watery neighbourhood.

Camp Grinsby - (lake canoe explore)

Camp Grinsby - (n in canoe)

Camp Grinsby - (changing to swim)

From one vantage point, we saw three other canoeists pass nearby, heading back towards a small red cabin on a nearby island.  We later paddled a lazy circuit around this island, seeing the cabin and an additional four other tents discretely hidden away in private corners, barely visible but for rows of colourful washing hanging brightly in the trees behind. It was good to see others out enjoying both the great weather and the natural beauty of this lake.  We waved as we passed, then continued back in the direction of our campsite.  We stopped at a small tree-covered rock about a mile from home, where Nicky decided to hop out of the canoe and swim the remaining distance back.  The water was a warm 21 degrees and crystal clear, providing an embracing silky glide as she flowed alongside my canoe.

Camp Grinsby - (ready to swim home)

Camp Grinsby - (n swims home)

Camp Grinsby - (n swimming in lake)

We spent four glorious sunny days at Camp Grinsby, a very welcome rest away from the daily rigours of the road.  From here we drove through Karlstad, stopping only for supplies, before turning south and checking into another small campsite at Otterbergets.  Here we had a kilometre long sandy beach on hand and several new forest trails to hike or run.  The lake was shallow and the bottom sand continued out as far as we ventured, swimming smooth lengths from pier to pier, parallel with the shore.  We walked and ran the pretty forest trails, enjoying the burn of some steep off-road rises.  We filled tubs full of foraged wild blueberries on our forest walks.  We considered picking some of the multitude of wild mushrooms growing in the forests, but were unsure which were safe for eating.

Otterbergets - (easy hiking trails)

Otterbergets - (foraging for wild blueberries)

Each night we cooked an unhurried meal in their central kitchen, revelling in having so much space to work in and a comfortable social area to then eat our dinner.  We caught up on laundry.  We swapped books in their mini-library, ensuring we had enough reading material to see us home.  We returned to the beach again and again, with Nicky enjoying swimming more long lengths as I jogged along the shore for company, my recently and annoyingly damaged rotator cuff prohibiting my participation in the water.  Even with the wind picking up force and the sun deserting us, we still had a wonderfully relaxing few days in Otterbergets under moody, cloudy skies.

Otterbergets - (pre-swim horseriding)

Otterbergets - (starting pontoon)

Otterbergets - (long swims parallel to shore)

Otterbergets - (contemplating a swim)

Spending a lazy week in campsites was a little out of character for us, so we headed off north the next morning and found the very comfortable free aire in Karlskoga.  It was possibly the best provided free aire we had ever stayed in, with each generously-proportioned parking place provided with not one but two electric points (why?).  All services were freely available, including WCs with warm showers and, to top it off, a dedicated free WiFi network.  We happily parked up looking out over a stormy lake and decided this would make another great spot to linger a while.