Canoeing in Sweden


Gliding silently through thousands of tall watchful pines and spruce. Their long dark green resilient boughs hanging defiantly through the cold climate over the still, mysterious and ancient lake. The fathoms deep water hiding the secrets of the creatures there have dwelled there for ages past. The distant shores sucking at the immense, moss smothered boulders that littler the small coves and bays. Floating effortlessly past another pinnacle of age defiant rock revealing yet another perfect vision of raw untamed beauty as silent watchful coal black raven caws overhead.

About 10 years ago I read a very similar description to this in a children’s book and was instantly obsessed and transfixed on the mysterious beautify and natural world, who knew all these years later I would be there on that lake in the ancient forest listening to the raven caw and gliding around those stunning paralysing views. It was my very earliest and longest dream come true.

As you guys are probably now aware this October I was extremely privileged to book a place on to the Canoe Expedition to Sweden. As this was the first ever running of the course the aim of the expedition was not only to canoe through this natural, beautiful landscape and forage and fish our way through putting our Bushcraft skills and Survival skills in to real life practice, but also to make contacts, find camp spots that may be used in future years as well as any of the little creases that are always present on the first run of an expedition of this size and iron them out.

The expedition for me started 3 days prior to the start day.  I and four others had decided on the bold decision to drive out to Sweden covering; Denmark, Holland and Germany. wild camping all the way and seeing as much of the different countries as we could before arriving in Sweden for the canoe trip. As we tracked across these strange a new countries and the landscape became gradually more and more wooded and great lakes appeared from nowhere, I could feel the excitement beginning.  A feeling that was very much evident in my fellow companions faces by the huge grins that had begun to grow.

On arrival in Sweden we met our extremely giddy and exited fellow participants at a lodge on the shore of the great lake system that would spend the next 8 days on.


So the final checks were done. The food was packed, the kits were packed and repacked, the boats were ready and ship shape. All that was left to do was the agonising wait for the morning to set out on our spectacular canoe tour. I probably don’t need to tell you but there were 11 very restless gents in that lodge that night each and every one anxious for it to be morning and to be off. Not being a fisherman and determined not to sit around and wish for tomorrow I decided to take my £5 fishing rod down to the water’s edge and to get a bit of practice in before the next day as so not to be shown up. To my astonishment not 20 minutes later I caught to smallest perch I had ever seen and the first fish of the trip. It was a proud day for the Philbin name that day.

So tomorrow finally arrived and we set off on our wondrous journey. The feeling drifting slowly away from the lodge in to this spectacular world is beyond words. The pride and joy I felt being so privileged to be there in this great place with a great bunch of friends (and my brother) was one feeling I will never forget.


The days would trickle away as water does from cupped hands. None of us wanted it to end. We would rise in the morning and have a leisurely breakfast of porridge or camp baked fruit bread then pack down and head out on the lake again stopping whenever the fancy took us to collect birch back for various evening, round the fire projects or when we spotted a nice island and decided to have a cuppa. The freedom of traveling this light non burdened manner is such an exhilarating wondrous juxtaposition to normal everyday suppression of life in Blighty where we are controlled by timings and deadlines and people with high pay grades. This way of traveling really gives you a taste for what it was like for our hunter gather ancestors as well foraging the natural products not just to feed yourself but also make any of the equipment need for everyday life on the lake.


This expedition brought home to me something that I teach on any foraging course or whenever I get asked the question (which is normally every course we run) ‘can you really just live of the land?’ The usual standard response to that question is yes it can be done however you’re in for a pretty hard time of it. This expedition made me realise that I have never spoken truer words and made it real for me like nothing else had done before. I hope it wouldn’t be too arrogant to claim that I feel competent in my bushcraft skills and I think that the group that I was part of had some very knowledgeable and experienced survival and bushcrafters in its mist (Jason and Adam to say the least, yet even so it was going to be a tough one and we would have to use every resource available and trick in the book. It shows that even with this immense pool of knowledge we would struggle to find and catch enough food to sustain everyone on natural produce whilst also journeying by canoe. The very reality of the situation was that even with our understanding of nature and its resources we were only about to procure 2 small pike and 2 small perch and 3 different types of berry in the time we had available when not canoeing…….hardly enough to feed one person for more than a couple of days. The unusual amount of rain which persisted throughout the week certainly didn’t help the situation and was a constant battle for us.


After 8 truly amazing days behind us and with heavy hearts we headed back to wards the lodge. The trip had been so inspiring that none of us wanted to go. We had been wet and cold and hungry for some of it but just being fortunate enough to visit there was a privallege and something I will cherish for many years to come. In my opinion there is nowhere that compares to that environment and nowhere that embodies the spirit of bushcraft  more than that amazing place.  Rest assured at the next available opportunity I will be back.

All that’s left to do is to thank every single person who came and for an amazing experience and some wonderful companionship. Firstly to Adam who engineered the whole experience I cant thank enough, Jason for letting me have the time off to go and all the behind the scenes hard work that he does.  Also thanks to Anders Brogard who took some amazing photos and captured our awesome experience. My brother for sharing in my passion and throwing in everything to join in and to Kev and Callum Keane who some how managed drive all the way from Sweden to England in less than 24 hours.


Joseph Philbin – Apprentice Instructor

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