My friend Andy and I had a choice. We were at the reception of Silverlake Camp in Dalsland, Western Sweden, about to indulge in a spot of mountain-biking, and could opt for either a 10km, 20km or 30km route. The routes were inked out with marker pen on three laminated maps, over which we brooded intently, our eyebrows furrowed in the grave manner customary to men trying to pretend they have the foggiest idea about what they’re looking at. Christer, our contact at the camp, smiled patiently behind the desk.
I took a chance and pointed at the middle map, the one I perceived to have the shortest route, 10km. “This one looks pretty straightforward… Andy?”
Before I had a chance to salvage the situation, Christer was excitedly talking us through our course, noting the various points where we could – or, in our case, almost certainly would – get lost. In any case, the phrase ‘hard work’ had taken on a whole new meaning the day before, when the pair of us somehow managed to paddle our way through the Dalsland Canoe Marathon, an annual 55km race. That was hard work. This? This would barely be work.
For once, I was right. Apart from an initial climb, which saw the pair of us transform from coherent human adults to deranged waterfalls of sweat, the ride was supremely agreeable. We cycled along dirt tracks through rural scenery, pausing approximately every 6 seconds to take a picture of some glorious azure lake that would suddenly materialise between the green folds of hillsides. Although the houses were typically Scandinavian – maroon wooden exteriors punctuated by linen-white window frames – each looked unique, like it had been built by its owner. And each had a stupendous view, which perhaps explained the lack of people outside. When we delved inland, away from the omnipresent water, the terrain became thick with pine forest, but even deep in the woods an occasional lake would shimmer like a jewel between the trees.
By some extreme fluke, we only became hopelessly lost three times. If we had been cruising through the Bronx this would have presented something of a dilemma, but here, it was all part of the fun. Eventually we found our way back, though not before pausing at a lake which had three diving boards floating temptingly on a pontoon. We toyed with the idea of leaping off, but wisely decided we’d had enough excitement for one weekend.
Well, almost enough excitement. A couple of hours later we were stood at the top of a tower on a small mountain wearing harnesses and unflattering helmets, staring into a green oblivion below. We had made our way to Dalsland Aktiviteter, a centre which specialises in outdoor activities. One of these activities is a 600m-long zip line, which sees its patrons reach speeds of up to 90 kilometres an hour, and this is what faced us now. I managed to play things very cool, right up until the point just before terminal velocity, at which point, alas, an alarmingly high-pitched and prolonged shriek released itself from my head. The rest of the ride became a blur – literally.
As well as providing intermittent shots of adrenaline, Dalsland Aktiviteter also offers more sedate options to pass the time. Having regained our composures from the zip line, we visited an onsite elk park, led by Pontus Gyllenberg, who, with his father, runs the centre. We were joined by a British family, who between them harboured an extraordinary capacity for elk-related questions. My single observation –“Big buggers, aren’t they?” – was met with vacant expressions from my fellow country folk, who were possibly anticipating something more insightful. But Pontus politely agreed, explaining how their long legs help them move through deep snow in the winter. The family nodded sagely.
Even more sedate than patting elks, however, is the accommodation the centre offers. You can choose between a converted barn, a cottage or one of three lakeside campsites. We were booked in to one of the campsites, which are characterised by their teepee tents (lappkåta), much like the ones used by the Sami, an indigenous, semi-nomadic people who live further north throughout the Nordic countries.
Upon arriving and realising we had an entire campsite to ourselves – three teepees in total, a communal one and two for sleeping – we felt rather spoilt, and even more so when Pontus informed us he would be cooking us a three course meal on the wood-fired BBQ. While he disappeared to prepare, we had a nose around and it was, frankly, a little too good to be true. Inside, the conical sleeping tents were ringed with reindeer skins laid upon springy bundles of pine branches. In the centre, on the dirt floor, a campfire. Back to basics. The communal tent was larger and filled with wooden benches and more reindeer skins. The site looked over a beautiful lake which, apart from a team of ducks leisurely paddling from one side to another, was completely empty, creating an enchanting feeling of total isolation. I thought of my home, buried in the bleak sprawl that is outer London, and it became scarcely conceivable.
Pontus, it turned out, was a fine chef, and we dined on wild mushroom soup (picked locally, of course) and a succulent, trout-like fish (caught from the lake, of course). He spoke about the conflict he faced, about how strong the temptation was to expand Dalsland Aktiviteter in a business sense, but the fear that if it suddenly became jam-packed with tourists, it could lose that touch of the wilderness that gives it its very character. He also told us about a time he stalked a bear, but that’s another story for another day.
Before he left us for the evening, he showed us how to work the hot tub. (Oh, did I not mention we had our own hot tub, overlooking the lake?) Forget images of frothing Jacuzzis – this was, like everything else in the camp, powered by nature. The water was heated by a wood fire in a metal contraption that sat at the back, like a giant radiator.
We soaked in silence, trying to comprehend the epic weekend we had just experienced. After an age, Andy spoke up.
“Same again next year?”
By Will Jones, My Destination