Martin Chambers

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kayaking the Stockholm Archipelago

published: February 12th, 2017

Imagine an archipelago of over 800 islands spread along 150km of coastline. There are rocky shorelines, sandy beaches and sheltered landings with paths leading to scenic forest campsites.  The islands vary from small and uninhabited, some that are farmed, to larger ones with small towns where you can re-supply. The distance between the islands is mostly less than a few kilometres. In summer the weather is warm, the breeze gentle. The locals are friendly and they even have a rule that allows camping anywhere provided you cannot be seen from the house. You can get to the starting point by local bus, and you can hire good quality sea kayaks right at the water front. Welcome to Stockholm.

Most of the islands are preserved as what we might call national park, although the management differs from our concept. Traditionally the islands were the base for farming and fishing communities and preservation of these communities and their way of life is seen as an important function of the park. Many of the islands have been purchased by the park organization and caretakers live, fish, grow crops and raise sheep or cattle on the islands. This scale of farming must be hardly viable in the modern age but the alternative would be resorts, hotels and private mansions with limited public access. On islands that are privately owned there are limits to the size and style of building so the whole effect is a remarkable step back in time. 

We paddled from the mainland for six days on a circuit via the islands of Moja, Skargarden, further out to where the islands are mere rocks and the next stop is Russia, then back via Ladno, Grinda and Gallno. Navigation was simple, the kayak hire includes a good nautical chart of the area and although the Swedish words can be impossible to pronounce the blue bits are water and the other bits are islands. Take a Swedish dictionary to translate some of the detail if you wish. Distances are not great, usually a few kilometres. In fact it can be hard to find the gaps between islands as looking towards a series of overlapping rocky shorelines the gaps become invisible. The area does have tide flows so a compass is useful to help identify landmarks before a crossing.

But the thing of navigation is this. You can camp anywhere for up to two nights so long as you are not visible from the farmhouse. So you could just paddle around aimlessly, find a campsite in late afternoon, and continue the next day where wind and weather and happenstance takes you. Why bother navigating when it doesn’t really matter where you go? It is all so fascinating. 

Actually, navigation probably does matter. To start with a couple of islands are military zones and are no go areas. Also, some islands are rocky and overgrown and we struggled to find a level spot for a two person tent. Drinking water is available at pumps and wells and finding these requires good navigation. And, many of the well established campsites are just so unbelievable beautiful. We began scoring them out of five- points for shelter, a view from the tent, a beach, a grassy slope, a log to sit on, a long sloping rock face in the late sun to dry paddling clothes on, a walk to a granite view hill. Lose points for mosquitoes, rubbish, other campers. So many scored the maximum we had to modify the system but even so, out of ten, many got eleven.  

Moja; Moja is mostly developed but a wonderful place to visit. The island town has a supermarket, boat and kayak hire, fuel, and a wonderful old church. A short walk along a country path between grassy fields gets you to the ferry terminal and backpacker lodge. If you want to camp, paddle across the water to Granholmen. Just north is Hemholmen where there is a sauna. 

Skagarden is the area to the east of Moja, a semi wilderness of undeveloped islands and little habitation. Just 12km of paddling will get you to Brunskar, on the outer edge of the archipelago. We had threatening grey skies as we paddled out to here, and it seemed all the more appropriate. It is like paddling to the edge of the world, not of the modern world, the old world that was flat and had monsters and as you got close there came a warning.  

Ladno, Grinda and Gallno are part of an inner group of islands. The feeling is not so wilderness as out at Brunskar, but they are not as built-up as Moja. Each island has its own character often defined for a kayaker by the nature of the landing, or the wild apples growing, or the lone yachtsman anchored in the bay, or the picturesque buildings, or the perfect campsite.   

The kayak hire people have a master chart with the locations of many of the campsites and water points but they are not on the issued map. I suggest you spend some time copying some of these details before you head off. Also, take note of the starting point. It would be embarrassing to paddle up the wrong inlet and not find the hire shop on your return.     

Weekend trips are popular with the locals so book kayaks ahead. Longer trips allow you to get further from Stockholm and away from the more populated islands. You could even break up a longer trip with a stay in one of several backpacker lodges. A ferry service connects all the islands and they will take kayaks, so an expedition along the length of the archipelago would not be too hard to organise.

www.horisontkajak.se is a great starting place.