Want to get some excitement but not sure you can afford it? In Scandinavia, as Ben Love explains, it’s really not that difficult to find thrills on a budget
With some of the largest remaining tracts of true wilderness in Europe, Scandinavia offers a multitude of adventure opportunities and, if you head off the beaten track, they can work out a lot cheaper than you might expect. The centuries-old tradition of “Allemansrätten” (“Every Man’s Right”) means people can roam and wild camp just about anywhere so long as they do not disturb or destroy the environment. Foraging is also permitted, and provides a seasonal abundance of delicious berries, mushrooms and fish. Travelling by train, bike or on foot takes you into these magnificent landscapes.
Sweden: The Inlandsbanan Railway
Completed in 1937, the Inlandsbanan railway snakes for 800 miles up through the rugged and forested heartland of Sweden from the southern county of Dalarna to Swedish Lapland, inside the Arctic Circle. The line is divided into two sections – north and south of Östersund – and just one train travels in each direction along each section each day. This means that although the journey can be done in two days, you can also easily make it last a week or more. Built to transport timber, the line fell into disuse as roads improved and is now operated as a summer passenger service (mid-June to the end of August, so worth planning a trip right now). The landscape changes from forest and lakes in the south to tundra and huge wild rivers in the north. The timetable varies each year, and the train stops frequently at trackside restaurants and platform food stalls for delicacies such as smoked trout from the Vojmån river, or warm cinnamon buns. The driver will often stop for interesting wildlife, too – moose, reindeer, and maybe even a bear or lynx. Those who want to learn more about the wildlife can arrange a trip with guide Marcus Eldh, founder of Wild Sweden. The banks of the Ljusnan river in Röjan are the place to look for the protected black vanilla-orchid – the provincial flower of Jämtland. On a hot day the train might stop so everyone can swim in a remote, crystal clear lake.
Some of the stops are big, old wooden station buildings, while others are simply a sign and some steps in the middle of the forest. With over sixty five stops, it’s easy to hop on and off and wild camp, or stay at one of the many small hotels and guesthouses along the route. My favourite stops for wild camping are by the lake at Kvarnsjö and at the top of the small mountain at Kåbdalis with its far-reaching views.
Denmark: Bornholm by Bike
The idyllic Danish island of Bornholm lies in the Baltic off southern Sweden, reached by train from Copenhagen and ferry from Ystad, Sweden. Its 158km network of roads, lanes, and tracks is perfect for exploring on a hired bicycle (from DKK75 a day). For an island of just 588 sq km the variety of landscapes are breathtaking. At the northern tip of the island, known as the Hammer, the remains of a medieval castle sit above sheer granite cliffs. The most southerly point, Dueodde, has a beautiful beach with white sand so fine it was once used for hourglasses. As it’s an island, nowhere is very far from the sea for a cooling dip on a hot day.
In the wooded Døndalen valley in the north of the island, Denmark’s longest waterfall tumbles 20 metres into the valley. To the south, 12km-long Ekkodalen was originally called Kodalen (cow valley) but at some point, “ek” was added and it became Echo Valley. It’s fun trying to find the best spot to send an echo. This is also dinosaur country. In 2000 a geology student found a tooth from a 100-million-year-old dromaeosaur. The Natur Bornholm centre in Aakirkeby displays some of the best fossils discovered on the island and has tips on the best places to go hunting.
The island is also well-known for food. Hasle Røgeri smokery on the west coast is the place to try smoked herring fillet on rye bread – known as “sunshine over Gudhjem” for the raw egg yolk it is topped with. For new Nordic cuisine, Kadeau in the south-west prepares dishes from locally sourced and foraged fish, fruit, herbs and berries, using traditional smoking and pickling techniques.
Accommodation options include wild camping on a beach, the Hullehavn woodland campsite on the east coast and the Green Solution House eco-hotel near the capital, Rønne, which was built from recycled or biodegradable materials. Its waste water is cleaned using algae which is the converted to gas to generate electricity.
Norway: Hiking the Narvik Mountains and Fjords
In the stunning Ofotfjord, the port town of Narvik is the springboard for hiking, swimming and exploring a stunning section of Norway’s wild coast. The summer midnight sun, combined with the Gulf Stream and the shelter offered by the mountains results in a relatively mild climate for such a northerly location – and help make this a fantastic area for exploring.
The weather is often still good into mid-September, when the Autumn colours appear to bring the mountains to life and the northern lights start to light up the clear night skies. Stay in Narvik and explore the coast and up into the mountains, or maybe do the opposite and venture into town only for supplies.
Beautiful Skjomenfjord runs south off Ofotfjorden and is framed by steep mountains and peaks. The clear water is perfect for a bracing swim. On its western side, in the shadow of Reintind there are over 80 rock carvings, believed to date from around 5000 BC. Although there is no obvious path, the carvings are worth searching out and are remarkably distinct. Located along the water’s edge this is not as difficult as it may sound.
Another great hike is the Rallarvegen, a trail built by navvies working on the railway line built to carry iron ore across the mountains to Kiruna in Sweden. A particularly spectacular section follows a precipitous path between mountain and fjord for 15km from Katterat on the Swedish border down to the head of the Rombaksfjord. It’s not unusual to find the remains of parachute containers dropped by the Germans during the heavy fighting in the second world war. There’s a boat and bus along the fjord back to Narvik from here. Look out for white-tailed fish-eagles and otters and the impressive wreck of the German destroyer Georg Thiele, which was scuttled in the fjord in 1940.
For something more technical, Stetind, 80km south-east, is Norway’s national mountain, a steep, smooth granite peak 1,400 metres high. Reaching the summit requires specialist equipment and a guide, but it’s possible to hike as far as the approach. The starting point for the hike is about an hour’s drive along the fjord from Narvik.
Long before mines and railways arrived, the nomadic Sami people would spend the summer in settlements along this coast in this area before heading back to Sweden for the winter. Some Sami families now welcome guests for a day tending reindeer or learning birch bark weaving, or a stay in a traditional “kåta” tent. Visit Narvik is great for finding budget accommodation ranging from eco-hotels, such as turf-roofed Fjellkysten eco-lodge, to traditional Sami camps such as Pippira Silda. Wild camping is of course also very practical in the mountains.
Ben Love is the author of Wild Guide Scandinavia which lists five hundred affordable wild adventures