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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Kevin Rushby

My kayaking adventure off Sweden: If Henry Moore had designed an archipelago, this would be it

Kevin Rushby’s son Niall approaches the shore.
Kevin Rushby’s son Niall approaches the shore. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

I think of it as the “adventure moment”: when the guide says goodbye; when the boat unexpectedly pulls up to the riverbank and the captain tells you to get off; when no one speaks any language you understand; when you have to call on your own resources. The adventure starts when there is no one to tell you what to do next.

At the Kajaktiv Tjörn kayak centre on the Swedish island of Koön, my son Niall and I are about to have an adventure moment. We listen to the advice from the owner, Patrick. There is a bit about deteriorating weather three days ahead. I’m more concerned about where to wild camp tonight and getting a route marked on the map. Ahead lies the Bohuslän archipelago, a vast pointillist masterpiece in smooth granite: thousands of islets and outcrops along the west coast of Sweden, some the size of an overturned kayak, others large enough to land a rescue helicopter.

Kevin Rushby and Niall caught and ate mackerel on their trip.
Kevin Rushby and Niall caught and ate mackerel on their trip. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

I am painfully aware that Niall is not an experienced kayaker and may not understand what he is getting into. Niall is painfully aware that his father is prone to exaggerating his abilities while downplaying dangers. What could go wrong?

As we paddle away from Patrick and the safety of his shop, we both know we are going to have an adventure. And we do. The first night is easy. We camp a mile from base, comfortably close to safety. Next day we weave through a maze of channels, between beautiful lumps of rounded granite. If Henry Moore had designed an archipelago, this would be it.

We reach a clapboard fishing village with a cafe, where we tie up. We get a tiny frisson of excitement, a micro-dose of what is to come, when we decide to camp on an outlying islet. The incoming tide is fighting a stiff breeze that is stirring up the sea. We camp and catch mackerel for dinner. It’s idyllic, the fear soon forgotten.

The rocky coast of Bohuslän.
The rocky coast of Bohuslän. Photograph: Martin Wahlborg/Getty Images

Two more days pass and we are much-improved paddlers, which is handy because a storm is brewing. Niall is desperate to see England’s first World Cup match, against Tunisia in Volgograd. (How long ago does that seem? It was 2018.) Under darkening skies we bludgeon our way across a choppy fjord, frighten some deer off a narrow beach and set up camp. Then we charge up the fjord in our kayaks, abandon them and pick up a footpath into a forest. At sunset we bump into a farmer who grasps our predicament instantly. Kick-off is imminent and the nearest bar with a TV is five miles away. He offers directions and the loan of bikes, but the bikes are rusted and useless. We jog. As darkness falls, so does an icy rain. Niall forges ahead. I reach the bar at kick-off.

I don’t remember the match at all. What I vividly recall is the return journey: trying to find the kayaks, then battling wind and waves while trying to spot the tents in the dark. Next day the storm worsened, but we survived. With a guide, it would have been a memorable holiday, without one it was an unforgettable adventure.
The trip was provided by Visit Sweden. Kayaktivtjörn offers various packages for kayak courses and rentals. Four-day sea kayak hire from £211

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