The river appears black, as its name suggests. This can be eery in misty, wet conditions, but when the sun is out the ripples appear like liquid coal, jet black and shiny.
The banks are covered with fir trees of several varieties, interspersed with Silver Birch. Many of the trees hold bird boxes of differing sizes, some high in the trees, other larger ones are situated low, possibly only four feet from the ground - we wondered which birds these were for, possibly owls as they were large enough. Regrettably we did not find anyone we could ask.
Our trip was arranged with Francis from Valasens. He transported four of us together with our canoes and gear from Karlskoga to Tyfors where we commenced the 120km paddle down to Bratfors where he collected us a week later. Francis looked after our cars parked at his base and provided us with maps of the river. These were extremely useful especially as on several occasions the river widened into lakes and it would have been difficult to judge the egress point without them.
The river has been dammed and there were many portages around the Power generating stations, all of which were detailed on the maps together with instructions (in English) on the portage. A portage trolley is a necessity on this trip. The Power Stations were fascinating, the river was dammed in the late 1800's and we found some early examples of redundant machine houses still containing huge turbines.
Also detailed on the maps were shelter areas - these were used most nights as our overnight stops. A wooden shelter was provided, barbeques and seating, rubbish bins, a toilet (earth closet) and flat ground for our tents. An axe, saw and large amount of logs were available to us - the Backwoodsmen Bob and John were in their element sawing and chopping wood, and lighting fires. All of this was absolutely free - we only paid for our transport and the cost between the four of us was minimal.
We had to ensure that we carried enough provisions for four days, because there were no shopping facilities before then. We found that water presented more of a problem than food, and just as we began to run out one of our portages took us around a cemetery and lo! There was a tap. As we had paddled in teeming rain for most of that day we didn't feel that we were grave robbing by using the cemetery tap to fill our bottles!
We were fortunate to see two beavers during the trip, admittedly only their heads as they were swimming at the time and we saw some of the lodges they had built - very des res. It was intriguing to see the conical shapes of the fallen trees and stumps where they had chewed their way through a small coppice. We also saw a lone wolf skulking along the opposite river bank early one morning. Both the wolf and the beavers were captured on video.
Mosquitoes and midges - yes they were there as well in their thousands, but we were only really bitten the first night - possibly we were not on the Egon Ronay list of best British flesh - but the lumps remained itchy for a couple of weeks.
The Svartalven is excellent paddling water, through very beautiful countryside. The prevailing wind was unfortunately against us but this really only gave problems on one occasion when we had to cross a large lake against the wind and waves. Although we were there in July when the Swedish school children were on holiday we saw very few other canoeists and only had to share our night camps on three occasions. However the people that we met, either Swedes or Danes were very friendly and all spoke such good English. We were also lucky enough to have some very sunny weather for most of the time and were able to pick wild strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants which were delicious.
It was amazingly easy to do this trip in a foreign country basically because of the back up support which we had from Francis. His website is www.valasenkanot.se I would recommend him to any canoeist wishing to try Sweden and I wonder if any Canoe Campers know of any other such support available on other rivers in Sweden, Norway or France. We would be very interested to hear of any.
By Mavis Clark.
Many thanks to our companions, John and Margaret Parminter, who initiated and researched the whole project.