The midsummer weekend is closing in. The summer weather has been a bit on and off as usual and the forecast is open to interpretation now too. Many friends and acquaintances pack their cars and go to their holiday cottages, some go to seaside destinations warmer than our own. Me and my husband have no cottage - we have two kayaks and a tent.

When the weekend comes, we too pack our car, load our kayaks onto the roof rack and go to one of the small boat harbours on the outskirts of the city. One island we often return to is Antnäs-Börstskär. It has most of what one could ever want: cliffs, sandy beaches, walking paths and a sheltered bay with perfect evening sun. It lies less than a two-hour paddle away from Alhamn if you take the shortest route. It’s our choice this time.

Photo: Niilo Alhovara
Photo: Niilo Alhovara

The sun glistens on the water as we arrive at the bay in the old archipelago village after a half-hour car ride. People are preparing for parties at their holiday homes and children bathe in the, still very cold, sea. “Chance of sunshine” is what the meteorologist said and that’s an understatement - a few stray clouds sail past in the sky. However, the forecasters are located in Norrköping and - as is often the case - they generalise and are uncertain about our Northern region.

We pack our kayaks and then we leave. We will not be taking the shortest route today, we go around the island of Kunoön and then ashore on the small, barren Kunoöhällan. I really like this islet. It’s like a sample chart of various types of rock. My geological skills are sadly lacking but I think we can see Haparanda granite, gneiss and a black, volcanic type of rock, layer upon layer. Also, you will almost always get to see Black Guillemots and razorbills here. There is an abundance of flowers too. It often seems as though the rockiest, most barren little skerries are the richest in flowers. Now, I’m no expert of flora either but there are a few that I can recognize: labrador-tea and valerian are the most aromatic, the angelica is powerful and the sea campion and veronica are as lovely as their names.

Photo: Gunvor Ekström
Photo: Gunvor Ekström

After a coffee break we paddle north to Antnäs-Börstskär. Our favourite kayaking harbour is free this time as well. I treat myself to a quick dip, pick up a beer from my kayak and just enjoy being here.

After a while, we unpack. A kayak has room for practically everything but the kitchen sink. Lots of good food and drink, a tent, a spirit stove, sleeping bags, pillows, an armchair (!), warm clothes, cool clothes, various useful gadgets…

For lunch, we have herring, sour cream and potatoes, followed by coffee and cookies. Time for a nap before a couple of friends turn up later in the afternoon. We sit and talk for quite a while. Whilst they pitch their tent, we make a fire so that we will have nice barbecuing embers for later.

Starters: Raw pickled salmon and gravlaxsås (pickled salmon gravy) on crisp flatbread. Main course: Meat and vegetables are roasted on the fire and served with an herb butter and salad. Dessert: Strawberries, thick yoghurt and havreflarn, thin, sweet oatmeal biscuits. More conversation, the campfire keeps the mosquitos at bay as the sun sets. We go over to the guest pier and the sauna - open to all visitors all year round. Yet another reason to choose this island! A couple of boats are moored by the pier and one family is almost done with their sauna bath. We chop more wood as we wait and it will soon be our turn. We are lucky enough to have a nice sauna at home, but the view from this one is difficult to beat.

A post sauna beer on the wooden deck afterwards as we exchange a few words with the next group coming for a sauna bath. They too come here at least once every summer and we trade a few tips about life in the archipelago. When they realise that we have kayaks, they ask, as people often do: Have you paddled far?

Photo: Göran Wallin
Photo: Göran Wallin

After a while, we stroll back to our camp. We make a fire and gaze at the sunbeams, colouring a cloud bright pink right by the treetops on the other side of the inlet. One after the other, we begin yawning.

Tomorrow, we will just hang out here. Practice doing nothing at all. When we began paddling with the Swedish Outdoor Association in the Stockholm archipelago in the mid 90’s we learned to from about 9am to 5pm on every day of the tour. That’s the way it works when you go on organised, group tours. Now, however, when we’re on our own, we take the day as it comes. One of our kayaking friends taught us to take it one step further and sometimes even spend a whole day on land!

We might take a walk to the southern tip of the island. The southern cliffs are fairly high by Luleå archipelago standards and the view of Kunoön (kuno means woman), Mannön and the small islets in Kallfjärden, is lovely. On the way there, we will pass a shingle field and a 100-year-old feldspar quarry. Production never picked up - the quality wasn’t high enough. In my opinion this was a good thing, otherwise the island might have been harshly exploited for resources.

We will probably enjoy a sauna tomorrow too - and more good food. On Sunday, winds willing, we may take a detour to Germandöhällan before we head home. It is part of the Bådan nature reserve together with Gråsjälgrundet and Börstskärsbådan. The only building on the island is an old fisherman’s cabin, which sadly is now dilapidated. The feeling of an outpost is poignant, the cliffs by the beach are smooth and there are many seabirds.

Now, people begin yawing more frequently, one after the other bids good night. I linger, I’m tired too, but it’s so beautiful here. When the others have retreated to their tents I can no longer contain myself - the best climbing pine is only a short walk away. I climb up into it and I see an emerging shard of the sun shining brightly orange by the treetops - rising once again.

Text & photo: Gunvor Ekström

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