Twenty minutes drive south of Bergen there is a road-side cafe. Next to the cafe there is a shed. In the shed there are paddles. Behind the shed, down a short gravel path, there is a pontoon sitting on a lake with various watercraft bobbing around. For hire. A very small amount of money changed hands and that was it. No deposit, no questions, no safety demonstration, no rules. Next thing we knew we were afloat with the very loose plan of paddling as far as we could up the system of lakes and streams (and then maybe a bit further), camp overnight and then return the following day. The waterways were stuffed with trout we were told and so off we went, a-huntin' and a-gatherin'.
We stopped often along the way, trying various fishy-looking spots with little luck. There was no sign of trout even breaking the surface. The only ripples we witnessed were made by a frog who stopped it's busy breast-stroke commute briefly while we took it's photo before continuing on it's way across the lake. The scenery on either bank was beautiful, ranging from open rolling farmland to narrow forested passages. Brightly painted hyttes appeared silently in small clearings as we cruised by and faded, dilapidated boat houses kissed the shore line.
We glided on mill pond still water from bay to bay, island to island, trying to find the elusive trout but finding nothing more than a couple of eager jack pike to puncture the frustration of our increasingly trout-less quest. Wild flowers on the bank provided sparkles of colour while these buttery yellow lilies studded the water like jewels. Soft rain started to fall.
We found more wildlife as we wend our way up through the lake system. Swallows performed stunning aerial displays, often within touching distance our canoe, their red, white and blue plumage and physics-bending manoeuvres as striking as any Red Arrow show. Steve found a mass of baby frogs on one bank, seemingly content to sit on our warm hands and have their photograph taken. The trout however remained elusive.
Eventually we came to the end of the main lake system and faced a tough uphill section through several sets of rapids, smaller lakes and streams if we were to reach our chosen camp. One of the portage sections required us to carry the canoe above our heads across a forested island. After a short paddle across another lake we were out of the boat again as we 'walked' the canoe through shallow rapids, slow progress on the slippery rocks and strong flow against our legs. Packrafts would have made all this an awful lot easier.
One last portage was needed to gain access to the top lake. Waterfalls stopped us gaining access via a side-stream so we pulled up to a beach, lugged the canoe up 300m of rough trail and slid the green beast down a steep bank, threading it through a gap in the trees. The process was hot, hard work and we were ready for food and shelter. Just the task of paddling across a very familiar looking lake before we could beach the canoe and set up camp.
Eagle-eyed readers will recognize this spot as a regular camp site of mine. Usually sheltered from the worst of the prevailing weather by the steep cliffs behind, the little beach faces the sunset and provides enough space for several shelters. The ground drains really well too, something we were grateful for as the rain continued to fall and we sheltered under my Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp, improvised into a lean-to shelter with the addition of the oars and a branch as supports. Steve slept in my DuoMid and I slept under the SpinnTwinn after returning it to it's more regular tarp configuration.
Never have I appreciated good design as much as watching the Bush Buddy Ultra stove happily consume damp twigs. Days of rain have reduced even the most protected wood source to soggy pulp so it was with much amazement and gratitude that we sat mesmerised as the little handmade Canadian wonder bloomed into orangey life and merrily reduced pencil-sized fuel to ash.
Dinner time. Aware that our super fishing powers might let us down I packed some chorizo sausage to augment the sun dried tomato and pine nut couscous. Steve loved the food and was glad we weren't living on freeze dried meals. The Bush Buddy proved itself to be a fine marshmallow cooker too and we gorged ourselves on the crispy surfaced gooey wonders, accompanied by hot chocolate with our choice of tipple. If you're wondering why Steve has his hood up while sheltering from the rain under the tarp, it's because we were inundated with midgies that also found the tarp a useful shelter from the weather and attempted to join our meal time by feasting on our blood.
A last stroll around our camp to stretch legs, drink in the view and witness another shower pass over our secluded valley while the sky over Bergen glowed tauntingly bright. Tired but warm and well fed we retired to our shelters and drifted off to sleep to the sound of softly falling rain and gurgling waterfalls.
After sleeping warm and well we awoke to altogether heavier rain thundering against the shelters. The space under the SpinnTwinn allowed me to remain dry, reclined under there in comfort, periodically drifting off to sleep again.
One final heavy shower kept our heads down for another half an hour but as the last drops raced each other down the taut spinnaker fabric before hurling themselves onto the ground below we got up and made a warm breakfast of coffee and porridge oats with nuts, seeds and raisins. Miraculously the sun even made an appearance and lent a hand to our packing by trying to dry our gear as we loaded up the canoe and pushed off into the dark waters.
Going home was the first day in reverse. Not just the fact that we failed to catch any trout but also in the series of paddling and portages we had to perform. The first step was to paddle across 'our' lake, don backpacks and then portage the canoe 300m back down the track and into the middle lake. Skimming through swathes of reeds and grasses we turned north then west and rattled our way down the rocky connecting stream until common sense overtook our sense of adventure.
As the canoe wasn't ours we decided to 'walk' the canoe down the shallower, rock-studded channel that led towards the lower lakes. We really wanted to shoot this section, we knew that canoe could probably take it but didn't want to get stranded 8km from the car with a hefty repair bill to swallow.
As we lost height through each successive lake we had one final portage to negotiate, down the middle of the forested island, the channel one one side choked with reeds and the other channel home to a boiling, frothing set of rapids that were well beyond us and our boats capacity. We trudged across the island, following the narrow path through the trees with the canoe on our heads. At the other end we gazed up at the rapids and wished for more suitable craft. As we put the canoe in we promised to return and conquer the noisy maw. We talked-up our paddling prowess as we pushed the canoe off the bank and promptly flipped the canoe and ejected all the contents, including ourselves, backpacks and fishing gear into the dead calm, 2 foot deep margins...
The rest of day passed slowly as we battled our way back to the car, against a stiff wind that reduced us at times to silent, heads-down effort on the wider, less sheltered sections. We stopped a couple of times to half-heartedly try our luck with the trout but Steve only managed to catch a Joe-fish when he cast his lure overhead and managed to snag the back of my neck with the treble hook. Thankfully I de-barb the hooks to aid unhooking and reduce damaging any fish I return so no field medic operations were required.
Despite the weather, the shy trout, capsizing our canoe, the midgies and the unfortunate incident with the fishing lure we had an amazing time. All within a stone skimming's throw of the city.