The Göta Canal
A popular misconception is that the Gota Canal stretches from Stockholm on the east coast, all the way to Gothenburg on the West. In fact, the 150 miles and 58 locks of the canal take you from Mem, about 150 miles south of Stockholm, to Sjoberg, on Lake Vanern. It is Swedens premier leisure waterway.
The canal itself is really a series of man made links between some exceptionally beautiful natural lakes. Some of these lakes are of a considerable size, and worth visiting in their own right.
You can traverse the canal in as little as 5 days, if you must. Far better is to make a leisurely journey of it, visiting the pictuesque locations along the way. Most people take about 8 days.
The canal itself is open from May through to late September, and during the high season (June to mid-August) is operated 'on demand' by professional lockeepers. Outside of the high season yachts travel in convoy, once a day. Charges are determined by boat size and the number of locks traversed. The entire canal cost us about £350, but that includes up to seven nights berthing at each of 18 marinas, with their attendant facilities. All the latest prices and info are on the Gota Canal website. When you pay, you receive a plastic 'Gota Card' which provides access to all the marina facilities en-route, as well as providing some 'special offers'
The canal makes a big thing about their 'locking-up' procedure, using a long rope on the bow. In practice, this is a good thing, but anyone used to locks will find the system a doodle. Most locks are about 3 meters deep, and big enough for about 4 yachts. There are a few pleasure steamers which have right of way at locks.
There are 18 marinas of varying facilities en-route. There are also loads of places to visit on the lakes if you can spare the time. We travelled westwards, from Mem to Sjotorp, and the items below fill in details of our journey and the places we stopped. Click on the pictures to see them in more detail.
The journey up from the sea is still something, as the land closes in, isolated rocks get fewer, and you pass grand sites like the castle at Stegeborg. The canal entrance at Mem however, is nothing much - a long wall, a diesel pump and a small shack to take your money. Beyond the lock, there is a small marina (Booms) and a cafe.
Only 3 locks from Mem, Söderköping makes an ideal first night's stop, particularly as the bridge just beyond Soderkoping only opens on the hour and half-hour. The marina is just to West of the lock, and has both booms (largest to the West) and alongsides mooring.
The town itself is one of the largest on the canal, which doesn't say much, but although the ubiquitous grain silos are somewhat off-putting at first, it does have some character. In the grounds of the church, there is an amazing 50 meter high timber bell-tower, dating from 1582. There are also other ancient interests.
One thing definitely worth doing is to climb the hill immediately alongside the canal. At the top is an observation platform and picnic tables that look back over the canal and the town - all without guard rails!
There are a number of resturants, including a Tapas bar which often has special offers for Boat owners.
There are 11 locks (including 2 doubles) from Söderköping to Norsholm, as the Canal starts to climb. Asplången, a shallow lake en-route, makes a good lunch stop. The marina at Norsholm consists of a few alongside stages, and facilities are few. If you have time, it may be better to press on over Lake Roxen, to Berg.
The lock to the lake has less than a metre drop, and you simply hang on to ropes on the lock side. The lock itself is sandwidged between a road and a railway bridge.
Lake Roxen is about 10 miles across. There are a couple of other stopping possibilities, notably Linkoping(not included in the Canal marinas) and an anchorage on the north shore at Dymlingen
One of the two major lock staircases of nine locks occurs immediately leaving Lake Roxen at Berg. Berg Lower 'marina', accessible from the lake, consists of a number of stern bouys and a quay, little else - the nearest facilities are at the top of the flight. Yachts go up or down the flight in groups, and its not uncommon to wait - it can be up to 3 hours. There is a board showing the next 'up' time. We arrived after the canal had closed and the locks were full of kids jumping in.
Berg Marina proper is a large sheltered pool at the top of the Staircase, with mooring to stern bouys. It has electric, water, showers, and a cafe. A superb and reasonably priced resturant, the Kanal Krogen, is alongside the next lock up. There is another, lesser, resturant opposite and a small supermarket about 300 yards away. There is no town, as such.
We found Berg is one of the nicest places on the Canal.
There are 4 double locks above Berg marina, and then about 10 miles of canal to Borensberg. This is a picturesque little spot, and well worth a stop.
The marina, in common with others, consists of some staging following the Lock (which is another small 'levelling' lock, and is manually operated). The marina is protected, but open to Lake Boren.
The most well known part of Borensberg is the restored Gota Hotel, where you can eat outside on the terrace. The food is good, although not as historic as the Kanal Krogen. There is another resturant over the river bridge, as well as a few Pizzerias, and an ICA supermarket.
One other fun feature is the fountain set into the canal opposite the hotel. This fires up automatically every 15 minutes, which can be disconcerting (and wet) if you happen to be passing in a boat.
On the far side of Lake Boren is another staircase at Borenshult. A tying up spot exists similar to Berg, but once on the other side of the staircase it is a short trip to Motala on Lake Vattern.
The canal engineering works are based at Motala and now hosts an exhibition - which was not exactly popular when we went past.
Motala boasts a modern i.e Sixties) shopping centre with a couple of good supermarkets, but little to keep you. The marina is open to Lake Vattern and gets a little rough in a gale. The cafe in the marina however does a good and popular lunch dish.
A major meca for both Yotties and Tourists alike, but not on the canal proper, and hence not included in the mooring deals for the canal, Vadstena is about 6 miles South of Motala, and a superb place to stop. You enter the harbour and track right up to the castle moat, turning to Port at the last moment and mooring in 2 meters of water to Stern Bouys.
The imposing castle, which dates from 1260, and was conceived as a base for troops to harrass the invading Danes, and really only has buildings on the Lake side. These buildings originally housed royalty, but now boasts a conference centre and museum. You can get tours in English which will entertain you with disturbingly frank tales of the sanity of the Swedish royal family. The rest of the castle is a national archive and is off limits.
Apart from the picturesque town, which has kept its medieval layout and feel, the other major attraction is the Abbey and Convent of St Birgitta.
Lake Vattern's surface is at 88 meters above sea level, and at some points is nearly 100 meters deep. The lake, which runs mostly North-South, is about 75 miles long. The distance from Motala to Karslborg - almost straight across the lake, is about 18 miles.
This bit of water shouldn't be underestimated, it's a simiar size to the English Channel, and a stiff blow can still make the lake unpleasant.
There is a small archipelago of about 50 islands in the north of the lake near Askersund, and marinas nearby. In mid June Askersund holds a Jazz festival. It is a fair old trot down to Jonkoping at the southern tip of the lake, but there is also a fine nature harbour 6 miles north of Motala at Kyrkögardson.
From the map, we expected a town, but Karlsborg is surprisingly green and it is difficult to determine any development at all from the canal. The bridge here opens on the hour and half hour and the marina is just to the north. Karlsborg has a famous castle
We thought Forsvik was the surprise of the Gota. Tucked away at the head of Lake Botten, Forsvik lock comes with a reputation. The lock is reached by a short, narrow canal section, which has one way traffic. The sides of the lock are hewn out of pure rock, and are consequently rather rough. You need large fenders and preferably a board.
Apart from the Tea shop by the lock, which sells home made bread and cakes, there is little civilisation, but that is Forsvik's charm. There is the most perfect picnic/barbeque spot on a rock behind the mooring stage to Port on entry.
Just up the road is Forsvik Works, famous for making large control valves for water mains. However the works also ground flour, sawed wood and smithed iron and is a late example of a complete engineering community. It is now open as a museum. Being restored (or rather being built) here is a massive traditional padddle steamer - the Eric Nordevall II
Immediately leaving Forsvik, you have to traverse a narrow canal section. This was originally controlled by a semaphore system by the lock, but traffic lights have now taken over. You then have to traverse a further narrow canal section, which is operated as a one-way system governed by sound signals. Some spice is added by the fact that one bank has underwater hazards and the other has overhanging trees. You then enter the sublimely beautiful Lake Viken
Viken is shallow and wide, but bizarrely, half way up, in the middle of the lake, is a narrow channel, with a wall, just awash, which you have to follow. Viken, early in the morning, was, for me, the epitome of Sweden, with its still water, and banks of dense pine forests. This part of the canal is much more wild than the earlier part, and the wildlife is exceptional. At the end of the lake, the lock at Tatorp merely corrects for water levels.
Although Toreboda is on the main railway line from Stockholm to Gothenburg, frankly, it has little else going for it. Admittedly, we visited on a Sunday when everything was closed, but we thought it had little character, and if it wasn't for the supermarket, we might not have stopped.
From Toreboda, it only takes a day to lock down the 19 locks (most of which are doubles or triples) to Sjötorp
The end (or beginning) of the Canal, and the gateway to Lake Vanern. There are a number of stopping places at Sjötorp, but probably the best is the marina opening onto the lake. It is included in the Canal price, and has all facilities.
There are a few shops by the locks, and a canal museum. The museum has the largest collection of outboard motors we've ever seen, but probably the most interesting was the collection of items retrieved form the canal. (including an early cellphone)