A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Stockholm archipelago: Idö

May 21, 2016
Emilie Phillips

After attending a conference in Stockholm Sweden, my friends Henrik and Anna took me to their tiny cottage in the Stockholm archipelago.

Most people moved away from the islands in the 60’s and 70’s because subsistence farming was no longer viable. The Swedish government and private foundations bought up many of the islands. The Archipelago Foundation owns Idö. The foundation focuses on preservation. They maintain the buildings on Idö in their historic state and a ranger manages a cattle herd to keep the fields open. In the summertime, a ferry runs from the nearby mainland and another all the way from Stockholm.


Henrik and Anna, have a long term lease on one of the cottages on Idö. We drove an hour and a half from Stockholm out to a little community dock where they keep a modest power boat. From there, it was a 20 minute boat ride out to Idö. I love the feeling of being out on open water. The scattered islands blocked the horizon, but in between was wide open. We past an old fort and cannon. A remnant of concerns about Finland during the cold war. We passed several groups of white swans. In the US, they are rare, but after the weekend on Idö, I came to understand they are the Swedish version of Canada geese – omnipresent, loud, and big enough to not care.

Swedish bluebells
Swedish bluebells

We pulled into a protected cove on Idö populated with rambling red farm structures, some more barn-like, some more house-like. As the island economy transitioned from farming to tourism, some of the root cellars were converted into foundations for cabins. Some of the barns were left as barns and some converted to cabins. The traditional Swedish paint is red. Sweden had active copper mines in the south. The red color comes from a copper compound that protects the wood.

Most of the trees were pollarded. It’s a European pruning style where the small branches are cut back to the main trunk. Usually, it is purely decorative, but out on the islands, they used the cut branches as fodder for livestock. The grass was green and lush and daffodils and tulips grew everywhere.

Old fashioned wood fired kitchen stove
Old fashioned wood fired kitchen stove

There is no electricity or running water on the island. All the cabins have been retrofitted with a solar panel and a minimal propane cook top. Henrik and Anna’s cabin was one of the original farmhouses so it has a lot more amenities. In the kitchen, there are two wood stoves side by side. One heats fluid for the radiators throughout the house. The other is a kitchen stove with top cooking elements and a little oven. The old sink has a hand pump that used to draw water from a shallow well outside the house. Both the pipes from the well and the drain pipe have broken. That well is not considered potable any more. Instead we carried buckets farther to a modern deeper well. The kitchen was nice and bright during the long Scandinavian day, but we opted to eat most meals outside to better enjoy the views. Next to the kitchen was the only other original room, now the kids’ bedroom. A previous owner brought a Russian furnace from the mainland to look impressive, but never installed a chimney. At some point, the house was widened and had a second story put on top with yet more bedrooms.

Picnic lunch
Picnic lunch

The first day, I still felt sick from a fever Isaac gave me. So we took the power boat to one of the outermost islands and had a picnic. The water is brackish and not tidal, so the sea life and vernal pools look very different from New England. I learned that every place the rocks are wet, they are very, very slippery. I took a couple steps off the boat and promptly slid waist deep into the water. Luckily, it was warm out and I was wearing all quick dry clothing, so I recovered quickly. My shoes, on the other hand, took all weekend plus some time in front of the kitchen stove to dry. We found tadpoles, bright green algae, and more swans. I watched the cruise ferries headed from Stockholm to Finland for partying.

Navigational marker
Navigational marker

There was one navigation marker on the island. It is unlike anything in the US — a white post with a triangle of crossing boards up top. I realized I hadn’t seen any of the navigational aids I was accustomed to in New England. No red nuns, no green buoys, no bells, no light houses, not a single lobster buoy. Down closer to Stockholm they do have some buoys, but they aren’t numbered. The cove on Idö was marked by a black concrete pillar on one side and a white concrete pillar on the other. I think I saw the concrete pillars a few other places.

Henrik showing off his sauna
Henrik showing off his sauna

That evening, I enjoyed my first Swedish sauna. Henrik had built the sauna. After looking it over and hearing its story, I dubbed it a red-neck sauna. I did the traditional warm up in the sauna and then go jump in the cold sea.


Sunday, I felt a bit better, so Henrik and I paddled around the island. After Henrik’s comments about his paddling skills and boats, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The boats turned out to be reasonable if Henrik sized. I picked the fiberglass boat with hard chines. With the rudder up, I could maneuver it by gently edging. We found many swans and a few other birds. The neighboring island is still private and had cattle grazing down to the water. I was still a little tired from being sick, so I took the paddle at a leisurely pace. That day the water was very flat. It sounds like the archipelago is quite protected. Back at the dock, I decided to try a roll. First roll of the year in large unfamiliar boat with a high back deck, even higher stiff seat back, brackish water, and a European paddle. I made it! Henrik didn’t have his camera ready, so I rolled again.

Then, unfortunately, we had to head back to town.

It looks like a great place to come back to. Easy kayaking. Plenty of public land to camp on. And the Swedish land use rules say you can camp on private land as long as you aren’t intruding on the owners. So you can camp on a lot of the private land too. There are places to rent kayaks. You can get from the airport out into the archipelago on public transit.

Arriving Friday




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Comments (2)

  • Wonderful seeing these..I showed my mum and she was happy seeing the photos..her father grew up there..one of the small amount of people that lived on the island back in the day….
    Thank you….Steve

    • It’s gorgeous out there, but must have been hard living there back in the day.

      Glad the photos made your mum’s day.