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Irish Sleddogs Get a Taste of Sweden
So our adventure to Sweden was planned nearly a year ago. It all seemed so unreal at that point and now we were finally starting the journey. We were on an adventure, across the UK and Denmark — from Co. Donegal, Ireland, to reach Camp Dannevall in Krokom, Sweden. Camp Dannevall is a place where you can take your own dogs to train on the trails surrounding the camp. A total roundtrip of over 3,500 miles was driven and 4 ferry trips taken. Our travelling companions included 8 dogs, 4 Irish Setters owned by my husband and I and 4 Siberian Huskies owned by Laura Matthews.
Our journey started on Friday 17th February in Co. Donegal, and then we travelled to Slane, Co. Meath to collect Laura and her dogs. We got the ferry from Dublin Port to Holyhead in Wales on Sat 18th and stayed overnight with our friends Sam, Leigh & Rohn Marsden. Leigh and Sam kindly brought us to Sherwood Forest on the Sunday morning so the dogs could get a mush before we made the journey to Harwich Port. The ferry crossing to Esjberg/Denmark is 17hrs long so the dogs needed exercise before settling into the ferry journey. After the dogs got a run and had breakfast we said our goodbyes and started off on the journey to Harwich which was meant to be roughly 3.5hrs away so we allowed 4.5hrs just incase. Thankfully we did as we ran into a big traffic diversion and we were very close to not making the check-in closing time! It’s a ferry you wouldn’t want to miss as it only travels to Denmark 3 times a week. We would of lost a few days travelling and it’s something you wouldn’t want to lose when you’ve only 3 weeks off work.
We were checked in quickly once we arrived and had enough time to get the dogs out for a quick toilet break before we boarded the ferry. On the ferry there’s 3 designated times when you can visit the dogs. The dogs are allowed to be walked about on that deck for toilet breaks. The ferry did provide 2 sandpits for the dogs but they were tiny and only suitable for smaller breed dogs. The dogs happily got back into the van every time and didn’t mind being in their crates.
We arrived in Esjberg/Denmark at 12pm on Monday 20th February. We went through port customs quickly and weren’t stopped even though we had a sign hanging on the vans window saying we had dogs in the van. I was very surprised but happy we didn’t lose any more time as we had a 20hr journey to Krokom ahead. However on the return journey the dogs were scanned and worm treatment was checked at check-in.
Weather conditions in Denmark were great for travelling it was like a Spring day with the sun shining and the roads clear from snowfall. We made good time on the motorway and there was always a good area to stop with the dogs for brakes. We finally reach the Swedish boarder around 6pm after travelling over the Oresund Bridge which joins Denmark and Sweden. We were stopped by a customs officer and he welcomed us to the country. He asked for the dog’s documentation and I gave him the Pet Passports. He checked them and quickly sent us on our way. It’s very nerve wreaking when you get stopped incase some documentation is missing or wrong. It was our first time travelling abroad with the dogs and we were lucky the new pet travelling rules made things easier. It’s a heart stopping moment never the less.
We drove for another few hours on the E20/E4 and then stopped at a hotel for the night. After a while, it started to snow it was the first snowfall we had since seen arriving in Sweden…. the town was transformed into something magical in just a matter of few hours. We brought the dogs out to the toilet and they turned into playful puppies rolling themselves in it and trying to catch it. Snowfall seems to bring out the child in us all including the dogs. I have to admit as much as Trevor hates driving in snow it still puts a smile on his face when he looks out the window at it, maybe it just has the same effect on the dogs?
Tuesday morning came early and we packed up the van and headed off. It was going to be a long days driving for Trevor as we didn’t get as far North as thought yesterday. The main motorway was clear from snow so it made for good driving conditions. Our planned route was to stay on the E20 and E4 and make our way up to Stockholm and then onto Ostersund and Krokom. Stopping with the dogs and for something to eat always took up at least half an hour to and hour, and the hours were adding up quickly. We finally reached Stockholm around dinnertime, the sat nav was still showing 10hrs of driving time tour destination. The further North we went the more the snow was appearing, we didn’t see any real snowfall on the roads until we reached Ostersund. Finally we made it to Camp Dannevall, It was a long drive, and we were all tired and sluggish but finally the holiday has begun!!. After all this planning, excitement and stress we were now here.
Nina and Kjell kindly showed us the kennels and our apartment for the next 2 weeks. They spoke to us about the trails we could use and provided a GPS map with distances. The trails are very impressive and a one way system so you’d never meet anyone head on. They ranged from 5km up to 42km. They were all signposted at junctions so you could always find your way back to the camp.
The first morning Nina brought Trevor and Laura out on the snowmobile and showed them the trails. On return they got the sleds and started to set them up with Nina’s help. Nina gave them some advice about handling the sled and encouragement. They were anxious about heading out on the sleds for the first time with the dogs. There was always that fear in the back of their heads of falling off and losing the dogs on the trail. They intended on trying the sled with one dog first but they both decided to start with 2 dogs. Anxiously Trevor hooked the dogs onto the sled, dragmat down and stood on the runners. Hike on was said and the dogs lunged forward, paws digging into the snow and the sled went into motion, Off the dogs went with great speed and determination, and I could see the smooth white snow flying off the dragmat and the only sounds I hear is the crunch of the sled runners on the snow. Ahead of them laid a tree-lined, snow-covered trail which we’d only seen in movies and dog sledding DVD’s.
Their first sled run went well and to their astonishment none of them fell off. The expression on their faces when they got back said it all, they had a grin on their face like a Chesire cat! What an experience they had finally running your own dogs on fantastic snow trails in Sweden. They were finally living their dream….to go out on the open forest trails with just you and your dogs – there’s nothing better. That evening Nina and Kjell invited 2 of us to be passengers on their sleds, Laura and Trevor jumped at the chance. That was truly a memorable experience for them and something they won’t forget. Laura got to control a sled dog team of 13 dogs for a few kms and got the opportunity to go out twice again before we left.
The training started with the shortest route 5km so the dogs could condition themsleves to running on the snow. We got little training done with the dogs in Ireland before we left as the weather was very humid this season so we wanted to take training easy. Our setters had a few problems with the paws snowballing the first day but the Musher’s Secret prevented that on further runs. The dogs soon learned to stay on the groomed trail as once they went off they’d be in shoulder deep snow. They also knew the wildlife was there and were always on alert, Hector our leader would try and track and run at the same time…that would be the gundog in him! You could clearly see how happy our dogs were when returning from training runs. Heads held high, ears flapping, and legs been lifted high like trotting horses. We were starting to feel guilty about taking them home again, they looked in their element running on snow.
Over the next few days my husband Trevor started to find his feet with the sled by using 2-3 dogs. With 3 dogs he found the sled was harder to control with one dog at wheel, so Nina recommended he tried a dog in single lead and 2 at wheel. This worked alot better and the sled handled better. With 4 dogs the faster speed made the sled more responsive and when the trails were good the dogs were able to reach speeds of 16mph-20mph. He found running the 4 dogs fun and it made sledding a better experience.
Unfortunately we were faced with a few warm days at the camp and this particular weather caused a thaw and then it would freeze overnight. This turned the car parking area into an ice rink, which made it difficult to get dogs in and out of the van.
This particular weather front made it also difficult to stick to the training timelines, we would have liked to get the dogs up to 14km before we left but with rest days and warm weather it wasn’t possible. We did however manage 11km which wouldn’t have been possible in Ireland because of temps, humidity and lack of trails in our area. I was worried about the cold temps in Sweden and it did drop to -15 one morning. I was more worried about our Irish Setters than they were of the cold. An Irish Setter fairs well in Winter, as they have a higher tolerance for cold and undercoat. As such, they are well suited to Northern climates. I brought 7 coats for 4 dogs and never used one, better to be prepared I think just incase we got the lows of -35 they got a few weeks before we landed.
Keeping weight on a few of our dogs was a problem in the cold. They were fed mainly on BARF at home but they were weaned onto a dried food aswell before we left. Nina had organised meat for us while we were there which was a great help. It came in a 1kg sausage form of chicken, chicken and tripe or tripe. We feed mainly chicken to try and keep the weight on the dogs. We gave the meat mostly at night time incase it was cold and they needed the extra calories. One of the guests at the camp was surprised to hear that the dogs were fed 2lb of meat a day (3% of their bodyweight.) the dogs always burnt the calories so quickly while working.
It was an expensive holiday and it’s hard to imagine going for any less than 3 weeks next year. There is at least 3-4 days travelling each way and that really takes a chunk out of your holiday time. The most expensive cost for us was the ferries and diesel. It was an expensive return crossing from Harwich – Esjberg totalling £1000 pounds including the charge of £18 per dog. At least €1100 was spent on Diesel. The cost of living isn’t too high there the prices of food and diesel are very similar. English is very well spoken in the country and we didn’t find there was a language barrier. The people are very friendly and one person went out of his way to help us when the van got stuck in snow at the top of a huge hill and the only way down was backwards. That was an interesting experience and not one to forget!
Our 2 weeks at Camp Dannevall flew in and we were sad to leave. I spent the 2 weeks doing photography and my husband trained the dogs. I really regret not getting out on the sled so next year I am aiming to run the team. We couldn’t off asked for a better place to train; the trails were fantastic and groomed when needed, the scenery stunning giving a truly wilderness feel and the accommodation had a rustic and comfortable feel. The hosts made us feel welcome and were always there for advice when needed. We’d highly recommended Camp Dannevall to anyone who wishes to go to Sweden and train your dogs. Plans are in works for a return visit next season!!