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Boats on the Gota Canal Part 1: From Stockholm to the Canal View Slideshow Part 2: Climbing the canal  into Sweden Part 4: Heading down to Gothenburg

2013: Stockholm to Gothenburg

The Gta Canal - Telford's Swedish Connection

Part 3: Across the middle of Sweden

Yes I'm sure you guessed it. Although it was a lovely sunny morning, we didn't go swimming in the lake; the Swedish folk may love swimming in cold water, but it's not for us. Instead we walked up the towpath past the staircase of 7 locks, and went to see the beautiful 12th century Convent of Vreta. It really was beautiful there, not only in the wonderful gardens but also inside the amazing church with its strong UK connections (the Douglas family from Scotland have been the lords of the manor since the 17th century) and we really enjoyed our brief stay here.

 

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The old convent is beautiful
The manor house is rather grander than the average vicarage!

 

I loved the texture of these ancient planks ...
... which were just an old shed in the grounds
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Inside the chapel the saints were clearly represented
The arms of Sweden and the UK are entwined in the wall-paintings
The tomb of the Douglas family, Lords of the Manor since the 17th century
The private gallery in the chapel

When we got back to the canal the Diana had completed its ascent of the 7-lock staircase that begins the 15 locks of the Berg flight, and was waiting in the half-filled top lock. Again this was done so that we could most easily rejoin the ship, and all other traffic had to wait until we were ready to depart.

 

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The Diana waits for her passengers in the half-filled lock
We are ready to board the ship
Soon we cross an aqueduct over a main road
This corner is called the "Helmsman's Horror"
Safely round the corner

The ship's guide seemed highly excited about the aqueduct that we crossed that morning, so the other passengers became excited too; but it did not impress us much as we have a similar aqueduct just 5 miles from home, and there are several aqueducts in the UK which are far more impressive. More interesting was the "Helmsman's Horror" corner at which so many boats used to run aground that in the 19th century the house owner there built himself a summerhouse from which to watch them.

As we crossed lake Boren, 250ft above sea level, we could watch a number of small boats coming down the 5-rise staircase of locks that would continue our relentless climb. The entrance to these locks was protected by a harbour wall which made it an extremely difficult turn into the bottom lock, a feat which the captain achieved so expertly that I went up to the bridge to congratulate him; he seemed surprised and genuinely pleased that someone had noticed it.

 

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Looking across the lake to the 5-rise staircase ...
... we can see some small boats descending.
The entrance to the locks is an awkward 90-degree turn
The captain starts to swing the ship around to enter the locks
We inch our way in for a perfect lock-entrance

We stopped that night at Motala, where the Gota Canal Company's offices stand. It was a beautiful evening, and some of the crew went swimming in the canal before having a grand barbeque on the bank-side. We meanwhile visited the museum there; it was a fascinating little museum, but there were so many items which I remembered from  my childhood - or which we were even still using - that I wondered if I should volunteer to stay and become an exhibit.

 

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The engineering works at Motala built railway engines ...
... and canal boats ...
... and the most magnificent dry-dock
Here was a floating swing-bridge that hadn't been motorised
The bridge-keeper turns the gears that swing the bridge

The next morning we crossed the corner of Lake Vttern to stop at the 16th-century Vadstena fortress. We turned right into the castle's moat, using a bow-line and strapping-post to turn the ship around (it is not equipped with "modern" luxuries like a bow-thruster) and moored there for the morning. With its incredibly thick walls the castle reminded me very much of Fort Vardo on the Norway-Russia border that we had visited in 1999, although this fortress was twice as big as the Norwegian one.

After a tour of the castle we were taken through the town on a small road-train. Historically the inhabitants of the town must have been a nosy lot; many of the houses had mirrors outside the windows, angled so that someone sitting in the living-room could see everything that happened in the street without leaving their chairs!

 

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An aerial view of the Vadstena Fortress
My own view of the Vadstena Fortress
 Outside the windows were mirrors, angled to show the house-owner everything that happened in the street.
The entrance to the Abbey accommodated pilgrims of different types of Christianity

The castle however was not the town's main feature; in the 14th-century Sweden's only female saint, St Bridget (Birgitta), founded a convent here and it became one of Sweden's foremost places of pilgrimage. Her story is intriguing; she was canonised because as a child she constantly had visions which were then found to match Biblical events remarkably precisely. After she visited the Pope personally in Rome, her canonisation conveniently ignored the facts that from early childhood she could read fluently, and also that her father had access to one of the few Bibles in Sweden at the time.

The Abbey's entrance had different styles of cross carved into the stonework, so that it could welcome pilgrims from different branches of Christianity; it was merely necessary to touch the appropriate cross upon entry. Inside, the abbey is spectacularly beautiful, with the tomb of St Bridget behind elaborately-carved screens illustrating her childhood visions.

 

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Leaving Vadstena we crossed the rest of Lake Vttern - almost 300ft above sea level, it is Sweden's second-largest lake - to reach the lock at Forsvig which would take us up to the canal's summit level. As we passed through the lock we were greeted by the Kindbom family who have since 1915 met every ship that passes by singing hymns, blessing the passengers and giving them bouquets of flowers.

 

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The approach to Forsvik lock is convoluted, to be a safe entry when there is bad weather on the lake
The old lift-bridge spans the head of the lock ...
... but  is dwarfed by its modern replacement
The lady passengers were presented with flowers by the Kindbom family

To see and hear the Kindbom family's greeting, undaunted by the sudden rain-shower, just watch this video:

 

Now it was time to cross the canal summit to Lake Viken which serves as a reservoir for the canal. This is a tricky feat of navigation; first the ship must turn upstream into a flowing river section using some impressive "proper boating" techniques. As the ship passed close to the shore, the "jump-ashore Johnny" (in this case a particularly athletic crew-member whose nickname was Tarzan) leapt to the bank and ran ahead. A crew-member on the bows threw him a line with a loop on the end, which he dropped over a substantial strapping post which turned the ship part-way upstream. As the ship continued without slowing down, he lifted the line and transferred it to another post further ahead to turn a little further, and then repeated the exercise on a third post to complete the turn into the river before taking a flying leap back on board. It was wonderful to see this traditional technique being employed here to such good effect, even if most of the other passengers did not appreciate or understand it.

 

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The channel to the left of the island provides the opportunity for the "jump-ashore Johnny" to make a leap for the bank
"Tarzan" the jump-ashore Johnny runs ahead to catch the bow rope that is thrown to him
He catches the rope and walks ahead of the ship with it
The loop of the rope is dropped over the first of three strapping posts that will pull the bows of the boat round into the current

The route across Lake Viken is a difficult test of navigation with a maze of small islands, a narrow deep-water channel across the lake, and a narrow artificial cut which was straightened out in the 1930's in an echo of the way Telford himself straightened and shortened Brindley's Oxford Canal back in England. It is also somewhat ironic that the monument  to Balthazar von Platen the original canal builder, which also marks the summit of the canal, is on the abandoned section that was cut off by this straightening.

 

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The edges of Lake Viken are a maze of small islands, with the route marked by sign boards ...
... or by stone walls ...
... which also define the narrow deep-water channel across the shallow lake
An extremely narrow cutting between two parts of the lake ...
... which had been straightened and shortened in the 1930's

Towards the end of that day we passed Sweden's smallest ferry, the "Lina", which provides the quickest way for the workers of Toreboda to get to their factory. It is here also that the main Gothenburg-Stockholm railway line crosses the canal; three days later we were to travel that line and take another picture from the fast-moving express train.

 

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This sign warns that there is a rope-operated ferry ahead
Sweden's smallest ferry
The main-line railway from Stockholm to Gothenburg crosses the canal over a lift-bridge
At over 120mph you have to be quick to spot the canal from the train

We stopped that night at the end of the summit pound, outside the original Canal Engineer's house, ready to begin our long descent to Gothenburg and the Baltic Sea.

 

Boats on the Gota Canal Part 1: From Stockholm to the Canal View Slideshow Part 2: Climbing the canal into Sweden Part 4: Heading down to Gothenburg
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