Deep in the Swedish birch forest your mind can begin to play tricks. As the shadows lengthen and a chill creeps into the pine-scented air you’re reminded of the folk tales that originated here, from gnomes and trolls to the siren call of the Tallemaja or “Lady of the Woods”. But there is one much-mythologized creature very much alive in the forest – the varg or wolf.
Once thought to be in league with the Devil and all but wiped out across Scandinavia by the 1960s, wolves have staged a remarkable comeback. There are now around two hundred spread across the wilds of central and southern Sweden, all descendants of a single pack from Finland. Your best chance of encountering them is in the forests of Bergslagen, just a couple of hours from Stockholm, and home to the country’s predator research centre. Here you can track wolves with local experts, spending the night in a cosy tipi or lavvu, lulled to sleep (or not) by the howling of the pack.
The camp’s location depends on where wolves have been spotted in recent days – they can cover up to 60km in a day so it’s crucial to find the best spot. After a short lecture by scientists at the research centre, it’s time to head out on the prowl. Close encounters are rare, as wolves are notoriously shy and can smell humans from 3km away, but you are almost guaranteed to find fresh paw prints and experience the eerie sense of being watched. As dusk descends it’s time to hike back to the warmth of the tipi in time to hear the wolves howl. Clambering into your sleeping bag, it’s hard not to feel a shiver as this bizarre aria begins – a mournful yet comforting sound, once heard across Europe and now, perhaps, set to return.
The “Howling with wolves” two-day tour is offered by http://www.naturetravels.co.uk, with regular dates in summer and others available on request.