***  SWEDEN  2013   -  WEEKS 15~17  ***
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CAMPING IN SWEDEN 2013 - Sala silver mines, Ånundshög archaeological remains near Västerås, Norrköping, Linköping, the locks of the Göta Canal, Vadstena, Eksjö, and the Glasriket glassworks of Småland:

Ängelsberg Bruk 18th~19th century estate-based iron-works:  leaving Uppsala, we headed west on Route 72 towards Sala, and continued beyond on the minor Route 256 to find the preserved remains of the Ängelsberg Bruk ironworks and blast furnace. The pleasant lane wound through farming countryside where harvesting of the golden-ripe cereal crops was taking place. As at Pershyttan and the rest of the Bergslagen region (see log of our visit), small scale iron ore mining and smelting had been carried out by peasant-farmers supplementing their agricultural living since medieval times. The introduction of the waterwheel to power pumps and furnace bellows enabled more extensive mining and development of smelting technology at sites like Ängelsberg where the 3 components necessary for iron smelting coincided - local iron ore, water supply for power, and plentiful timber for charcoal production. During the 16~17th centuries, Swedish government policy was to encourage estate-owning noblemen to invest their wealth in iron works, which is what happened at here Ängelsberg. In 1680 the local land-owner developed the Ängelsberg Bruk (estate iron works and forge) to produce pig- and wrought iron. Typical of estate iron-works, which across Bergslagen contributed to Sweden's 17~18th century economic prosperity, Ängelsberg increased in its technological development and scale of production during the 19th century with charcoal-fired blast furnace driven by increasingly powerful blowers. But competition from UK and German steel production made smaller estate-based iron production uneconomical, and Ängelsberg iron-works was fired for the last time in 1919. The Ängelsberg earth and timber insulated blast furnace with its high furnace stack equipped with water-wheel driven heated air blower, ore-crusher and ore roasting kiln have been conserved (Photo 1 - Ängelsberg Bruk 18th~19th century blast furnace) set amid the landscaped estate and now have UNESCO World Heritage status. Today the estate with its trimly manicured lawns and neat chocolate-box red-painted wooden buildings was a peaceful setting; what would this scene have looked like at the height of its industrial production?

Click on 4 highlighted areas of map for details of
Sala, Vadstena, Norrköping and Småland

Sala Silver Mine:  we returned to Sala passing several other villages whose names included the -bruk suffix indicating their iron-smelting heritage, and booked in at the Sala STF Vandrahem-Camping set among lakeside woods just outside the little town. The lawned area behind the hostel had 10 peaceful camping spaces shaded by tall trees; we still could not get used to seeing deciduous trees and were missing the pines and spruce of the north. Our reason for coming to Sala was to visit the Sala Silvergruva (Silver Mine). Small scale peasant mining for silver and lead had begun in this area of Bergslagen in Medieval times, but by the 16th century the Danish state had taken over mining of silver on a huge scale benefitting from the resultant revenue. The earliest exploitation had been open cast but as technology improved with water-powered pumps and hoists, deeper mining developed. A small township grew up south of the mines housing miners and their families, with over 1000 living there at its height. By Gustav Vasa's reign (1523~60) with Sweden now independent of Danish domination, the output from Sala's silver mine was a mainstay of the new state's economy with the result that the mine was described as the 'Treasury of Sweden'. But as shafts and galleries were dug deeper, serious cave-ins threatened this vital economic resource. German mining experts were brought in during the later 16th century; new shafts were dug and more systematically planned and surveyed galleries developed. An entire surface system of canals and ponds was created to drive water-wheels to power pumps and hoists for extracting the ore which was transported 2 kms north for refining, crushing and smelting to retrieve the minute quantities of silver from the galena mineral. Subsidence of the older workings made them unusable and the old mining village unsafe for habitation, and a new town developed where the modern town of Sala now stands just to the north of the mine.

During the 17th century, the State's revenue from Sala Silver Mine's output financed Gustav II Adolfus' foreign wars, with shafts cut deeper and galleries spreading sideways into the veins of ore deposits; the silver mine financed the construction of the ill-fated royal warship Vasa. Improved technology for pumping and winching in the 18~19th centuries enabled even deeper shafts to be driven, initially down to 60m, then 155m and the deepest working level at 318m, each of the shafts named after royal beneficiaries of the mine's income - Queen Christina's Shaft, Gustav II's Shaft and Carl XI's Shaft. Until the 19th century, fire-setting was the only means of advancing shafts and galleries, with wood fired overnight against the workings to break the rock; smoke was cleared by ventilation shafts and miners worked with picks to extract the ore, advancing the face just 10cms a day. It was desperately gruelling work in a hazardous environment with rock-falls frequent, dust a major cause of lung disease, and only wood torches for lighting. The Swedish State gained its silver revenue at vast human cost. Only in the mid-19th century did black powder and later Nobel's dynamite become a reliable explosive, enabling greater advance in the driving of galleries; steam powered and later electrically operated pumps enabled even deeper shafts. The main mine ceased in 1908 but extraction of silver and lead continued until 1962 when all mining activity at Sala ended. The deeper working levels below 155m have now flooded, but tourist visits now take place down to the 60m and 155m levels which are maintained.

Our visit to Sala Silver Mine:  the Silver Mine's web site gave the impression of mine visits being over-commercialised and superficial with as sanitised an environment as Falun copper mine, but we decided to investigate and approached the mine complex amid the peculiar landscape of mining towers and spoil heaps (Photo 2 - Queen Christina Shaft winding-house at Sala Silver Mine). Visits were expensive, even down to the 60m former working level being 160kr each, but we booked our places, kitted up fully for the 5°C underground temperature, donned hard-hats and waited for the guide. It was clear from the start however that our reservations had been misplaced: the guide began his factual commentary alternately in English and Swedish and allowed time for questions, showing us a sectional plan of the centuries old mine workings and detailing their history. Throughout the mine's history access to the deeper reaches had been by a series of wooden ladders. We started underground however down a series of steep, winding stone steps to a gallery where the guide gave us further technical details of working methods. He led us to a fenced portal opening into the vast Christina Shaft 20m in diameter and dropping fully to the deepest working level. Looking upwards glimpses of daylight could be seen, but downwards into the fearsome depths endlessly to the now flooded lower levels nothing but darkness with perhaps just a hint of water. This had been the mine's principal working shaft at the height of its late 19th century working. In what seemed like a 3-dimensional maze of tunnels and galleries, we descended metal rungs to a lower level where the guide issued torches for the next stage of descent into partial darkness via a narrow and open spiral ladder.

This was certainly no sanitised underground route, and other than a passing warning from the guide to take care, the group had to take personal responsibility for their own well-being and safety in this evidently hostile environment. As the guide added further details of working methods, we peered into the semi-darkness of working galleries (see left) where over generations miners had hacked out the ore gradually enlarging the vast caverns. Another spiral metal rung-way brought us down further to the 60m working galleries, our deepest level of descent on this tour. At this level the only lighting was that provided by our torches; this and the means of descent gave some sense of the miners' hazardous working environment (Photo 3 - Underground at Sala Silver Mine). We were now led along a horizontal passageway, but again no sanitised health and safety conscious walk-ways; the tunnel floor-way was littered with rock debris necessitating serious care as we edged forward. This finally led to an upward sloping tunnel cut post-mining to connect former working galleries to the Knekt Shaft where a modern elevator had been fitted as the means of egress from the 60m level. The lift returned us to the surface where the guide gave us a further résumé of the route we had followed underground with the help of a sectional plan of the workings. Contrary to our expectations, this had been no superficial mine visit; we had been underground for more than 2 hours, and the route followed was certainly not for the faint-hearted: narrow, steep and open spiral rung-ways dropping vertically into the depths to be negotiated, and rock-strewn passageways with only a torch for illumination. No nannying from the guide, with visitors having to take care for themselves. The commentary was fulsomely detailed with opportunity for questions; without doubt, despite our initial reservations, this was the finest mine visit we had made, giving a realistic impression of the mine's scale of working environment. Our experience would commend others to walk the surface route at Falun copper mine and make the 60m underground visit here at Sala Silver Mine.

There was also much to see on the surface around the mine and we set off to walk around the collapsed pits of the former open cast workings and spoil heaps (see right), and beyond this, the site of the long-abandoned mining village. The small mining museum displays items excavated from the mining village, historical details of the mine's development and samples of ore. Nearby the winding towers of the Knekt Shaft and Queen Christina Shaft stand as monuments to the former mine workings and along the driveway, the surface winding tower and spoil heaps of the mine's deepest workings, the 318m deep Carl XI Shaft. This visit to the Sala Silver Mine had been a thoroughly absorbing afternoon, adding further to our understanding of the importance of mineral resources in Sweden's historical economy. There was just time to call in at the centre of the pleasant and unassuming modern town of Sala and top up our provisions at the ICA supermarket, before returning for a second night at the Sala campsite.

South to the Anundshög Iron Age burial ground near Västerås:  we headed south from Sala on Route 56, turning off on back-lanes to the Iron Age burial site at Anundshög 6kms east of Västerås. As early as the 1,500 BC Bronze Age, people were already settling and farming along the Badelunda ridge which stretched eastwards towards Lake Mäleren. In these days before the land rose this was on a bay, the furthest inland point of an inlet from the sea, and remains have been found of a landing-stage at a time when the ship was a significant means of travel. As the land rose, further land emerged below the ridge cultivated by this prehistoric settled agricultural society. Trade routes and water courses met around the Badelunda ridge, and both archaeological finds and the surviving grave-fields show that an important power centre ruled by a leading clan chieftain developed here at Anundshög during the early Iron Age between 500~1050 AD. Around 500 visible graves survive with an unknown number still undiscovered, of varying forms - burial mounds, stone ship-settings and standing stones (see left). The largest is the great burial mound tumulus at Anundshög, Sweden's largest at 9m high and 64m in diameter created around the 10th century AD. Many of the mounds were plundered in antiquity and the Anundshög tumulus has never been excavated. Built on a foundation of clay on which the dead were cremated along with grave goods, the remains were covered with stones and turf to raise the mound, the scale of the Anundshög tumulus and the numbers involved in its construction indicating this was a powerful chieftain who controlled large tracts of land. Around the mound were 5 large ship-settings, another form of burial memorial associated with pagan ritual. Again the scale suggests this was a sacred site ruled by a powerful chieftain. Nearby a large and ornate rune stone was raised with a line of standing stones marking a roadway leading to a forded river crossing, further indicators that he who controlled communications routes and river-crossings with Anundshög at the hub was indeed a powerful chieftain. The names of these rulers and their power centre are unknown, but the burial site is now referred to by its later Medieval name of Anundshög, the burial mound of Anund the chieftain's legendary name. By Medieval times and the conversion to Christianity, the pagan ship-settings were overturned and the rune stone torn down in an attempt to obliterate the pagan past. A more settled agricultural society developed at Anundshög and the former chieftain's territories divided up, with the former sacred burial site becoming a meeting place for the local Thing, the district court which met to resolve disputes. Badelunda church was built in the 13th century, its scale again indicating that this was still an affluent farming community.

Armed with maps and information booklet bought from the café, we set off to explore the Anundshög burial mounds site. The main tumulus was huge and surrounded by 4 of the original 5 ship-settings now fully restored. The largest, over 50m in diameter with stones 1m high, stood end to end leading to the tumulus with several other burial mounds nearby. By now a hazy sun gave reasonable light for photographing these remarkable 1,500 year old remains of pre-Christian, pre-historic Swedish tribal society (Photo 4 - Anundshög Iron Age burial-mounds and stone ship-settings). Clearly the now almost parklands site was a popular Sunday afternoon outing for local families. The southern side of the site looking out across flat arable farmland would once have been the inlet from the sea alongside which the original settlements had farmed. A line of standing stones led from the ford across the stream along the 'royal road' marking out this Iron Age highway. This led to the 2.5m high rune stone, erected in the late 10th century by a wealthy land-owner to mark out his establishment of the road (see above right); in translation the runes read: Folkvid raised these stones in memory of his son Heden, brother of Anund; Vred carved the runes. Clearly this was a powerful man who set up this imposing monument to tell the world for all time of his son, his road, and himself. Vred was a skilful rune carver and produced an elegant pictorial design of unknown significance around which the runic dedication is inscribed (Photo 5 - Anundshög Rune stone and burial-mounds). The top of the Anundshög burial mound gave a bird's eye view across the outline of the 2 largest ship-settings (see left).

Västerås Cathedral:  by now it was 4-00pm and with the sky now gloomily overcast and rain beginning, we just had time to drive into the city of Västerås before finding tonight's campsite. Our satnav guided us through the eastern suburbs towards the centre, passing heavy engineering companies that had made Västerås Sweden's industrial workshop, which historically had exploited the metals mined and smelted across the Bergslagen region. ABB Industries whose generating plant we had seen at Porjus hydro-electric station was the city's main employer, and we passed a huge Bombardier engineering plant. Weaving a way through narrow winding streets around the centre, thankful it was Sunday afternoon with minimal traffic, we reached Västerås Domkyrkan. The red-brick cathedral was begun in the 13th century with Tessin the Younger adding the Baroque spire in 1695. We ambled around the cathedral's chapels and memorials, noting the sarcophagus of Eric XIV, Gustav Vasa's deranged son who was poisoned by his brother with arsenic-laced soup in the internecine royal struggles following Vasa's death. After a walk around the lanes and attractive wooden cottages of Kyrkbacken, the old district behind the cathedral, we left Västerås and turned south onto Route 56 eventually crossing an arm of Lake Mälaren to find Mälarbadens Camping near to Torshälla on the southern shore of the lake. This turned out to be a mediocre and meanly penny-pinching campsite with additional coin charges for all the basic facilities you should normally be able to take for granted; thankfully it was only a one night stop.

The Ramsund Sigurd legend rock-engraving:  in bright sunshine the following morning, we drove on minor roads around the southern shore of Lake Mälaren to find the Ramsund Sigurd Engraving. Turning off on a narrow lane we suddenly entered a dark and duly mysterious wood and crossed a brook on a rickety bridge into a tree-lined clearing to a parking place; there on a large bed-rock panel was the 5m long, 2m high engraving (see below left). Carved around 1,080 AD, the stone takes the form of a commemorative runic inscription shaped within a curving ribbon forming a dragon's body and enclosing a panel of pictorial engraving illustrating the central story of the legend of Sigurd (Sigfried) (Photo 6 - Ramsund Sigurd legend rock-engraving). The legend of the heroic dragon-slayer, of golden treasure and a cursed ring occurs from time immemorial across Europe: the hero's adventures figure in the English epic Beowulf, in the Icelandic sagas of Snorri Sturluson and the Germanic Nibelungenlied epic saga borrowed by Wagner in the Ring Cycle operas; it was heavily plagiarised by JRR Tolkien in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

The legend of Sigurd Fafnesbane (Siegfried the Dragon-Slayer) goes like this: once upon a time, an ancient magician named Rodmar had 3 sons, each with remarkable powers. The first son Otr was able to take on the shape of an otter when fishing for salmon; one of the Norse gods Loki happened to be passing and threw a rock at the otter killing it. Rodmar the father was mightily displeased at this and demanded that the god make recompense for killing his son by filling the otter skin with golden treasure as atonement. Loki went to the rapids and used his net to catch the dwarf Andvari who had taken the shape of a pike. The dwarf purchased his freedom with all the gold he possessed except for one gold ring; when Loki ripped the ring from his finger, the dwarf placed a curse upon all who came into contact with the treasure. Once Rodmar received the gold as payment for Otr's killing, the curse brought greed upon him causing him to resent sharing the treasure with his other 2 sons Fafnir and Regin. Fafnir became so enraged that he killed his father to get his hands on all the gold, and taking on the form of a snake-like dragon, he went to brood at a place called Gnitaheden curled up on his pile of gold. The curse of the ring continued: Regin, a skilful blacksmith, wanted his share of the patrimony and planned to seize the treasure by trickery bringing into his plans Sigurd whom he had earlier adopted as his step-son, forging him a razor-sharp sword called Gram. Urged on by Regin, Sigurd dug a pit-trap near to where Fafnir in the form of a dragon had slithered down to a lake to drink. Fafnir falls into the trap and Sigurd stabs him to death with his sword Gram, so gaining the honorific of Fafnesbane (Slayer of Fafnir). Sigurd cuts up the dragon, but in roasting its heart on an open fire he burns his hand. Sucking his finger to soothe the burn, he tastes the dragon's blood and instantly acquires the power to understand the prophetic songs of birds sitting in a nearby tree who warn Sigurd of Regin's evil plans to kill him and seize the treasure for himself. The birds advise Sigurd to strike first and to kill Regin. Sigurd cuts off Regin's head to escape his evil thoughts in the future; he returns to Fafnir's lair and loads all the treasure onto his faithful horse Grani which is a direct descendent of Odin's horse Sleipnir.

So how come the ancient legend of Sigurd Fafnesbane was reproduced in the 11th century AD as pictograms surrounded by a runic inscription carved into the coils of the dragon's body? (see right) The runes on the Ramsund engraving translate as: Sigriðr, mother of Alríkr and daughter of Ormr, built this bridge in memory of the soul of Holmgeirr, father of her husband Sigrøðr  Perhaps it was the similarity of names between the woman Sigriðr and her late husband Sigroðr that caused the choice of the Sigurd legend pictograms, again glorifying the family's status by association with the legendary hero Sigurd. We know from other dedicatory rune stones that it was not uncommon at this time for local aristocratic families to gain prestige by building public works such as roads or bridges to honour deceased relatives. This was the time of transition from the old pagan religion to the new Christianity which sought to secure standing in the local community by sponsoring such public works in exchange for indulgences, forgiveness of sins as guarantee of passage to heaven. And sure enough, as we stood by the rock panel admiring this remarkable inscription from the 11th century AD, there below us we could see parts of a stone roadway and abutments of the bridge which had once spanned the river and which the inscription had celebrated.

The Ramsund inscription and pictogram is reproduced left: Sigurd is pictured sitting by the fire roasting Fafnir's heart (1) which drips with blood; his horse Grani loaded with the treasure (4) is shown tethered to a tree on which stand the birds (2) whose prophetic song warning of Regin's treachery Sigurd now understands having sucked his burnt finger and tasted the dragon's magic blood; Regin's body (3) whom Sigurd has just killed lies with his severed head among his blacksmith's tools (bellows, anvil, hammer and pincers); above all this stands Otr, the first brother whose death at the hands of the god Loki had started all the woes (6); and below, Sigurd is shown stabbing Fafnir, Regin's dragon-brother, with his sword Gran (5) which penetrates the dragon's coil on which Sigriðr's dedicatory inscription is carved in honour of the bridge she has built. We stood in amazement at this remarkably preserved engraving in this mystical woodland setting (Photo 7 - Sigurd legend pictogram on Ramsund rock-engraving).

Eskilstuna and the Rademacher Forges:  driving on into the small town of Eskilstuna, we parked close to the centre to find the Rademacher Forges, a preserved skansen-museum of 17th century cottage-industry iron smiths' forges. Like nearby Västerås, Eskilstuna had traditionally been an iron-working and metal crafts town, drawing on the iron mined and smelted in Bergslagen, and producing both household iron wares, horse equipment and arms for the Swedish military. In the 1650s King Karl X Gustav had persuaded Reinhold Rademacher, a German iron manufacturer in Swedish occupied Livonia (modern Latvia), to come to Sweden to help develop forging skills. A group of 20 cottage-smithies for master-craftsmen and apprentices was created each with an allowance of land for grazing and growing crops. The surviving remains are now preserved at Eskilstuna as a museum, all now rather twee and craft-shoppe, but before continuing south to Norrköping, we did learn more from the museum attendant about the town's history of iron-making and its still significant engineering industry. A long afternoon drive on Route 55 brought us south to join the E4 motorway for a brief section around Norrköping to turn off at the western approaches to the city to reach Himmelstalunds Camping.

Norrköping, the 'Manchester of Sweden':  we had 2 reasons for visiting Norrköping (pronounced Nor-shurping): one was to learn about the city's conserved textile industrial heritage, the other its even older historical heritage dating back over 3,000 years; glancing across the river valley from the campsite, panels of bed-rock were visible in the hill-side parklands containing the Himmelstalund Bronze Age rock engravings. On a bright sunny morning with just a hazy hint of autumnal dewiness on the grass, we crossed the footbridge beyond the campsite to walk the 2 kms along the river into the city. Norrköping's development as an industrial city blossomed in the 19th century with the fast-flowing Motala ström providing motive power for textile and paper mills built along the river. At one time, 70% of Sweden's textiles were produced in Norrköping gaining it the nickname of Sweden's Manchester. People flocked in from the surrounding countryside as cheap labour for the factories, but there was a blacker side to the city's image of productive industry and affluence: cramped housing with overcrowded, insanitary conditions made for appalling, disease-ridden living standards, and with poor health-care facilities tuberculosis was a major killer until well into the 20th century. Education and schooling was almost non-existent for children of working families, wages were low with plentiful supplies of labour and were frequently cut to maintain productive competitiveness and increased profits for factory owners. The Swedish Manchester was as much an embodiment of the Dark Satanic Mills as its English namesake. Amid such appalling social conditions, factories multiplied and their owners grew rich, but post-WW2 overseas competition and lessening demand for conventional woollen and cotton fabrics with the advent of man-made fibres brought serial decline, and in the post-industrial age, the last textile mills closed in 1992. With serious loss of employment opportunity, Norrköping struggled to attract decentralising government departments to provide alternative employment, but despite PR campaigns promoting the city's modern image, reality was starkly different for working people: housing standards remained poor and rents unaffordable. In the late 1990s, facing a social crisis, Norrköping re-invented itself in the image-conscious, non-productive new world: former industrial buildings clustered along the river in the city centre were conserved and converted to museums, restaurants, cultural centres and premises for higher education. The tourist era had arrived with a vengeance. Walkways threaded between the factory chimneys of now deserted former industrial buildings along the banks of canals, sluices and mill-races that once powered the factories, their cascades now becoming 'features' of the new Industrial Landscape (Industrilandskapet).

Our visit to Norrköping's Industrial Landscape:  the path from the campsite led us across parkland and along Dargsgatan to a riverside walkway where the fast-flowing River Motala cascaded over weirs towards the complex of city centre former factory buildings which the river once powered (see above left). Across the main town bridge, a side street led to a river basin amid former mills and factories, and here we found the TIC set in a former boiler house with its array of chimney-flues. At the TIC a fluently English-speaking lady provided a street plan and English version of the Industrial Landscape guide. We were over-awed by the surroundings of old factories and the rushing sound of water surging along the labyrinth of channels and weirs set along the river's natural fall over rapids which during the 19~20th centuries had been harnessed to power the factories. The waters spilled over a 300m long weir dropping from the lip of a higher basin to form the centrepiece of the Industrial Landscape conserved buildings (see left) (Photo 8 - Motala ström weir in Norrköping's Industrial Landscape). One of these is the Arbetets Museum (Museum of Work), based in what was a former cotton mill (see above right). Built in 1916 in a heptagon-shape to fit onto the narrow island of Laxholmen in the river channel, the 7-storeyed textile factory known as the Strykjärnet (Flat Iron from its shape) operated until the mill's closure in the 1960s (Photo 9 - Former cotton mill on Laxholmen island, now Arbetets Museum). The building remained in a derelict state until its restoration in the 1980s as part of the Industrial Landscape project, re-opening in 1991 as the Arbetets Museum. The museum was free entry with a range of trendy exhibitions on the theme of work showing how the industrial society had affected working people's lives over the last 100 years. The museum's most interesting exhibition documented the life of Eva Carlsson who worked as a bobbin winder in the Flat Iron cotton mill from 1927 until its closure in 1962, giving a gruelling insight into the squalid living conditions and arduous working hours of Norrköping's mill workers. Another exhibition illustrated Norrköping's decline from its period of industrial greatness, showing the 1950s demolition of confined, insanitary housing and promotion of Norrköping as the bright, new, modern place to live and work; the reality however was that with industrial wages still so low, employees could not afford the rents and cost of living in the new apartments. Factory closures of the 1980~90s brought further decline, with some of the country's worst levels of unemployment; with no prospects, Norrköping was the place people wanted to get away from. This was the city's real face rather than the PR-tourist hype which dominates the image presented to today's visitors.

We walked along past the conserved 1750 Baroque tower of the former Holmens Bruk paper mill (see above right), which was set up originally by a Dutch entrepreneur Louis de Veer and has now been converted into a concert hall alongside the river (see left) (Photo 10 - Motala ström and Holmens Bruk former paper mill, now concert hall). Across in Gamla Torget, a modernist statue of de Veer gazed across at his former paper mill factory. The lower natural course of the Motala Ström river beyond the industrial weirs led along a pleasant river-side walk across to Carl Johann Park where some 10,000 cacti are arranged each year in a floral display in front of Bernadotte's statue, and city trams trundle along Drottninggatan past the monumentally unsightly Rådhus (see right). We returned along the riverside walkways above the weirs and industrial buildings to find the Norrköping Stads-museum, housed in the bewilderingly multi-storeyed industrial premises of a former textile-weaving and dying mill with its boiler house and factory chimney. The museum's displays aim to illustrate Norrköping's textile industrial past. The former yarn-spinning and weaving halls are now filled with historical textile machinery which was operated and explained for us by a lady who clearly knew her warp from her weft (Photo 11 - Textile weaving machine in Norrköping's City Museum). Jacquard weaving machines controlled by continuous punch-card drives produced fabrics with regular geometric damask designs used for table clothes, curtains and upholstery. Shuttles flew back and forth 200 times a minute and the noise was deafening (see left). The precision of this wonderful engineering was alluringly impressive, but its application relied on the industrialised exploitation of textile workers who spent their long working hours minding several such machines. They were paid a pittance on piece rates, and breakdowns, empty bobbins or faults in the weave could lose them a whole day's earnings. Displays in other galleries illustrated the many trades associated with an industrial city: milliners, hat and glove makers, cobblers, barbers, confectioners, chimney sweeps, smiths, brick-layers, wheel and wagon wrights, coopers and goldsmiths.

We headed back out towards the campsite along the river-side path where a former textile mill now housed parts of the Norrköping campus of Linköping University. Term must just have started and young freshmen undergraduates spilled out onto the pavement outside the student union. They all looked to be enjoying their leisure time and we wondered when the realities of university working life would begin for them. We had enjoyed our day exploring Norrköping's conserved former industrial buildings, but behind the sterilely conserved post-industrial glitz of modern tourist-oriented Norrköping, we had learnt something of the harsh realities of the dreadful working and living conditions of the city's industrial working classes that had earned Norrköping its blacker image as the place people wanted to get away from.

The Bronze Age rock-engravings at Norrköping:  some 7,000 rock engravings have been found at several sites around Norrköping chiselled into bed-rock panels along the Motala Ström river, dating from the 1,500~500 BC Bronze Age. Sea levels were higher then and today's bare hillsides would have been islands with the waters of Bråviken reaching further inland to what is now Norrköping city centre. The Motala Ström would have been the main communications route for the pastoralist peoples who lived along the shores in permanent settlements, living by farming wheat and barley and by animal husbandry of sheep, cattle and pigs and supplementing their diet by hunting. The rock-carvings accumulated over a 1000 year period, some overlapping others at what must have been a shore-side social, cult-religious and trading centre. The carvings were dated to the Bronze Age from the distinctive shapes of swords and axes which feature in the engravings. People gathered at the cult-site seeking support for good harvests and success in the hunt from the gods who controlled the weather and ruled the necessities of life. As elsewhere, the carvings' themes reflected this life style of the people who created them. Ships occur regularly on the panels of engravings, again reflecting their importance as a means of Bronze Age transport; the size of the vessels portrayed perhaps shows them as more figurative representing the passage from life to death.

At the Rock Carvings Museum by the bypass bridge, we had arranged to meet the following morning with Theres and Daniel, 2 of the Norrköping city archaeologists, at the Himmelstalund rock-engravings site to find out more about the Bronze Age carvings (see above left). On the parkland hillside on the opposite side of the river from the campsite and at 2 other locations, they guided us around the panels of engravings and explained their significance and meaning (Photo 12 - The Fiskeby rock-engravings site). There are some 1,600 engravings at Himmelstalund and the concentration here indicates that this was probably the principal cult-site of the region's settlements. Most of the carvings have been coloured in with red paint to make them more visible for modern-day visitors; without the paint, it would have been almost impossible to identify them. For the rest of the morning, the 2 archaeologists led us on a detailed tour of the engravings panel by panel, giving interpretation of the beliefs and life-style of the Bronze Age people who farmed these shores 3,000 years ago and created the engravings. The predominance of ship engravings showed 2 styles of boat, the older having in-curving stem- and stern-posts, the newer outward curving prows and sterns with animal figure heads. Some larger ships had markings symbolising crews of rowers, others were decorated with tree-of-life symbols; the pine had only just begun to colonise southern Scandinavia in the warmer post-glacial climate when the carvings were made. Some of the ships had solidly engraved hulls, others had hulls decorated with cross-patterning finely engraved with a bronze chisel rather than flint. Some ships were superimposed by a line of long-necked horses, sacred animals in Bronze Age pagan belief and sacrificed as offerings to the gods. One of the Bronze Age carved ships had been enhanced by the addition of 6 runic characters dated to the late Iron Age almost 1,500 years younger than the pictorial engraving, perhaps indicating Himmelstalund's long continuation as a cult-site. There were sun disk symbols with 4-bar cross carved in varying sizes, one group being delicately small, and curious rectangular frames with geometric lined patterns, speculatively interpreted as fishing or bird-trapping nets. There were foot-print symbols, some bare feet, others with a sandal strap (see above right), and a line of bear prints tracked across the entire width of a panel, turning sharply to face a human figure, perhaps signifying the shamanistic bear reverting to human form. Weapons also figured in several panels: life-sized swords, male figures carrying long spears, and symbols representing axes and bronze lure horned instruments (see above right). A hunting scene showed spear-wielding hunters with hunting dogs, one upside-down perhaps indicating killed by the wild boars they were attacking (see above right) (Photo 13 - Bronze Age rock engravings of wild boar hunt). One panel in a far corner showed farm animal husbandry with male boar, large sows and piglets being herded by a swine-herd, all cleverly carved along wide grooves in the rock surface cut by retreating ice (Photo 14 - Rock engraving showing swine herd with boar, sow and piglets). The panel also showed 2 pairs of child-sized footprints side by side; did this symbolise a child's passage to adulthood or, with the high levels of child mortality, a family tragedy? We discussed with the archaeologists the issue of public access to these precious engravings and the risk of vandalism and people's insistence on adding their own graffiti, with police indifference to the problem despite the ancient remains supposedly being protected by law.

Theres and Daniel, the 2 archaeologists drove us out to 2 other less known rock-engravings sites, and amid harvested fields some 3kms from the city we were shown the Ekenberg panels with some 370 distinctive carvings. Male human figures were shown with an inverted triangular body perhaps indicating the wearing of cloaks (see above left). The ships here were more elaborately engraved, decorated with spiral patterning on the hulls and animal-head prows; human figures nearby had arms raised in adoration. There were more large sword engravings, the design of which had originally enabled the engravings to be dated to the Bronze Age; one of the swords was shown piercing a disk of concentric circles, speculatively interpreted as symbolising a solar eclipse. A procession of human males escorting a larger figure perhaps represented a sacrificial offering in a fertility sacrifice as in other European Spring festivals. Below this was the most famous of the engravings, a male figure raising a spiralled disk above his head, usually called the Sun Carrier (see above right) (Photo 15 - Sun Carrier rock engraving at Ekenberg). At the bottom of the panel was a pair of elegantly carved deer with branching antlers and a hunter attacking them with a spear. Lure instruments figured regularly on the Ekenberg panels. We were then taken to a smaller site at Fiskeby where the panels of rock-engravings had been discovered covered by soil in a farmyard. The most distinctive figure here was a 2-wheeled chariot with a pair of horses standing either side of the chariot-pole, their reins clearly visible, but no representation of a charioteer or warrior (Photo 16 - Rock engraving of 2-wheeled chariot and pair of horses with reins). This image of the evidently Homeric chariot with its echo of contemporary Cretan Linear B 4-cross chariot wheels was a particularly poignant find (see right). Another scene showed a spear-wielding hunter with a pair of hunting dogs; another showed what appeared to be a battle with a warrior standing aboard one of the ships seeming to hold a bow (see left). This had been a particularly thrilling morning, recalling our visit to the Tanum rock-engravings in Bohuslän (see our log), and we express our gratitude to Theres and Daniel for the time they had so freely given and their helpful interpretation of the rock-engravings.

Himmelstalunds Camping at Norrköping and a supper of Surströmming :  set near a sporting complex in the western outskirts of Norrköping, Himmelstalunds Camping is a broad-lawned campsite set on the banks of the Motala ström river, with a 2km pleasant walk along the river to the city centre. In late August, the main summer rush was well past and the campsite was almost deserted apart from 2 large groups of English migrant workers' caravans. It was a welcoming campsite, kept for the last 9 years by a family who leased the site from Norrköping municipality. But relationships had soured since the city had increasingly neglected its responsibilities for maintenance of the site, buildings and facilities. The result was that the family in frustration had decided to give up the camping; the place had an air of neglect, and its future was now uncertain with even rumours of the site being sold off for housing development. It seemed totally absurd that a city like Norrköping whose economy now depended on tourism, should so neglect and even abandon its only campsite which was so ideally located. After our 2 days of learning-packed visits at Norrköping, we spent a worthwhile day in camp here at Himmelstalunds, catching up on jobs and enjoying the peaceful environment. On a warm and sunny evening, this seemed the moment, long put off, to broach the dreaded tin of Surströmming which had been festering away for several weeks in the bottom of the camper fridge; today was also the 3rd Thursday of August, the traditional day to start eating this year's production of Surströmming. We had originally bought the tin of fermented Baltic herring from a harbour-side cottage on the off-shore High Coast island of Trysunda; Surströmming, said to be foul-smelling, had an infamously noxious reputation among southern Swedes but was relished by northerners. The tradition of eating this disgusting concoction began during the 16th century on Ulvön and other Baltic island fishing settlements when, with the high cost of salting fish over winter, fermenting in light brine became an alternative method of preservation, despite producing an almost toxically inedible result stinking of sewer gas. There are now only a handful of Surströmming producers on the islands, sold mainly to the tourist trade in large strengthened tins to withstand the pressure accumulated from the fermenting uncooked fish. Over the 4~10 weeks of fermentation, the tins can expand to the size of a football if not kept in a fridge; airlines have banned Surströmming alleging that the pressurised cans are potentially explosive; restaurants refuse to allow tins to be opened inside their premises since the noxious smell can never fully be removed. We had been warned to be sure to open our tin outside and not splash the liquid on clothing. Having prepared the traditional accompaniments of potato, onion, tomatoes and tunnbröd (flat-bread), Paul nervously applied the tin opener a safe distance from our camper, expecting to release a spray of pressurised sewer-gas. Our Surströmming was 'young', only 5 weeks old, and had been kept in the fridge; the tin was tough and inside lurked 8 small uncooked herring. Now came the dreaded moment to taste it (Photo 17 - Supper of Surströmming, Baltic herring fermented in brine): the smell was just about tolerable, but the slimy texture made it seem not worth the effort of tearing the raw fish flesh from the bones. We bravely persevered, but it has to be said it was truly the most disgusting gastronomic experience ever: fork-fulls of saline slime with nauseating texture and smell of rotting fish, though little taste. We had done our duty and tried Surströmming, but the remains were cautiously consigned to the bin!  More on Surströmming

Linköping and the Swedish Air Force Museum:  the following day, we turned westwards on the E4 motorway to the city of Linköping, home of Saab Aerospace, reproductions of whose aircraft line the motorway on the approach to the city. After a brief visit to Linköping city centre with its 12~13th century medieval cathedral, we made our way out to the Swedish Air Force Museum at Malmen Airbase in the city's western outskirts. The Swedish Flygvapenmuseum (Air Force Museum) with its displays of aircraft traces the history of the Swedish Air Force from its establishment in 1926. Initially aircraft were purchased or built under licence from British, French, German and American manufacturers, but from 1938 the Swedish government founded the SAAB Company (Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget) to develop Sweden's own military aircraft. With the outbreak of WW2, the Air Force's role was to defend neutral Swedish air space and territorial waters from intrusion by aircraft, ships and submarines of the hostile warring nations, particularly German and Soviet. During the Cold War when Sweden, although maintaining neutrality, was aligned with NATO, the need to defend her airspace from Soviet intrusion was even more intense. The museum's collection of aircraft traced this history from the earliest biplanes, aircraft of WW2 and the Cold War, right through to the modern SAAB-built Draken and Gripen jet fighters.

We paid our 50kr seniors' reduced admission and began our tour of the aircraft displays. The first hall showed the Air Force's earliest biplanes from 1915 onwards (see above right), purchased from overseas manufacturers. With the lead-up to WW2, Sweden needed modern aircraft to defend her neutrality, initially buying British and German planes until denied commercial access to the belligerents; displays included Fokker aircraft, Hawker Hart and Gloster Gladiator. These latter 2 aircraft curiously bore blue swastika on white ground markings which the commentary explained was the Finnish Air Force's emblem at that time, the aircraft being flown by Swedish volunteers fighting for Finland during the 1940 Winter War against the Soviet invaders. During WW2 Sweden suffered a number of aerial intrusions of her airspace both accidental and deliberate: German and Soviets bombers attacked Swedish targets and RAF planes such as the Lancaster Easy Elsie crash landed in neutral Sweden (see log of our visit to the crash site in Swedish Lapland). A huge Junkers JU-86 stood in a corner of the hall, captured by the Swedes when it crash-landed in Swedish territory. Before USA entered the war, the Swedish Air Force was able to buy North American P-51 Mustangs, and an example of this highly successful fighter aircraft was displayed bearing the gold 3 crowns on blue ground Swedish markings. The SAAB Company founded in 1938 initially manufactured overseas aircraft such as the Mustang under licence, but increasingly began designing and building its own aircraft like the SAAB 17 and 18. SAAB were highly innovative producing curious aircraft like the 1943 SAAB-21 with its rear-facing propeller set behind the cockpit between twin fuselages to enable more powerful forward-firing armaments (Photo 18 - Twin fuselage, rear engine SAAB-21). Post-WW2 the decision was made to concentrate on jet military aircraft leading to the jet version of the SAAB-21 and later development of the highly successful Gripen and Draken jets, all of which were displayed (see left).

The second hall entitled Expecting the Worst, with displays of the aircraft from the period of the Cold War from 1946~89, had excellent exhibitions detailing the military tensions of that time, Sweden's surveillance programme against the threat of Soviet espionage and aggression, and civilian life during the period of nuclear threat. The displays revealed that in the 1960s Sweden had even considered developing her own independent nuclear weapons but in the end, while maintaining the delicate balance of neutral status, enjoyed American protection through association with NATO short of full membership. Her operational military aircraft of the immediate post-war period and 1950s were mainly of British origin: later versions of the Spitfire, Catalina flying boat for coastal patrols (see above right), de Haviland Venom and Vampire and Hawker Hunter, all of which were displayed. Most sinister of all the aircraft however was the classic early Cold War Soviet MiG-15 jet fighter (see right) which was suspended from the hall's high ceiling like an evil presence (Photo 19 - Soviet Cold War MiG-15 jet fighter). It was fascinating to see how the barrel-shaped body and swept back wings resembled those of the Swedish SAAB S-29 Tunnan (Photo 20 - Swedish SAAB S-29 Tunnan jet fighter above Hawker Hunter) and US Sabre jet, all of which were developed from the end of WW2 German Messerschmitt 262 advanced jet fighter whose drawings found their way east, west and north enabling post-war jet developments. The final displays included the later SAAB military jets, the Draken, Lansen and Viggen, all of which looked so formidable. The culminating display in the first hall had been the mighty SAAB JAS-39 Gripen jet fighter introduced in 1996 and today the Swedish Air Force's only combat aircraft (see below left) (Photo 21 - SAAB JAS-39 Gripen jet fighter).

All of these aircraft were set against detailed information panels setting the background of European and world-wide events of the Cold War, along with clever displays of Swedish domestic settings with contemporary furnishings and radio/TV playing news clips of the period. Another display showed the control room base for military surveillance aircraft patrolling Swedish airspace over the Baltic and intercepting Soviet aircraft; a chilling recording played the radio dialogue between pilot and controller as the Swedish jet identified a Soviet bomber approaching Swedish airspace. Much was made of these close encounters which followed the 1952 shooting down by a Soviet MiG-15 of a Swedish SIGINT DC-3 aircraft patrolling close to Soviet airspace on a secret mission to gain radio intelligence on Soviet deployments. The entire crew of 8 were killed when the DC-3 crashed into the Baltic. The incident was denied by the Soviets and hushed up by the Swedish government who maintained silence over its secret surveillance flights, causing much anguish for the crew's families and controversy among the Swedish public. 50 years later the wreck of the DC-3 was located on the bed of the Baltic and recovered to be displayed in a special hall at the museum with still much mystery and controversy surrounding the incident. This had been for us an excellent afternoon at the Swedish Air Force Museum: the large halls gave plenty of space around the superb aircraft collection enabling good photographic opportunity, and most commendably all the detailed information panels were dual-language Swedish and English. Whether or not aircraft are your thing, the museum gave a thoroughly informative survey of chilling 20th century history.

Bergs Slussar locks on the Göta Canal:  just north of Linköping near the small town of Ljungsbro, we camped at an aire by the Bergs Slussar locks as our base for exploring the central section of the Göta (pronounced Yerta) Canal. Construction of the Göta Canal was one of Sweden's largest civil engineering projects, 190kms from the SE coast across the southern width of the country to Lake Vättern, on to Lake Värnern, and with the Trollhätten Canal connecting Stockholm on the Baltic with Göteborg on the North Sea. The canal was built between 1810~32 to facilitate the transport of goods for export, and some 58,000 conscripted troops took part in its construction which was supervised by Baltzar von Platen. He died in 1829 just 3 years before the canal's completion. 87 kms of the canal's full length was cut by hand to create the navigable channel linking the series of natural lakes, with a total of 58 sets of locks to overcome the height difference between sea level and the canal's highest point of 91.8m above sea level at Lake Viken. The canal continued in use throughout the 19th century for the transport of both goods and passengers and today is still in regular use for pleasure boats. After a night's camp, we walked up to the Bergs Slussar (locks) complex where passage up and down the sequence of 3 sets of locks is scheduled at fixed times for boats to move through in convoy. From the canal's exit at Lake Roxen, the Karl Johans Slussar is a flight of 7 interconnected locks which raises the canal 18.8m up to the marina at Berg (Photo 22 - Karl Johans locks raising Göta Canal from Lake Roxen), followed by the Oscars Slussar named after Crown Prince Oscar (later King Oscar I) who with his father King Karl XIV Johan laid the foundation stone for the locks in 1815. The double Oscar lock raises the canal another 4.8m and is followed immediately by the Berg lock raising the canal a further 5.5m for its ongoing passage under the lifting road-bridge (Photo 23 - Bergs and Oscars Slussar).

Having learned from the lock-keeper more about the locks' layout and operation, we watched a group of boats entering the top Bergs lock-chamber ready for the lower gates to be closed; when the lock had filled and water-level equalised with the ongoing canal, the top gates were opened and road bridge raised ready for the boats to move forward quickly to continue their onward journey along the canal. We returned to the middle Oscar lock to watch a further convoy of boats advancing from the marina to repeat the process (Photo 24 - Boat entering the Oscars Lock). In the morning sunlight, this was such a pleasant scene. Along the board-walk around the Bergs marina guest-harbour, we stood at the head of Karl Johans Slussar's 7 locks looking steeply to the foot of the flight to the shore of Lake Roxen far below (see left), then walked down the hill slope to where a small marina allowed boats to pause while waiting for the next scheduled passage up through the locks (see right).

Exploring the Göta Canal:  between Berg and Borensberg the canal takes a parallel but separate cut from the Motala Ström river which flows through 2 smaller lakes, so avoiding the necessity of navigating rapids and shallows which the river's natural course would have entailed. Just before Borensberg, our road passed under an aqueduct carrying the canal which at towpath level was wide and peaceful (Photo 25 - Dramatic sky along the Göta Canal). We continued around to the town of Motala where locks controlled the canal's outflow from Lake Boren and a flight of 5 lock-chambers raised it a further 15.3m from lake level for its ongoing passage through Motala out into Lake Vättern. Along to Motala's canal-side harbour, a final set of locks controlled the canal's outflow into the wide estuary of the Motala Ström. Walking down to the harbour-side's ice-cream stalls, we could gaze out across the wide Motala Viken estuary and beyond the by-pass bridge could just make out the distant Lake Vättern. The canal's builder Baltzar von Platen also designed the town of Motala, which developed with canal-associated industries; von Platen laid out the streets in a fan-shaped pattern so that all residents could see the course of his canal; his grave stands on the canal bank at Motala. We returned along Route 34 to Borensberg both to complete our Göta Canal explorations at the Borensberg Slussar and to find tonight's campsite. The road through the little town crossed the canal on a lifting bridge, and we parked by the marina to see the locks, pleasantly surprised to find the 4 boats which we had watched earlier passing the Berg Slussar just arriving here at Borensberg having taken all afternoon to travel the 20kms along the canal. The regulating lock at Borensberg, the only one on the canal system to retain hand-operated gates, serves only to adjust the canal by just 0.2m as it enters the varying water level of Lake Boren at its eastern end. The lock-keeper had travelled along from Berg to see the convoy of boats through the Borensberg locks. The 4 boats were moored in the lock-chamber, the bottom gates closed, water-levels equalised, the top gates were opened, lifting road-bridge raised, and the boats sailed on to continue their passage across Lake Boren (see left); we waved farewell to the crews whom we had followed along the canal (Photo 26 - Negotiating the Borensberg Lock).

A night's camp at Strandbadets Camping, Borensberg:  we had enjoyed a wonderfully sunny day along the Göta Canal and had learned much about this superb piece of 19th century engineering which is clearly still well used albeit by pleasure craft. It was now time to find the family-run Strandbadets Camping 2 kms from the village on the shore of Lake Boren. We were greeted hospitably but warned that they were celebrating the end of their summer season with a Saturday evening pop-concert for the occupants of the static-caravans which monopolised the site. We had little choice but to grin and bear it! At least tomorrow this would be a peaceful setting for our planned day in camp to catch up with chores and complete more of our web writing.

Moving on to Vadstena: when we walked down to the lake-shore at 7-00am the following morning at the start of our 17th Week, the sun was only just clearing the horizon and the trees and grass were covered with early autumn dew; both the year and the trip were moving on fast. We headed SW on delightfully rural lanes through farming villages and arable countryside where harvesting was almost completed and autumn ploughing beginning, and approached Vadstena. Set on the NE shore of the vast Lake Vättern, the small town of 7,600 inhabitants had from medieval times been a royal seat and important monastic centre. In 1545 Gustav Vasa had built Vadstena's moated castle as part of his defensive ring of fortresses protecting the Swedish heartlands from Danish incursion. 200 years earlier in 1346, King Magnus Eriksson had donated Bjälbo Manor for use as a convent founded in 1362 by Birgitta Birgersdottir to become Vadstena Abbey. We parked by the old centre and walked along through the former convent gardens to the Klosterkyrkan Abbey-church which Birgitta had specified should be 'of plain construction, humble and strong'. Viewed from under the trees in the gardens, the Abbey which was consecrated in 1430 certainly met her criteria, looking sombre and sturdy (see right).

Vadstena Abbey-church:  Birgitta (1303~73) came from a noble Östergötland family and was certainly made of sternly determined stuff: married at 13, she bore 8 children and became lady-in-waiting to King Magnus Eriksson and his Queen Blanche of Namur. Such was her forceful personality, she persuaded her royal sponsors to bequeath Bjälbo Manor to found the nunnery to fulfil one of her many revelations. But according to Catholic rules of the day, she needed to obtain papal authorisation for this and in 1349 duly set off across Europe for Rome. Unfortunately no one had told her that the pope was in Avignon, and not even Birgitta's forceful charm could persuade him to return. She hung around in Rome, enjoying more visions during the next 20 years waiting for papal approval for her convent. Pope Urban V eventually gave his blessing to the scheme in 1370, but Birgitta died in Rome in 1373. Her convent was duly established alongside the abbey-church in Vadstena by her daughter Katarina who continued her mother's ecclesiastical work, and Birgitta was canonised for her efforts in 1391 to become Sweden's first female saint; her daughter was also canonised as the founding abbess of Vadstena nunnery. Not even Birgitta's reputation however could resist the forcefulness of Gustav Vasa's mid-16th century Reformation, but since many of the nuns came from powerful families, Vadstena convent was the last in the country to be closed in 1595. The abbey-church continued as Vadstena's parish church and a new convent was founded in the late 20th century (Photo 27 - Abbey-church at Vadstena founded in 1346 by St Birgitta).

The abbey-church with its beautiful medieval architecture has over the centuries been embellished with a celebrated collection of medieval artwork and tombs. Most spectacular was the decorated Gothic vaulting, and the west end was dominated by the ornate sarcophagus of Gustav Vasa's mentally retarded son Magnus who had lived at Vadstena Slott. The tomb was guarded by chubby, glum-faced cherubs, the likeness of Magnus lying atop with its life-like hands raised in prayer. A wooden statuette of Birgitta of 1435 portrayed the saint ecstatically enjoying one of her visions (see right). All of the statuettes around the church had their hands deliberately sawn off possibly by Protestant vandalism after the Reformation. Along the abbey's northern wall, the Door of Grace and Honour had received novice nuns into the convent and released them on their deaths. In a place of honour to the side of the main altar stood the reliquary containing the remains of Birgitta and her daughter Katarina (see above left). Behind the huge and gilded altar triptych carved in 1520 and displaying the assumption of Mary and scenes from the crucifixion, a lower chancel was lined with confessional niches where the nuns told all. This was backed with another carved triptych of 1460 portraying the saintly Birgitta dictating her revelations to bands of attentive nuns, while below representations of purgatory showed the woebegone damned disappearing into the mouth of a holy hippopotamus (see left).

The delightful old town of Vadstena and its Castle:  after this feast of ecclesiastical artwork, we walked around to the newly restored Bjälbo palace which had once been Birgitta's nunnery, and out through the gardens to one the outbuildings which during the 18~19th centuries had housed the town's lunatic asylum; known locally as Stora Dårhuset (Great Madhouse), it now serves as the Hospital Museum displaying the horrific contraptions used to control the unfortunate inmates. Across to the shore of Lake Vättern, we were at last able stand beside this vast inland sea which we only before seen from the heights of the Hanneberg plateau. Following the shore-side path around past the excavated remains of the medieval nunnery, we crossed to Vadstena Slott (Castle) whose moat now serves as the town's lake-side marina. The massive sturdy-looking former Vasa fortress (Photo 28 - Vadstena Slott (Castle) founded by Gustav Vasa in 1545) had been enlarged and converted into a Renaissance palace by Vasa's deranged sons, notably Johan III who had poisoned his brother, Vasa's successor, Eric XIV with arsenic-laced soup in the internecine wars which brought the dynasty to an inglorious end in the early 17th century. We crossed the moat-bridge into the castle's vast inner courtyard and re-crossed to the southern side back towards the old town. The delightful cobbled street of Storgatan led along through the old town where we paused to enjoy the excellent local liquorice ice cream at the 1936 founded Halvaars Glass (see right) opposite the town hall. Vadstena had a tradition of lace-making and shops sold samples of local lace.

The 9th century Rök Runestone and the language of runes:  leaving Vadstena we drove SW across agricultural countryside to find the isolated church of Rök and the 9th century Rök Runestone. The runic alphabet developed from the 6~7th centuries to express the language of the northern Germanic peoples, as Norse travellers came into contact with the Roman Empire and witnessed the art of writing. Runic script probably evolved from Byzantine Greek (cf the similarities of many of the characters), the oldest runic alphabet consisting of 24 different symbols. A later script evolved in the 8th century with an alphabet of 16 characters, one variant of which, 'twig runes, was used on the Rök Runestone. The runic alphabet spread across northern Europe, and it became common by the 9th century to erect runic inscriptions as memorials to the dead. After the introduction of Christianity in the 10~11th centuries, rune stones were often decorated with ornate crosses.

The huge runestone at Rök was raised in the early 9th century by a local Viking period chieftain Varin in memory of his dead son Vämod, and features the longest known runic inscription of over 700 characters covering front, back and sides of the 2.5m high engraved stone. The stone was discovered in the 19th century built into the 12th century church wall; it was common practice to use pagan rune stones as building material. A few parts of the inscription are damaged but most remains legible. It is unique in that the exquisitely carved runic memorial inscription contains literary references to unknown pieces of Norse mythology, historic references to Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths and briefly ruler of the residual Western Roman Empire, as well as having some obscurely encrypted sections. The inscription is therefore considered the first piece of Swedish literature, and in translation reads:

In memory of Vämod stand these runes, and Varin wrote them, the father in memory of his dead son
I tell the young men the tale of the two war booties which 12 times were taken from various men
This I tell second, about him who 9 generations ago lost his life with the Reidgoths, and died with them because of his offences
<continuing in verse>
Theodoric the Bold
Chief of sea warriors
Ruled over the shores of the Hreiðsea,
Now sits armed
On his Gothic horse,
His shield strapped,
Prince of the Mærings

The inscription continues with obscure references to unknown kings and their relatives in Själland, and invokes the Norse Aesir god Thor.

Our visit to the Rök Runestone:  we reached the small museum close to Rök church with the huge runestone set up under a roofed covering across the field (see above right). Displays at the museum gave background details and interpretation of the stone and its runic inscription. Although runic experts can translate the inscription, there is still controversy over its interpretation: Reidgoths is a poetic name for the Ostro-Goths; Hreiðsea is presumably the Mediterranean where the Ostro-Goths ruled, and the Mærings were Theodoric's clan. The Scandinavian Vikings travelled far into Europe, coming into contact with the Christianised Roman world, and would have heard tales of Theodoric and his infamous Ostro-Goths who ruled from Ravenna; a statue of Theodoric found in Aachen sitting with shield and lance on his horse was well known, hence the reference in the inscription. Theodoric died in 526 AD around 9 generations before the 9th century Rök Runestone inscription; the Church considered him a cruel, barbarous tyrant hence the reference to dying for his offences. Perhaps the references were intended to signify the powerful connections of Varin's family as local chieftains. The stone's scale clearly indicate that Varin was indeed a powerful chieftain: the monument stood at the place where Rök church would be built 3 centuries later, the village taking its name from the stone, Rök literally meaning a stone in Old Norse. It was set up in a prominent position so that no passer-by could avoid seeing it and marvelling at the powerful connection of Varin and his family. Walking over to the church with the rune stone standing alongside (see left), this great 1,300 year old monument with its intriguingly obscure literary and mythological references still had the power to thrill, just as Varin had intended (Photo 29 - Rök Runestone)

Lake Tåken bird observation tower and a peaceful night's camp:  a short distance from Rök, we approached the Glänås Naturum along a single-track lane on the shores of Lake Tåken with its bird observation tower overlooking the lake. Lake Tåken is a 44km2 hollow in an otherwise flat landscape, just 0.8m deep and surrounded by Northern Europe's largest area of reed beds. The nutrient-rich shallow waters, extensive reed beds, lake-shore meadows and water-logged shore-side woods attract substantial numbers and species of bird-life. The bird observation tower gave a panoramic view over the lake and close inshore among the reeds large numbers of shoveller ducks and greylag geese were flying around in flocks (see right) and settling further out. In the distance across the width of the lake, 1000s of mute swans were gathered, and we spent a peaceful hour watching and photographing the birds.

But after a long day we needed a campsite for tonight, and again the Swedish Camping Association's campsite listing available free of charge in Tourist Offices came to our rescue: Paradisets Camping was just south of the E4 motorway was conveniently on our onward route tomorrow and took us just 15 minutes to reach there. What seemed a conventional campsite next to a sports centre was deserted on our arrival, but the warden responded to our phone call and appeared shortly after, suggesting we might camp on the short-cropped turf near the reception hut. With good facilities in the sports centre, and a peaceful location overlooking open countryside, and charge of 150kr for a night's stay, this suited us well, and we gladly settled in. As the sun set suffusing a salmon-pink glow across the dusky sky, we enjoyed a wonderfully peaceful evening in this quiet rural setting. Overnight the temperature fell to an autumnal 11°C.

Into Småland to Eksjö and the Skurugata Gorge nature reserve:  the following morning we continued south on Route 32 through the increasingly hilly and forested Småland terrain lined with rocky outcrops, to turn off into the small town of Eksjö. Parking among the wooden houses in the old part of the town, we secured a town plan from the TIC along with the location and details of the nature reserve and gorge of Skurugata. We followed a winding, narrow lane for some 13 kms from the town out into the hilly, forested countryside eventually reaching the Skurugata nature reserve parking area. Although in Swedish, the map obtained from the TIC did at least show contours and the route for the footpath circuit along the Skurugata gorge and return over the 337m hill of Skuruhatt. We booted up taking sweaters anticipating cool temperatures down in the bed of the gorge, and set off along the way-marked path down into the forest. It is uncertain whether the of Skurugata gorge was formed by glacial melt-water erosion or a natural rift-fault caused by tectonic movement; either way, it runs for a length of 800m, 7m wide between sheer rock walls up to 35m in height. At the start of the gorge the path dropped markedly with the cliff sides rising precipitously on either side, the bed of the gorge strewn with boulders from rock-falls and crossed by fallen trees making for slow progress. After considerable loss of height into the dark depths of the narrowing gorge, we threaded a way through the grey-brown porphyry and feldspar boulders and fallen trees, dropping further with the rock side-walls rising sheer on either side (see left) (Photo 30 - Skurugata Gorge). Ahead the gorge-bed path rose steeply up a scree-strewn slope then dropped severely again to an even greater depth. With the temperature now markedly lower in the sunless depths of the gorge, the bed was wet in places and in Spring may well be impassable. With progress slow over the scree and boulders, we eventually approached the narrow gorge's end with the narrow walls beginning to lower and the temperature noticeably beginning to rise. A signpost pointed steeply up through the forest to the return route over the high point of Skuruhatt; this peaceful hilltop gave distant views of lakes and continuous Småland pine forests (see right) (Photo 31 - Distant Småland pine forests viewed from Skuruhatt), and a marked path led back to the parking area, after a thrilling 2 hour walk along the length of the gorge.

Movänta Camping and the old wooden town of Eksjö:  12kms east of Eksjö along Route 40, we found a welcoming campsite, Movänta Camping with flat pitches spread under the pines on the shores of Lake Försjön. Largely deserted at the end of August, this was a peaceful setting for our next day in camp, and after a chill night we woke to a clear sky with the sun just clearing the pines (Photo 32 - A peaceful day in camp at Movänta Camping). Refreshed after a day of chores and writing in peaceful sunshine, we returned to Eksjö for a brief visit to this historical wooden town. In 2003 Eksjö celebrated its 600th anniversary having been granted its town charter in 1403 by King Eric of Pomerania. The town has suffered its share of disasters over the centuries: razed by Danish invaders in 1568, royal patronage from King Johann III enabled rebuilding, but disaster struck again in 1856 when fire destroyed the southern part of Eksjö. Fortunately the area of 17th century wooden houses to the north of Stortorget was saved both from the fire and from wanton urban vandalism of the 1960s, and has been conserved as a wooden town heritage area, the modern town expanding around and beyond it. The town also has a long-standing military connection with the Royal Smalandia Hussars having been garrisoned here during the 18~19th centuries and a unit of the Swedish armed forces still having a base in the northern outskirts. Despite this civilised little town being prepared for a weekend of 'musical' disruption by the Eksjö Festival, we spent an hour ambling around the narrow cobbled lanes and wooden houses with their flower-filled courtyards. Some of the wooden cottages were painted with Falun Rödfarg, the larger wooden town houses dressed in pastel shades. The Neo-Classical Stortorget was filled with stage-works and marquees surrounding the statue of the Smalandian Hussar in the centre of the town square; thankful to have missed the disruption by a day, we returned along through the old town to the peace of the oak tree and flower filled Lilla-torget (see left) (Photo 33 - Lilla-torget in Eksjö old wooden town). Eksjö was a charming place, perhaps not on a par with Nora since it lacked the hand-made Nora Glass ice cream of its Bergslagen fellow wooden town (Trästäder) (see log of our visit).

Orrefors Camping:  route 32 took us south through wooded sweeping hills and we began passing glass works of Småland's Kingdom of Glass (Glasriket); the frequency of signs showed that the glass industry was highly commercialised towards tourism. On arrival at Orrefors, we discovered that the glassworks there had recently closed with the loss of some 200 jobs; we decided therefore to stay at Orrefors Camping tonight and move on to try to see a demonstration of glass-blowing at the Nybro glassworks tomorrow. The campsite seemed peaceful in a pleasant lake-side setting among pine and oak woods (see right), but appearances were deceptive. Having settled in under the trees, it soon became clear that the owner's inhospitable manner and overwhelming noise of traffic and road works from main road were major negatives; we should have read the signs and moved on to the more acceptable Joelskogens Camping at Nybro. But we made the most of it, and as the evening grew dusk a campfire was lit in the hearth by the lake with the flames lighting up our pitch and the evening air filled with the smell of wood smoke (Photo 34 - Evening campfire at Orrefors Camping).

Watching glass-blowing at Pukeberg Glassworks at Nybro:  Nybro was a delightful little town, and we found the Pukeberg Glassworks set in old brick buildings around a lawned courtyard. Gustav Vasa had been impressed by seeing glass produced in Italy in the mid-16th century and had introduced glass-making to Sweden whose forests produced charcoal to fire the furnaces. Today the glassworks in Småland's Glasriket all promote their ornate wares with vast amounts of advertising and sell at extortionate prices! We expected to have to pay a fee to watch the exhibition of glass-blowing, but up in the workshop the glass-blower was producing coloured glass animals. In fascination we sat and watched as he dipped his steel rod into the 1,200°C furnace of molten glass, lifting out a gobbet of glowing red hot glass, rolling and shaping this with tools, blending in coloured glass fragments, heating the plug again and working at this on his rolling bench to produce the decorative wares (see left) (Photos 35 and 36 - Glass-blower at Nybro Glassworks). Gunne Brandstedt the master glass-blower told us he came from 3 generations of glass-blowers and having been trained by craftsmen at Murano near Venice, he had been blowing glass for 50 years. It was fascinating watching him as he shaped the animals proudly showing us the result on the tip of his steel pole, and deftly tapping them off into the annealing kiln for final slow cooling. It was a pity that today he was producing small glass animals rather than blowing larger items.

It was time to continue our journey south towards Kalmar to cross the 6km high-arching bridge over to the Baltic island of Öland. Follow us there in the next edition as we conclude our time in Sweden, exploring Öland and the historic town of Kalmar before travelling around Sweden's southern coastline to the naval port of Karlskrona, the Danish-founded fortress town of Kristianstad, Kivik and the pocket-sized Stenshuset National Park, the medieval port-town of Ystad and venue of the fictional Wallander detective stories, the Viking fortress town of Trelleborg, and Skåne's southernmost tip at the Falsterbo peninsula. We conclude our tour of Sweden where we started 5 months ago at Malmö, before re-crossing the Öresund Bridge and returning through Denmark for the ferry back to UK from Esbjerg. Join us again shortly for our concluding episode of our 2013 Swedish travels.

Next edition to be published shortly

Sheila and Paul

Published:  18 January 2014

 

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