***  SWEDEN  2016   -  WEEKS 10~12  ***

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CAMPING IN SWEDEN 2016 - Falun Copper Mine, Färnebofjärden National Park, Sala Silver Mine, Ängelsberg Bruk, Anundshög  Burial Grounds, Ramsund Sigurd Engraving, Eskilstuna, Göta Canal at Motala, Vadstena, Eksjö wooden town, Småland, and South-East Coast at Oskarshamn:

A night's camp at Dalstuga, in a remote corner of North Dalarna:  we headed west from Hudiksvall on Route 84, passing Delsbo and the Dellen Lakes, out to Ljusdal where the railway sidings were full of loaded timber wagons (click here for detailed map of route). Through the town, we turned south onto Route 83 alongside the Ljusnan river, recalling our travelling this road on a Sunday afternoon in 2013 amid Stockholm-bound speeding traffic returning from a weekend in the mountains. Today progress through southern Hälsingland down to Bollnäs was obstructed by slow-moving local traffic and frequent speed cameras. Bollnäs seemed a grubby little industrial town with nothing to detain us other than a provisions stop at the ICA Kvantum; the inevitable Roma beggars obstructing the doorway was a feature of virtually every other supermarket throughout Sweden these days. Route 50 took us southwest-wards towards Falun passing the insignificant town of Alfta, We had expected this to be a busier road, but in fact it turned out the highlight of today's journey with virtually no traffic, passing lakes and attractive villages before rising over high ground with endless forests stretching away to distant southward horizons.

Click on 4 highlighted areas of map
for details
of South-East Sweden

The road finally dropped down to the southern tip of the extensively spreading Amungen Lake, crossing into the County of Northern Dalarna to reach a road junctions at Lamborn. Here we turned off onto Route 889, a minor road running all the way cross-country to Rättvik on the SE corner of Lake Siljan which we had passed through on our northward journey some 7 weeks earlier. In 10kms at Bingsjö, a picture post-card of a village with little wooden church, attractive Falun-Red painted cottages and traditional gärdesgård slatted fencing, we turned off again for the final 5kms of unsurfaced single-track lane leading to the tiny hamlet of Dalstuga spread around the southern shore of Amungen Lake.

Dalstuga Camping:  we had identified what appeared to be a straightforward little community-run camping at Dalstuga in an attractive setting overlooking the lake, a remote Dalarna retreat as staging camp on our journey south. Reaching the village, we threaded a way uncertainly around Dalstuga's network of lanes, eventually reaching the lakeside leisure area (fritids-ömråde); but the large, open grassy space overlooking the lake with its 2 midsummer poles was now totally filled with static caravans; there was scarcely any space left for visitors to camp. In summer time with all these caravans occupied, the place would be insufferable bedlam, but thankfully with the holiday season now over, it was peacefully deserted. We investigated an open area down by the lake-shore and found power supplies; there were no functioning facilities, but here was a perfect lakeside camping spot sheltered by birch trees. Despite the bright sun, a chill wind was blowing across the lake whipping up white horses as we settled in (Photo 1 - Dalstuga Camping) (see above left). The late afternoon grew dull and heavily overcast, but out of the wind and with power for heating, we were snug inside George looking out across the lake (see left). Today we had driven a further 200kms south to a remote corner of Dalarna; Hudiksvall seemed a long way distant in time and space. That evening we enjoyed a supper of Carina's home-made meat-balls, and afterwards texted our thanks for their open-hearted hospitality, vowing never again to touch supermarket köttbullar again!.

Falun Copper Mine:  we woke to continuing heavily overcast sky with misty drizzle obscuring the lake; it was as well we had taken our photos in this lovely lakeside setting in yesterday afternoon's sunshine. As we packed to leave, pouring rain began, and Dalstuga's lanes seemed even more of a maze on a gloomy morning. Back along to Bingsjö, we re-joined Route 50 and turned south through the dreary forested landscape for the 60kms to Falun to park at the Copper Mine, now a World Heritage tourist site (see Log of our 2013 visit to Falun Copper Mine). About the only worthwhile feature of the glitzy Visitor Centre were the loos. If you were hoping to learn something here about the story of copper mining at Falun and its historical contribution to Sweden's economy, you would be disappointed; in a place devoted to profits, extracting £21 per person from the millions who visit the mine each year, the displays were extravagant but superficial and trivially lacking in detail. On our 2013 visit, we had been duped into paying to go on the underground mine visit, but the guide's so-called commentary was blandly vacuous and non-informative; pressured by the tight schedule of lucrative hourly guided tours, she was immune to information-seeking questions but doubtless had little knowledge to impart anyway. Most of the party simply looked bored; a few like us ignored the non-guide and peered around for ourselves trying to gain an impression in the gloom of how dreadful working conditions would have been in the mine's galleries. After such a World Heritage non-experience, this year we confined our re-visit to walking the 2km trackway around the surface rim of the Great Pit of Falun Copper Gruva (Mine). With the rain now easing but light still gloomy, we set off past the palatial 18th century mine headquarters building which now houses the mining museum, across the look-out point which gives a full panorama view looking down into the 100m deep and 400m wide chasm of the Great Pit (Photo 2 - Falun Copper Mine). There was even a glimmer of sun to lighten the multitude of browns and orange of the pit's rock and debris (see above right).

The copper ore spoil heaps still yield a profitable inheritance: Falun is the centre of production for Falu Rödfärg, the red-brown preservative paint used universally on Sweden's wooden buildings giving them their distinctive colour. The waste rock with its mix of metallic minerals, principally red-ochre iron oxide, is ground and roasted as the base material for the wood preservative and the Falu Rödfärg works stand next to the former copper mine's deep pit (see right). After a brief look at the huge preserved water wheels which once powered pumps and hoists as mine shafts were driver deeper, we set off around the Pit's surface perimeter trackway, passing the tangled chaos of rocks and timber debris from the catastrophic 1687 cave-in. Ahead, the 40m tall red brick 1970s tower of the Creutz Shaft winding gear, that had reached the 400m deep levels of the 20th century working mine, rose on the hillside (see above left). Around on the southern side amid the multi-coloured spoil heaps, viewing ports in the chain-link fencing enabled clear views in the gloom looking across the chasm of the Great Pit (Photo 3 - Falun copper Mine Great Pit) (see left). As we completed the circuit around to the western side of the perimeter fence, where a road-way spiralled down into the depths of the pit, rain began again with the light even gloomier. Looking across to the wooden access stairway on the northern side of the pit, yet another group of tourists could be seen descending into the mine; those of them who had any hopes of learning anything about the mine's history and workings would be as disappointed as we had been in 2013.

Färnebofjärdens Camping in Färnebofjärden National Park:  we crossed the town to find Falun's ICA Maxi for a provisions stock-up; Friday afternoon was not the time for this, with the maze-like supermarket crowded with locals on a similar mission for weekend shopping. Leaving Falun eastwards on Route E16 (click here for detailed map of route), we turned off at Hofors onto cross-country minor roads to Färnebofjärdens Camping in Färnebofjärden National Park. This wonderfully peaceful campsite, set on the shores of the Färnebofjärden lake system, is kept by a Swiss couple who, as on our 2013 stay, gave us a warm welcome. We pitched down at the lower area by the shores of the lake through which the lower Dalälven river sluggishly meanders (Photo 4 - Färnebofjärdens Camping) (see right). Färnebofjärdens Camping, with its grassy camping area sloping down to the lake-side, was a perfect setting for a day in camp tomorrow. The Dalälven is an opportunistic river: flowing down from the highlands of Idre and Särne, where we had camped earlier in the trip, it fills the meteorite crater forming Lake Siljan and pre-Ice Age once flowed south into Lake Mälaren near to the modern city of Stockholm. Since the time when this course was blocked by post-glacial moraine, the river now ambles slowly filling every depression in Färnebofjärden National Park, making its way casually out into the Bothnian Gulf south of Gävle.

We were joined at the lake-shore camping area by another English couple (see left), Jeff and Amanda Gafford from Chipping Norton, driving not just an Autosleeper VW T5 Trident but, by one of life's curious coincidences, also purchased from Frank Williams at Cotswold Motorhomes where we had originally purchased our Autosleeper VW T4 Trooper and where we continue to enjoy excellent, personalised service. That evening the setting sun produced a spectacular cloud display across the lake (Photo 5 - Sunset cloud-scape) (see right), adding further to the glory of the lakeland setting.

Gysinge Bruk:  the following morning, with damp mist hanging dismally over the Färnebofjärden lake-land landscape, we drove along to Gysinge Bruk, a former estate iron foundry dating from the 17th century. As at Ängelsberg Bruk the coincidental presence of the 3 components necessary for iron smelting - local supply of iron ore, fast-running water to power blast-furnace air-pumps, and plentiful timber for charcoal production - meant that the ironworks had prospered. Clearly this had brought much wealth to the estate owners who had lavished it on grandiose buildings, now housing among other features the Färnebofjärden Visitor Centre. Here we learned more about the wildlife and topography of the National Park and the Nedre Dalälven valley. The Öster- and Väster-Dalälven rivers merge just south of Lake Siljan, then flow in a lazy, ambling way through the watery Färnebofjärden meadows, fenland, and string of lakes interconnected by rapids which once drove the water-wheels powering the furnace pumps of Gysinge iron-works. The broad passage of Dalälven rapids still flows past the remains of Gysinge Bruk's 19th century iron works water-wheel house (see left) (Photo 6 - Dalälven rapids at Gysinge Bruk).

A comically inhospitably reception at Sala Vandrarhem/Camping:  Route 56 was a well-engineered road through lovely forest lands of what the Swedish botanist Carl von Linné called the Limes Norrlandicus (Northlands boundary), with typical north~south borderlands mixed ground cover of both Bilberries and Lily of the Valley, but also with plentiful speed cameras and aggressive driving standards to match as we approached the Stockholm region (click here for detailed map of route). Just before the road junction village of Heby, the forests ended with abrupt suddenness and the terrain opened out to very southern farmland with ripening cereal crops as far as the eye could see; we had truly reached Middle Sweden. We turned westwards reaching the outskirts of Sala, and in the centre found an ICA Kvantum with a post-office kiosk to top-up the credit on our Telia Swedish SIM card. Amply clad Roma beggars inevitably obstructed the supermarket doorway; such mafia organised human exploitation in the form of systematic begging is a source of concern and irritation to even the most liberal-minded Swedes; in a country whose citizens pay some of the highest taxation across Europe, better regulation is accordingly expected in a law-abiding society.

We had happy memories from our last visit to Sala in 2013 when we had stayed at Sala Vandrarhem (hostel), with a small camping area in the gardens behind the house. This year, a sign of the times, it was the battered caravans of Bulgarian migrant workers that occupied the camping area. With some reservations, we settled into a sunny corner, but on going to book in at the hostel, we were greeted by a sour-faced, unsmiling woman: had we chosen a place, she demanded, followed by an insistent 'You can't stop there; it isn't a place!', pointing at George. We had apparently made the unforgivable error of allowing half a wheel to overlap the pitch boundary. Her rule book-bound manner became more and more obdurate and offensive, as we tried initially politely but increasingly irritably to remonstrate. But rules were rules, and she was going to stick by them. Her Fawlty Towers John Cleese performance of how to offend paying guests became so laughingly comical that irritation turned to entertainment; ignoring her churlish behaviour (clearly not a happy bunny!), we moved the offending wheel (and the rest of George) and settled in (Photo 7 - Sala Camping). But in her boorish zeal so clumsily to enforce her rules, she had omitted to provide keys for the facilities building. Again we were faced with yet more unresponsive indifference: so comically unhelpful was the femme comique's manner that even her young assistant rolled his eyes in empathetic disbelief. We were still enjoying the entertainment value of such ironically laughable inhospitality as we cooked and eat our home made curry supper later in the evening. How long this sad soul's employment will last is a matter of speculation! By 9-00 that evening, it was fully dark; the combination the year moving on and our moving south was having its impact.

Ängelsberg Bruk:  a low mist hung clammily over the campsite this morning, but the forecast was good for our planned day at Ängelsberg Bruk, another of Sweden's 19th century conserved rural ironworks. Leaving our pitch reserved, we set off westwards on Route 256 (click here for detailed map of route). The road again showed the natural transition zone in this part of Middle Sweden with farmland of golden-ripe wheat, some already harvested, alternating with wilder areas of pine and spruce forest littered with glacial boulders, all interspersed with chocolate-box villages such as Västerfärnebo. Some 40kms west, as we turned off onto a minor road towards Ängelsberg Bruk, the road passed through an extensive area of blasted heath severely ravaged by forest fire: all the surviving birches were charred along with all traces of ground vegetation, and remains of pine had been cut and stacked as piles of blackened trunks. This was the first time we had ever seen the blackened remains of forest fire damage in Scandinavia. We later learned from the cleaning lady at Sala hostel that the devastation had been caused by a major forest fire 2 years ago. The fire had been started by sparks caused by a forestry machine striking a rock; the wind had whipped up the flames which quickly spread out of control, devastating a huge area including 25 homes, 10 of which were totally destroyed. It was Sweden's worst ever forest fire disaster, and the damage was still evident 2 years later as we passed through the area (see right and above left).

As at Moviken and Gysinge, iron smelting had been developed here at Ängelsberg Bruk on a nobleman's estate during the 17~19th centuries, with improving technologies for ore crushing and roasting and blast furnace and forge design to produce pig- and wrought iron. But with the late 19th century introduction of industrial scale coal-fired Bessemer steel production, small scale charcoal-fired rural smelters such as Ängelsberg could not compete and became uneconomical, and the Ängelsberg Bruk was fired for the last time in 1919. The 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 set amid the landscaped estate as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today the now trimly manicured lawns and neat chocolate-box, red-painted wooden buildings are a peaceful setting; what would this scene have looked like at the height of its industrial production? We took our photos from the outside of the blast furnace and ore-roasting oven in the bright sunlight (see above left) (Photo 8 - Ängelsberg Bruk blast furnace). Out of season, the buildings were all locked up, but we were able to peer in at the huge water-wheel (see left) which had powered blowers and hoists (Photo 9 - Ängelsberg Bruk iron ore hoist) (see right). At Ängelsberg village, the earliest crude oil distillation to produce lamp oil on an industrial scale had taken place on Oljeön Island in Lake Amänningen in the late 19th century.

A brief re-visit to Sala Silver Mine:  while we were over in the Ängelsberg area, it seemed worthwhile to investigate the two mining and steel-working towns of Norberg and Fagersta. The map showed extensive mine workings around both towns, but when we reached Norberg, this was just a modern and insignificant place with nothing to be seen of the mines. We continued on the busy Route 68 down to Fagersta which was an equally unimpressive town with some modern industry but no trace of mining. Taking a back lane to Ängelsberg, we returned to Sala, for a brief re-visit to Sala Silver Mine; see Log of our 2013 visit to Sala Silver Mine for details of Sala's historical contribution to Sweden's economy. At this late stage in the summer season, mine visits were limited and the place almost deserted. At the small museum, we obtained a site plan identifying the various features of the silver mines surface area, and set off to walk the footpath past the Jack mine-shaft winding gear tower (see right), and around among the spoils heaps and caved-in pit of earlier open-cast workings. This led us past the site of the former mining village, long-abandoned when the new town of Sala was established, and back to the impressive winding-gear head-stocks tower of the mine's main Queen Christina shaft (Photo 10 - Sala Silver Mine Queen Christina shaft) (see above left). Before leaving Sala Silver Mine, we paused at the early 19th century rotunda winding-gear tower and steam engine house of the Carl IX shaft, the deepest of the mine's workings at 318m. The buildings were all locked but we clambered up onto the spoil heaps for photographs (Photo 11 - Sala Silver Mine Carl IX shaft) (see right).

South to Badelunda and the Anundshög Iron Age Burial Grounds:  a clear, warm night and this morning the sky was still clear with promise of a fine day for our re-visit to Anundshög Iron Age Burial Grounds. Today we should move considerably further south and camp tonight south of Lake Mälaren. Despite the boss-lady's less than charming manner, Sala Vandrarhem/Camping was still inherently a good place to camp, and we had enjoyed our 3 day stay. We headed south from Sala on Route 256 (click here for detailed map of route) across flat farming countryside with arable crops golden-ripe ready for harvesting. This was a good road, alternating single/dual carriageway and light traffic enabling us to make rapid progress towards Västerås. 6kms before the city, we turned off onto back lanes towards Badelunda church.

Badelunda church:  Christianity came late to the tribes who farmed these lands, who only converted around 1250 AD. The earliest parts of Badelunda church were built in the 13th century, and during the Medieval period the parish's wealth enabled the church to be extended further (see above left). The older parts of the church were built of granite, later of brick, and since the Reformation both the exterior and interior have been rendered, covering wall paintings, some of which have survived in a side chapel. The church's other feature of note is the beautiful wooden pulpit carved with figures of apostles in the 1650s by Israel Snickare (the Carpenter) from Västerås (Photo 12 - Badelunda church) (see right). After a visit to Badelunda church, we continued along the lane to the Anundshög Iron Age Burial Grounds where, beyond a brook and overhanging oak trees, earlier traces of the pagan chieftains who ruled the lands along the Badelunda ridge came into view, with stone ship-settings and burial mounds lit by the morning sun.

Anundshög Iron Age Burial Grounds:  as early as 1,500 BC, Bronze Age pastoralists were settling and farming around Anundshög along the Badelunda ridge which, in those times before the land rose, stretched along the shores of a bay, the furthest inland point of a fjord from the Baltic Sea. As the land rose, further moraine rich fertile land emerged below the ridge cultivated by these prehistoric agricultural peoples. 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 powerful clan chieftains 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. The largest is the great burial 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 indicate this was a mighty chieftain who controlled large tracts of land. Around the mound were 5 large ship-settings, another form of burial monument associated with pagan ritual. Again the scale suggests this was a sacred cult centre. 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 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.

We parked at the café, we set off to explore the Anundshög burial mounds site. It was a lovely bright sunny morning with good light for photographing these remarkable 1,500 year old remains from under the oak trees bordering the site, looking along the length of the ship-settings towards the great tumulus (Photo 13 - Anundshög burial mounds) (see above left). Clearly the burial site's now almost parklands setting was a popular picnic spot for local school children with the youngsters running around the standing stones and clambering over Anund's burial mound. The main tumulus was huge and surrounded by 4 of the original 5 ship-settings now fully restored. The 2 largest, over 50m in length with stones 1m high, stood end to end leading to the tumulus with several other burial mounds nearby. We walked among the stones of the ship-settings taking our photos (see right) (Photo 14 - Anundshög stone ship-setting), and followed the line of standing stones which marked the Iron Age highway of 'royal road' leading from the forded brook along to a 2.5m high monolithic rune stone, erected in the late 10th century by a wealthy clan leader to mark out his establishment of the road and control of local communications routes; in translation the runic inscription reads: Folkvid raised these stones in memory of his son Heden, brother of Anund; Vred carved the runes. Clearly this was a powerful lord 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. We photographed this imposing monument against the backdrop of the great tumulus (see above left) (Photo 15 - Folkvid's rune stone).

Since our 2013 visit, a wooden walkway had been built on the hidden back side of the burial mound to prevent further erosion on the outer faces as people inevitably climbed the tumulus. The top of the Anundshög burial mound gave a bird's eye overview across the outline of the two end-on-end ship-settings (see left) (Photo 16 - Anundshög ship-settings) and of this magnificent ensemble of Iron Age burial monuments, so beautifully restored in this parkland setting at Anundshög. The topography of Anundshög, the archaeological finds of a Bronze Age landing-stage at the edge of the fjord-inlet which once extended to the foot of the Badelunda ridge, now arable land following land-rise, the burial mounds and memorials of Iron Age chieftains, and finally Badelunda church built and extended during Christianised Medieval times, taken together displayed a remarkable continuum of 3,500 years of human settlement here at Anundshög, all set out before our eyes. And in today's bright sunshine, it presented a memorable historic time-line picture (see right).

Further prehistoric monuments along Badelunda ridge:  we drove around the southern side of the site looking out across now flat arable farmland where once an inlet from the sea would have lapped the shore-line of the bay farmed by the original settlers. The modern road now cut through the line of the Badelunda ridge, and we walked up through the delightful woodland of the ridge among a series of smaller burial mounds. The woodlands showed the classic north~south mix of pines and birches along with oak and alder, with Lily of the Valley covering the woodland floor, the leaves now turning autumnal yellow and with their orange berries (Photo 17 - Autumnal Lily of Valley) (see left); it is one of nature's bizarre quirks that a plant bearing such attractively delicate and sweet-smelling flowers in spring can produce such fatally poisonous berries in autumn. Around in the quaint little hamlet of Tibble, the ridge contained another historical relic, a Medieval maze just visible by its raised lines on the woodland floor. Beyond affluent looking stable blocks, the lane led round to the Grytahögen burial mound standing rather neglected at the edge of a housing estate in the outer suburbs of Västerås.

Aggressive driving standards around Västerås:  having spent such a peaceful time exploring the historical setting of the Anundshög burial grounds, we now had to turn our attention to more mundane matters, and we turned into the huge car park of an out-of-town commercial park to shop for provisions at an ICA Maxi. Driving standards around Västerås were some of the most viciously aggressive of any Swedish cities we had experienced, an indication of city affluence and the fact that we were now within an hour's drive of the capital. We joined E18 motorway westwards in speeding afternoon traffic seeing signs of the ABB heavy engineering works as we drove past Västerås (click here for detailed map of route). Road works lane closures at one intersection slowed the impatiently jostling urban traffic, but we were soon moving again, and past the city reached open countryside. The bright sun was now fearsomely hot and glaring, adding further to stressful driving conditions in heavy, speeding traffic. Thankful to turn off the motorway, we joined Route 56 southwards to cross the narrows of Lake Mälaren at Kviksund, and just beyond turned east again on E20 motorway to Eskilstuna, passing a large Volvo assembly plant. Just north of Eskilstuna, we turned off again crossing flat agricultural countryside towards the southern shore of Mälaren.

The Ramsund Sigurd legend rock-engraving:  the sun was still wearyingly glaring as we reached the insignificant little turning down to the site of the Ramsund Sigurd legend rock-engraving. Our eyes were still blinded by the afternoon sun's dazzling glare as we were suddenly pitched into the contrasting darkness of the mysterious little wooded grove that seemed to act as almost a portal between the brash, busy, traffic-ridden 21st century world outside and the 11th century AD world of the powerful Lady Sigriðr who commissioned the rock panel pictorial engraving showing the legend of Sigurd Fafnesbane in celebratory dedication to her late husband Sigrøðr and the bridge she had caused to be built across the river here at Ramsund. Having crossed what is now just a brook on a modern narrow bridge into a tree-lined clearing to a parking place, there above in the woodland on a large bed-rock panel was the 5m long, 2m high Sigurd engraving (see above right). Carved around 1,030 AD, the engraving 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 18 - 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 Edda Sagas of Snorri Sturluson and the Germanic Nibelungenlied epic saga borrowed by Wagner in the Ring Cycle operas; it was also heavily plagiarised by JRR Tolkien in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

The tortuous 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 angered by this and demanded that the god make recompense for killing his son by filling the otter skin with golden treasure as atonement. To find due treasure, Loki used his net to catch the dwarf Andvari who had taken the shape of a pike swimming in the rapids. 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 surviving 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, the third son and a skilful blacksmith, wanted his share of the patrimony and planned to seize the treasure by trickery. He shared his plans with 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 trapping-pit 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; they 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 future evil thoughts; he returns to Fafnir's lair and loads all the treasure onto his faithful horse Grani, a direct descendent of Odin's horse Sleipnir. The legend continues with the misfortunes which the treasure later brings to Sigurd and his ill-fated family.

So how come the ancient legend of Sigurd Fafnesbane was reproduced in the 11th century AD as pictograms surrounded by a commemorative runic inscription carved into the coils of the dragon's body? 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 aristocratic Sigriðr and her late husband Sigroðr that caused the choice of the Sigurd legend pictograms, in order to glorify 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 aristocratic families to enhance their 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. Just below the Ramsund rock panel, remains of a stone roadway and abutments of the bridge which had once spanned the river, and which the inscription celebrated, were still visible. In the 11th century, water levels of the river were some 12 feet higher than the insignificant brook of today.

The Ramsund inscription and pictogram is reproduced above right: Sigurd is pictured sitting by the fire roasting the dragon Fafnir's heart (1) which drips with blood; his horse Grani loaded with the cursedly fateful 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) (Photo 18 - Sigurd legend pictogram - 1) 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 runic inscription is carved in honour of the bridge she has built (Photo 20 - Sigurd legend pictogram - 2).

We pulled into the parking area and walked up to the engraving. With sunlight filtering down through the trees, the woodland setting added a mystical aura to this remarkably preserved monument. We spent an hour examining closely both the pictogram and the lines of runic inscription contained within the Dragon coils. Knowing the translation enabled us to interpret at least the runes forming the names of Sigriðr and her husband Sigrøðr. This wonderful inscription, celebrating Sigriðr's donation of her bridge, and enhancing her family's standing in her community by association with the Sigurd legend, remains a timeless monument. It has stood amid the oaks of this beautiful woodland grove at Ramsund overlooking the brook, by the remains of the bridge it commemorated, for more than 1,000 years; long may it survive, despite the careless way in which modern families indifferently allow their children to scramble all over it.

Sundbyholms Camping:  we had selected tonight's campsite, Sundbyholms Camping, because it was literally just around the corner from the Ramsund rock engraving, but knew nothing of it other than that it was close to beaches on the southern shore of Lake Mälaren; for this reason, and because of its proximity to Stockholm, it would in the height of summer attract the holiday-making hoards. We drove past an enormous lake-side parking area, hoping the campsite would not be similarly overrun in late August. First impressions were not encouraging: a large site ranged over a number of areas and seemingly filled totally with statics except a small, flat grassy area for visitors. The reception was locked but a phone call brought the owner's daughter who greeted us with a friendly, welcoming smile which immediately dispelled our misgivings. For the site's location close to Mälaren, the price was reasonable at 230kr including good site-wide wi-fi and first class facilities. We selected a pitch alongside one of the empty statics, and with the evening sun still shining brightly, settled in (see left). The following morning, with the sky overcast and air chill, a flock of geese flew over (see right). Contrary to expectations, Sundbyholms Camping had served us well as a useful staging camp in this region of Central Sweden, but on the strict proviso of early or late season only; in the main body of summer, it would be overwhelmed with holiday-makers judging by the lavishly materialistic bad taste of the surrounding statics.

Long journey south to Motala and the Göta Canal:  on the southern side of Eskilstuna, we picked up Route 214, a narrow winding road, to begin today's 200kms drive south to Motala (click here for detailed map of route). At the eastern end of Lake Hjälmaren, we passed under what appeared to be the high concrete pylons of a former aerial cable-way spanning the road. The map showed this to stretch for almost 100kms northwards across the extensive body of water to the distant town of Köping where it seemed to link with a spur of railway line; there was no indication of what its origins were or whether this had once been a mining region. Route 214 passed along the southern shore of Lake Hjälmaren, the broad spread of water extending westwards to Örebro whose castle had once guarded the Swedish realm against Danish incursion. We now joined Route 52, a much busier road heading towards Örebro, and just beyond the small town of Kumla turned off onto the E20 motorway SW-wards for one junction before turning off again onto Route 50. We now encountered road works, major excavations to remove huge areas of rock to widen this stretch of road, but fortunately not impeding the busy flow of traffic. The greater hazards were slow-moving caravans and heavy trucks and the aggressive driving standards and tail-gating of car drivers trying to overtake on the narrow, winding road. Beyond the road works, improved road led down to the innermost north-eastern corner of the inland sea of Lake Vättern and for a short distance the road ran along its shore-line. But then more serious re-surfacing work began which brought the busy traffic to a complete standstill with a 4km tail-back. We were clearly now travelling through mining country, passing signs to Zinkgruvan (literally meaning Zinc Mine), a massive area of deep underground mining operations extracting zinc, copper and lead. The weather had been grey and gloomy for most of today's drive, but as we approached Motala the sky was beginning to clear.

Hospitable Mallbodens Camping Aire, wonderfully located on the banks of the Göta Canal at Motala:  crossing the high-arching bridge where the Göta Canal and natural river of Motala Ström flowed into Lake Vättern, we turned off into the southern outskirts of the canal port of Motala. Motala had developed around the Canal, designed as a new town by the canal builder Baltzar von Platen with a fan-shaped array of streets so that residents could look down onto the Canal. Just along from the marina, we hurried past Motala Södra Hamn Ställplats (Camping Aire), inevitably filled to the brim with camping-cars lined up in sordid rows like sardines in a tin (certainly not the overcrowded environment nor company for us!). Through the little town we headed towards our preferred camping option of Mallbodens Café/Hostel which had a canal-side camping aire. Mallbodens possessed a unique advantage which its web site emphasised: its access route was protected by a 2.9m limited height railway bridge, serving as a major deterrent to the scourge of massed camping-cars incursion. We followed the narrow streets winding down towards the Canal, and there ahead was the seemingly formidable obstacle of the low clearance bridge. But of course at 2.1m height, George sailed under without difficulty, and down Järnvägsgatan (Railway Street), we turned along the narrow unsurfaced lane by the canal-side leading to Mallbodens Café/Hostel. At the café, we received a warmly welcoming and helpful greeting from the owners Ann and Isak, and the reasonable price of 200kr included wi-fi internet extending across to the canal-side camping area, WC/showers (no kitchen/wash-up) for campers, and entry to the canal historical exhibitions just along the embankment. The delightful camping area with just 3 pitches was sandwiched along the wide, grassy canal embankment between the canal-side and former dry-dock where canal boats were once repaired (see above left) (Photo 21 - Mallbodens Camping on banks of Göta Canal). The embankment on the opposite side of the canal was dominated by the industrial complex of the former Canal Workshops (Motala Verkstad), now restored as a museum, with its huge gantry crane that in its working days raised and lowered boats from the canal (see above left) (Photo 22 - Motala Verkstad). It was a charmingly unique setting (see above right). And best of all, not a camping-car in sight, all deterred by the barrier of 2.9m limited height bridge! We brought George round, carefully positioning ourselves on the embankment, and sat out by the canal with the afternoon sun casting a golden light over this remarkable of camp spots on the banks of the Göta Canal (see above left). The evening grew dusky and darkness fell quickly; you just had take care walking along the embankment to the facilities to avoid falling into the canal or dry dock!

Exploring the locks of the central Göta Canal:  the sun was up early in a clear sky; it was going to be a very hot day. We breakfasted outside on the canal bank (Photo 23 - Breakfast by Göta Canal) (see above right) as a group of yachts passed by along the canal (Photo 24 - Yachts on Göta Canal) (see left and right). It was a glorious morning in such a unique setting on our canal-side pitch in the sunshine. Before setting out today for our exploration of the locks of the central Göta Canal, we took the opportunity to visit the historical exhibitions, set out in 2 old wooden warehouses just along from Mallbodens Café, describing the Canal's construction and those responsible for its design. On a sunny morning, the Canal Workshops which von Platen had founded to supply equipment for his canal were reflected in the still waters (Photo 25- Motala Workshops).

Construction of the Göta (pronounced Yerta) Canal was one of Sweden's greatest civil engineering projects (Click here for map of the Göta Canal), 190kms in length across the southern width of the country, connecting the Baltic near Stockholm with Göteborg on the North Sea, via Lakes Vättern and Vänern, the Trollhätten Canal and Göta River. The Canal was constructed between 1810~32 and designed by Baltzar von Platen; much of the technical expertise and equipment came from Britain, and the canal building company received consultancy advice from the English civil engineer and canal builder Thomas Telford. Some 60,000 conscripted troops were involved in construction of the 87 kms of canal which was cut by hand using primitive metal covered wooden spades to create the navigable channel linking the series of natural lakes. A total of 58 sets of locks were built to overcome the height difference between sea level and the canal's highest point of 91.8m at Lake Viken. Prior to the turn of the 19th century, canal construction used the wet-digging technique following as far as possible natural water courses and building dams to excavate and enlarge them. With a larger workforce for such a major project however, the construction of the Göta Canal used the newer dry-digging technology, following the terrain's natural contour profile, and grouping locks into flights to raise or lower the line of the canal. The Canal was officially opened on 26 September 1832 by King Carl XIV Johan, continuing in use throughout the 19th century for the transport of both export goods and passengers, and today is still in regular use for pleasure boats. But von Platen did not live to see the canal he had conceived; he died in 1829 just 3 years before the canal's completion and is buried in the family grave at Motala on the banks of his Canal.

We drove along the canal-side lane for our day of exploration of the central Göta Canal and its locks (Click here for map of the central Göta Canal locks), beginning at the flight of 5 locks at Borenshult which raise the canal 15m from the level of Lake Boren. This was a beautifully peaceful setting on a sunny morning standing by the top lock by the former lock-keeper's cottage (now a private house but still bearing the name Borenshult) (Photo 26 - Borenshult locks) and gazing down the flight of locks to the canal basin at the western end of Lake Boren (see right). We continued along northern shore of Lake Boren and turned off the busy Route 34 into the little canal port-town of Borensberg (pronouncede  Bou-rens-ber-ye). The ställplats (camping-aire) at Borensberg, recalled from our 2013 visit as a peaceful setting by the canal basin, was today a hideous sight contaminated with a log-jam of camping-cars (sign of the times), certainly not the environment nor company we should choose to camp in. Across by the lifting bridge, the single regulating-lock set against the backdrop of the classic canal-side Borensberg Hotel was a scene of pure tranquillity (see left) (Photo 27 - Borensberg lock). Borensberg is the only remaining hand-operated lock on the entire canal; with only a height difference of 0.2m, the lock's purpose is purely to regulate Lake Boren's variable water levels.

We drove on to where Route 34 is bridged by an aqueduct carrying the canal over the modern road (see below left). Pulling into the well-appointed picnic area, we walked along and up to the towpath alongside the canal across the aqueduct (see right). Standing on the aqueduct towpath above the road, there was little sense of anything but the continuum of the canal (Photo 28 - Göta Canal Aqueduct). Along this stretch, the natural water course of the Motala Ström followed a parallel route to the canal, flowing through the sluggishly shallow Norrbysjön Lake (Göta Canal map). The canal builders, using the new dry-digging method, had rejected this as what might have seemed an obvious course for the canal, but which with the river's varying water levels, would have meant constant dredging work to keep the canal open.

We drove on towards Berg, but on the approach to Linköping, Friday afternoon traffic on Route 34 was fast and furious; we were glad to turn off at the lifting-bridge above the Bergs Slussar (Berg Locks). The complex of eleven locks at Berg is one of the most impressive structures along the entire Göta Canal, raising the canal a staggering 29.1m (over 95 feet) from the level of Lake Roxen to the on-going canal (See plan of Berg Locks). From the canal's exit at Lake Roxen, the Karl Johans flight of 7 interconnected locks raises the canal 18.8m up to the canal basin at Berg; this is followed by the double Oscars Locks, 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 double Berg locks raising the canal a further 5.5m for its ongoing passage under the lifting road-bridge towards Borensberg. From the parking area we walked up towards the top pair of Berg Locks (Photo 29 - Berg Locks) (see right). The large boats which operate tourist cruises along the canal were moored at the canal basin, an illuminated sign announced that, with the canal's imminent seasonal closure, there was only one daily opening of the locks each way now. As a result, such was the build up of head water in the canal upstream, a significant overflow of water cascaded over the closed lock-gates (see left) (Photo 30 - Overflow at Berg Locks).

In today's hot sunshine, we sat at the café-terrace alongside Berg Locks for a salt-lakrits (liquorice) ice cream (see right) before ambling slowly downhill for the view looking downstream from the lower of the Berg pair of locks (see below left). Further along, looking down towards the middle pair of Oscar Locks and canal basin, and the length of the Carl Johan flight of seven lock towards the distant Lake Roxen, presented a panoramic view of this magnificent feat of engineering (see below right) (Photo 31- Oscar and Carl Johan Locks). A wooden board-walk led around the length of the huge canal basin. In the busy days of commercial canal traffic, the basin would have been full of cargo boats waiting to make the passage up or down the sets of locks; today the marina was empty. With the Canal due to close for the season shortly, there was no sign of even leisure craft passing through the locks to enliven the scene. Standing at the top of the Carl Johan flight of seven locks emphasised the steepness of the 18.8m height gain achieved leading up from the canal's exit basin from Lake Roxen at the bottom of the flight (see below left) (Photo 32 - Carl Johan flight of locks). We walked slowly down alongside the flight of locks, and both at the lower canal-side and the beach at Lake Roxen, crowds of local youngsters lay sun-bathing in the hot sunshine. Across the bottom lock foot-bridge, we plodded back up the steep slope peering into each of the locks as we passed; what a brilliantly simple yet effective device a canal lock is, enabling water to flow uphill!

Amid Friday afternoon commuter traffic from Linköping, we returned around Route 34 under the aqueduct, past Borensberg and back to Motala for a final night at our canal-side pitch at Mallbodens Café/Camping. After our day along the locks of the central Göta Canal, we set off to walk the 2km towpath into Motala to find the grave of Baltzar von Platen, the canal builder. It cannot be said to be the most of featuresome of walks, nor is Motala the most exciting of towns, but just before Motala we did find the von Platen family grave set on the canal embankment overlooking the canal he had designed and built (see below right). It was an even more wearisome walk back along the towpath to our camp, and we sat with beers looking out along the canal as one of large pleasure boats steamed past. We had enjoyed an unprecedentedly rewarding day, exploring the engineering marvels of von Platen's Göta Canal with its locks and aqueduct. Tomorrow it would be time to move on south to the historical town of Vadstena.

South to Vadstena:  the following morning, after a provisions re-stock at the Motala ICA supermarket (just off Metallvägen and Mineralvägen in the engineering town's northern outskirts), we rejoined Route 50 crossing the high-arching bridge which looked out to where the Göta Canal and Motala Ström flowed into Lake Vättern (click here for detailed map of route). A short distance south, we turned off around the lake-shore into 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 by Birgitta Birgersdotter, Sweden's most celebrated saint, to become Vadstena Abbey.

A re-visit to 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 a 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 she 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; 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 the 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.

Having found parking by the old centre, we 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 (Photo 33 - Vadstena Abbey-church) (see above left). The abbey-church with its beautiful medieval architecture has over the centuries been embellished with a celebrated collection of medieval artwork and tombs. The most spectacular feature was the decorated Gothic vaulting (see right), and the west end was dominated by the ornate sarcophagus of Gustav Vasa's mentally retarded son Duke 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 (see left). A wooden statuette of Birgitta of 1425 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 who built the Abbey after her mother's death. The gilded high altar triptych carved in 1520 and displaying the assumption of Mary and scenes from the crucifixion was lit by sun filtering in through the church's windows. A lower chancel, lined with confessional niches where the nuns told all, 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 seemingly disappearing into the mouth of a hippopotamus (Photo 34 - Saint Birgitta triptych).

The old town of Vadstena and its Castle:  in bright afternoon sunshine, but with brisk westerly wind whipping up white horses on Lake Vättern, we followed the shore-side path around past the excavated remains of the medieval nunnery to the parkland by Vadstena Slott (Castle) whose moat now serves as the town's lake-side marina. The massive fortress had been enlarged and converted into a Renaissance palace by Vasa's deranged sons, notably the infamous Johan III who had poisoned his brother, Vasa's successor, Eric XIV in the internecine wars which brought the dynasty to an inglorious end in the early 17th century. We entered the castle's starkly vast inner courtyard and re-crossed the drawbridge around to the southern side of the castle to walk over to the old town (see left) (Photo 35 - Vadstena castle). At the delightful cobbled Stortorget in Vadstena old town (see below left), we stopped opposite the town hall to enjoy what must be one of Sweden's tastiest salt-lakrits (liquorice) ice creams at Halvars Glass founded in 1936 (see below right).

The 9th century Rök Runestone and the language of runes:  extricating ourselves from Vadstena's narrow streets, we headed south through delightful but uncharacteristically flat farming countryside, past the eastern shore of Tåkern Lake to the village of Väderstad (click here for detailed map of route). Here we turned westwards to find the isolated church of Rök and the 9th century Rök Runestone.

The runic alphabet developed from the 6~7th centuries AD 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, runestones 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 arcanely encrypted sections. The inscription is therefore considered the first written 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 Rök Runestone:  reaching the small museum, we walked over to the huge runestone set up under its roofed covering close to Rök church out among farm fields where harvesting of the ripe cereal crops was taking place (see below right) (Photo 36 - Rök Runestone). 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 in the 6th century AD; 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 Viking lord: 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 at a prominent crossroads 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 1,200 year old monument with its intriguingly obscure literary and mythological references still had the power to thrill, just as Varin had intended.

Wild camp by Lake Tåkern:  a short distance from Rök, we approached the Glänås Nature Reserve along a single-track lane on the southern shore 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 Greylag geese were wading in the shallows and flying around in flocks (see left). We spent a peaceful half hour watching and photographing the birds including a couple of Grey Herons fishing among the reed beds (see right). By now, after our fulsome day, it was almost 7-00pm; the Nature Reserve's parking area in secluded woodland close by the lake-shore made the perfect place for a night's wild camp.

South to the old wooden town of Eksjö:  the following morning, we continued our southward drive (click here for detailed map of route) on Route 32 to Boxholm, a very passé-looking engineering town, through Jönökoping Country past Tranås, running parallel with the main railway line. The road had been newly upgraded since we had last driven this way in 2013, enabling us to make good progress south into Småland. We turned off into the historical wooden town of Eksjö and parked without difficulty close to the old town with its wooden houses.

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 who were garrisoned here during the 18~19th centuries, and a unit of the Swedish armed forces still has its base in the northern outskirts.

The Eksjö Town Festival had clearly been taking place during the fine weather of the last couple of days, but today major demolition work was in full swing with youngsters busily at work clearing up and dismantling all the stage-works and marquees that had filled the surrounding streets for the festival's musical events. This morning the weather had turned dull and overcast, and just as we parked in readiness for our visit to Eksjö, the rain started. And did it pour! We were forced to shelter in George, eating our lunch sandwiches and waiting for a pause in the rain. We have often recorded our more memorable lunch spots, but this was truly the least salubrious: sat in a grubby back street car park in pouring rain, watching a tanker-lorry very fetidly at work nearby emptying mobile WCs, and a fork-lift truck hoisting the emptied WCs to carry them away; we just hoped they were not occupied at the time! When the rain eventually eased, we took a stroll in the gloomy weather conditions around the cobbled streets of Eksjö's old town with its conserved wooden houses and charactersome flower-filled courtyards (Photo 37 - Eksjö wooden town). We began in the main Stortorget where the grand equestrian statue of a Smalandian Hussar was surrounded by the debris and semi-demolished pavilions of the town festival. Youngsters in drenched plastic capes hustled around with sections of stage-works and fencing, and fork-lift tractors carried away dismantled remains. We ambled around the old street taking a few photos despite the gloomy light. Some of the old wooden cottages were painted with Falu Rödfarg, the larger wooden town houses dressed in pastel shades. Eksjö was a charming place, perhaps not on a par with Nora its Bergslagen fellow wooden town (Trästäder), but today we had certainly not seen Eksjö at its best. Despite the chaos of post-festival dismantling and miserable weather however, for us this was all preferable to arriving here amid the throbbing noise and hubbub of a pop music festival!

Movänta Camping on the shores of Lake Försjön:  with the rain now pouring more heavily than ever, we drove 8kms eastwards from Eksjö to find Movänta Camping. Arriving at reception, we were greeted with a locked door, which was eventually opened by a young lad who declared they did not open until 4-00pm; we responded to such inhospitality with a curt "OK, then we're not here to book-in and pay!", and drove down into the camping area to find the pitch we had used at our 2013 stay under the pines on the shores of Lake Försjön (see left) (Photo 38 - Movänta Camping). A this late stage of the season, the site was deserted which suited us well; we re-filled with fresh water and pitched when the rain eased. This was thoroughly wretched weather, but we had a good flat, well-drained pitch and peaceful setting for our day in camp here tomorrow. It was still overcast the following morning, but over a late breakfast, the sky began to clear and sun break through. We did some washing and rigged a drying line between the tall pines, but the weather gradually declined; cloud gathered and a sudden squally shower caused us to abandon the attempt to dry the washing. Darkness fell even earlier, and with a chill wind blowing, it was a miserably cold evening.

A drive through the forests of Småland to Sweden's south-east coast:  with brighter weather the following morning, we set off for today's drive through the forests of Småland down to Sweden's south-east coast (click here for detailed map of route). Traffic on the main eastward Route 40 was surprisingly light and, in bright morning sunshine, this was a relaxing drive through delightful pine forests. The number of timber trucks and a large timber processing yard we passed suggested that southern Småland was very much logging country. Reaching the small town of Mariannelund, we turned off SE-wards on Route 129 to Hultsfred, still passing through pine wooded countryside, so attractive in morning sunshine. Rather than taking the obvious main roads down to the coast at Oskarshamn, we followed back-roads through woodland and farming countryside, a delightfully peaceful and winding rural route, eventually emerging at Dödehult on Route 47 8kms from Oskarshamn. Every country has its memorably unmemorable non-entity of a town, and Sweden has Oskarshamn. Without reservation, Oskarshamn takes the prize as Sweden's most inconsequential place: its only raison d'être is as a ferry port where ferries depart for the Baltic island of Götland; it also has the dubious claim to fame as the location of the largest of Sweden's 3 nuclear power plants. We did pay to park but failed to find anything good to say about Oskarshamn, other than a large ICA hypermarket in the suburbs and the E22 bypass as a fast means of getting away!

Kaffetorpets Camping on the Oknö coastal peninsula:  we thankfully joined the E22 highway, hurrying away from Oskarshamn south towards the small port of Möntsterås. Möntsterås has a well-equipped ställplats (camping aire) by the attractive little harbour, but by 4-00pm brigades of camping-cars were already gathering; parking in tightly packed rows on a confined tarmaced quay-side is certainly not our idea of camping, and we turned off onto a side lane alongside a coastal creek down the 6kms length of the Oknö peninsula. Along the lane just outside Möntsterås, we hurried past an enormous First Camp, not having the requisite sized bank account to afford the luxurious 'attractions' of such a place, nor indeed the wish to camp amid 1000s of other tightly packed caravans and their unsavoury occupants. Leaving behind yet more holiday homes, we continued down the peninsula, finally reaching an unsurfaced lane to the tip, ending at the gates of Kaffetorpets Camping. We had earlier telephoned to confirm they were open, and the owners had responded to our enquiry in welcoming tones, giving us the gate key-code since they were not on site out of season; it sounded promising. The barrier led into the open, grassy camping area, totally deserted other than a handful of empty statics at the far end. There was no view of the sea from here, but at end August with all the holiday-makers long gone and not a camping-car in sight, it was wonderfully peaceful; this would suit us well for a rest day here tomorrow, and we gladly selected a sunny pitch and settled in (see above right). The sun set behind tall trees and dusk fell quickly tonight; this region on the coast of Southern Sweden felt a million miles away from the Sweden of the north we love so well.

It was another bright sunny morning for our rest day here at Kaffetorpets Camping, with wagtails hopping around on the grass; by the time the sun had cleared the trees, it was warm enough to sit outside for breakfast (see above left) (Photo 39 - Breakfast at Kaffetorpets Camping). Sheila walked around the campsite picking blackberries and photographing the Red Squirrels scampering around in the pines (Photo 40 - Red Squirrel). Around noon, Mrs Anna Aronsson the campsite owner arrived as arranged to collect our payment, and we learned from her more about the campsite and its surroundings. The land at the seaward end of the wooded Oknö coastal peninsula was owned by Möntsterås Commune, and had previously been leased to the First Camp company who had neglected the site so that the lease was terminated. The Aronsson family, Lars and Anna, who were themselves experienced campers, had taken over the campsite in June 2015. This had meant hasty preparations to open the neglected site in time for the 2015 summer season. They had clearly done a good job since the facilities, although straightforward, were perfectly functional and spotlessly clean. The family lived on the site in their caravan during the peak season, and now ran the site with the deliberate policy of maintaining a straightforward camping environment, with none of the expensive distractions of First Camp; in other words, all that any discerning campers would want of a campsite, and at the reasonable price of 220kr/night. They stressed aiming to give their guests the chance to enjoy the peacefulness of the lovely natural surroundings while respecting the presence of others, and had adopted the motto Den lilla Campingen längst ut på Oknö (The little campsite at the end of Oknö). We were full of admiration for all they had achieved and the lovely straightforward environment they had successfully maintained; we wish the Aronsson family well and share their values.

Late in the afternoon, we explored the network of paths around the coastal tip of the Oknö peninsula, discovering that the campsite extended further with several other more secluded grassy areas bordering on the coastal pinewoods. Paths through this delightful woodland led out among the reed beds fringing the sea (see above right and left); with the western sun shimmering across the shallow waters, it was a truly delightful setting (see above left). We followed the coastal strip around the tip of the peninsula finding bushes laden with juniper berries and wild red currents. Today, towards the tail end of the trip, we had enjoyed a thoroughly relaxing day in this lovely peaceful setting at Kaffetorpets.

Coming next:  during the final 2 weeks of this trip, we shall visit the famous glassworks of Småland near to Nybro, then cross to spend a week on the Baltic island of Öland. On our return to the mainland, we shall visit the historic town of Kalmar with its magnificent castle, and spend the final few days travelling around the southern coastline of Sweden, through Skåne calling at Kristianstad, Åhus, Kivik, Ystad (of Wallander fame), Sweden's southernmost point at Smygehamn, and Trelleborg with its reconstructed Viking fort. We shall conclude at the bird-watching sand-spit of Falsterbo at the furthest SW point near Malmö, before re-crossing the Öresund Bridge to begin the long journey home. But all of that is for our next edition, to be published shortly.

Next edition to be published quite soon

Sheila and Paul

Published:  11 January 2017

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