*** SWEDEN 2016 - WEEKS 12~14 ***
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CAMPING IN SWEDEN 2016 - Småland Kingdom of Glass (Glasriket), Baltic island of Öland, Kalmar, Southern coastline of Skåne, Kristianstad, Kivik, Ystad, Trelleborg, Falsterbo sand-spit, Öresund Bridge to Denmark for journey home:
The Småland Glasriket (Kingdom of Glass) and Målerås Glass Works: clear skies and warm autumn sunshine for the morning we drove back along the Oknö peninsula, past the holiday homes and marinas into Mönsterås, to rejoin the E22 highway. 12 kms south at Ålem we turned off onto a quiet rural lane through the Småland pine forests (click here for detailed map of route). The sandy heath-land forest floor was covered with large clumps of ground-hugging Bearberry with its ripe red berries (Photo 1 - Ripening Bearberry). This was clearly logging country judging by the number of timber trucks thundering through these attractive villages. Reaching Nybro, we made first for the Pukeberg Glassworks, visited in 2013, hoping today again to witness a demonstration of glass-blowing. Now however Pukeberg at Nybro was only a glass-making school, with just one student being taught the skills; to see a glass-working demonstration, we should need to go to the Målerås glass factory (Glasbruk) 30 kms north up Route 31. A 20 minute drive brought us to the turning into Målerås village clustered around its surprisingly small glassworks.
Inside the workshops, we found two glass-blowers working, and spent an hour watching one of the craftsmen creating ornate vases and paperweights. She introduced herself as Marianne Degener who had herself trained at Målerås in the 1980s; she now had her own studio and taught glass-making skills to students at the Målerås workshops. It was totally fascinating watching her take a red hot gobbet of molten glass from the furnace, slowly work it into shape, then skilfully chop off the finished product into the annealing oven for slow overnight cooling. She readily answered our questions and demonstrated the technique, explaining the stages of glass-working (see left and above) (Photo 2 - Glass-blowing at Målerås).
Joelskogens Camping at Nybro: back into Nybro, we parked by the station to use the public library wi-fi to check next week's forecast for Öland. After a provisions re-stock at the ICA Kvantum, we drove around to Joelskogens Camping. An earlier phone call had assured us that, although the reception was closed out of season, keys for the facilities were available. Despite seemingly situated on a pleasant pine-covered hillock alongside the town lake (see left), the municipal campsite was set in open public parkland, with local people walking through and children playing down by the lake, and immediately by a busy main road with the constant noise of passing traffic. With some misgivings, we settled in but there was scarcely a flat spot to camp, and as darkness fell the numbers of people still loitering in the open parkland gave concerns about security. Joelskogens was certainly not a comfortable place to camp.
Across the bridge to Öland: the following morning, we headed south for the 26kms drive down to Kalmar, and turned off onto Route 137 to cross the 6kms high-arching toll-free bridge over the Kalmar Sound to the Baltic island of Öland which was to be our home for the next 5 days (click here for detailed map of route). Traffic was busy but we were able to get photos on the downward slope from the bridge's brow towards the distant shore of Öland (Photo 3 - Crossing Öland bridge) . The slender island is a 120kms long limestone plateau, scoured by the last Ice Age's retreating ice, leaving a unique geology and flora. Öland had been a royal hunting ground from the mid-16th century until 1801, ruled with scant regard for its native peasant farmers who were barred from chopping wood, hunting animals or selling their produce on the open market. Danish attacks added to the Ölanders' miseries, and a series of disastrous harvests in mid-19th century led to a quarter of the population emigrating to seek a new life in America. Wooden windmills dating from the 18th century still cover Öland, and as we drove northwards from the bridge towards the island's main town of Borgholm, we immediately began to pass classically characteristic features of Öland: conserved post-windmills, dry limestone walls, and blue chicory flowers at the roadside.
Borgholm Castle: the surviving ruins of Borgholm Slott (Castle) were silhouetted on the cliff tops as we approached the southern outskirts of the town. Construction of the original fortress was begun in the late 12th century by King Knut Eriksson, and it had seen much action during 14~16th Swedish~Danish wars. When Gustav Vasa secured Swedish independence in 1523, he strengthened the huge castle to protect his new realm, and the castle had enjoyed a brief renaissance as a royal palace under the Vasa dynasty. In the mid-17th century Tessin the Elder further enlarged the royal palace, but by the 18th century the disused castle fell into ruins, finally being destroyed by fire in 1806. Today the roofless ruins still stand proudly atop the cliffs near to one of the Swedish royal family's summer residences, and we walked across the limestone scrubland meadows, where standing under the stark towers and redoubts showed the castle's fearsome scale (Photo 4 - Borgholm Castle) (see above right). In bright afternoon sunshine, we ambled among blackthorn bushes laden with huge sloes, to the 30m high escarpment which still protects the fortress-palace's seaward side facing the Kalmar Sound.
Blå Rör Bronze Age burial mound: just north of Borgholm, we turned off to find the late Bronze Age burial mound of Blå Rör. 40m in diameter and 3m high, the stone-covered tumulus is hidden away among brambles and scrub-covered sheep pastures behind suburban houses in the northern outskirts of Borgholm (see left). The cist tomb which the huge cairn covers had been plundered in antiquity, but archaeological finds at the site date the grave-mound to around 1,000 BC. We took our photos of the burial-mound, and of the Dewberries growing among brambles, then continued north passing an exposed section of Öland's classic limestone escarpment.
Föra medieval church: we turned off at Vässby to the farming hamlet of Föra. The original church, built here in the early 11th century soon after Öland's conversion to Christianity, was a simple wooden stave structure; this was replaced by a more substantial stone church in the 12th century, and as times became more unsettled, with attacks from across the Baltic, the church's tower was fortified as a defensive refuge. Although the church was extended in later years, this sturdy west end tower remains, evidence of these violent times (Photo 5 - Föra church). The church, lit by a bright afternoon sun, was unfortunately locked, but nearby close to a wooden barn, a large stone cross marked the grave of Martinus (see right), a priest killed accidentally in 1431. A tax collecting bailiff, expecting trouble, thought the steelyard the clergyman was carrying was a weapon; jerking it from his hand, the bailiff killed him on the spot, which only goes to show that tax collectors can get away with murder!
Sandvik mill and fishing harbour: continuing north, we turned off to revisit the huge Dutch windmill at Sandvik. Unlike the smaller Öland post-mills, where the whole body of the mill is turned manually into the wind, the larger Dutch mills' sails are fitted to a revolving cap. The smaller post-mills tended to meet local domestic needs on farms, whereas the larger Dutch mills were operated as toll mills by a miller, with payment for grinding farmers' corn either in cash or a share of the grain. The Sandvik mill was built originally in Småland in 1856; it was sold in 1885 and transported piecemeal and reassembled here at Sandvik on a 2-storey sandstone base, and remained in use as a working mill until 1950. It was later converted to a café, serving traditional Öland peasant meals such as Lufsa and Kroppkakor, potato dumplings filled with chopped pork and onion. Having photographed the mill (see above left) (Photo 6 - Sandvik Mill), we moved down to Sandvik's little fishing harbour where boats were moored at the quays lit by the afternoon sun (Photo 7 - Sandvik fishing harbour) (see right).
Knisa Mosse Nature Reserve: back at the main Route 136, a single-track lane led out to the Knisa Mosse Nature Reserve. These coastal wetlands were spared the 19th century drainage ditching when as much land as possible on Öland was cultivated to feed a growing population (see left). The area was used for cutting reeds as roofing material and hay and for grazing cattle, and conserved as a nature reserve in the mid 20th century for its birdlife and flora. From the parking area, we followed a faint track through scrubland pastures rather hesitantly past a small herd of large-horned highland cattle across to an oak copse to the bird observation tower overlooking the marshes. Low blackthorn bushes full of sloes grew alongside the path and, crossing a board-walk we found a patch of Grass of Parnassus flowers in the moist land (see right); we had seen this beautiful flower from way up in the Arctic right down to here in the very south of Scandinavia. The tower overlooked the Knisa Mosse wetlands where ducks gathered on the waters, gulls flew around and swallows soared overhead dipping to feed in the shallows
Wikegårds Camping overlooking the Baltic shore-line: we returned to the main road and at Hörlösa turned along the lane, past two post-mills, out to the island's east coast ending at Wikegårds Farm-Camping. Set on a 19th century croft-farm with the camping areas spread among the former home pastures, it was a truly delightful place, but with a tragic history so typical of the desperately hard life endured by Öland's crofting families, many of whom emigrated: the mother died early and the eldest daughter brought up her younger siblings while father worked the farm. The 5 younger children eventually emigrated, and Alma the eldest daughter maintained the farm until she died in 1959; the farm became a campsite in 1980. As in 2013, we were again welcomed by the elderly lady owner who chatted away in a semi-intelligible mix of Swedish and German, showing us the straightforward facilities and suggesting spots for us to camp. The price was still 200kr/night, good value for such an exceptional location. We selected a pitch sheltered from the brisk Öland wind by large juniper bushes, looking out to the magnificent Baltic shoreline (Photo 8 - Wikegårds Camping) (see left). The evening grew dusky and cool, and as darkness fell, clouds gathered with only a few stars shining through; in spite of the total absence of light pollution, there would be no Milky Way tonight, just the twinkling red lights from a distant array of wind-farms out in the Baltic. It rained heavily overnight, and the following morning's sky, although bright, was overcast for our day in camp here at Wikegårds. Since our 2013 stay, wi-fi had now been installed at the farmhouse and the forecast showed improving weather for our week on Öland. We enjoyed a gloriously peaceful and restful day, and during the afternoon, the cloud cover broke with a clear warming sun streaming in from Wikegårds' renowned Big Baltic Sky above the farm's post-mill (Photo 9 - Wikegårds post-windmill against Big Baltic Sky).
Källa old church and harbour: returning along the lane the following day, we paused to photograph post-mills at other farms in the bright morning sunshine (Photo 10 - Öland post-mill) before setting off for our day of exploration around the North Öland coast (click here for detailed map of route). We turned north at the main road to the village of Källa to revisit the Gamla Kyrka (old church). The settlement of Källa grew up around its little harbour. As attacks from Baltic pirate increased during the later 12th century, the original 11th century wooden church at Källa was destroyed by fire, and a new stone church, dedicated to St Olav, was built in the form of a 2 storey defensive fortress, the church's tower serving as a refuge in times of attack (see above right). The church was further enlarged in the 14th century and the tower demolished. A new church was built at Källa in the 19th century as the village expanded closer to the main road, and most of the old church's fitments were moved there. The huge barn-like old church with its sturdy stone walls was conserved as a national heritage, and in 2013 we were able to see its magnificent interior architecture. Today in September, it was all locked but we took our photos from the outside from the corner of the graveyard which was filled with flat-slabbed tombs from the 1600~1700s. Just along from the church, we reached Källa Hamn at the lane's end; today the little harbour was peaceful with just a few boats moored by the fishing sheds (see left) (Photo 11 - Källa Hamn). Källa Hamn had once been one of the busiest harbours along Öland's Baltic coast, with Öland limestone exported from here for kiln-roasting as fertiliser.
Neptuni Åkrar beach: we continued north past the windmills at Högby, and after shopping for provisions at the ICA Nära at Löttorp village, we turned off beyond Böda around the densely pine-forested coast road to reach Tokenäs Camping. Just opposite the campsite, a shore-side post-windmill stood atop a hillock overlooking the Kalmar Sound. The campsite was virtually empty and we should return there later after our day around the northern tip of the island. Beyond the little port-resort of Byxelkrok from where summer ferries cross to Oskarhamn on the mainland, we stopped by the stony, rubble-field of Neptuni Åkrar, a barren beach of wave-pounded rubble-banks above the flat slabs of bed-rock limestone along the waterline. The flat upper surface of the slabs was scored with linear Orthoceratite fossils, a marine cephalopod with external tubular shell. Labelled 'Neptune's Fields' by Linné after his 1741 visit, the 200m wide glacially deposited rubble embankments have been tiered up by tidal action over aeons, and now presents a barren appearance stretching for several miles along Öland's NW coastline. Among the sparse vegetation that somehow manages to take root on the rubble, the distinctive blue-purple-pink spiky flowers of Viper's Bugloss stand out (see above right) (Photo 12 - Viper's Bugloss); not a native of Öland, the seeds of this curious plant of the borage family are thought to have originated in a ship-load of gravel landed at Byxelkrok in the 1930s which in the absence of competition spread along the barren limestone rubble of the Neptuni Åkrar beach. We walked across the rubble beach expecting the Viper's Bugloss flowers to be past now, but found enough to be photographed. Over at the shore-line, the rubble banks sloped steeply down to the mirror-still waters of Kalmar Sound. The last time we had been here in 2013, a stiff wind was driving a pounding surf onto the beach; today there was not a breath of breeze, and the sun glinted across the still sea with the distant islet of Blå Jungfrau standing out on the horizon (see left).
Öland's northern tip and Trollskogen Nature Reserve: the lane continued around the northern part of the island where this tapered away to the Norra Udde (Northern Tip), and at the small settlement of Grankulla, a side-lane turned off onto the eastern of the 2 peninsulas enclosing Grankullaviken lagoon, ending at the Trollskogen Nature Reserve. Here we set off to walk the 4.5kms way-marked Trollskogen circuit trail around the forested Trollskogen peninsula. The path crossed the width of the peninsula, passing a now fallen ancient oak tree, and running alongside the remains of a stone wall which once enclosed a medieval royal hunting lodge. The path emerged on the eastern shore-line which was normally exposed to the full force of gales blowing across the Baltic. Today however, with virtually no wind, the sky was cloudless with scarcely a ripple of surf on the shingle beach. It was a picture-postcard of a view looking along the forest-fringed beach with the still sea reflecting the blue sky and lit by bright sun (Photo 13 - Trollskogen beach). We followed the path through the dark forest alongside the beach looking out through the fringe of trees towards the sun-lit shore-line (see above right). Some 800m further, we reached the wooden carcass of the wrecked 3-masted schooner Swiks which foundered here on a stormy December night in 1926 on its voyage home to Åland from Northern Germany. The crew managed to get ashore in a lifeboat, and the wreck still lies here on the stony shore like a beached whale (see left) (Photo 14 - Wreck of schooner Swicks).
The path turned inland from the beach through pine woods passing a venerable aged oak said to be 900 year old and still thriving. Continuing through the forest, parallel with the eastern coastline, we reached the grove of low pines contorted by exposure to violent gales blowing in across the Baltic (Photo 15 - Trollskogen contorted pines); the pines' mysteriously twisted shapes give the name Trollskogen (Trolls' Forest) to the nature reserve. The path turned inland crossing to the trackway which runs along the spine of the eastern peninsula; here a short diversion led to a point close to the peninsula's tip looking out across the still waters of Grankullaviken lagoon towards the distant Långe Erik lighthouse on the tip of the western side (see right). The lagoon was almost enclosed on the seaward side by a chain of islets. The return path wound past stone defensive works from the 14~16th century wars between Sweden and Denmark, and Iron Age burial mounds. On the peninsula's more sheltered western side, the lagoon was fringed with meadows where cattle grazed. The path crossed the meadows before re-entering the forest, where spotted woodpeckers frolicked high in the pines, to complete the circuit of the forest nature trail.
Tokenäs Camping: back around the northern tip of the island through Byxelkrok to Tokenäs Camping, a phone call brought no response so we settled in at the open area opposite the windmill for maximum evening sun, with the campsite bathed in golden light. An elderly gent from one of the static caravans called round to collect our rent; he chatted away jovially in Swedish too quickly for us to follow, but when he wrote down '65 års', we got the gist: 'ah rabatt!' we responded - discount for seniors - and paid the reduced figure of 170kr, very reasonable for such a peaceful setting. As the golden sun declined and set along the seaward horizon, we dashed over to photograph the windmill silhouetted against the sunset across the Kalmar Sound (Photo 16 - Tokenäs post-mill against setting sun) (see above left); it was a glorious spectacle, and later the clear evening grew dark with a star spangled sky.
Byrums Raukar sea stacks: the overnight cloud cleared to give another clear, sunny day but a fresh northerly breeze kept temperatures cooler, raising white horses out in the Kalmar Sound. We packed, re-filled George's fresh water, and set off through Byxelkrok to pause again at Neptuni Åkrar beach where the brisk wind was today driving a lively swell off the Sound; the contrast of white waves against the wine-dark sea this morning made for more interesting photography than yesterday's flat, glassy calm (see above right). We turned off onto the minor lane around to the northern tip, and as we drove through the coastal woodland, sea eagles soared overhead and a kestrel landed on a roadside tree. At the parking area near to Långe Erik lighthouse, a large flock of cormorants was perched out on the rocks in the shallows of Grankullaviken lagoon. We walked over to photograph the lighthouse against the backdrop of breakers driven in by the wind, but cloud had now gathered giving the scene a grey, dismal air (see left).
We drove the circuit of back lanes to re-join Route 136 down to Böda and turned off to the west coast to re-visit Byrums Raukar sea stacks. This 600m long stretch of sea stacks, up to 5m in height, has been carved out of the coastal bed-rock limestone by the erosive action of wind and waves. At a time 490 million years ago, the land mass of which Öland was then a part was located in the southern tropics on the bed of a warm, shallow tropical sea. Limestone deposition built up on the sea bed coral reefs, which under pressure over aeons formed the Öland limestone. It is estimated that it took 1,000 years of deposition to form a 1mm thickness of limestone; with today's Öland limestone layers being 40m in depth, this means that it took 40 million years for the Öland limestone bed-rock to form. Differing content of clay minerals in the limestone caused variations in its hardness and therefore resistance to erosion. At Byrums, softer limestone has been eroded by wind and wave action, leaving behind the stacks of harder, more resistant limestone. We parked at the end of road shore-side and walked along to the first of the Byrums stacks. The cloud cover of earlier was just beginning to break, and the sky clearing to give bright western sun, perfect lighting conditions for photographing the line of sea-stacks against the dark sea and white waves breaking against the foot of the limestone cliffs, continuing their erosive action (see above right) (Photo 17 - Byrums Raukar sea stacks). The grey knobbly limestone surface crumbled into pebble-sized chunks to reveal fossils of the creatures whose exoskeletons formed the limestone. We clambered from one stack's top to the next, and down into the mini-canyons between the stacks to the water's edge (Photo 18 - Byrums Raukar sea stacks). In such perfect conditions, particularly looking westwards with the light silhouetting the line of stacks and adding sparkle to the waves washing onto the base of the cliffs, the hour spent at Byrums was another of the trip's memorable highlights (see above left) .
We returned to Tokenäs Camping for a third night; it was good value and peaceful, and with the sky still clear, we could enjoy another sunset behind the windmill. Early evening, the elderly gent came round again to collect tonight's rent, chatting away in rapid Swedish with us catching just the occasional word. Tonight, apart from his caravan as the only other occupant, we had the campsite to ourselves, and the sun set across the Sound once more silhouetting the windmill against a crimson sky (see above right).
Eastern coast road and Gärdslösa medieval church: after a chill night, a dewy autumnal start to the day with clear sun rising over the tall trees behind our camping spot. This time of year, Tokenäs Camping had served us well, but only early or late in the season could peacefulness be assured. Today we should travel the full 120kms length of the island from its northern tip to explore Southern Öland. For the return drive to Borgholm, we took the eastern coast road passing marshland and farming countryside, and after a provisions restock at Borgholm, we were ready to begin our exploration of Southern Öland (click here for detailed map of route). Crossing the island's width past wealthy-looking farmsteads, we reached the east coast and close to the hamlet of Störlinge, paused to photograph a line of 7 post-mills set along a roadside embankment (see above left). A further km south, we reached the village of Gärdslösa to visit the wonderfully preserved medieval stone church, built in the 12th century to replace an earlier wooden church. After photos from under the trees in the lovingly maintained graveyard (Photo 19 - Gärdslösa medieval church), we admired the interior with its 16th century frescoes and beautifully decorative pulpit carved by 17th century Kalmar craftsmen (see right). In the south transept, a runic graffito has been exposed in the plasterwork, which translates as Johan made me. All along this road, farmsteads showed their medieval layout of a series of wooden barns running linearly along the roadside with one gateway into an enclosed courtyard with farmhouse and gardens.
Ismantorp Iron Age ring-fortress: turning inland at Långlöt, and passing the post-mills by the Himmelsberga skansen, we took a side-lane ending at the parking area for Ismantorp Early Iron Age ring-fortress. The oldest of the 20 known ring-forts on Öland and built around 200 AD, the circular limestone block-built exterior wall, remarkably conserved at 3~4m in height, encloses an open inner space with the stone foundation-remains of 95 dwellings (see left). Excavations at the site have revealed no archaeological remains, and the fortress was likely not to have been permanently occupied. It is thought to have been the fortified headquarters for a clan chieftain and his garrison who controlled the surrounding area, and a secure refuge for his peasant farmers in times of danger. Nothing is known for certain about the ring-fort's history or its occupants, but it was abandoned around 650 AD. But the scale and solidity of the fortress' construction to have lasted so well is an indication of the power of the chieftain who controlled Ismantorp.
The approach on foot to Ismantorp adds to the mystique of the place: from the parking area, a winding path leads for 200m through a dark wood, suddenly opening into a wide meadow with the fortified village's stone walls in the centre. It is as if you have passed through a portal into a lost bygone age. Across to one of the 9 gates through the 4m high perimeter wall, we entered the central protected area with its layout of stone foundation-remains of dwellings. Clambering up onto the wall top gave a full overview both of the extent of the enclosed area of dwellings, the solidity of the circuit-walls' construction, and the remarkable state of its preservation which had survived for 1,800 years (Photo 20 - Ismantorp Iron Age ring-fortress). With no other sound but the wind in the trees of the surrounding forests, Ismantorp is indeed a mystical place; one could only speculate about the power exercised by the chieftains, the lives of their clansmen, how often they had to take refuge in the fortress, and the nature of the external threats they faced. Standing here in the fortress' inner area among the ruins of dwellings, in the silence of Ismantorp's lost world, was another of the trip's memorable highlights.
Gråborg Iron Age~Medieval ring-fortress: we continued south along the eastern coast road passing an area of Iron Age grave-fields and another line of post-mills at Lerkaka with a modern-day harvester standing behind them at a farm. At the aptly named hamlet of Runsten, the eponymous runestone with ornately carved inscription stood by the roadside. At Norra Möckleby we again turned inland to find the Gråborg Iron Age~Medieval ring-fortress. The approach pathway passed by a classic Öland farmstead with long-barn enclosing its farmhouse courtyard. Gråborg is an even bigger ring-fort built in the 6th century AD at a time when Ismantorp was in decline. It was later adapted with strengthened walls as a military fortification and trade centre in medieval times, and was even occupied as defence against Danish attacks as late as the 17th century. Nothing of the Iron Age fortified settlement or later medieval military works survives today other than the 7m high ring-walls (see above left) and a vaulted medieval gateway (see right); the vast open space enclosed by the circular walls is now meadowland mown for hay. Nearby stand the remains of the medieval chapel of St Knut and tax records show both the fortress and chapel were owned by Vadstena Abbey (Photo 21 - St Knut's Chapel). We took our photos and continued our drive down the eastern coast road passing more windmills and grave-fields.
Southern Öland's Stora Alvaret limestone plateau: at Brunneby we turned off inland to cross the semi-barren limestone plateau of Stora Alvaret, the vast limestone plateau which covers the bulk of Southern Öland; at 260km2 it is the largest such limestone expanse in Europe. Southern Öland's topography showed the nature of the island's agriculture, with the coastal strip having the most fertile, deeper soil, cultivated as arable land and meadows, and the inland Alvar plain with its thin soil mantle and sparse vegetation grazed by cattle and sheep. The medieval layout of farmsteads along the line of the coastal strip, and frequency of Iron Age grave-fields and medieval churches, show these lands to have had continuity of human occupation for almost 2,000 years. And the number of farm vehicles passing along the coast road, and affluence of modern farmsteads, showed that agriculture still flourished.
We turned off across the flat, barren waste of the Alvar, initially passing stunted trees and then the extensive open, featureless plain stretching away to the horizon on both sides of the road (see left and right). The Alvar plain had been formed following the last Ice Age when retreating glaciers had scoured the bed-rock limestone of what became Öland as the land rose from the Baltic, relieved of the weight of ice. Animal and human life populated the island, migrating across the residual ice-bridge from the mainland. Over the next millennia, the bare limestone was overlaid by a thin mantle of soil, only 2cms at its thickest, by plant colonisation and wind-driven deposition to create the alvar formation seen today. The term alvar is derived from this thin soil covering and in some places the limestone bed-rock still shows through with with no soil covering at all. During the Bronze and Iron Ages, farming developed on the Alvar which was used to graze animals, but in the 18~19th centuries over-exploitation of the poor soil caused even further denuding of the surface vegetation; with insufficient arable land to feed an increasing population, many emigrated to escape starvation and seek a new life overseas leaving abandoned villages like Dröstorp. Driving across the Alvar plain, we stopped a couple of times to photograph this deserted wilderness, today criss-crossed by dry-stone walls and with just a few livestock grazing (Photo 22 - Stora Alvaret limestone plateau).
Resmo medieval church and the 10th century Karlevi Runestone: at the far end of the road across the Alvar, we reached Resmo village and paused to photograph the 11th century church, said to be Öland's oldest surviving church still in regular use (see left). It began as a private foundation in the 11th century, endowed by a local wealthy landowner who stood to gain from his investment in the church from fees paid by parishioners for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Again the tower was strengthened as a defensive refuge, but the Danish invasions of 1677 wrought havoc with the decorations, treasures and archives of both Resmo and Vickleby churches plundered or destroyed. We turned down the steep slope of Öland's western coastal escarpment to revisit the Karlevi runestone set amid fields down by the Kalmar Sound. Dated to the late 10th century, the time of transition from the pagan Æsir religion to Christianity, the runestone is unique in containing within its runic inscription both the prose dedication to a Viking chieftain and the oldest known stanza of Skaldic verse, and on the reverse side a later non-runic inscription with Christian reference. The stone marks the grave of the Danish chieftain Sibbi Fuldarsson, killed in the 985 AD battle of Fýrisvellir, and was raised in dedicatory memory by his retinue. The prose dedication records the commemoration to Sibbi, and the honorific verse which follows mentions a female Valkyrie deity Thrud and reference to one of the names of Odin, perhaps an acknowledgement that Sibbi still clung to the old pagan beliefs. The 1.4m high, rounded top stone was not Öland limestone, but harder granite rock transported from elsewhere. The main inscription was deeply engraved in beautiful runic characters in vertical lines covering the front face and side (see right), while on the reverse face were Christian characters in Roman script, interpreted as In Nomin[e]...Ie[su], raising the question whether this was contemporary with the runic inscription almost as a 'fail-safe' addendum at time of religious transition or a later Christian defamatory graffito on a pagan monument. Either way, our feeling was that the Karlevi monument, along with the Rök runestone, was the most intriguing of those we had seen, a very special monument marking the final resting place of a Viking warrior-chieftain (Photo 23 - Karlevi Runestone).
A peaceful night's camp at Gräsgårds Fiskehamn: returning through Vickleby, we re-crossed the width of the Alvar plain on another lane, taking us back to the east coast. It was by now 5-30pm and the low sun cast a golden light over the grave-fields at Segestad. We paused to photograph the 3m high 11th century runestone by the road side at Seby (see left); the runic inscription enclosed within scrolls translates as Ingjald, Näf and Sven erected this stone as a memorial to their father Rodmar. The face of the limestone showed traces of exposed Orthoceratite fossils between the lines of runes. We were weary after a long day of exploration, and looking forward to camping again by the fishing harbour of Gräsgårds Hamn where we had enjoyed a peaceful stay in 2103. To our relief, the straightforward little campsite at the end of the lane by the tiny port was not only still open but empty. The small camping area enclosed by a ring of dilapidated huts was unchanged, as if frozen in a time-warp, with its basic facilities and power supplies covered by a plastic fish crate. The instructions to leave the nightly charge of 110kr (unchanged since 2013) in an envelope at the reception hut was still there, and with the sun declining and the dusky evening growing cool, we gladly settled in with George's nose into the crisp breeze blowing in from the Baltic and the open slider facing out to the fishing harbour. The sun set leaving a deep salmon glow along the western horizon, and the evening grew dark with a thin sliver of new moon rising over the Baltic. What a thoroughly fulsome day this had been, and how good it was to be camping again at this wonderfully peaceful setting on the Baltic coastline here at Gräsgårds Fiskehamn.
We woke the following morning to an overcast sky with just a band of brighter light along the eastern horizon. This clearer sky gradually spread, so that by breakfast time we could sit outside in bright, warm sunshine (see above right) (Photo 24 - Gräsgårds Fiskehamn Camping). Before leaving Gräsgårds, we walked over to the little fishing harbour where fewer working boats were moored than 3 years ago on our first stay; it looked as if fishing was in decline. The boats had just returned from their morning's work (we had seen their navigation lights as they had set out earlier at 4-00am), but the fishermen were carrying just one iced box of fish over to the sheds; no wonder it was a declining industry. We wished one of them Tack för camping as he sat repairing nets on an ancient sewing machine at one of the huts; Var så god (You're welcome) was his terse response. Photographing the boats was a lovely conclusion to our say once more at Gräsgårds Fiskehamn, but if we ever return, how many boats will be left, we wondered (Photo 25- Gräsgårds fishing boats) (see left).
Seby prehistoric grave-fields: before heading down to Ottenby and the Södre Udde (Southernmost Point) of Öland, we diverted briefly north to the Iron Age grave-fields at Seby and Segestad. The line of Öland's south-eastern coastal road is marked by a narrow, low-lying ridge, originally a raised beach formed as land levels rose following the last Ice Age. The fertile soil along this ridge has been farmed and grazed for over 2,000 years of occupation, with farms and villages developing along the line of the ridge from the early Iron Age, through Viking and medieval times, up to the present day. Evidence for this continuity of human occupation can be traced not only from the farmsteads and villages along the line of the road; the ridge was also the only place with soil deep enough for human burials, and at Seby and Segestad, some 285 stone grave monuments have been found dating from the early Iron Age (200 AD) to the Viking period (1,000 AD), when with conversion to Christianity and building of churches, burials transferred to churchyards. Just outside Segestad, some of the most prominent standing stone monoliths stood along the line of the ridge, and opposite to the east of the road, the coastal strip of farmland stretched away to the Baltic shore grazed by modern cattle. Taken together, ancient standing stones marking burials and modern farming symbolised this long continuity of human occupation.
Ottenby bird reserve at Öland's southernmost tip: heading south to Ottenby, we turned off along the single-track lane leading across the treeless Alvar fields, the tail end of Southern Öland's limestone plateau, once a royal hunting reserve and now grazed by sheep and cattle, to the Långe Jan lighthouse at Öland's southernmost tip. we parked by the bird observation station and sat to eat our sandwich lunch, entertained by the silly antics of tourists milling around. Armed with cameras, tripod and binoculars, we walked over past the sturdy lighthouse tower out to the shore-side bird-watching area (Photo 26- Bird-watching at Ottenby). A hazy sun shone brightly, but today a brisk NW wind blowing across the Sound ruffled the water's surface. Sea levels seemed higher than on our last visit with fewer rocks visible off-shore. From the water's edge we could see a number of mute swans gliding around just off-shore and a large flock of cormorants perched on rocks or flying around (Photo 27 - Cormorants in flight). Over to the western side, many eider ducks and goosanders (see right) sat at the water's edge or swam in the shallows. The eiders' black and white plumage made them well camouflaged on the pebbly shore (see above left). Further over, lines of cormorants stood in rows or flew off in flocks, but with a brisk wind blowing and sea levels higher leaving no exposed rocks, there were no Grey or Harbour Seals to be seen as on our 2013 visit.
We spent time watching and photographing the birds, but disappointed by the apparent absence of seals, we walked back past the lighthouse (see below right) to the Visitor Centre to enquire further. The warden explained that with the strong wind blowing from the NW and sea levels higher, all the seals tended to gather further round on the more sheltered eastern side of the cape where there were more exposed rocks for them to bask on. She advised us on a viewing hide which gave a distant but unimpeded view of the basking seals. Bulky, hump-backed Harbour Seals, looking like huge, glossy black slugs basked on the prominent rocks just off-shore, with smaller, sleek Grey Seals wallowing in the shallows. We positioned the tripod and spent a happy hour watching this colony of seals through binoculars and photographing them at extreme telephoto range (Photo 28 - Grey- and Harbour-Seals) (see above left).
Öland's south-western coast and Gettlinge prehistoric burial grounds: further back from the Ottenby bird reserve at the lighthouse, we walked over to another early Iron Age burial ground marked by 2 huge monoliths, the Kungsstenarna (King's Stones) (see below left), the southernmost of the prehistoric grave-fields which extend along the length of Öland's southern tip. It was now time to leave Ottenby to begin the return drive north up the island's western coastal road overlooking the Kalmar Sound (click here for detailed map of route). But by now the best of today's sun was gone and cloud gathering. We had several possible camping options identified for tonight and would investigate these on our way up to the Gettlinge grave-fields. The first was a ställplats by the marina at Grönhögens Hamn, a wide, formally laid out, grassy camping aire with full facilities, but the uncongenial company of camping-cars already parked there was sufficient of a deterrent. We moved on to Ventlinge, a small village a couple of miles up the coast where we had found reference to a small campsite opposite the church. Driving through the village, sure enough there was the sign pointing to a camping area in a large garden behind a cottage; this looked ideal for this evening, particularly as it was uncontaminated by camping-cars.
For now we continued north with the road following the line of the low western coastal ridge of fertile ground with good depth of soil, sandwiched between the coastal Sound to the west and the bare, infertile Alvar limestone plateau inland to the east. At Degerhamn we turned down into the village, surprised at how steeply the land dropped away via hair-pins to negotiate a tiered escarpment of former raised beaches down to the modern shore-line. Degerhamn's origins were instantly evident from the huge cement works befouling the little port: clearly Öland limestone had been ground and roasted into cement here for export from the harbour. The ställplats at Degerhamn had been another of our camping options, but its neglected air and perfect view of the cement works ruled it out!
We continued along the main road to Gettlinge; the sky was now disappointingly overcast with a gloomy light for photographing the impressive grave-fields. As on the Baltic coastline, there had been a continuum of human occupation along this western coastal ridge since the Bronze Age, through the Iron Age, Viking and Medieval times, right down to the present, with farms, villages, burial grounds, churches and graveyards spread along the narrow coastal strip and animals grazed on the Alvar plain inland. The low ridge, produced originally by wave action on the residue of a raised beach formed during the post-glacial land uplift, created a deeper layer of fertile moraine soil along the line of the ridge than the thinner surface layer inland across the Alvar. This deeper soil layer, running north~south between the coastal strip and western fringe of the Stora Alvaret limestone plateau, provided the only hospitable place for dwellings, for farming, and for burial of the dead. Both villages and grave-fields therefore spread along the length of the ridge from over 2,000 years of human occupation. As the land-uplift has continued over aeons, the line of the ancient ridge now stands high above the modern shore-line which is now at the foot of a steeply sloping escarpment. What remarkable topography Southern Öland displays. One of the island's largest prehistoric burial grounds extends for some 2 kms along this ridge at Gettlinge, covering the period from 1,000 BC to 1,000 AD, with Bronze Age burial mounds, Iron Age standing stones, and stone ship-settings from the Viking period. Just south of the modern village, we reached the most prominent grave fields with the close cropped turf emphasising the standing stones. At the northern end, the stone outline of the Gettlinge ship-setting survived with the entrance to the grave field marked by 2 prominent monoliths, making a perfect picture even in today's poor light against the backdrop of a 19th century post-windmill on the brow of the ridge and a distant modern wind farm (see above right) (Photo 29 - Gettlinge stone ship-setting).
Ventlinge Camping: our earlier investigation had left us in doubt as to where we should camp tonight, and we returned south to Ventlinge, expecting to find just a couple of places in the small campsite opposite the village church. To our surprise, the driveway opened out into a large paddock behind the owner's house. We selected a pitch over by the sturdy Öland dry-stone wall, looking out westwards across arable land towards the Kalmar Sound, and walked over to book in (see left). Facilities, although limited, were brand new and spotlessly clean, with site-wide wi-fi, at an all-inclusive price of 150kr/night. The owner greeted us with a smiling and helpful welcome, and a ready understanding of campers' needs, ensuring we knew where the facilities were and producing the wi-fi details without needed to be asked; this was the standard of hospitable welcome that paying guests should be entitled to expect but rarely receive at campsites. On a gloomy evening we settled in, delighted at our chance find of such a welcoming and good value campsite at Ventlinge, by far and away the best we had found in SW Öland.
Return to mainland and re-visit to historic Kalmar and its Castle: as forecast, the following morning dawned gloomily overcast again, and we returned north along the west coast road to a dreary suburb of dreary Färjestaden to find the ICA Kvantum to re-stock with provisions. After a super 6 days on Öland, with so much fascinating natural surroundings, so much birdlife and history to satisfy us both, and 4 excellent campsites, we finally drove up onto the Öland bridge to return to the mainland. Down the slope on the far side of the bridge, we turned off through the suburbs of Kalmar, making our way into the centre to park by the railway station for a brief re-visit to this historic city.
The light was still hazy as we walked over to the lake-side parkland for the view of the historic Kalmar Castle set on its small island directly opposite. The original town of Kalmar developed in the shadow of the castle which had been built in the 12th century and fully fortified by King Magnus Ladulås a century later to defend Sweden's SW coast. It was at Kalmar Castle in 1397 that Queen Margareta instigated the Union of Kalmar which merged the thrones of Norway, Denmark and Sweden into one realm. But such was the antipathy between Swedes and Danes that the Union was a fragile arrangement. Kalmar Castle was in the front line of confrontation, but managed to remain unscathed despite being subjected to 11 sieges as the 2 states rivalled for power. When Gustav Vasa secured Sweden's independence in 1523, he strengthened Kalmar Castle's fortifications further to protect the new kingdom, while his degenerate sons Erik and Johann converted the Slott into a luxuriously appointed Renaissance palace. The interior remains intact today as one of Scandinavia's finest palaces of the period. The old town of Kalmar close to the castle was destroyed by fire in the 1640s, and was moved to the nearby island of Kvarnholmen and rebuilt with Baroque precision by Tessin the Elder in 1660 as a model grid-plan with the domkyrka (cathedral) at its centre. Being vulnerable to Danish attack during the Scanian Wars of the 1670s, the town's island was surrounded by fortification walls. The modern city has expanded inland but overall Kalmar remains small with a population of around 60,000. And here we stood gazing across the lake to the magnificent castle, which still stands guarding the straits looking like a fairy-tale fortress-palace in the afternoon's hazy light (see above right) (Photo 30 - Kalmar Castle).
We walked across to the marina, staring with contemptuous horror at the massed camping-cars parked in sordid rows in the town's ställplats; to think we had even considered trying to camp there! We ambled around the Tullhamn (customs port), its distant view of the Öland bridge scarcely visible in today's haze, and passing the moored rescue boats, we crossed to the magnificently restored red-brick former warehouse which now serves as the County Museum (see above left). We had thought to pay a re-visit to the Museum's excellent exhibition of artefacts recovered from the wreck of the 17th century Swedish warship Kronan which had been sunk in a naval action with the Danes off Öland in 1676. But the expensive entry price of 80kr with no seniors' reductions was enough to change our minds (see log of our 2013 to the Kronan Exhibition at Kalmar). Instead we ambled on through Tessin's grid-pattern of streets of Kvarnholmen city centre to reach Stor Torget. The vast, cobbled city square was dominated by the ochre-coloured Domkyrka, looking more like a bauble-decked 17th century palace than a cathedral (see right); Tessin had modelled his design for the new city's cathedral on Baroque churches he had seen in Rome. On the SE corner of the square, the more modest Rådhus, also designed by Tessin, paled into insignificance in comparison with the Domkyrka though in its way no less splendid. Inside, the cathedral was indeed a palace of Baroque extravaganza with an enormous and unsightly (no other word is apt!) altar piece backed by a painting showing the Deposition graphically detailing the dead Christ being hauled by ropes down from the cross by men on ladders. Equally obscene was the over-ornate, decorated tiered wedding-cake of a pulpit topped by a triple-decker confection of gnome-like sleeping soldiers guarding a gilded figure of Christ. In contrast with all the Baroque exuberance, the walls of the vast, high nave were painted in refrained plain cream but covered with huge and ornate funerary memorial plaques of aristocratic families. Enough was enough, and we left to buy a punnet of ripe Lingonberries from a market stall out in Stor Torget, before wandering along Storgatan past modern shops and coffee bars, back to the railway station. Before leaving Kalmar, we walked through the town park round to the Castle and across the moat's reconstructed drawbridge where Gustav Vasa's bold coat of arms in limestone relief decorated the panel over the gateway. The view from the high outer ramparts gave a full impression of the scale of Vasa's mighty fortifications, and a line of cannons pointing out across the misty Sound stood in readiness to repel renewed Danish attacks.
Dalskärs Camping at Bergkvarva: leaving Kalmar, we headed south on E22 for tonight's campsite Dalskärs Camping, where we had stayed in 2013; we had telephoned this morning since the campsite closed for the season this coming weekend, and again received welcoming response from the owner. 40kms down the E22 (and back in sped camera-land!), we turned off down to the coast at Bergkvarva and along the Dalskärs peninsula lane which divided the guest-harbour and open sea from the reed-lined lagoons around which the campsite is set and which gives its characteristic environment (see left). The owner again welcomed us and showed us around to the lagoon-side pitch among the reeds where we had camped in 2013 (Photo 31 - Dalskärs Camping) (see above right). This year however (signs of the times) the turf on the lagoon bank was scarred where decking of long-term statics had irrecoverably killed large areas of grass. We pitched however looking out over the lagoon (see right); we were looking forward to our day in camp here at Dalskärs tomorrow, hoping again to see the heron fishing among the reeds as in 2013.
Overnight mist hung around over the lagoons and only began to lift at 10-00am as the sun broke through to give a lovely soft sunlight. Gradually however the mist re-settled and remained for the rest of the day. Teal quacked around the lagoon (see left), the heron made one brief appearance and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers drummed away high in the campsite trees. Facilities at Dalskärs were modern and clean, the owner was welcoming, the price was very reasonable at 215kr/night, and we were able to complete this trip's final load of laundry; it was just a pity about the increasing trend of profitable static caravans, reducing travelling pitches, and attracting an alien breed of holiday-makers, regrettably a universal phenomenon. But at the tail end of the season, we enjoyed a restfully productive day in camp by the lagoon at Dalskärs.
A drive across Blekinge County to reach Kristianstad: after a warm night, the sun rose above a bank of mist over the sea (Photo 32- Misty autumnal sun); it was a beautiful golden autumn morning, and as we sat having breakfast the heron at last re-appeared standing on a landing stage at the far side of the lagoon patiently awaiting the chance to catch his fishy breakfast (Photo 33 - Heron poised to catch a fishy breakfast) (see right). First stop this morning was to turn off 10kms west along E22 into Brömsebro village to buy smoked fish at Blömlöfs Rökeri (fish smoke-house). With little traffic and a good road, we made easy progress westwards (click here for detailed map of route), and as we passed Karl XII's naval fortress-port of Karlskrona (see log of our 2013 to Karlskrona naval port), E22 became motorway standard enabling even faster progress across the width of Blekinge County in bright morning sunshine. Soon after entering Skåne, we reached the outskirts of Kristianstad and turned off to shop for immediate provisions and take-home Swedish non-perishables; the girl at the check-out looked bemused when we said it was to take back to UK!
Christian IV's 1614 founding of Kristianstad: Kristianstad was founded in 1614 by King Christian IV of Denmark. The youthful Gustav II Adolfus had assumed the Swedish throne in 1610 and one of his first acts was to conclude peace with Denmark in 1613 recognising Denmark's control of the Skåne region of SW Sweden. To reinforce Danish control of Skåne, Christian IV built the fortress-town of Kristianstad at a site protected by the marshlands of the Helge å river. The town within its fortress walls was laid out in model Renaissance form with elegantly proportioned squares, a broad grid of streets, and fine buildings, the grandest of which was the glorious Renaissance church of Trefaldighets (Holy Trinity) kyrkan (see right). But Danish rule lasted only for 44 years: Gustav II Adolfus harried Skåne, and his successor Karl X forced the defeated Danes to accept the terms of the 1658 Treaty of Roskilde which finally conceded Skåne back to Sweden. Many of Christian IV's grandly ambitious buildings in Kristianstad were left unfinished when the Swedes took over the fortress-town, including Holy Trinity Church whose elegant spire never reached its intended place but finished up decorating Copenhagen Stock Exchange instead! Christian IV's emblem, C4, ironically however still emblazons the town's coat of arms (see left). The town remained small during the subsequent centuries, but 19th century demolition of the confining fortress walls enabled the growing industrial town to extend beyond into what was formerly the wetlands. Grand Parisian-style boulevards were created in the late 19th century, and although the town centre still retains many of its original Renaissance buildings, these have been sullied by sordidly dull concrete blocks of 1960~70s infills.
Our visit to Kristianstad: we had made remarkably good progress this morning with the 150km drive, and having shopped, we found free parking by the Vattenriket Visitor Centre for our re-visit to the lovely town of Kristianstad (pronounced locally as Kri-shan-sta). The town was built on the banks of the Helge å river, and the nearby Vattenriket wetlands drained by the Helge å river now form a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its rich vegetation and extensive bird life. The Helge å is Skåne's longest river which rises in Småland and flows for 190kms through the flat lowlands and lakes around Kristianstad to the coast at Hanöbuken Bay; the natural outlet of the river is at Åhus, but in 1775 an artificial channel was cut to drain the lower marshes. The shallow river is usually just 1m above sea level but in high Spring tides can rise to over 2m, and gales from the SE can blow salty water and sea fish up into the river. The afternoon sun was now hot as we walked across the wooden footbridge spanning the river from the Visitor Centre over to the town centre. Today the central square of Stora Torg was peaceful, after the disruptive renovations to mark Kristianstad's 400th anniversary which had coincided with our first visit 3 years ago. Today we photographed the elegant Rådhus (town hall) (see above left) on the western side of the square and the 1840 Empire Style Kronhusut, formerly HQ of the Wende Artillery Regiment which dominated the northern side (see right) (Photo 34 - Empire Style Kronhusut). On the eastern side, all that was built of Christian IV's planned palace, before the Treaty of Roskilde handed Skåne back to Sweden, was the stable block which now housed the Regional Arts Museum. This was not only open but also free entry, although the displays illustrating Kristianstad's 400 year history were rather low key, as were those telling the story of the town's part in the early history of Sweden's film industry. A wander around the rather less distinguished back streets of modern Kristianstad's grid-plan centre brought us through Lilla Torget across the Western Boulevard to the English style gardens of Tivoli Park and the town's 1910 Art Nouveau theatre (see left).
We now ambled back to re-visit what for us is Kristianstad's highlight, the beautiful Renaissance Church of the Holy Trinity with its soaring architecture and magnificent artwork. The church at Kristianstad was consecrated on Holy Trinity Day (8 June) 1628, built between the river-side city-wall, now the railway station, and Stora Torg market-place, on a diagonal to the town's formal grid-plan layout to ensure its chancel faced east. The church's 7 lofty, decorated gable ends were modelled on those at Frederiksborg Castle at Hillerød in Zealand, Denmark. The church's vaulted ceiling was supported by 12 slender granite pillars, with light streaming in through 26 plain glass windows which give the renaissance style church a bright air. The most striking feature however was the 61 high carved wooden pew-ends, each one different, some having heraldic motifs. The west end was dominated by the magnificent 1630 gilded Renaissance organ. Around the church, both inside and out, tombstones were set against the walls, with one macabre stone bearing the Grim Reaper and hour-class symbolising human mortality. The north and south walls were decorated with wealthy families' epitaphia memorials. One from 1661 commemorating the Lavesen family was particularly moving, set up by the wife in memory of her husband who had died at the age of 42; they had been married for 15 years and had 11 children; the monument's central painting showed the whole family with all 11 children, 5 of whom were crowned with garlands symbolising their deaths in infancy (see right) (Photo 35 - Lavesen family Epitaphium). The text records the hope that the family would Joyfully meet again at the resurrection of the righteous. Of all the large churches visited in Sweden, Holy Trinity at Kristianstad was without doubt the most beautiful.
Charlottsborg Vandrarhem (hostel)-Camping at Kristianstad: returning to the car park across the river, we headed out to the town's western suburbs for tonight's campsite at Charlottsborg Vandrarhem (hostel)-Camping. We had happy memories from 2013 of a peaceful stay at Charlottsborg, and expected the campsite's parkland setting to be almost empty late in the season as on our last stay (see left); but things had changed drastically. Being owned and run by the municipality, the hostel grounds now have been virtually taken over to accommodate large numbers of refugees in a static caravan immigrant encampment, taking up most the space previously available for visiting campers. The place now has a general air of neglect, the facilities are now grubby and uncared for, the wi-fi no longer works, the supposed warden operates a shady fruit machine business from the site, the parkland is open to all and sundry with dodgy-looking characters and unknown cars coming and going at all hours. There are major security concerns. And no one seems to care. It is such a pity to have to report, but You now camp at Charlottsborg at your own risk.
The small port of Åhus: after a tense and uncertain night, we were glad to leave Charlottsborg, and pick up our journey southward on Route 118 through the flat agricultural lands of the lower Helge å river down to the little port-village of Åhus (click here for detailed map of route). Åhus developed as a trading settlement at the mouth of the Helge å river, fortified with a castle to protect the flourishing port as early as Knut the Great. The good times for Åhus came to an end in 1617 after Christian IV ordered the town's tradesman to move to newly founded Kristianstad further inland up the river, and Åhus lost its town status. Åhus enjoyed a new lease of life when the arrival of the railway in the late 19th century brought the development of new industries: the cigar factory rolled cigars from locally grown tobacco, and locally caught smoked eels became an export commodity. Åhus became a popular seaside bathing resort in the 20th century and the Absolut Vodka distillery began production here and is still a local prominent landmark now owned by the Pernod conglomerate. We parked and walked along Köpmannagatan to the Torget where the NW corner of the square was dominated by the red brick gabled tower of the lovely Maria kyrka (St Mary's Church); parts of the church date from the 12th century, extended over subsequent centuries (Photo 36 - St Mary's Church Åhus). Inside, the irregular shape of the nave and 3 bulky pillars were evidence of the church's gradual extension. Despite the church being despoiled of its artwork by the Lutherans at the Reformation, the Maria kyrka retains magnificent treasures. Its most prominent decorations were the 16~17th century beautifully carved and decorated wooden pulpit and altar retable (see above right). A side-chapel contained a 15th century Triptych with carving of the Three Maries, the Virgin, Mary Cleophas and Mary Salome (see above left). Probably made in Lübeck, the triptych also included carvings of St Barbara with her tower, and St Andrew with his cross. Having managed to escape Baroque and 19th century ornamentation, St Mary's at Åhus was one of Southern Sweden's finest churches. We ambled along the Helge å waterfront where a variety of boats were moored, past the Absolut Vodka distillery with its distinctive red brick clock tower (see left) (reportedly ½ million bottles of the evil stuff are produced here daily), towards the grain silos which dominate the industrial port, and returned to the parking area to continue our journey.
The Kivik Kungagraven Bronze Age burial mound: from Åhus Route 118 took us around the flat lower flood plain of the Helge å and up onto hillier countryside to join Route 9 to the little fishing port of Kivik (pronounced Shivik). At the far end of the village, we reached the huge Bronze Age burial mound of Kungagraven (King's Grave) (see right). The site had been exploited during the early 18th century as a source of building stone, until 1748 when local farmers dug into the stone-covered mound and discovered a cist-tomb lined with 10 stone slabs. Hoping for treasure, they continued digging but found nothing and were arrested for tomb-robbing. Quarrying continued but then it was discovered that the cist-tomb slabs were covered with engraved petroglyphs. The site was excavated during the 1930s and 2 tombs were discovered but little in the way of remains, the tombs having been looted over the centuries. The tombs' stone tumulus was restored and a new artificial burial chamber created with an access tunnel cut into the side of the mound for modern-day visitors to see the surviving engraved upright slabs which had lined the original grave. We had visited the burial mound in 2013 and wanted to make a re-visit today. To our dismay however, we discovered that we had missed the café ticket office opening time by half an hour; it had closed at 4-00pm and was not open tomorrow Monday. We photographed the tumulus exterior, and were just about to leave when the café owners returned, and were persuaded to open the tomb for us to visit; it turned out that the lady was the resident site archaeologist. She took us over to the winding access dromos cut into the mound leading to a stone-lintelled doorway into the inner chamber, where the cist-tomb lining of upright slabs were set up to give an impression of the original grave. We were able to spend an absorbing time, not only seeing the burial chamber petroglyphs but also hearing further interpretation, and making comparisons with other Bronze Age sites we had visited elsewhere in Sweden and with Paul's undergraduate studies of Bronze Age Mycenaean art (Photo 37 - Kungagraven cist-tomb petroglyphs ).
Archaeological finds had enabled the tomb to be dated to around 1,400 BC. The grave had received 6 bodies of young adolescents, probably priests, over a period of 600 years before finally being sealed. 6 sets of skeletal remains along with some bronze grave-goods had been found, but most had been plundered in antiquity. The petroglyphs had been partially coloured in with red paint to make them more visible. The most evident engravings showed figures playing lurs and drums, a funeral procession of cloak-wearing figures, 2 mysterious Ω symbols (see above left), sun emblems and a pair of axe symbols, so closely resembling the Minoan double axes from Bronze age Knossos in Crete (see above right) (bronze was traded from Southern Europe in the form of axe-shaped ingots). But the most significant engraving showed a 2-horse chariot with 4-spoked wheels and a charioteer holding the reins, exactly as from contemporary Mycenaean vase paintings (Photo 38 - Charioteer engraving). On the other side, the upright slabs showed engravings of pairs of elongated horses which drew the sun god's chariot across the sky, and snake deity symbols (see left). This had been a wonderfully serendipitous opportunity to spent time in the gloom of the chamber, hearing informed commentary on the engravings, and marvelling at this ancient artwork so remarkably preserved. Our thanks go to the site archaeologist for the time she spent with us.
Ängdala Vandrarhem (hostel)-Camping: back into Kivik, we returned along Route 9 to find tonight's campsite, Ängdala Vandrahem (hostel)-Camping. We had earlier telephoned and been told by the owner to make ourselves at home; she would come round later for payment. The place was unchanged from our last stay with the few statics largely unoccupied, and we pitched over by the far corner of the camping area which spread across the gently sloping hillside looking out over the Österlen coastal downs. Ängdala was a wonderfully peaceful site after last night's uncertain camp, and we were looking forward to a day in camp here tomorrow and hopefully the opportunity to see Red Kites soaring over the down-land as in 2013. We celebrated a long and fruitful day by cooking a creamy beef and lingonberry supper, one of the most delicious of the trip.
On a beautiful autumn morning, we breakfasted outside in warm sunshine (Photo 39 - Ängdala Camping) (see right). The setting was magnificently peaceful and facilities at Ängdala were first class with modern, impeccably clean WC/showers and a well-equipped kitchen/wash-up. The only disappointment was that the wi-fi failed to connect, preventing us from researching features of Skåne and campsites for our final few days. But even so we enjoyed a restful and peaceful day at this lovely setting, with the company of a friendly robin (see left) and 2 sightings of a large bird of prey soaring over the downs, this year a buzzard. The sun declined rapidly and sank below the tree-lined horizon before 7-00pm; tomorrow we should begin the final stage of this year's trip, around the southern Skåne coastline.
The Österlen coast of southern Skåne to Sandhammaren beach: setting off the following morning, we paused in Kivik to buy another smoked fish supper from Buhres Rökeri down at the little fishing harbour, and a bag of local apples, together with cider from the Kivik Musteri apple-juice producer; all around Kivik apple orchards fill every field and cottage garden, the trees at this time of year laden with red, rosy apples. Following the Baltic coastline on Route 9 and passing more apple and plum orchards, we drove along to Simrishamn, from where ferries sail to the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm (click here for detailed map of route). Here we turned off onto the minor lane around Skåne's southern Österlen coast to the little work-a-day fishing harbour of Skillinge, where we paused for our lunch by the harbour looking out over the Baltic. From here the minor Östra Kust vägen (East Coast Road) winds faithfully along the coast through pine woodland, planted in the 19t century to prevent wind erosion of the sandy soil, and a side-turn leads to Sandhammaren beach. Set at the angle where Skåne's southern coastline swings NE, this glorious stretch of white sandy wild strand would in the height of summer be heaving with holiday-makers, if you could get anywhere near with the 1,000s of parked cars; thankfully in mid-September it was almost deserted, and we walked through to the wild beach which stretched away in both directions, with the breeze driving a Baltic surf onto the shore (Photo 40 - Sandhammaren beach) (see right). Signs warned of the dangerous currents which wind and tide sweep around just off-shore.
Dag Hammarskjold's Backåkra: just west of here along the lane we turned off again to find the Backåkra farmstead bought by Dag Hammarskjöld as a summer retreat. Set amid rolling heath-land close to the Hagestad Nature Reserve, the farmhouse and surrounding meadowland was willed by Hammarskjöld to the Swedish Touring Association (STF) of which he was vice-president, as a meeting place for cultural activities. After his tragic death in 1961, the farm was set up by STF as a museum to Hammarskjöld's life and work and many of the works of art collected by him were gathered there. To STF's embarrassment however this not-for-profits organisation found itself strapped for cash, and was forced to close the Backåkra.
Born in 1905 to a wealthy family (his father was Swedish PM from 1914~17), Hammarskjöld was educated at Uppsala and Cambridge and followed a political career. In 1953 he was elected to the post of UN Secretary General, the 2nd holder of the post since the UN's foundation in 1946, and re-elected for a second term in 1958. His approach to settling world problems was characterised by determined but 'quiet diplomacy', and during the 1956 Suez Crisis, he instituted UN peace-keeping forces. While on a mission to former Belgian Congo in 1961, attempting to re-integrate the breakaway mineral-rich province of Katanga to the Congo's elected Lumumba government, the plane in which he was travelling mysteriously crashed killing all on board. The cause of the crash has never been resolved but neither has foul play been ruled out. A 2013 BBC News report detailed pressure for the UN to re-open its enquiries into Hammarskjöld's death, alleging that mining interests who stood to loose if Katanga was re-integrated into Congo were involved and that the plane had been shot down; it was also alleged that US and British security agencies had previously withheld knowledge of radio messages from the plane's pilot saying they were under attack.
We walked up to the down-land farmhouse where an information panel said that a new foundation had been formed by the Swedish Academy, the STF and Hammarskjöld family, to take over ownership of the Backåkra; renovation work was to begin in autumn 2016 with the aim of re-opening the museum and conference centre in mid-2017. In the meantime, this peaceful farmstead left by the post-war diplomat in the care of the STF remains closed, with a bust of the UN Secretary General standing beside the still-locked and deserted farmhouse much in need of upkeep (see above left). But as far as is known, nothing further has happened to the calls for re-investigation into the shady dealings behind Hammarskjöld's tragic death.
Hagestad Nature Reserve: a lane leads from the Hammarskjöld farmstead through the down-land to the Hagestad Nature Reserve, an area of pine, beech and oak woodlands standing behind beautiful white sand beaches along the southern Skåne coast, where during the 19th century 1000s of trees were planted to bind the sandy soil. Coastal sand continues to be eroded by wind and current, blown eastwards reducing land area here and piling up on Sandhammaren beach further round where the coast swings northwards. We again followed the path leading through the woodland, where Lily of the Valley covered the ground, their leaves now brown and their autumn orange berries catching the sunlight (see above right); in the early summer this would be a haven of sweetly scented flowers. Reaching the dunes backing the shore-line, where tall marram grasses were outlined against the sea-scape backdrop by soft afternoon sunlight (see above left), we crossed the fine sandy beach to stand by the Baltic waterline (see right).
Iron Age stone ship-setting monument of Ales Stenar: a short distance further west, we reached the village of Kåseberga, where alongside the visitor parking area and football ground, a ställplats was laid out operated by the local football club; this looked promising for tonight. A path led past the village cottages uphill to the cliff-top sandy meadowland, to the Iron Age stone ship-setting monument of Ales Stenar. Ahead the outline of megaliths was silhouetted against the sky, as gaunt as ever, overlooking the sea on the flat hill-top: 59 standing stones arranged in a 67m long ship-setting, with larger bow and stern stones, make up the megalithic monument which has been dated to the late Iron Age between 600~1,000 AD (see above left) (Photo 41 - Ales Stenar). Sheep grazed the breezy cliff-top turf (see right) and, indicative of people's thoughtless behaviour nowadays and absence of any respect for others' property, the farmer had been forced to put up a notice demanding that visitors control their kids and dogs and not allow them to disturb the sheep: 'Sheep are not toys', it poignantly said!
The stones, each weighing over a ton, are not native to these parts and must have been transported here. Leaving aside bizarre theories about the alignment of stones forming an astronomical calendar, no one really knows the monument's purpose or significance. Evidence of earlier Bronze Age burials beneath the stones suggests it had long been a sacred place of ritual, assembly and memorial, and looking around the mysterious cliff-top and rolling coastal hills, you could understand why. Clearly it was a powerful chieftain who had caused it to be built at such a noteworthy spot, and standing there on the cliff-top in the soft, hazy sunlight, looking across the ship-setting with sheep grazing peacefully around the meadow, it was enough to acknowledge the timelessness and the beauty of the setting against the backdrop of the Baltic. Back downhill to Kåseberga's little fishing harbour (see left), we bought another supper of smoked fish from Ahl's Rökeri, and walked back through the village to the parking area.
Kåseberga ställplats Camping: the ställplats operated by Kåseberga football club looked ideal for tonight's camp and we moved George over to the camping area alongside the football field. As we settled in, Ronny the football club manager who also looked after the ställplats, called round for the 100kr/night rent; a hospitable and jovial gent, he showed us the facilities in the club changing rooms. After a peaceful night's camp, the sun was just dawning on a misty autumn morning when our alarm went off; it was going to be another hot day. The football club changing room facilities were straightforward but functional, and Larry the linesman was out this morning re-marking the pitch's white lines for the new season, and chatted away in good English when we went over for showers. All in all, although basic, Kåseberga ställplats was a welcoming place and had served us well.
Wallander country at Ystad: on a bright, sunny morning, we continued west through the flat, agricultural countryside beside the attractive sheep-grazed coastal downs to join Route 9 into Ystad and parked opposite the railway station and port (click here for detailed map of route). Ystad began life as a Baltic herring fishing port-village in the early 12th century, and the herring trade remained a major local industry for centuries. In the mid-13th century the town's Maria kyrkan was built and in 1267 Danish Grey Friars founded the monastery. In the 14th century such was Ystad's wealth that the port joined the Hanseatic League. The monastery was closed by the 1532 Reformation, and in 1569 Ystad was attacked by Swedes during the years of warfare over Skåne, but the port survived and continued to flourish. As the herring industry declined, the export trade of cattle to North Germany increased in importance. By the time Skåne became Swedish in 1658 Ystad had reached a population of 2,000 and a regular post-boat service to Stralsund began. The trading port increased in size and wealthy merchants built imposing houses in the town. With the arrival of the railway, Ystad became a popular seaside resort and the port continued to bring prosperity to the town. There are still major ferry links to Świnoujście in Northern Poland, but Ystad is better known to the English at least as the setting for Henning Mankell's Wallander detective novels.
Before today's brief re-visit to Ystad, first stop was the TIC to use their wi-fi to confirm details of the Falsterbo bird-watching sites at the Nabben sand-spit; it was one of those TICs not well versed in providing information to visitors, but only in selling tickets for their expensive guided Wallander tours! We were not impressed, and walked through the attractive back streets (see above left) around to Stor Torget to browse the market stalls and buy vegetables and lingonberries for our final suppers in Sweden (see above right) (Photo 42 - Ystad market stalls). Around at the truly beautiful medieval Church of St Mary we again admired its rich decorative features and walls covered with ornate 17th century commemorative sepulchral tablets set up by wealthy families. Along Norrgatan we admired the beautifully restored 16th century Änglahuset with its carved, decorated beam-ends of half-timbering, and along a side street, the attractively restored red brick former Klostret (monastery) now doubles as parish church and museum (see right).
Smygehuk, Sweden's southernmost point: leaving Ystad, we followed Route 9 westwards along the coast, initially through farming countryside but increasingly past bathing beaches and a series of dreary holiday home settlements, to reach Smygehamn and Smygehuk. This otherwise unnoteworthy marina enjoys the distinction of being Sweden's southernmost point which, on a sunny September day, even midweek, draws bus loads of tourists to what is a largely featureless part Skåne, flocking here for over-expensive lunches at the fish rökeri (smoke-house). We pulled in by the little harbour for a token visit; the sign-board announced: Smygehuk, Sveriges sydligaste udde - 55° 20' 13" N, 13° 21' 34" O, with distances London 991km, Stockholm 510km, Copenhagen 61km and Treriksröset 1572km, although had we taken a straw-poll of Swedes snapping away here before piling back into their tour-bus, doubtless not one would have known where the Three Countries Stone was or its significance! (see log of our 2015 visit to Treriksröset, Sweden's northernmost point). On our last visit in 2013 to Smygehuk, a far more admirable and personal point of note was the stone set on the sea-wall inscribed Lisa 2013 - Treriksröset to Smygehuk, and an outline of her bicycle on which the unknown Lisa had ridden the 1,572km from the northernmost to southernmost points of Sweden (see right). Lisa the cyclist's memorial record was now no longer there, and unlike on our first visit in 2013, when a lively gale blew from the wine-dark sea driving breakers onto the shingle-shore, today there was not even a light breeze and the blue sea was placid calm (see above left). Smygehuk was just another unnoteworthy tourists attraction stop-off on a largely unattractive coastline; we moved on.
Trelleborg's restored Viking fortress: the final stretch of Route 9 along to Trelleborg was even more tediously unattractive; even the industrial warehouses on the approach to the port-town seemed more interesting than the flat farmland and holiday-homes along the coast. Trelleborg (pronounced Trelleboye) had for centuries been a prosperous Baltic herring fishing port, attracting merchants from Germany. Commercial rivalry with Malmö however resulted in the city's merchant status being revoked in 1619 by the Danish King. It became Swedish again in 1658 along with the rest of Skåne, but it was only in 1867 that Trelleborg regained its merchant city status. With the coming of the railways in the late 19th century, both port and industry expanded, so that today Trelleborg is the 2nd largest sea port in Sweden after Göteborg, with 10 million tons of freight passing through the port each year. It is also Sweden's principal ferry passenger link with Northern Europe with ferry links to Rostock, Travemünde, Lübeck and Sassnitz for both cars and freight lorries which began in 1909. It was in April 1917 that Lenin arrived at Trelleborg on the ferry from Sassnitz on his way back from exile to lead the Revolution in Russia.
Today we should make only two brief stop-offs at Trelleborg, the first for a cultural re-visit to an aspect of Trelleborg's Viking past, the second more functional to complete our take-home shopping at the enormous ICA Maxi by the port. Past the railway freight terminus and ferry port, we turned off into an area of residential back-streets just west of the city centre to the restored remains of the once circular Viking borg-fortress built originally around 980 AD by Harold Bluetooth. It was That Harold Bluetooth who united the Danish Viking Kingdom and converted it to Christianity as his record inscribed on his memorial runestone at Jelling in Jutland had told us (see log of our 2007 visit to the Jelling Stone). This was a time of consolidating the home kingdom rather than grand overseas expeditions of raids plundering treasures. It was also a time of defending the newly united Danish kingdom from neighbours both in the North and Germany, hence the need for ring-fortresses. The borg at Trelleborg shows all the characteristics of other ring-forts constructed by Harold Bluetooth in Sjæland and Jutland: built astride significant trade and communications land and marine routes, not for military occupation but for defending the consolidated kingdom, levying taxes and tolls and for guarding accumulated wealth. Each of the ring-forts covered a large area with gates at the cardinal quarters and enclosing significant numbers of long houses. We had visited 3 of Harold's identically arranged ring-fort at Trelleborg in Sjæland, and at Fyrkat and Aggersborg in North Jutland. Little of these had survived except the circuit of earthworks which had originally formed the core of timber-palisade fortification walls. Here in Skåne Trelleborg in 1988, a quarter-segment of earthworks core had been discovered and excavated 1,000 years after its construction. The rest were now buried under later medieval streets and buildings and a city street, Bryggaregatan, ran through the middle along the same direction as the Viking road. By the time of the 13th century, when Trelleborg gained its city status, the Viking fortress had given its name to the place (borg meaning fortress, and threlae meaning the timber poles which formed the outer palisade-cladding of the earthwork walls), but the fortress had been buried and forgotten for over 200 years. The surviving quarter-segment of circular earthworks was reconstructed with their timber palisade cladding together with one of the 4 gatehouses, giving a vivid impression of what the original Trelleborg fortress would have looked like: Harold Bluetooth's Trelleborg had risen from the ashes.
The small museum displaying the remains excavated from the site was again closed, but we walked across the parkland to the reconstructed quarter-segment of the timber-clad earthwork walls of the reconstructed fortress (see above left) (Photo 43 - Trelleborg's restored Viking fortress). Set in the midst of modern city apartment blocks and tower cranes, there was the realistic timber-clad palisade and gatehouse of Harold Bluetooth's Trelleborg; it was an imposing sight. Through the fortified gateway surrounding the now empty segment of space once occupied by longhouses, the inner face of the palisade was reinforced by the original massive earthwork embankment. It was the remains of the earthworks, after the timber palisade had long rotted away, that we had seen at the Danish ring-fortresses. We followed the walkway around the top of the quarter-section of palisade wall (see above right), while quite incongruously traffic passed along the modern city street over on the far side .
Sunset over the Öresund at Habo-Ljung Camping near Lomma: we now turned our attention to more mundane matters and headed down to the docks and the huge ICA Maxi for final provisions and take-home shopping. The sun was now hotter than ever and the hypermarket's air conditioning brought welcome relief from the heat. We were still uncertain about a final campsite, but a glance at the map showed it was no more than a half hour's drive from Trelleborg around the E20/E6 motorway past Malmö to Lomma and Habo-Ljung Camping where we had started the trip 4 months ago. Inevitably traffic around Malmö was aggressively furious, but we turned off at Junction 20 close to Lund for Lomma and the Öresund-side campsite. A number of camping-cars already occupied the shore-side camping area, as well as locals beaching it on a sunny afternoon. We found an empty spot in the shade of trees, where we had camped back in mid-June at the start of the trip, and settled in looking across the Öresund. From the shore-side, Malmö's twisted 190m high skyscraper building Turning Torso stood out partly silhouetted against the evening sky among dockyard cranes on the city horizon (see above left), along with the even more distant Öresund Bridge (see above right). The sky remained clear and the sun gradually declined over the sound, and for the first time in the number of occasions we had camped here, we watched a perfect sunset. The sun's golden-red orb declined towards the horizon on the Danish side, with its trail of reflected light sparkling across the waters of the Öresund, making the perfect photo against a foreground of silhouetted shore-side grasses (Photo 44 - Öresund Sunset).
The Öresund Bridge view-point: a hazy sun lit the distant skyline of Malmö (see right) on our final day in Sweden this year, to be spent down at the Falsterbo sand-spit hoping to see migrating birds of prey. First stop however was the Öresund Bridge shore-side view-point at the end of the aptly named Utsiktsvägen (View-point Way), just off Last Exit in Sweden (as the signs warn) on E20 heading towards the Bridge, for morning photos looking across at the glorious panoramic spectacle of the Öresund Bridge's sweep across the straits. Having taken the exit, we were guided by our sat-nav, not via what the map suggested was an obvious route through the outskirts of Malmö, but rather through the city suburb of Bunkerflostrand, a singularly apt name given the massed rows of bunker-like yuppie apartments which make up the place with yet more bunkers under construction for the Volvo-driving chinless wonders who live in this god-forsaken, soulless place; what it must be like to live there, and why anyone would choose to do so, beggars belief! The route entailed 17 sequential roundabouts, each with its gut-wrenching farthinders (as the Swedes charmingly call speed-humps), before we finally emerged to pass under the E20 and turn off along Utsiktsvägen to the Öresund view-point. On such a clear sunny morning, with the sun behind us, these were perfect lighting conditions for photographing this magnificent bridge (Photo 45 - Öresund Bridge) (see left and right).
Bird-watching on the Nabben sand-spit on Falsterbo peninsula: our plan was to spend our final day bird watching down at the Nabben sand-spit at the tip of the Falsterbo peninsula. The Falsterbo headland is formed mainly of sand built up around ridges of moraine, with the sand-spits constantly changing shape and size as the sand is moved around by wind and sea currents (see right). For centuries it was barren treeless heath-land with sand dunes, grazed meadows and marshes; today this open landscape is mixed with woodland, residential areas and gardens. It is estimated that a remarkable 500 million birds migrate from Scandinavia every autumn following the west and south coasts of Sweden before crossing the Baltic, the first hazardous obstacle on their long journey south. Nabben, the SW tip of Falsterbo is therefore the last land for birds to roost and feed before attempting the Baltic crossing. The shallow shores of the peninsula provide ideal feeding grounds as the migrating birds prepare for their journey south, and in late summer and autumn 100s of thousands of birds cross the peninsula daily; the most spectacular are the migrating raptors sometimes seen soaring around in flocks over the heath-land.
We now set the sat-nav for the Nabben sand-spit on Falsterbo peninsula, and returned down the E22 motorway, turning off around Höllviken Strand over the canal which cuts through the peninsula. Falsterbo's narrow rustic lanes led eventually to the parking area by the Falsterbo golf club's car park reserved for all the Mercedes and Volvos of the exclusively self-important golf club members whose egos are inversely proportional in size to the little white balls they hack around, with manners to match. A few twitchers ambled past lugging their mighty tripodular apparatus with camera lens the size of buckets; we set out with our modest binoculars and cameras, risking life and limb from flying golf balls across the golf course track to the old Falsterbo lighthouse which now houses the bird station. The juxtaposition of twitchers and golfers at Falsterbo had all the potential for amusing encounters. On our last visit in 2013, we had worn full waterproofs against pouring rain; today the weather was less promising for bird-watching with clear sky and hot, hazy sun. No self-respecting birds would consider migratory crossing of the Baltic in heat such as this.
Having survived the crossing of the golf course, in the face of those impatiently waiting to hit their little white balls in our direction, we walked slowly alongside the outer lagoon peering through binoculars into the far reed beds, but apart from a lone bird of prey emerging briefly from the reeds, birds were there none. Instead we spent time photographing the beautifully scented wild roses and honeysuckle (see above left). At the far end overlooking the outer lagoons, we met and chatted with a pleasant couple from inland Skåne; they made no great pretensions but we learned much from their birding knowledge which helped to identify more bird-life than we might have unassisted: greenshank waders pecked busily out in the shallows along with clumsily plodging geese, a line of cormorants perched out along a sand-bar bordering onto the open sea (the lady told us the Swedish name skarv, with a characteristic rolling of the r), a kestrel (tornfalk - tower falcon - in Swedish) soared around searching for prey (see above right). But the prize of the day was the vector formation of migrating cranes flying gracefully overhead (Photo 46 - Migrating cranes) (see left). As they passed overhead we could hear their mewing sound, and through binoculars could see their long trailing legs, as they circled around and changed their minds deciding it was too late in the day to begin their crossing of the Baltic today. They flew back inland to overnight before beginning their migratory flight across to mainland Europe tomorrow. The weather continued fine this afternoon with a hazy sun, and a lone buzzard soared around over the reed beds as we ambled back towards the lighthouse after a couple of hours out along the sand-spit. We had seen more bird-life than expected.
A final night at Habo-Ljung Camping: we returned up the length of the peninsula to re-join the E22, with time this afternoon to return to the Öresund view-point for further photos of the Bridge against the light of the afternoon sun. Reaching the Utsikten, the parking area was now full of smart Volvos, their smart occupants gathered at the restaurant for some Volvo promotional event. We parked at the end of a line of Volvo limousines whose Turkish chauffeurs lounged around smoking (not a pretty sight!), while we took further photos, just as a large cargo ship passed beneath the central span of the Bridge under the pylons (see right) (Photo 47 - Cargo ship passing under central span of Öresund Bridge). Earlier out at the Nabben sand-spit, we had seen the Baltic horizon lined with distant tankers and top-heavy container ships, and it occurred to us that, unless such huge vessels passed through the Kiel Canal, the only maritime route into or out of the entire Baltic was via the Öresund and under the Bridge. No wonder the Danes had for centuries made a national fortune by levying the Öresund toll on maritime traffic passing through the sound.
Re-joining the E20 for the drive around the Malmö motorway network, congested with European freight lorries merging with local commuter traffic, we were glad to turn off finally to Lomma, and out to the coast at Habo-Ljung Camping. The shore-side camping area was virtually empty tonight and we had the pick of spaces, pitching in sunlight looking out across the Öresund straits for our final night's camp in Sweden (see left). The sun declined even earlier, hazier than last evening, setting with a crimson glow across on the Danish side (see below right). An almost full moon rose above the Öresund for our final evening in Sweden, and we cooked a celebratory supper of elk meat (bought at the Karesuando Meat Hall and kept frozen) with lingonberries; meat from the northernmost village of Sweden and cooked near the southernmost town. After our 4 month stay this summer, tomorrow we should cross the Bridge saying farewell to Sweden for another year (see below left) (Photo 48 - Crossing Öresund Bridge), to begin our long journey home, through southern Denmark and across the Rødby~Puttgarden ferry, to camp tomorrow night at Lübeck in Germany.
Our observations on Sweden after living there for 4 months this year and 5 months in 2013: there is no doubt that Sweden, particularly the north, is one of our favourite European countries, still with an enviable society and standard of living. But our observations show that things have changed drastically compared even with 2013. And the reason is obvious: Sweden, a naturally humanitarian and welcoming society with progressive social policies, has accepted more immigrant asylum seekers per head of population than any other country in the developed world. But a visit to any town or city throughout the country shows that the country has singularly failed to manage this extraordinary level of immigration and to integrate the newcomers into their society. Restrictive employment regulations have kept immigrants unemployed and accommodated in ghetto-like suburbs, albeit at state expense; the cost of accommodating and maintaining enforced allocations of immigrant asylum seekers now represents an overwhelming financial burden for local authorities. The evident maladroit mismanagement of the problem and loss of control by the Social Democratic and Green Parties coalition government led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, has led to a public political backlash, a gift for the extreme right wing Sweden Democrats, a party once derided as cranks and thugs. As a Telegraph report of January 2017 said (Sweden is a perfect example of how not to handle the Great Migration): "If the finest political minds in Sweden had set out to incubate a far-Right backlash in the world’s most tolerant country, they could not have done better than what has happened over the last few years. First, run an open-door immigration policy making your country the top destination in the middle of a global migration crisis. Next denounce as neo-fascist anyone who raises objections. All of this has handed entire sections of the electorate on a plate to the Sweden Democrats ... In Sweden, immigrants are twice as likely to be unemployed as natives, one of the worst ratios in the developed world. Accepting immigration at such a level, while being unable to integrate it, is the recipe not just for a political crisis but a national identity crisis". In the 2014 general election the Sweden Democrats more than doubled their seat holding in the Riksdag (Parliament) from 20 to 49 seats, then in early 2016, the Swedish government bowed to public pressure and re-introduced border controls in a belated attempt to stem the rising pressures of immigrants and asylum seekers entering Sweden, with resulting long delays even for the daily numbers of Danish commuters crossing the Öresund bridge. In the absence of any effective longer term management of past open door immigration policies, all this feels like a vain attempt at bolting the stable door. The impact of the authorities' failure to manage uncontrolled immigration and consequent social divisiveness is plain to see. Claims about levels of deportation of failed asylum seekers are treated with derision since those denied entry simply disappear into an expanding underworld, continuing to live illegally in Sweden and exploiting the system. A September 2016 article in the Spectator How Sweden became an example of how not to handle immigration highlighted the social consequences of such mismanagement of the levels of asylum seekers.
The impact on Swedish society of unrestricted immigration and government failure adequately to manage the situation has been reaffirmed by our own daily observations throughout the length and breadth of Sweden during the 4 months of our stay, and by our many conversations with Swedes on the issue during our time there. We were told that work permit regulations impose punitive restrictions preventing immigrants from obtaining employment, meaning that vast numbers are needing to be maintained and accommodated at state expense. The government compulsorily requires local authorities across the entire country to accommodate dispersed allocations of immigrants proportional to local population, imposing unaffordable financial burden on local authorities. We ourselves witnessed the impact of this enforced dispersal of asylum seekers, all requiring accommodation, throughout the country in every village, town and city visited: immigrant asylum seekers were accommodated in barracks, huts, hotels, campsites, everywhere and anywhere, in a desperate attempt to contain the problem, resulting in some tragically ludicrous situations. For example, at Kiruna in the far north, 1,000 immigrants were allocated by the government and were accommodated during summer time in vacant ski hotels in the remote mountains at Riksgränsen on the Norwegian border; when this was required for the winter ski trade, the immigrants were moved down to hotels on the Bothnian coast. At Porjus village in Lapland, a community of 400 residents, the Stockholm government had assigned 100 immigrants to live here in a former barracks hut. The result of restrictive opportunity for employment, non-integration into Swedish society, and enforced distribution throughout the country in varying standards of state funded accommodation, meant that wherever we went, every town and village seemed to be populated by groups of hopeless immigrants aimlessly milling around. Along many country roads outside of villages, lines of immigrants wandered purposelessly along the roadside. And we were there in summer time; today in the north, temperatures will be -10ºC.
These observations are the result of our constant experience throughout our 4 month in Sweden, and are in no way an exaggeration. We love Sweden, but all that we saw with our own eyes throughout the country, the result of failed government policies adequately to manage Sweden's natural hospitality towards asylum seekers, and the sorry impact on both the immigrants themselves and on Swedish society which we so admire, has left us feeling greatly distressed.
We shall conclude this series of travelogues with an updated Review of Swedish Campsites, reflecting our experiences during our 4 months stay in Sweden during 2016.
Next edition to be published shortly