*** BALTIC 2018 - WEEKS 19~21 ***
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A Hanseatic Tour of the Baltic Sea 2018 - Helsinki, Baltic coast of Finland, Turku Archipelago, Åland Islands, Southern Sweden, Baltic island of Öland, return across Baltic to Lübeck:
Departing Tallinn by ferry across Gulf of Finland to Helsinki: aboard the Silja-Tallink Megastar ferry at Tallinn, we sought a position on the outer deck from which to photograph the city skyline as the ferry pulled away from the dock at 1-30pm (Photo 1 - Departing Tallinn), then whiled away the 2 hour crossing of the Gulf of Finland in the crowded ferry lounge.
Disappointing arrival at Helsinki: the crossing slipped by quickly and by 3-00pm, the ferry was passing the outer skerries and islands on the approach to Finland's capital. We had been looking forward to views of Helsinki's renowned skyline, but the ferry docked unexpectedly at an industrial dockland area with none of the attractive views of the White City waterfront backed by the Cathedral. Vehicles off-loaded quickly for the ferry's rapid turnaround, and ashore we queued in slow-moving traffic through unattractive dockland. The sat-nav guided us on a nerve-wracking route through a network of narrow, cobbled streets in the heart of Helsinki, with road closures making route finding even more stressful. Eventually passing Helsinki's familiar railway station in heavy afternoon traffic, we turned eastwards on the inner ring-road, stopping at an S-Market supermarket for provisions. Through bewildering roadworks, we managed to re-join the ring-road, and numb with exhaustion from city traffic, eventually reached Rastila Camping in the outer eastern suburbs of the city.
Rastila Camping Helsinki: prices were high at €25 (Camping Card discount and no electricity), but at least the large camping area had plenty of spaces. It was gone 6-00pm, having taken 3 hours to negotiate city traffic, before we were settled (see right) and could relax with much needed beers after what had been the most exhausting arrival in Finland.
Return visit to Helsinki: the following morning was fine and sunny for our day in Helsinki, our 3rd visit to our favourite European capital city (Log of our 2012 visit to Helsinki and Log of our 2015 visit to Helsinki). Along at Rastila Metro station, single tickets were now even more expensive at €2.90 each (Photo 2 - Rastila Metro station); we followed stations into the city to get off at Central Station (Rautatieasema) (see left) (Photo 3 - Helsinki Central Station) for photos of the magnificent art deco ticket hall and the monumental red granite main façade with the familiar Lantern Bearers Stone Men statues (Photo 4 - Lantern Bearers). Around into Mannerheimintie, Helsinki's main shopping avenue named after the Finnish WW2 military leader and statesman Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, for photos of the Marshal's equestrian statue against a backdrop of passing trams and Parliament Building (see right) (Photo 5 - Mannerheim statue).
The Finnish Parliament building (Eduskunta): across the main road, the small corner park opened up perfect views of the now fully restored and renovated Eduskunta, the Finnish Parliament Building (see left) (Photo 6 - Finnish Parliament). Opened in 1931, the design with its starkly stern colonnaded façade had been intended to symbolise the new Finnish republic's identity and democratic ideals. We tried the Eduskunta Visitor Centre for a visit but, as expected in the summer recess, everything was locked, as was the entrance door on the other side of the grandiose frontage. But as we stood there trying to phone the enquiry number, a tall distinguished gentleman came out with a colleague; we asked him if it was possible to visit the Parliament, and he tried phoning on our behalf. It turned out he was the Minister of Finance in Prime Minister Sipilä's coalition government, but not even this high office could get us into the Eduskunta today; we thanked him for trying and reluctantly bowed to the inevitable.
Finlandia Hall designed by Alvar Aalto: directly opposite the Parliament, we could look across open parkland to the state-of-the-art Music Centre concert hall (Musiikkitalo) completed in 2011, and now home to the Helsinki Philharmonic and Finnish Radio Orchestras and Sibelius Academy Orchestra (see right). Just up the road opposite the grandiose Neo-Baroque building of the Natural History Museum (see left), we photographed Finlandia Hall (Photo 7 - Finlandia concert hall), designed as the capital's major concert venue by Finland's leading 20th century modernist architect Alvar Aalto just before his death in 1976. The long, low, asymmetrical and white marble-faced building is said to incorporate Aalto's characteristic wave-pattern into its design. We had seen much of Aalto's work throughout Finland and particularly in his home city of Jyväskylä during our 2012 visit (see our 2012 log on the work of Alvar Aalto), but heretically had found his designs uninspiring and over-rated. The same could be said for the Finlandia Hall. The advantage of making return visits is that you know the exact spots for best photographic angle, and this morning's soft sunlight provided perfect light for our photos.
The National Theatre: back around past the glass-plate offices of Helsinki's daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, passing the rear of the Kiasma modern art gallery (no more aesthetically pleasing than the front of this gracelessly unappealing modernistic building, sardonically named by us as Miasma!), we crossed through the railway station concourse to emerge at the bus station in Railway Square. Discretely tucked away at the rear of the square was the Jugendstil National Theatre (see below left), home of Finnish drama and centre of Finnish nationalism in the late 19th century. The leading Finnish dramatist of these early days had been Alexis Kivi (1834~72) who died impoverished and insane before his work received acknowledgement; his statue now sits enthroned outside the National Theatre, although when it was created in 1939, no one would recall his true appearance!
Lunch at Helsinki University student cafeteria: it was now time to head along Yliopistonkatu (University Street) to Helsinki University's Main Building for lunch in the student cafeteria (mensa) which is open to the public and provides the best value lunch in Helsinki. But heart-sink moment: it seemed that the University was closed for renovation during the summer vac, but we had misidentified the building. In the lower part of Fabianinkatu, we found the familiar entrance, leading to the student union. The lady at the till was helpfully welcoming and in good English ensured we understood that tea/coffee was included in the meal price. Even though out of term, there were a number of staff and undergraduates lunching, making congenial company for our hearty lunch (see right), and out in the hall, notices listed the PhD theses being presented this afternoon.
Engel's ensemble of public buildings, Lutheran Cathedral and Senate Square: around the corner, the imposing open space of Senate Square opened out before us, but here we met the expected tourist hordes milling around the tour-buses parked around the Square. Carl Ludwig Engels (1778~1840) was commissioned by the Tsarist authorities to design an appropriately grand assemblage of public buildings to grace the 1817 reconstruction of Helsinki when the capital of the new Russian Grand Duchy of Finland was moved here from Turku in 1812. His neo-Classical Empire style based on the grandiose buildings of St Petersburg still embellish Finland's capital city. Senate square is surrounded by the graceful symmetry of Engel's array of public buildings: Government Palace encloses the eastern side and the western side is graced by the neo-Classical splendour of the University Library (see right). The brilliantly white-faced Lutheran Cathedral set aloft on its high podium dominates the Square's northern side (see left) (Photo 8 - Lutheran Cathedral), the neo-Classical extravaganza of its Corinthian columned exterior and ornate domes glistening in the sunlight. Climbing up onto the Cathedral's terrace broad steps provided a vantage point for nostalgic photos of Engel's splendid array of public buildings; we sat at the top of the monumental flight of stone steps to gaze out across Senate Square (Photo 9 - Senate Square).
House of Estates and Helsinki City Museum: around the corner, the neo-Classical 19th century House of Estates still looked as grandly dignified as ever (Photo 10 - House of Estates) (see below left); this was formerly the meeting hall of the Diet of clergy, burgesses and peasantry which governed the Grand Duchy before the Estates were abolished in 1906 in favour of the unicameral Parliament, elected by universal suffrage. As city trams trundled past, we headed down to the SE corner of Senate Square, to find Sederholm House, Helsinki's oldest stone building dating from 1757 (see below right). The two-storey building built in 18th-century rococo style with balustraded upper windows and mansard roof was commissioned as a town house by the city's most prominent shipping magnate, the wealthy industrialist and member of parliament Johan Sederholm. It has now been restored and enlarged to house an admirable small museum illustrating the development of Helsinki from its early Swedish foundation, its Tsarist aggrandisement as the new capital, together with the 19~20th century social history of Helsinki life; Helsinki City Museum is a must with the added advantage of being free entry.
Presidential Palace and Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral: down past the City Hall (another Engel inheritance) to the waterfront Kauppatori open-air market, a wooden terrace gave a high vantage point to view the waterfront and Presidential Palace against the backdrop of Engel's Lutheran Cathedral towering above (Photo 11 - Presidential Palace) (see below left); originally converted by Engel in 1837 as an imperial palace for the Tsar, uniformed young soldiers now stood guard-duty outside the Presidential Palace and the Finnish presidential standard flew on the mast above. Nearby on a prominent rocky knoll set on the islet of Katajanokka separated by a small canal stood Helsinki's Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral. This magnificent structure with its gilded bauble-topped domes was consecrated in 1868 (see below left) (Photo 12 - Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral). As the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe, its interior was decorated with gilded, icon be-decked iconostasis (Photo 13 - Uspenski Iconostasis) (see below right) and Byzantine inscriptions on the vaulting over the marble pillars. Not even a wedding taking place in the Cathedral today served as deterrent for the disrespectful intrusive behaviour of tourists! The Cathedral's sumptuous interior poses a stately contrast with the starkly plain interior of the Lutheran Cathedral, whose domes stand out across the rooftops of the Presidential Palace when viewed from Uspenski's terrace (see right).
The Kauppatori waterfront and Vanha Kauppahalli (Old Market Hall): returning past the Presidential Palace to the waterfront, we ambled past the tat souvenir stalls of the harbour-side Kauppatori market. Around the harbour past the tourist boats offering harbour cruises, we found the indoor market of Kauppahalli. This traditional market hall dating from 1888 still had its original dark wood fittings and was once a haven of 19th century elegance with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, fish, cheeses and bread (Photo 14 - Vanha Kauppahalli) (see below right); it was sheer delight wandering around the market. Nowadays however this once dignified traditional indoor market had succumbed to the inevitable, having degenerated to mainly tourist targeted fast food stalls. Nearby the Art Nouveau mermaid statue of Havis Amanda stood, its fountains sparkling in the afternoon sunshine against a backdrop of passing trams curving around the square.
A stroll back along Esplanadi: the bright sun of earlier was now beginning to fade, replaced by cloud cover and duller light, as we strolled back along the delightful boulevard-gardens of Esplanadi, with the boulevard of fin de siècle grand buildings along the avenue's northern side. Today a visiting choir from Georgia, singing in close harmony, provided free promenade entertainment for the crowds who sat by the pavilion; we joined them for a relaxing end to our day's exploration of the capital. Despite the now disappointingly dull weather, strolling along Esplanadi was clearly a favourite late afternoon pastime for Helsinki folk (Photo 15 - Esplanadi boulevard-gardens) (see below left); and ambling back along Esplanadi, past office workers sitting on benches in these lovely leafy surroundings in the heart of the city, and students sat on the grass to eat ice creams, we could understand why. We made our way back through the afternoon crowds along Mannerheimintie past Stockmanns, Scandinavia's largest department store, pausing by the Three Smiths statue of 3 nude male workers hammering away in unison at an anvil (Photo 16 - Three Smiths statue); this bizarre memorial commemorates the craftsmen who raised funds for the Vanha Ylioppilastalo, the Old Students' House which serves as a backdrop to this prestigious location.
Back at Central Station and final photographs of its imposing Art Nouveau frontage, we concluded our day in Helsinki (it felt as though we now knew the centre of Helsinki better than we did London!) with an end of afternoon drink at the station's terrace-bar (see right); Sheila re-discovered Lonkero, a popular Finnish long drink of gin and grapefruit soda. We sat beneath the shadow of the Lantern Bearers Stone Men, and considered our return visit to Helsinki: the city over the last 3 years had succumbed more to the scourge of mass tourism, but thankfully not on the overwhelming scale of Tallinn. We had only seen 2 tour groups, and only one cruise ship was moored at the harbour; Senate Square and the waterfront were crowded with tourists, but that was to be expected. A couple of steps away however from the tourist hot-spots, and you could still enjoy this beautiful city in relative peace. With the evening becoming cool, it was time for us to descend into Tunneli, the underground shopping precinct and Metro station, to catch the Metro back out to the Rastila campsite.
Eastwards to Hamina: the following morning, after a fill of diesel by Rastila Metro station, we turned eastwards towards the outer suburb of Vuosaari to join the Route 7 motorway, making good progress through the Swedish-speaking region of SE Finland beyond Porvoo (click here for detailed map of route); the dual-language names on road signs gave a useful Swedish~Finnish translation crib. Within an hour we were passing Kotka, and just before Hamina, turned off the motorway (which now formed a northern by-pass) onto the old Route 170 into the town. At Hamina we shopped for provisions, including the excellent Laitilan Finnish beers, but were astonished at food prices now in Finland compared with the Baltic States.
Salpa Linja WW2 defensive line and Museums: continuing on the Route 107 old road through the easterly forests (which Route 7 motorway had now replaced cutting a new more northerly course to the Russian border-crossing at Vaalimaa), we paused at the Virolahti Bunker Museum which recalls the lower section of the Salpa Llinja WW2 Finnish defensive line. Whereas on previous visits our interest had been the historical significance of the Salpa Linja for Finland in enabling the Finns under Marshal Mannerheim to resist the unprovoked Soviet invasions of their country by Stalin's USSR in 1939~44, our reason for stopping today was not to examine the Museum's displays of military hardware or the surviving defensive remains and trenches, but what was growing among them; our interests today were purely botanical. What we were particularly looking for was the Bearberry which we had found in the past growing along the parapet walls of surviving Salpa Linja trenches in the sandy heathland forests. It was here in springtime 2012 and 2015 that we had photographed the ground-hugging trailing stems and elongated textured leaves of Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), with its distinctive clusters of elegant bell-shaped flowers, white bodied with delicate pink-fringed frilly tips like tiny Chinese lanterns (see our 2015 photo left). Today in early autumn we hoped to find the bright red Bearberry fruits which we had seen recently at Kalarna on Hiiumaa. Despite however our searching along the lines of trenches in the sandy forest floor, there was to our huge disappointment no trace of even Bearberry leaves let alone berries. All we could find was Lingonberry fruits which covered the ground (Photo 17 - Lingonberry) (see above right).
We drove on to Virolahti village where the way forward was blocked by roadworks reconfiguring the onward course of Route 170 towards its junction with the Route 7 motorway just before the Vaalimaa border-crossing. We were obliged to work a way around through the village in order to join Route 384 northwards to Miehikkälä. From here a minor lane led through the forests to the Salpa Linja Museum. Again our interest today was not the Salpa Linja network of reconstructed trenches and concrete bunkers, but to find the Bearberry plants growing along the lines of trenches. We dropped down the steep hillside wooden steps to the zigzag line of communications trenches, but again disappointment: the Bearberry, which in 2012 and 2015 had flowered in profusion along the eye-level trench parapets, was now totally supplanted by Lingonberry. We could only conclude that the bone dry conditions and searing temperatures of this summer's extraordinary heat-wave had, in this readily drained sandy soil, killed off all the Bearberry, leaving the Lingonberry to seize its opportunity to monopolise this sunny position. All that remained were a few scorched leaves of Bearberries but no berries. From the end of the trench line, we dropped down to a forest track and line of stone anti-tank obstacles; facing the Finnish defensive lines of tank traps on the opposite side of the ditch, a preserved Russian 1944 T34 tank reared out of the forest, an ugly and menacing brutish monster with enormous steel turret (see left); the sight somehow symbolised Finland's heroic struggle in 1939~44 against the super-power might of Russian aggression. Returning along the roadside track past where in May 2012~15 sweet scented Lily of the Valley (Kielo, Finland's national flower) had flowered, today in early autumn the scorched plants just had their orange berries. Along here, we found at last a few plants of Bearberry that had survived this summer's heat in a shady spot, but with a poor crop of berries. The future survival of Bearberry in these locations looked bleak.
Russian border-crossing at Vaalimaa, the trip's easternmost point in Finland: returning to Virolahti, we continued eastwards on Route 170 which merged into the A7 motorway at its end point a couple of kms short of the Russian border-crossing at Vaalimaa. Hesitantly we edged forward towards the border-control station to a point where we could still just about do a U-turn to extricate ourselves (Photo 18 - Russian border-crossing at Vaalimaa) (see above right). Turning about, we returned safely into Finland passing the road-sign pointing to Pietari (St Petersburg) in 203kms.
Vaalimaa Camping: back along Route 170, we turned off towards the coast to find Vaalimaa Camping. A few Finnish caravans occupied the higher area, but with no wind forecast, we took the prime position down by the shore-side of this inner bay off the Gulf of Finland for our easternmost camp this year in Finland (see above left) (Photo 19 - Vaalimaa Camping). It was a wonderfully memorable spot, but despite the magnificent setting, Vaalimaa Camping's facilities were unchanged with the same old-fashioned, limited facilities; the place also felt sullied by greed-driven price increases that have, over the 3 times now we have stayed here, increased from €15 in 2012 to €24 now. Despite this however we did discover a previously unknown large kitchen/wash-up/common room in one of the huts. As the evening grew dark, George's lights attracted swarms of tiny irritating midges which filled his interior through the open slider. The following morning was bright with hazy sun for our day in camp here by the Baltic shore at Vaalimaa (see right); we enjoyed our rest day at this wonderful location, looking out across the reed-lined Virolahti inlet of the Gulf of Finland, this trip's easternmost camp in SE Finland, though not quite as far east as at Narva on the southern side of the Gulf.
Westward to the fortress town of Hamina, and a helpful garage: after heavy rain during the night, we woke to clear sky with the dawn mist just lifting over the inlet. Our westward return journey would begin today. Having re-filled George's fresh water tank, we set off to return along through the forest on Route 170 and turned off into Hamina. For background details and history of the fortress town of Hamina, see Log of our 2015 visit to Hamina. Parking in the centre of this delightful town, we searched for Hamina's peripatetic Tourist Information Centre which moves to a different location each time we come here; today we eventually tracked the TIC down to the Spa Hotel by the Kauppatori (Market Square). Our reason for seeking out the TIC was to ask advice on garages in Hamina where we could get George's failed headlight bulb replaced. The hotel receptionist cum TIC lady was obligingly helpful, suggesting several garages. We found Autohuolto Oy just off Route 170, with car sales and servicing, but would they be able to fit us in today? The man at service reception could not have been more helpful, replacing the bulb himself; the job was done in moments, the problem sorted and George's lights were back in order.
Our re-visit to Hamina's fortress: back up to the town, the road sign indicating Hamina's historic array of streets radiating out from the octagonal central hub looked comically cog-like! (see right). We parked by the Baroque town hall and set out for the Walking in Old Hamina guide brochure circular walk of the town's historical features. From the town hall (Photo 20 - Hamina town hall) (see above left) at the centre of the octagon, we began at the Orthodox Church and were able to gain entry this year to see the modern iconostasis (see left). Hamina is still very much a military town, and across the road along Kadettikoulunkatu (Cadet School Street), we photographed the grand building of the Reserve Officer Training School (Photo 21 - Reserve Officer Training School). Returning around past St John's Lutheran Church (another of Engel's designs in Neo-Classical Greek temple style), we paid our respects at the war cemetery of those from Hamina killed defending Karelia from the Soviet invasion during the 1939~40 Winter War and 1941~44 Continuation War (Photo 22 - War cemetery), and the memorial to those whose bodies were left behind in those parts of former Finnish Karelia forcibly annexed by USSR. We now made our way around to the Central Bastion: surviving parts of the former Swedish citadel with its ramparts, bastions and 19th century Russian casemates were preserved in the 1960s for their historical importance, and now serve as a summer events arena covered by a huge canopy-like marquee (see right). We continued around further fortification ramparts of the bastion whose caponiers and outer defence structures now enclose the town's modern sports stadium. Around past the Hämeentinna Bastion earthworks and the former powder magazine (now an art gallery), we reached the guard house of Lappeenranta Gate, and returned through the parkland of Lappeenranta Bastion where mums and toddlers played. At the Kauppatori, we returned up Fredrikinkatu past the elegant 1859 wooden town house built by a wealthy Russian merchant family (see left) to the town hall to complete the circuit.
Hamina Camping, our final camp on the Gulf of Finland: we now had to turn our attention to the more mundane (and costly!) business of shopping for provisions at the K-Market supermarket, before driving out to find tonight's campsite down at the Gulf of Finland coast. Just off a side lane beyond Vilniemi village, we reached Hamina Camping. This was the third time we had stayed at this basic little campsite, and nothing seemed to have changed; with the statics among the pine trees at the far end alongside the Baltic shore-line deserted at this late time of year, we had the little campsite to ourselves. The little facilities house was still the same, with cosy WC/showers and homely kitchen cum common room, one of the best of the trip with both cooker and microwave. With a brisk SE breeze blowing off the sea, it would have been more sensible to pitch in the more sheltered forest away from the beach; but the view looking out over the reed-lined inlet made it sufficiently tempting to risk the more exposed position close to the shore; we pitched here with George's rear to windward for our final camp on the Gulf of Finland (see right) (Photo 23 - Hamina Camping). The sky remained overcast and hazy, so there would be no sunset over the sea tonight. Dusk seemed to fall earlier now, and by 9-30pm it was fully dark.
Westward drive across southern Finland to Ekenäs at the SW tip: the sun was just rising above the tall pines when we woke the following morning; a reasonable sunny day was forecast for our long drive today westwards across the breadth of southern Finland down to Ekenäs at the SW tip (click here for detailed map of route). We took our final photos along the Gulf of Finland shore-line (see left) (Photo 24 - Gulf of Finland shore-line), and after a fill of diesel in Hamina, we joined the A7 motorway to begin our westward journey.
Traffic was light and we made good progress, passing Kotka and Porvoo to be approaching the outskirts of the Helsinki conurbation by 12-30. At junction 52, Route 7 merged into Route 4 motorway for a short distance before Helsinki's Ring 1 branched off to circle around the middle suburbs of the city. Despite our sat-nav's guidance, it took supreme concentration in heavy traffic to maintain the correct lane through the many interchanges and avoid tripping over the frequent speed cameras. We continued around Ring 1 to its conclusion with Route 51 on the far side of the city amid bewildering roadworks. Following signs, we worked a way through, and turned west onto Route 51 motorway standard road past Espoo. Once beyond the city bounds, traffic eased and we made better progress westwards. Beyond the conurbation, Route 51 became standard trunk road, with the speed limits constantly varying between 80 and 100kph, and frequent speed cameras to entrap the unwary. After today's 250kms drive, we turned off into Ekenäs and found a large K-Market for our provisions shopping. This SW corner of Finland was also clearly Swedish-speaking, since the lad at the supermarket check-out addressed us in comfortably familiar Swedish.
Tammisaari Camping at Ekenäs: past the wooden houses of the town, we found Tammisaari Camping spread around the shore-side of an inlet off the Baltic. Camping areas were extensive but mostly filled with statics all generally deserted at this time of year. We found a grassy area with power close to the facilities hut and settled in, stowing our shopping (see right and left). The facilities were unchanged from our last stay in 2012 with fully equipped kitchen/wash-up/common room and some of the most refreshing showers of the trip. Despite today's long drive, it was still only 4-30, giving us time to research ferries for the next stage of our journey down the Turku Archipelago and across to Kökar and the Åland Islands. It was just as well we did, since the ferry timetables showed it was not possible to cross to Kökar on Fridays as we had hoped; we should have to take 2 rest days out at Mossala on the Archipelago and reschedule the crossing to Kökar for Saturday. With the weather still fine, we enjoyed another barbecued supper tonight.
Ferries down the Turku Archipelago to Mossala: as the year moved on, sunrise was getting later and the sun was only just coming up when the alarm went off at 7-00am; it looked like being a clear, sunny day for the 125kms drive around past Turku to Pargas for the sequence of ferries down the Archipelago, to camp at the outermost island of Mossala (click here for detailed map of route). We returned through the town of Ekenäs to join Route 52 north through the forests towards Turku. At Salo, where in 2015 we had enjoyed good service at the VW garage with an overnight camp in their car park and replacement of George's failed alternator, we turned west on Route 110 to reach the outer suburb town of Kaarina for the drive down to Pargas over the intervening inlets from the Bothnian Gulf (see right), wary of the 60kph speed limits and sequence of speed cameras. After a pause at the K-Market in Pargas for provisions supplies to last us over the days at Mossala and Kökar and for a fill of diesel, we continued SW-wards for 18kms to reach the ferry-port at Lillmälö in time for the 14-00 ferry crossing to the first island of Nagu-Nauvo (see left).
A sequence of 5 ferries made up today's progression out across the archipelago of islands, mostly short hops across intervening stretches of water between the islands, with one longer 30 minute crossing to Houtskär. We had a copy of the Finferries timetables for the ferries on our route, all of which were free of charge as part of the Archipelago public road network. There were more vehicles queuing at the first ferry port than expected, including a truck, but the little chain-ferry chugged back across the narrows and absorbed all the waiting vehicles with space to spare. The first ferry-crossing from the Pargas mainland over to Prostvik at the eastern end of of Nagu-Nauvo island took only 10 minutes. Over at Prostvik, we drove ashore to continue forward for the 25kms drive across the much indented Nagu-Nauvo island, whose landscape was largely pine and birch wooded interspersed with farm pastureland. Across 2 bridged channels, we reached Nagu-Nauvo's main village of Nagu. Beyond here, Route 180 continued across the western half of Nagu-Nauvo, reaching the ferry-dock of Pärnäs just in time for the 14-37 ferry 5 minutes across the straits to Retais at the eastern end of Korpo (Photo 25- Nagu-Nauvo~Korpo ferry), the next island in the chain. A 10 minute drive brought us across Korpo to the ferry port at Galtby for the next phase of our outward journey, the longer 30 minute ferry crossing from Galtby on the north coast of Korpo over to the outermost of the larger islands, Houtskär. Onward ferries were less frequent, and while we waited we searched around unsuccessfully for more information on Saturday's ferry crossing to Kökar which sailed from another of the docks here. As we queued for our ferry this afternoon to Houtskär (pronounced Hout-sher), we got into conversation with a German driving a VW-T6 camper, fellow-traveller Thomas Sieck. Our ferry drew in and both VWs drove aboard along with the Houtskär service bus for the 30 minute crossing to Kittuis at the SE corner of Houtskär (see above left). With the weather warm and sunny, we stood on the upper deck looking out over the flat-calm sea dotted with islets. Finland has an astonishing 80,000 islands and skerries around its coast, and the Turku~Åland Archipelago has 25,000 of these. Ashore at Houtskär, we made enquiries at Kittuis Camping, which was in a lovely setting overlooking the sound by the ferry dock. The owner was just closing the place at end of season, but we made provisional arrangements to stay on Friday prior to our re-crossing on Saturday morning. With little other traffic, we threaded our way around Houtskär's winding, single-track lanes. Just beyond Näsby, a chain-ferry took us across the narrows from Kivimo to Björkö (see above right), and around this curving island to its northern tip (see left), a final chain-ferry crossed from Björkö to the outermost island of Mossala (see right) (Photo 26- Mossala chain-ferry). Across at the isolated northern tip of tiny Mossala just by the northward ferry-dock (now closed for the season), we reached tonight's campsite, Saariston Lomskeskus (Holiday Centre). What a gem of a journey this had been out along the Archipelago.
Saariston Lomskeskus on northern coast of Mossala Island: we expected, and indeed hoped, to find Saariston's main 'resort' closed by this late stage of the year, and the reception area was totally locked and deserted. At that moment Thomas arrived in his VW-T6. We phoned Saariston's number, relieved to hear that the camping was still open, and together the two VWs returned to the gravelled camping area. As we set up camp side by side, Boris the Russian resort manager (whom we recognised from our 2015 stay) arrived, insisting that in spite of it being now 29 August, the high season camping price of €30/night still applied until 1 September when the charge reduced to a more reasonable €24. Despite only 2 days of the summer season left, no attempt to negotiate a reduction could shift him. Despite only 2 other camping-cars being here, he was prepared to lose our custom rather than lose face with his typically Russian obduracy! Finally and reluctantly, he agreed a camping card discount to €27. It was the best we could achieve; since there was no alternative campsite, we agreed to stay, initially for one night, to make use of the free washing/drying machines we so desperately needed for our over-spilling bags of laundry. We settled in, and Sheila immediately got the first bag of laundry going while Paul cooked supper of beef and lingonberry stew. On a still evening, we sat outside chatting until late with Thomas about our respective travels.
The following morning, we decided that, since we needed the free washing machine for at least one more load of washing, we should stay for a further night and take one of our days in camp here at Saariston. After all, in spite of the high price even with the discount we had managed to extract, a campsite washing/drying machine could cost typically cost €8/load; we needed at least 2 loads, and the savings from Saariston's free machines would not only compensate for the high prices, but would set us up with clean clothes for the rest of the trip! We said farewell to Thomas this morning and exchanged email addresses, as he departed to begin his journey home to Germany. While Sheila got a second load of washing going, Paul telephoned the Åland ferry operators Ålandtrafik in Mariehamn to confirm the Kökar ferry times for Saturday; advance booking meant a 10% saving on the €105 fare covering the whole crossing from Galtby through to Långnes on Åland Main Island, including the 2 day stay on Kökar. Although the Saariston wi-fi was free, its strong radio signal produced only very weak internet reception; despite this we managed to connect the laptop to book our passage. This had been a morning well spent.
Boris the Saariston manager called round for his further day's €27 rent, and that afternoon the third load of washing was completed, dried and folded; Saariston may have seemed expensive, but with much washing to do, we had got our money's worth! Saariston's grounds were beautifully laid out looking out to the coast to the north and surrounded by pine woods; it must have been a huge task to transform the naturally undrained, swampy forest land into the beautiful parkland of the campsite's present environment. The whole ambiance of the setting was magnificent and wonderfully peaceful (at least beginning and end of season, without the screaming hordes of holiday makers!). The late August soft sunshine was relaxing, the scent of wild roses wafted over the camping, and bird song filled the air all day. The campsite's impeccable array of spotlessly clean and modern facilities (albeit limited in number) included WCs, showers, free sauna, outdoor wash-up with hot water, wi-fi internet and free washing/drying machines, and early season and from 1 Sept the price was €24/night. We had indeed enjoyed 2 relaxing and fulfilling days here at this remote but delightful campsite on the outermost island of the Archipelago (see above left and right) (Photo 27- Saariston Lomskeskus' parkland setting).
Kittuis Camping on Houtskär: we were in no rush to depart the following morning, and after we sat outside for a late breakfast in the soft sunshine, we telephoned Kittuis Camping to confirm our arrangement to stay there tonight, despite the place now being officially closed for the season. Despite his limited English, the owner told us the hiding place for the facilities hut key, kept locked to avoid the WCs being misused by people queuing for the Houtskär~Galtby ferry. We left Saariston on Mossala's northern tip at 2-30pm, drove back across the island for the chain-ferries over to Björkö and Kivimo (see above left), and reached Kittuis Camping at 3-15. Letting ourselves in by moving aside the barrier as agreed with the owner, we found the WC key; shower and well-equipped kitchen were open already. The camping area was small and one caravan was here already, but we pitched in a prime spot on close-cropped turf under pines overlooking the sound and ferry dock (see above left) (Photo 28 - Kittuis Camping); it was a magnificent setting. All afternoon, ferries between Houtskär and Galtby chugged back and forth (see above right) (Photo 29 - Galtby ferry), yachts sailed through the narrow sound, and the Viking Line Turku~Stockholm ferry passed through the main shipping channel. These waters between the Archipelago islands were busy shipping lanes. That evening, despite the drizzle, we enjoyed our final barbecue of the trip, and the lit-up ferries continued after dark until late into the evening (Photo 30 - Barbecue at Kittuis Camping) (see left).
Ferry back from Houtskär to Korpo and Nagu: the following morning was overcast with light rain which had been falling all night. Leaving our €24 in an envelope in the kitchen for the owner, we were first in the queue outside the campsite for the 10-45am ferry back to Galtby on Korpo. But by the time we boarded the ferry, rain was pouring and visibility was poor for the re-crossing to Galtby (see right). The onward ferry to Houtskär did not leave Galtby until 3-15pm, so there was time to cross by the intermediate ferry across to Nagu-Nauvo (see left) to shop in the rather poorly stocked and expensive K-Market in Nagu village. By now the rain had eased, and there was still time to look at the stone 14th century Lutheran church in Nagu, with its beautifully straightforward medieval interior, said to house Finland's oldest Bible. The 1918 Finnish Civil War memorial in the church graveyard listed only the White faction Jäger battalions' war dead. With victors' arrogance, the Civil War was engraved on the memorial as Finland's freedom struggle; doubtless the Reds faction would have seen it otherwise. The graveyard, with its war cemetery of burials from the 1939~44 Winter and Continuation Wars, was enclosed by a beautifully constructed wall of huge granite blocks.
Returning to Korpo (click here for detailed map of route), we still had time before our onward ferry for Kökar was due to depart from Galtby to divert into Korpo village to see the medieval church (see right for 2015 photo in sunny weather). The beautiful stone church of St Mikael the Archangel was built in the 13th century, and still has a number of medieval works of art including a wood carving of St George skewering his dragon, a painting of St Catherine of Alexandria treading on the Christian persecuting Roman Emperor Maximian, a altar triptych with preserved 15th century carved figures set in a 1950s frame, and a unique decorated wooden rood-screen spanning the entrance to the chancel. But the church's masterpiece were the medieval rustic wall-paintings covering the Gothic vaulting (see left). In a quiet corner of the graveyard by the north porch, we found a 1939~44 Winter and Continuation War cemetery with the names of 14 local dead recorded on the memorial and pine wreath decorated with ribbons in Finland's blue and white national colours laid at the foot of the monument.
Ferry from Galtby to Kökar: and so back around to Galtby to queue for the Ålands ferry to Kökar. M/S Skiftet docked and the incoming vehicles off-loaded; 10 minutes later we were directed aboard along with just 2 other Ålands cars and a group of bikers. Having taken departing photos from the stern rail (see right and below left) (Photo 31 - Departing Galtby for Kökar), we settled into the ferry's comfortable lounge to while away the 2½ hour crossing, making use of the free wi-fi. The rain at last had stopped but the sky remained heavily overcast as the ferry threaded a way through the multitude of Archipelago islands and skerries. By 5-00pm the islands group making up Kökar was getting closer filling the western horizon. Passing the outer skerries, the ferry passed along the northern coast of Kökar's main island, whose low, scrub-covered, scoured granite bed-rock came right down to the sea. In the grey gloom, it really did look a desolate, uninviting and uninhabited piece of low rock rising from the sea. Turning down into the channel leading to Kökar's ferry-port at Harparnäs on the north coast, we began seeing a few houses, and cars queuing for the onward crossing to Ålands Main Island.
Sandvik Camping on Kökar: the ferry docked and we drove ashore at the tiny port to take the narrow lane around to Sandvik Camping. While waiting at Galtby, we had telephoned the campsite and the owner had said he would be there to meet us (click here for detailed map of route). First impressions of Kökar (pronounced Shur-kar) was the ubiquitous low, bare, ice-scourged granite bed-rock covered with low scrub. We reached the campsite in a couple of kms: there were a few camper pitches with power among the scrub-covered outcropping bed-rock, and facilities looked clean and modern with well-equipped kitchen/common room. At the little café cum information hut cum shop, we booked in for 2 nights with the quietly spoken owner, and sought advice on the island's features and walking routes; the charge with camping card discount was a reasonable €21.50/night. Fortunately there was little wind, so precise alignment was less important than achieving a level position among the turf-covered granite outcrops (see right). As darkness fell, a late supper tonight of meatballs and lingonberry.
Kökar's isolated Church of St Anna: after a dark and drizzly night, the sun was just trying to break through the heavy cloud the following morning, but the forecast was for a fine day for our exploration of Kökar. We drove around to the island's NW tip to the 1784 Sankta Anna Kyrka set on a wind-swept bluff overlooking the coast, a beautiful, isolated setting for Kökar's parish church (see left). The church warden was just preparing for the morning service and the organist practising his music, and sitting here in this straightforward church in the peace of a Sunday morning was for us one of the trip's highlight moments (see right). We clambered up onto the coastal rocky headland behind the trim graveyard for photos looking out over the blue sea and distant offshore islands (see below left). A 15th century Franciscan monastery had been founded at this isolated spot beside where the 18th century church now stands, and the excavated remains of the monastery chapel are preserved alongside the church, enclosed by a wooden covering.
A walk over bed-rock granite outcrops of Överboda and Kalen Hill on Kökar: we drove back around the lane for the start-point of Kökar's principal walking route which circled around Överboda and over Kalen Hill down to the west coast by the coastguard station. The path, with white painted way-markings climbed up and across the flat granite bed-rock outcrops (see below left), with the thin soil layer supporting only stunted juniper scrub. The route wound and dipped over the bed-rock, dropping down through birch groves then climbing up to cross higher granite outcrops. In today's sunshine, this was a magnificent route in such typically Åland scoured bed-rock terrain. The path meandered for some 600m over the bed-rock outcrops to reach a paths junction where the ongoing route turned off. A path ahead, leading ultimately to Kökar's main village of Karlby, took us into what felt like a hidden secret valley enclosed by birch groves and high walls of granite. Here within this sheltered, enclosed flat turf area was the site occupied for some 10 seasons by Bronze~Iron Age seal hunters, nomadic farming folk identified from the potsherd finds at this site as originating from the southern coast of the Baltic. During the spring hunting season, they must have crossed the Baltic in skin-covered canoes to hunt grey seals on the vast expanses of sea-ice around Kökar. The foundation remains of nine hut circles have been identified along with hearths, a well and 4 refuse middens. The site was excavated in the late 1940s, revealing much pottery sherds and bones both of seals and domestic cattle, sheep and pigs. Modern dating techniques place the time of usage of the site to a few decades around 1000 BC. Sea levels would then have been much higher at that time before the land had fully risen post-glacially, meaning that the hill of Kalen would have been the only part of Kökar's proto-island to have emerged from the sea. The site therefore would at that time have been much closer to the coast, where the seal hunters had landed their boats. The site, sheltered by the high rocks, would have made a perfect place to build their seasonal camp protected from the weather (see right).
We returned to pick up the line of the ongoing path, initially weaving through birch woodland. The way-marks then led us over much higher, exposed bed-rock outcrops, the route meandering every-which-way as we scanned the rocks for the next way-markings (see left). These became less frequent and more difficult to spot and distinguish from patches of lichen. Not only did way-finding become less straightforward, but the route increasingly difficult, entailing at times seriously challenging scrambling over the outcrops, with deep gullies to negotiate as the route climbed higher towards the summit of Kalen Hill (see right). At this highest point of Kökar, we reached the site of a Russian radio station built by the Tsarist régime during WW1 to communicate with their Baltic fleet. The Tsarist Empire had fortified the Ålands as part of their acquisition of Finland in 1809. The radio station was demolished in 1919 when Finland gained independence. From this high point, we could now see the western coastline ahead but still some distance away. But as we advanced, the intervening terrain became increasingly challenging: way-marks became even more scant and route-finding over the steep rocks and deep gullies more elusive. As we began to lose height, we passed a stone maze laid out on the flat bed-rock, a modern reconstruction of an original 50m diameter maze on Vålberg rock destroyed during WW1 when the Russians had occupied the radio station. The date of the original maze is uncertain but the name Vålberg is connected with beacons and alarm signals in ancient times. Although we could clearly see our goal down at the western coast, as we lost further height, forward progress on the steep rocks became even more difficult (Photo 32- Kökar's challenging rocky terrain), entailing crossing deep gullies with uncertain route-finding. We finally dropped down to flatter ground at the foot of the slope approaching the shore (see left), but the problem now was to identify a viable route across the intervening rocky ground to reach the radio mast and look-out tower visible on the sky-line (see below left). Uncertainly, we eventually picked up a way forward, leading up through woodland to reach the coastguard station (see right). The Russians had built coastal batteries here during WW1 and during the 1939~44 Winter~Continuation Wars, the Finns also built a coastal battery armed with naval guns; the 1944 treaty required the fortification to be demolished and the Ålands demilitarised again. There is now little to be seen of these 20th century fortifications on Kökar's coast, and with time now pressing if we were to explore the rest of the island, we hot-footed it back along the lane to where George was parked. In today's fine weather, this walk over typically Ålands granite terrain had been one of the trip's most memorable walks both for views and the challenging route-finding and scrambling.
An exploration of Kökar: beyond the turning to the ferry-port at Harparnäs on the north coast, we headed to the island's main village of Karlby, just a widely-spaced scattering of cottages with no obvious village-centre. We continued along the 'main road' to cross a narrow channel onto the neighbouring islands of Finnö and Flattö, with more cultivated farmland than the wilder, higher granite bed-rock plateau of Vervan and Överboda. Side-turnings led on narrow dirt roads down to moorings on the south coast. We continued ahead, crossing another channel onto Helsö island. Beyond Kökar's skansen museum (now closed for the season) and the island's medical centre and kindergarten, we continued around to the lane's end at a small marina/guest-harbour, deserted apart from one little boy on a bicycle. The lane led back around to another dead end at a farm and boat-mooring on the north coast, also deserted. We followed a sign down to the south coast where the lane ended at Österbygge and Peders Aplagård, a little farm-shop where we tasted and bought some of the flavoured juices produced from apples grown on the farm. In charmingly soft lilting Swedish accented English, the lady told us more about living conditions of Kökar where winter can bring varying amounts of snow. Another turning off the main road led to lane's end at Söderby, and the only other of Kökar's 250 inhabitants we saw that quiet Sunday afternoon was an elderly lady stood by her car chatting with her neighbour by the side of the road; no concerns about traffic congestion on Kökar! Back across Flattö and Finnö and past Karlby, we returned for our second night Saltvik Camping (Photo 33 - Saltvik Camping, Kökar) (see right), again pitching up on the bed-rock plateau and having the place virtually to ourselves.
Onward ferry to Ålands Main Island: the alarm was set for 6-00am to enable us be at the ferry dock for the early morning onward ferry to Långnäs (pronounced Lawng-nes) on Ålands Main Island (click here for detailed map of route). The sun dawned with an early mist hovering over the scrub-covered moorland where we were camped (Photo 34 - Misty dawn over Kökar). We breakfasted, completed morning jobs and packed to head around the deserted lanes for the final time to the ferry-dock at Harparnäs. We were the first vehicle this morning at this deserted little port, early morning sun sparkling on the still waters along the rocky shoreline. A few more vehicles arrived, as the ferry appeared along the horizon, turning into the approach channel lit by the early sun and reflected on the still-calm waters of the bay (see left) (Photo 35 - Ferry docking at Kökar). The ferry docked, in-coming vehicles came ashore, and we were directed aboard. With no delay, M/S Skiftet curved away from the quay at Kökar, picking up speed out into the channel with the sea still-calm and bright morning sun sparkling in the ferry's wake (see right) (Photo 36 - Sun sparkling on ferry wake). What a photographic field-day in such glorious lighting conditions. The ferry passed around the island's NW point, giving us a clear view from the upper deck of Kökar's parish church on the isolated headland (see below left). We settled into the ferry lounge looking out of the bow windows, but within 30 minutes, the ferry was passing the islets and skerries, on the approach to its next stop at the tiny outlying easterly island of Husö. The ferry docked, a couple of cars drove aboard, and within moments it departed again (see below left), rejoining the main channel through reefs and islets on to the next stop at Sottunga, the largest island of this outlying group. We picked up speed again across the intervening body of water between the outer groups of the eastern Åland Islands, running along the rocky northern coast of Överö where the ferry called in at the island's little port. On from here across a wider gap, we approached the eastern side of Ålands Main Island, and at 11-30am docked at Långnäs ferry port.
Arriving at Lumparland in Ålands Main Island: we drove ashore at Långnäs, and before setting off to cross to the main Ålands town of Mariehamn, we briefly explored the eastern island of Lumparland (click here for detailed map of route). First stop was Lumparland's lovely little wooden Church of Sankt Andreas, set on a hillock overlooking the sea (Photo 37 - Lumparland Church). We then drove northwards up the narrow peninsula through Lumparland village past 3 wooden Ålands farmstead post-windmills (see below right) to reach the farming hamlet of Lumpo overlooking the island's north-west coast. Back to the main Route 3, we set course for Mariehamn, crossing the narrow channel between Lumparland and on across the width of Lemland Island. The road swung northwards to cross the narrow isthmus linking Lemland to Ålands' main island of Jomala. In 1882, the Tsarist Russian occupiers of the Ålands had cut a canal some 500m in length through the isthmus linking the seas on each side to create a safer passage for shipping to avoid the skerries-filled seas around the south of the Ålands. We paused by the canal as two small boats passed through (see below left).
Ålands main town of Mariehamn: over the canal's lifting bridge, we drove into the outskirts of Mariehamn and made for the Sparhallen shopping complex just to the north of the town. Having shopped for provisions, we then drove down into Mariehamn to park by the Tourist Information Centre. As always the Mariehamn TIC staff were wonderfully welcoming and helpful, providing us with updated editions of the Ålands walking guide-sheets and excellent free-of-charge wild-life booklets.
Sandösunds Camping on Vardö Island: the early ferry from Kökar (which now seemed so far away in time and space!) had given us valuable time today to fit in these practical visits in Mariehamn, but it was now time for the long drive out to Vardö Island for tonight's campsite, Sandösunds Camping (click here for detailed map of route). North from Mariehamn to Godby, we turned off eastwards on Route 2 past Haraldsby, and in passing paused for a brief wander around the hillside grounds of Jan Karlsgården; this skansen brings together in a beautiful rural setting preserved historical farm buildings and windmills from around the islands, and amazingly entry is free of charge. The place was totally deserted, and thoroughly delightful in the late afternoon sunshine. The decorated midsummer pole still stood on the hillside above the sound, and the post-windmill with its foreground of traditional Nordic fencing made the perfect picture (see right) (Photo 38 - Jan Karlsgården skansen). Rather than the spring flowers of previous visits, this years it was the autumn fruits of wild apple trees. Before leaving, we phoned Sandösunds Camping, and received a reassuring response from the owner that they were open all year round. Beyond Finby, we reached Bomarsund fortress; Puttes Café-Camping was still open, but across the bridge onto Prästö Island, it was sad news at Prästö Camping: both the café and the campsite were clearly now closed and barred off; it looked as if the owners who had given us such a welcome on previous visits had sold up and left. Across the chain-ferry onto Töftö Island, we crossed the causeway-bridge onto Vardö Island, and past Vardö Church we turned up to the northern tip to reach Sandösunds Camping set in a forested clearing alongside Sandö Sound (Sund). A warm welcome again from Olof, the interesting and much-travelled owner at Sandösunds; we booked in at €18/night, and settled at the sound-side camping area. Darkness fell early tonight to give a star-spangled sky.
Lövö Nature Trail on Vardö Island: an early autumnal misty start to a sunny morning at our camp spot overlooking Sandö Sund. Today we planned to re-walk the Lövö Nature Trail (Naturstig) which we had learned of from Olof the last time we were here in 2015. This 4.5kms circular path starts directly from Sandösunds Camping in woodland by the sound, and climbs over the red-granite bed-rock hills up to Lövö village and back around through the forest to the campsite. From the campsite driveway, we crossed the road to pick up the way-marked route and immediately began seeing ripening Lingonberries (see below left) where in Spring 2015 the plants had still been in bud. At the forest's edge, the Bilberry ground cover was laden with juicy ripe fruit (see right); we regretted not having brought gathering pots with us. We also saw bright red Stone Bramble berries (see left).
The ongoing path, clearly way-marked with white paint marks and lines of cairns, led up across the hillside on an almost clear pavement of lichen-covered, smooth slabbed granite bed-rock outcrops, dotted with stunted pines (see below right). This granite slope gave a living text-book lesson in soil formation: the layers of lichen caused fallen pine needles and moss to accumulate in hollows in the bed-rock; this composted over time to form a thin organic layer of proto-soil, where young pine saplings or green-leafed plants such a Bilberry could take root. But in such a scorching summer with little rain, the thin soil layer had quickly dried out, killing off the newly seeded young plants and pine saplings. We also examined the flourishing lichen growth which showed tiny, trumpet-shaped fruiting heads and red spore bodies (Photo 39 - Lichen fruiting-bodies), the first time we had closely photographed these. We sat to eat our lunch sandwiches on the scoured granite outcrops, revelling in the peace and beauty of this magnificent wild terrain. The path led up the slope to the prominent radio mast at the highpoint, and just beyond emerged at Lövö village, crossing the lane to circle around to a post-windmill. Lövö had been the site of a large scale Russian~Swedish peace conference to negotiate an armistice in 1719~20 during the Great Northern War; some 1,200 delegates encamped here, indulging more in feasting than securing a permanent peace. We crossed the road and turned off along a farm access lane which circled around across sandy soil farmland to reach more dense forest edging the sound. Whooper Swans flew overhead with their distinctive honking calls. When we had walked this path in Spring 2015, Cowslips (Ålands' national flower) and Wood Sorrel had grown in profusion along the edges of this trackway; today in autumn, there was little to be seen. The path led around to enter the dense pine and birch woodland, with Bilberry and Wood Sorrel trefoil leaves covering the forest floor, and meandered back to the campsite. The weather today had been warm with hazy sun; it had been a delightfully peaceful walk with so much to observe. Tonight as we looked out from our camp spot, Goosanders frolicked on waterside rocks on the far side of the sound.
Walking circuit of Prästö island and Russian graveyards: we woke to a magnificent dawn, with the golden sun rising above the sound trailing its light reflection across the water (see left) (Photo 40 - Dawn over Sandö Sound). Reserving our waterside pitch, we set off for our planned day of walking around Prästö island, another of the Hiking in Åland way-marked walks detailed on the excellent guide-sheets available from Mariehamn TIC. Back over the Töftö chain-ferry (see right) (click here for detailed map of route), we parked by the now closed Prästö Camping, and walked back along the lane towards the ferry. Today's circular walk began here with a track-way leading into the first of a series of granite-block walled enclosures of 19th century Russian graveyards.
During the 19th century Russian occupation of Bomarsund Fortress (see below for history of Bomarsund Fortress), Prästö Island became a large burial ground, with many of the garrison and civilian population dying from epidemics. Surrounded by sturdy walls of granite blocks, six graveyards covered the island of Prästö, divided into sections reflecting the religious origins of the many nationalities buried here from around the Tsarist Empire: soldiers and POW construction workers drafted to this western outpost of empire, together with merchants and civilians attracted to the settlement which developed around the fortress. Most of the grave-markers would have been wooden and have long since rotted away, but a few engraved stone monuments remain. The first graveyard we came to was the New Russian Orthodox burial ground begun in 1842 with 5 stone surviving monuments: one to a Russian merchant and his family, and another to a military engineer and his infant son. Nearby was a small area for Catholic burials; these would have been Poles drafted here as POWs from the crushed Polish national rebellion against Russian rule in 1830~31. Only 2 of the gravestones survive. The next graveyard was for those of Lutheran faith, mainly Finnish and other non-Russian soldiers and their families. The Lutheran burial ground was consecrated in 1846 and is still in use for local Lutheran burials from Prästö. The way-marked pathway led across to the far side of the Orthodox cemetery, shelving through dark pine woods along the lower part of an escarpment, then climbing its way up through the rocks of a low cliff, finally mounting the sheer upper section on a wooden stairway to emerge onto the bare granite slabbed summit plateau of Ångsbergen. We followed the route across the plateau, its exposed granite outcrops dotted with stunted pines and covered with lichen (see above left and right)). In today's soft autumn sunshine, this was truly exquisite terrain on which to pause for our lunch sandwiches in the peaceful stillness among the plentiful Bilberries, ripening Lingonberries, and lichen-covered granite outcrops (Photo 41 - Ångsbergen summit plateau). At the plateau's highest point, a wooden observation tower gave a panorama across Prästö's multi-green forest-scape to the surrounding sea (see left). Bomarsund Fortress' Notvik defensive tower stood out on the headland above the northern sound (see right), and to the south, we could see the sound from which a British~French fleet attacked Bomarsund in 1854.
The well-marked path descended the steeper northern side of the plateau, leading down through the pines, Bilberry and Lingonberry (see below left) to a forest track-way which branched off through pine woods. The path emerged at the western side of the island into the area of the oldest Orthodox cemetery used by the majority Russian Orthodox community at Bomarsund. It was consecrated soon after the occupation of Åland in 1815 near to the military hospital on Prästö. Most of the wooden Orthodox 3-barred crosses grave-markers have long since disappeared, the only evidence now of burials being the undulations of the ground, now grazed by sheep. By 1840 this burial area had been filled, leading to the creation of the New Orthodox Cemetery on the island's eastern side which we had passed earlier. A little further, beyond a fringe of pines, sturdy granite-block walls enclosed cemeteries segregated for Jewish and Muslim burials from Bomarsund. The first area contained 6 surviving Jewish grave-stones engraved with Hebrew text on one side and Cyrillic on the reverse (see right). It is not known whether other Jewish burials were made here, but in 1854 the Jewish community at Bomarsund numbered around 100. The far enclosure was for Muslim burials; no grave-markers survive and although some mounds remain, it is not known how many burials were made here. Little is known of the Muslim community at Bomarsund, but it is likely they were POWs who worked as labourers. The first half of the 19th century was for Russia a period of conflict with Islamic nations, with repeated wars against the Ottoman Turks and numerous rebellions in the newly occupied Caucasus provinces; it is likely therefore that Muslims at Bomarsund were POWs from these conflicts.
From the far corner of the Orthodox cemetery, the ongoing path climbed over a rocky outcrop at the head of a small inlet, dropping down to pass one of the former stone quarries where masons had cut and shaped the octagonal granite blocks for facing Bomarsund Fortress' walls. A side track branched off along the peninsula leading to the outlying defensive tower at the northern tip of Prästö just opposite the Notvik tower across the sound. Built as much to impress as for defence, little now remains of the once sturdy structure which over the years had been plundered for stone and brick building materials.
Ferry to the remote island of Simskäla: re-crossing the chain-ferry to Vardö, there was time this afternoon to drive along the elongated peninsula across Sandösund bridge connecting to the northward extension of Sandö Island. At its northernmost tip, the lane continued along a causeway stretching across to end at an islet from where a chain-ferry, again part of Ålands public transport infrastructure, bridged the 1.5km gap to the remote island of Simskäla (pronounced Sim-shella), the northernmost of the main group of the Åland Islands. We crossed by ferry and drove ashore onto Simskäla (see left), around across the small bridge linking the east and west islands of Simskäla to Västra Simskäla's little harbour, passing small-holdings growing parsley and chives. Back to the ferry crossing, we had to wait for the ferryman to finish his tea break to return over the mill-pond still sea to the northern tip of Sandö (see right). Back at Sandösund Camping, we set up camp again by the sound after a glorious day of Ålands exploration. Depite the forecast for cloudy weather, the following day turned out fine and we took a relaxing day in camp here in the peaceful atmosphere of Sandösund Camping (Photo 42 - Sandösund Camping) (see left).
The circuit of Bomarsund Russian Fortress: another golden-orbed, hazy sun dawned over the sound to greet us for our final morning at Sandösund Camping (see right). Today we should undertake another of the Hiking in Åland walks, the 4.5km circuit of Bomarsund Vandringsleden (Walking Path) around the fortress, defensive towers and enceinte walls of Bomarsund, the monumental fortress built by Imperial Russia during their 19th century occupation of the Åland Islands. Following the Treaty of Hamina which concluded the 1808~09 war with Sweden, Tsarist Russia gained possession not only of the whole of Finland but also the strategically positioned Åland Islands, and immediately began to fortify and garrison them as a furthest westward defensive outpost of the Russian Empire. Work began on construction of the massive fortress at Bomarsund as defence against Swedish retaliation. This epic project to create a fortress to accommodate a garrison of up to 2,500 troops would take decades, and brought to Åland 1000s of soldiers, penal gangs of construction labourers, craftsmen, quarrymen, and masons; such garrisons were the most ethnically and religiously diverse communities reflecting the breadth of the Russian Empire. Civilians with their families, along with civil servants and merchants, were stationed here in the township of Nya Skarpans which grew up around the fortress of Bomarsund. The massive walls of Bomarsund fortress, which covered a large area by the channel between Sund and Prästö, were faced with precisely cut granite blocks quarried locally in an attempt to make the fortress cannon-proof. But when an attack from the west came, it was not from Sweden. In 1854, the Western Allies sided with Ottoman Turkey against Tsarist Russia in the Crimean War, and a combined British~French naval squadron attacked Bomarsund. The enormous and seemingly impregnable fortress had been under construction for 40 years and, despite its planned scale, was in fact only 25% completed. Despite its formidable defences, Bomarsund was no match against the Royal Navy's more modern weapons and tactics, and fell within a matter of days. The Russians surrendered the fortress; the incomplete construction work of 4 decades was destroyed by explosives, some 2,000 Russian POWs were transported to prisons in Britain and France, and under the terms of surrender the Åland Islands became a demilitarised zone which it remains today. The fortress was never rebuilt
Today's circular walk would give us chance to see some of the surviving sections of Bomarsund's defences and to understand the outmoded military thinking underlying the whole concept of what in 1854 had proved to be a monumental show-piece folly. Returning across the Töftö ferry and bridge linking Prästö Island to Sund, we parked at the Bomarsund parking area, where an information panel gave a reconstructed illustration showing the scale of the main fortress (see above left). Before setting out on the path, we walked back over the modern bridge spanning Bomarsund Sound to view from a distance the scant surviving sections of main fortress walls (see above right) which on a sunny morning formed an attractive backdrop against the bridge and channel (Photo 43 - Prästö~Sund Bridge) (see left). Closer examination showed just how sturdy the walls had been, faced with supposedly impregnable, artillery-proof octagonal granite blocks (see right). A way-marked path followed a gravelled road of Russian origin up to the brick remains of Notvik Tower. Similar in design to the twinned tower on the opposite side of Bomarsund Channel on Prästö Island, this defensive tower was intended to guard the northern sea approaches to Bomarsund. The Russians assumed that the deep water channel on the island's northern side was the only navigable approach to the fortress, and built their principle defensive structures on what was believed to be the side vulnerable to naval attack. But almost as symbolic of the outmoded and antiquated military strategic thinking underlying the whole fortress concept, involving decades of expensive construction, so too was the false assumption about vulnerability to direction of attack which failed to take account of advances in military technology. By 1854, modern naval vessels, some even steam-powered, could now navigate the narrow, shallow channels to the south, well out of range of Notvik Tower's guns. And that was the direction from which the Anglo-French fleet made its attack. Notvik Tower, and its twin across the channel on Prästö, had each taken 5 years to construct, and were armed with 20 huge cannons. But these out-dated muzzle-loaders fired just a 6 inch diameter non-explosive ball, and were slow to re-load and prime between rounds. In contrast the attacking British force, highly manoeuvrable and mobile, and armed with modern rapid-fire, breach-loading field guns, took just 10 hours to capture the apparently impregnable defence-tower. The entire static fortress concept of Bomarsund was for the Russians in 1854 as antiquated in strategic thinking, military technology and construction time and cost, as the Maginot Line was for the French in 1940. And in both cases, the disastrous result was the same. Notvik Defensive Tower's red-brick structure partially survives giving a clear impression of its shape and scale. No wonder it took 5 years to build. 5 of the huge muzzle-loading cannons were still in situ in the embrasures around the extant tower's walls (Photo 44 - Notvik defensive tower) (see left); another 9 cannon barrels were lined up in a row along the approach road (see right), each bearing the Romanov double-eagle imperial crest (see below left). A section of the tower's outer wall, faced with artillery-proof interlocking granite blocks, still showed the pock-marks of British explosive shells from the 1854 attack.
The next section of route crossed rougher terrain over bare granite outcrops, with way-marks painted on stunted pine trees giving reassuring direction across the typical Åland featureless fell-side. In fact once out onto the slope, it was magnificent terrain with the rough granite offering sure footing through the pines (Photo 45 - Granite fell-side) (see below right). The path descended steeply into the narrow elongated valley bottom which ran southward from the head of Notvik narrow inlet towards the main fortress; this valley was hemmed in on both sides by pine-covered granite slopes, the easterly of which we had just crossed. During the period of Russian occupation, this area had been ear-marked as the site of elaborate stone-built barrack-blocks for the garrison, to replace the wooden shacks that had originally housed the gangs of construction workers. Although architects' drawings still exist, inevitably construction had not begun when the fortress was destroyed in 1854. The Russians had also planned to build their deep-water harbour here at Notvik inlet as naval base for their Baltic fleet (see below left), but again this was never even started.
The ongoing path rose steeply up the enclosing western hillside among dense woodland, with 35m of wooden steps to negotiate the valley's sheer rocky escarpment. This brought us out onto more open granite fell-side with clear views across the inlet to the now distant Notvik Tower (see below right) on the far headland and along the length of the wooded valley leading to the main fortress. Continuing across the granite-slabbed hillside through pines, we reached a gravel road up to a modern navigation marker on the summit of Djävals Berget (Devil's Hill); the Russians had planned another defensive tower here at what is Bomarsund's highest point, but had got no further than levelling the 62m rocky high-point. From this vantage point, we had a clear view over the wooded landscape showing just how much ground the entire fortress would have covered had it ever been completed.
A final stretch of pine-dotted fell-side led to the remains of Brännklints Tower, the only part of the western landward-facing defences to have been completed. When the attack came in August 1854, 120 Russians occupying the defensive tower held off a large force French assault troops and artillery, inflicting heavy casualties. The Russian defenders finally took the decision to abandon the tower, but while demolition charges were being laid, the French managed to enter the tower and capture the remaining occupants. The Russians now began to bombard the captured tower from the main fortress, causing a fire which exploded the powder magazine. The French then moved on for the final assault on the main fortress. The tower's surviving block-faced façade showed evident impact marks of both small arms fire and explosive shells from the 1854 French assault. As we stood examining the tower, Sheila heard the tweeting calls of Crossbills and spotted a pair of these distinctive finches perched on the tip of nearby pines (see left) (Photo 46 - Male Crossbill); this was the the first time we had been able to photograph these birds with their visibly crossed bills for prising open pine cones for the seeds. A gravel track led downhill from here, and just before the main road, a diversion led to the minimal remains of what was planned as the fortress commander's headquarters. Not merely a functional building, this was designed as a Grand Empire-style mansion, but had never got beyond laying out the foundations before the attack came.
Across the main road, another track-way branched off past the foundation remains of Nya Skarpans, the civilian township that had grown up within what would have been the protective outer perimeter of the fortress. Here also a military hospital, provisions warehouses, and further defensive tower would have doubled as part of the fortress' defences perimeter wall, only construction had not even started by 1854 despite 40 years of the fortress' occupation. Around the shore-side the track passed sections of fortress walls which had survived the post-capture destruction (see right), leading out to a headland with a commemorative stele recording the names of the first recipients of the newly instigated Victoria Cross for acts of conspicuous bravery in the 1854 Bomarsund campaign (see below right). This had been another fulfilling day around Bomarsund: the path had been well-marked and showed much of the fortress remains not usually visible to the average tourists from tour-buses stopping briefly at the parking area. We had leaned much about Russian imperial arrogance and military ignorance that had cost so many lives. The entire fortress had been one monumental folly, totally ineffectual and based on outmoded strategic thinking and antiquated military hardware technology, and in the event easily succumbed to attack by the Royal Navy.
Ställhagen Micro-Brewey pub and Puttes Camping: before heading for Puttes Camping next to the Fortress where we should camp tonight, we had to drive along to the S-Market at Godby for supplies (click here for detailed map of route). Since it was still only 4-15pm, we decided also to re-visit the Ställhagen Micro-Brewey pub just north of Godby for a late afternoon beer after a day's walking. Since its foundation in 2004, Ställhagen Micro-Brewery, founded by Brewer Christian Ekström has continued to increase its range and output of hand-produced beers, ranging from a light honey-beer, brown ale, pilsner-style lager through to the monumental 7% dark Baltic Porter. Back along to Puttes Camping, we settled in next to the facilities which were old-fashioned and unchanged from our first stay in 2012: the showers needed €1 coins and hot water for washing up needed €0.20 coins. The owner called round for rent at €18, expensive for a basic site, but it would serve for tonight.
WW1 Russian coastal batteries on Kungsö Hill in SW Jomala: the following morning, we drove back to Mariehamn for provisions shopping at Sparhallen shopping centre and bought smoked fish from the stall outside the supermarket. Down into the town, the lady at the TIC was again ultra-patient in helping us with the locations of more of the walks; we also bought the current version of the Ålands map. Heading west on Route 1, we decided to spend the afternoon investigating another of the Ålands walks down at the south coast of Jomala around the Kungsö Batteries (click here for detailed map of route). In 1916~18, the Russians had built coastal batteries equipped with 3 naval guns on the summit of Dalberg Hill, part of a defensive line of gun batteries stretching from Ålands in the north across to Hiiumaa and Saaremaa on the southern side of the Baltic, to block the Gulf of Finland to German naval ships and control access to the Gulf of Bothnia. The batteries were demolished when Russian troops left Åland at Finnish independence in 1918~19. The 4kms circuit around and over the hill, passing the ruins of troop barracks and the gun emplacements, was another of Hiking in Åland walking guides.
The way-marked route climbed steadily around the northern side of the hill on a former Russian military gravel road, through pine and birch forest to emerge onto the rocky plateau hill-top. Here a modern wooden look-out tower gave misty views over the coast-line of SW Åland that the guns had controlled. The remains of the gun emplacements and control bunker stood alongside (see right). The onward path over broken, rocky ground and through dense forest with less frequent way-marks was more difficult to follow. At one point, a steep drop over a rocky escarpment had to be negotiated, descending through forest eventually to reach a trackway. This turned back along the wooded shore-line of Gottby Sound, passing a number of holiday homes and bringing us back to our start point.
A hospitable welcome at Söderhagen Camping on Eckerö Island: back to Route 1, we continued westwards across the flat farmlands of Hammarland, pausing at Kattby Church (click here for detailed map of route). Crossing the sound onto Eckerö Island, we turned off through Torp village with its post-windmill, down towards Degersand to reach Söderhagen Camping where we had stayed twice before in 2012 and 2015, always enjoying a warm welcome from owner, Sven Eklund. As we arrived, Sven and his son came out to greet us like old friends; as jovial as ever, he recalled our last stay here in 2015 and our meeting him and his then wife Susanna in Mariehamn. He readily offered us a reduced price of €20/night, "as old friends" he said with his cheery laugh (the usual price was €25). The camping area was on a forested hillock overlooking the Torpfjärden inlet of the sea, which Sven had cleared, levelled and drained by sheer hard graft (see above left) (Photo 47 - Söderhagen Camping). After this summer's heat-wave and drought, the ground now looked barren and parched. For a place that had been so fresh and new when we first stayed in 2012, the campsite now had a sad and neglected air with the facilities hut beginning to looking rather care-worn; clearly the camping took second place to Sven's regular forestry and wood-cutting work. We settled in, happy to back again at Söderhagen, and cooked supper with darkness falling even earlier tonight.
A day of exploration in Southern Lemland and Northern Geta: after rain in the night and dull, overcast start to the day, the cloud began to break from the east to give a lovely sunny morning. Before setting off for today's further exploration around Åland (click here for detailed map of route), we drove down to Degersand to walk through to the deserted wild beach which encloses this beautiful bay and to sit on the shore side rocks drinking in the peace of this magnificent setting with the sun sparkling across the water (see above left). Back up the lane, the faming hamlet of Torp is quintessentially Åland with its post-windmill, household post-boxes on the fence by the village bus stop (see above right) (Photo 48 - Torp post-windmill), and decorated Midsummer pole still standing in a nearby garden. Driving back across the island, through Mariehamn, we crossed the canal and headed on back lanes to the southernmost point of Lemland for the first of today's walks, the 1.8kms Herröskatan Nature Trail. The way-marked path led through meadowland along the peninsula's eastern shore-line where the morning sun sparkled across the sea (Photo 49 - Herröskatan) (see right), and finally over rocks to a bird-watching tower overlooking Åland's southernmost point at Herröskatan. This looked out over the islets which dotted the buoy-marked shipping channel which passes here, with a Finn Lines Turku-bound ferry in the distance. The rocks of this cape were covered with Juniper bushes laden with ripe berries (see left) and an occasional clump of Sea Buckthorn with its orange fruits (see below right). The path circled back past more WW1 Russian fortifications through meadows to the parking area.
Rather over-ambitiously, we now set off to drive to the northernmost tip of Åland Main Island in Geta to walk around the rocky Havsvidden coastline (click here for detailed map of route). Around past Jomala Church, we joined Route 1 northwards, and at Haraldsby turned off to Saltvik to re-visit Kvimbo Church. Continuing north from here to join Route 4 through the apple growing country of Geta, we turned off onto a single-track lane leading up through the forested wilds of the Eastern Geta peninsula, eventually reaching the isolated Havsvidden hotel-resort complex. This exclusive and doubtlessly expensive holiday centre, which exploits the wild setting of this remote northern peninsula, was deserted at this time of year. We had been given by Mariehamn TIC a copy of Havsvidden's guide-plan showing way-marked forest and coastal walking routes, and we had thought to follow a route around the cliff-lined rocky shore overlooking the northern coast. But after all of today's driving, time was now running short to tackle the complete circuit over broken granite slabs sloping steeply down to the shore and dotted with pines. Instead we walked down to the tiny guest-harbour at the far end (see left), and clambered up over the rocky slabs. The low afternoon sun made the red-granite glow in the golden light, contrasting with the blue of the sea (see below right). With the time now approaching 5-00pm, and an hour's drive back to Eckerö, we called it a day and set off back to camp.
Returning through the forest to re-join Route 4 to Godsby, we turned off across country to Route 1 at Näfsby, and back across Hammarland to Eckerö, reaching camp at Söderhagen at 6-00pm. This had been a day of compass extremes: from almost the westernmost point of Eckerö, we had driven across the breadth of Åland almost to the eastern extreme of Långnäs, down to the southernmost point of Lemland at Herröskatan, and finally to almost the northernmost point of Geta at Havsvidden. All of that for little gain other than seeing most of Åland's varied terrain! But tonight we had peaceful Söderhagen to ourselves again.
Ålands devolved Parliament, the Lagtinget: the dawning sun was just breaking the horizon over Torpfjärden when the alarm went off this morning. Today we should drive back into Mariehamn for a re-visit to Åland's devolved Parliament, the Lagtinget
Although politically part of the Finnish state, Åland (pronounced Aw-land) enjoys a unique status as an autonomous and demilitarised self-governing region of Finland, made up of an archipelago of 6,700 islands and skerries. The largest, Main Island where we had spent the week, is home to 90% of the 27,000 population. Åland was first settled by people from Sweden, and historically the Ålanders have spoken Swedish and retained their Swedish culture and identity. It was part of the Swedish Kingdom until 1809 when disastrous defeat in war forced the Swedes to cede all of Finland including Åland to Tsarist Russia. The strategically placed islands were fortified as the Russian Empire's western extremity. With the Bolshevik Russian Revolution in 1917, representatives of Åland's municipalities met secretly to demand re-unification with the Swedish motherland. Finland also seized the chance to declare itself an independent republic in 1917, citing the same principles of self-determination as the Ålanders, but refusing to acknowledge Åland's claim. They even imprisoned the islands' leaders on charges of high treason. The issue of Åland's constitutional future was referred in 1921 to the newly formed League of Nations, which true to its later sad history, proposed a compromise solution. Finland was granted sovereignty over the Åland Islands, but was obliged to guarantee the Ålanders their Swedish language, culture and self-governing status. The Autonomy Act established the devolved Åland Parliament, the Lagtinget, which now exercises autonomous government and control of its own budget in matters of education, health, transport, industry, policing, postal and communications services. The Finnish State retains law-making powers in foreign affairs, civil and criminal law, customs and state taxation. A portion of taxation revenue is assigned to the devolved Åland government which manages the islands' budget. Under the Autonomy Act, Swedish is the official language in Åland, used by state authorities, and is the language of tuition in schools. We were told that such is the indifference towards Finland, most Ålanders can neither speak nor understand Finnish and regard the Finnish language as an irrelevance.
Against this background of unique constitutional and cultural inheritance, we wanted to re-visit the Åland Parliament, and parking outside the modern parliament building, we walked over to the reception (Photo 50 - Parliament building in Mariehamn) (see above left). The Lagtinget librarian showed us the parliamentary chamber where the 30 member Lagtinget holds its sessions (see above right). A TV monitor indicated that a plenary session of the Lagtinget was due to convene at 1-00pm, and we were told that this was open to the public for us to attend. The lobby of the chamber was lined with a modern pictorial history of Åland, with panels showing the early 18th century evacuation of the islands as invading Russian soldiers burned houses; the final scenes showed the Ålanders' ballot (Namningsamling) to pursue re-unification with Sweden, a meeting of the islanders' council (Rådplägning) to discuss secession from Finland, followed by their representatives storming out of the Helsinki parliament in 1921 after Finnish rejection of the demands (see left) (Photo 51 - Pictorial history of Åland).
At 12-45pm, we took our seats in the public gallery, as the Lagtinget's 30 members were gathering, greeting one another with handshakes, and the Speaker (Talman) called the session to order. We were the only visitors in either of the 2 public galleries, and when we had first sat down, one or two of the assembled Members acknowledged our presence with a smile. Electronic monitors showed that the agenda topic for today's debate was Medie-politiskt Program, but we could get little understanding for now of the full meaning of Media Political Programme. The display also listed the principal speaker as Minister Mika Norberg (whom we later learned was Åland's Minister for Communications and Infrastructure), together with those Members who had registered questions to put to the Minister. Members opened their questions by addressing the Speaker with Tak Talman, (Thank you Madame Speaker). The monitor displays allowed 10 minutes for the opening address, and one minute each for Members' questions and Minister's response; at the 10 seconds remaining point, a ping gave notice of time limit. As the debate proceeded, we were able to take photos of the session with the Minister addressing the parliament (Photo 52 - Plenary session of Lagtinget) (see above right), and Members raising questions (see left and right) (Photo 53 - Member raising question); we could follow little of the arguments, but the English term public service cropped up frequently in the presentation and questions. A second topic of debate began, billed as Utvecklings-o hållbarhets-agend, with the opening presentation made by Landrådet Katrin Sjögren, whom we later learned was the Prime Minister (Landrådet), but we could not translate this nor understand any of the arguments. We were however able to observe some of the Members' conduct during the debate: walking around, chatting with fellow Members, looking at mobile phones, and leaving the chamber; it was no different from other parliaments we had attended during our travels, but certainly more civilised than the Westminster kindergarten bear-pit! (see below left)
We quietly withdrew, and as we walked back around the lobby, the Minister who had presented the first debate sat talking with another Member. They greeted us, asking if we had found our attendance interesting. Our lone presence in the public gallery had clearly not gone unnoticed. We seized the opportunity to ask for a translation and explanation of the 2 topics for today's debate: the first was about publicly-funded Ålands public service broadcasting (80 % radio and 20% television), which was broadcast in Swedish, the language of the bulk of the islands' population. The point of debate was that if this was watched on internet-based TV on computer or mobile phone, as many of the young now did, this was only avainlable in Finnish, which few Ålanders understood. The Lagtinget was attempting to get internet-based TV received in Ålands to be broadcast via the Swedish networks. The second topic of debate related to the Ålands' Green sustainability drive. We talked with them about the recent Swedish general election, the rise of the ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats Party, and the delay in forming a new coalition government in Sweden. We asked also about the Lagtinget's relations with the Finnish Eduskunta Parliament in Helsinki. They contrasted Ålands' relationship with Finland with Denmark's attitude to the Faroes: whereas the Danish Parliament's relationship with its Faroes dependency was a positive one, Finland was felt to regard the Ålands with embarrassed indifference, typified by the refusal until recently to fly the Ålands flag outside the Finnish delegation in Brussels, compared with the ready inclusion by Denmark of the Faroes' flag. They added that, when UK leaves the EU, resulting in seats being available in the European Parliament for re-distribution, Finland had rejected Ålands' claim for an allocation of these seats.
Not only had we enjoyed the privilege of attending a debate at Åland's Lagtinget and received a graciously welcoming reception, we also had had the opportunity for discussion with a Minister of the devolved government and a Member of their Parliament about current issues affecting the islanders. It had been a wholly successful visit. We returned to Eckerö for tomorrow's rest day and final night at Söderhagen, again having the campsite to ourselves. We settled in with the wind more brisk tonight, rain threatening and black storm clouds scudding across the sky. As we prepared and cooked supper, the rain began and a storm broke, with lashing rain and thunder rolling around the hills. The storm passed, but it was a dark and wildly miserable night.
Crossing from Eckerö to Grisslehamn on east coast of Sweden: after a night of blustery winds and rain, we woke to a dawning, watery sun, with the wind still blowing this morning across Söderhagen's exposed hill-top camping area (see right). Leaving Söderhagen for the final time with a farewell to Sven, we headed along to Storby to pause at the Imperial Russian Post House (see left) (click here for detailed map of route). When Åland had been incorporated into the Russian Tsarist Empire along with the rest of Finland in 1809, the Ålanders were made responsible for the safe passage of mail from Stockholm, dragging their boats across the frozen sea in winter. Storby on the west coast of Eckerö marked the start of the Mail Road to St Petersburg, and the grandiose Post House facing the coast at Storby was built, not to sell stamps, but to impress new arrivals from Sweden with the awesome might of the Russian Empire at its westernmost point. Along to Berghamn, we waited for the Eckerö Line ferry over to Grisslehamn on the east coast of Sweden for the final phase of the trip.
Drive from Grisslehamn via Uppsala to Strängnäs in Central Sweden: the ferry docked at 1-00pm and, along with a couple of trucks and a few cars and caravans, we checked in to await boarding (see right). Once aboard, we went aloft for photos looking out over the Swedish flag as the ferry departed Åland (see left). We settled into the lounge for a couple of hours' work during the crossing of the Bothnian Gulf (see below right), taking advantage of the ferry's free wi-fi. By 2-15pm Swedish time (we had gained an hour as for the first time in 5 months we moved back to Central European time zone), the ferry was approaching the East Swedish coast, to dock at the tiny harbour of Grisslehamn. Little more than a village-port, Grisslehamn is rather isolated in a coastal rural area, with just minor roads linking it inland. At 2-30pm we now had 3 hours to make progress into Central Sweden and set a course for Strängnäs (click here for detailed map of route). The sat-nav guided us on rural minor roads towards Uppsala; on reaching the E4 motorway, we worked our way around the northern side of the city in busy traffic, getting a distant glimpse of Uppsala Cathedral's twin spires, and seeing signs with familiar Swedish place names from our 2013 and 2015 time in Sweden: Gamla Uppsala, Gävle, Sundsvall, Mora, and Sala.
A night's staging camp at Strängnäs Golf Club Ställplats: we turned south-westerly onto Route 55, a cross-country road which would take us all the way to Strängnäs. Around Enköping on E18, we continued SW and crossed part of the vast Mälaren waterway which cuts across Middle Sweden, leading us to the Mälaren port-town of Strängnäs by 5-00pm; in 2½ hours this afternoon, we had completed 183kms of our long journey down to the southern coast of Sweden to pick up our Baltic Circumnavigation route again. We had identified 2 possible Ställplats here at Strängnäs for an overnight stop, and found a Coop-Konsum in the town centre for a provisions top-up. The first of these Ställplats was at the Mälaren lake-side marina, a pleasant sounding location which in fact turned out to be one corner of a car park in the noisy centre of town, and crowded with camping cars lined up in a row; this was certainly not our idea of a place to camp in such uncongenial company, and we drove to the town's southern outskirts and found the other Ställplats at the unlikely location of Strängnäs Golf Club! At least this was a slightly more attractive location in the far corner of the car park by woodland and a sports field, and with only one other camping car here. The limited facilities shared the golf club changing rooms in the club-house some distance away; it would serve as an overnight staging camp and we settled in, already missing Åland which now seemed so far away. With the move to Central European time, sunset was even earlier and by 7-30pm it was fully dark.
Drive from Strängnäs to Mönsterås on Baltic coast of SE Sweden: from Strängnäs we headed SW on Route 55 (click here for detailed map of route) which wound its way through attractively wooded countryside to approach Malmköping where the road turned westwards to bypass Katrineholm. Route 55 turned south from here, travelling through spectacularly rocky, pine-covered terrain, former mining countryside, to approach Norrköping (pronounced Nor-shurping); this was the former textile city with admirably conserved industrial heritage, which we had visited in 2013 to see the preserved Bronze Age rock engravings (see Log of our 2013 visit to Norrköping). Today, with much of our long drive still ahead, we passed around the city to join E22 SE-wards towards Söderköping (click here for detailed map of route). Here we crossed the eastern end of the Göta Canal close to where it emerges from an inlet of the Baltic on Sweden's SE coast, to begin its cross-country passage eventually to Göteborg. Route E22 would be our road now around the much-indented coast of SE Sweden, though well inland with no sight of the Baltic. Alternating stretches of dual-carriageway enabled us to maintain a steady 100kph. Past Västerik, E22 continued south, broadly following the Swedish coastline, eventually to approach Oskarhamn, where we turned off for a 3 day provisions stock up at an ICA hypermarket in the town outskirts. The final 30kms brought us down to the turning to the little port of Mönsterås (pronounced Murnster-aws), and down the Oknö peninsula, the lane ended at the gates of Kaffetorpets Camping.
Kaffetorpets Camping on the Oknö coastal peninsula: we had last stayed at the delightfully welcoming Kaffetorpets Camping in September 2016; before leaving Strängnäs this morning, we had telephoned and again had received a reassuringly helpful response from the charming owner Mrs Anna Aronsson confirming they were open, giving us the gate key-code, and saying to make ourselves at home. The campsite was deserted apart from a few scattered statics, and we let ourselves in, selecting a pitch in the far corner of an enclosure looking out through a fringe of coastal pines to an inlet of the Baltic (see right); here was the reason for today's long, 300kms drive, to be able once more to camp on the shore of the Baltic, this time in SE Sweden. We settled in and walked through to the forested inlet Baltic shore-line for sunset photos through the pines (see above left and right) (Photo 54 - Kaffetorpets sunset). It was almost dark by the time we were cooking our supper of meatballs in Bilberry sauce. After a cool night, George's internal temperature was only 13°C the following morning; a chill breeze blew off the sea through the pines, but a thin sun emerged to warm the air. Facilities at Kaffetorpets were unchanged: straightforward, but perfectly functional and spotlessly clean, with refreshing showers. We filled George's fresh water, and before leaving phoned Anna Aronsson and agreed to leave our 220 SEK rent in an envelope hidden by their caravan; we were sorry not to see her again this year.
Over the Kalmar Sound Bridge to Baltic island of Öland: after a fill of Swedish diesel at Mönsterås village, we re-joined E22 for the 30kms drive through pine-forested countryside to Kalmar (click here for detailed map of route). Here we turned off onto Route 137 rising up to cross the 6kms high-arching, toll-free bridge over Kalmar Sound to the Baltic island of Öland (pronounced Ur-land, and not to be confused with Åland pronounced Aw-land) (see left and right) (Photo 55 - Kalmar Sound 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. We had spent a week exploring Öland in both 2013 and 2016; this year we were to make a brief 2 day re-visit to the island as a concluding part of our Baltic Circumnavigation. On the far side of the bridge, we turned off into Färjestaden for Öland maps and information from the well-stocked TIC, and provisions from the ICA Kvantum supermarket. Setting off northwards for the 60kms drive up the west coast of North Öland, we immediately began to pass classically characteristic features of Öland: conserved post-windmills, dry limestone walls, and blue chicory flowers at the roadside. Through the island's main town of Borgholm, we continued northwards passing the magnificent limestone escarpment edge of exposed Öland bed-rock, and areas of open alvar limestone plain; the Juniper bushes growing on the alvar's thin soil had been badly scorched by this summer's heat-wave and drought. Further north we turned off onto a single-track lane leading out to the NE coast ending at Wikegårds Farm-Camping.
Wikegårds Camping overlooking the Baltic shore-line: as in 2016, we were again welcomed by the elderly lady owner, seemingly as spritely as ever, who chatted away in a semi-intelligible mix of Swedish and German, to book us in; the price was just 150kr/night, such good value for this exceptional location overlooking the Baltic shore-line. Facilities had been improved since we were last here with now an indoor kitchen/wash-up; but the showers were still very straightforward. We took George round and settled in his usual place sheltered in the lee of Juniper bushes from the prevailing westerly wind which blows persistently over Öland, and looking out under Wikegårds' renowned Big Sky with its magnificent view over the Baltic. We spent a couple of hours planning out a schedule for our 2 days on Öland, one in the north and the other in the south of the island. Darkness fell even earlier tonight and by 7-15pm, it was fully dark with a sky untainted by unnatural light pollution, with just the twinkling red lights of buoys out in the Baltic.
Exploring North Öland in pouring rain: with Wikegårds post-windmill outlined against a sullen grey sky (see left), we set off for our day of exploration around North Öland (click here for detailed map of route). First stop was to turn off at Källa to re-visit Gamla Källa with its refuge-church (see right) (so reminiscent of Karja Church on Saaremaa on the far side of the Baltic visited earlier) and its little harbour (see below left). But in today's gloomy weather, the Baltic was very grey. We turned off at Löttorp out to the west coast to 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. But as we parked, the rain began in earnest, and all we could do was sit in George to eat our lunch sandwiches, peering out along the dismal shore-line of the eroded terraces of limestone Öland bed-rock.
Continuing through the North Öland pine forests to Böda, we turned off around the coast past Tokenäs Camping (now closed for the season) and through the resort of Byxelkrok. As the rain eased and sky brightened, we paused at Neptuni Åkrar, a barren beach of wave-pounded rubble-banks above the flat slabs of bed-rock limestone along the waterline overlooking Kalmar Sound (see right). 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 stretch 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; not a native of Öland, the seeds of this borage family plant are thought to have originated in a ship-load of gravel landed at Byxelkrok in the 1930s, and in the absence of competition, spread along the barren limestone rubble of the Neptuni Åkrar beach. We walked down to the water's edge, but the Viper's Bugloss was even more scarce after this summer's heat-wave (see left). We drove on around to Långe Erik lighthouse at Öland's Norre Udde (northernmost point) (see below right), where flocks of cormorants basked in the shallows.
Trollskogen Nature Reserve at Öland's northern tip: around Grankullaviken Bay, we turned off to park at Trollskogen Naturum to walk again the 4.5kms circular nature trail of Trollskogen Nature Reserve. Our last visit in autumn 2016 had been in bright sunshine with clear blue sky; we had hoped for similar conditions today for photos out across the Baltic, but the sky was still heavily overcast. Donning full waterproofs against threatening further rain, we walked across the width of the narrow peninsula. The venerable oak tree that had stood here among these ancient forests had finally succumbed in the 2 years since we were last here, and now lay in an undignified heap of fallen debris. Reaching the eastern shore-line, the Baltic was grey and gloomy, not at all the Öland Baltic photos we had hoped for in the concluding stages of our Circumnavigation (Photo 56 - Sullen grey Baltic). We continued along the shore-line through the dripping forest as the rain began again. 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. In the gloom of today's driving rain, the wreck was little more than a dark silhouette against the grey Baltic. On through the forest, as the rain eased and sky brightened, we reached the area of Trollskogen wind and weather contorted pines (see left). Across to the western coast of the peninsula's tip, we could look out across the mouth of Grankullaviken Bay to the distant lighthouse on the far side. The path wound a way back through the forest, past medieval defensive works and Neolithic burial chambers, to emerge onto shore-side grazing meadows, and back to the Naturum. The weather today had been disappointing in the extreme, with the view from Trollskogen's Baltic shore-line completely obscured by misty rain cloud.
Gräsgårds Fiskehamn-Camping in Southern Öland: it was by now 4-00pm, and we faced a 100kms drive from the NE tip of the island down the entire length of Öland to reach tonight's campsite at Gräsgårds Fiskehamn (Fishing Harbour) at the southern tip (click here for detailed map of route). We drove initially down to Borgholm to give George a fill of diesel, then across to the south-eastern road at Tjusby we continued south on what normally would be an attractive road past farmsteads, villages and windmills. But today, heading south into a low western sun, it was a long and wearying drive. Through Gärdslösa and Långlöt, we reached Norra Möckleby and Gårdby at the start of the extensive area of Southern Öland's Great Alvar limestone flatlands, but with still a great distance to go. On and on the villages went, seeming endless, until with the sun almost setting, we reached Segestad and Seby with their ancient gravefields, to turn off to Gräsgårds Fiskehamn. To our relief, the little campsite at the end of the lane by the harbour was still there with nothing changed since we were last here in 2016. The small camping area enclosed by a ring of dilapidated huts was unchanged, as if frozen in a time-warp, with its straightforward facilities and power supplies covered by a plastic fish crate in the middle of the field. Even the nightly charge of 110 SEK was unchanged, and with the sun declining fast and dusky evening growing cool (see above right), we settled in by the huts for the view out across the Baltic. The 100kms drive down the length of Öland after a busy day had taken its toll; we were exhausted and cooked a quick supper. Thankfully after yesterday's gloomy weather, the following morning the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky over the open Baltic; we were even able to air sleeping bags and spread out waterproofs to dry in the warm sun. Before leaving this morning, we walked over to the little harbour to photograph the fishing boats moored at Gräsgårds Fiskehamn (see right) (Photo 57 - Gräsgårds Fiskehamn).
Ottenby Nature 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. We parked near to Långe Jan lighthouse at Öland's southernmost tip by the Bird Observation Station. There were a surprising number of tourists and Swedish Sunday day-trippers milling around aimlessly as usual. Taking binoculars and long length lens, we made for the Naturum to get advice on the best spot to observe the basking seals in current weather conditions. With the strong wind blowing from the SW 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 low rocks for them to bask on. We headed down to the 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. There were also a number of cormorants and swans nearby. We spent a happy hour in the hide watching this colony of seals and the birds through binoculars and photographing them (see left) (Photo 58 - Grey and Harbour Seals); without a tripod however and at extreme telephoto range, these were far from ideal photographic conditions. We tried walking around the SW side, but this year fencing kept visitors away from the shore-line from where we had watched the birds on our previous visits.
Exploring Southern Öland: we returned to the main road to begin the drive up the western side of the island alongside the Kalmar Sound (click here for detailed map of route). Beyond Grönhögen, we identified Ventlinge Camping opposite the church in Ventlinge village where we hoped to camp tonight, and continued north in search of the farm found in 2016 with the cart load of small decorative gourds. We found the farm at Albrunna village and stopped to buy more gourds this year to decorate our hearth during the autumn and winter. 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 Kalmar Sound 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. Through Södre Mökleby just south of the modern village of Smedby, we reached the prominent Gettlinge grave-fields with the close cropped turf emphasising the standing stones. At the northern end, the stone outline of the Gettlinge ship-setting survives with the entrance to the grave field marked by 2 prominent monoliths (see above right) (Photo 59 - Gettlinge stone ship-setting), making a perfect picture against the backdrop of a 19th century post-windmill on the brow of the ridge and a distant modern wind farm (see above left).
Continuing north, we reached Mysinge village and just beyond, the Bronze Age barrow of Mysinge Hög; the high point of the mound gave a view across the dry limestone walls and flat scrub-covered expanse of Southern Öland's Great Alvar plain stretching away into the distance and grazed by cattle (see left). The next village was Resmo, where we paused at the medieval church, said to be Öland's oldest surviving church still in regular use (see above right). 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. The church bell was ringing for the Sunday afternoon service as we looked briefly at the decorated interior.
We now took the road across the width of the flat, barren waste of the Great Alvar. The extensive open, featureless plain, stretching away to the horizon on both sides of the road, 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 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 paused part way to examine this deserted wilderness of classic Öland limestone plateau with dry limestone walls and bed-rock showing through the thin soil surface layer (see above left and right).
Across the far side of the Alvar plain, we turned south down the eastern side of the island, but at a gentler pace than last evening, passing by the attractive farms and villages, to complete today's circuit of Southern Öland back to Segestad and Seby. 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.
Ventlinge Camping: we returned across the lower Alvar and down the west coast road to Ventlinge village and its little campsite. No one was about, but an elderly gent, clearly related to the owners, welcomed us and despite speaking no English, managed to convey his meaning for us to settle in and the owners would be back later. The driveway opened out into a large and empty paddock/camping area behind the house, and we selected a pitch over by the sturdy Öland dry-stone wall in the far corner looking out westwards across arable land towards the Kalmar Sound (see left). Facilities at Ventlinge, although limited, were brand new and spotlessly clean. Early evening the owner came round and welcomed us in a charmingly smiling manner and in perfect English; this was the standard of hospitable welcome that paying guests should be entitled to expect but rarely receive at campsites. The charge was 180 SEK/night, one of the best value campsites of the trip. The sky was now heavily overcast and the evening dark and chill; the brisk south-westerly wind blowing from across the sound meant chill draughts through the upper vents, and we needed the heater on tonight for warmth.
A long drive around Sweden's SE coast to Kivik: after a cold night, the gusty westerly wind was still blowing this morning with heavily overcast sky for our long drive around Sweden's SE coast to Kivik (click here for detailed map of route). We were away early to continue up Öland's SW coast road to Färjestaden, and in busy morning traffic to re-cross the bridge. At the bewildering motorways junction near Kalmar, we turned west onto the new E22 motorway. Beyond Söderåkra, the motorway ended and E22 became standard trunk road again, to reach Brömsebro village where we paused at Blomlöfs Rökeri (Fish Smoke House), known to us from previous visits, to buy some of their delicious (if expensive!) smoked fish and fish cakes for suppers. Beyond Jämjö, route E22 entered Blekinge County to reach the outskirts of the naval port of Karlskrona. Around the city on motorway, we continued westwards, and with traffic light, were able to keep up a steady pace on the highway standard road to pass Karlshamn. The road became full motorway standard again near to Sölvesborg to cross into Skåne (pronounced Skaw-ne) County.
A brief re-visit to Kristianstad: we had made good progress with our journey, and it being only 2-00pm, there was time for a brief re-visit to the lovely town of Kristianstad (pronounced locally as Kri-shan-sta). Kristianstad was founded in 1614 by King Christian IV of Denmark which then controlled Skåne. 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 which was 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. 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 back the fortress-town. Christian IV's emblem, C4, ironically however still emblazons the town's coat of arms (see above left). Grand Parisian-style boulevards were created in the late 19th century, and the town centre still retains many of its original Renaissance buildings including Holy Trinity Church. 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 near to Åhus.
We turned off the E22 by-pass to shop for provisions at Kristianstad's ICA Maxi-market, and then to move round to the free car park by the Vattenriket Naturum discovered on our previous visits to the town. Across the Helge å footbridge we walked over to the centre to amble around Torget (central square), and to re-visit the Renaissance Church of the Holy Trinity with its soaring architecture and magnificent artwork. The north and south interior walls were decorated with wealthy merchant families' 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 above right) (Photo 60 - Lavesen family memorial).
The small port of Åhus: from Kristianstad we headed south on Route 118 across the flat farmlands of the lower Helge å to the small town of Åhus down on the Skåne coast (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; the Absolut Vodka distillery began production here, and is still a local prominent landmark.
We parked in the central Torget to re-visit the beautiful 12th century Gothic red brick Maria Kyrka, one of our favourite rural churches in Southern Sweden (see right), but unfortunately locked today for restoration works. We bought salt-lakrits ice cream (liquorice, a favourite ice cream flavour in Scandinavia) from the stall in Torget, and walked down to the Helge å waterfront to sit to enjoy it (Photo 61 - Ice cream at Åhus) (see above left).
Ängdala Vandrarhem (Hostel) Camping near Kivik: the final phase of today's drive brought us across the Helge å estuary, to rise up onto the south coastal wold land, to reach Ångdala Vandrarhem (Hostel) Camping just before Kivik. The place was unchanged from our last stay here, but busier with more camping cars and caravans this year. With the gently sloping hillside of the Österlen coastal downs, it was difficult to find a flat pitch, but we finally settled alongside a hedge in the middle of the camping area. Ängdala's setting was magnificently peaceful and facilities first class with modern, impeccably clean WC/showers and a well-equipped kitchen/wash-up, some of the best of the trip; we were looking forward to a day in camp here tomorrow and hopefully the opportunity to see Red Kites over the down-land as in 2016. We woke to a beautiful sunny morning for our final rest day of the trip (see left), with the forecast showing an Indian Summer return to heat-wave conditions and temperatures in the mid-20s. During the afternoon, despite having blinds pulled, awning out and fans on, George's internal temperature rose to 31°C in the hot sun, but the Red Kites were again seen, soaring over the downs land and swooping on prey, their colouring and forked tails evidently visible in the clear light.
Sandhammaren wild beach on Southern Sweden's Skåne coast: the following morning we drove into the little port of Kivik to shop at the ICA minimarket, buying a bag of local apples from the orchards around the village (click here for detailed map of route). On into Simrishamn, from where ferries sail to the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm, we turned off around the minor Östra Kust vägen (East Coast Road) which winds around the Skåne coast through pine woodland, planted in the 19th century to prevent wind erosion of the sandy soil. Here a side lane turns off to Sandhammaren beach. Set at the angle where Skåne's southern coastline swings NE, this glorious stretch of white sandy wild strand would be heaving with holiday-makers in the height of summer, but thankfully in mid-September it was almost deserted. We walked through to the wild beach which stretched away in both directions, with the breeze driving a Baltic surf onto the white sands shore (see above right).
Dag Hammarskjold's Backåkra and Hagestad wild beach on Baltic coast of Skåne: just west of here along the lane, the Backåkra farmstead owned by Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld (UN Secretary General from 1953~1961) as a summer retreat is set amid rolling heathland close to the Hagestad Nature Reserve (see above left). The peaceful farmstead and surrounding meadowland was willed by the post-war diplomat to the Swedish Touring Association (STF) of which he was vice-president, as a meeting place for cultural activities. After Hammarskjöld's tragic death in a plane crash in Africa in 1961, the planned museum at the farm to Hammarskjöld's life and work had remained closed due to lack of finance; when we were last here, we learned that a foundation had been formed by the Swedish Academy, the STF and Hammarskjöld family, to take over ownership of the farmstead; renovation work was to begin in autumn 2016 with the aim of re-opening the Backåkra in 2017. We called in today to learn of progress, and found the museum and conference centre now open; we left it at that, satisfied that the restoration work had been completed.
A lane leads from Hammarskjold's Backåkra over the downs farmland to the Hagestad Nature Reserve, an area of pine, beech and oak woodlands standing behind beautiful white sand wild 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 Hagestad shore-line (see above left), tall marram grasses were outlined against the sea-scape backdrop by soft afternoon sunlight (see above right). We crossed the fine sandy beach to stand by the waterline where the breeze drove a Baltic surf onto the shore (Photo 62 - Hagestad wild beach) (see left).
Iron Age stone ship-setting monument of Ales Stenar: a short distance further westwards, we reached the village of Kåseberga, where alongside the visitor parking area, a ställplats was operated by the local football club; we had used this in 2016, and it still looked promising for tonight. A path led past the village cottages uphill to the cliff-top sandy downs land, where ahead stood the Iron Age stone ship-setting monument of Ales Stenar. The outline of megaliths was silhouetted against the sky, as gaunt as ever, overlooking the sea with sheep grazing 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 right). There were fortunately few tourists intruding into the peace of this magnificent setting; as we stood taking our photos along the length of the monument, which had stood here for a 1000 years or more, a paraglider soared silently along the line of cliff-tops (Photo 63 - Ales Stenar). We returned down the approach path, and down to Kåseberga's little harbour (see left) to buy smoked fish at Ahls Rökeri (fish smoke-house) for this evening's supper.
Kåseberga Ställplats-Camping: back up through the village, we settled George into the far corner of the Ställplats camping area, in the shade of tall trees and well away from the camping-cars here already. At 120 SEK/night (without power, but the fridge was now almost empty) and with straightforward facilities in the football club changing rooms, the Ställplats would serve for a night's halt. By 6-45pm the sun's golden orb was setting below the downs land horizon as we cooked our smoked salmon steaks for supper to celebrate Sheila's 72nd birthday. With today's autumn soft sunshine, we had enjoyed a relaxing day, with two of Skåne's wild Baltic beaches and a visit to the glorious cliff-top setting of Ales Stenar. Tomorrow the journey home would continue with the afternoon ferry from Trelleborg across to Rostock in Northern Germany for the return to Lübeck on Friday where we began our Baltic Circumnavigation 5 months and many adventures ago.
Southern Skåne coast, Wallander country at Ystad, Sweden's southernmost point at Smygehuk, to Trelleborg: the sun was just dawning when the morning alarm went off; it looked like being another fine autumn day with soft, warm sunshine for the ferry crossing later (click here for detailed map of route). We drove westwards and joined Route 9 into Ystad, the port town that is home to the Swedish fictional detective Kurt Wallander. Continuing west through farming countryside and a series of dreary holiday home villages, the views along the Baltic coast of Southern Skåne were very attractive. Around noon we reached Smygehuk and pulled in briefly by the little harbour for Baltic photos at Sweden's southernmost point, 1,572kms from the northernmost point at Treriksröset in the Swedish Arctic, as the signboard announced. A brisk breeze blew from the wine-dark Baltic Sea driving breakers onto the shingle-shore (see above right), but Smygehuk was just another unnoteworthy tourist attraction stop-off on a largely unattractive coastline; we moved on towards the outskirts of Trelleborg. We passed through the centre, for our final Swedish shopping at the ICA hypermarket, and at 1-00pm returned to the Stena Line terminal at Trelleborg docks. Earlier this morning, we had received an impressively efficient reminder text about ferry check-in times, and we now awaited boarding in the queuing lanes as lorries came and went; George's mileage was recorded as 880 miles driven within Sweden this week.
Ferry from Trelleborg to Rostock in Northern Germany: not until 2-45 did we move forward for boarding. We went aloft and found a way to the open stern deck for photos as the ferry departed (see right) (Photo 64 - Farewell Sweden). We settled into the lounge for an afternoon's work, as the ferry made rapid progress across the Baltic, passing close to the Danish islands. When the cafeteria opened at 7-00pm, we bought a reasonable supper, but it was gone 9-00pm by the time the ferry docked at Rostock. We disembarked into the darkness of the port, and were guided by sat-nav through the centre of the city, and around a network of country lanes to to the coast for a night's stop at Börgerende Camping Stellplatz.
Northern Germany and return to Lübeck to complete our Baltic Circumnavigation: having stayed at this dreadful place on our outward journey, we had vowed never to return, but it was the closest campsite to Rostock port when arriving in pouring rain at 10-00pm after the ferry crossing. The following morning, we woke to bright sun, and again had to endure the irritating muzac in the campsite facilities, seemingly a sine qua non of morning ablutions for the mindless drongoes (our thanks to Aussie fellow travellers, John & Judy Macfarlane, for this apt piece of Oz slang!) who frequent this ghastly holiday-camp. At reception to settle up the extortionate rent, we were again treated to a display of appallingly unacceptable bad manners from the condescending fraulein. We really shall never return to Börgerende Camping, and commend the same to others!
We now had a relaxing day to revisit Wismar to buy more smoked fish at the fish stalls by the port, and to complete our Baltic Circumnavigation with a return to Lübeck. By the time we left Wismar and joined the E20 autobahn, the rain was pouring and motorway spray intense. We turned off the A1 autobahn at Lübeck Moisling, shopped for provisions and German beer at the Citti Park supermarket, and refilled George's diesel ready for tomorrow's long drive across Germany; it was time now to head down to Campingplatz Schönböcken, again receiving a smiling welcome from the two ladies who keep this lovely campsite. It was simply good to be back.
Conclusion - the sorry state of once Great Britain: Our Baltic Circumnavigation journey this year had taken us through 8 European countries, beginning and ending in Hanseatic Lübeck: over the 6 months of our travels, we had spent up to 6 weeks each in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with the privilege of visiting the Parliaments of each of the Baltic Republics; we had returned through Southern Finland from the Russian border at Vaalimaa, island hopping down the Turku Archipelago and the Åland Islands (a favourite spot on this dear planet of ours) and SE Sweden. We had travelled a total of almost 9,000 miles through all these European countries, without let or hindrance, and with all the freedom of movement that the privileged freedom of blessed Schengen and our EU driving licences still allow. And now across the autumn and winter, we have enjoyed the nostalgia of revisiting our travels with the process of writing them up, gradually adding travelogue episodes to our website with the account of our Baltic Circumnavigation journey.
All of this, before the madness of buffoons closes the European door.
Doubtless others share our feelings about the unspeakably incompetent, corrupt
clowning and self-seeking of the Tory establishment, and their unforgivable
non-governing of the country in favour of grotesquely irresponsible, childlike squabbling; we feel equally let down
by the even greater self-destructive, self-indulgent folly of a Labour Party
incapable of managing even effective Opposition, let alone being trusted with
governing the country; we never cease to be amazed at the indifferent, gullible,
tabloid-deluded British public, obsessed by the bread and circuses of royal
weddings and similar establishment-contrived distractions; and finally we are
appalled by the loutish, self-centred greed and absence of any courtesy or
civility, good manners and consideration for others, that has become the
behavioural norm of contemporary society. It speaks volumes about the divided
extremes of today's society that, in the principal shopping streets of town and
city centres across the country, the doorways of now closed former shops provide
some little shelter for increasing numbers of homeless who daily compete for
space to lay out their sleeping bags, as Christmas shoppers pass indifferently
by. But then that much admired social reformer (sic!) Thatcher said there was no such
as society! Hey ho!
Our Review of Baltic campsites will be published quite soon