Oland,a Swedish Island.




In the late spring of 2010 we set off, for what had been a long held dream to drive to and explore southern Scandinavia.


To get to this stage we had a winter of planning and preparing our trusty eighteen year old Avalon high-top van (the one with the snail motive, smile if you see us). The apex of the nearly five thousand kilometre adventure was to be the Baltic island of Oland, an island off the extreme eastern coast of Sweden, accessible only by a six kilometre bridge across the Kalmar straight.

Before we could arrive at this wonderful part of Scandinavia we first had the dubious pleasure of a Dover/Calais ferry after a fire scare at Eurotunnel meant a change of over rather than under the North sea.


It was a two and half week crescendo of travel and exploring, through Belgium,Holland and Germany, before starting our Scandinavian travels into mainland Denmark and its bridge connected islands of Funen and Zealand. After which another ferry took us across the Oresund Strait to the splendour of Swedish Smaland with coast to coast forest and hundreds of lakes of various sizes. This was the Sweden I had visualised, clean, friendly, virtually free of cars and a walking/cycling paradise. A week soon slipped by crossing to the opposite coast about three hundred kilometres east. Then the hop over to the time forgotten isle of Oland.

Oland, what a place, cigar shaped, approximately 130 km. long and 16 km. wide, laying about six kilometres parallel offshore. It has ancient forests, deserted beaches and coves. Pretty wooden farmhouses with thatched roofs are scattered along the one main road (route 136) running the islands length. The terrain changes from very green and wooded in the north to near desert of limestone plain known as Alvaret in the south with a small area of woodland again at the southern cape. For history buffs there are ruined castles, Bronze and Iron Age burial cairns, runic stones and forts.12_one-of-many-2.jpg

There were reputed to have been over two thousand wooden windmills on the island at one time, now only about four hundred remain,mostly in fine fettle protected as national monuments and in private hands. We saw several groups of five of more,(each built on a central tree stump so as to be able to revolve into the wind).


On the north western shore at Byrums Sandvik there are beautiful sea stacks reminiscent of our own Scottish ones, only smaller but still impressive and accessible from the beach.

Our week here was divided between the wild windswept North end (complete with Trolls and their forest) and the equally beautifully enticing South end. Both capes are active nature reserves in their own right, having been based on the proven success of Britain s bird and wildlife reserves, a big difference though is theirs have free entry.


One bright sunny day we set off from our beach side camp-site at Byxelkrok (try pronouncing this for directions ) and had a wonderful circular 32 km. cycle ride along the shore-side track to the top of the islands attractions. On the way we passed the area known as Neptuni Akrar (Neptune’s ploughland) where numerous wild flowers including Blaelden (Viper’s bugloss) can be seen in mid summer.


Olands northern tip has the 32mt.high 165 year old stone Lange Erik lighthouse to warn mariners of its presence, for the small sum of 30kr ( 3) you can climb its 138 smooth stone steps to the external viewing platform and take in the 360 degree panorama of island and bays within the Baltic sea. House Martins were in residence on our visit. Set in an old wooden dwelling next door is the quaint ticket office come museum, bikes can be left nearby so as to be able wander the capes nature paths, which we did. The sea although quite cold was as clear as crystal and turquoise in colour, I suppose because the sea-bed and shore is rock or pebbles. The northern end of Oland is U shaped, rather like a claw jutting out into the Baltic. Standing dominantly on the western arm is the splendid lighthouse whilst on the eastern peninsular is Trollskogen or trolls’forest, this was to be our next point of call.

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Trollskogen, the name alone conjures up visions of hobgoblins, elves and all things mystical. A nature reserve in its own right Trollskogen carries on where the Bodkusten Ostra reserve finishes. The whole area feels very old, with oak and pine trees up to 200 years old, one particular oak, Trolleken (Trolls Oak), found in the middle of the forest is one of the oldest oaks on the island, those near the eastern beach being gnarled, bent down and twisted by the elements. Whilst on the inland side alongside the bay are lush grazing meadows. A dozen or more burial cairns show traces of old settlements. At the entrance to the reserve is a lovely visitors reception centre (Naturum) complete with about a dozen small red information huts showing exhibits visually and vocally in a very interesting way for young and old alike.


Starting from here in and around the forest are three marked trails varying in length of between one and four and half kilometres, the two shortest being wheelchair friendly. We took the latter one, soon finding ourselves deep in the forest, with the sound of the waves crashing on the shingle beach nearby it was certainly an atmospheric place to be in. After a while the trail broke from the trees and we were on the edge of the Baltic sea. Just like being on a desert island, there high on the shore was an old classic wreck, wooden, bare-boned, held together by inch round wood dowels and bleached by the sun. A plaque explains The Schooner Swiks went aground here in a storm during Christmas 1926 .


After a leisurely couple of hours we were back at the visitors centre where we had a refreshing salad lunch in the open air picnic area, trying to ignore the Trolls watching us.

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Then we drove south on a minor road taken in a row of seven old windmills before stopping off at Himmelsberga. Here an old farmstead of rambling buildings has been turned into a Heritage Museum of farming implements, machinery etc. with one huge barn showing old and new needlework and cloth related works. At nearby Gardlosa is what is reputed to be the finest medieval church on Oland.


Carrying on we stopped at a bridge viewing area we met up with another English couple( one of only two English couples we met in five weeks in Scandinavia) whom we had first met on a mainland Sweden camp-site and had been bumping into every week or so since.

Then the drive south took on a completely different feel, more akin to mid Spain than the green forests we had been used to on this trip. Stretching almost coast to coast across and about forty kilometres in length with only the low shrub to break the barren skyline is Alvaret. In and along the edge of this now unusual uninhabited area lie rune stones and Bronze Age burial mounds and some four thousand year old Stone Age graves, as well as one large Iron Age burial field with various stone settings, circles and tombs scattered around a local windmill.

After this desolate piece of landscape it was refreshing to reach the southern end of the route 136 at the small village of Ottenby. Across this part of the island is the Karls X’s stone wall, built in 1650 to contain the then Kings stags and fallow deer ( of which quite a large herd of descendants remain). Still standing proud and upright as if built only last year.


This lovely area, with a well equipped camp-site, was to be home for the next few days.


Our pitch here was near perfect, set in a corner with a low stone wall alongside, an open field between us and the wooded reserve beyond, we watched deer grazing each evening. From any of several short walks you could enter the Ottenby-lund, (Ottenby Nature Reserve).


A couple of pleasant afternoons were spent strolling in these woods, we saw a wild deer herd including several young, numerous birds including large spotted Woodpeckers feeding their young through the customary hole in the tree, heard but didn’t see Golden Oriole. From a tall hide overlooking the coastal part we could see seals basking. Another days outing was on the bikes to the southern tip about eight kilometres away. On the way we stopped to view some standing stones, then on to the forty-two metre high Lange Jan(Long Jan) lighthouse with its viewing balcony at the top which marks the islands most southerly point. Here you are very much still in the reserve, in fact most people tend to drive down to this part with its free parking just inland from the cape. Over three hundred species of migrating birds have been recorded here. As well as a very educational information centre and office with numerous (assumed stuffed ) birds and displays there is a small gift shop and a indoor/outdoor caf . From here you can see loads more seals basking on the coastal rocks and watch the gulls and terns dive for any scraps going spare.

This was a wonderful place to climax our Swedish Adventure and turn our little metal home around and return over the free bridge to mainland Sweden, turn left, and take a week to hug the coast round to Malmo, cross on the most spectacular Oresund bridge ( the longest bridge crossing at sixteen kilometres in Europe ) , at 375kr ( 37.5 ) certainly not the cheapest, to Denmark. Then left again and down to Lolland ( Denmark’s south island ) and a ferry to Germany,( another 70 ) and a steady couple of weeks back down through Holland, Belgium and France, then this time going under the North sea and home.

Did we think Oland was worth the journey and cost of bridges and ferries, you bet. We experienced a country at fairly grass route level in our little van and found the people(whether on site, in caf s or shops) to be both friendly and helpful, only too pleased to tell us of their country. English speaking was the rule more than the exception except on one or two of the more remote camp-sites, even then a little sign and pigeon language gets you by.

A satellite navigation system is a very useful tool to have as some of the village and town names are practically both unpronounceable and unmemorable so map reading becomes a nightmare. So stay friends and take a Tom Tom or Garmin.

P.S. Official number of wild Elk in Sweden=300,000 48_saw-plenty-of-signs-but-the-elk-were-shy-2.jpg

Actual number of wild Elk we saw in Sweden=1 (one )

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